Hole in the Clouds

February 2012

Continental Divide

Feb 7, 2012

Between these two western Minnesota lakes is a little stretch of land called Traverse Gap or Brown's Valley. Although it's obviously not a mountain range, or even really a hill, it is nonetheless a continental divide: raindrops falling near the lake at the top of this picture eventually drain into Hudson Bay and the Arctic Ocean, while raindrops falling near the lower lake drain into the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic. In between, the land rises barely perceptibly; it's still part of the valley, really, almost but not quite as low and flat as the rest of the valley.

We can blame global warming after the Ice Ages for this oddness. As the glaciers began to melt about 14,000 years ago, huge quantities of meltwater pooled hereabouts, forming a vast outlet lake referred to as Glacial Lake Agassiz. The bottom of the glacial lake was extremely flat, mile after mile, silted over with sediment that settled out of the meltwater. The modern-day lake near the top of this picture, Lake Traverse, forms the headwaters of the Red River, which more or less drains this vast flatland as it flows northward, frequently flooding because the land is just too flat to allow for efficient drainage.

The lake near the righthand edge of the picture, Big Stone Lake, forms headwaters for the Minnesota River, which developed late during the post-Ice Age warmup. As the remnants of glacial ice weakened and collapsed, huge boulders that had been trapped within worked loose from the body of the old ice sheet and washed along underneath, scraping through the sediment of the outlet lake bottom and gouging a channel down through bedrock.

This new river channel eventually captured much of the outflow from Glacial Lake Agassiz and drained it southward into the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico. It might have claimed all the drainage except for the post-glacial rebound: land that had long been compressed beneath the weight of thousands of feet of ice began to rise a bit once the glaciers were gone, rebounding first around the periphery of the old ice sheets, where melting came soonest. Here in Brown's Valley, in this gap between two headwater lakes, the rebound was almost invisible but not insignificant; the land rose just enough to shed raindrops in the direction of different oceans.

(h/t: Anne Jefferson, Pathological Geomorphology)  

Mattress Flip

Feb 9, 2012

It was a way to spend a summer afternoon in South Philly in 2001, doing flips off a pile of discarded old mattresses. The photographer who happened by, Zoe Strauss, originally stopped to caution the boys: Don't do that. You're gonna kill yourselves. They told her not to worry and offered to do even more daredevilish stunts for her camera. She snapped a few pictures and then took off, anxious, perhaps, that her picture-taking might be upping the danger level.

The boy in the back in this photo, Lawrence Edward Rose, Jr., has his hand in front of his face, as if in astonishment at what the other boy, his cousin Botie, was up to. Actually, his fist was at his mouth because he was sucking his thumb; he was thirteen years old that summer, but he was a shy, quiet boy who continued to suck his thumb till he was seventeen.

The summer he turned nineteen, six years almost to the day after the mattress flipping, he died from complications of gunshot wounds suffered in a gang fight at a corner store a few blocks from where those mattresses had been piled. His mother had feared for her timid boy who smiled at everybody and still sucked his thumb as a teenager; to keep him off the streets, she had enrolled him in every program she could find, even sending him to two different boarding schools. But it seemed he was a homebody who wasn't comfortable away from his family and his neighborhood, and in July 2007, the street claimed him.

The photo had a life of its own. Zoe Strauss made several prints, which she exhibited at a show she mounted every year underneath an I-95 interchange in South Philly. Under the highway, the prints sold for $5. Later, she printed larger versions on fancy paper for a New York gallery that sold them for $3,000. More recently, a billboard-sized print of the mattress flip has hung over the main entrance to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, announcing a mid-career retrospective show of Strauss's work.

It's also part of the cover design of an ABC picture book published by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which is how librarian Sa'ddiya Suku came across it last year at a branch library in West Philly. She didn't know the children in the scene, but she had grown up at the corner where the picture was shot, and she recognized the red-painted brick wall behind the mattresses. And then she recognized the thumb-sucking child standing near the wall, from pictures she'd seen and stories she'd heard after his death.

Suku showed the picture to Rose's family; they were thrilled, she said, to learn that the boy was part of history. He's gone, but he lives on; the photo is about nothing so much as the joy of being young and alive.

cityscape   streetscape   boys   South Philly   Lawrence Edward Rose Jr.   flip   Sa'ddiya Suku   (Image credit: Zoe Strauss)  

Sparky's People

Feb 13, 2012

The electrical engineers of the navy frigate USS Ingraham pose for their official cruise portrait. From left to right: EM3 Huggins, EM3 Miller, EM1 Nkwanga, EM3 Acostasoto, EM1 Gillespy, EM2 Genaovargas, Ensign Stein.

The Ingraham left its homeport of Everett, Washington, last September for a six-month deployment with an international force trying to suppress drug trafficking in the waters off Central and South America.

The thing around Acostasoto's neck is an electrical shore power cable.

Navy   work   USS Ingraham   ship  

Able to Cane

Feb 16, 2012

Another hour's work, and Bernard Zike will have the seat of this chair completely restored. People from all over New England bring worn-out old chairs to Bernard's workshops in Warren and Portland, Maine, where he and his partner, Marion Puglisi, work centuries-old caning and rushing techniques, often with reeds they've harvested themselves from local ponds.

