Hole in the Clouds
Nov 1, 2009
Every day had a theme during Spirit Week at Deering High School. There was '80s Day, Mainer Day, and then Toga Day. But the school administration had second thoughts about Toga Day--What if those stupid kids didn't wear enough clothes underneath their "togas"? At the last minute, Toga Day was called off, to be replaced by Backwards Day. Most students chose to not get the message about the late change in plans, and they came to school dressed pretty much as the administrators had feared. Our own Hank Stein, however, chose to observe Backwards Day, all decked out in his Senate page uniform.
The seniors who were eventually elected 2009 Homecoming Queen and King are both in the toga picture. The queen, Mohdis, already has a crown, and the king, Jacob, is wearing a t-shirt labeled "toga."
At the end of Spirit Week, the homecoming football game on Friday night could have gone better; Deering got trounced by Cheverus. But I am told that the dance on Saturday night was just fine. In the picture here from a pre-dance party and photo session, Hank is once again right in the middle of everything, but this time in a black shirt and white tie.
Deering High School
Nov 2, 2009
Ivan Shishkin painted this field of ripened rye in 1878. The grain is so tall it almost hides a couple of people way in the distance, on the road near the middle of the picture. I'm pretty sure that they are hunters; there are two dead birds at the edge of the field in the foreground, and a big flock of birds still in the sky.
I love this painting. I might not have fallen for it so completely if I'd noticed the dead birds first, but it's too late now. I love how simple it is: field, trees, road--something we might see any time we go out into the country. Not a specially scenic spot. But the trees are super trees, bigger and more dramatic than ordinary trees. The crop in the field is golden, bursting-ripe. The road reels us in, winding mysteriously. They say Shishkin painted this way to celebrate the bounty of Russian nature. He knew what he was doing.
Nov 3, 2009
Tsingys. Which means: the kind of place where you don't want to walk barefoot.
(Image credit: Yann-Arthus Bertrand)
We use the German word, karst, as a general term for tsingys and other less extreme landscapes carved by the chemical interaction of limestone and rainwater. Limestone is oceanic in origin, formed at the bottom of the sea from the shells of dead sea creatures. When tectonic forces thrust the seafloor up onto dry land, rainwater immediately begins chewing away at it, in a chemical reaction something like the vinegar-and-baking-soda volcano of an elementary school science project.
Monsoon rains have been attacking the Jurassic limestone bedrock of western Madagascar for millions of years, dissolving channels in the surface and opening up caverns underground. Eventually, as the caverns expand, the rock above tthem collapses, forming sinkholes. The sinkholes enlarge along fissues and underground drainage channels, eventually forming steep-sided "solution valleys." The rains continue to eat away at the rock between the valleys, until all that is left is raggedy spikes. Tsingys.
It's so hard to get around in this landscape that the flora and fauna have yet to be catalogued. Even animals and plants have a hard time traveling here; they live in micro-ecosystems that have evolved in isolation from one another as well as from the rest of the world.
Ten percent of the earth's surface is karst, but most of it is too young or too arid to develop the extreme features of the tsingys. But all karst is evolving slowly or rapidly toward the kind of landscape seen here. It will be kind of a shame in a few million years when Florida gets to looking like this; who's going to want to visit beaches where you can no longer walk barefoot?
Nov 4, 2009
Photographer Trey Ratcliff is known for his high-dynamic-range techniques, which pump up the drama in his pictures, producing weirdly wonderful, or just plain weird, results.
high dynamic range
(Image credit: Trey Ratcliff)
The idea is that when shooting a scene that is partly bright and partly shadowed, a camera can properly expose the picture to show color and detail in the bright areas or in the dark areas, but not both at the same time. Ratcliff shoots the same scene over and over with different exposure settings; he then uses fancy software to blend together parts of the image from all the different shots.
Our eyes naturally have a much wider dynamic range than any camera, so in theory Ratcliff's pictures should be more natural-looking than regular photos. In practice, they look less natural--often interesting, sometimes beautiful, but almost always somehow artificial and extreme. I have mixed feelings about his work; here, for example, the sky looks spooky or fake to me, but overall, it's really, really pretty.
Nov 5, 2009
Sarah Stack, age 8, shoots and scores to lead her team to the Nashville city championship.
