October 2009

Posted by Ellen

Kaido Hoovelson needed a stage name if he were going to get anywhere in the world of professional sumo wrestling; the name that stuck is Baruto, Japanese for Baltic.

Hoovelson was working as a nightclub bouncer in Estonia when his judo instructor suggested sumo as a good career move. Young men who are accepted into one of the "stables" of aspiring sumo wrestlers live and train together; they learn sumo technique and its cultural dimensions, and they get plenty to eat. Of course, newcomers--especially newcomers from foreign countries--could expect to be assigned chores, such as washing the clothes of the older wrestlers, and they would have to be tough enough to deal with hazing as well as wrestling.

But for Hoovelson to really succeed as Baruto, then first and foremost he would have to learn Japanese. His first word was "Itai": ouch. All instruction was in Japanese, as was all interaction day and night among the wrestlers in his stable. Within a couple of years, he became fluent enough to give TV interviews at tournaments, which turned out to be a good thing because he rose quickly to sumo stardom,  even gaining his own fan club among young Japanese.

Beginning in the 1990s, a few foreigners have been among the 800 professionals working their way up the sumo ranks; two Hawaiians and a Mongolian have become champions of the topmost tournament league,  Baruto, professional sumo's first Estonian athlete, is in the top league now and among the contenders for the overall championship.

In a profession of huge men, Baruto is among the tallest--6 foot 4--and as heavy as the heaviest--about 360 pounds. He has thrived on the Japanese meat stew that the wrestlers eat several times a day, but he has also sought out Western restaurants for a taste of home. In a Russian restaurant in Tokyo, he met Elena Tregubova from Vladivostok, the daughter of the proprietor. They were married last February, and Baruto insists he'd like to have five children with her.

A sumo match begins with several minutes of pacing and scowling. The actual fighting may last only a few seconds. It's all over as soon as one wrestler pushes the other out of the 15-foot circle or forces him to touch the mat with any part of his body other than his feet.

The picture shows Baruto participating in the ceremony associated with a sumo tournament. This video shows a match last month in which Baruto  (in blue) needed only about 3 seconds to win; you can discern the finer points of his technique in the slow-motion replays at the end of the clip.

Posted by Ellen

Please forgive me for writing here about Alabama football--just this once, I promise, at least till next year.

Some people don't like football. And even among those who do like football, some don't like Alabama football. All I can say is: better luck in your next life.

Nobody doesn't like Terrence Cody--Mount Cody--the unheralded defensive lineman from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College who showed up for practice in Tuscaloosa weighing 400 pounds. Off the field, they say, he's a gentle, teddy bear sort of guy, who likes cartoons on TV and sleeps on Spiderman sheets. On the field, he's not gentle; Alabama's defense is ranked number one in the nation, and on that defense Cody has participated in more than his share of tackles and sacks. Last Saturday, he saved a close game for the Tide by blocking two field goal attempts, including one in the final seconds of the game.

But Mount Cody's value to the team doesn't really show up in the formal statistics. Basically, he is so big and strong that the opposing team will need two guys to contain him. This double-teaming gives his teammates a numerical advantage; because of Cody, somebody else is wide open to make more tackles and sacks.

Last Saturday, Tennessee put two guys on Cody, the Sullins brothers, identical twins who are big, strong, experienced offensive linemen. They each weigh something like 275 pounds. Cody has trimmed down a bit; even at 400 pounds he had moves, but now at 365 he can almost run. Still, he outweighed either of the Sullins boys by a good 90 pounds. Several times during the game, double-teaming didn't work to stop him; he would swat the first guy out of the way before the second guy showed up to help--and when Cody gets moving, it might take three or four guys to stop him.

Bama has a number ofl exciting players, including defensive linebacker Rolando McClain, who seems to be a football genius, always guessing right about what the other guys are going to do with the ball. On offense, there's the ridiculously fast receiver Julio Jones and the running back Mark Ingram, a sort of zombie runner who won't stay dead.

But last week was all about Mount Cody. Here he is, number 62,  blocking a kick., Notice the Tennessee player lying down in front of him, number 69--that's one of the Sullins brothers, just trying to do his job.

Posted by Ellen

At low tide, you can paddle a boat out into Machias Bay, way downeast in Maine, to get a look at Native American petroglyphs that are hundreds or thousands of years old.

Passamaquoddy and Maleseet Indians drew pictures on bedrock outcroppings near the bay by pecking at the rock with sharp pieces of harder rock. About 500 drawings in 9 sites are known today.

Some of the meanings are obvious, such as the drawing of a deer at a spot near Machias Falls where deer can often be seen to this day. Other images are believed to reflect visionary experience, in which birds, for example, may be interpreted as messengers from afar.

Cultural style and probably age of the petroglyphs seem to vary. Some may be only 400 years old, while others are thought to have been created more than 3,000 years ago.

Most of the Machias petroglyphs are now under water except perhaps at lowest tide. The petroglyphs were probably created on land near the shore of the bay and its islands because that's where the largest exposures of bare rock would be found; unfortunately, sea level has been rising ialong the Maine coast ever since the end of the last Ice Age.
 

