Archive for category Adventures in Living

Woodland Getaway, With Hawks

Vacation time! We spent a delightful week (entirely offline and unplugged) chilling in the Boulder Lake Campground, part of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, in northern Wisconsin.

After the long drive up from Chicago, the last hour was a joy, winding along hilly roads through dense woodland. We could happily live here. Maybe someday…

The camp has hiking trails, a small lakeside beach that was really pleasant (before the crowds moved in), and squillions of trees. We tented, hiked, biked, swam, rested and campfired.

We didn’t take many photos in the forest, as there weren’t any remarkable features – and how many photos of just trees does one need? We did take more photos during two splendid days at the rapids on Wolf River, which we wish we’d discovered earlier.

Wolf River, Wisconsin

Wolf River’s rapids are popular with rafters, kayakers, canoeists and inner-tube riders. We liked the scene best on its own, sitting right at the water’s edge and cooling our feet. We also enjoyed a fine hike along one section of the river, through more forest.

Wolf River Rapids

We saw lots of big birds overhead, hawks and eagles. I got an exciting bit of musical inspiration one morning at the beach, when we saw four hawks circling in overlapping orbits. (I’d never seen more than one before.) That sighting (unfortunately, we couldn’t get a good photo) immediately sparked a musical idea, which I hope to include in a top-secret collaboration project. Failing that, I’ll solo it.

The only music I listened to was that playing in my mind all week, my favorite pastoral tunes from Eric Tingstad & Nancy Rumbel (Woodlands (w/ David Lanz) and Legends) and Will Ackerman (Returning and Sound of Wind-Driven Rain).

Wolf River Eddy

As nice as Boulder Lake park is, it was still too noisy at times, due to people who brought their noise with them. It’s no secret that most people are uncomfortable with quiet. In fact they’re terrified by it, and feel the need to shout it down. (What we have here is a failure to relax…)

So… our priority next summer will be a wilderness trip to Quetico Provincial Park in northwestern Ontario, and the nearby Boundary Waters in northeastern Minnesota, both old friends of Dasi’s from her Girl Scout days. Two weeks up there will probably make us allergic to Chicago, which is becoming intolerably noisy (thanks to its 1% mayor, O’Hare and the FAA). We’ll just chalk it up as more Relocation Motivation.

Next up: reports on my two performances in June and July, each with audio highlights and a photo or two. There is some cool news to report…. stay tuned!

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Farewell Kitty: Why Every Car Needs a Little Red Flag

That is one tasty-looking squirrel

That is one tasty-looking squirrel…

Kalman Cat left us in mid-April, just a few days before his 18th birthday. When we left the house early that morning, he was fine. When my wife returned home around 10am, he was breathing rapidly, very uncomfortable and – most unusual for him – completely withdrawn. His heart was giving out, and the animal instinct to die alone overpowered his attachment to my wife and I. We stayed with him all evening and into the night, until his last breath around 2:15 a.m.

Two years ago, Sandor Cat’s six-week decline meant that his passing came as a relief. This time, the suddenness of it was more of a shock, though in hindsight there were a couple of signs that the end was drawing near. Fortunately, Kalman’s suffering was comparatively brief.

Kalman: Sophisto-Cat

Kalman: Sophisto-Cat

We were fortunate to be present so that we could help both our boys through their passing in the auspicious Vedic way, and have reason to believe that they both have obtained human forms for spiritual advancement.

In his later years, Kalman Cat gave up his detached and aloof manner, becoming completely attached to my wife, to the point where he just had to be in physical contact several times a day. Anyone who’s ever spent 30 seconds with a cat knows that they are shameless; Kalman was beyond shameless in begging for attention. He also made sure to demand some Dad time each day.  He liked to play a little rough; when we could get him to bite a little, he enjoyed it the most.

