January 2016

Posted by Ellen

Cross section of a leaf bud of the common yellow water lily, Nuphar lutea, magnified 12 times.

This image was among the winners of Nikon's 2015 Small Worlds microphotography competition. Photographer was Dr. David Maitland, Feltwell, United Kingdom.

Posted by Ellen

It's Saturday, a good day for bananas!

Approximately one hundred years ago, circa 1917, four people posed for this photo on the steps of somebody's back porch, probably in Minnesota. We can surmise that the house was heated by wood and had no running water–but yes, they sure had bananas.

The gentleman in the upper left is Bernard Burch, who in the 1920s was elected mayor of Wadena, Minnesota. As a young man, he ran his family's department store, "largest of its kind between Duluth and Fargo"; in his later years, he managed the town liquor store.

We do not know the identities of the happy banana-peelers he was hanging out with.

Posted by Ellen

This time of year, alas, our thoughts turn to Siberia, or to the Ice Ages, or even to Siberia during the Ice Ages, when woolly mammoths were walking tall and cave lions commanded the countryside.

Last summer, two men digging for mammoth tusks along a riverbank in Yakutia, eastern Siberia, came across a couple of brown and furry-looking chunks of ice about the size of household cats. Not sure what they were but hoping they might be worth something to somebody, the men kept the things from thawing out by reburying them deep in the permafrost. In September, they returned with scientists from the institute in Yakutsk and learned that they'd found the corpses of two baby cave lions.

Cave lions are an extinct subspecies of lion that ranged across all of Eurasia, from Spain to Siberia, and crossed the land bridge to North America during the Ice Ages. They've been extinct for 12,000 years or more, but they are well known to us through the work of numerous prehistoric artists who featured them in paintings on the walls of caves.

Cave lions did not themselves live in caves, but of course their babies stayed in dens when they were small, and these particular cubs were still very young when, it is theorized, their den caved in on them, perhaps in connection with a landslide. Buried deep in rubble, the cubs probably died from lack of oxygen, which also helped preserve their corpses so well for thousands of years.

The top photo is an artist's rendering of a snowy landscape with mammoths, cave lions, a woolly rhinoceros, and other Ice Age critters; the scene is said to be set in northern Spain. 

Below that is one of the Siberian cave lion cubs, resting on a block of ice.

In the photo at the bottom of this post, a scientist takes off one of his gloves and sticks his finger in the cub's mouth. His actions may strike us as a bit casual and unscientific, though there is some research happening here: by feeling for the nubs of baby teeth in the cub's gums, he was able to estimate its age as approximately two weeks. These same scientists have announced their intention to clone these cubs, in hopes of bringing back the extinct species. We'll keep you posted.

Posted by Ellen

That's the Quiet Man with Norman, at the window of Delia Foley's tavern in Baltimore. He's quiet all right, albeit a little shrunken, not exactly John Wayne–sized. Still and all, anybody who's that solid and bronze has got to have a good, strong shoulder to lean on.

Posted by Ellen

Last week, Betty White turned 94. She's probably been an animal person for at least 90 of those years. And of course she's been a Golden Girl for a really long time, and the Happy Homemaker for a long time before that. In fact, by our calculations, she's been in show business for at least 77 years.

She first worked in front of a TV camera in 1939, when she was three months out of high school and the medium was still experimental. After volunteer service in World War II and a few postwar years working in radio, she came back to TV, and by 1952–when she was only 30 years old and still living at home with her parents–she was producing, directing, hosting, and singing and dancing in her own show.

This picture was taken on the set of the Betty White Show, in 1954. It was a noon-hour talk show; Betty chatted with guests, traded one-liners with the boys in the orchestra, sat at a desk to read jokes and riddles sent in by viewers, and swallowed a slug of Geritol to prove it tasted good and gave her lots of energy. 

YouTube has preserved at least a couple of the show's episodes, from November 29th, 1954, when Rin Tin Tin makes a brief appearance near the end, and December 6th.  Sadly, neither of those videos is any help in figuring out why Betty's got her hand on a baby elephant.