P. Grand Lake, Colorado is 8300 feet above sea level. It’s hard not to love this about it. From the hospital where I was born you’d have to gaze straight up over a mile and a half to get an idea of where Grand Lake is. When I imagine doing this, I begin to envision the town as a sort of strange floating little sky kingdom, which is more or less what it is.
The lake itself, the largest natural one in the state, is over six hundred feet deep and often designated as the headwaters of the Colorado River. It is ringed by mountains on each side, most dramatically to the east, where a glacial valley eases up to commanding Mt. Craig (known locally as “Baldy”). Bordered tightly by Rocky Mountain National Park, Grand Lake hosts an annual tourist inundation that swells in mid-June, peaks on the Fourth of July, and abates quickly after Labor Day.
Though its veneer is that of a tourist community, you’ll quickly find that Grand Lake has the soft, sensitive underbelly of a gritty mountain town.
Since it offers no particularly good access to developed ski areas, when the weather gets cold the tourists, and nearly all of the residents, disappear. At times during the winter local business owners maintain a rotation such that one, but only one, restaurant remains open on any given day. At this point the major recreational attraction is snowmobiling -- a niche pastime, but one that draws a certain subset. It is legal, in Grand Lake, to drive one’s snowmobile on town roads.
Locals insist that the winter is wonderful: quiet (apart from the snowmobiles), sunny, and not as cold as one would expect. They save their ire for the springtime “mud season,” when snowmelt soaks the ground and puts a temporary halt to most all outdoor activities.
Above town to the north, bordered on all sides by the national park, is the historic property of the Grand Lake Lodge. They claim their front porch to be the best in Colorado, which might be too modest an appellation.
Rising from the opposite shore is Shadow Mountain. From the lookout tower on the summit there is a tremendous vista of the lake and its sailboats, two large reservoirs to the south, and green and brown in the forests stretching in every direction. The old-growth ponderosa forests in Grand County, decades removed from their last major cleansing burn, are suffering dramatically from destructive infestations of the mountain pine beetle. The forests are brown and patchy. Hundreds of trees fall each day. But as a result more sunlight is reaching the forest floor, and brush and aspen saplings have begun to emerge.
In Colorado the people are mostly on the east side of the continental divide and the water is mostly to the west. Gazing from the summit of Shadow Mountain it is difficult to envision the tunnel that runs under Mt. Craig, taking water down from Middle Park to the population centers of the Front Range.
Given the seasonal nature of Grand Lake’s tourist economy, businesses emerge, disappear, and change ownership with some frequency. Take note of trivia nights at the Lariat, the shuffleboard table at Grumpy’s, and the delightful Grand Lake Lanes bowling alley, which offers great pizza and the best Bloody Mary in town.
P. Steve Reich went to go hear Coltrane play in New York in the sixties. The former was a composer. The latter, of course, played the saxophone. When Coltrane and his band arrived at the gig they had a pile of tunes to draw from and their improvisations could range significantly in length. When they were done, Coltrane could pack up his instrument and disappear into the night.
Reich coveted this direct and functional relationship with music-making and with his audience, so he too started a band, and he worked with musical structures that spun simple ideas into longer threads.
He wrote Music for 18 Musicians for this group, which gave its premiere on April 24, 1976. The thread stretches for an hour of continuous music. The titular eighteen are mostly divided between pianos, marimbas, and xylophones; there are also four singers, two strings, and two clarinetists. A cycle of eleven chords is drawn into eleven musical sections. A continuous pulsing rhythm underlies the oscillating melodies, like a blanket set down on dewy grass.
The piece is as intensely focused as an hour-long late Coltrane solo, but it also surges with the power of the communal. It’s less a soliloquy and more a group chanting session. Short melodies wrap around each other like the interfering elliptical orbits of little planets in a tiny, spinning, terribly crowded star system. Constantly repeating yet constantly changing, as though in one hour’s time you could watch the steady progress of the stars across the sky the way you’d see them if you could lie for a whole night on the dock at Point Park in Grand Lake. The quiet hum of the stars above you and the soft churn of the lake below.
P. A disentanglement puzzle is an ancient type of physical puzzle featuring mechanically interlocking elements. The main apparatus is an ornate metal construction from which another object, often a wire loop, must be freed. These were sometimes called “tavern puzzles,” as in the middle ages they were forged by blacksmiths to entertain friends over drinks.
In another popular version, one must free a loop of string from a mazed system of rigid wire. A common puzzle of this sort is the famous “Five Pillars Puzzle,” which has been traced to second-century China.
These models share a common recipe: (1) a static system; (2) a foreign element that must be extricated from the system. A similar game, the Vexier, differs in that it features two intertwined wires that must be untangled. In this non-hierarchical model, there is no underlying base. When the puzzle is complete, two distinct systems result.
Perhaps the most familiar disentanglement puzzle today is the “Human Knot.” A group of people stand in a circle and grasp a hand each with two people across the circle. The task is to undo the knot, forming a neat circle, without releasing hands. The game is a common “icebreaker” in team-building activities, and can be executed with any number of people. It can be made more difficult by muting or blindfolding certain individuals.
Some human knots, when unraveled, result in two separate circles.
Some human knots are not solvable.
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• February: New Mexico and the Holes
• Coming Up
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• Crossroad Blues