Posted by Ellen

When last we spent our Saturdays at high school wrestling tournaments, back in the decade of the twenty-oughts, we were parents of wrestlers, which meant that we were working the concession stand or down on our knees with a camcorder or scanning the scene from the bleachers, looking for indications of wrestling drama.

We can report with confidence that in the winter of 2015, all the drama is still much in evidence. Even before you enter the gym, you can't help but notice the kid standing all by himself out in the cold parking lot, hiding his face, struggling not to cry.

The only big difference nowadays is that somehow, magically, our wrestlers from way back then have returned to this scene as what might be called wrestling facilitators. One of them is now a referee with striped shirt and whistle, and another is an assistant assistant coach, a guy who sits in the corner of the mat during each bout and yells, "Circle! Circle! Good–keep that elbow. That's all right, don't worry, now up and out!"

High school wrestling matches last six minutes, except when they're over in a few seconds. That can happen when a newbie, with panic in his eyes, is up against an experienced wrestler who knows a few moves. Of course it can also happen when an experienced wrestler underestimates an opponent, or when he forgets for an instant to do or not do something critical that he knew perfectly well he was supposed to do or not do.

The drama actually begins before the wrestling even starts. Kids wearing hoodies pace back and forth in front of the bleachers, headphones clamped on their ears, eyes focused in some alternate universe. They're trying to psych themselves up, or calm themselves down, or both.
 
By the time they strip off the hoodie and walk out to the center of the mat, some of them already look destined to lose. They've heard something about their opponent that scares them, or they just know from lessons learned the hard way that their performance will likely be disappointing. They may surprise themselves, they really may win, but their posture and eye movements are already broadcasting what they figure are the dismal odds against them.
 
Other kids work hard before the match at presenting body language that says something different: "I'm the man," or "You're dirt," or "I will break you." They're swaggering out there, playing the part in the script that they want for themselves; maybe it will work, maybe it will backfire, maybe it won't matter at all. But there's no wrestling without broad drama.
 
From the stands, kids cheer on their teammates and yell at them to shoot. They talk smack with each other and steal each other's drinks and snacks and pretend not to give them back. Some of them are smartasses. Some are trying to nap. They're high school kids, and it's a Saturday.
 
And on display in the gym are adolescent bodies of every imaginable size and shape, all looking at least a little bit goofy in those singlets. There are little guys with twigs for limbs, and thick-necked muscle-bound jocks, and mountainous heavyweights with serious guts and no necks at all. No other high school forum welcomes all these physical specimens, offers them all a chance, however slight a chance, to be a hero.
 
Among the hundreds of boys are a few girls. During our years as wrestling parents in Maine, there were girls on some of the teams, and they wrestled boys, occasionally with some success. This year in western Washington, girls appear to be a bit more numerous on the mats, and they wrestle one another.
 
We attended the Marysville Premier tournament, in the company of the Blazers from Timberline High School in Lacey, Washington. Four girls wrestle for the Blazers, alongside a couple of dozen boys. They all wear black singlets unless they make it to the tournament finals, when they dress in special gold singlets decorated with a double-bladed axe, their school logo. 
 
Three Blazers wore gold in Marysville, and one of the three won his final match to claim the tournament championship at his weight class. The next week, at the Jaguar Invitational tournament in Puyallup, four Blazers took championships, and in the 126-pound weight class, the two wrestlers in the finals were both Blazers.
 
The regular season is winding down now, leading up to regionals and then states. Go Blazers! Shoot! Shoot!
Posted by Ellen

In 1899, snow was shoveled off busy Manhattan streets, loaded into wagons, and hauled down to the docks, where it was dumped in the river. 

Nowadays, the EPA doesn't like for states or municipalities to dump dirty snow from city streets into rivers or, as in the case of Portland, Maine, into the ocean. Portland used to throw its snow from downtown into the harbor, but it now builds mountains of snow, dump-truckload after dump-truckload, in an empty field near the airport.

New York City trucks its snow to melting machines, known as snow dragons, which can melt thirty tons of snow an hour and discharge the meltwater into the city sewer sytem. In an emergency, however, such as a ridiculously huge blizzard, we are told that the EPA will look the other way while the city rids its streets of snow the old-timey way.

Posted by Ellen

The sun rises over Gasworks Park and Lake Union in Seattle, or at least it tries to. The clouds scuttling into town from the the west (right edge of this picture) are about to roll all over the golden disk and thus reestablish normal winter gloom.

Posted by Ellen

From the Lockridge community near Durham, North Carolina, comes this photo and note from Carol Stack: "My first selfie, with birthday flowers."

This time of year also marks the birthday of our boy John, a.k.a. J.J. Good cheer to both,  many happy returns, and let's hear it for one-eyed floral birthday selfies!

Posted by Ellen

This is the front panel of a Nechada barrel organ, made in Odessa, Ukraine, in the early years of the twentieth century. It was often set up in the street outside a bar or brothel, in hopes that the popular tunes it blasted out would draw a crowd of potential customers. Sometimes, of course, the organ grinder had a monkey as an added attraction, or a troupe of very young girls, perhaps eight or ten years old, who danced and sang and turned cartwheels to entertain the drunks.

Odessa was home to a number of piano manufacturers, who made these organs as a sideline. No musical skill was required to operate them; the organ grinder just turned the crank on one side of the box, which pumped air through the organ pipes and also spun rolls of paper that had been pre-programmed with the desired musical compositions. The paper blocked air from entering the pipes except where holes had been punched; when a hole in the paper came in line with the opening to a pipe of the desired pitch, air was forced through the pipe, generating each note of a song.

Odessa street organs, called sharmankas, were sold throughout the Russian empire from about 1860 until they began to be replaced by more modern music machines, notably record players, in the 1920s. Even then, they remained in use by street buskers, particularly in Tbilisi and other Georgian cities, where street organs were popular well into the 1960s.

The inscription across the bottom of this organ gives the name and address of its maker. Ivan Viktorovich Nechada worked out of a piano factory on Balskovskaya Street, now Isaac Babel Street, in Odessa. This organ is in the collection of the new Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona, but recently a very similar Nechada organ, said to be in perfect working order, was advertised in Moscow; "May be sold or exchanged for a car," wrote the seller, in an ad in Mechanical Music Digest.

Posted by Ellen

Lap cat shows plenty of lap. Philly Photo Day 2014.

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Posted by Ellen

A young man with flair poses for the camera on Philly Photo Day 2014, back in mid-October.

Posted by Ellen

Last January, when this picture was taken, Rittenhouse Square looked plenty wintery. The snow hasn't been as deep this January, but the cold has been, if anything, even deeper. Which just goes to show, except that actually it doesn't.

Posted by Ellen

Above, wildebeest cross the Mara River during their annual migration northward from the Serengeti in Tanzania to the Masai Mara in Kenya. An estimated two million animals, mostly wildebeest but also including hundreds of thousands of Thompson's gazelle, zebra, and eland, make this long trek every year during the dry season, as they seek greener pastures; their navigation techniques are not fully understood, but one strategy they seem to follow is to head toward thunder and lightning.

This photo, by Nicole Cambre, took first place in the "Nature" category of National Geographic's 2014 photo competition, which attracted more than 10,000 entrants from 150 different countries.

Below, ice on a window in Tabasalu, Estonia, propagates in a crystal form that the photographer, Maie Kinmann, calls "Dragon." This photo won honorable mention in the "Nature" category.