Daphne, Jenufa, J. Sterling, and the arrival of spring
Driving north from Topeka, Kansas on a chilly morning, Janacek's opera was the right choice for the Buick's cd player. The Daylight Saving Time sun was barely awake at 7:30, shining low on the east side of barns and old farmhouses, and spotlighting recent tree damage along U.S. 75.
"Jenufa" is all about raw, chilly light focusing on damaged individuals in a claustrophobic rural village. The tragedy of the opera differs from that of my immigrant ancestors, but every listening gives me new insights into their experience.
Plus, in the opera/drive-time category, "Jenufa" fits exactly the easy 127 mile trip. The recording takes me right to the entrance to Arbor Lodge State Historical Park in Nebraska City.
The park isn't really open this early in the spring, but people were walking their dogs on the grounds, and the driveways weren't blocked. The park is now encircled by the properties of the Arbor Day Farm, the Lied Lodge Conference Center, and the Arbor Day Foundation.
I love the juxtaposition of the statue commemorating J. Sterling Morton, the early Nebraska journalist, statesman, agriculturalist, and conservationist behind the sculpture of the Greek wood nymph, Daphne. It's been way too long since I consulted Edith Hamilton's Mythology!
Edith gives a short take of the Roman poet Ovid's version of the Greek nature myth. Daphne was a young huntress with wild hair quite uninterested in suitors of either Olympian or mortal variety. When the god Apollo caught sight of her, he decided she needed a beauty and fashion makeover, but then she would be just the perfect girl for him. Wise girl, Daphne fled from Apollo's attentions, and, with the assistance of her river-god father, was transformed into a laurel tree. This isn't really the best time for me to recount my own dang Apollo's demands for beauty and fashion makeovers, not to mention pierced navels, but Daphne has my complete sympathy.
Founded by J. Sterling Morton in Nebraska in 1872, National Arbor Day is celebrated each year on the last Friday in April. J. Sterling Morton's home, a 52-room neo-colonial mansion offered lovely reflections of bare trees in the leaded windows.
© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder