Monday, March 2, 2015

So You Think You Can Choreograph.

Choreographer Diane Lachtrupp Martinez and dancer Johnny Martinez in Encounters!

In September of 2014, I saw a notice online from Nacre Dance Company that they were producing an event to select a choreographer for the Spring Concert.  The event was called “So You Think You Can Choreograph” and would be a presentation of selected choreographer’s work and the audience would vote and select the winner.

Although I am competitive in athletics, I am not really competitive in the arts.  I never really relished ballroom dance competitions and preferred to dance as an artistic expression as opposed to a competition.  So, when I decided to fill out an application for the contest, my main goal was to have my work presented and seen by a different crowd.  Winning would be great but not my main objective. Up until this point, most of my work had been viewed by either a musical theater, ballroom and dance student audience.  I wanted to be presented next to other concert choreographers and not just viewed as a ballroom dancer.

I sent my application in September 15th and by September 22nd I was informed that I was a finalist for the November 1st event.  That week, I contacted my dancers and set up a rehearsal schedule to ready us for the event. I was excited to be apart of the event.  

My piece “Encounters” is somewhat unique in that I named all the characters/dancers and their are four blackouts during the piece.  I would play Claudette, a controlling, callous  character that no one should turn their  back on unless......  My husband Johnny was playing smoking man - cool,  easy on the eyes and up for anything.  Issa was dancing the role of peacock, equally interested in male or female and a must at any party. Arlette was dancing the role of long haired girl  - pliable, going with the flow kind of girl with a penchant for trouble that she walks into unexpectantly.  Lastly - Juan was dancing the role of  everyman - Bob.  As Juan added his own special “Juaness” to the role, we decided that the character should be renamed.

Along the way, the competition shifted its focus slightly and instead of having only one winner, it was announced that there would be a local and regional winner.  Again winning was not my first priority, but with the new rule, I allowed myself a touch of hope and thought I might have a chance. 

We rehearsed well.  I added a few touches and changes.  We thought we were ready for the big event.  Our dress rehearsal went well with the lighting and the sound. 

Thankfully, we were prepared and solid as the actual performance was a comedy of errors.  Our issues started with the first ray of light and first note of the music.  Juan and I are supposed to be on stage before the music or lighting comes on.  We were told to take our places and as we were entering in the dark, lights and music came on and we were discovered out of position.  Although caught unawares, we played it off and continued as if all was well.  I almost screamed “STOP,” but fortunately held my tongue.  It was a competition and it seemed unfair.  Anyway, we moved forward.

Presently, Johnny walks on as suave Smoking Man and as Claudette lowers her book to gain a better perspective on his backside, I discover his back right pant leg is stuck in his sock; a hot look.  When he sits down next to me on the bench and I light his cigarette, I decided this was the moment to let him know of the faux pas.  I manage to economize my message and merely say “right pants in sock.”  He gives me a Smoking Man nod and corrects the problem in the first blackout.

My piece has 4 mini blackouts over the course of 6 minutes where the characters change positions on stage to thrill and intrigue the audience as the lights come up.  During once such blackout, I tripped loudly over Peacock’s foot as I moved to my next position.  Moments later, the lights came up and I managed an appropriate expression.   One minute later, Peacock went looking for the lighter under the chair, which was placed there in the dark, and cannot find it.  This mishap delays her downstage walk to light her cigarette, which she now has to fake.  It should be noted, that she only walks downstage to light her cigarette with attitude.

We all manage to maintain composure onstage and give a good performance.  As we exit the stage after the applause, we can be heard saying, “What was that?”  “Where was the lighter?” “Good thing we continued Juan.”  Arlette had no comments as she was not involved in one incident, true to Long haired girl’s personality.

After we recovered from our performance, we were thrilled to learn that “Encounters” had been a favorite and that I had been selected as the local guest artist for Nacre.




Epilogue  - The following week, in conversations with other dancers in the show, one dancer revealed that she had been on the wrong side of the stage.  She should have been on stage left but early on the piece had travelled accidentally to stage right. She was nonplussed about her experience and took it well.  Now I have had a shoe come 
undone, costume mishaps, been discovered in the light and tripped in the dark but I believe this one takes the cake.


Diane Lachtrupp Martinez












Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Sting's "The Last Ship" an inspirational evening.









Sometimes an artistic event comes along that surprises, touches and inspires.  Such was the case on New Year’s day when my husband, mother-in-law and I went to see the show The Last Ship. It is the incomparable Sting’s new Broadway show for which he wrote both the lyrics and music.  I am a fan but mostly because of my husband who is a devoted fan having all his music, read his book and genuinely holds Sting in high esteem.  In a weird twist of fate, I lived around the corner from in Holland Park, London when I lived there in the 80’s.  But like I said, although I like him, my connection to him is mostly through my husband Johnny. 

