February 2015

Posted by Ellen

In 1748, George Washington was a 16-year-old kid hired to help out with a surveying party in the mountain wilderness that is now eastern West Virginia. The surveyors stopped to rest in a narrow valley known now as Berkeley Springs. Young Washington described the valley as unpleasantly narrow, scarcely touched by the sun, but after spending a few days soaking in warm springs that bubbled up out of the ground there, he decided he liked the place.

Two years later, when Lord Fairfax, who had commissioned the survey, finally got around to paying the survey party, Washington took his pay in the form of land grants in and around Berkeley Springs. Those grants of 250 acres were the first of numerous grants and purchases over the years that expanded his holdings throughout Virginia, especially western Virginia, till at his death the father of our country personally owned more than 60,000 acres of our country.

The "bathtub" at Berkeley Springs is a modern recreation of the rock-lined pools built in the center of town for the crowds of spa-goers in mid-eighteenth-century America who sought the curative powers attributed to warm (78.4 degrees F), mineralized spring waters. Until 1784, when the first bathhouse was completed, the spa was entirely out of doors, in rock pools screened for privacy by piles of brush and woven branches. Separate hours were designated for male and female bathers.

Washington was part of the crowd; he visited repeatedly, at first with his half-brother Lawrence, who was ill with tuberculosis. When the baths did not help, George took Lawrence on an ocean voyage to Barbados, in hopes that tropical air might prove curative. In Barbados, George Washington contracted smallpox but recovered; Lawrence Washington continued to do poorly and returned to Virginia to die at home in 1752.

George Washington returned again and again to the baths at Berkeley Springs, which had become something of a social scene for colonials of his class. The town grew rapidly to wine and dine the bathers, and George Washington bought up several building lots. A house was built for him on one of his lots, but the Revolutionary War was diverting his attention at that time, and it is believed he only visited the house once.

In mid-winter, the water in Washington's bathtub looks disgusting; the spring is warm enough that there's little or no ice in the pool around the spring but plenty of algae and moss, and nobody has cleaned fallen leaves out of the tub. But straight from the springs, Berkeley Springs water is clear and fresh-tasting. The town hosts an annual water-tasting competition, at which its own municipal water usually fares well.

And there's another annual event in town: George Washington's Bath Tub Weekend, celebrated each year around March 18, the day Washington first showed up for a bath in 1748. The weekend "highlights history-related activities," according to its promoters, "and retail sales."

Posted by Ellen

Fisheye view inside the mid-eighteenth-century Vakil mosque in Shiraz, Iran. The 48 columns seen here are all monoliths, with spiral carvings and lotus-leaf capitals.

Posted by Ellen

It was a nice flat little rock that hopped across a nice icy little river, at the foot of a nice little rocky mountain in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia.

To see how it's done, see here.

Posted by Ellen

Doris's sign might be a little misleading in one way, since there's really not much of a parking problem in the community of Great Cacapon, West Virginia. It's a wide place in the road: a post office, a few dozen houses and trailers, and Doris's, which advertises Bud Light by the 30-pack ($23.99).

The deer in the noose, however, looks just like the wall mounts on sale at a furniture store back in Berkeley Springs, the county seat. And if you don't want a deer for your wall, you might consider a longhorn steer instead.

Posted by Ellen

At the University of Alabama this semester, Joe is taking a ceramics class, which meets, appropriately enough, in the old Bureau of Mines building.

"Earn your A," he writes.

Posted by Ellen

Philly Photo Day 2014, back in October, was a school day. Maybe these kids were in art class?

Posted by Ellen

A couple of weeks ago, in the desert near Pinnacle Peak, outside of Phoenix, people who stepped out of their cars to savor the sunset felt the wind pick up suddenly, blowing hard and cold and carrying . . . raindrops? Really?

Careful examination of clouds in the distance revealed ragged curtains of rain showers swirling down just below the cloud line. Apparently, most of the rain evaporated long before moistening the dust, but we can vouch for several drops, perhaps even several dozens of drops, that fell all the way to earth.

After a few minutes, the wind died down, and the storm, such as it was, no longer was.

Posted by Ellen

Portrait de la la Repasseuse, by Laura Corrado, from the 2015 Royal Photographic Society International Biennial.