January 2017

Posted by Ellen

From personal experience, we can vouch for the fine customer service provided by the Siberian Husky behind the counter at Ballard Oil, a marine fueling and home heating oil terminal on the ship canal in Seattle.

The other workers in the office also seemed like good people.

Posted by Ellen

It was halftime on a cold November day in 1950, and things just didn't look good for this high school football team in the locker room at Freeport Municipal Stadium in New York.

Tonight, at halftime of the college football national championship game being played on national tv, will one of the locker rooms feel like this? Probably not; tonight's game–a rematch of last year's championship final between Alabama and Clemson–is expected to be close.

Alabama won last year, but barely. Our hearts are with them again this year, though we wouldn't bet the rent on it. Rammer Jammer.

Posted by Ellen

Snow fell on Alabama the other day, and bitter cold settled in. Same thing happened there back in about 1989, when Forest Lake in Tuscaloosa froze up thick enough to run around and slide on, and our three eldest posed for a picture on the ice.

From the bottom: Ted, John, Joe. Note the complete absence of gloves or mittens, and the general inadequacy of winter apparel. In his hat and jacket, Ted appeared to have a chance of staying warm, but the other two just had to tough it out. There is no evidence in this picture of the socks-on-the-hands and/or plastic-bags-in-the-shoes that we recall improvising for wintry moments in Alabama; nonetheless, they all somehow survived.

Posted by Ellen

Among the shining lights lost to the world in 2016 was Irving Olson, a Toledo, Ohio, man who died in his sleep just shy of his 103rd birthday.

He grew up hating school, though in about 1930 he did manage to stick out one semester at the University of Toledo, where he said he learned nothing interesting or useful. Over the succeeding 80 or so years, he taught himself whatever he felt like learning, whenever he felt like learning it.

He especially liked new technology, the latest thing. When he was a little boy, the latest thing was a Kodak Brownie camera, which cost one dollar; Olson taught himself to shoot pictures, and he set up a darkroom to develop and print them.

By 1930, the new thing was radio. Olson taught himself to fix radios, to build them, to build better ones. He started a one-man repair shop. By 1963, when he retired on his fiftieth birthday, his little shop had become Olson Electronics, a nationwide chain of 95 stores plus a mail order business, selling parts for radios and every other kind of electronic gizmo. Olson sold his company to a corporation that turned it into Radio Shack.

Long after he retired, he continued fiddling with and teaching himself all about new technological developments. He'd been a photographer all along, publishing travel photos and many others, but at the age of 79 he decided he had to make the switch to digital cameras and computerized photo processing. He taught himself Photoshop when he was in his nineties.

Everything came together for Olson at the age of 97. By then, he'd been retired for almost half a lifetime. He'd outlived his wife of 71 years and settled into an apartment in a senior-living community in Arizona. He'd finally stopped traveling, after visiting 135 different countries; airports were just too unpleasant, he said.

But he was still up for a challenge. And that was when he spotted an article in a technical photography journal about shooting photos of the collision of two drops of water. "I could do that," Olson thought to himself. "In fact, if I color the water, I can make it really interesting."

He turned his kitchen into a lab and got to work. After two years of experimentation, he finally had a setup that reliably produced nice pictures of drops of water banging into each other, some of them really interesting. In this context, "some of them" means that he considered about 1 picture in 500 worth keeping.

When a drop of water falls into a pan of water, it actually bounces a little, about two inches. If a second drop is released so it falls onto the first drop just at the top of the bounce, you might have a good picture. Olson experimented with timing, with lighting, with the size of the drops, with colors, with milk and other additives to change viscosity. 

"If you think this is complex, it is," he told the editors at Smithsonian magazine. "If it is almost impossible, I like it a lot."

His photos have been exhibited all over the world, including a one-man show in New York's Grand Central Station. When he turned 100, the University of Akron awarded him an honorary doctorate.

Basically, Olson spent the final years of his life in a darkened kitchen–not all that different from the photographic darkrooms of his early years–fiddling with a drippy faucet kind of thing. By all accounts, it made him really, really happy.

