The Cunning Little Vixen

I mentioned a recent vulpine obsession; as a result, my readers may have to endure a few fox-themed posts. We’ll begin with Leos Janáček’s masterpiece, The Cunning Little Vixen.

As an opera, The Cunning Little Vixen is extremely difficult to stage. (So I’m told. I’ve never actually produced an opera.) The New York Times, for example, claims that Janáček’s masterpiece has a “nightmarish reputation among opera companies.” Following the U.S. premiere in 1924, “Vixen” wasn’t staged professionally in the States until 1975, when the Santa Fe Opera gave it a go. One of the opera’s difficulties lies in its extensive, glorious orchestral interludes in which the vocalists have no lines to sing. And then there’s the matter of singing animals and insects interacting with humans. That requires imaginative staging, to say the least.

Quick opera summary: a resilient fox cub is captured and raised by a forester, escapes and finds true love and raises a family, then is shot and killed by an evil poacher. The forester, meanwhile, reflects on the circle of life and the connection between humanity and nature.

In December I had dinner with a friend who performs with the Cleveland Orchestra, and she told me about the innovative approach that Cleveland took with the opera a few years ago, which involved vocalists interacting with an animated screen. The BBC has also produced an animated film version, directed by Geoff Dunbar, musical direction by Kent Nagano. More about that in a moment.

Animating an opera is never a bad idea, and in the case of The Cunning Little Vixen, or Příhody Lišky Bystroušky (The Adventures of Vixen Sharp-Ears) such an approach is entirely appropriate, since Janáček based his opera on a 1920’s newspaper comic strip by Czech artist Stanislav Lolek and the subsequent novelization of Lolek’s work by Rudolf Těsnohlídek.

cartoon of fox

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I recently reread Těsnohlídek’s story of Vixen Sharp-Ears (the 1980’s English translation with all the beautiful illustrations by Maurice Sendak) and I was struck by the fact that it was Janáček, not Těsnohlídek, who introduced the vixen’s death as a tragic plot element. Těsnohlídek certainly hinted that the vixen’s days of freedom might be numbered in the future, but he didn’t let the damn poacher get her. (Těsnohlídek, incidentally, has absolutely the saddest life story of any writer in history.)

illustration of fox

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Nagano and Dunbar’s animated production of the opera, the bold, freedom-loving Sharp-Ears may not survive, but she does insinuate her way into the audience’s collective heart.

Below, a few screencaps from my DVD. This isn’t the best production of “Vixen” ever–try this one directed by Sir Charles Mackerras for superb orchestral direction and singing–but I love it anyway. It’s in English! It has cartoon foxes! My favorite scenes include Sharp-Ears dreaming about her mother when she’s tied up in the forester’s yard; Sharp-Ears falling in love with a dashing fox (played here by a tenor, not the usual mezzo); and of course the forester’s exquisite reverie at the end, as his own life draws to a close.

fox and kit

2018: The Year in Reading

Despite being busy designing and building a new home–not to mention packing up 5,000 lbs of books (and this is after The Great Purge)–I did manage to read a few things in 2018.

lego figures and books

My birthday LEGO set: the legendary women of NASA

There are more YA (young adult) and MG (middle grade) novels on my bookshelf than usual, because I’ve been sending subscription book boxes to my nieces, and–being a conscientious auntie–I’ve screened all the books ahead of time. (Usually I can guess if something will be too mature for the girls, or not their style, although I have been spectacularly wrong on a few occasions, like the time I gave the younger one a copy of Holly Black’s Doll Bones, and she was “seriously creeped out.” But I digress.)

My very unscientific list of favorites, in no particular order:

  • Roses and Rot. The Tam Lin-inspired debut by Kat Howard, who edited my novel Arcanos Unraveled. It’s a story about sisters, the dangers of Faerie, and being an artist.
  • The Cruel Prince. Oh, Holly Black, you are a goddess. The first in a trilogy, this is about sisters, the dangers of Faerie, and being a badass.
  •  Voyage of the Dogs by Greg van Eekhout. You know that the space dog Laika’s tragic story has got under your skin when you read a sweet and uplifting children’s book that references it and you cry and cry, even though there’s a happy ending.
  • The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang. A graphic novel about a cross-dressing prince? Yes, please!
  • Magic, Madness, and Mischief by Kelly McCullough. A middle grade adventure in the style of The Lightning Thief, but with a Minneapolis skyline and a sensitively drawn mother with mental health challenges.
  • Year of the Griffin by Diana Wynne Jones. Like my novel Arcanos Unraveled, this is a playful satire of a magic university. Scheming academics! Talking Griffins! I love this book so much.
  •  The Language of Spells by Garret Freymann-Wehr. About memory, and loss, and dragons resisting genocide in Vienna. You won’t read that book again, because the ending’s just too hard to take.