The tickets were a Christmas gift from my mother-in-law and could only be taken advantage of in early January as Sting was doing a limited run.  It worked out, we decided to spend New Year’s Eve in the city with Johnny’s family so on New Year’s Day, we headed into the city for dinner and a show.  I knew very little about the show and was anticipating more of a concert as opposed to a story.  My interest level could be described as upper moderate.  We did not know what to expect and of course were looking forward to seeing Sting and hearing many of his familiar songs but I was unprepared for what followed.

The Last Ship starts a little slow and then the first dance number comes on and I am intrigued by its mood and movement.  The dancers are large, small, thin, heavy and with seemingly no stretch or point but pull off the number beautifully.  The grounded choreography had both a celtic and nautical sensibility with touches of hip hop and modern.  It was conceived and performed  from the heart of both the dancers and the characters.  

As the play continues, Sting’s talent as a composer and lyricist for “shows” is revealed.  Of course, we know his talent for song writing in general but to put together an entire show, using some songs from previous work, and adding in some new showstoppers and have it all hang together as a compelling unit;  it was impressive and moving.  There are a number of new songs from the show, that made it into our singing around the house repertoire.

The man has yet another new career ahead of him.  The New York Times review remarked,  “Rich in atmosphere - I half expected to see sea gulls reeling in the rafter - and buoyed by a seductive score that ranks among the best composed by a rock or pop figure for Broadway.”  I think one can live with that review.  My husband commented that other “pop” inspired shows seemed contrived and to try too hard while The Last Ship  was genuine, heartfelt and organic.

At the end of the show, I turned to Johnny to see his eyes filled with tears.  The whole show brought out his emotions but the father son relationship was the clincher. Although not brought to tears, but close, I was very moved by the show as a spectator and inspired as an artist.

Both Johnny and I felt that the show was a true lesson in choreography.  Steven Hoggett’s choreography did not rely on high kicks, fast turns or pyrotechnics.  It was filled with low, grounded movement that incorporated some tricky rhythms that appeared almost tribal when danced by the performers.  Yes that’s it. It felt like the movement had been in their bodies and culture for years, hence the celtic, nautical quality.  The interesting arm choreography and occasional suspended movement called forth the hip-hop and modern elements of the dance.  The audience was drawn in by the authenticity and commitment of the movement not the difficulty of it.  I found inspiration here for a new piece I am choreographing for Nacre Dance Company.

Go to this show and come away with knowledge of another culture and a wonderful artistic experience. One more thing, it was terrific to witness a mature artist, create yet another new path.  Now I have my own relationship to Sting's artistry.


Diane Lachtrupp Martinez

Read the Times review:
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/27/theater/the-last-ship-with-songs-by-sting-opens-on-broadway.html

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Breakfast in Bed : The Mutual Charade!




At 9:50 my older son comes in the bedroom and dispassionately tosses the Times Union to me on the bed.  I pretend to be waking up and say thanks.  Five minutes later, I run to the bathroom to wash my face.  I am always aware of the surrounding sounds and I fear that I hear footsteps on the stairs.  I run out of the bathroom and enter my bedroom by the north entrance and leap into bed under the covers. False alarm, no one enters but I do hear a solid thud against the door.  Ah - it must be Hunter, the dog, who I then hear whimpering to be let in.  

 Ten minutes later my younger son enters wearing a Jack Sparrow wig, an eye patch and a puffy white shirt as a cape. ( apparently he has raided the dress up box.) He is accompanied by the dog, who is only too happy to jump on the bed.  He addresses me, “Hello dearie” with a crone like accent. Thrown off by his entire appearance, I feign sleepiness and then he is gone but leaves behind the wig, the puffy white cape, the eye patch and the dog.

I’m sure you have guessed by now, that it is mother’s day and am awaiting my annual mother’s day “breakfast in bed.”  Usually, the breakfast in bed recipient rarely sees anyone else before the appointed moment of the rest of the family kicking the door open and singing “Happy Mother’s Day “ or “Father’s Day “ or Happy Birthday.”  Today has been a little different, it is later than usual, I’ve had a number of encounters with my children and I even snuck out of the house earlier to walk the dog, buy the Times and decaf.  Normally the recipient is sequestered in their bedroom and left to wonder what is going on and when.