Posted by Ellen

These four words were scratched into the sand at one end of the beach in Ecola State Park, near Cannon Beach, Oregon. The love note was inscribed at the other end of the beach.

But they go together, right? Maybe Summer Liver loves Sky Melodee? That's probably not right, but somehow these two messages have got to fit together?

Posted by Ellen

After Alabama won the Peach Bowl last Saturday, Ringo Starr apparently tweeted this picture of himself, along with the text "Roll Tide peace and love."

Ringo has been a Bama fan for thirty years now, thanks to his friendship with Fred Nall Hollis, a multimedia artist from south Alabama who uses the single name Nall professionally. The two met in 1986, when Nall rented a house he owned in the south of France to Ringo and his wife, Barbara Bach. They got to talking about the artwork hanging in the house, and then Ringo asked Nall if he would teach him how to draw and paint.

The art lessons continued off and on through the 1980s and '90s, and in recent years Ringo has launched an art career of his own, working in digital media.

Nall has painted two portraits of Ringo, who has become active in the work of Nall's foundation. The foundation focuses on helping artists and art students recover from addiction and create new sober, artistically vital lives for themselves.

One of Ringo's drumsticks sits among the paintbrushes in Nall's Fairhope studio.

The picture below, "Inside the Barn," is a recent creation by Nall.

For those among us who haven't been paying attention, the Crimson Tide face off against Clemson next Monday for the national championship.  Peace and Love!

Posted by Ellen

Some of the trolls in the 1972 masterwork d'Aulaires' Book of Trolls had a dozen heads, each one demanding to be fed first. Other trolls had a single head on their shoulders, just like humans, but perhaps with only a single eye, or else with three eyes. And then there were the trolls pictured here who had to share an eye with their troll associates, taking turns to look through it.

But there's a thing about troll eyes. They've all been pierced by a troll splinter, which skews their vision. What's good looks bad to trolls, and what's right looks wrong.

Whenever a troll explodes, which happens more often than you might think, the splinter in its eye shatters into millions of tiny needles, which are liable to pierce the eyes of people in the vicinity. And that explains why so many of us nowadays see the world all askew, prone to trollish errors of perception and judgment. 

Posted by Ellen

In the wintertime, Franklin Falls, in the Cascade Mountains about 60 miles east of Seattle, takes on a dual personality.

The main cataract at the center of the waterfall flows too fast and furious to freeze up tight; it roars and splashes and spits spray all winter long.

But closer to the edge, the waterfall's trickles and drips crystallize as icicles, which pile up through the winter months into layercakes of glittery, frothy ice. And this year, by mid-December, the ice at Franklin Falls was ready to be climbed.

Our man of the mountains, Hank, showed up there then with his buddies and their gear: ropes, crampons, ice axes, and optimism. They were climbers who knew their way around in the mountains, who'd put in their time conquering knife-edged ridges and post-vertical cliffs and glaciers and whiteouts and whatnot. 

None of them, as it turns out, had actually climbed a frozen waterfall before. But they must have seen it done on YouTube. They were pretty sure they would be able to figure it out.

And they did. We heard that it was a little bit scary but pretty fun, actually.

Posted by Ellen

Baby Robin, almost five months old now, is our most adorable grandbaby by far. Also our only one, though this year and next are bringing many, many new babies to the wider family, each of them at least as adorable as the next.

Baby pix are sure to show up here, but in an effort to distinguish these pages from the pages of Facebook, at least some of the time we'll try to pretend that there are other subjects worth looking at ....

Posted by Ellen

Great-Grandma Helen settles down with a cup of tea in Ted's little house in the woods on the mountain above Great Cacapon, West Virginia.

Earlier on that October day, she and Ted had split the stovewood to light up the night with a bright, crackly glow. The work warmed everybody twice, just as they say, but looking back from our current outpost on the frontier of the new year, we can actually feel that warmth a third time now, in our recollection of quiet fireside sorts of moments in which we rested, enjoyed good company, and eased the furrows of our brows.

Okay, so right now, it looks like we're all deep and soggy in an octopus's garden in the shade? Well, that would be a huge problem if we didn't have each other, so . . . .  Hugs.