Solomon’s Story Pole Is Towering Artistic Achievement

“We are all one. No matter whether the color of our skin is brown, black, white, red, yellow; no matter whether we are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, atheist; no matter where we come from. We are all one,” said artist and former timber businessman David Syre welcoming guests to the dedication of  the 38-foot story pole he commissioned to stand on his Whatcom County farm.

Lummi carver Felix Solomon speaks to those gathered at the dedication ceremony of his most recent commissioned piece.

I was fortunate to have been among the 100 who attended that recent rainy day having been invited by a friend who was the guest of the artist, Lummi carver Felix Solomon.  I had met Solomon just the week prior at his home where he graciously took me out to his workshop where the totem lay awaiting transport to its new home.  The 35-foot cedar log had been transformed by Solomon over the past several months from a rough piece of timber into a majestic and colorful totem.  Solomon had been given little guidance by the commissioning Syre, leaving it up to the master carver to come up with the figures and design for the pole.

The various tools of carver Felix Solomon used when working on one of his projects await their master’s hand.

Solomon drew on his familiarity with the work of carver Joseph Hillaire,  in carving this pole, to carve both sides of the pole instead of just one. Hillaire (1894-1967) is regarded as one of the greatest Coast Salish artists and carvers of the 21st century.  His work was extensive but may be best remembered for his two friendship poles carved for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, one of which went to Kobe, Japan where it was placed. Hillaire and a generation of Lummi carvers ahead of him instituted what is known as ‘story poles,’ according to Seattle Art Museum curator Barbara Bretherton. The poles are tall like totem poles but they tell a story.

Topping the story pole is an eagle with its wings outstretched.

Solomon’s story pole represents “The Creation of Life Story.” At the top of the pole is the eagle, the being that flies closest to the spirit world but is still connected to the earth, according to Solomon.  The moon in its talons represent feminine energy and the reproductive cycles.

Directly below are placed the faces of five animals found on Mount Baker, the Nooksack River and in the Salish Sea–the wolf, the mountain goat, the bear, the cougar and the sea wolf or Orca.

Next comes the design which Solomon received special permission to use in this pole, the Sun Dog, which was on the door of the Lummi Nation chief when they signed the Treaty of 1855 with the United States. In that treaty, the Lummi relinquished much of their native homeland but they retained the rights to the natural resources found there, specifically the salmon, and have seen themselves as protectors of these resources ever since.  It is one reason the Lummi Nation has been a key activist in local, state and regional environmental issues.

The River Woman holds a basket of life in her hands.

Below the Sun Dog design is a concave oval that Solomon says represents the Lummi elders and ancestors.  The crescents on the side are the voices that pass down the tribe’s stories from one generation to

another.

On the back side of the pole are rain clouds that pour into the Nooksack River with the River Woman holding a basket of life in her hands.  At the bottom can be seen spirit dancers, two-legged humans who were the last to be created.

Solomon has received considerable recognition for his carvings and creations.  One of his ‘story poles’ is located in Bellingham’s International Airport; another can be found in the Silver Reef casino in Ferndale,  Wa.  The National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. honored him for his canoe carvings.  But the Creation of Life Story pole is the largest piece he’s done to date.

Carver Felix Solomon with his completed story pole in his workshop only a week before the pole was dedicated.

In order to accommodate the 39-foot cedar log from which the totem was carved, Solomon had to expand his workshop by building on an addition.  The massive totem took Solomon months to hand carve once he worked out the design.  It had to be specially engineering with hidden reinforcements from the bottom so that it would stand securely once positioned into place.  Just sliding the pole from Solomon’s workshop and hoisting it carefully onto a flat-bed truck for transport to the Syre farm was in itself an engineering feat. Solomon gratefully recognized those responsible for that part of the project during the dedication ceremony.

Originally, the ceremony had been planned to take place around the totem. But  rain forced organizers to move it to under the tent that had been erected for the grilled salmon luncheon that followed. Before the ceremonies began, Beverly Cagey brushed the pole with branches of cedar, blessing it while her husband, Jack and their grandson, Hank, accompanied with singing a chant and drumming.

Beverly Cagey brushes branches of cedar over the story pole prior to the dedication ceremony.

Guests gathered beneath the big tent, just steps away from the log cabin that stood close by the Nooksack River.  Nooksack tribal drummers led the small procession that included both the artist and the patron down the short path from the cabin to the tent where Darrell Hillaire, Lummi Nation elder, stood at the microphone waiting to introduce  the speakers and witnesses and welcome the day’s guests.

Lummi Nation member Darrell Hillaire welcome the Nooksack drummers, the host and artist in the opening processional.

Syre spoke and told how he viewed this story pole as one of unification.  Solomon thanked him for the opportunity, gave a brief description of his work on the pole and recognized those on his team who had assisted during the process. Then, as is tradition, Solomon presented the four ‘witnesses’ he had designated for that day with ceremonial blankets which each of them draped over one shoulder for their turn to speak about what they had ‘witnessed’ that day.  Among them was a childhood friend of the host, a Nooksack tribal member, who remembered the times the two had together playing along the river and in the woods on the farms where they grew up.  They had not seen each other in nearly 50 years and had, as

Jack Cagey, foreground, awaits his turn to speak as a witness as host David Syre welcomes the guests.

the friend put it, “a lot of catching up to do.”

Jack Cagey, a Lummi Nation elder, stood from his place at the table where I was sitting and spoke of the need for greater communication between generations, for the need to talk face-to-face and not just through electronic devices.  Another of the witnesses, Candy Wilson, read a poem that I found particularly moving, the name of which I unfortunately missed in her introduction. Their words were eloquent, appropriate and heartfelt. Clearly they were speaking about more than just the pole; they were making a case of for humanity and the practice of it towards one another.

