May 2010

Posted by Ellen

 

When Sarah Palin discovered that the house next door to her lakeside mansion in Wasilla had been rented to writer Joe McGinniss--an investigative journalist working on a book about Alaska that was unlikely to be sympathetic to her world view--she quickly put up a tall fence to block off his side windows.

"Wonder what kind of material he'll gather," mused Palin, "while overlooking Piper's bedroom, my little garden, and the family's swimming hole?"

The family's swimming hole? Um. That swimming hole is a 360-acre lake with a Best Western motel, at least four paved ramps to accommodate boat trailers, and umpteen float-plane docks. 

I can understand how she feels. I wouldn't want my next-door neighbor to be writing a book about how stupid I am. But if he were, I think I'd probably try to be nice. It wouldn't work, I'm sure, and he'd go right ahead and write his book pointing out all my stupidities. If I'd been nice to him, however, I could lick my wounds afterwards by telling myself: What a jerk. I went out of my way to be nice, and look what he did.

By accusing McGinniss essentially of stalking her, of spending his days waiting for a glimpse of Sarah in her bathing suit and standing at his window staring at her little girl in her bedroom, Palin is . . . well, it works for her.

 

Posted by Ellen

 For the kitchen table, Marion brought us lupine from her yard in Warren, Maine. Sharing the vase with the flowers are leaves of mint. 

 

Posted by Ellen

 

This birdseye view of the harbor at Camden tells the seasonal story all up and down the coast of Maine. The boats are back.

Posted by Ellen

 

Sculptor Gerry Lynas prefers working in sand, but last February in New York he had no choice but to make do with snow. His "Two Feet of Snow" on W. 83rd Street in Manhattan was actually five and a half feet tall. It lasted only a day and a night; the next morning, one of the legs was in the gutter, perhaps from non-natural causes.

Lynas liked the consistency of that February 10 snowfall; he said he hadn't seen such nice, sticky sculpting snow in New York since 1977, when he built a thirty-foot wooly mammoth in Central Park.

Here's to a Memorial Day weekend of seasonably lousy snow.

Posted by Ellen

 

Someone who identified herself only as Lynzee submitted this photo to the My Parents Were Awesome website. The only label on the picture is: Esther.

Posted by Ellen

 

Many kinds of cats sometimes grow big. But Maine Coon Cats commonly grow ridiculously big. And that's all I have to say about that.

Posted by Ellen

 

The Bestiboka River reaches the sea in the Mozambique Channel, along the northwestern coast of the island of Madagascar. There at the mouth of the river, ocean tides push saltwater upstream, slowing or even halting the downstream flow of the muddy river water; wherever the river pauses, sand and silt drop to the bottom of the bay, piling up into sandbars and islands.

In Madagascar's tropical climate, new sandbars quickly acquire a fringe of bright green mangrove scrub, which stabilizes the sediment and also shelters baby shrimp and other aquatic critters. Bombetoka Bay, the estuary here, is highly productive, especially for shrimp. The rectangular pens near the top of this picture are commercial shrimp farms.

The mangrove swamps along the lower reaches of the river trap vast quantities of sediment pouring down from upstream, which keeps the water clean and free of mud as it enters the bay; without this mangrove filtering, Madagascar's huge coral reefs just offshore (off the top edge of this picture) would soon die, smothered by sand.

 

Posted by Ellen

 

For months after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, indoor fires were prohibited by law. The fire that devastated much of the city in the quake's immediate aftermath had been caused by sparks from a cookstove igniting gas from broken utility lines, and it spread horrifically because firefighting efforts had been foiled by broken water lines. So people moved their stoves out into the street, and life went on.

Although this block looks unscathed, it is actually right at the edge of the burnt-out district; on the map below, we're looking at the green spot next to the large red area. All the city in back of where the cameraman must have been standing was completely destroyed.

Note the hopscotch patterns chalked onto the street. I'm told this is the "snail" variation of the game, with the numbered squares arranged in a spiral. You start at the outside, hop around and in to the middle, then switch feet and hop back out.

Posted by Ellen

 

Something I learned today about the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico from BP's blown-out well got me thinking about all the oil that didn't get away, the oil that BP and the other companies have managed to pump and sell over the past century or so, without "wasting" much through spillage.

What I learned from TV news this evening was that one reason BP has sought to downplay the amount of the Deepwater spill is that the company will likely have to pay agreed-upon royalty fees to the government for every gallon sucked out of the earth, including all the gallons spilled into the Gulf. Of course, when BP signed that contract, it was planning to harvest all the oil, not let millions of gallons of it float away. 

And what about the oil that gets pumped up properly, refined, delivered to gas stations and power plants and heating oil companies, and eventually sold to us customers. What do we do with it? We burn it, of course (except for the portion we use to make plastic). Some small amount of residue from the burning gunks up our cars' engines and catalytic converters and slimes up the surface of our roads, but modern cars burn fuel pretty efficiently; the vast majority of what was gasoline when we paid for it goes out the tail pipe and into the air. You can see the oil in the air in this picture, which shows the view from the Wasatch Mountains of Utah, looking westward toward Salt Lake City. The exhaust from a few hundred thousand cars has become thick smog, completely hiding the city.

The twentieth century was the age of oil; Saudi Arabia's wealth was discovered in 1900. By approximately 2000, we'd burned up half of all the oil believed to exist, including almost all the oil in Texas and Oklahoma and most of the oil in Alaska. Much of that century's worth of oil smoke is still in the air, doing its greenhouse-gas thing, but much has fallen back to earth by now, often washed out by rain and snow. We say that a rain shower has "cleared the air," and it has. Back on the ground, the chemicals that perhaps recently floated in the air as smog and once upon a time rested deep underground as oil now leach down through the soil into our groundwater or wash directly into creeks and lakes and rivers and of course oceans. Either way, we drink that oil. And it's nasty--carcinogenic and flat-out poisonous.

All day every day, we drink oil and breathe it; after a century of oil-burning, we and all the other plants and animals on the planet probably have traces of oil in every cell in our bodies. A century is a very short time, evolution-wise; homo sapiens evolved in a world where almost all the oil was trapped deep underground, and hardly any of it was in the air and the water and the food chain. 

We've been able to eat and drink and breathe oil and still get by, so to speak, because most of the time the burnt-up oil is diluted before we ingest it. The life in the Gulf of Mexico won't be so lucky.