landscape

Posted by Ellen

The Bainbridge Island ferry and the Olympic Mountains at sunset, as seen across Elliott Bay from the bar at Pier 67 near downtown Seattle.

Posted by Ellen

Near the southern extreme of Puget Sound, around Olympia, Washington, are hundreds of acres of bumpy grassland, the Mima Mounds. The picture above–aerial imagery produced by a radar-sensitive LIDAR camera–shows what the Mima landscape looks like without all the grass and shrubs that soften the lumpy appearance. the picture below shows what it looks like to the human eye.

LIDAR is a radar technology used to determine elevation, and it works even when the actual ground level is hidden underneath vegetation or buildings; when a plane flies over an area of interest and sends radar signals straight down to earth, the signals will bounce back differently depending on what they hit. Of course you need a computer to sort it all out, but they've got computers.

What the computers haven't been able to figure out is what caused these mounds, which are pretty much all very round and low and flat; in the Mima prairie, most of the mounds are about 3 feet high and 30 feet across. They are gravelly dirt, just like the spaces between them.

Similar-looking mounds are found in dozens of other places, and no single mechanism has been identified that might account for them everywhere. Among the possible processes that have been researched in the Mina region: earthquakes shaking the soil, clay minerals shrinking and swelling in the soil, windblown dunes forming around vegetation, and–our favorite–burrowing by pocket grophers, perhaps with help from termites and ants.

Scientific consensus on this matter has yet to emerge.

Posted by Ellen

In the wintry weather currently gripping eastern North America, icy mounds of frozen spray, known as sugarloaves, are growing huge atop frozen rivers below not-quite-fully-frozen waterfalls. There's a sugarloaf at the base of Niagara Falls this year, and also one at Montmorency Falls near Québec City; the falls at Montmorency are some 98 feet higher than Niagara and are located almost a thousand kilometers to the northeast, in a climate zone where every winter is plenty cold enough to make a sugarloaf.

The painting shown above, The Ice Cone, by Robert Clow Todd, shows Montmorency Falls and its sugarloaf in the winter of 1845. The place looked pretty much the same when we visited, in the winter of 2004, minus the horses, of course.

Tall, cone-shaped things with slightly blunted tips are often called sugarloaves, especially if they are ski resorts or a mountain in Rio de Janeiro with a statue on top. That's because real, old-school sugarloaves–actual hard, solid loaves of refined sugar–were produced in molds shaped like that. Up until the end of the nineteenth century, when manufacturing processes emerged to refine sugar into a granulated product, people who could afford to buy white sugar–meaning rich people–bought it by the loaf, which might weigh as much as 30 or 35 pounds. They chipped off pieces as needed, using heavy, sharp-edged pliers known as sugar nips.

The sugarloaves pictured below are on display in the Sugar Museum in Berlin.

Posted by Ellen

Mabel sits and yawns on a sunny ridge near Mount Rainier last week, showing off her Happy New Year hat.

Posted by Ellen

Kevin Horan, the goat portraitist featured in this space yesterday, lives on Whidbey Island, Washington, where he's developed this thing about ferry boats.

"Every islander knows the mind space within a ferry," he writes. "In transit, you are in neither one world nor the other." He shot a series of long-exposure ferry scenes to emphasize how the vessels "track across the water like UFOs across the sky." Ferries are "magical mystery transport pods."

This is the view from Fisherman's Bay on Lopez Island of the Friday Harbor ferry at dusk.  In the distance are the city lights of Vancouver, British Columbia, reflected in the clouds behind Mount Constitution on Orcas Island.

Posted by Ellen

An uncropped version of this photo took first place in a contest defined as "Big rivers and the life along them." It was shot with an Android cellphone.

The river is the Li, in south China, and the lively village is Fenghuang.

Posted by Ellen

Below the clouds below these peaks, as seen from Bear Mountain, it was pouring down rain in Sitka, Alaska.

Posted by Ellen

The harsh, moody climate and mysterious, treeless landscapes that define the western Nordic islands–Iceland, Greenland, the Faroe Islands–are swept up somehow and transformed by imagination into a fashion sensibility, the focus of the Third Nordic Fashion Biennale.

Curators Sarah Cooper and Nina Gorfer–American and Austrian by birth, Stockholm-based photographers by choice–have produced an exhibition, book, and film they call The Weather Diaries, which explore fashion as a wind-blown wonder. 

Posted by Ellen

"I went hiking one morning at about 5 am and found this boat," Ted told his Facebook buds, referring to a morning last month when he was in Dingle, a town on the far southwestern coast of Ireland.

"I wanted to sneak it out for a ride soooo much," Ted continued. "But somehow, I managed to refrain from stealing the boat. Sadly."

That was the short story. Recently, we learned the long story–which is really only a little bit longer–during a recent conversation with our traveler, now home again in Tedland, West Virginia.

Of course he wasn't going to steal the boat; the idea was just to borrow it. And it wasn't locked. It was just tied up with so many ropes, so many knots, big knots, tight knots, and it was five in the morning, way too early to be fussing with lots and lots of tightly tied knots.

In other words, sadly, Ted was too lazy (hungover?) to take the boat. So he kept on walking.

Posted by Ellen

A nice day on Casco Bay, as seen from the Portland Observatory, the city's old maritime signal tower atop Munjoy Hill.