The dedication ceremony program with a description of the story pole, an art piece by Syre along with cedar and feather were set at each place.

Ninety-minutes later, the ceremony drew to a close and everyone was invited, elders first, to share in the grilled salmon luncheon that had been prepared especially for the day. The meal is as much a part of these ceremonies as the ceremony itself because it gives time for those who gathered that day to share not only food with one another with stories across the table.

Solomon’s story pole towers over those who came to the dedication ceremony on a rainy Pacific Northwest Day.

By the end, the rain that had steadily fallen had stopped so that people could walk across the field to where the story pole towered and admire Solomon’s finished work.  Indeed, it is a commanding and colorful piece. It is one of Solomon’s finest accomplishments to date. The public isn’t likely to see this fine story pole unless they catch a glimpse of the eagle’s upward extended wings from the country road that passes close by the pole’s location., ut it’s sure to stand for a very long time on this private property as a powerful reminder that, in the words of Syre: “We are all one.”

 

 

 

Tour de Whatcom is Tour de Force

Bellingham is a town that loves its bicycles but even more of them than usual could be found all over the surrounding streets and roads this last Saturday when hundreds of cyclists pedaled between 22 to 100 miles in the Tour de Whatcom.  The popular charity biking event is in its 13th year and this year benefited the Whatcom Mountain Bike Coalition.

The back of a cyclists racing jersey says it all.

It’s a colorful display of bicycles and cyclists as they whip across county roads, past lakes, through farm country, by rivers and along beaches with views of snow-capped Mount Baker rising in the distance all the way. The tour started and ended at the award-winning Boundary Bay Brewery in downtown Bellingham located directly across from the Bellingham Farmers’ Market which was also in full swing yesterday.  In fact, that’s why I was there. I spent two hours yesterday distributing postcards to people to promote the upcoming July 26th outdoor adventure film evening–Sports Shorts–being presented by CASCADIA International Women’s Film Festival at Fairhaven’s Village Green.

The aluminum arch of the Tour de Whatcom’s finish line spanned across the street from the Farmers’ Market Railroad Depot buildings.

Afterwards, I wandered over the market and Boundary Bay for a closer look at the activity.  Boundary Bay’s beer garden was filling up with cyclists who had just come in and were thirsty and hungry.  Outside, a long line of cyclists strung down the street as they checked in their bikes into the secured bike parking lot set up in the street. Other muscle-weary cyclists were receiving  rubdowns under the purple canopy of the Massage Envy tent.  And some, as did my friend Audrey who rode the 22-mile route in the tour, mingled with the marketgoers to have a bite of lunch there.

Following a long ride, the massage tent was a popular place.

The entire place was bubbling with bikers, beer and booths full of farm fresh food and crafts.  It brought back memories for me of the summer my family and I spent a month in Bellingham prior to deciding to move here permanently.

We had rented a house from friends (long before VRBO or Air BnB existed) for the month of August. It gave us a chance to explore the area and experience it as if we lived here.  One Saturday, we strolled down to the historic Fairhaven area where we discovered a road bike race was about to get underway.  At that time, the race–the Old Fairhaven Bicycle Race–began on Fairhaven’s main street and the course tracked up and down the hilly Fairhaven area to eventually finish a little further down the street from where it started.

Cyclists line up in the Fairhaven Bicycle Race.

We nabbed a ringside seat with two of our sons at an outdoor table in front of the Colophon Cafe. The Colophon was favorite spot with my sons because of its ice cream counter where big scoops of the cold dairy delight were heaped on top of waffle cones for a dollar or so. The boys ordered peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, my husband and I had bowls of clam chowder.  We ate and watched as the nearly 20 riders whizzed around the corners.  Other race watchers stood behind or sat upon the hay bales that had been places along the street for the purpose of blocking off the streets and marking the course.  It was truly a fun afternoon and one that I’ve long remembered.  The photos I took that day preserve the day not only for me but for my sons who have long since grown up.

Racers round the corner while competing in the Old Fairhaven Bicycle Race.
Sporting his new helmet, my son readies to take off on his own bike ride. Notice the training wheels on the rear.

That was the same summer too, that my oldest son, Matthew, learned to ride a bike.  Neither I nor my husband recall now where we got the bike, but unlike in Los Angeles where we lived, the sidewalks of Bellingham’s South Hill proved a great place for him to hop on and take off.  He wasn’t a particularly coordinated kid when it came to physical activities but once he figured out how the chain drive of the bike worked, riding it was no problem.  He returned to L.A. ready to ride with his friends and we returned to L.A. convinced, in part by community events like the bike race, that we wanted to make Bellingham our new home.

The Sounds of Silver

Summer is a reason in itself to celebrate in the Pacific Northwest but this summer, there’s one more thing to celebrate and that’s the silver anniversary of the Bellingham Festival of Music.

I’ve written before here about the festival which happens every July since I moved from Los Angeles to Bellingham.  In fact, the festival is one of the reasons that brought me and my family to Bellingham.  Although I didn’t realize, the festival at the time we first began to consider and explore this area was only three years old.  As the three visits we made before deciding to relocate here were all in August, we missed the festival but became aware of it.

Maestro Michael Palmer greets orchestra concertmaster Richard Roberts at the opening concert of the festival’s 25th season.

