March 2018

Posted by Ellen

A camel is the beast of choice for hauling shepherds on their sled across the steppes of southern Siberia, near the Mongolian border. 

An estimated two million of the two-humped Bactrian camels live today throughout central Asia, most of them domesticated for work as pack animals, a job they've been doing since ancient times. Like their one-humped cousins in north Africa and the Middle East, Bactrian camels are drought-tolerant; they can also survive extreme cold and high altitude.

The shepherds riding in the sled are from the Russian Republic of Tuva, where they tend a flock of sheep and goats that must travel long distances to find good pasturage throughout the year. 

Posted by Ellen

Ticket sales stopped about a week ago, but we're still looking forward to the main event: the Iron Mountain Car Plunge, when the ice on the water in the East Chapin mine pit finally gives way and the orange car sinks into the depths. At that moment, it can truly be said: spring has begun on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Tickets were three for $10–three chances to guess the day, hour, and minute of the ice-out; whoever guesses closest to the actual sinking of the car, as determined by video evidence from a webcam trained on the car on the ice, wins $1,500. The local Rotary club uses the rest of the money from ticket sales to support local organizations and events.

Ice-out raffles like this one are an old Upper Peninsula tradition, popular into the 1950s. The Iron Mountain Car Plunge was revived four years ago, using a donated 1998 Saturn stripped of its engine, battery, fluids, and anything else that might be environmentally hazardous. Students at the local technical school scrubbed the car inside and out to remove all traces of road salt and grime, and then painted it orange to attract attention. A chain on its rear axle allows it to eventually be hauled up out of the water and stored till the ice comes back next year.

The East Chapin pit looks like a good-sized lake but is actually an abandoned underground mine that collapsed in on itself and flooded.

As of this writing, the ice is still looking solid. Last year, the car did its plunge thing at 4:07 PM on April 2, 2017; in 2016, it sank in mid-April, and in 2015 in late March. For those who may be thinking about buying some chances on next year's plunge: data clearly show that the car always goes down in the late afternoon.

Below is a webcam image from right around the moment of last year's plunge.

Posted by Ellen

Through the Arashiyama bamboo forest in Sagano, Kyoto. The photo was shot using a drone; at ground level, the scene looks like this.

Posted by Ellen

Quarteri Spagnoli, 1929.

Posted by Ellen

Our friends and neighbors who live in University House Wallingford joined the nationwide anti-gun/anti-Trump protest Saturday, braving the cold and the traffic to make sure their voices were heard.

Most University House residents are in their eighties or nineties. At least one of the protesters is a centenarian. Some of them rarely leave home on foot, wary of the neighborhood's uneven sidewalks. But this was important. 

They held up handmade posters calling for gun control and school safety, taking up positions at a major intersection where Saturday shoppers would have to take notice.

Cars honked in their honor. Pedestrians thanked them. One storekeeper distributed gifts–well, gag gifts, since that was the store's specialty: little plastic fingers they could use for pointing at their signs.

Another neighbor, who'd ventured out to the grocery store for a gallon of milk, bought candy bars for all the protesters.

Time will tell how the politicians will respond. 

Posted by Ellen

By 1957, when this picture was taken, New Orleans was no longer running streetcars out to Desire. If Desire was where you wanted to go, you'd have to take a bus, and that's how things had been for almost a decade.

But in mid-June of 1957, a college student named William D. Volkmer found himself in New Orleans for a brief stopover en route to ROTC summer camp. His goal for the visit: to find a streetcar named Desire:

I approached the operators on their break at the foot of the Canal Ferry loop and asked them if they could roll the destination sign to "Desire" to allow me a photo shoot. The first three or four cars only contained signs for the two remaining streetcar lines, Canal and St. Charles. Then on about the fifth try, bingo. Car 910's signs still had the full complement of abandoned streetcar lines, so the kindly motorman set it for Desire and continued on his rest break until I had completed my photographic endeavor.

Posted by Ellen

The Cornish daffodil fields produce 90 percent of England's commercial daffodil crop. In my neck of the woods, almost 5,000 miles from Cornwall, daffodils are blooming noncommercially even as we speak.

Perhaps in your neighborhood they're already fading, or maybe the new tips of their leaves are still hidden in the snow–no matter; spring is trundling on in these days, and if it's early spring, There Will Be Daffodils.