Sunday in the Park
February 12, 2010
By now it comes as no news the rodent saw his shadow and, in a pagan/folkloric/old wives’ tradition, we now accept that winter has at least six weeks left. Which, when you live in a ski town, comes as good news. But, in all honesty, it also can send one into a bit of tailspin knowing this is the heart, not the end, of winter. The world looks white, which is its own kind of beauty, but we crave color right about now. Really any color but the brighter the better.
So holidays ancient and primal and Hallmarkian combine to bring us Fat Tuesday and Valentine’s Day and this year, on Valentine’s Day, the start of Chinese New Year, the year of the tiger. Bold, bright-colored holidays with minimal religious significance.
For the past few years I have been fortunate, beyond words, to attend a conference that takes place in February out of state. The first year we went to Aspen, which was a kind of busman’s holiday in terms of weather and customs, but for the past two years the group has met in Palm Springs. And that desert in February is warm and colorful. It shocks the system. Boots are replaced by open-toed shoes and sweaters are thin and for the evenings.
The conference is unlike any other and combines speakers from all walks of life. Honest. National reporters, international health-care workers, top scientists, musicians, space explorers, skeptics, believers, politicians, dancers, inventors, scions of technology and industry. Each day we listen to 18-minute talks about the most cutting-edge discoveries in every field. There is no Q and A. Then we gather for meals and activities. And that’s where the magic happens. Because, after hearing the most provocative people deliver thought-bending talks, you want to see how other folks had their thoughts bent. And the discussions begin.
The fact we can do this outdoors during the day and after the sun goes down, around bonfires, adds to the magic. It is that place, where I have come to feel most comfortable and seek out. The space between the notes, the pause before the pronouncement, the hold before the lift or drop or spin.
Because of work obligations, I couldn’t stay this year for the entire conference. I debated about going at all, even though it had been paid for a year in advance. But the thought of missing what I didn’t yet know exactly I would be missing, but knowing how much those past unknown adventures had meant, was enough to propel me there.
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That, and the fact that my own winter seems to have lasted more than a year. Except for a trip to the Utah desert last April, all my own travels for the past 18 months have been to deal with my mother’s care at her home for dementia in California. Those trips always seem to be gray. Foggy, rainy, colorless trips. Duty-bound and joyless.
The past year has been difficult for most everyone I know. The economy shook us all. Business failures had unexpected ripples of related collapses. The world had been grim and gray too long. I craved color. Experiences with color. People with color. Landscape with color. And this did not disappoint.
The first day — pre-conference, but still related — I ended up in a small 12-passenger deluxe bus with other Merry Pranksters of various ages and professions — an airplane designer for Boeing, an ABC executive, a education innovator, a man from Brazil who was very funny and I never did learn what he did, a woman who might have been an actress, and our leader, Eames Demetrois (of the furniture-artistic Eames family fame) and we took off for the high desert, I was in my own private heaven. Eames is a storyteller and installation artist and he wove for us tales of a parallel universe and then took us to "historical sites" from this culture, complete with its own language. In our very busy, very adult worlds, with constant visual and written stimulation, there is very little time to listen to stories and imagine yourself in them. Or be curious about the characters. Or anxious about their outcomes.
By the time we entered Joshua Tree National Park at twilight in the fog and we got out to walk among the ancient ones and climb on rocks, we had happily entered an alternative universe and we were cold and wet and laughing.
Hours later we were all regrouped in the hotel bar listening to our house band — Jill Sobule, John Doe and Sara Watkins — take us to both familiar and unknown places with such bright, colorful sounds you couldn’t help but move body parts in response.
There are plenty of stories from my days away. Vibrant stories in strong hues. They will fuel the white days ahead and remind me, while I am grateful for my home life here, there are spectrums of adventures beyond just my Sundays in the Park
Teri Orr is the director of the Park City Performing Arts Foundation that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts and the Big Stars Bright Nights Summer Concert Series at Deer Valley. She is also a former editor of The Park Record.