Monday, July 11, 2011

It's A Beautiful Day


It's a beautiful day. Of course it's grey and raining where I am as I write this from a week long vacation along the Southern Oregon coast, and I have no idea what the weather is like back home in Northern California right now, but if there is one thing I learned living in a rainforest in Alaska for 13 years, the weather itself does not determine a beautiful day. It can help, for sure, but it is certainly not the sole indicator. Because I'm going to have a beautiful day, even if I don't get to go crabbing this afternoon, or 4-wheeling on the dunes. Whatever the weather, wherever you are, I hope you have a beautiful day too. Here's one from the Best Of files!

How do you know when a beautiful day is presenting itself to you? When a good day is offering itself up to you like an unexpected gift?

Is it waking up to a good morning kiss from your lover, with the smell of brewing coffee wafting from the kitchen? Is it when the weather is so nice that you sleep with the windows open, and the morning greets you with birdsongs and sunshine streaming through the drapes? Or is it the sound of two little feet padding into the room, and crawling into bed with you for a cuddle. Is that when you know it's gonna be a beautiful day?

For me, it's all of those things.
Its my dog giving me morning loves, and then jumping off the bed to follow me to the kitchen.
Its opening the sliding glass door in my dining room and gazing at the first bulbs I've ever planted, which have now bloomed into beautiful pink dahlias, still wet from an early morning watering; the smell of basil and homegrown tomatoes growing in the planter in the backyard.
Its a fresh grapefruit from my friend Leona's tree and strawberries purchased from the guy on the corner with a pickup truck and a sign propped up against it.
Its playing softball with my friends out at Big League Dreams and catching the ball I didn't think I'd get.
Its riding my bike across the Sundial Bridge and wading into the water at Whiskeytown.
Its a beautiful day when I'm on the road and the weather is so perfect that I drive recklessly for just a wee few moments, left arm out the window, right arm sticking up through the sunroof, surfing on Highway 44 over the river… look ma, no hands!
Yes, sometimes I do that. But only when it's a beautiful day. And only for a few moments.

Sometimes even when it wasn't a beautiful day, it can turn into one when my friend Judy calls at dusk and asks if I'm free for dinner, then we quickly figure out what bounty we've each got to offer for the table, and we catch up over a bottle of Retsina, a Greek Salad and some watermelon on the back porch. And suddenly, it's a beautiful evening. A good, good night.

I'm going on my 14th year in Redding, and I never get tired of these beautiful days. I consider myself the luckiest girl on the planet to have this city, my friends and family, this beautiful weather, and the only thing that really makes it even better, or can turn a so-so day into a perfect day, is having the right music to go along with it.

So let's have a good day. Let's have a spectacular, beautiful, perfect day. I hope this Spotify playlist puts a smile on your face and makes it even better; makes it perfect, with a homegrown cherry tomato on top.



U2 - It's A Beautiful Day
Luce - Good Day
Nappy Roots - Good Day
John Legend - Sun Comes Up
The Beatles and/or Nina Simone - Here Comes The Sun
Norah Jones - Sunrise
Michael Franti & Spearhead - Sound of Sunshine
Maroon 5 - Sunday Mornings
Sting - Brand New Day
Maysa - Sunshine
Jesus Jackson - Running on Sunshine
Mosquitos - Sunshine Barato
Smashmouth - Walking On The Sun
The Beatles - Good Day Sunshine
Sheryl Crow - Soak Up The Sun
The Stranglers - Always The Sun
The The - This Is The Day
Akon featuring Wyclef Jean - Sunny Day
Coldplay - Daylight
The Eels - Mr. E's Beautiful Blues
Lou Reed - Perfect Day
Black Eyed Peas - I Got A Feeling (Tonight's Gonna Be A Good Night)

Friday, July 1, 2011

4th of July

Petersburg Alaska From a Firework's Perspective

I've had some pretty memorable 4th of July moments. There was the meaningful Bicentennial Celebration of 1976. I was nine, and people were handing out two dollar bills all over the place. Then there was the coolest 4th of July....the time I watched the Redding fireworks in typical 110 degree heat from a lounge chair in my friend's pool. And I'll never forget the time I spent my holiday falling in love while floating down the Rogue River. My lover kissed me and everything stopped, except for the fireworks exploding in my own head. I can still taste the Blueberry Twist Trident gum he had in his mouth. That was the most personal. But here's another 4th of July memory that's close to my heart to share with you, and a playlist to go along with it.

It was during the 13 years I spent living on an island in Southeast Alaska, in the little fishing village of Petersburg. It was settled by Norwegians in the late 1800's who had left their country in search of a better life. While the descendants of those original settlers still celebrate their Scandinavian heritage more fervently than they do back in the old country (there's even books written about it - in Norwegian), they are also proudly American. They love this country. It gave them an opportunity to have a quality life if they were willing to work hard for it. So when the 4th of July rolls around, Petersburg is ready for a serious party. You have never met a more patriotic bunch than these Norsk immigrants and their descendants, living in the newest state in the union. It'll make you proud to be an American just to see how proud these folks are just for the privilege of being American.