Shortly, I  hear the familiar multiple steps on the stairs, the clatter of dishes and the requisite whispering and shhhing that precedes the acclaimed entrance. Quickly, I make use of the props that my son left, by trying to put the wig on the dog and donning the eyepatch myself.  I lay down just in time and I am rewarded by the kicking in of the door and my two sons and husband singing “Happy Mother’s Day.”  I never really convinced the dog to wear the wig, but when they see the eye patch I am wearing they are delighted. I was not asleep and they know I was not asleep but I pretend to just wake-up anyway.  It is a mutual charade that we indulge in.

My family has prepared homemade gluten-free blueberry muffins, gluten-free pancakes, bacon, juice and vanilla chai tea.  The tray they have presented is adorned with flowers.  As soon as I view the tray, my younger son starts presenting the gifts.  He is not one to wait.  The next twenty minutes is a delightful chaos of good food, excellent presents, my older son being annoyed by my younger son and all three of us trying to keep my younger son from spilling my breakfast as he scampers around the room.

With a few variations, this is somewhat typical of our family breakfast in bed tradition.  The appearance of my son with the dog and my eye patch was unusual but the false alarms, the lack of stealth on the final approach and pretend slumber are all part of the routine.

Now that the kids are older, they definitely can participate in the preparation of the breakfast.  In earlier days, one parent had all they could do to get up the steps with the kids and tray.  One breakfast in bed for Father’s Day particularly stands out in my head when my youngest son was 19 months and my oldest son was 7.  We lived in our Brooklyn brownstone and their were 20 steps between the ground floor and the bedroom floor where Johnny lay in waiting for his alleged surprise.  I don’t remember two trips, but I do remember a baby on the hip, a tray in one hand and a barely 7 year old carrying all the gifts up the 20 stairs.  The kids understood what was going on but it was more of a challenge to pull it off.  

An updated version, is a 11 year old who loves to cook and a teenager who is woken up at the last minute to join the parade.  Almost everything is left to the morning of including  wrapping the gifts and running out for bacon or gluten free pancake mix if need be at the last minute.  Usually the parent does most of the cooking, younger son wraps packages and does some cooking.  Older teenage son is unpredictable, maybe helping with wrapping or cooking at best and at the very least grumpily arising at the last moment to join the parade that starts five feet down the hall from his door.

 Our dog, Hunter, is happy to participate and joins the fun. He wants to be wherever we are and doing whatever we are doing.  We have tried to attach presents to his collar but with little success.  He usually shakes them off before the entourage enters the room.

 Breakfast in bed is a tradition we carry out for all members of the house including any overnight guests who are spending their birthday with us.  One time Johnny’s dad was in town for his birthday and as we served him breakfast in bed,  he turned the tables on us.  As we presented the breakfast tray, Grandpa Dave pulled down the covers to reveal the sheets tied around his neck like a bib.  He informed us that he already had a napkin. As anything can happen to either the servers or the receivers of breakfast in bed,  it is understandably one of the high lights of my year and a much loved tradition.

Diane Lachtrupp Martinez


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

MORE PRAGMATIC LESS ANGST; CREATING A NEW PIECE




On Saturday (Jan. 4th), Tango Fusion Dance Company had their first rehearsal for a new Salsa piece for the upcoming event Salsa Sunday on January 19th.  Before we get to the rehearsal point, much preparation goes into the piece first.

The time factor.  Sometimes I have a vision for a new piece and then choose the music and on other occasions I hear a dynamic piece of music and think, “I need to choreograph to that.”  In this case, I had a plan for how I wanted the piece to start and I thought that some complicated switching of partners would be fun, would suit the dancers that we were working with and would satisfy another element that was looming over our heads - parenting which translates into - Limited Time.    My husband Johnny and I have two active boys and the other couple that we were performing with had 6 year old twin girls and had just had a baby boy in June, so the precious commodity of time had become a factor as well. 

With fun and limited time driving our decision making process, we choreographed accordingly. Sometimes poetry and love inspire choreography sometimes necessity and time.  The changing of partners within Salsa is called Rueda, or in our situation Mambo Doble (because we had two couples), which can sometimes be easier to memorize because you the patterns have charming names and you can call it out beforehand to the other dancers to let them know what is coming up.  The other couple, Juan and Amy Soler, were accomplished Salsa dancers so intricate Salsa patterns that could be called out, suited their style.

Music Selection.  Choosing the music occurred in the car on the way back from NYC on Friday January 3rd.  Johnny was driving and I was listening to music.  Luckily, the song “Ya Boy” was one of the first songs that I listened to and loved the opening right away. Generally, I am drawn to music that has “hits” or “breaks” that give shape to the music and encourage dramatic choreography. “Ya Boys” opening included some great “hits.”  So there, the music was chosen. 