Nov 6, 2009
During last year's Republican convention, when Sarah Palin was first introduced to the world outside Alaska, many Americans in the lower forty-eight or forty-nine began to google her name obsessively, desperate to find out who on earth she was. Political bloggers in Alaska rose to the challenge, and some of them developed loyal followings from far outside Alaska, even after Sarah Palin stepped offstage and went off tiptoeing through the tulips.
(Image credit: Mudflats)
Among the best and most successful of the Alaska bloggers is a woman who calls herself Mudflats. Grateful readers of her work--Mudpuppies--recently presented her with a handmade quilt celebrating the world she has written about online. Each quilt square is centered on a pair of boots, the better for traipsing through the muck of politics. This "I can see Russia from my airspace!" square memorializes one of Palin's more notorious stupidities from the 2008 campaign.
Mudflats continue to blog, bringing humor and enthusiasm to discussions of life in Alaska and politics in Washington or wherever. She speaks up especially for the downtrodden, for people we tend to overlook or shove aside, perhaps because they live in villages at the furthest extremes of the Alaskan bush, where nobody but Mudflats bothers to see the tough times in their airspace.
Nov 7, 2009
Winter is sneaking up on us fast--in fact, these last couple of days here have left the impression that it's done snuck up already, and snagged us in its clutches. Anyway, here are a last couple of fall pictures, from last month. The first one is of Rye Beach, New Hampshire, by Tanja Baker. The other one shows a hydrangea bush on my street in Portland.
(Image credits: Tanja Baker
Nov 8, 2009
Since the 1950s, the city of Detroit has lost half its population, which now stands at about 900,000. Entire inner-city neighborhoods have been abandoned, often burned out, and eventually bulldozed; Google Earth shows the downtown ringed by hundreds of blocks of grass and trees.
The blight has spread now to neighborhoods far from the city center. First one family, then another, leaves town in hope of finding work. They cannot sell their homes, but they leave anyway. Soon, their neighbors are leaving also, because semi-abandoned neighborhoods are dangerous and unpleasant places to live. Here is a picture from last summer of a Detroit neighborhood with just a few homes still occupied. By next summer, there will be fewer still.
Nov 9, 2009
Wearing headgear is always wise, but challenging your big brother to a wrestling match?
Nov 10, 2009
Old-school deadheads are logs that sank to the bottom of a river or lake during the logging drives of the last century or the century before that or even the century before that. Before the railroads reached the northwoods, loggers went out in the forests every winter, cut down the trees with axes or cross-cut saws, and dragged the logs down to the banks of the nearest river. Come spring, they would drive the logs downriver to saw mills or later paper mills.
The log drives were operated every spring in Maine from the 1770s until the mid-twentieth century, especially on the Penobscot River, which became the most important logging river in the world, transporting hundreds of millions of board feet of lumber every year to the mills in Bangor. When the Penobscot was high and water was running fast,, logs piled up in dangerous logjams. When water was low, the logs slowed and beached themselves on the rocks. Either way, inevitably, some logs became waterlogged and sank.
Down at the bottom, logs eventually lose their bark and become slimy, but the wood is perfectly preserved in cold water and can be dried out and used for anything. While millions of logs are streaming by on top of the water, it is not economical to salvage the deadheads at the bottom. Today, the economics are different.
If you want to cut standing timber on state-owned land, you have to pay the state about 40% of the estimated value of the lumber you will sell. If you want to salvage deadheads from a lake or river in Maine, you'll have to pay 20% of the lumber value. This year, two underwater logging operations tried to make a go of it in the state.
They use pontoon boats equipped with fish-finders, which have no trouble locating the logs. The guy working Moosehead Lake irigged up a mechanical deadhead retrieval system with grappling hooks and winches. The guy working the Penobscot River dives with scuba equipment to snag the logs for his winch. Either way, on a good day, they might bring up six or eight logs, lash them to the pontoons, and haul them to shore, where they'll eventually be carried by truck to a sawmill. The process is time-consuming, and it's not cheap, but the wood is of a quality that is no longer available in standing forests--old-growth lumber, sometimes two or three feet in diameter, with the close-packed growth rings reflecting slow centuries of maturation.
The ecological issues are tough. On the one hand, after decades or centuries underwater, the deadheads have developed a niche of their own in the riparian ecosystem, feeding insects with their bark and sheltering baby fish.. Also, the logs cannot be removed without stirring up a lot of sediment and disrupting all the critters in the water. On the other hand, the more salvaged lumber we use, the fewer new trees we'll have to cut.
