Posted by Ellen

Last spring, when we were packing up my mother's place for her cross-country move, we came across this relic of a much earlier stage of life.

My mother remembered it well, in considerable detail: it's a cap pistol that belonged to my little brother Charlie, and she confiscated it, oh, fifty-some years ago, when he and his friends were making too much noise with it in the house. She told him to take it outside, but he kept on shooting it in the house.

She doesn't remember exactly where she put the gun after taking it up, but it was obviously a really good hiding place. We found it in the back of a closet, and this was a different closet, in a different house, from the place we'd lived during the era of confiscatory gun control.

And that's not all. We also found another weapon, not pictured here, traceable to the same perp: a huge water gun of the Super Soaker ilk. That one, too, had been confiscated and squirreled away, presumably for exactly the same violation.

My mom is tough. Sure, teach a lesson, take the things away for a day or a week. But fifty years?

Whatever, it worked. Chuck didn't grow up to be a cowboy; he's a nuclear physicist now, who never shot anybody. 

The guns went to Goodwill, if I remember correctly. Somebody else's little cowboy can get in trouble with them now.

Posted by Ellen

All across this great land, my friend, from Iowa to New Hampshire and all sorts of places betwixt and between, politicians are by no means the only Americans who are taking it to the mat.

To start with, from Lacey, Washington, to Riviera Beach, Florida, now is the season when Stein men are coaching high school wrestling. In Lacey, Hank's working with the Timberline Blazers, and in Riviera Beach, Allen's got the Suncoast Chargers. As the regular season winds down,  the coaches are seriously busy, trying to prepare their wrestlers for sectionals and regionals and states.

Pictured here is one of Hank's Blazers bringing it on, in a tournament last January at Marysville Pilchuck High School.

Posted by Ellen

Kaspar was not quite three years old when he snapped his first selfie. 

Posted by Ellen

Ten or so days ago, when Philly got whacked by a pretty good thump of snow, this guy was the only one out driving around in the neighborhood, until he wasn't.

He was going the wrong way up 24th Street–and really, why not? There were no other cars on the road. But he slipped and slid, and then he was digging and digging. . . .

One of the neighbors brought him some cardboard, which was eventually helpful, but nobody offered to help him shovel, which might have made a more immediate contribution. (In our own defense, it is noted here that ever since last August, when we moved into an apartment, we no longer own a snow shovel.)

It's warmed up now and rained, and the snow is disappearing. Maybe this next month will bring us more winter, but maybe not.

Posted by Ellen

In August 1951, this sign was posted along Roosevelt Boulevard in Northeast Philadelphia, near the main gate to the state hospital at Byberry.

The only time the highway was actually closed because of enemy attack was on 15 June 1955, when as part of a nationwide Civil Defense drill, Reading Terminal in Center City was designated a surprise target for a large atomic bomb. The mock bombing was said to turn most of Center City into a radioactive wasteland, as well as hypothetically killing one-third of the city's population; presumably, the other two-thirds were not allowed to drive on Roosevelt Boulevard for the duration.

Nationwide, the drill left 8.5 million Americans counted as dead and another 10 million deemed displaced. With results like those, it was hard to feel that the exercise was a resounding success, and nothing like it was attempted again.

Over the next fifty years, however, even without an atom blast in Center City, Philadelphia did lose almost as many people as were tallied in the civil defense drill. The city population in 1950 was greater than 2 million; the 2000 population was just a shade over 1.5 million. Suburbanization, of course, was behind the depopulation; no enemy attacks were necessary, but Roosevelt Boulevard itself was among the policy and infrastructure developments that were critical to the process.

Since the year 2000, Philadelphia has again started to grow. By 2014, the population had recovered to the level it first reached in 1910. 

The sign was removed many years ago without fanfare.

Posted by Ellen

Because of the singular role played today by a groundhog, you might think we could have just one official Hollywood star of a groundhog. And here in America, that would have to be Pennsylvania's own Punxsutawney Phil.

In Canada, however, there's Nova Scotia's Shubenacadie Sam, whose residence in the Atlantic time zone gives him an hour's head start today on Phil. And of course we mustn't overlook Ontario's Wiarton Willie and Manitoba's Brandon Bob; up where they live, winter weather prognostications are serious stuff.