 Next I listen to the song and start to plan it out asking myself questions like - “How long should the opening be?”  “When would changing partners work well?  “Is there a section that would support lifts and drops? “ Is the music too long and do we need to edit it?”  As it turns out, “Ya Boy” is too long and needed to be edited.

I regard a song as a story, the individual sections as chapters, a section of 8 -8’s as a paragraph, one 8 of music as a sentence and individual notes as words.  With this in mind, choreographing is somewhat like writing a term paper, planning the sections in advance and making sure that some of your previous ideas are included in the piece.

Another method that my husband, Johnny Martinez, and I employ is dividing the piece up.  I was slated to put together the opening 12 -8’s and he was going to choreograph the first partnering section and our plan was to ask Juan to put the shine section together.  Shines are Salsa steps that you do by yourself without touching your partner, hence you are “shining.”

We are prepared with an opening for the first rehearsal and Johnny has choreographed 16 - 8’s of partnership.  Sometimes, I have an idea for a move that needs fleshing out when we try it.  At the end of the opening (which is dramatic) we needed a way to transition into partnership.  Between my idea and Juan’s suggestion, we came up with a fun step.  The first rehearsal ended with a solid beginning and about halfway through the piece.


The second rehearsal, (Jan. 12th) Juan gave us our shines and they were very fast and brand new steps for Johnny and I as well as Amy.  I was dancing in jazz shoes and was trying to imagine doing these fast shines in heels.  Hmmn??  It was decided that we would slow down the music a bit for our debut.  An added difficulty factor was that I needed to change positions during the shine section.  So - in addition to executing new, fast shines in heels, I had to slightly alter them to change positions.  I vow to practice a bit on my own before the next rehearsal.

After the shines, Johnny and I put together a section of partnership including changing partners.  I would say that I dance at least a third of the time with Juan which is fun and adds interest for the audience from both a visual and personality perspective. I have known Juan for about 7 years and we have always enjoyed dancing together.  This is the first time that Johnny and Amy have danced together, so it is fun all around.

To memorize or follow!!  Honestly, I used to really memorize the entire routine and be neurotic regarding the order of steps, but after dancing with my husband/dance partner for over 15 years, I don’t feel the need.  I believe that our routine actually looks and feels better if it is truly lead and follow. My body movement is more committed and full out when I follow as opposed to anticipating a step. Because it is just the four of us, Johnny and Juan are constantly communicating regarding the next step in the Rueda section, so I relax and follow. However,  It certainly does help to know when a lift, drop or multiple spin comes up as that could look hectic if I am caught too off guard.  For the most part, I am able to mix up anxiously being aware of the shine section with relaxing and settling into the partner dance sections.

For the ending, I  decided to go backwards and finish where we started. We had to cut out about three minutes of the song but found a good point to take us to the end which sounds like the beginning, so our choreographic decision works to end it similarly to our beginning.  There is a part in the beginning where we lift the men’s chins up and for the ending, we plant a kiss on our husbands.  It’s fun. 

We do short rehearsals on Thursday the 16th and Saturday the 18th to polish and build stamina.  When a piece has a lot of turns, you have to tune yourself up for that each time and we also need to work out the transitions and we are always working out the shine section.  By Thursday afternoon, we are running the piece quite smoothly.

So this piece had no angst, no suffering, no storyline - just pure fun and complicated patterns and a little spicy ending.  We have decided to name it “Salsa Complicado.”
We manage to pull it off swimmingly on Salsa Sunday and people enjoy the playfulness of the piece. 



Diane Lachtrupp Martinez

Thursday, January 9, 2014

STARTING MY MODERN DANCE CAREER AT 50........ISH!!





(Martha Graham performing a classic)



In November, my husband mentions that the modern dance company that he dances with, Nacre in Saratoga Springs, is looking for a few extra performers to dance with them in the March concert.  Not necessarily professional modern dancers, but people who move well and dance.  My younger son is asked to participate and my seventeen year old will be doing tech for the show so I decide that a family project would be nice and plan on auditioning.  

The e-mail that I receive from Nacre describes the audition as “ for community members who move well.”  Thinking that this casual description requires little preparation, I am still cooking dinner for my family at 6:40 and giving last minute instructions to my husband about the cornbread and walk out of the house at 6:45 for a 7pm audition that is a six minute walk away.  I arrive at 6:51, to a roomful of company members and about a dozen auditionees.  By 7:05, I am seated cross legged on the floor in a full Graham contraction realizing that I will be taking a modern class.  What?  Twenty minutes ago I was slinging hash in my kitchen and in another twenty minutes, I’l be doing triplets across the marley floor.  Not what I anticipated but I am loving it.  