Kalman & Mom

Kalman & Mom

You had to hear him playing with his toys to believe it: he would carry a sparkle ball or catnip pillow around, or drop it on the bed, and yowl at it – declaring it to be utterly owned – in this unearthly voice. He would play cat-and-mouse with his sparkle ball, pouncing, releasing and recapturing over and over. Several times a day, he would bring a vanquished toy to one of us as an offering, to show off his fearsome prowess. We have some hilarious videos; maybe we’ll share them someday.

So now it’s just the two of us. The absence of pets is a major adjustment, which will always have both convenient and melancholy aspects, but the loss of a beloved and loving companion naturally overrides the rest.

Kalman's DL

The next day, stopped at a red light en route to the crematorium, a funeral procession crossed our path, every car bearing a little red “Funeral” flag. It struck me immediately: every car should have one of those!

We’re all driving toward the same endpoint. These material bodies are all temporary, like clothes, and eventually have to be discarded. We move on, leave them behind, and take up new ones, according to the Law of Karma.

So it begs certain questions. Where are we going, and to what purpose? What will we do with the time, and this rare human form, which we’ve been given?

Denial will not help us; we have to face reality. There’s no other way to solve the problem.

It would be more accurate to say that we’re all racing toward the same endpoint. The pace of life for most people in this age is frenetic. Everyone is scrambling to pack as much enjoyment into as little time as possible. More sensations; more thrills; more intensity; more, more, MORE – all to avoid facing the emptiness within.

It’s all skimming on the surface, like those water bugs. We can’t really live on the surface, though we fool ourselves into thinking that we can. We must go inward; we must go deep. That’s where the work is to be done, and the truth to be found.

Kalman in Basket 1 - Apr 8-12

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Falling Leaves, and Saplings

A yurt in the woods, at TMBCC

It was time for another long weekend in the woods, so in mid-October we returned to the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center in Bloomington, IN, which we had gratefully discovered six months ago.

Autumn is my favorite season, so this was the perfect time to be out here. Time to reflect on changes and new possibilities. Falling leaves, and saplings.

Forest outside Bloomingon IN

We went for a nice long hike in the woods, and took lots of photos. I read Macbeth (talk about falling leaves!), practiced my (still rudimentary) ocarina playing, and picked up some more good sticks for making claves. I also got a nice field recording of the wind blowing through the trees and the leaves falling, which I’m thinking of using in an ambient percussion track for a friend.

There are a couple of cool shops in Bloomington’s town square. One of them is Athena, where (choosing from among many temptations) I picked up a mini-djembe and thunder tube for the studio. They both sound great.

Mini Djembe and Thunder Tube

I’ve also determined to add some more earthy elements to the toy box, such as sticks, stones and leaves, as well as a couple of good ocarinas. The percussion shelf is getting crowded; some rearrangement will be in order.

As all this attests, the studio setup continues to evolve, moving toward The Dream Rig. This all coincides with a growing understanding, as it is slowly revealed, of what eyes cast down actually sounds like.

Starting out on any creative path, most of us understandably want to emulate our heroes (in my case, mainly Steve Roach). We want to try everything they do. As we move forward, elements that aren’t right for us drop away, so the true ones have room to emerge and grow. So a tribal element begins to crack the shell.

Also on my mind lately has been the dilemma of how to distribute albums, and I’ve finally settled on that – much to my relief. But that’s a separate blog entry.

Back to the town square, an awesome new discovery was The Owlery veggie restaurant. They opened there a week after our last visit. The food is amazing. If you’re ever in the area, it’s well worth a visit (or several).

Same goes for the cultural center itself. We look forward to returning there by spring – possibly also in midwinter. The stillness of this place, blanketed with snow, would be compelling.

Yurt and prayer flags in the woods at TMBCC

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Who the Human, and Who the Animal?

My wife got this in her email, and I had to pass it on… it reminds one of Gandhi’s famous statement: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” Which applies even more on a personal level. Here we get a glimpse of both ends of the spectrum. Thanks to the person who originally shared this!

* * *
A True Story. In 2003, police in Warwickshire, England, opened a garden shed and found a whimpering, cowering dog. The dog had been locked in the shed and abandoned. It was dirty and malnourished, and had quite clearly been abused.

