Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Roxboro Ravine . . . it rocks!

I thought it might be fun to write some posts about neat places around Cleveland (this isn't entirely a music blog!), so now, while I'm still recovering from a broken hip, some words about one of my favorite places to go when I have my normal mobility.

I suspect that not many people are familiar with the term Roxboro Ravine. A Google search returns very few results. Here's one, though; I think it's where I learned the name:

Path down into the Roxboro Ravine (formerly known as Ambler Park), approximately where Bellfield meets North Park Blvd. (from Cleveland Heights Historical Society)

Quite pretty, isn't it? The spot pictured doesn't look exactly the same today, but anyone who has spent a lot of time in the ravine would have no trouble recognizing the image. I'm sure that a lot more people are familiar with the place known as Roxboro Ravine than with the name Roxboro Ravine, but at the same time I'm sure many people pass by it often while remaining unaware of the wonderful place hiding in plain sight between North Park and Fairhill roads in Shaker Heights.

I was certainly one of those people once. As a cross country runner at CWRU, I often ran along North Park, on the grass right next to the ravine. I undoubtedly glanced down into the ravine from time to time while running by, but (to my memory) did not venture down there at all for my first two years of college. I remember a run my junior year where a couple of my teammates suggested heading down the wooded trails there. I voiced my disagreement, worried that it might be dangerous and not wanting to risk an injury.

I've since been injured twice on those trails, but that hasn't hampered my enthusiasm for running there. The trails aren't inherently dangerous; they just require somewhat more care and surer footing than running on roads. The broken arm in particular was due to completely reckless behavior on my part - I was walking, on a fallen tree, across the brook that flows through the ravine. That was risky enough, but then, as I neared the end of the tree, I began to pick up speed. I guess I just couldn't wait a few more steps until I reached solid ground, and I paid the price for my stupidity when I slipped, fell backwards several feet to the ground, and caught myself with an arm that one glance instantly revealed was broken. I walked out of the ravine up to North Park and was lucky enough to immediately encounter some other people, one of whom was a student at the Case Medical School and drove me to the hospital.

So I've certainly had some adventures in the ravine. (Since learning the proper name, I still usually think of it as just "the ravine." Cara and I have another name for it, as well - "Leslie Anne Ravine," a pun on the Decemberists' song "Leslie Anne Levine." I'm not even sure now which one of us came up with it, I think it was her? We are pretty silly.)

Roxboro Ravine really is a fantastic place for running. In the past few years, I've come to enjoy trail running more and more. It's a great way to commune with nature, and it's much more stimulating to my senses and my mind than running on the streets. The trails in the ravine require more attention than most. There are all sorts of rocks, roots, sharp turns, and quick ups and downs to navigate through. None of it is excessively difficult if proper care is taken, but it's a much more rugged trail than what one might typically find in, say, the Metroparks. I have to say, somewhat egotistically, that running is more fun when you can run fast, and running fast through a rugged, forested trail full of twists and turns is really fun. I've covered the trails through the ravine so many times that my feet practically know each step of the way. I really feel lucky, living in an urban environment, to have such a great place for trail running so close by. (It also seems to be a popular place for mountain biking. I've never tried mountain biking myself, and frankly, the idea of doing it on some of the more treacherous segments of the ravine's trails seems rather scary.)

Running in the ravine is great, but sometimes it can be nice to take in the joys of nature at a more leisurely pace. Cara and I often like to go on walks or hikes together (again, I'm looking forward to getting back to doing this after my injury is all better!), and Roxboro Ravine is one of our favorite places for such excursions. We've traversed the trails there in all seasons. Our most recent hike there was on a beautiful spring day, and contained a cool surprise. As we walked, we noticed there was music coming from somewhere nearby. And not someone's stereo system - this was live music, played by a couple of brass instruments. After we walked farther down the trail, an upward look revealed the musicians' location. They were sitting on the back patio of one of the houses on Fairhill that overlooks the ravine (I'm really jealous of the people who live there). It was like having a concert performed just for us while we enjoyed a great stroll through nature.