Soon after settling in, we began to buy tickets to attend some of the concerts and we’ve been faithful festivalgoers ever since.  Through the years, we’ve heard some amazing music performed by an orchestra with top-notch players from major orchestras around the country, including the N.Y. Philharmonic, the L.A. Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony, the Atlanta Symphony, the Cincinnati Symphony and the Montreal Symphony.  And the guest artists who have soloed with them are world-class.  Sometimes it’s hard to believe that I’m sitting here in my small community listening to the kind of classical concerts that you usually only find in large, metropolitan cities.

A map marking all the cities from where come the musicians that make-up the festival orchestra.

For any music festival to have survived 25 years is an accomplishment, let alone one that thrives in a community of 100,000 (and less when it first began) and now runs on all volunteer help.  Much credit must be given to the festival’s hard-working boards who  put in hours and hours of time all year to bring the festival together.

A salute must also be given to the man who’s been the artistic director and conductor since the beginning, Michael Palmer.  Palmer, who I’ve come to know in recent years, has a gift for pulling together musicians, most of whom only play together once a year, to present tight, strong performances of classical favorites as well as contemporary new pieces.  It’s a strenuous and demanding job in the three short weeks of the festival’s duration.

Artistic director Michael Palmer, left, confers with composer Aaron Jay Kernis whose “Symphony No. 4, ‘Chromelodeon'” was given it’s West Coast premiere at this year’s festival.

Of course without such talented and professional musicians, the festival would not nearly be the quality it is.  Sitting among the ranks of players are the first oboist for the Boston Symphony, the first violist of the Cincinnati Symphony, the first clarinet and flutist from Atlanta’s Symphony and the first bassist from Seattle’s Symphony, to mention but a few.

This year, much to my delight, also joining the violin section is a young woman named Rachel Frankenfeld Charbel who grew up in Bellingham, played in the Sehome High School orchestra before going off to college at the University of Texas in Austin to study music.  She was among one of my sons’ closest friends as a kid and now plays with the Cincinnati Symphony.  It makes the festival’s 25th anniversary particularly special to those of who have watched her mature into the fine musician she now is.

Violinist Rachel Frankenfeld Charbel grew up playing in Bellingham and is now a member of the festival orchestra.

Also special to Bellinghamsters is the Calidore String Quartet that has become recurring guest artists at the festival.  This young, gifted ensemble has emerged as a major chamber group winning awards, prizes and recognition throughout the world.  To have them return every year for the festival is a special treat for all of us.  The violist also happens to also be a Bellingham native and coincidentally, a classmate of Charbel’s.

Music Festival chair Karen Berry, right, with two members of the Calidore String Quartet, cellist Estelle Choi and violinist Jeffrey Myers.

Only three concerts remain in this year’s 25th anniversary season; one this evening with guest violinist Simone Porter playing Prokofiev’s “Violin Concert No. 1 in D Major;” a free chamber concert on July 18 at the Whatcom Museum of History and Art and the final closing concert on July 20 featuring the festival chorus singing Poulenc’s “Gloria” with the orchestra.  If you’re in close range, I encourage you to attend one of these and if not this year, plan to go next year and celebrate yet another season with the Bellingham Festival of Music.

 

 

Totem Memorializes Local Tragedy

On this weekend in the U.S., people are honoring the memories of the country’s military  who died in action. But another memorial is on my mind today prompted by an article that appeared the other day in the local newspaper.  That is the beautiful totem pole memorial that stood along the trail of Whatcom Creek on the edgeof Whatcom Falls Park in our city.

The healing totem was especially beautiful in the spring when the trees surrounding it flowered.

Sadly, the totem was recently removed, I read in the Bellingham Herald after someone vandalized and ‘tagged’ the pole with graffiti.  Not long ago, a friend of mine had told me that the box that sat atop the pole, was missing and wondered why.  Now the entire pole and the two carved wooden benches that sat beside it are gone after city workers removed them and placed them in protective storage until they can be restored.

While the city’s action is commendable, that of the vandals was disrespectful and, frankly, inexcusable.  I am giving those individuals the benefit of the doubt that they apparently are unaware of that they not only did they deface a significant Native artwork, but in so doing they insulted the artist, the Lummi Nation and the families of those killed in the 1999 Bellingham pipeline explosion for whom the pole was intended to memorialize.

The vibrant, bold colors of the totem can be seen in this detail of a salmon.

The 15-foot cedar log pole was created by the Lummi House of Tears carvers under the direction of Lummi Nation’s master carver Jewell James. Its bright, bold and beautiful paint was applied under the supervision of head painter Ramona James.  The pole took months to carve and paint before finally being erected and dedicated during an Earth Day ceremony in 2007.   “The pole is to restore the stream and its habitat and to remember the three boys who lost their lives,” carver James told American Profile reporter Heather Larson.

James referred to the three boys–Liam Wood, 18, Wade King and Stephen Tsiovras, both 10, who were killed when the Olympic pipeline (now owned by British Petroleum) carrying gasoline exploded dumping an estimated 277,000 gallons into the creek that runs through Whatcom Falls Park, located in the middle of Bellingham.  Liam was fishing after having just graduated from high school; Wade and Stephen were playing, as they often did together, further down creek.  It was a day that darkened the sky over Bellingham as the black cloud billowed above the park.  The explosion literally stopped life in town as everyone, myself included, wondered what had happened and emergency first responders rushed to the site.

Lummi Nation master carver Jewell James speaks at the dedication ceremony.

The explosion made national news, changed national pipeline regulation (although the families of those who died will tell you not enough) and some believe awoke Bellingham to the dangers that unregulated and aging pipelines pose for not only our city, but others like it throughout the country.