In an act of kindness, the police took the dog, which was a female greyhound, to the Nuneaton Warwickshire Wildlife Sanctuary, which is run by a man named Geoff Grewcock, and known as a haven for animals abandoned, orphaned, or otherwise in need.

Geoff and the other sanctuary staff went to work with two aims: to restore the dog to full health, and to win her trust. It took several weeks, but eventually both goals were achieved. They named her Jasmine, and they started to think about finding her an adoptive home.

Jasmine, however, had other ideas.

No one quite remembers how it came about, but Jasmine started welcoming all animal arrivals at the sanctuary. It would not matter if it were a puppy, a fox cub, a rabbit or, any other lost or hurting animal. Jasmine would just peer into the box or cage and, when and where possible, deliver a welcoming lick.

Geoff relates one of the early incidents. “We had two puppies that had been abandoned by a nearby railway line. One was a Lakeland Terrier cross and another was a Jack Russell Doberman cross. They were tiny when they arrived at the centre, and Jasmine approached them and grabbed one by the scruff of the neck in her mouth and put him on the settee. Then she fetched the other one and sat down with them, cuddling them.”

“But she is like that with all of our animals, even the rabbits. She takes all the stress out of them, and it helps them to not only feel close to her, but to settle into their new surroundings. She has done the same with the fox and badger cubs, she licks the rabbits and guinea pigs, and even lets the birds perch on the bridge of her nose.”


Jasmine, the timid, abused, deserted waif, became the animal sanctuary’s resident surrogate mother, a role for which she might have been born. The list of orphaned and abandoned youngsters she has cared for comprises five fox cubs, four badger cubs, fifteen chicks, eight guinea pigs, two stray puppies and fifteen rabbits – and one roe deer fawn. Tiny Bramble, eleven weeks old, was found semi-conscious in a field. Upon arrival at the sanctuary, Jasmine cuddled up to her to keep her warm, and then went into the full foster-mum role. Jasmine the greyhound showers Bramble the roe deer with affection, and makes sure nothing is matted.

“They are inseparable,” says Geoff. “Bramble walks between her legs, and they keep kissing each other. They walk together round the sanctuary. It’s a real treat to see them.” Jasmine will continue to care for Bramble until she is old enough to be returned to woodland life. When that happens, Jasmine will not be lonely. She will be too busy showering love and affection on the next orphan or victim of abuse.

Pictured from the left are: “Toby”, a stray Lakeland dog; “Bramble”, orphaned roe deer; “Buster”, a stray Jack Russell; a dumped rabbit; “Sky”, an injured barn owl; and “Jasmine”, with a mother’s heart doing best what a caring mother would do… and such is the order of God’s Creation.

And, just in case you wondered, Snopes.com verified the truth of this wonderful story and the reality of these photographs which accompany the story. So you can pass this story on, and maybe make someone else’s day to be just a little brighter!

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Our Long-Weekend Getaway – a Glimpse of Tibet

Our cat Sandor

Sandor Cat in 2009

By mid-April my wife and I were ready for a break. In the first week, I had played two live shows, on the 1st and 7th. If that wasn’t hectic enough, that same week we bade farewell to one of our two 16-year-old cats. Sandor had gone blind six weeks earlier, and dwindled away with either an infection or tumor in the brain. Fortunately, he didn’t suffer too much, and we were awakened in the middle of the night to be with him when he left. His journey toward humanity continues.

The March 25 Chicago Tribune featured a full-page article about the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center. Founded by the Dalai Lama’s older brother in the 1970s, the center is located just outside of Bloomington, Indiana.

Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center - temple building

The largely-forested, 108-acres center features four traditional yurts (eight-sided cottages), which are available for rental. We live in the city out of necessity, but would live in the forest if we could. Right after Sandor left us, we booked a four-day weekend.