Would-be apprentices from all over the country seek them out in hopes of mastering the craft, though many will give up their dreams when they learn how much patience is required. After more than twenty-five years of experience with traditional tools and all kinds of natural seating, it still takes Bernard almost a full day of work to repair a single chair bottom.

This is one of Bernard and Marion's winter chairs; it will spend the winter in their shop. It belongs to some of Maine's summer people, who drop off broken chairs when they close up their summer homes in the fall, with the expectation that when they reopen their summer homes next spring, they can reclaim the chairs, and they'll be good as new.

Maine   Marion Puglisi   work   Bernard Zike   caning   chair   pond   cattails   rushes   antique  

Funsies or Keeps?

Feb 19, 2012

Boys playing marbles in May 1940, in Woodbine, Iowa. I don't know when exactly American children gave up marble-playing, but by the late 1950s, when I was a serious student of childhood fun in America, nobody played with marbles any more.

They still rode bikes, however. And there were other games in which you could lose all your stuff, such as flipping baseball cards.

In 1940, Woodbine, Iowa, was a relatively prosperous place, center of Iowa's apple-growing industry, which was the second-largest in the nation. But a freak blizzard in the early fall of that year, about six months after this picture was taken, froze the trees before summer's new growth had hardened off; all but the very oldest trees turned black and died, and Woodbine never really recovered economically.

children   streetscape   boys   bike   1940   marbles   games   Woodbine   Iowa   (Image credit: John Vachon, Farm Security Administration, via Shorpy)  

Winter #2: The Dalmatian Coast

Feb 21, 2012

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.

beach   streetscape   winter   weather   climate   palm trees   Split   Croatia   Dalmatian Coast  

Winter #3: Snowbirds

Feb 22, 2012

Members of the Canadian Snowbirds Association gathered last month for "Fish Fest" at an RV park in Llano Grande, Texas.

Canadian Snowbirds winter mostly in Florida, south Texas, and Arizona. Along the west coast of Florida, Canadians are so numerous in the wintertime that the St. Petersburg Times devotes a couple of pages to news from around Canada. The Snowbirds Association operates a website for Canadians considering buying real estate in the Sunbelt, but mostly it's a social organization

Texas   Canadian Snowbirds Association   Llano Grande   trailers   group  


Feb 23, 2012

He had a balloon and an inflatable Popeye, but still the 1938 Rice Festival Parade in Crawfordville, Louisiana, just lasted too long.

Some of the signs in the store window appear to be advertising items of clothing for 10 cents, or even 5 cents. That can't be right, but I have no alternative explanation.

Give that baby some spinach, and he'll come round.


baby   streetscape   Louisiana   store   Crawfordville   1938   (Image credit: Russell Lee, Farm Security Administration, via Shorpy)  

Very Fine Arts #1: By the Book

Feb 24, 2012

Atlanta artist Brian Dettmer takes scissors to old books–also scalpels and tweezers and other surgical instruments–to reveal a sort of alternate reality deep inside. Nothing in the book is altered, he says; nothing is relocated or added. He just cuts out the words and pictures and stuff that are in the way of the words and pictures and stuff he wants the world to see.

Dettmer especially likes to slice up volumes of old encyclopedias or illustrated dictionaries, works with numerous and varied illustrations. "The book's intended function has decreased," he says; old books are "still linear in a non-linear world." By twisting the spine and cutting the pages, he exposes cast-off words and pictures to new kinds of appreciation.

art   Brian Dettmer   repurposing   books   (Image credit: Brian Dettmer; h/t Norman)  

The Boulder Draggers

Feb 26, 2012

This was Amersfoort, Netherlands, back in the day. The city has since grown to 24 square miles, with a population of almost 150,000, but its medieval center is said to be well preserved and legally protected. Known as Boulder City, Amersfoort is now 753 years old.

The Netherlands doesn't have very many boulders, but there used to be a big one, weighing more than nine tons, out on the moors south of town. In 1661, however, a couple of Amersfoort's leading citizens got to drinking and wagering, and then wouldn't you know it, one of them rounded up 400 neighbors to push the rock into the center of town.

The rock-pushers were rewarded with beer and pretzels, but Amersfoortians soon discovered that they really didn't much like being known far and wide as boulder draggers. They didn't like that their city's reputation was all about the stupid rock in the main square.  In 1672, they buried the boulder.

More than two centuries later, in 1903, the buried rock was rediscovered and again put on display. Pranksters have moved it again from time to time, presumably with heavy equipment, but the city has now mounted its nine-ton token high on a pedestal for all the world to see.

birdseye view   rock   Netherlands   Piet Mondrian   Amersfoort   wager   antique map  

Double Toe

Feb 28, 2012

If you believe the banners in this ca. 1885 chromolithograph,  the Standard Tip T.M. Harris & Co. boot comes with a double toe that is not only warranted and trade mark registered but also highest grade sole leather tip. It's not clear what the people frolicking in the ad have to do with double standard tip shoes, and it's not clear what a registered trade mark has to do with warranted highest quality, but what else is new. As my grandmother used to say: You believe that one and they'll tell you a bigger one.

The shoe factory in the background was a building on Cherry Street in Philadelphia that was originally built for manufacturing chandeliers.

vintage   Philadelphia   shoes   lithograph   advertising   nineteenth century