Lummi Nation tribal members as well as family and Bellingham community members gathered on April 20, 2007 to dedicate the healing totem.

I was present, along with a few others, on the day of Lummi Nation gave and dedicated the totem and benches to the city. The ceremony was emotional and moving with other Pacific Northwest Native Nations witnessing the event in order to pass the story along to the next generation. Those gathered listened solemnly as carver James spoke eloquently about the need to promote healing for all those impacted by the explosions, wildlife as well as human life, and about the importance of being good stewards of the environment.  Members of the Lummi Nation, also delivered a heartfelt messages for the family members attending. Lummi drummers and flutists played.  Blankets were draped around the shoulders of the deceased boys’ young friends, now high school students, participating in the unveiling during the ceremony.

The parents of Wade King, Frank and Mary, watch as their son’s personal belongings are placed into the memorial box on the totem.

Then, James asked the family members of the victims to bring forward the items that they had brought to be placed into the memorial box positioned atop the totem.  One by one the personal belongings of Stephen and Wade were handed up the tall ladder to the tribal member who carefully laid them inside.  A teddy bear, a baseball card and cap were among the things. The lid was fitted tightly and sealed.  Tears streamed down the faces of not only the family members but others who were that day.

And, as the ceremony was ending, two solitary eagles soared and glided over head, just as James had told Wade’s mother, Mary, earlier that day that they would.

As if on cue, two majestic eagles appeared, silhouetted in the sky, as the totem’s dedication ceremony concluded.

It was a day I’ll never forget.  When I read about the vandalism of the totem and its removal, my heart ached.  The city is apparently intent on repairing and restoring the totems and benches but in the meantime, there is a huge emptiness where they stood in the opening by the creek. The runners, walkers and visitors who pass by it will miss it.  The totem served as a somber, dignified reminder, as well as a memorial, to those who tragically died on that early June day in Bellingham.  That’s what’s on my mind this Memorial Day.

Historic and Iconic Bellingham City Hall Captured on Camera

A company called Light is introducing a new compact camera that uses new technology. They enlisted some photographers to mention it in their blogs and to write about one of their favorite locations to shoot or a unique spot in their city.  I was one of those contacted  for Light’s #VantagePoint project.

The towers of Bellingham's old City Hall rise above a modern day mural depicting the days when the historic structure was built. My photograph was made in 2012 using a Nikkon D700.
The towers of Bellingham’s old City Hall rise above a modern-day mural depicting the days when the historic structure was built. My photograph was made in 2012 using a Nikon D700.

A request like this isn’t easy for me because I have so many favorite spots and so many favorite images that I’ve created over the years.  But I thought I’d take this opportunity to talk to you about one of my favorite local subjects (besides the people I photograph). And that is Bellingham’s old City Hall building, now part of the Whatcom County Museum of Art.

It’s an iconic building in town and safe to say probably the most photographed in Bellingham.  Completed in 1892, it served as the town’s official city hall until 1939 when new offices were built and the museum moved in.

I've photographed the iconic old Bellingham City Hall from a variety of angles and spots. This image made in 2008 with my Nikon F5.
I’ve photographed the iconic old Bellingham City Hall from a variety of angles and spots. This image made in 2008 with my Nikon F5.

 

The noble red-brick and Chuckanut sandstone structure was designed by local architect Alfred Lee in the Second Empire style of Victorian architecture.  According to the City’s website, is “currently one of this style’s most exquisite example in the Pacific Northwest. This building epitomizes the general characteristics of this French inspired style, which are tall, bold and purposely three-dimensional. Some of the design elements are also an eclectic mixture of the Queen Anne and Romanesque Revival style.”  It includes a high mansard roof, classical columns on either side of the main entrance, and a prominent, central bell tower, all of which draw the photographer’s eye.

Walking out of the museum one evening, the silhouette of the old City Hall's towers with the new moon just appearing behind it caught my eye and my camera. This was taken with my Nikon Coolpix S3500 point and shoot.
Walking out of the museum one evening, the silhouette of the old City Hall’s towers with the new moon just appearing behind it caught my eye and my camera. This was taken with my Nikon Coolpix S3500 point and shoot.
This senior's vintage clothing set the tone for his senior photo session at the old City Hall building in Bellingham. It was photographed using my Mamiya RB 67 film camera in 2007.
This senior’s vintage clothing set the tone for his senior photo session at the old City Hall building in Bellingham. It was photographed using my Mamiya RB 67 film camera in 2007.

I have photographed the building, or elements of it, from a variety of spots, angles, times of day and year. It has been the setting for many of my senior portrait sessions and the choice of seniors who want their portrait to reflect something uniquely Bellingham.  And I’ve used a variety of cameras over the years from my Mamiya RB67 and Nikon F5 film cameras, to my digital Nikon D700s to (yes,) my cell phone cameras. It all depends upon what I may happen to have with me or what I’m using at the moment.  The images included in this post were taken on all of these various cameras.

The building now houses part of the museum’s collection and its spacious Rotunda Room is frequently the site for concerts, including the Bellingham Festival of Music‘s popular free lunch-time chamber concerts.  I even photographed one of those this past summer.

Two young concertgoers sit patiently waiting for the Bellingham Festival of Music lunch time program to begin.
Two young concertgoers sit patiently waiting for the Bellingham Festival of Music lunch time program to begin. Taken with my Nikon D700 f3.5 1/50 sec ISO 3200 28-200 @28 mm

When you visit Bellingham, which I hope you’ll do one day, be sure to stop by the old City Hall. It’s likely to be as memorable for you as it has been for many photographers and visitors before you.