The class continues on with center work, triplets, etc across the floor and a piece of choreography that includes improvisation.  Modern dancer or not, I am relaxed with improvisation and enjoy it.  I struggle a little bit with the order of the center part as some of it is exercises that I am not familiar with.  I feel that I copy the movement well, but need to improve on the transitions.  I enjoy the choreography and am comfortable with the style which I believe is influenced by Limon, Humphrey and Graham.  I will ask to be clear. 

My hips are sore but I leave the audition at 8:30 on a high and hope that they decide to use me.   Outside the dance studio building, another dancer and I joke about  the ad for “community dancers that move well” and gently tease the Nacre director Beth Fecteau, as she passes by, about the understatement of her ad.  She laughs and says she was  happy with the level of dancers that showed up 

 Several weeks later, I hear from Nacre that I will be used in the piece.  The dancing is more challenging than I anticipated, but I would rather be challenged than bored and am up for the experience.   I took some modern classes 25 years ago, the style of jazz that I have studied leans toward modern and I have used modern dance in my own choreography but have never been in a modern dance concert.  And so..... I commence my modern dance career at 50...ish.

More to come..........



Diane Lachtrupp Martinez

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

HOW THE WEST WAS WON -PART II



SATURDAY AUGUST 10th-

Traveling - Actually no traveling today as we had arrived at our Bower family reunion in Stevensville, Montana last night.  Spent the day enjoying their contemporary property on the river complete with inspiring flower and vegetable gardens.  Their home is on the Bitteroot River and we had a great time walking upstream, building rock art as we went and then floating down the strong current towards their spot on the river.  Seven family members took a hike near Bass Creek and then enjoyed a simple lunch back at the house.  Intermittently throughout the day, we play badminton near the garden.  Badminton is particularly fun in the evening as the sprinkler is on and makes its way through the court every two minutes or so.  Added challenge and comedy.
View from Mimi and Len's house down driveway

In the evening, there is an electrical storm which takes out a nearby transformer and takes out electricity as well.  In fact, the whole town is out including the pizza joint that we were going to order from for the evening’s dinner.  With many phone calls and perseverance, my family locates an alternative place not connected to the original pizza joint and we order from there.  The evening concludes with conversation and a game of celebrity.

Family members in attendance are Morrack clan - Hosts - Mimi and Len Sauer, John Morrack, Sue and Ron Schoolcraft; Lachtrupp clan -Ann Lachtrupp, Diane, Johnny, Joey and Lucas Martinez, David, Jeremy, Greg and Cara Lachtrupp; Waterhouse clan - Tommy Waterhouse and Corrinne Hayden, Micahel Waterhouse and Courtney DeNobile.  

HIGH POINT -Floating down the cold river easily, thereby getting today’s shower as well.

LOW POINT - Although I like a good storm, my sons and I were looking forward to the gluten-free pizza promised from the original restaurant.  Although it may seem immature, it is difficult to not be able to eat many of the foods around you and one does look forward to certain opportunities.  To be clear, older son - gluten allergy, younger son- gluten and dairy  and myself - the popular triumvirate of gluten, dairy and soy.


SUNDAY AUGUST 11TH -

Traveling -The day starts with our older son flying back to Saratoga on an 8:15 flight out of Missoula.  My husband and Joey leave the trailer around 6am to head to the airport.  On the way back my husband finds a local church to attend mass.  Admirable.

Other than the airport trip, it is another stay put day as we ready ourselves for the family clambake.  There is cleaning of clams, husking of corn, chopping of chicken, cleaning of potatoes.  This leads up to the wrapping of the chicken and sausage in cheesecloth which then is layered in a large steamer in the following order starting from the bottom with the chicken, large white and sweet potatoes, corn and lastly the clams.  When all items are ready it is taken apart and displayed and the feast begins.  Briny, potent clam juice, from the steamer is available for sipping and dipping.  The sinful condiment of melted butter is also on the table to take the corn and clams to the next level of indulgence.  
Family members who remembered to bring their reunion t-shirt.

The meal is delicious and atmospheric as we dine outside on the lovely deck  within earshot of the  rushing river until we are visited by an interactive atmospheric component - BEES.  Although they are small and seem to only cause small bites, they are numerous and persistent.  I take a relaxed approach to them and am not bitten but understandably some are more disturbed by them and take refuge inside.  The bees are not a deal breaker but merely another memory of a wonderful weekend.

Our late afternoon meal was followed by family movies that included everything from birthday parties, to trips to Wisconsin and of course a clambake.  The evening ended with some of us playing Scattergories and some of the mature relatives retiring to the living room to reminisce.  As we say our good nights, the eighteen relatives retire to a variety of places; three in the house, two in a pup tent near the home, six in motor homes and trailers in and near the driveway, four in a Stevensville B & B, two in a campground nearby and my older son has made it safely back to Saratoga.