A yurt (Tibetan cottage)

Buddhism isn’t our path, but the Dalai Lama’s mission includes promoting harmony among different faiths, which has always attracted us. The friendly staff at this center don’t care what path you’re on – their concern is making the place more and more attractive, and making guests feel completely welcome. Shout-outs here, with many thanks, to Patricia, Mike and a gentleman whose name I didn’t get, with whom we had nice conversations.

Prayer Wheels at TMBCC, Bloomington IN

We tramped in the woods, took many photos, watched the large koi fish swimming in their pond, captured field recordings of crickets, birds, wind, singing bowls, bells and chimes, relaxed most of the time, and made lots of fresh juice. My wife is madly in love with our new juicer… for my part “I do think it’s good”.

Buddha figure with offerings

A major storm ripped through this area a year ago, evidenced by the dozens of downed trees we saw – some of them huge. I picked up a good oak branch out of which I hope to extract two good pairs of claves.

Greg M with downed tree at TMBCC, Bloomington IN

One high point of the weekend, for us, was the weekly Sunday afternoon vegetarian lunch. Good food, company and conversation.

Stupa at TMBCC, Bloomington IN

Another highlight here is the sand mandala, housed in a stupa. I hoped to get a good photo of the entire piece directly from above but, because the shape of the space – and the daylight – were problematic, that would have involved dragging a ladder in there after dark. I just didn’t get around to it. Maybe next time…

Tibetan Sand Mandala at TMBCC, Bloomington IN

We greatly enjoyed hanging out in the temple room with the deity of Lord Buddha. The cultural building, with its library and gift shop, was also a pleasure to visit.

Lord Buddha in the temple room at TMBCC, Bloomington IN

We made a couple of trips to town, for brunch and leisurely browsing in a few shops. The town square features half a dozen art galleries and two cool Ten Thousand Villages-like shops.

Forest at TMBCC, Bloomington IN

We knew, within an hour of arrival, that we would be back as soon as we can manage it. We look forward to seeing the temple’s new entrance garden, work on which was just underway when we visited. Next time I hope to find someone there who plays Go…

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A Wedding Soundtrack

Music is the best. So it was an important part of an already-very-important day: our wedding in July 2008.

My wife chose the first two pieces for the ceremony, and two traditional songs (Amazing Grace and Just a Closer Walk With Thee) for the reception, and was content to leave the rest of it to me. We began the ceremony with Cesar Franck’s Panis Angelicus, sung by Andrea Bocelli. This was followed by my wife’s procession song, the Bach-Gounod Ave Maria, sung by Sarah Brightman. Both singers filled the church with lovely melody. As if the moment wasn’t emotionally-charged enough

Cover for Shining Light by Sequentia

After the ceremony, while we committed our marriage to paper, our guests heard three songs: Lux Refulget (Shining Light), a luminous 12th-century Acquitanian song from the women of Sequentia; my own Nimai’s Song, the text of which is a traditional Sanskrit prayer; and Reverence by Nancy Rumbel, from the Tingstad & Rumbel album Pastorale.

For the reception and dinner, I programmed three hours of my favourite songs, starting with a meditative chant song recorded by my teenage daughter and two of her friends. This was followed by three songs by my old friend Robert Bruce: All of My Tomorrows, Face the Sun and The Tenderness of Eden, and my own Lacrimosa and Venus Nova.

Cover for the album Bound for the Tenderness of Eden by Robert Bruce

Other highlights included two from Tingstad & Rumbel: Magnolia (one of my favourite songs ever) and Secrets of the Big Sky; two from Jack or Jive: A Girl in a Field and A Song for Asia 2; acoustic guitar gems Country Poem by Pat Metheny and Happy Home in Kathmandu by Will Ackerman; the ecstatic Dark Night of the Soul by Loreena McKennitt; i carry your heart by my old hero Michael Hedges; and a medley of downloadable clips from a wonderful Ukrainian band, AtmAsfera.

Inevitably, some songs had to be left out due to the time factor:

Liz Story: Wedding Rain. An old piano favourite.

Jack or Jive: Principle of Positive and Negative. Chako’s like a good friend, we just haven’t met in person. Yet.

