Spring Song

Part of the Lamiaceae, or mint family, lyre-leaf sage grows from a small basal rosette of dark green leaves. Oval and somewhat hairy, the leaves eventually develop purple stems, edges, and veins, as well as deep lobes suggesting the shape of the musical instrument known as the lyre. In 1753, that resemblance led Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus to name the plant Salvia lyrata.

The plant also develops square, hairy stalks from one to three feet tall. Essentially leafless, the stalks fill with buds which go on to bloom from the bottom to the top, attracting a wide range of bees and butterflies with their nectar. Sometimes a single plant produces multiple stems, and while the stems aren’t framed by the leaves, it still can be fun to imagine them as the ‘strings’ of a lyre.

Last week, when I found this plant along a roadside near Santa Fe, Texas, the curved and visually pleasing stem also suggested a plucked lyre string; it reminded me of The Epitaph of Seikilos — the oldest complete musical composition in existence.

Engraved on a stele (or gravestone) almost two millennia ago in the town of Tralles, near modern-day Aydin in Turkey, it is signed from Seikilos to Euterpe, who may have been his wife. Discovered in 1883, the stele passed from hand to hand for years, until it was reclaimed from an owner who was using it as a pedestal for a flower pot. Today, it resides in the National Museum of Denmark.

Signs and symbols included on the stele indicate the melody, which musicologists have transcribed into modern notation. Here, one translation of the words, combined with the sound of the lyre, recall love’s flowering.

While you’re alive, shine;
never let your mood decline.
We’ve a brief span of life to spend;
Time necessitates an end.

Comments always are welcome.

Rolling Into the New Year

Rolling into Bandera, Texas ~ December 10, 2020

Increasingly, traditional New Year’s resolutions seem to be falling by the wayside, supplanted by the practice of choosing a specific word as a focus for the coming weeks and months.  The words vary as much as the people choosing them, of course. ‘Kindness,’ ‘hygge,’ ‘organize,’ and ‘persist’ all have been adopted by friends in the past.

I’ve never chosen a single word to guide my year, but I may have found a song worthy of holding onto in the coming months. The story of how that song came into my life is worth a short retelling.

I’d taken a long weekend to visit the Texas hill country in seach of fall color. Not long after I rounded the curve shown in the photo above, the alternator in my car went out. I reached a shop capable of doing the repair, but learned they didn’t have the correct alternator in stock. I’d have to wait until the next day to get back on the road. Still, they promised they could have the work completed by nine or ten o’clock in the morning, and that was fine.

On the other hand, I was stuck in a town I didn’t know with nothing but my wallet, my camera, and my phone; my other possessions were tucked into the bed and breakfast where I’d been staying — thirty miles away. After a good Samaritan overheard me discussing my plight with the shop owner, he put me in touch with a woman who managed local B&Bs, and she found a spot for me only a block off Bandera’s main street.

The auto repair shop was kind enough to provide transportation to my home-for-the-night. Once settled, I walked over to Main Street, sat down in front of a still under construction Best Western, and pondered my options. I happened to have the phone number of a blogger in town, so I called and asked him for dinner recommendations. “I’m across the street from two restaurants: Gringo’s and Mi Pueblo,” I said. “Which would you chose?” Gringo’s, it would be. I picked up a meal, stopped at the Dollar Store for a toothbrush, toothpaste, lipstick, and comb, and headed back to my temporary home.

The next morning, my car was ready to go at 9 a.m. A young man from the shop picked me up, I paid my bill, and headed down the road. After collecting my belongings from the bed and breakfast where I’d been expecting to stay, I was on my way home.

Then, forty miles down the road, every light on the car’s dashboard came on. My Princess coughed, vibrated, shuddered, and stopped. This time, I managed to make it into a parking lot at a convenience store, where I began again to ponder my options.

After a quick internet search, I found another auto shop five miles down the road that was willing to do a quick diagnosis. I called AAA, and in less than two hours their driver appeared, put my car up on his truck, and headed down the road to Bulverde. When we arrived, the mechanics confirmed what two Hispanic fellows in the parking lot had feared: the original repair had been poorly done, hoses had been left unsecured, the water pump was kaput, the radiator was empty, and my overheated engine had no compression. It was, as they say, a brick. “Hey!” one of my new friends said. “You’re going to need a new engine.”

Obviously, things became complicated, quickly. The owner of the shop that performed the original repairs agreed to have the car towed back to Bandera for another attempt at repairs. Homeless in the hill country, I found a room at the Bulverde Hampton Inn, and made arrangments for a rental car. The next afternoon, Enterprise picked me up, and after one more night in Bulverde, I drove back home to begin waiting to learn when my car would be roadworthy again.

Four days later, I was back on the road to Bandera. I dropped the rental car in Kerrville, had a friend drive me to Bandera, and picked up my car. Princess had a new engine (with sixty thousand fewer miles than her old one), a new radiator, a new water pump, new hoses, and a new alternator. The shop owner not only took responsibility for the damage, he wrote a check for the cost of the rental car. As he said, “We were the last ones to work on your car, and you only made it forty miles away from the shop. Our bad.”

On my third attempt to get home, I had nearly reached Rosenburg before the warning lights came on again. No longer shy about asking for automotive advice, I pulled into a Jiffy Lube. Their opinion was that I could make it home, but that I should have Toyota check things out. When I started up again, the warning lights were off, and I had no more problems.

I reached the Toyota dealership twenty minutes before closing time, and promised not to fall apart in their lobby if they’d only give me an appointment for the week before Christmas. They did, and the diagnosis was a single bad cell in the battery: enough to cause the ‘check engine’ light to come on even though the car would start. When they explained the battery was under warranty and I’d be responsible for only half the cost of a new one, all I could do was laugh.

Which brings me back to my song for 2021. After picking up my rental car in Bulverde, I discovered it had Sirius XM. When I clicked on the band and turned up the volume, I couldn’t stop laughing. Steve Winwood’s advice seemed especially apropos, and I decided to take it. The same advice may be useful somewhere down the road, now that I’m rolling again. Perhaps it will be useful to you.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Those Wonderful Christmas Toys

I suppose everyone remembers a special Christmas gift or two, and this was one of mine. While not precisely a toy, this Steelman record player served me well for several years. According to a 1950 issue of Billboard, the Steelman Phonograph and Radio Company, based in Mt. Vernon, New York, had begun producing three versions of its portable, luggage-type record changer in that year, including this three-speed version in a leatherette case. My parents splurged a bit; the player was priced at $29.95.

I remember the case, although at the time I paid no attention to the Steelman name inside the cover. In 1950, I was four years old, reading well enough to be following lyrics, and falling in love with my ‘music machine.’

Today, music machines have changed a good bit, but one of my favorites requires neither AC current nor batteries. While there aren’t any lyrics to follow, it hardly matters. The sight of the sound of this ‘toy’ is enough.


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Comments always are welcome.
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