HIGH POINT - Seeing my deceased dad in family movies as a child.  My brother David and my Dad certainly resembled each other as children.

LOW POINT - NO LOW POINT - ALL GOOD!!
Family members on clambake day.




MONDAY AUGUST 12TH -

Traveling - The reunion is over and we head out on the open road once again but not before some of our relatives receive an animated tour of our trailer by my younger son.  We know the time has come to part but the transition of the tour delays our good byes and eases our disappointment.  As we drive off, some of my family stand by the road swaying back and forth singing with raised arms to signal our departure.  We are excited about our next adventure, but sad to say farewell.

This time our destination is Glacier National Park tucked into the Northwest corner of Montana.  It is a direct path through beautiful country and we are not doing too bad on schedule until we reach route 486 which goes north on the west side of the park and will lead us to our campsite at Big Creek.  486 is unpaved for ten tortuous miles.  In addition to the dirt and  stones, they seemed to have added a perpetual ribbing that occurred every two inches and made the road unbearable.  I am totally fine with unpaved road and realize that the rough road leads to adventure but the ribbed road shook our trailer to the core and our bodies to the bone.  It sounded like the trailer was coming a part. We could only drive 10 to 12 miles and hour and a fifteen minute ride turned into 45 minutes.  When we finally made to our campsite and opened the door to our trailer, our possessions had been flung all over.
Author and younger son walking along riverside campsite

Anyway - the rough path did lead to adventure as our campsite was directly on a river with a mountain immediately on the other side.  After maneuvering our rig into it’s campsite (with more success than usual) we went down to the river to take a dip.  Glaciers flow into Big Creek and it was chilly.  I was the first one to submerge. I wasn’t going to give up after going through the knee and crotch stage.  I was in it to do it.  AND - it was refreshing.  Our dip was not surprisingly quite brief and after our exit, we picked up pastel smooth stones between the river and our campsite.  

That night we dined by the river and our fire, made smores and slept in the thick darkness of the Big Creek National Forest.

HIGH POINT - Our stunning campsite.

LOW POINT -  Feeling that our 50 foot rig was coming a part on the unpaved, ribbed road.

TUESDAY AUGUST 13TH - 

Traveling - Our goal today is to travel the “Road that Leads to the Sun” that cuts Glacier National Park from east to west.  We manage to avoid the uber bumpy road by taking a right out of our campground and head north a bit and enter Glacier Park from the north. Before we enter the park, we read a sign that says “Canadian border - 34 miles.”  We did not know that we were that close.  Our 15 mile drive down to the Sun Road is uneventful but beautiful.  We head across the road to the Sun which is uneventful at first but soon develops into wild jagged peaks and rugged valleys arranged haphazardly next to each other to form breathtaking and surprising views. We take a break for lunch and pull over by a small pull-off and eat our sandwiches sitting on rocks and taking in the view.  It is peaceful, but we are frequently looking over our shoulders to keep a lookout for traffic coming around the bend.
Pulling over for lunch on the "
Road that leads to the Sun"

Even though we are detached from the 26 foot trailer and are just driving my mom’s 19 foot motorhome, the driving experience becomes hair raising for us, particularly Johnny who is driving. The road ascends quickly with hair pin turns and close to the edge driving.  If we are on the inside, we are uncomfortably close to the cars coming towards us and on the mountain side we are perilously close to the rocks that jut out.  When we are on the outside of the road, we face the same problem with oncoming cars and then to our right is the  sheer drop off with casual and insufficient guard rails.  Johnny rarely experiences fear or concern, but this drive puts him to the test. 

We arrive at our location, Logan Pass, and park the vehicle to take a hike.  The hike to Hidden Lake continues to ascend but there are areas of flat landscapes along the way.  You can feel the difference between starting at the bottom of a mountain and being high up in a flat area and continuing the climb.  It feels like the open fields in the Alps from the opening scene in the “Sound of Music.”  Along the way, we see five waterfalls formed from the snow run-off.  Lucas ran over to the snow patch and actually threw a snow ball in August.  
Lucas poised to throw a snowball in August!!

On the way to hidden lake, I spot a herd of mountain goats fairly nearby and on the way back we see some charming and friendly hoary marmots running around.  There are grizzly nearby but they are chased off by the rangers and we miss the opportunity.

After the hike, we decide not to go back the same treacherous way, but to continue on the long way to the end of the sun road and then head south around the bottom of the park and then back up to our campsite.  We leave the hike around 5pm and arrive home about 9pm.  Much later than we expected, we still enjoy a firelit meal at our campsite by the rushing river.

