February 2010

Posted by Ellen


School's out this week for February break, but there's basically no snow hereabouts for the kids to play in. For Joshua, Emily, and Andrew, a trip to the artificial snow at Seacoast Park in Windham, Maine, solved the problem neatly. The kids went tubing all day Monday, and came home to . . . a forecast for plenty of snow on Tuesday. Winter's coming back to northern New England; the rest of the country can relax now. 

Posted by Ellen


Saturday marked the end of the Maine high school wrestling season; it was also the end of Hank Stein's high school wrestling career. His senior season peaked at just the right time, leading up to a fourth-place finish in the state Class A tournament.

He celebrated Sunday morning by eating all the pancakes he could eat.

In this picture, from a December match against Sanford High School, Hank prepares to finish off his opponent.


Posted by Ellen


In the late 1940s, a photographer visited a school in the village of Paro, a day's walk up into the mountains from Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan. One of the students in this picture recorded the occasion in his journal: "All we heard was a click, and then the next day we were amazed to see our images had materialised on paper."

Bhutan remained one of the world's most isolated countries until the 1990s, when its king announced a new economic policy, which he called GNH: Gross National Happiness. Some Western developments, including television, would be allowed in, even encouraged, but others, such as smokestack industries, would be kept out. Bhutanese life would be integrated with the rest of the world only insofar as the changes increased people's happiness in Bhutan. A new government ministry was created to measure GNH.

And so it came to pass that in 2008, upon recommendation of the ministry of happiness, the kingdom of Bhutan became a democracy, with its leaders chosen by popular election. The American experience evidently was not cautionary enough. Or something.

So far, Bhutan still ranks at the top worldwide in indices of national happiness, according to people who try to measure this sort of thing. The Bhutanese people are said to be as happy as anyone anywhere--and far happier than people in other parts of the world where per capita income is as low as it is in Bhutan. The average Bhutanese person gets by on about $l,000 a year.

The village of Paro now hosts an annual international cricket tournament. If cricket is required for high GNH, we Americans are surely doomed.

Posted by Ellen

Monarch butterflies know how to enjoy winter; they fly south, leaving the eastern United States and heading for the mountains around Tlalpujahua, in the state of Michoacan, Mexico. Winter nights can get chilly up there in the mountains, and the butterflies huddle together in the trees. But the days are warm and sunny, and every morning as the temperature approaches 70 degrees, the Monarchs take to the air, flocking skyward all at once.

No single Monarch lives long enough to migrate to Mexico in the fall and back to the States in the spring. But somehow, the young butterflies born in Mexico each winter know to start flying north in March, and even know to head for particular ancestral summer homes, which they've never seen before. There, they mate and produce a new generation, which is born not only with the magic power to change from caterpillars into pupae into butterflies but also with the knowledge of when to head south in the fall and how to find the Mexican mountaintop where their ancestors always liked to spend the winter.


Posted by Ellen

 It's been a while since a puppy picture, so: this dog was caught on camera somewhere in one of those mid-Atlantic states.

The Washington Post today pointed out that now that the city had broken the old season-total snowfall record, this winter's snowfall was approaching the average for . . . Anchorage, Alaska, and Portland, Maine. I don't know about Anchorage, but in Portland our snowfall this year is way below average. And even when it's average, we don't get the whole winter's worth all in a couple of blizzards; I'm sure that would slow things down even up here.

Those of you outside the usual snowbelt have been asked, I'm sure, to find the fire hydrants in your neighborhood and dig them out. The fire fighters need the help, and I'm sure the dogs will be grateful also.

Posted by Ellen


Twenty or so years ago, when our son Joe was in the first grade, he came home from school one day and announced that there was a boy in his class named Joshua who was his new best friend; Joe and Josh have been close friends ever since.

Josh met Keiko when she came to Tuscaloosa from Japan to go to school at the University of Alabama. They have been living in Japan for the past few years but may return to the United States next year; Josh hopes to start an MBA program.

Posted by Ellen


Early-morning footsteps through this grass in the hills above Calgary, Alberta, would make a little noise.

Posted by Ellen

Yesterday was sunny on the eastern Caribbean island of Saint Vincent. The temperature reached a high of 73 degrees Fahrenheit, dropping to 68 degrees at night. No rain, not even a cloud. Paradise.

But sometimes the sky gets a little gray and the tropical flowers soak up a little shower. Hard to imagine why people would want to vacation there.

Posted by Ellen


In an impact crater inside a volcanic crater high on a Martian mountaintop, ancient bedrock is exposed. The high elevation and crater ramparts keep out the red dust that swirls over most of the planet. This picture of the rocks there was captured by infrared sensors in an orbiting telescope, part of a NASA probe known as HiRISE.

The rocks are more than 3 billion years old, among the oldest known on the planet. The infrared sensors detected a variety of hydrated minerals, evidence that this place was once under water, for a long time. Some of the minerals detected contain chloride, as in table salt.

There is still H2O on Mars--pictures taken early in the morning often show frost--but the Martian atmosphere is so thin nowadays that water is unstable in its liquid form. 

Posted by Ellen


Only in Washington, D.C., in the year 2010, does a snowball fight feature lawyerly liability disclaimers, new-media marketing, and streaming traffic reports.

A heavily promoted snowball fight at Dupont Circle on Saturday attracted about two thousand participants, most of them adults, even though the snow was said to be too fluffy for decent snowballs. For every actual snowball thrower there appear to have been several would-be cell phone videographers, whose work may be assessed on YouTube. Six police cars waited nearby, but nothing happened. Some people attacked the fountain in the center of the circle by throwing snow at the people defending the fountain; the fountain is still there, so perhaps the defenders "won."

Facebook pages and Twitterings promoted the event. Lawyers were involved; a disclaimer on Facebook warned: "You are coming to Dupont Circle Park on Saturday, Feb 6, 2010, to play snowballs voluntarily. The people spreading the word about the happening are not preparing any special equipment or conditions and may not be held responsible for your decisions and/or actions."

Radio station WTOP broadcast warnings to motorists, urging them to avoid Dupont Circle and other snowball-fight locales. Although the Dupont Circle "fight" attracted the most attention, Washingtonians apparently were out pelting one another with snow all over town. This picture came from some allegedly voluntary snow play in Meridian Hill Park, where an artist was using an old piece of artwork as a shield.