Wednesday, September 8, 2010

System of a Down -- "Holy Mountains" (2005)

Can you feel their haunting presence?
Can you feel their haunting presence?
Back to the river Aras

SOAD has become my new official mountain-biking band, replacing the Pretenders.  The king is dead -- long live the king!

Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders
Years ago, when I first discovered the "Trail of Tears" and the West Barnstable Conservation Area on Cape Cod -- my favorite mountain-biking place in the world -- I had a cassette tape of the Pretenders' first two albums (which I had recorded off vinyl).  I pulled out that cassette every year and listen to it while mountain biking on my aged Mongoose "Rockadile" until my even more aged Sony Walkman gave up the ghost.  Since then, I've listened to a musical potpourri on my mountain bike rides there and elsewhere.  But with Hypnotize and Mezmerize, I've finally found music that is worthy of succeeding the Pretenders.

I'm not the world's most accomplished mountain biker.  I'm pretty timid, and that's what usually gets you into trouble.  The worst thing you can do on a mountain bike is slow down and try to steer your way through rocks and tree roots -- you usually do better if you speed up and plow straight ahead, letting your momentum take you through the tough spots.  

An "endo"
I've never hurt myself seriously while mountain biking, but I've gone over the handlebars a couple of times.  (This is known as an "endo."  That is short for "end over end," which is what happens when the front wheel comes to a sudden stop and the rear half of the bike rotates up and over the front half, dumping the rider on his head.)   To paraphrase what Mark Twain once said about being tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail, if it wasn't for the honor of it all, I'd just as soon avoid the experience.  

I love to get off the pavement and on to the dirt even though I do it rarely -- mostly because it usually requires that you strap a bike rack on your car and drive somewhere.  (I can ride out of my garage and be on the paved Rock Creek hiker-biker trail to Lake Needwood in about five minutes, so that's what I do most of the time.)  The West Barnstable trails are perfect for me -- long stretches of relatively easy singletrack with enough climbs and drops and twist and turns and rocks and tree roots to challenge me.

Here's a map of the area -- it totals 1114 acres.

Map of West Barnstable, MA conservation area
I park at the blue "P" in the lower left-hand corner, and ride in on that long red line -- which indicates the course of the "Trail of Tears" -- that heads mostly north from that parking area.  (There are numerous unmarked trails as well.)  I know I don't make it all the way around the Trail of Tears.

By the way, the Cape Cod Airport that appears on this map is not the commercial airport for the Cape -- that's in Hyannis.  This airport is a small grass-field airport with glider rides and even an open-cockpit biplane that will take you up for a ride.  (I took my older kids up in that biplane many years ago.)  

Waco YMF-5 biplane
I stopped on my way to the conservation area this to see if the biplane was out on the field, but it wasn't.  Instead, there was this crazy-looking thing, which turns out to be a Republic RC-3 "Seabee," a four-seat, all-metal amphibious aircraft.  About 1060 Seabees were built in 1946 or 1947 and sold for $6000 or so.

Republic RC-3 "Seabee"
Here's my battered old front-suspension Mongoose, ready for yet another assault on the Trail of Tears.  (I bought this bike in 1992 or 1993, I think, from a bike store near Wilmington, DE.  In those days, I commuted to a job in Philadelphia every week, which took me through Delaware.  Delaware has no sales tax.  I still sometimes stop at the Christiana Mall on my way up I-95 and stock up on underwear and socks and stuff like that.)

My Mongoose "Rockadile" (with big-ass 2.10-inch tires)
Click on this link to see a better map of the West Barnstable Conservation Area.  (This map is a .pdf file, and you can't embed .pdf files on Google "Blogger" blogs.  Ergo, the link.)  If you look at that map, you'll see that each trail intersection is marked with a directional indication and a number -- e.g., SW9 or E5 or NW4.  Unfortunately, I didn't have a copy of this map when I rode these trails a few weeks, but I won't make that mistake again.  (This map doesn't show where I parked.  If you see where the SW2 marker is and and keep going along the dotted line that runs almost due south from that intersection, you eventually find my parking area just below the lower border of the map.)

I know I passed the SW1 through SW4 markers, and I have photos of the W2, W10, and W27.  But I'm pretty sure I did not hit all the W markers between the W2 and W10, or between the W10 and W27.  (I'm pretty lost most of the time when I ride here, if by "lost" you mean not knowing how to get directly back to your starting place -- I always get there eventually, but it often involves some doubling back and trying all the different trails at an intersection in turn until I find the right one.)  I don't think I saw any markers other than W and SW markers, so I covered maybe 1/3 of the whole trail system at most.  But that's enough to keep me busy for 2 or 3 hours -- I may cover as much as 10 or 12 miles during a ride, but probably no more than that.