HIGH POINT - The thrill of the ride and views on “The Road to the Sun.”

LOW POINT - The treacherous on the edge driving on “The Road to the Sun.”


WEDNESDAY AUGUST 14TH  - 

Traveling - We had wanted to go back into Glacier Park to actually see some glaciers, but realize that we cannot do it all - see both the glaciers AND spend time in the Black Hills and Badlands, South Dakota.  So we head out of Glacier by mid-morning, retrace our steps north to the northern entrance to the park, head south through the west side of the park and then go south below it.  Only then, can we begin our long diagonal path towards the Black Hills and Badlands in South Dakota.  Unbelievably  I had imagined that we would somehow reach western South Dakota by nightfall but are not even close.  I have to answer the question,from both adult and child passengers, “When will we get there,” more than once and finally break the news to them that although I am an accurate navigator, I am perhaps too optimistic about time and had not really done the math that sometimes rules my life.  Reality is that we will not reach the Badlands until Thursday afternoon.  Lucas reminds me that Montana is the fourth largest state and I concur.

Meanwhile, we enjoy the Montana landscape that runs the spectrum from sudden mountains, velvety plains to rugged rockscapes.  Our path takes us through several reservations and we take note of each town’s inhabitants as we stop for gas or a snack.  With our upstate New York and New York City sensibilities, we first think Hispanic when viewing some of the townspeople and then a closer look reveals Native American features.  Stunning.

Mid Wednesday afternoon, we turn around to go back to a Dinosaur museum to see the largest dinosaur grouping of bones in existence.  Apparently, Montana is full of them and we spend a pleasant hour in the museum educating ourselves.  We are on a small back road in Montana and were glad we went back to the museum.


After hours of driving, we pull off in the small city of Belgrade and after passing the requisite Little Lil’s casino, we manage to find an excellent southwestern restaurant for dinner.  We travel until 10:30pm after dinner and spend the night in a rest stop.

HIGH POINT - Looking back at Glacier Park and being in awe of its grandeur.

LOW POINT - Breaking the news to my family about my optimistic time table.


WEDNESDAY AUGUST 15TH -

Traveling - We head out early again and continue to move closer to our destination of the Black Hills, South Dakota.  We arrive in the late afternoon and pass through the Black Hills to get into the city of Custer which is near our funky campsite.  Our campsite proves easy to drive into and we hit the pool as showers have been scarce the last couple of days.  After the pool, we head out to dinner in downtown Custer and then drive a short 20 minutes to the Crazy Horse mountain sculpture for the night time laser show, which is disappointing as there is much fog and the view is vague and uninspiring.  We decide to go back to Crazy Horse the next day.

HIGH POINT - Finally arriving in South Dakota

LOW POINT - Not being able to view Crazy Horse during the light show.


THURSDAY AUGUST 16TH - 

Traveling - We head out to Crazy Horse in the morning which is a quick 7 minutes to the north.  In the daylight, it is impressive.  It is the mountain monument of the Lokota tribe leader Crazy Horse who led the Sioux to their victory at Wounded Knee against Custer.  Although only the face is done, and the arm is beginning to be realized, you can see how the rest of Crazy Horse’s body and partial horse will be revealed.  The smaller models are powerful with the action of the horse upon which Crazy Horse sits pointing dynamically to the land where his people are buried.  Did I mention, that he isn’t wearing a shirt and the southern wind blows through his long locks.  It is no cross to bear witnessing the smaller sculpture.  For the most part, the future sculpture looks imaginative, soulful and technically impressive and so we are vexed by the artist’s decision to include a perfectly vertical single inflexible feather upon his blowing in the wind locks.  WHY?  We are hopeful, that when they get to that part, they will reconsider the unsoulful feather.
Lokota Dancer speaking with Crazy Horse in background.  The face is finished and the start of the arm pointing to where his people are buried.

Sculpture aside, the entire set-up surrounding Crazy Horse is impressive.  The project is privately funded by visitors to the project and private donors.  There is so much to take part in.  We saw the movie on the making of Crazy Horse which tells of sculpture Korczak Ziolkowski’s lifelong dedication to the creation of this marvelous wonder.  To give perspective, the four heads of Mount Rushmore fit into the one head of Crazy Horse.  

After the movie, we wander through the museum and go outside to watch a dance demonstration by a local Native American resident.  He is a impassioned, poetic speaker and shares with us some of his perspective and thoughts.  His talk is informative but consistently has the tone of someone who wants to prove that Native Americans are as bright as other cultures and can do well in school.  Are there still people around who would make him think that non-Native Americans think otherwise?  Sadly probably yes. I keep wishing that he could just be himself.  

