November 2009

Posted by Ellen

If this is November, then wrestling season must be upon us.

Instead of embarrassing my children and boring my kind readers with snapshots from sweaty school gymnasiums, I thought I'd introduce the season with a glimpse of women's wrestling, the newest Olympic sport.

The wrestler in blue, who appears to be on the verge of pinning her opponent in this 2006 match, is Deanna Rix, from South Berwick, Maine. In 2005, Rix almost made high school sports history, by coming within a few seconds in double overtime of winning a state wrestling championship against boys. Since then, she has been training at the New York Athletic Club and Olympic Training Center, supporting herself by waitressing at Hooters. She currently is the top-ranked American woman in her weight class (59 kg) and recently placed fifth at the world championship.

She may have trouble qualifying for the Olympics, however, because there are only four women's weight classes, and her fighting weight falls midway between two classes.

On the college level, women's wrestling has suddenly become popular; it is probably the fastest growing intercollegiate sport. Ten years ago, there were no women's wrestling teams; now there are more than 30. About half are "folkstyle" programs, following the same rules as men's high school and college wrestling in the United States; the other half wrestle "freestyle," using international rules. Although many of the women's programs offer athletic scholarships, quite a few, especially at small colleges, were introduced specifically in hopes of recruiting another dozen or so tuition-paying students.

Title IX has played a curious role in all this; for years, men's college wrestling has been in decline, with schools cutting programs, claiming that they needed to put more resources into women's sports, such as field hockey or gymnastics. Nowadays, some schools are finding they can revive men's wrestling by starting a women's team as well; MIT is one of the universities following this route. So far, the regrowth in men's college wrestling is concentrated in Division II and III schools, not at the top competitive level.

Posted by Ellen

About twelve summers ago, we made it to Idaho Peak, above New Denver, British Columbia, in the Selkirk Mountains. That meadowful of flowers up there is as good as it gets for flowers.

The trail isn't as sketchy as it might look; it meanders gently around the bend up ahead toward a fire tower that overlooks Slocan Lake and the tiny lakeside towns of Silverton and New Denver. All the settlements in this neck of the woods were late-nineteenth-century mining towns; when the silver and gold gave out in the early to middle years of the twentieth century, the towns struggled, and some vanished. A revival began in the 1960s with U.S. draft dodgers and Canadian and U.S. back-to-the-landers, who were attracted by the scenery and the lack of twentieth-century sprawl.

Best thing about the flowers on Idaho Peak: it's always summer up there. The flowers are always in full bloom. I can't remember it any other way.

Posted by Ellen

This mid-1950s photo, according to the little boy with glasses in the middle of it, records the moment he chose his life's work. His older brother, at left, is showing a photo album to a family friend. His older sister shot the picture.

What is the little boy thinking? He claims that the idea going through his mind is: "All I have to do is take some pictures, and everybody will pay attention to me."

I don't know who he is; he submitted the photo and many others to Shorpy, under the username tterrace.

Posted by Ellen

West Virginia, from outer space.

Posted by Ellen

An apartment building in Prypiat, the Ukrainian town built for the families of people who worked at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Two days after the nuclear accident in 1986, Prypiat was abandoned.

After twenty-three years, radiation levels have dropped significantly here, but no one is yet permitted to live anywhere in the Exclusion Zone surrounding Chernobyl. It is not considered especially dangerous to spend a few hours visiting the area, however, and a local tourism industry has emerged.

This is a High Dynamic Range photo by Trey Ratcliffe. The Hong Kong picture in the November 4 Good Morning was also by Ratcliffe.
 

Posted by Ellen

All right, not seventy-six, but definitely one trombone in this band-sextet-plus-string-quartet from the U.S. Marine Corps Band in 1910. And a double-belled euphonium--for real! Over there at the right.

Do you remember the double-bell euphonium, from "Seventy-six trombones" in Meredith Willson's Broadway show "The Music Man"? I'd thought it was a joke, a made-up instrument that the ignorant folks of River City, Iowa, would believe was real. But I guess it was actually more of an in-joke, a real band instrument of the era, with a name so silly that only the cognoscenti would believe it. As always, I ain't no cognoscenti.

