Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Oscars

I had seen hardly any of the films nominated for any category in the Oscars. There were many reasons for this: Hollywood put out most of the good movies in one gob after Christmas, so it seemed like they weren't even '08 movies. I rebelled and didn't see them. Besides it was the holidays and I was playing in Colorado.

So, I had not planned on watching the Oscars, but since I had hardly ever missed one in the past half century years, I finally succumbed and turned it on, grabbed a beer from the fridge and plopped into the Ekornes chair. After promising never to watch it again, here are the reasons I found for having watched them:

First, the women! Every woman surrounding the lovely Meryl Streep on the front two rows wore a strapless formal. I live in Alaska where last week at the opera, The Barber of Seville, most of the audience wore Carhartts.

Hugh Jackman looked fantastic for the women of America, although my friend Rebecca didn't care and wished Andy Garcia were on the podium.

Sarah Jessica Parker's dress. I couldn't believe it; maybe thay was why I was staring and hoping for another Janet Jackson Moment!

Jessica Biel, stunningly lovely, need I say more? I wiped the drool off my shirt...

Beyonce Knowles in her smashing red dress saving the somewhat illogical and boring melange of musical nonsense. Did I notice Hugh Jackman's fingers hold her by the chest?

When my friend Rebecca called, she said a reason to watch it was that perhaps I'd get a glimpse of Diane Lane. Wow, there she was sitting next to husband Josh Brolin; my eyes drifted past him to the wife...something about the Tenth Commandment gnawing at my conscience.

Ben Stiller as Joachin Phoenix's recent drug addict costume stole the show for a minute. Will Joachin ever get a job? Natalie Portman did a great job keelping a straight face; I in turn was remembering her as I last saw her in "The Darjeeling Limited".

It was a touching moment when Heath Ledger won the Oscar for best supporting actor. A poignant moment in an otherwise self-congratulatory orgy of excess.

Werner Herzog appeared for a moment. Love his stuff

Bill Maher had the best haberdasher, and he stood there so cool, so calm...a class act; the best introduction for best documentary and best documentary short subject. I also appreciated: Megan Mylan's slinky but demure red dress as she won for Smile Pinky, and as she turned it was backless!

Some time went by for stuff I didn't too much care about. I heard the words "Slumdog Millionair" several times in a row as I sipped a beer and wandered a bit. My cat fell asleep on my lap.

Then Jerry Lewis appeared. I'd watched his fims since I was a young boy and admired his work for muscular dystrophy most of my life. What a gentleman! What a beautiful thank-you! What a treat!

Some beautiful music, each tune just tempting me then transitioning into another. I never listen to music like this; what am I doing? However just as I was ready to call it a night and have another beer watching reruns of Law and Order, two short snippets of best vocals with slinky Indian dancers in the background kept me in my chair for another minute. More "Slumdog Millionair" Oscars...

Aaah! Frieda Pinto in a blue sequinned gown. It's been a classy evening for the women.

Reese Witherspoon had another sparkling indigo dress. Didn't recognize her for a moment: has she put on a few pounds? And who did her hair and eye makeup? Don't think she needed it. Amazing...another Oscar for Danny Boyle and "Slumdog". I'm just about to wander off when the announce says: "Coming up, the final awards for best picture, best actor, and best actress." Another beer, then back to the Ekornes chair. My butt is numb.

Shirley Maclaine appears. My mind races back to "Irma La Douce".... My but the presenters are in exquisite gowns. Anne Hathaway looks ravishing, listening to her accolades. Melissa Leo, so lovely and distinguished grabbed my heart. What a treat! Sophia Loren spilling out of her gown introduces Meryl Streep, her lovely broad shoulders rising out of the satin gown, deserving an award every year. Nicole Kidman, (does she always wear white?) introduces Angelina Jolie. Kate Winslet wins!!! She's talking about a bottle of shampoo in the bathtub??? Finally gets an oscar after deserving one for years...

And what's with the 5 presenters for every award? Probably a nice touch; they all get to stand on stage, and the public gets to see them. Party, party, party!

The gushing introductions for each actor are a bit much for me, but the audience seems to love it. Robert DeNiro gives the best line of the evening: "How did Sean Penn get all those roles playing straight men?" First time I smiled all night. Mickey Rourke looks totally wierd; maybe he arrived in a pink Cadillac with fuzzy dice? Rumor has it he will win. Of course Sean Penn won and deserved it; he always does!

Steven Spielberg. He's the best! Nice to see him presenting the award. Well, Wow. Surprise, surprise. All I've heard about movies for two months is that "Slumdog Millionaire is going to win best picture...long before anyone in the U.S. had ever seen it. Talk about an anti-climax. But the recipients were so grateful; I felt happy for them.

I'm not sure it was worth the three hours, but t almost made me want to go to the movies. I could have seen "Slumdog Millionaire" in the same amount of time.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Daryl Miller

Daryl Miller is a great friend. He and I worked together in the National Park Service for many years, Daryl as the South District Ranger in Talkeetna, AK, and I at the Alaska Regional Office in Anchorage. In 1997, Daryl invited me on his patrol up Denali; we spent 37 days together on the mountain and formed a friendship which continues to this day. Rather than steal the thunder of the Anchorage Daily News, I am posting the link to a great story about Daryl which appears today, Feb. 8, 2009 on the cover of the paper. Craig Medred has done a wonderful job capturing Daryl, including a number of fascinating video clips embedded in the article. Just sit down and read it:


Every so often I read an outwardly dense, technical, and mind-numbing tome that at first glance should remain on the shelf as a reference book for experts, but from the first page it holds me "with its glittering eye", and I remain as still as the wedding guest, lost in the beauty of the world it has awakened for me.

The first XXII pages of Hulten's "The Flora of Alaska" opened the trans-continental new world of Beringia, telling the story of how once the great Steppe country stretched from England across Siberia, over Beringia, down Canada and through Kansas. That explained how all the plants over several continents could be similar and how tiny refugia along the Yukon River could sprout sagebrush and flowers from my childhood in the Rockies. Soon, I was host to Russian and Alakan botanists who systematically scoured Yukon-Charley, Denali, and Bering Land Bridge National Parks in Alaska. I spent the next 25 years working on projects for the Beringia International Heritage Park, still a work in progress.

In the early 90's Holldobler and Wilson published "The Ants". The first three pages, "The Importance of Ants", mesmerized me; I couldn't put it down as I began to realize the complexity, extent, and importance of the ant world, a place I had probed as a child, but had mostly forgotten as an adult. Thankfully, Holldobler and Wilson had remained childlike in their enthusiasm for a life of work in the field. The detail of the drawings of each ant drew me into the ant hills as though I had shrunk to their size, (or vice versa!)

So when I saw the announcement of "Superorganism: The Beauty, Elegance, and Strangeness of Insect Societies," by Holldobler and Wilson, again I rushed to buy the book, knowing in advance that I was going to be drawn into an undiscovered realm. It continues the research of the past 20 years on the Ants and is written more for the lay audience and filled with more of the facts that a reader like myself craves: a wider world of the social insects, including the bees, termites, and wasps. Rather than an anatomy lesson, it is the story of the social insects, their impact, relevance, and behavior. I was sucked into their world and am the richer for it.