After the dance exhibition, we have lunch in the cafe and then continue wandering through all the great exhibits from the Korczak’s studio and home to artwork from local Native American artists.  We particularly like one couple's jewelry and I purchase an ivory colored necklace.  My mom and I enjoy a conversation with Oglala Sioux author Ed McGaa, Eagle Man regarding one of his books “Crazy Horse and Chief Red Cloud.”  He is a calm, confident man happy to share his knowledge and perspective.  He inspires me to come back and spend much more time in the area.  

Mount Rushmore is nearby and we drive a mere twenty minutes to reach our destination.  After viewing Crazy Horse, it is difficult to get as psyched about Mount Rushmore.  Although impressive, it is federally funded, not as personal and the sculpture itself lacks subtlety.  A different animal.  What is great about the set-up is that the area and buildings surrounding the monument (with the exception of the flags) blends nicely with the landscape and composite and color.  As far as my younger son Lucas is concerned, the best part was the interactive computer dynamite handle that was available.  You could select a portion of the pre-finished rock on the screen and then watch it blow-up as you pushed down on the dynamite handle.  Fun!!
( but a little disturbing)  We hike around and enjoy viewing some the artist's studio and some of the renditions that were considered for the monument.
Author and family at Mount Rushmore with the mountain monument in the background.

On the way back to the campsite, we drive through Custer Park which is stunning, winding and intimate.  The park features a number of charming cabins and campsites that we would like to come back and explore. Along the way, we run into a bison grazing by the roadside with full concentration and little regard for any motorists.  We decide that we could easily come back here for an entire vacation to further get to know the Black Hills area with its residents, animal life and history.
Custer Park bison enjoying casual roadside dining.

Travel-wise, we fear we may be a little behind schedule and are now that we have seen all our major sights, we need to haul our buttocks home to see our older son.  As a result, we decide to have dinner at the campsite and then start driving towards the Badlands tonight and view them early in the morning.  A decision that does not disappoint.


There is one more brief section of our Western Adventure!!
Diane Lachtrupp Martinez





Tuesday, September 24, 2013

EXCUSE ME, I THINK YOU DROPPED SOMETHING!!


Thank you Paul Post for writing an article in the Saratogian about Farm Aid that opens with a paragraph about the garbage that was left by the concert’s attendees on Saturday evening. The article continues to relate the reactions of other people involved with the concert as well.  Their reactions were one of dismay.  This is not an attitude that is limited to SPAC, although you would hope that the Farm Aid concert-goers would demonstrate some awareness regarding litter and the earth.

Just because there are people paid to pick up after us at the concert, the ball game, the movie theater, does not entitle us to leave our trash behind.  It is a culture wide problem.  When our family leaves a stadium, concert or movie theater, we take our trash with us.  However, it is a taught habit.  My boys are tempted to leave it sometimes like most people around them or because the event allows it.  I let them know that our family is responsible for their own trash.

I have on a number of occasions made myself unpopular by making comments aloud like,”Who’s trash is this?”  or “Who left their wrapper behind?”  These questions have left my mouth many times on a Saturday morning at the rec soccer field ( near the casino) when a snack is served and a few wrappers are strewn about.  I have deepened my popularity by asking the enabling parents who stand up to pick it up, “Could you please let the kids pick up their own garbage? Thanks!”

My other unpopular MO is to say to someone who drops litter right in front on me, “Excuse me, I think you dropped something.”  I say it politely and usually witness an eye roll by the litterer but they do bend over and retrieve their garbage.

One time when I lived in NYC, my personal safety was threatened when I mentioned to someone that they dropped something.  I think I was in over my head because  this young woman was an uber professional litterer.  She was standing on a corner in the village with friends eating from her Chinese food container and when she decided she did want anymore and was done she simply dropped the half-full container on the sidewalk with her fork implanted in the container.  A garbage can was perhaps six feet away.  I was incredulous at her level of piggery, but somehow managed a calm tone with my formerly successful comment, “Excuse me, I think you dropped something.”  I didn’t fool her.  She knew what I meant.  She turned to me and snarled something about messing my face up.  I believe I made one more comment and we both let it go.

Did she pick up her Chinese food container?  Well, no but maybe I made her think for a few seconds or maybe I was simply annoying.

So - 
if you currently pick-up your own garbage when there are others paid to do so - Thanks!!

If you don’t currently pick-up your own garbage at the events described above, but want to start doing that - Terrific.

If you don’t currently pick-up your own garbage at these events and have no intention of changing your ways - all I can say is ,”Excuse me, I think you dropped something.”


Diane Lachtrupp Martinez

To read the Saratogian article in the Tuesday September 24th edition, go to www.saratogian.com