This picture is a still from a newsreel about diving for logs in the Penobscot.
Nov 11, 2009
For a million years--34, to be exact--the sixth-grade gym teacher at Westlawn Middle School in Tuscaloosa was Yvonne Wells. So far as I could tell, Ms. Wells was a perfectly normal physical education teacher, who probably went home hoarse every night after a hard day's work.
Statue of Liberty
Westlawn Middle School
When she got home, she took up her needle and thread and scissors and spread out her fabrics on the living room floor and went to work quilting. Sometimes she stayed up half the night. She'd had no training in quilt-making, and when she tried to reproduce the old patterns, she felt frustrated and dissatisfied with the results. Gradually, she abandoned traditional patchwork for her own intensely personal, and often political, storytelling style of quilt.
Wells sells her quilts at festivals and in galleries; almost all her work, she says, winds up hanging on the wall instead of laying across a bed. Her style has attracted attention far beyond Tuscaloosa, and in recent years her work has been featured in traveling exhibits at museums all over the country. Half a dozen of her quilts, including this one, are now part of the permanent collection of the International Quilt Study Center and Museum in Nebraska.
What we see here is the Statue of Liberty holding dollar bills in one hand and a black person, perhaps a child, in the other, while she stomps on an Indian with both feet. The title pretty much says it: Being In Total Control of Herself, B.I.T.C.H.
Nov 12, 2009
Fall's not done falling yet in some parts of the world, such as the Turkey Farm Road area of Orange County, North Carolina. That's a red maple, all right.
(Image credit: Carol Stack)
Nov 13, 2009
Amidst all the screaming and snarking of the blogosphere is a website that's sweet and wonderful: MyParentsWereAwesome.com
Anybody can send in pictures of parents (or grandparents) from back in the day. I'm going to send in pictures of my parents, because they're still really awesome, and I expect all of you to do the same.
Here are three sets of parents from the site:
Thelma and Reuben, looking at each other--submitted by Seth
Jonathan and Virginia, seated--submitted by Rob
Kathi and Kenney, with the guys in the band--submitted by Ryan
Nov 14, 2009
Early in the morning of June 19, 2002, the Landsat 7 satellite swooped across the Indian Ocean and snapped this picture of Reunion Island. The volcano there, Piton de la Fournaise, was quiet that day--the clouds in the picture are just clouds, passing by.
(Image credit: NASA Landsat 7)
Geologically, Reunion is virtually a twin to Hawaii halfway around the world, a huge shield volcano above an oceanic hotspot. It has been one of the most active volcanoes in the world throughout modern history, erupting almost every year, sometimes more than once, since 1670. The whole island is made of basaltic lava; it's the tip of a volcanic monster mountain rising from the ocean floor. All over the island are volcanic vents, cones, craters, and large calderas, where lava domes exploded and collapsed. The caldera that is currently most active, toward the top of this picture, has slumped down all the way to sealevel at the coast.
Basaltic rock weathers to make rich soil, and here as in Hawaii the climate encourages lush vegetation. New lava doesn't remain bare rock for long.
Politically, Reunion is part of France; because of its time zone far to the east of Europe, the euro became legal currency here a few hours before it did anywhere else. Eight hundred thousand people live on the island.
Nov 15, 2009
All right, not seventy-six, but definitely one trombone in this band-sextet-plus-string-quartet from the U.S. Marine Corps Band in 1910. And a double-belled euphonium--for real! Over there at the right.
Do you remember the double-bell euphonium, from "Seventy-six trombones" in Meredith Willson's Broadway show "The Music Man"? I'd thought it was a joke, a made-up instrument that the ignorant folks of River City, Iowa, would believe was real. But I guess it was actually more of an in-joke, a real band instrument of the era, with a name so silly that only the cognoscenti would believe it. As always, I ain't no cognoscenti.
This photo is from the middle of the era celebrated in "The Music Man," when towns all over America built bandstands in the park and organized their own brass bands. In the cities, commercial brass bands were making big money. John Philip Sousa, everybody's favorite bandmaster and composer, had joined the Marine Band at the age of thirteen and conducted it long enough to play for five presidents. But before the turn of the twentieth century, Sousa left the Marines to seek his fortune with the baton of his own Sousa Band, which was wildly successful and became the first American musical organization to tour Europe. In the 1920s, the piccolo player in the Sousa Band was none other than Meredith Willson, who who spent the next thirty years working on music and lyrics for "The Music Man," which finally debuted in 1958.