I’ve not seen or tried out the new Light camera but according to the company’s website, the camera, Light L16, is sold out until 2017. You can check it out yourself.

 

Beautiful Music in My Own Backyard

Summers in the Puget Sound area, where I live, don’t officially start, weather-wise, until July 13, according to local meteorologists.  But in Bellingham, summers begin when the musicians from around the country arrive for the Bellingham Festival of Music.  That happened last week.

The Bellingham Festival of Music begins its summer season with a picnic for the musicians at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal.
The Bellingham Festival of Music begins its summer season with a picnic for the musicians at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal.

The Festival, now in its 23rd season from July 1-17, is one of the things that I look forward to every summer. In fact, the Festival is one of the amenities that attracted us and ultimately convinced us to move to Bellingham. It must be a draw for the musicians too as every summer, 44 musicians from major orchestras across the U.S. and Canada (plus additional players as needed) assemble here to play two weeks worth of some of the most beautiful music in the world.  We like to think that they are also playing in one of the most beautiful places in the world.

It all begins with a welcoming picnic for the musicians, conductor Micheal Palmer, the chorus members, sponsors and the families who host the musicians in their homes during their stay.  This year’s picnic took place at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal which offers a terrific view of the Bay and Bellingham. It’s an ideal spot for returning and new musicians to meet this year’s Festival board members, local sponsors and the home hosts.

Janet Lightner,co-owner of Boundary Bay Brewery, served brews with her sister, Vicki, at the Festival of Music picnic.
Janet Lightner, co-owner of Boundary Bay Brewery, served brews with her sister, Vicki, at the Festival of Music picnic.

The potluck picnic, provided by the Festival Board member and volunteers, is tasty and plentiful.  Following appetizers and drinks, with local prize-winning microbrewery Boundary Bay serving up some of its finest beers, the picnickers head off to the buffet table and dinner. Afterwards, this year’s Board Chair, Karen Berry, officially opened the season by introducing maestro Michael Palmer who, in turn, introduced this year’s team of musicians.

Thumbs Up
Festival musicians Marci Gurnow and Christian Colberg give the buffet table a thumbs up at the opening picnic for the Bellingham Festival of Music.

Section by section, starting with the first violins of course, the musicians took their turn at the podium to share with the evening’s guests their answers to the question: “What was your most embarrassing moment as a musician?” There were some great ones: insects falling onto instruments and being flung into the audience, missed cues, parts of bassoons falling out during performances, women’s undergarments landing on violin scrolls during a Tom Jones’ show, auditions that turned out well despite mishaps and being encouraged to pursue other professions.  It all made for some entertaining anecdotes.

Many of the Festival’s musicians have been coming to Bellingham for years.  They have become a ‘family’ in the sense that they know one another’s spouses and children, have forged long-lasting friendships with their home hosts and share in the joys and sadness of one another’s lives. Last summer, one of the musicians stayed beyond the Festival dates in order to have her wedding in Bellingham. This year, a group from the orchestra is throwing a baby shower for an expectant father who’s playing here while his wife, nearing her due date, remained at home.

Bellingham Fesitval of Music Chair Karen Berry welcomes the musicians and guests at the opening picnic.
Bellingham Festival of Music Chair Karen Berry welcomes the musicians and guests at the opening picnic.
Maestro MIchael Palmer takes the podium to introduce the Festival musicians.
Maestro MIchael Palmer takes the podium to introduce the Festival musicians.

This long-term bonding has, over the years, made the orchestra tighter when they play together onstage. At least that’s my belief having now gone to concerts for the past 20 years. Although together for only a short time, with rehearsals only days ahead of each concert, they meld into a solid sound.  I have often found myself astounded to be sitting in my own backyard–nearly literally as the concert hall at Western Washington University where they play is within walking distance–and listening to world-class performances.

Principal bassist from the Seattle Symphony Jordan Anderson shares his ‘most embarrassing moment’ at the Bellingham Festival of Music picnic.

For Festival goers, the concerts are a bargain with ticket prices topping at $45 for premiere seating in a small, intimate performance hall of just 650 seats. I recall the many years that I lived in Los Angeles and

was a subscriber to the L.A.Philharmonic. Travel time from our home was 45 minutes at least, depending upon traffic, bargain tickets were usually no less than $45 and in the top tiers of the 3,000 seat hall, plus parking costs and don’t forget money for the babysitter. Granted, I no longer need to pay a babysitter, but all the other costs of hearing live classical music and experiencing outstanding performances in as beautiful a natural setting as you’ll ever find make the Bellingham Festival of Music an incredible deal. Especially for us locals.

Donna Lively Clark from the Festival orchestra's viola section tells the picnic guests how much she enjoys the shopping when she comes to play.
Donna Lively Clark from the Festival orchestra’s viola section tells the picnic guests how much she enjoys the shopping when she comes to play.

If you don’t live in the immediate area, you can spend the week vacationing and enjoying the classical music concerts at night and any one number of activities during the day–strolling the art galleries and shops, tipping a few brews on the ‘Tap Trail,” hiking or biking on one of our many trails, playing golf on one of 22 courses here, fishing, kayaking or sailing on the Bay. I can’t think of a place I’d rather be.

 

A City Stops the Coal Train in its Tracks

June 10th marks a day of both great tragedy and great celebration in my small city of Bellingham, WA.  That’s because 17 years ago on that date, a pipeline carrying gasoline from a refinery north of the city and that runs through our Whatcom Falls Park, in the middle of the city, exploded.