That was a memorable hike, but definitely not as memorable as the one that took place on March 7 of this year. That was when Cara and I got engaged. Here's a picture of the spot where it happened, which I took just before the big moment (the ring, at the time, was hidden in my camera bag).

Earlier in the walk, Cara had mentioned that the ravine was "special" to her. This secretly thrilled me, knowing what I was planning to ask her before we left the ravine that day. So I definitely agree, Roxboro Ravine is a special place, for many reasons.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Dreamend - A trip down memory lane

This show was almost two months ago now, but I still wanted to post something about it.

I suppose it would also be worth mentioning that I currently have a broken hip. Three weeks ago I had a cycling accident. As I was attempting to make a turn my wheels came out from under me (apparently this was due to the road both being wet and also having an oil slick on it) and I went straight down on my left hip. It was a painful experience. I'm on crutches and will be for at least a few more weeks. It's certainly frustrating, especially with the nice weather we've been having, but hey, sometimes these things happen, and I am getting better.

Now for the main part of this post. In April the Chicago-based experimental/shoegaze/post-rock band Dreamend played at the Grog Shop, opening for The Appleseed Cast. Both members of the lineup attracted me to the show, but I was definitely more drawn by Dreamend.

I like Dreamend; they've released several good albums . . . but I would hardly call them one of my favorite bands. Yet this was a show that I did not want to miss. Why? Well, I'd seen Dreamend once before, in the fall of 2005, at The Spot. It was actually one of the first concerts that I ever went to. A quick Google search informs me that the date of this show was October 12, 2005. In the summer of 2005 I, for the first time, started exploring music outside of the mainstream, and in September of 2005 I started going to concerts on a regular basis for the first time in my life. It turns out that that Dreamend show was one day before the first time I saw Nada Surf, and three days before the first time I saw the Decemberists, so it was a very memorable week for concerts.

That Dreamend concert was certainly not on the same level to me as the two other show that week, but I still quite enjoyed it, and as I think back, Dreamend may very well have been my introduction to the genre of post-rock. So my reasons for wanting to see Dreamend in 2010 were largely nostalgia-driven.

Dreamend played a solid set at the Grog Shop. I actually didn't recognize at least half of the songs. Early in the set, though, when they played "Can't Take You," I felt some nostalgia stirring. You see, back in 2005, my music collection was rather lacking. I eschewed illegal music downloads (and still do); instead, I obtained a large number of songs by going to bands' websites and downloading the free tracks they had available. I placed all these songs in an iTunes playlist called "cool DLed tunes," and would often listen to it on shuffle. "Can't Take You" was one of the songs I got from Dreamend's website.

So it was nice to hear this song, but there was another song I wanted to hear far, far more. "Passing," the last track on their 2004 album As If By Ghosts, was another of those songs I downloaded from Dreamend's website way back when. It's also, in my opinion, easily the best thing they've ever done. But I didn't have high hopes to hear it; the set seemed to be focused more on newer songs, and the time Dreamend had left was running low . . .

When the opening notes of their last song sounded, I recognized them immediately, and was thrilled. I'll be honest. Up to that point, I had enjoyed Dreamend's set, but I could have missed it and it wouldn't really have bothered me. When they played "Passing," though, I could only stand there enthralled for seven minutes. I guess Dreamend agree with me that "Passing" is a career highlight. It's an epic post-rock piece that would not feel out of place on an Explosions in the Sky album. I got video (missing the very start of the song, and unfortunately when it gets loud the sound quality is kind of poor); here it is:

Fortunately, the great music that night was just beginning. The Appleseed Cast performed their emo-tinged post-rock albums Low Level Owl Vol. 1 & 2 in their entirety, back-to-back with a brief intermission in which Saved by the Bell clips were amusingly projected on the wall. It was an outstanding performance, with great musicianship all around and impeccable sound quality. I probably had a somewhat unusual perspective, having heard just the first of the two albums previously. Despite this, I felt The Appleseed Cast easily kept the momentum up throughout their show. Overall, they were definitely the stronger of the two bands that night.

But for me, "Passing" was the highlight of the evening.