Today's Marine Band is still "The President's Own" and the premier ensemble of the U.S. military, which claims to employ more musicians than any other organization on earth. The band uniforms haven't changed much in the past ninety-nine years, though the shoes are much shinier nowadays.
Oh, and here's "Seventy-six Trombones," as performed by the trombone choir of Anchorage, Alaska.
John Phillip Sousa
The Music Man
(Image credit: Harris & Ewing glass plate, via Shorpy)
Nov 16, 2009
An apartment building in Prypiat, the Ukrainian town built for the families of people who worked at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Two days after the nuclear accident in 1986, Prypiat was abandoned.
high dynamic range
(Image credit: Trey Ratcliffe)
After twenty-three years, radiation levels have dropped significantly here, but no one is yet permitted to live anywhere in the Exclusion Zone surrounding Chernobyl. It is not considered especially dangerous to spend a few hours visiting the area, however, and a local tourism industry has emerged.
This is a High Dynamic Range photo by Trey Ratcliffe. The Hong Kong picture in the November 4 Good Morning was also by Ratcliffe.
Nov 17, 2009
West Virginia, from outer space.
Nov 18, 2009
This mid-1950s photo, according to the little boy with glasses in the middle of it, records the moment he chose his life's work. His older brother, at left, is showing a photo album to a family friend. His older sister shot the picture.
(Image credit: tterrace, via Shorpy)
What is the little boy thinking? He claims that the idea going through his mind is: "All I have to do is take some pictures, and everybody will pay attention to me."
I don't know who he is; he submitted the photo and many others to Shorpy, under the username tterrace.
Nov 19, 2009
About twelve summers ago, we made it to Idaho Peak, above New Denver, British Columbia, in the Selkirk Mountains. That meadowful of flowers up there is as good as it gets for flowers.
(Image credit: Z Vickery)
The trail isn't as sketchy as it might look; it meanders gently around the bend up ahead toward a fire tower that overlooks Slocan Lake and the tiny lakeside towns of Silverton and New Denver. All the settlements in this neck of the woods were late-nineteenth-century mining towns; when the silver and gold gave out in the early to middle years of the twentieth century, the towns struggled, and some vanished. A revival began in the 1960s with U.S. draft dodgers and Canadian and U.S. back-to-the-landers, who were attracted by the scenery and the lack of twentieth-century sprawl.
Best thing about the flowers on Idaho Peak: it's always summer up there. The flowers are always in full bloom. I can't remember it any other way.
Nov 20, 2009
If this is November, then wrestling season must be upon us.
Instead of embarrassing my children and boring my kind readers with snapshots from sweaty school gymnasiums, I thought I'd introduce the season with a glimpse of women's wrestling, the newest Olympic sport.
The wrestler in blue, who appears to be on the verge of pinning her opponent in this 2006 match, is Deanna Rix, from South Berwick, Maine. In 2005, Rix almost made high school sports history, by coming within a few seconds in double overtime of winning a state wrestling championship against boys. Since then, she has been training at the New York Athletic Club and Olympic Training Center, supporting herself by waitressing at Hooters. She currently is the top-ranked American woman in her weight class (59 kg) and recently placed fifth at the world championship.
She may have trouble qualifying for the Olympics, however, because there are only four women's weight classes, and her fighting weight falls midway between two classes.
On the college level, women's wrestling has suddenly become popular; it is probably the fastest growing intercollegiate sport. Ten years ago, there were no women's wrestling teams; now there are more than 30. About half are "folkstyle" programs, following the same rules as men's high school and college wrestling in the United States; the other half wrestle "freestyle," using international rules. Although many of the women's programs offer athletic scholarships, quite a few, especially at small colleges, were introduced specifically in hopes of recruiting another dozen or so tuition-paying students.
Title IX has played a curious role in all this; for years, men's college wrestling has been in decline, with schools cutting programs, claiming that they needed to put more resources into women's sports, such as field hockey or gymnastics. Nowadays, some schools are finding they can revive men's wrestling by starting a women's team as well; MIT is one of the universities following this route. So far, the regrowth in men's college wrestling is concentrated in Division II and III schools, not at the top competitive level.