Perhaps you've heard that up there in Alaska there's 6 months of sun and 6 months of darkness. That's not entirely accurate. At least not  down in Southeast. But in the summertime, the crack of dawn occurs at around 3am, and the long, slow sunset starts at about 9 and finally disappears at about 11. On the 4th of July, that's when the party really starts.  During the day there's a great parade. It's so short that it usually loops around and makes a second run through town just so people feel they got their money's worth. Harald Medalen, who fought in the Norwegian Resistance in WWII, marched in every 4th of July parade, and always got the respect he deserved for his efforts. After the parade, fun continues with the annual Egg Toss (video here), and the Fish Tote Races. Seriously, this is what we did!

A float in the Petersburg 4th of July Parade

When twilight finally arrives, all 3000 people in the village begin making their way to the north shore of Mitkof Island to spread blankets out on neighbor's front lawns to watch the community fireworks display. They don't have anything like the McConnell Foundation to help fund a spectacular display. The cash is raised at the grocery store, with jars to toss your spare change after buying groceries. It doesn't raise much, but it's enough for Petersburg.

One year when I was a reporter at the local public radio station, instead of watching the fireworks from Mitkof, I was allowed to join the fellas who made it all happen. A few hours before sunset my friend Dave Berg, local travel agent, volunteer firefighter and the only licensed pyrotechnician in town, led a group of people across to nearby Sasby Island in skiffs (the islands are so close you can shout across the water to the people on the other side). Everyone sludged down to the beach in Extra-Tuffs, swatting away thick clouds of mosquitos and noseeums (in Alaska, you can see 'em). Even if you didn't smoke, you lit up. It was the only way to keep away the bugs. Until Dave set off the first firework. Then all the bugs were gone for good.

Then I set up my equipment, the tools of my trade. A set of headphones, a microphone and MARTI, the portable transmitter with a battery pack that allowed me to broadcast back to the station. Every year KFSK would provide a patriotic musical backdrop to the fireworks. Some unfortunate volunteer DJ would have to stay behind in the station while the island's other 2,999 residents were enjoying the show. That year, we did something a little different, with a live broadcast from Ground Zero. We still played the patriotic music, but along with it, we broadcast the sounds of Dave and his crew setting off the fireworks, calling to each other as they set off each one, the WHOOSH of each bomb firing out of the mortar heard loud and clear on everyone's radio.

The way I recall it, the guys dug holes in the sand, installing mortars and then they organized the fireworks - several thousand dollars worth of paper wrapped color bombs with long fuses - by size. Then when they were ready, I told the DJ back at the radio station to cue the music,   and the men began to set them off. They were a very well coordinated group, working in little teams. One would light the fuse with a road flare, then wait for the bomb to shoot out of the mortar, and then would call for another firework by size, and the sky would light up with color over and over again.

Over on the other island, the townspeople erupted with delight every time another color exploded over the water. We could hear them shouting "Oooh!" and "Aaaaah!" in response to the efforts of the crew on Sasby Island.  I could even hear the patriotic music turned up loudly on some of the boats floating around in the mouth of the Wrangell Narrows. There were plenty of them, positioned so they could lie on the deck, directly underneath the explosions.

Every time I think about that night I can't help but grin from ear to ear, thinking about the immense joy a small group of volunteers brought to the whole village, and how special it felt to be there, experiencing a 4th of July you just can't imagine anywhere else.

There are a few radio stations in the area that are coordinating some patriotic music on their airwaves during fireworks displays over the weekend. Q97 will coordinate with Anderson Explodes Sunday evening at the Shasta County Fairgrounds, and KFPR has similar plans for Monday's Freedom Festival Fireworks from the Convention Center in Redding. And of course, I'm offering up my own playlist for you to stream or download, and feel free to make your own suggestions or offer up stories of your favorite 4th of July.


Download this 4th of July iMix on iTunes!
Stream it instead on Grooveshark. No money required!

4th of July Playlist

  1. Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings - This Land Is Your Land
  2. Ray Charles - America The Beautiful
  3. James Brown - Living In America
  4. Neil Diamond - America
  5. Bruce Springsteen - Born In The USA
  6. Lenny Kravitz - American Woman
  7. John Mellencamp - R.O.C.K. In The USA
  8. Chuck Berry - Back In The USA
  9. Grand Funk Railroad - We're An American Band
  10. Neil Young - Rockin' In The Free World
  11. Carlos Bertonatti - Reach Out America
  12. Don McLean - American Pie
  13. Elton John - Philadelphia Freedom
  14. The Beatles - Revolution
  15. Miley Cyrus - Party in the USA
  16. Shooter Jennings - 4th Of July
  17. Toby Keith - Courtesy Of The Red White & Blue
  18. Randy Travis - America Will Always Stand
  19. Nitty Gritty Dirt Band - An American Dream
  20. Steve Miller Band - Living In The USA
  21. Martin Sexton - Free World
  22. Keb' Mo' - America The Beautiful
  23. Glenn Miller - American Patrol
  24. The Impressions - This Is My Country
  25. Johnny Cash - Ragged Old Flag
  26. Jimi Hendrix - Star Spangled Banner