The fireball that erupted when the Olympic Pipeline ruptured sent flames down the park’s stream burning everything in its path, including three boys, an 18-year-old who had just graduated from high school and who had gone to the park to fish and two 10-year-olds who were playing downstream in the water. 

Whatcom Falls Park is a popular place for locals and visitors alike in Bellingham where the pipeline exploded 16 years ago.
Whatcom Falls Park is a popular place for locals and visitors alike in Bellingham where the pipeline exploded 16 years ago.

I was just about to leave with my own 10-year-old at the time, for his baseball game in a school ball field located not far away from the park. As I was standing by my car, I suddenly saw a giant plume of thick, black smoke curl up in the sky and over the general area where we were headed.  Although I had no idea what was the cause, I recognized it as some kind of oil-related fire because I had seen one exactly like it when the pipeline ruptured and exploded near my home in Los Angeles as the Northridge earthquake in 1996, just three years previous.

Family members of two of the boys killed by the Olympic Pipeline explosion in Bellingham gather with Lummi Naton members for the unveiling of the 'healing' totem, carved and dedicated by the Lummi Nation in 2007.
Family members of two of the boys killed by the Olympic Pipeline explosion in Bellingham gather with Lummi Nation members for the unveiling of the ‘healing’ totem, carved and dedicated by the Lummi Nation in 2007.

I, like hundreds of other residents, instantly turned on our radio in hopes of learning what was happening. And I told my son that we were in no way going to the baseball field. The news was spotty and unconfirmed but one local caller to the station knew exactly what it was: a pipeline explosion in the park.

We learned later that was precisely what had occurred.  A faulty valve at a pumping station located 30 miles south failed to open. Workers, thinking it was yet again the faulty valve, overrode the controls to close the valve, causing the pressure in the pipeline to build and burst in the park.

My son, Matthew, says the day of the Bellingham pipeline explosion is a day he will never forget. Here he speaks at a 2012 public hearing on the coal train shipping terminal in Bellingham.
My son, Matthew, says the day of the Bellingham pipeline explosion is a day he will never forget. Here he speaks at a 2012 public hearing on the coal train shipping terminal in Bellingham.

My oldest son, Matthew, then 14, says he “remembers looking up to see the plume like it was yesterday. I’ll take that image to the grave.” As will many who were living here at the time. It was a day that awakened the residents of Bellingham to the potential dangers and disaster, both for the environment and in human life, that unmaintained and unrestricted pipelines carrying gasoline, trains transporting noxious coal and tanker trains loaded with flammable oil can have on a community. We learned that lesson long before the accidents that occurred in West Virginia, Quebec and most recently in nearby Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge just this month.

An estimated 2,000 people lined up in the rain to attend and speak at one of the first public hearings on the proposed coal train terminal.
Nearly 1,200 people lined up in the rain to attend and speak at one of the first public hearings on the proposed coal train terminal.

I have no doubt that it’s one reason why companies wanting to place a shipping terminal just 20 miles north of here in order to send coal to China encountered such strong opposition from local and state residents. Building the terminal would have meant that as many as 25 trains a day would have rolled from Wyoming, across the farms and ranches of Montana, Idaho and Eastern Washington, up the coast of Western Washington, through Bellingham along its waterfront and past neighborhoods with houses standing less than 100 feet from the rails. It would have meant that the fishing grounds, where the Lummi Nation people have harvested salmon for hundreds of years, would have been jeopardized and likely threatened all the sea life dwelling in that deep water area of the Salish Sea.

The salmon became a symbol for signs calling for the protection of the Salish Sea during rallies against proposed coal train terminal.
The salmon became a symbol for signs calling for the protection of the Salish Sea during rallies against proposed coal train terminal.

Five years ago, environmental writer and activist Bill McKibben spoke at rally at the Village Green to kick off the campaign against the coal trains. At that time, he told the crowd of approximately 1,000 that “Bellingham, by sheer accident of geography, is the front line in the global battle against the use of coal.”

Environmental writer and activist Bill McKibben makes a presentation at Western Washington University in 2014 during of several visits to Bellingham. McKibben was one of the first to acknowledge Bellingham's crucial role in the coal campaign.
Environmental writer and activist Bill McKibben makes a presentation at Western Washington University in 2014 during of several visits to Bellingham. McKibben was one of the first to acknowledge Bellingham’s crucial role in the coal campaign.

This past Friday, June 10, an estimated 1,000 people gathered again on the Village Green. But this time, they were there to celebrate the recent decision by the Army Corps of Engineers to uphold the Lummi Nation’s treaty rights and deny the permits required to build the coal terminal as well as the announcement by the state’s Department of Natural Resources that it had denied the land lease also required.

An estimated 1,000 people gathered on Saturday, June 10 to celebrate their victory over the coal shipping terminal.
An estimated 1,000 people gathered on Saturday, June 10 to celebrate their victory over the coal shipping terminal.

Some warn that the project is still alive until the local permit application at the county level is denied but those at the Village Green on Saturday were jubilant with these latest turn of events and what they hope will put an end to the coal terminal.

And those of us, who, like my son and myself, remember the June 10 of 17 years prior, also paid our respects for the event and lives lost that sparked the debate here and derailed the coal train terminal.

 

 

 

Climate Marchers: Listen with Your Heart

I had planned to write something else for my blog post today, but decided after participating in today’s Climate March that I needed to write about this instead.  I, and about 750 other Bellinghamsters, gathered in chilly 30 degree weather this morning in Maritime Heritage Park to show our support, along with marchers in 2,000 other cities throughout the country, for the United Nations’ Conference on Climate Change which begins tomorrow, November 30.