But this past weekend, only days before the one day each year when anybody thinks any positive thoughts about groundhogs/woodchucks, we lost one of our groundhog greats, Winnipeg Willow. She succumbed on Friday to old age; groundhogs generally live four to six years, and Willow was six. We're told she had a good life.

It did not start out auspiciously. As a babe, she was brought to Winnipeg's Prairie Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre aftern her mother was killed by a dog. Plans were to release Willow to the wild as soon as she was old enough, but she managed to break one of her legs running around in the Centre's prairie play yard. The extra attention required to treat her injury left her so accustomed to human contact that she was deemed unlikely to survive in the wild. So she spent the rest of her life in captivity.

Willow's job was to demonstrate groundhog-ness to schoolchildren, on her home turf and in the children's classrooms. Mostly, she demonstrated what groundhogs like to eat; according to her minders, she loved kale, green leafy lettuce, broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes, snap peas, and of course peanuts. 

She was pleasant with people, we're told, at least by the standards of groundhogs, except in midwinter, when she got a little grumpy and didn't like to be awakened. Midwinter in Winnipeg surely includes . . . February 2? This year, at least, nobody's going to be bothering Willow for a weather forecast on Groundhog Day. She can rest in peace.

Posted by Ellen

Just a few years ago, Monday in the neighborhood was obviously washday, as in this scene looking out over the alley behind South Taney Street. But that was then; nowadays, rowhouse backyards like these, minus the clotheslines, are described in realtor-speak as perfect for entertaining. 

Posted by Ellen

Cross section of a leaf bud of the common yellow water lily, Nuphar lutea, magnified 12 times.

This image was among the winners of Nikon's 2015 Small Worlds microphotography competition. Photographer was Dr. David Maitland, Feltwell, United Kingdom.

Posted by Ellen

It's Saturday, a good day for bananas!

Approximately one hundred years ago, circa 1917, four people posed for this photo on the steps of somebody's back porch, probably in Minnesota. We can surmise that the house was heated by wood and had no running water–but yes, they sure had bananas.

The gentleman in the upper left is Bernard Burch, who in the 1920s was elected mayor of Wadena, Minnesota. As a young man, he ran his family's department store, "largest of its kind between Duluth and Fargo"; in his later years, he managed the town liquor store.

We do not know the identities of the happy banana-peelers he was hanging out with.

Posted by Ellen

This time of year, alas, our thoughts turn to Siberia, or to the Ice Ages, or even to Siberia during the Ice Ages, when woolly mammoths were walking tall and cave lions commanded the countryside.

Last summer, two men digging for mammoth tusks along a riverbank in Yakutia, eastern Siberia, came across a couple of brown and furry-looking chunks of ice about the size of household cats. Not sure what they were but hoping they might be worth something to somebody, the men kept the things from thawing out by reburying them deep in the permafrost. In September, they returned with scientists from the institute in Yakutsk and learned that they'd found the corpses of two baby cave lions.

Cave lions are an extinct subspecies of lion that ranged across all of Eurasia, from Spain to Siberia, and crossed the land bridge to North America during the Ice Ages. They've been extinct for 12,000 years or more, but they are well known to us through the work of numerous prehistoric artists who featured them in paintings on the walls of caves.

Cave lions did not themselves live in caves, but of course their babies stayed in dens when they were small, and these particular cubs were still very young when, it is theorized, their den caved in on them, perhaps in connection with a landslide. Buried deep in rubble, the cubs probably died from lack of oxygen, which also helped preserve their corpses so well for thousands of years.

The top photo is an artist's rendering of a snowy landscape with mammoths, cave lions, a woolly rhinoceros, and other Ice Age critters; the scene is said to be set in northern Spain. 

Below that is one of the Siberian cave lion cubs, resting on a block of ice.

In the photo at the bottom of this post, a scientist takes off one of his gloves and sticks his finger in the cub's mouth. His actions may strike us as a bit casual and unscientific, though there is some research happening here: by feeling for the nubs of baby teeth in the cub's gums, he was able to estimate its age as approximately two weeks. These same scientists have announced their intention to clone these cubs, in hopes of bringing back the extinct species. We'll keep you posted.