Posted by Ellen

Dorothea Lange photographed this woman in a migrant farmworker camp in Klamath County, Oregon, in 1939. According to Lange's notes, the woman was a young mother, originally from El Paso, Texas, who had just finished her washing.
 

Posted by Ellen

 

This is the second most stunning bit of fall on my street. It's a cherry tree I planted when we first moved into this house, and it's big enough now that I could stand underneath the branches and take this picture aiming up at the sky through a crown of glowing leaves. The picture is not turned sideways; the branches just branch off one another that way.

The first most stunning bit of fall on my street is a hydrangea down the block with leaves as pink as the flowers. I hope to get a shot of it, but in the meantime . . . you don't have to take my word for it; you can imagine it however you want.

As Octobers go, this one was so too wet to be entirely pleasant. But perhaps because of all the rain, a lot of leaves are still hanging in there. Then too, the few blue-sky days have been all the more precious.
 

Posted by Ellen

The weather was raw and wet a couple of weekends ago in Bethesda,Maryland,  but the artists all showed up anyway with their tents for the annual art fair. The street was closed to cars, and I got to wondering about all the traffic arrows painted on the roadway: Did it cost extra for a booth with an arrow that directed traffic right to you, as opposed to one where the arrow on the road seemed to be steering people away from you?

I was also curious why the same lane on the street seemed to be painted with arrows pointing every which way.

In the end, I'm sure the arrows made no difference; the weather kept crowds thin all weekend long. The band kept playing on the makeshift stage at the corner, and the vendors kept hawking crab cakes and curry, but I hope the artists enjoy better days soon.
 

Posted by Ellen

"The Storybook Wolf," by Spanish photographer Josi Luis Rodriguez, won National Geographic's 2009 prize for wildlife photography. To get the shot, Rodriguez rigged up a motion sensor that tripped the shutter of his camera, which used an infrared sensor for night vision.

I know this wolf. He eats grandmothers and little pigs and little Russian boys, and I'm sure he's very hungry now.

Posted by Ellen

The babe in arms in this picture, Gregory Stein, recently started his freshman year in engineering school at Cornell. His parents are Miriam and Eugene Stein; Eugene is Norman's first cousin.

The urchin in front here is Joe, baby Gregory's second cousin. Joe is currently a music student at the University of Alabama.
 

Posted by Ellen

That's me with the chisel in my mouth, some summers ago, during geologic field work in the North Cascades, in the state of Washington. I'm climbing a hill called Lincoln Rock that rears up about twelve hundred feet above the apple orchards along the banks of the Columbia River. We'd been told there were some good garnet coronas up there--garnets with white rings around them---the metamorphic feature I was trying to interpret for my thesis project.

We'd also been told that Lincoln Rock was the one place in the North Cascades where a geologist named Bob Miller--a man who climbed cliffs for fun when he couldn't think of an excuse to climb them for research--fell badly and almost cracked his head open. This was my last day in the field that summer, and though I'd had wonderful fun, I was beginning to shift gears mentally, to look forward to getting back home so I could stop worrying about slipping and falling and leaving five children motherless.

Perhaps because of Bob's misadventure, but surely also because I was old and out of shape, I was by far the slowest climber. While I toiled upward inch by inch in the August sun, the rest of the gang was already lolling about in the shade of an overhang at the top of the hill, eating lunch and making fun of me. As I finally approached the scene of this snapshot, a Ph.D. student named Carlos Zuluaga asked if I wanted my picture taken. Then he suggested I put the chisel in my mouth. It seemed like a good idea at the time, it really did.

Anyway, there were indeed nice-looking garnet coronas all over the hilltop, and Carlos and the others kindly helped me smash them out of the outcroppings. We all made it down safely, with rocks in our backpacks. When I got a look at my Lincoln Rock samples under the microscope, however, I discovered that the garnets were rotten; they'd cooled too slowly after their metamorphic odyssey, and a mineral named chlorite had replaced much of the garnet. My thermodynamic models wouldn't work on rock with rotten garnet, so I put the Lincoln Rock samples in a drawer in the basement of the geology building, and maybe they are still there today.

Fortunately, I had plenty of other samples. And I'd love to be back up there again.....

Posted by Ellen

Ninety-eight winters of salt have done a number on the mortar that was supposed to be holding the bricks together on my front steps. Fortunately, I count among my good friends an experienced bricklayer who was willing to take on the project. Here you see Katrin Maldre chipping away at the old mortar, using my little old rock hammer and a fancy new chisel.

To be fair, Katrin's bricklaying experience was not extensive or recent. But one summer back in Communist times, when she was growing up in Estonia, she and her friends were sent out into the country to work on a large brick construction project. Mostly, they moved bricks to and from piles---but it's a whole lot more bricklaying experience than I can claim.. (Katrin also has a son who has an engineering degree and knows about bricks and stuff, and  who was willing to supervise this project from Estonia via Skype.)

Within an hour or two we got rid of most of the old mortar, slathered the free bricks with new mortar, and set them back in place. We broke one brick, and when the job was finished we somehow had an extra piece of brick left over. But you can't tell by looking at it.

The highlight of the job was definitely the new chisel. Note that yellow foam hand protector thing. Worth its weight in gold! Its inventor is a genius.