Climate Marchers gathered in Bellingham's Maritime Heritage Park and paused for a moment of silence for victims of terror in Paris before setting out.
Climate Marchers gathered in Bellingham’s Maritime Heritage Park and paused for a moment of silence for victims of terror in Paris before setting out.

After a moment of silence for all the victims of recent terrorist actions in Paris and elsewhere, the group was rallied with signs bearing environmental slogans and set out on a short march through downtown Bellingham. The mood was not exactly festive but determined as people made their way en masse to a downtown building that currently serves as the Salish Sea Marine Sanctuary space.

Participants in the Climate March carried signs with environmental slogans as they walked through downtown.
Participants in the Climate March carried signs with environmental slogans as they walked through downtown.

People poured into the building to the lively beat of drummers positioned at the front doors. Shortly afterwards, Lummi Nation elder Darrell Hillaire introduced the guest speakers who took to the stage and spoke about the importance of taking care of our environment as one day we will all meet our creator and have to account for our actions.  They instructed us to ‘listen with our hearts, instead of our ears,’ when it comes to climate matters because if we do, it will stay with us.

First Nations guest speakers urged the climate marchers to 'listen with their hearts' when it comes to climate justice issues.
First Nations guest speakers urged the climate marchers to ‘listen with their hearts’ when it comes to climate justice issues.

The Lummi Nation will send an Indigenous Delegation to Paris later this week to participate in the conference and to present the video, “The Earth is Alive” which has been made especially for the big event. The Lummi Nation has taken center stage in the environmental arena locally as they work together with other environmental groups such as ReSources, Climate Solutions,  350 Seattle and the Sierra Club to block the construction of a shipping terminal that would threaten and likely destroy their fishing waters.

The sign posted at Sunday's Climate March said it all.
The sign posted at Sunday’s Climate March said it all.

Treaties made back with President Ulysses S. Grant gave the Lummi Nation protection of its natural resources, salmon being among them. They argue that building the proposed shipping terminal, intended to ship coal from here to China, would jeopardize and break that that treaty.

Just two weeks ago, a Lummi Nation delegation appeared at the White House Tribal First Nations Conference to express their concerns about these violations and to rally other First Nations to support their efforts.

No decision has yet been made regarding the terminal but it has bonded, and in some cases, divided the entire county and the state.  At stake is the environmental well-being of the entire corridor that runs the length of the Salish Sea as increased train traffic, up to 25 trains per day, would run to and from the terminal carrying loads of coal destined for export.

Wendy, a member of the Squamish Nation from British Columbia, was among those present at the Bellingjham Climate March and premiere of "The Earth is Alive,' to be shown in Paris during the Climate Conference.
Wendy,in silhouette here, is a member of the Squamish Nation from British Columbia and was among those present at the Bellingham Climate March and premiere of “The Earth is Alive,’ to be shown in Paris during the Climate Conference.

Today’s march, while part of the larger worldwide effort to show solidarity for climate justice, was much more personal to those in Bellingham.

More of my photos from Bellingham’s Climate March can be seen on my Portfolio page.

Courtroom Drama

When author Harper Lee‘s newly published novel,  “Go Set a Watchman” was released two weeks ago,  it was heralded with special screenings of the film based on her now classic book, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird”, midnight book parties and readings, and all sorts of other events all intended to celebrate or promote (depending upon your point of view) this book.  The book, despite or perhaps because, of the controversy surrounding it, quickly climbed to number one on the New York Times best seller list where I suspect it will remain for a while.  Lee’s other book, after all, is now regarded an American literary classic and is studied by schoolchildren and beloved by readers.

It is one of my personal favorites too. A few years ago, I found an anniversary copy of the book which I purchased as a gift for my husband and then, as luck would have it, actor Gregory Peck signed it when he came to the Mount Baker Theatre with his ‘one-man’ speaking tour in 2000. He still cut a striking and statuesque figure even then at age 83 and was as gracious as he appeared to be in many of his on-screen roles. I must admit that I was appropriately starstruck with the 6-foot 3-inch tall actor who played Atticus Finch as he stood right there before me after his onstage performance writing an inscription and his name into the book .

I was reminded of all this recently when Lee’s other book made the headlines. My backstage encounter with Peck also came to mind a couple of years ago when I was commissioned to photograph a group of local political activists promoting women candidates for the cover of our weekly alternative newspaper, the Cascadia Weekly.

Local political activists gathered in the Federal Buildilng courtroom for this cover photo.
Local political activists gathered in the Federal Building courtroom for this cover photo.

We staged it, with permission, in the courtroom of the three-story Federal Building in downtown Bellingham. The building, designed in the Italian Renaissance style, is prominently located on a downtown corner where, every Friday since the 1960s, there has been a ‘peace demonstration.’ (I’ll have to write another blog about that one day.) Few locals ever go inside the noble structure except to purchase stamps or to mail a package from the post office branch located in the southeast ground floor corner. But they should as it’s a real design treat.

Stepping into the courtroom in Bellingham's Federal Building is like stepping into the trial setting for 'To Kill a Mockingbird.'
Stepping into the courtroom in Bellingham’s Federal Building is like stepping into the trial setting for ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’

The courtroom where the photo for the cover was done at a time when the courtroom wasn’t currently in use. It was once a Federal District Courtroom. (More recently, it’s been proposed that the courtroom come back into use as one of the city’s courtrooms.) I was so taken by the beauty of this judicial room that I stayed after my photo session for the Weekly to photograph it for myself. Although not an exact duplicate of the courtroom seen in the classic black and white film, it clearly is of a similar style and period so that just walking through huge wooden door so you transported through imagination to that setting. I could see Atticus Finch sitting at the defendant’s large, heavy oak table appealing to the judge positioned in the behind the big bench at the front of the room.