2018: The Year in Review

statue of bearI’ve already promised (or threatened) to create separate posts for recent adventure and wildlife photos, since I’m still catching up from the Great Blog Silence of 2018, so let’s just decide right now that our 2018 Year in Review will exclude anything having to do with climbing mountains.

2018 was a year of endings and new beginnings. We’ve embraced our new life in Albuquerque, but we’ve also said a lot of goodbyes.

The hardest goodbye was the one we should have expected. Our beloved kitty Snowy passed away this summer, and we miss her every single day. We’d hoped very much that she would live to see her new home in New Mexico–no stairs for her to manage!–but she was ready to say goodbye. We were not.

white catWe found each other at the Dunn County Humane Society in Wisconsin in 2002. Sporting ermine-soft fur and going by the unlikely name of Auntie Em, she was a street cat who’d just had a litter of kittens. Delicate and finicky, our girl purred softly, cuddled sweetly, and hated the smell of coffee. Snowy sat on my wrists while I wrote my novels, shamelessly drank from my water glasses, and imperiously did her own thing. We wouldn’t have had it any other way. She was our little Snowy Bubbles, our Snow Bunny, and we loved her.

Another goodbye took place near Pinewood Springs, Colorado. The week before I moved to New Mexico, my friends Takane and Betsy and I went up into the mountains above our friend Solveig’s childhood home, and we scattered Sol’s ashes to the winds. Solveig loved hiking, she felt ridiculously lucky to to live in Colorado, and it makes me happy to think that her mortal remains have become a part of the wilderness that she cherished. Solveig’s spirit is still with us, and I really believe she’s watching over me.

rocks and treesEven if a goodbye isn’t final, it’s always challenging to be parted from the people we care about. I miss all my Colorado friends–both the ones I met through Solveig, and the ones in the textile community that I found on my own. I’ve joined a new textile guild in Albuquerque, but the gals from the Denver Metro guild helped me become a modern quilter, and I’m grateful to them all.

2018 saw me working on two major projects: a charity quilt and a custom home. Since I figured I needed to exercise my skills as a project manager, I took charge of the Denver Metro guild’s QuiltCon Charity Challenge Quilt, working closely with over a dozen quilters to create “Enigma Variations.” Following the candy-bright color palette and “Modern Traditionalism” prompt assigned by the Modern Quilt Guild, I conceptualized the quilt, collected individual blocks from each contributor, commissioned the talented Amy Wade to do custom quilting, and then put it all together.

modern quiltHere’s the artist’s statement that I wrote for the QuiltCon show:

We take inspiration from Edward Elgar’s haunting orchestral suite known as the Enigma Variations, whose theme is a counterpoint to an unnamed melody that is never directly heard. Thus the true source material is an enigma. We aim to translate Elgar’s exquisite sense of mystery into fabric. This quilt contains several “Enigma” blocks that both convey and conceal our source material. Through the interplay of our variations, we seek to create a feeling of expansive potential, while retaining a sense of mystery at the core. Blocks by members of the Denver Metro Modern Quilt Guild. Quilting by Amy Wade.

I enjoyed designing “Enigma Variations” and seeing the project through to the end. It was a ton of work, but it felt good to make it happen. Project management also played a role in our other major accomplishment for the year: designing our new home.

house with table
Building a house is not unlike writing a novel (which is why I don’t have a new novel finished this year–the house took everything I had). You’re dealing with a huge, overwhelming project, and at all times you need to have your eye on both the big picture, and the smaller details. When you write a novel, you have to choose a genre and determine the scope of your undertaking. How many pages? What kind of a story? And then you actually have to write the thing, word by word. For house-building, you select the aesthetic style, the size, and the budget, and then you need to make hundreds of individual choices, just as you do when you’re writing a book.

Steve deserves all the credit for managing the budget and keeping track of our contractors and subcontractors. He’s an engineer, so spreadsheets are in his blood. But I will say that I spent a lot of time this year researching transitional Pueblo Revival houses, creating blueprints, selecting colors and finishes and fixtures and flooring, and designing landscapes. My Pinterest board was full of Spanish and Kiva-style corner fireplaces, and much more.

Steve mapped out the proportions for our fireplace using his excellent math skills. I, however, used LEGOS and painter’s tape.

It all worked out just fine.

fireplace

A Birthday in Santa Fe

I spent my birthday hiking in the mountains outside Santa Fe, and the weather gods were absolutely there for me, serving up the kind of fluffy wet snow I’d been dreaming of all year.

