Washington

Posted by Ellen

The prairie lands around the southern end of Puget Sound were created by ice and sustained by fire.

Retreating glaciers some ten thousand years ago left behind vast stretches of land scraped bare of trees, initially supporting only grasses and other low-lying scrub, in a climate generally so humid that grassland would normally yield to forest. Much of this post-glacial prairieland did revert to forest, but by burning off the old growth every spring, Native peoples prevented tree seedlings from taking root and thus maintained many thousands of acres as grassland for grazing their horses and other livestock. 

However, the prairies of Western Washington were the first land grabbed by invading Europeans; lacking tree cover, they were ready-made for cropland and pasture. Farms and cities grew. The ancient practice of annual burns was abandoned, and big trees were soon thriving.

Only a few tiny remnants of these prairies remain, grassy islands in a sea of trees, and they are ecologically degraded now to varying extents. Much of the remaining acreage is entrusted to the Center for Natural Lands Management, a nonprofit that attempts to restore and preserve the South Sound prairies. Annual burning regimes have been reinstated.

Above is a bit of the grass in Glacial Heritage Preserve, a prairie in Thurston County, Washington, that is open to the public only on volunteer work days.

Posted by Ellen

This fence is part of the security for Naval Base Kitsap–Bangor, home to eight submarines armed with Trident nuclear missiles.

The deer are apparently not a security issue, but drones, on the other hand, are becoming a big problem. Multiple drone flights over the base been reported, all taking place at night, and nobody knows who is flying the drones or why.

Naval investigators have yet to solve the mystery.  Nearby residents have been interviewed, but their involvement is doubtful. "I really can't imagine any of the neighbors or neighbors' kids thinking it's OK to run drones over Bangor," said one area resident who'd been interrogated about the incidents. "Everyone here is very aware that this is one of the most lethal places on earth."

Signs around the base perimeter warn "Keep Out. Use of force authorized."

Posted by Ellen

One of the hangers-on at a marina near Everett, Washington, pokes his head up from the waters of Puget Sound in hopes that the incoming salmon-fishing charter boats had a good day.

Posted by Ellen

Guest of honor at this Valentine's Day party in 1944 was Eleanor Roosevelt; serenading her was a soldier by the name of Pete Seeger.

The gathering celebrated not only Valentine's Day but also the grand opening of the new Labor Canteen of the United Federal Workers of America, CIO, near Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C.

United Federal Workers was a labor union representing U.S. government employees. Though soldiers and sailors were certainly not unionized, they may have frequented the new canteen for political and/or social activities.

The UFW included both black and white members. But the scene in this room was extremely unusual for 1940s Washington, which was still a completely segregated city. The military was also still segregated. Eleanor Roosevelt's presence was making a political statement about race as well as labor.

The cartoons on the wall in the background may have been the work of Woody Guthrie.

As some of you will surely point out, the banjo Pete Seeger is playing here does not look like the long-necked music machine he was long associated with. That one came a few years later.

Happy Valentine's Day 2015.

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

Pacific Ocean beach near Kalaloch, in Olympic National Park.

Driftwood arrives naturally on beaches in the Pacific Northwest; storms, erosion, and ordinary old age can cause trees growing in thin soil on steep slopes to tumble down into inland creeks and rivers; when the rivers are running high and fast, entire forests can be floated right on out to the coast.

Posted by Ellen

The only skyscraper in the city of Washington, as glimpsed from Arlington National Cemetery.

Posted by Ellen

Men standing around in front of the U.S. Capitol building, holding a fox, 1919.

This photo comes from the files of the Office of the Architect, U.S. Capitol. The backstory is not known to us, but apparently foxes are observed from time to time roaming the grounds of the Capitol, feasting on squirrels. Just last February, tourists noted exactly that, and the Washington press corps twittered all about it.

Posted by Ellen

It's gotta be that shredder sitting by the windowsill, just to the right of the desktop.

This is Ted's new office in Washington, DC.

Posted by Ellen

By 7 a.m. on June 21, 1942, the line of cars at this Texaco station, and at pretty much every gas station in America, spilled out of the lot and on down the street. Strict gas rationing to conserve fuel for the war effort was set to begin the next day, June 22, 1942.

Note the corn plants growing in the grassy spot in the lower left corner of the picture. Note also the car closest to the camera: a brand new 1942 Packard.

McDowell's Texaco was in the 5200 block of Wisconsin Avenue NW, near Friendship Heights at the edge of Washington, D.C; a parking garage now occupies the spot.