Carl Orff: Veris Leta Facies (from Carmina Burana). The classic Jochum recording.

Dead Can Dance: American Dreaming. “I’m in love with an American girl, ‘cause she’s my best friend…”

Tingstad & Rumbel: Alligator Alley. A playful jaunt.

Steve Roach: The Memory. This piece reminds me of my wife. An emotional afterimage, so to speak. If I ever get time to work on cover pieces, this will be one of the first.

Coda: Nancy Rumbel told me she was honoured that I included Reverence in our ceremony. That one runs deep for me. A wonderfully heartfelt melodic piece, written in tribute to her father just after his passing. Thanks Nancy! She and Eric are like a couple of old friends. Hopefully we’ll get to meet them someday. That musical connection is a strong one for me. I sent Nancy a copy of Lacrimosa, so maybe it will begin to run both ways…

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American Dreaming

Downtown ChicagoFirst off, I’m thrilled to announce a gorgeous new design for eyescastdown.com, from Mara of Gourami Studio, who also designed my Kalindi Music website. She put my old hackwork to shame, and also supplied the photo for my blog’s new look. Thanks, Mara! Please visit both of us.

Second, after a lifetime in Canada, I have moved from Toronto to Chicago. Thereby hangs a tale…

Anyone following the progress of my recording projects might have been struck by my apparent failure (or refusal) to finish an album, while defiantly starting up new ones.

At the end of 2010, two albums were nearing completion: my solo debut The Separate Ones and the Keshava-Lila trio album Pastimes of Creation.

Then, next thing you know, in spring 2011, they’re still nearing completion (and suspiciously, nothing more is being said about them), but now other projects are rising up. Not just single pieces, but an entire new album – and then another. What’s going on? Is this guy ever going to finish anything?

1. Three remixes of James Johnson’s music for the Butterfly Effects series. Two Fractured Mirrors will be in Vol. 1. As for Mandala Nebula and Nightshade, time will tell.

Due to circumstances I had to keep it under my hat, but now I can finally tell the story. Back to the beginning:

A certain fine lady moved from Chicago to Toronto in the summer of 2007. We were married a year later. At the end of 2008, we decided to move to Chicago to teach mantra meditation, which we have each practiced for years. It was her idea and a good one; and I’d flipped for the city on our first visit a month prior. Done deal!

2. Gypsy Girl in Paris, a piano-santur groove track for Disturbed Earth, which he will presumably render unrecognizable in his trademark magical way.

We began the immigration process in March 2009. We had no idea how long it would take! The inevitable slow process, among other circumstances, delayed our final submission of documents until December 2010, a month before the deadline. Failure to meet this deadline would have meant starting the entire process over again. Not an option.

3. Three light groove pieces for a yoga show, which may meet their destiny on a yoga-meditation album from Meditation Chicago. These fall under the Kalindi Music banner.

Here’s where it got gnarly: even though my wife is a U.S. citizen, because she was no longer a resident, she had to move there (without me, due to circumstance) to establish residence and employment. We packed up our apartment (including my studio, The Keep) and she drove to Chicago in the first week of January 2011.

We anticipated that I would have my visa within a month or so, and hoped that I would obtain a job within another month, so that I could join her in Chicago sometime in March. In the meantime, I lived out of a suitcase, at the home of friends. Thanks, friends!

4. Around Christmas 2010, I had proposed a collaboration to Chris Russell, for which I would supply him with grooves. (I hadn’t worked with grooves much yet – and he hadn’t at all – so I just thought it was time.) We agreed to try one piece and see how it went.

Shortly after this, the next Relaxed Machinery compilation was proposed. The idea was to randomly pair off the label’s artists for collaborative pieces. You can guess the rest: Chris and I were matched up; so were another pair of musicians who were already working on something. There are no accidents.

At this point, the careless attitude of consulate personnel took over, highlighted by a crazy-making, stubborn Refusal to Communicate. They lost our final document package (which had been couriered), and it took us over four months (and a Congressional inquiry) to get them to tell us that much! So we had to send the package again. This all happened after they changed the procedure for submitting documents (without bothering to contact those of us with applications in process).

