Jim's Richard III Blog

What had started as a blog of Richard III rehearsal process at Cal Shakes has now evolved or devolved into a small novella. The author is petrified to change the name for fear it'll disappear, and wouldn't know what to call it anyway. Many stories are included and questions are even answered sometimes!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Burnam Wood

Have I told you about the time a skunk followed me onstage?

There's a variety of wildlife out here. Critters I have seen: skunks, raccoons, coyotes, cows, turkeys (well, I haven't seen them but I can hear them and believe me if there's anyone who knows a turkey when he hears one it's an actor), hawks, snakes, lizards, deer, bluejays, owls and now there appears to be a nesting pair of extremely large crows hereabouts. They and they hawks don't get along well.

I feel like I'm turning into Ranger Jim. Last week we had 4 plus hours between the 11:00 matinee (shudder) and the evening show and 3 of us, myself, Elvie Yost, and Caroline Gelber all decided to go on a ridgewalk. Or rather it was decided for me.

I've done numerous seasons at the Shakes but never once have I walked up to the top of the surrounding hills and looked around--I've gone up the trail a bit at night and laid back on a blanket and watched the Perseid meteor shower, but just far enough that the lights of the Bruns were out of sight and the sky was clear for stargazing; never to the top. I have to confess I felt a bit awkward escorting these charming two, a bit like an old gink who didn't know their music, their idols, their slang--and so, as we walked, I started talking about the shrubbery...........

I know a fair amount about trees. I'm not a vast repository of tree lore from Ye Olde Tymes, but I know a fair amount. For example: Do you know what buttressing is? And no, this isn't an off-color joke. Buttressing is the point at which the bottom of the tree flares out at the base as it meets the ground--very old trees often have widely flared bases, and it is one of the qualities that Bonsai masters strive to emulate; it gives the tree a sense being out of time almost, otherworldly, roots and trunk gnarled from ages of gripping the earth.

I'm not quite sure how my fervor for tress developed; Someone gave me a Bonsai tree, I think, and I started reading up on them and now I've at least 5 books on Bonsai trees, another 3 on tree identification and am a freak enough about them to pull over the car when I see a really beautiful tree and admire it.

We tentatively identified a few kinds of oaks, redwoods and pines, I collected a cone and we toiled our way up the hill (very steep in spots) till my calves began to ache and and even Caroline (who's a Dancer, tiny, and who delighted in bounding up the hill ahead of Elvy and me to grin cruelly back at us; the lovely Ms. Yost and myself would glare balefully and trudge on) began to slow, the awkwardness among us passed and we merely climbed and breathed and witnessed what was around us; and soon we reached the top, looked down at the Theatre, walked over to the other side of the hills and had a grand view of San Pablo Bay from the Richmond bridge on our left to the Carquinez Straights and Sacramento River on our right. Beautiful. A flawless day, if windy at the top.

We ate cheese and bread, some chocolate, some fruit. We watched hawks hover in place on the updrafts. We talked little, there was no need. We witnessed small miracles--bugs that looked like sticks and suchlike.

Later, richer and quieter--tireder--we wound our way back down to the theatre, an easier journey than the first part, though Caroline was convinced she'd found the route to China at last, and took Elvy and me on a detour rather than a shortcut; I'm sure the trail would've led back to the theatre, eventually....

My dressing space is now littered with pinecones, various types of seed (which I intend to plant and see if anything grows), leaves, assorted natural detritus and makeup--artifice and nature side by side.

Both Elvy and Caroline go to College when they're done here--I wish them the very best.

Thank you for a lovely day, ladies.

The next time you visit the Theatre grounds look at the trees; look at the lines of the limbs, how they've grown and matured, and the way their roots meet the earth.