Nov 21, 2009
The quotation from Dr. Seuss is the title that San Diego-based photographer Dennis James Anzano gave to this picture, which he took during a 2004 visit to his grandmother's home village of Magpanambo in the Phillippines.
The boy, Anzano says, is "a distant nephew."
(Image credit: Dennis James Anzano)
Nov 22, 2009
Olha Pryymak is a Ukrainian-born artist who lives and works in London. When she's feeling nostalgic or homesick for Kiev, she paints a caviar sandwich with a glass of tea.
(Image credit: Olha Pryymak)
Nov 23, 2009
Last year, when this picture was taken, twenty million people lived in Shanghai. There are more now.
Nov 24, 2009
Wait. I mean . . . wapiti.
(Image credit: Oscar)
Nov 25, 2009
Last winter, up in Ottawa County, Michigan, John Dykstra saw dozens and dozens of wild turkeys--he estimates 50 or 60 on most days--flocking in a field at the back of his woods. He couldn't get close enough to them to take good pictures, so he moved an old metal shed building out there, cut a hole in the wall facing the field frequented by the birds, and sat and waited with his camera. The turkeys came back.
(Image credit: John Dykstra)
But Dykstra's wild turkeys don't look at all like the wild turkeys I've seen in Alabama and New England, which are much leaner-looking and not so fluffy. These have a thick body type similar to the huge-breasted domesticated birds. When I tried to do a little wild turkey research, however, I learned that there are several varieties, and that the ones I have seen before, even in Vermont and Maine, most closely resemble a variety said to be native to the Rio Grande region of west Texas and New Mexico. Go figure. Apparently, my understanding of all things wild turkey is all full of holes.
They say wild turkeys are making a comeback these days in many parts of the country, including Plymouth, Massachusetts, where they first pricked our cultural consciousness. Ben Franklin thought this bird ought to be recognized as our national animal, and he was onto something.
Drive carefully, y'all.
Nov 26, 2009
(Image credit: Oscar)
Nov 27, 2009
After Thanksgiving dinner, there was a guitar and a mandolin, and dancing.
Nov 29, 2009
Jack Delano's 1940 photo of Pittsburgh has a cinematic feel to it, as the lady on the staircase descends into a dark and cold and spectacular kind of hell. That particular hell--with sulfurous fumes belching from roaring steel mills--went south a generation ago, abandoning western Pennsylvania to rust and poverty. Somewhat remarkably, the city has stirred from its decline and reinvented itself as a clean and shiny, almost high-tech sort of place. But all along, the sons and daughters of Pittsburgh have been growing up into American image-makers, people who have shown us what we look like, or would like to look like, or hope to God we never ever look like. Fred Rogers, with his sweater and sneakers and perfectly detailed little world of children's TV--wasn't Pittsburgh's first or last cultural chronicler.
(Image credit: Jack Delano)
Early on, there was Stephen Foster, of Swannee River and Camptown Races fame, and then the painter Mary Cassatt, the modernist Gertrude Stein, and the Tarzan, Johnny Weissmuller. Some of the Pittsburghers have worked right up to the cultural edge--Andy Warhol--and some have walked us up to the brink, where we could glimpse a frightening future--Rachel Carson.
Most notable, perhaps, were all the guys who played football, generation upon generation of Pittsburghers who were big and tough and fast and focused: Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath, Mike Ditka, Larry Brown, Nick Saban, and way too many others
Then there were those who worked the cultural currents of the times: e.g., Bobby Vinton, Lou Christie, Charles Bronson. And the ones who have risen above their times, soaring elegantly: Gene Kelly.
But who took the neighborhood in this picture and warped it into a dark corner of the American consciousness? Back in the early days of television, Fred Rogers hired an imaginative young assistant who moved on to Hollywood and directorial fame and fortune--guy by the name of George Romero--whose first big hit opened a seam of movie-dom that has been dug ever deeper to this day: Night of the Living Dead.
And for what it's worth, Pittsburgh still has more than 700 staircases officially registered as city streets.
Nov 29, 2009
Bring Your Own Water.
The sun in Namibia is so harsh, according to photographer Vincent Mounier, that picture-taking during the day yields nothing but bleached, blasted-to-white landscapes. At dusk and dawn, however, the earth reclaims its colors, and the eyes can open wide for a long, calm look.
(Image credit: Vincent Mounier)