This photo is from the middle of the era celebrated in "The Music Man," when towns all over America built bandstands in the park and organized their own brass bands. In the cities, commercial brass bands were making big money. John Philip Sousa, everybody's favorite bandmaster and composer, had joined the Marine Band at the age of thirteen and conducted it long enough to play for five presidents. But before the turn of the twentieth century, Sousa left the Marines to seek his fortune with the baton of his own Sousa Band, which was wildly successful and became the first American musical organization to tour Europe. In the 1920s, the piccolo player in the Sousa Band was none other than Meredith Willson, who who spent the next thirty years working on music and lyrics for "The Music Man," which finally debuted in 1958.

Today's Marine Band is still "The President's Own" and the premier ensemble of the U.S. military, which claims to employ more musicians than any other organization on earth. The band uniforms haven't changed much in the past ninety-nine years, though the shoes are much shinier nowadays.

Oh, and here's "Seventy-six Trombones," as performed by the trombone choir of Anchorage, Alaska.

 

Posted by Ellen

Early in the morning of June 19, 2002, the Landsat 7 satellite swooped across the Indian Ocean and snapped this picture of Reunion Island. The volcano there, Piton de la Fournaise, was quiet that day--the clouds in the picture are just clouds, passing by.

Geologically, Reunion is virtually a twin to Hawaii halfway around the world, a huge shield volcano above an oceanic hotspot. It has been one of the most active volcanoes in the world throughout modern history, erupting almost every year, sometimes more than once, since 1670. The whole island is made of basaltic lava; it's the tip of a volcanic monster mountain rising from the ocean floor. All over the island are volcanic vents, cones, craters, and large calderas, where lava domes exploded and collapsed. The caldera that is currently most active, toward the top of this picture, has slumped down all the way to sealevel at the coast.

Basaltic rock weathers to make rich soil, and here as in Hawaii the climate encourages lush vegetation. New lava doesn't remain bare rock for long.

Politically, Reunion is part of France; because of its time zone far to the east of Europe, the euro became legal currency here a few hours before it did anywhere else. Eight hundred thousand people live on the island.

Posted by Ellen

Amidst all the screaming and snarking of the blogosphere is a website that's sweet and wonderful: MyParentsWereAwesome.com

Anybody can send in pictures of parents (or grandparents) from back in the day. I'm going to send in pictures of my parents, because they're still really awesome, and I expect all of you to do the same.

Here are three sets of parents from the site:
     Thelma and Reuben, looking at each other--submitted by Seth
     Jonathan and Virginia, seated--submitted by Rob
     Kathi and Kenney, with the guys in the band--submitted by Ryan

 

Tags:
Posted by Ellen

Fall's not done falling yet in some parts of the world, such as the Turkey Farm Road area of Orange County, North Carolina. That's a red maple, all right.

Posted by Ellen

For a million years--34, to be exact--the sixth-grade gym teacher at Westlawn Middle School in Tuscaloosa was Yvonne Wells. So far as I could tell, Ms. Wells was a perfectly normal physical education teacher, who probably went home hoarse every night after a hard day's work.

When she got home, she took up her needle and thread and scissors and spread out her fabrics on the living room floor and went to work quilting. Sometimes she stayed up half the night. She'd had no training in quilt-making, and when she tried to reproduce the old patterns, she felt frustrated and dissatisfied with the results. Gradually, she abandoned traditional patchwork for her own intensely personal, and often political, storytelling style of quilt.

Wells sells her quilts at festivals and in galleries; almost all her work, she says, winds up hanging on the wall instead of laying across a bed. Her style has attracted attention far beyond Tuscaloosa, and in recent years her work has been featured in traveling exhibits at museums all over the country. Half a dozen of her quilts, including this one, are now part of the permanent collection of the International Quilt Study Center and Museum in Nebraska.

What we see here is the Statue of Liberty holding dollar bills in one hand and a black person, perhaps a child, in the other, while she stomps on an Indian with both feet. The title pretty much says it: Being In Total Control of Herself, B.I.T.C.H.