The audience is separated from the court floor by a mahogany railing that spans the width of the courtroom.
The audience is separated from the court floor by a mahogany railing that spans the width of the courtroom.

An elegant Honduran mahogany rail separates the court floor from the mahogany benches for the audience.  Tall, two-story arched windows line one side and allow natural light to fill the entire room. Running beneath the windows is the jury box, where, if I closed my eyes, I could see the jurors of that classic case intently following the arguments being presented before them.

There is no balcony in the Bellingham courtroom, as there is in the movie, but your eyes are led overhead to a coffered, vaulted ceiling that is 20 feet tall at its highest point. “Each octagonal ceiling coffer has an egg and dart moulding that surrounds a delicate stucco rosette planted in the coffer’s center,”  according to the building’s nomination for the National Register of Historic Places. It is an impressive judicial setting, one that certainly harkens to another era when such detail was the norm for important institutional structures.

Your eyes gaze upwards to the decorative coffered ceiling.
Your eyes gaze upwards to the decorative coffered ceiling.

Indeed, many small towns in this country have courtrooms of this sort built, as was this one, in the earlier part of the 20th century where the trial as seen in “To Kill a Mockingbird” could have taken place.  They remind us of a time when attorneys, like the fictional Atticus Finch, were eloquent, righteous and respected. Perhaps that’s one reason why some are so disappointed by the Atticus Finch of Lee’s new book, and why it has given rise to the controversy of whether the author ever intended it to be published. Regardless, if you live in the area, or are visiting, and have never seen the courtroom inside the Bellingham’s Federal Building, go upstairs sometime and have a peek. And let me know if it doesn’t make you think of Harper Lee’s literary classic.

 

 

 

Making Music in Beautiful Bellingham

Bellingham’s Festival of Music’s 22nd season got off to a bang on Friday evening when the orchestra, under the baton of Michael Palmer, performed the rousing Overture to Royal Fireworks Music by George Frederic Handel. Though evening was unseasonably warm inside Western Washington University’s Concert Hall the audience wasn’t deterred and applauded for an encore from soloist Vadim Gluzman who gave a stunningly beautiful performance of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. The orchestra too sparkled when it played Mozart’s wonderful  (never can have too much Mozart) Symphony No. 36 in C major, the  “Linz”.

Violinist Vadim Gluzman greets fans and sign autographs following hisperformance at the 2015 opening night concert Bellingham Festival of Music
Violinist Vadim Gluzman greets fans and sign autographs following his performance at the 2015 opening night concert Bellingham Festival of Music

I often have to remind myself that I am in Bellingham, a city of only 80,000 located 20 miles from the Canadian border, and not in Seattle or San Francisco or even Chicago or New York when I hear this Festival orchestra perform.  Of course, the musicians who play in this orchestra for two weeks in the summer, come from orchestras located in those cities. As many of them have said, it’s equally a treat for them as well to perform here year after year (some have been with the Festival since the first year). They have made many friends with their ‘host’ families and those who come to hear them play. They enjoy the opportunity to play in a our beautiful city by the bay and welcome the chance to escape from the heat of their home environs. (This summer has been unseasonably warm for Bellingham.)

Audience members await the start of the chamber music concert staged in Bellingham's Ferry Terminal each year with stunning views of the bay and the city.
Audience members await the start of the chamber music concert staged in Bellingham’s Ferry Terminal each year with stunning views of the bay and the city.

It’s one reason the New York Times singled out Bellingham’s Music Festival, along with that of select others in the country, for its article by Michael Cooper which appeared in today’s paper. It is, as Cooper so aptly put it, like ‘summer camp’ for classical musicians.

For concertgoers, the festival brings to the stage some of the world’s best classical music and musicians,  without setting foot beyond the city’s boundaries. In my case, I am only steps away from the WWU campus where they perform.

Mary Kary and Joe Robinson play for guests during a farewell gathering given at a private home to honor their retirement from the Belingham Music Festival.
Mary Kary and Joe Robinson play for guests during a farewell gathering given at a private home to honor their retirement from the Bellingham Music Festival.

I have had the pleasure of listening to and getting to know, for example, former New York Philharmonic principal oboist Joe Robinson, both as a member of the orchestra and as a soloist. (Pinch me.) Robinson retired from the Festival two summers ago but his spot was filled by protegé, Keisuke Wakao, principal oboist for the Boston Symphony.  And I’ve heard some of the finest soloists, such as the Israeli violinist Gluzman, performing in classical music today.

It also brings back to Bellingham local artists such as soprano Katie Van Kooten who’s singing with opera companies and symphony orchestras all over the world, and young rising talent, such as the Calidore String Quartet, whose violist, Jeremy Berry, grew up only blocks from the concert hall where he saw musicians on the very stage where he now performs as part of the Festival’s guest artists.

The Calidore String Quartet visits the Pacific Northwest to perform in the Bellingham Festival of Music.
The Calidore String Quartet visits the Pacific Northwest to perform in the Bellingham Festival of Music at Western Washington University. The quartet is making a name for itself internationally and includes violoist Jeremy Berry who grew up listening to concerts on the Festival stage.

At this writing, tickets are still available for some concerts. If you’re lucky enough to be in the area, or coming to this corner of the Pacific Northwest in the next two weeks, make it part of your summer. If you can’t make it to Bellingham’s music festival this year, put it in your travel plans for next year. And then you, like so many of the festival musicians, may also find yourself returning year after year!