When we first contemplated moving to New Mexico, I felt that I could be on board as long as I had the opportunity to snowshoe or ski three months out of the year. Snow makes me incredibly happy, and it doesn’t hurt that a snowy day allows me to wear all my hand knitted treasures.

snow in forestwoman in snowAfter our epic winter birthday hike, we stopped at the Kakawa Chocolate House in Santa Fe for some barely-sweet chocolate elixirs. The folks at Kakawa don’t make modern candy–they make Old World potions that call up images of an ancient secret city. Outside the Chocolate House, the snowfall played along with my fancies–illuminating the entire city, turning it into a fairy tale realm.

pueblo house in snow

santa fe houseSpeaking of fairy tales, my birthday loot happily included a copy of Kat Howard’s A Cathedral of Myth and Bone. Kat edited my most recent novel, and her work is brilliant and evocative and magical. (Also, she’s generous and honest and kind. You should read her stuff!) 2019 promises to be a great year for reading, so let’s get started, shall we?

book cover for cathedral of myth and bone

Christmas of Fire and Ice

The Christmas holiday found me in Minnesota with my family, where everything was blissful and perfect, apart from the blizzard, the bitter cold, and the neighbor’s house catching on fire.

The skies were lined with silver, the low temperatures producing some of the most striking sun dogs I’ve ever seen.

On Boxing Day we experienced high drama when the house next door caught fire. Our neighbors quickly got out but couldn’t find their cat! Thankfully a firefighter located the frightened kitty and emerged from the building with a safe little fluff ball in his arms. Let’s all raise a glass to the heroic firefighter.

As always when the Gjevre clan gathers for the holidays, we decorated cookies, shared joyful tidings, made snow angels, and sang Christmas carols. (My sister was astounded that I knew the second and third verses to so many traditional carols, but I truly love Christmas, so it’s not a surprise. And what Minnesota Lutheran doesn’t know the Norwegian version of “I Am So Glad Each Christmas Eve”?)

I may have shed a few tears on the plane, but that’s just gratitude and joy. The year turns, and we don’t know what the future will bring. I hope we’ll all be together soon.

Back at home, New Mexico was sparkling with snow, and Dulcie and Mithril were waiting for me.
Naturally, Dulcie tried to take Mithril’s catnip-stuffed gingerbread man.

For his part, Mithril felt entitled to get up on the table and inspect all the Christmas presents. This is why we can’t have anything nice.


The tree stays up until Epiphany, so we’re still celebrating the holiday. Merry Christmas, everyone!

The Fourteener

When we bought land in New Mexico, we knew we had about a year to build our house–which meant we had about a year to experience as much of Colorado as we could. On our list: the fourteener. Colorado boasts nearly 60 mountains that reach 14,000 feet or more. We chose Mt. Evans, originally named Mt. Rosalie.

(Obviously, the mountain had an indigenous name before it was called Mt. Rosalie, and there’s now a movement afoot to restore a Native name to this mountain, since Governor Evans was the guy who participated in the Sand Creek Massacre, and his legacy is not a good one.)
mountain goat
Our first trip to the mountain was a warm-weather scouting expedition. We’d heard the hike was sort-of okay for dogs, so we brought Dulcie to the Summit Lake Trailhead to check things out. It quickly became clear that Dulcie isn’t enough of a mountain dog to safely handle rough terrain, and it also quickly became clear that if we were going to hike the mountain for real, we’d have to leave early to avoid the afternoon thunderstorms.

hiker with puppy

Hiker (and puppy) racing against the storm

So we planned ahead, and when the stars aligned, we put Dulcie in the kennel for a few days, got up at 5:00 AM to drive to the trailhead, and began the ascent.

mt evans 7
I love being in the mountains, and the higher we climbed, the more gleeful I became. We saw other hikers–most of them far younger than Steve and I–but for much of the hike we were alone with the mountain goats and the bighorn sheep.

In the rock field at the very end, we had a bit of a scare when I developed hypoxia, with numbness and shooting pains in my hands and an epic headache. I stumbled about, confused. Steve had to boost me over the larger rocks. My fingers swelled up like sausages, and (to quote “Hotel California”) my sight grew dim.

mt evans
I don’t know when we’ll attempt another high-altitude hike like this one. We’d have to stay overnight at elevation for several days beforehand to take the edge off the altitude sickness, and we’d probably have to take Diamox as well. But I’m thrilled and grateful that we made the climb, for we saw sublime, ethereal landscapes and wild, fantastic beasts, and we conquered the mountain.

mt evans 1

mt evans 6

man on mountain

Steve recreates Caspar David Friedrich’s “Wanderer above the Sea of Fog”