winter

Posted by Ellen

A peregrine falcon takes in a February sunrise from the railing of an apartment balcony in Chicago.

Posted by Ellen

In the winter of 1957, my little sister Carol and I posed for a picture on the hood of my grandfather's Chevy, in the driveway next to our house in Silver Spring, Maryland. The house in the background across the street was identical to ours and to all the others in the neighborhood.

Neighborhoods like ours were called GI tracts back then, new subdivisions built for the baby-booming families of World War II veterans, who bought the houses with no down payment and bargain-rate VA mortgages. Every house was soon overflowing with kids; seven children grew up in that house across the street, and the houses on either side of ours both held six children. We never ran out of kids to play with.

A brand new school was built for us; it opened the year before I started kindergarten and was overcrowded from day one. But it was only a few short years, maybe fifteen or twenty, before the demographic bulge had moved on and MacDonald Knolls Elementary School actually closed down for lack of kids. The school building is now privately owned, used for office space with a small daycare center in one former classroom.

The neighborhood in general has morphed from GI tract to what I guess would be designated an ethnic community; most of the families living there now are Vietnamese, as are the businesses in nearby shopping centers.

I took the picture below of our old house about five years ago. It's a leafy, tree-shaded kind of place now, which was definitely not the case back in the day, though neighbors had put out small trees, supported by guy wires that we used to trip over. The house itself looks well-kept and largely unchanged, except for new windows and siding and a fancy new storm door.

Perhaps the most significant change is in the driveway: there are two cars there now, which is perfectly normal in 21st-century America, but back in the 1950s each family had only a single car. On Monday mornings, after the fathers drove off to work, the neighborhood was pretty much empty of cars and we kids had the streets to ourselves.

The second car is necessary because middle-class life now requires a second wage-earner. I read recently that since the Great Recession more and more households are needing a third wage-earner to make ends meet; new household formation in this country is almost at a standstill.

Posted by Ellen

They say we could hit 100 today, or if not today then tomorrow. Which of course brings to mind the proverbial cold day in . . . Alabama, back in approximately 1989, when Forest Lake froze over solid and young Ted put on a scarf and a red hat and went out for an adventure on ice.  You may be able to make out a dark blob just behind his left shoulder; that was a log we put out to set a limit on the adventure; beyond that point, we weren't sure how thin the ice might be, and Alabama kids didn't know from thin ice.

The thing about a cold day in Alabama is: if it's cold enough to freeze a lake, it's certainly cold enough to freeze everybody's plumbing, which is not insulated well enough to function in serious winter. We had an ax that we used to chop holes in that ice so we could get buckets of water to keep the toilet flushing.

Posted by Ellen

Sunbeams break through gaps in dark clouds after an intense snow squall in Port Maitland, Nova Scotia. This is the sort of astronomical phenomenon that used to be used in ads for gospel albums by singers who are no longer with us, but it can occur any time that thick clouds blocking the sun get a little raggedy, most notably when the sun is low in the sky. This photo was taken 45 minutes before sunset last January 30.

Posted by Ellen

As the vegetation suggests, winter weather is usually a good bit milder than this along the beachfront promenades of the town of Split, on Croatia's Dalmatian Coast. This winter has been particularly cold and snowy throughout much of Europe and even as far south as North Africa; temperatures have bounced back now, however, and this week Split enjoyed sunny afternoons with highs in the upper 50s.

Posted by Ellen

Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Three Monkeys, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia) is also a noted still photographer. His recent works, such as this one, are panoramas of everyday scenes in cities and villages across Turkey. This street is in Istanbul.

Posted by Ellen

This past Friday, the temperature in Madison, Wisconsin, at high noon was 10 degrees Fahrenheit. It snowed all day. But just as on every other weekday since last March 11, a crowd gathered on the steps of the state capitol building for a boisterous Solidarity Sing-Along. These folks are among the same volunteers who recently collected more than a million signatures of voters around the state to ensure a recall election that they hope will depose their anti-labor "Governor Lazy" Scott Walker.

Posted by Ellen

Some people, sometimes including some of my sons, bring in the new year this way. Maybe after a start like this, the rest of the year doesn't seem quite so rough.

But I say that's much too low a standard for 2012. Next year should be way, way, way better than an icy plunge, and way, way, way better than 2011, and just plain awesome. I lift my glass to good times all through 2012: love, warmth, health, wit, serendipity, hope against hope, and great kindness. Cheers.

Posted by Ellen

I always thought they were called sycamores, but no, the people who know these things tell me that city trees that look like sycamores are actually hybrid variants called London planes. Real sycamores, we are told, are too crooked to serve well as street trees, so things are what they are, and now that the old elm trees are no longer among us, we are left with London planes as kings of the sidewalks, with their fine white bark and annoying seed balls. This one is on South 21st Street in Philadelphia, near the corner of Kater Street.

The picture was taken about a year ago, when December was decidedly more wintry than has been the case thus far in 2011. But last year's decorations are up again, and the dusk is just as dark and just as early as I remember from 2010. Season's greetings are probably in order.

Posted by Ellen

The way I see it, there's not much point in digging out my car before the plow comes around, and it hasn't shown up yet. So the work Margaret White took care of today is still ahead of me, waiting for another day. I'm okay with that.

Our street, Kater Street, is what they call a "small street" in Philadelphia. It's plenty long--almost river-to-river, the entire length of Center City--but it's narrow, narrow, narrow. Regular-sized garbage trucks and snowplows can't fit through. The city operates special skinny garbage trucks for us small-street folks, and I once saw what looked like a lawn tractor from the parks department, chugging down the block with a plow fitted to its front. However, that was back in December.

Today, the kids on the block built a snowman in the middle of the street, with a carrot for a nose and almonds for eyes. He's not blocking any traffic. It's quiet here, with the cars all shrouded and still. If spring comes before the snowplow does, if the snowman has a chance to just shrivel up in the afternoon sun . . . well, it could save me a lot of shoveling.