Here's an extraordinary video of a mountain biker riding the Trail of Tears on a rainy day.  He starts riding from the same parking lot I start from.  But unlike me, he goes like a bat out of hell.  (I've gotta get me one of them helmet-cams!)

I often do the whole ride without seeing a single other rider.  I don't get that.  The locals I see there tell me there is no better mountain-biking destination on the Cape.  But the last time I rode -- on a beautiful Saturday afternoon during August, when the number of vacationers visiting the Cape is at its peak -- I saw exactly two other riders in almost three hours on the trails.

I wish this silly dual-suspension
 Specialized was my bike
I love the solitude and the feeling of getting away from it all.  But there's a practical advantage to the lack of traffic.  Meeting another bike on the very narrow Trail of Tears usually requires one of you to make way by pulling off the trail to let the other rider get by.

And if someone catches me from behind and wants to pass (I ride a little slower than most mountain bikers) I'm playing my music so loudly that I never become aware of them until they are right on my tail and screaming at me.  Being startled in that way can result in you yanking the handlebars sharply to the right and riding right into a tree.  (No thanks.)

West Parish Church 
historical marker
Just north of the conservation area is the very small village of West Barnstable, home of one of the oldest churches in the United States --  the West Parish Congregational Church, which was built in 1717.  The congregation quickly outgrew the church, and only a few years after it was built, it was cut in half, the two halves pulled apart, and a new 18-foot-long center section added.  A bequest from Revolutionary War hero Colonel James Otis later made it possible for the church to commission a large bell (it weighed about half a ton) from Paul Revere.

The church is a very plain, even severe, but a beautiful structure nonetheless.
West Parish Congregational Church (West Barnstable, MA)
I usually drop by the Old Village Store after a ride at the conservation area and get a sandwich, chips, and a big-ass Dr. Pepper.  From the squeaky wooden floors and the ancient, hand-cranked cash register, I assume this store has been around for a long time.  (Yes, that's my mountain bike and car parked in front.)

The Old Village Store
Next door to the store is Anne Boucher's gallery -- she's a local artist.  I try to stop in every summer, say "hello," and see what is new.

Here's one of Anne's prints:

"Sunflowers at Beachpoint," by Anne Boucher
Here's one of her watercolors:

"Late September Evening/Corn Hill," by Anne Boucher
Click here to see her website.

Enough about mountain biking and West Barnstable -- let's get to the song, which may have replaced "Lost in Hollywood" as my leader in the clubhouse among SOAD songs.  (I also have their two previous CDs, but have not listened to them yet.)

"Mountain Song" was carefully constructed -- it uses two musical elements to immediately grab the listener's attention and create drama.  The initial line, which is repeated -- "Can you feel their haunting presence?" -- is presumably a  reference to the victims of the Armenian genocide.  (SOAD's members are Armenian-Americans, and several of their songs relate in some way to that historical incident.)  

"Can" is held for four beats -- a whole note -- as is "you."  "Feel" and "their" are half notes (two beats each), while each of the syllables of "haunting presence" is a quarter note. 

In other words:

(1,         2,       3,    4)

(1,         2,       3,    4)

 FEEL           THEIR
(1,         2,       3,    4)

(1,              2,          3,       4)

This constant and regular acceleration -- initially one drawn-out syllable to a measure, then two, then four (or, to put it another way, whole notes followed by half notes and then quarter notes) -- is quite effective.  In addition, each syllable moves up a step on the scale, which also cranks up the tension even though the volume remains constant and relatively quiet.  

That changes suddenly as the singer almost screams "LIAR! KILLER! DEMON!"  Take my word for it, it'll get your attention.  

"Someone's blank stare deemed it warfare" is another do-re-mi walk up the scale that leads into "LIAR!  KILLER!  DEMON!"

The Aras River
The Aras River forms the modern-day border between Turkey and Armenia, a largely Christian nation which was part of the Muslim-dominated Ottoman Empire.  SOAD's members are Armenian-Americans, and a number of their songs refer to the "Armenian Genocide," which was perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire in 1915.  The Turks went "back to the river Aras" after they crossed into Armenia and committed genocide.  There are any number of websites that discuss the Armernian genocide -- here's one of them.  There are also any number of truly horrific photos, but I decided not to include any of them in this post.  

As for the title of the song, the "holy mountains" are the mountains of Ararat, which Genesis says was where Noah's ark came to rest.  The dominant mountain in the area is Mount Ararat, which is almost 17,000 feet high.

Mount Ararat as seen from Yerevan, capital of Armenia
Mount Ararat dominates the skyline of Yerevan, the Armenian capital, and is featured in the Armenian coat of arms, but the mountain has been located on Turkish soil since the Ottoman Empire was dissolved and the Republic of Turkey was created after World War I.

Here's "Holy Mountains":

Here's a link to use to buy the song from iTunes:

Click here if you prefer Amazon:

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