From a friend we learned that we weren’t being singled out or picked on; apparently such things are commonplace for the particular consulate office with which we had to deal. So a word to the wise: if you’re a Canadian planning to emigrate to the U.S., go west! Sayin’?

5. The result of my work with Chris, Particles and Waves, was so satisfying that it was clear an entire album was in order. It’s half finished at this point, with tracks titled Primitive and Prime, Spatial Mnemonics and Touchstone Array. The album title is Memory Palace, and Relaxed Machinery will release it sometime in 2012.

Even when our visa was finally issued in late July 2011, the consulate kept a sullen silence. We got the good news from our Congresswoman’s office – many thanks to them for intervening on our behalf! I was visiting my wife in Chicago (celebrating our third anniversary) when we got the news, and a short dance around the living room ensued. It had taken 28 months for the visa to come through. I’ve heard of cases which have taken five or ten years, and of people who have given up the attempt. Horrific.

Anyway, a few weeks later I was in Chicago for job interviews. At the end of September, I finally joined my wife there after a nine-month separation. During that time I’d visited three times, for a total of four weeks.

6. Brad Ross-MacLeod sent out a call for submissions for a compilation, with which he would kick-start his Free Floating netlabel. My first all-softsynth piece, Exquisite Divination of Patterns, made it onto the Conception album, alongside some esteemed colleagues. Thanks, Brad!

Why so hush-hush? The usual simple reason: I couldn’t speak online about what was going on (except to a few friends in confidence), because I couldn’t risk my employer finding out that I was looking to leave.

During those nine months, I kept busy with music projects…

7. The Divination process was so energizing (and the result so satisfying) that I immediately resolved to undertake an entire album in softsynth mode. The first piece, Radiant Perception, immediately followed. The rest of the album is down the road a bit.

All of these projects were done on a laptop, mostly with samples, as well as a few drumming loops recorded with bare hands on a metal handrail, 30 floors up in my work building. I also recorded my friend David Ludwig’s voice in that stairwell, for the Pastimes of Creation project.

What’s next? Now that I’m in the Windy City, I have to set up The Keep and re-learn how to power up stuff. There are a few administrative tasks like synchronizing hard drives and installing software updates. Then to work:

The Separate Ones, Pastimes of Creation and Memory Palace albums have to be finished. In what order remains to be seen, though hopefully in that order, the order in which they began.

There’s also another collaborative track for the Relaxed Machinery compilation, for which Peter James has provided me a rich drone. I’m thinking to weave a few guitar lines over that, but we’ll see when we get to it.

Then there’s an album with violinist Ezra Azmon, who appears on the requiem piece Like a Riven Cloud from the Separate Ones album. I recorded his playing a year ago, which will be mostly recycled. Again, I’m thinking my parts will probably be just guitars, but you never know…

That will conclude the first cluster of eyes cast down albums. Then I’ll take a break to finish recording a backlog of ecstatic songs that have accumulated over the years, and probably start a couple of other ambitious projects, the first one for choir. Stay tuned to Kalindi Music for details.

Then the next chapter of eyes cast down will begin. Many projects are in the plans, including the softsynth album, two albums of cover pieces, a collaboration with an honored colleague and friend, and more.

My only regret about the move is that I’ll have to curtail my behind-the-scenes involvement with the Relaxed Machinery label and Ning community. I’ve been working with John Koch-Northrup, Steve Brand and Geoff Small for over a year, and I’m the lucky one, getting to work with such men as them. But there just won’t be time for it, going forward. Hopefully someone new will step in. Regardless, Relaxed Machinery remains my home artistic community.

I’ve enjoyed hearing and writing about a lot of great music in the past two years, but there won’t be time for that anymore either. I’m grateful that my reviews have been well-received. Fortunately, there are others doing a great job of spreading the word about this music that we all love.

Thus concludes a chapter. Turn the page… the next one promises to be exciting!

Chicago Cultural Center

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