Hole in the Clouds

March 2012

Anyone of Any Importance

Mar 1, 2012

California's self-inflicted budget mess is no secret, making it no surprise that the state has begun closing down at least seventy of its state parks and recreation areas. Kevin Forrester, a parks-department supervisor, is shown here in front of the locked, shuttered, and recently boarded-up visitor center at Mitchell Caverns, a state park unit in the Mojave Desert that was closed a few months ago because it needed budget-busting repairs to its water system.

Burglars broke into the closed-down visitor center and stole all its copper wiring and plumbing fixtures, along with two-way radios, binoculars, and other emergency gear. Those same intruders or other vandals broke all the windows and glass exhibit cases and caused an estimated $100,000 worth of damage.

After welding shut the doors to the visitor center, Supervisor Forrester observed that the state will need to find a pot of money if it is ever "to bring this place back to life." What happened at Mitchell Caverns, predicts Forrester, will happen again and again around the state as more and more parks are closed to visitors.

A Californian who gave his name as John Houck read about the troubles and offered assistance. "I am 60 years old and very healthy and able," he wrote in a message to the Los Angeles Times. "I don't know where this e-mail will end up, but I hope it might be read by someone of importance.

"I am a builder in many crafts (new construction and maintenance). I am currently unemployed and have been for quite some time now. I am just looking for for some kind of work to give me something to do, and maybe be helpful at the same time. I am not looking to become rich, just helpful. If anyone of any importance reads this e-mail, please contact me....."

What's the matter with this country?

California   Mitchell Caverns   state budget   Providence Mountains State Recreation Area   Mojave Desert   (Image credit: LA Times)  

Stone Age

Mar 6, 2012

In August 2004, during a family gathering on Peaks Island, Maine, to celebrate my father's eightieth birthday, some of the grandchildren spent many hours doing stuff with the rocks on the beach. Here we see Ted, Hank, Allen, Joe, and their cousin Nick.

If I remember correctly, shortly after this picture was taken, something catastrophic happened to the structure. The catastrophe was great fun for some of the boys, but not so much fun for Hank, who felt compelled to devote more hours to "fixing" it.

family   Peaks Island   Nick Horowitz   rocks   Joe   Ted   Allen   Hank   boys  

Food from the Desert

Mar 8, 2012

The desert of northern Saudi Arabia is among the most barren places on earth. But beginning in 1986, when water wells were drilled into deep aquifers, vast stretches of desert land have been irrigated for agricultural use. So much of Saudi Arabia is now farmland that the fields are visible from space, as shown here in this photo taken last week by astronauts on the International Space Station. The circular fields are each about one kilometer in diameter.

This is energy-intensive agriculture; it takes a lot of fossil fuel to pump water from so deep underground and to operate the center-pivot irrigation systems that keep the wheat fields and vegetable patches green despite bone-dry desert air. But Saudi Arabia has a lot of fossil fuel, and its desert agriculture is expanding rapidly.

(The water in the aquifers is itself fossilized, left over from the Ice Age, before this part of the world became so hot and arid.)

birdseye view   desert   remote sensing   astronaut photography   Saudi Arabia   irrigation   crops   (Image credit: International Space Station)  

Holes in the Clouds

Mar 10, 2012

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.

Canada   sunset   winter   clouds   skyscape   Port Maitland   Nova Scotia   (Image credit: Bill Curry)  

Anteaters for the Tsar

Mar 20, 2012

In hopes of fostering the development of medical science in Russia, Peter the Great scoured the West for natural history objects: taxidermy, live birds and insects, botanical and anatomical illustrations, and paraphernalia associated with monsters. Albertus Seba, a wealthy Dutch pharmacist and traveler, had amassed the largest natural history collection of the mid-18th century. Peter bought all of Seba's objects and library, including this book of colored zoological plates, and installed everything in St. Petersburg, where it became the nucleus of the Russian national collections.

The book is currently in the Spencer Research Library at the University of Kansas.

Russia   animals   Peter the Great   18th century   natural history   Albertus Seba   (h/t: bibliodyssey2lj)  

Urban Pioneers

Mar 22, 2012

Philadelphia is a city of brick row houses, block upon block, mile after mile. But this house on Lawrence Street in Northern Liberties looks a little different; for one thing, it's detached from all its neighbors, set back from the street in a large fenced yard. And for another thing, well, it's a log cabin. Two stories high, a citified height, but still, unquestionably, a log cabin.

It doesn't date back to the "real" log-cabin age, however. About a quarter-century ago, in the mid-1980s, an artist named Jeff Thomas put the cabin together from a load of logs trucked in from West Virginia; its stylistic allusion, we're told, is to the back-to-the-landers of the 1960s and early '70s. In the 1980s, Thomas and other artists then settling in the Northern Liberties section of Philadelphia were recolonizing a city landscape of abandoned factories, decrepit warehouses, vacant lots, and boarded-up, blighted homes. Their pioneering spirit, embodied in Thomas's house, succeeded only too well, and the cabin is now surrounded by renovated homes that cost way too much for a struggling artist.

streetscape   Philadelphia   houses   neighborhood   Northern Liberties   (Image credit: Steve Ives)  

Seeing Bottom

Mar 23, 2012

Last week, the Forest Lake homeowners' association in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, began siphoning the water out of Forest Lake, in hopes of revealing the debris that has collected in the lake since Tuscaloosa was devastated by a monster tornado eleven months ago.

The lake sits in the geographic center of Tuscaloosa and was near the center of the tornado track. Virtually all the surrounding houses were destroyed, along with the trees that gave the neighborhood its name.

Yesterday, when the water had dropped to the level seen in this photo, engineers were able to make preliminary estimates of the cost of debris removal: just under $300,000, about 30% less than anticipated. Even though the lake is privately owned by the homeowners' association, the taxpayers will be paying for cleanup; the city hopes to share the cost with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resrouces Conservation Service.

Tuscaloosa   Alabama   Forest Lake   tornado   storm   debris   (Image credit: Chris Pow, al.com)  

Tribes of Burma

Mar 24, 2012

In 1900, British artist C. C. Lewis published Tribes of Burma, a hand-painted volume of ethnographic images based on his travels in Southeast Asia. The people portrayed are said to be representative of Burma's dozens of ethnic groups, dressed in characteristic attire and engaged in ordinary daily activities. The family above are Lahu Na, from extreme eastern Burma near the Laotian border.

Below are three more of Lewis's plates: a Wa couple, from the Chinese border region; a Kwi family, from eastern Burma; and a Hkun couple, from the Sittaung River valley in south-centeral Burma.

paintings   ethnography   Burma   (Image credit: C.C. Lewis) (h/t: bibliodyssey)  

Deux Emiliennes

Mar 27, 2012

The woman in this picture, Emilienne, shown here in 1922 with her daughter, also named Emilienne, was a French war widow; her husband left for the army in 1914, when little Emilienne was an infant, and was killed in action in 1918, mort au champ d'honneur. 

Little Emilienne remained small all her life, less than five feet tall, but lived to be ninety-seven in Dieppe, France, where she ran a waterfront cafe for sailors. "She ignored the meaning of a word like wickedness," recalls her grandson. "When I was five years old at her cafe, that's where I first tasted Calvados. I miss her deeply."

France   World War I   1922   Dieppe   (h/t: sebfrench76 via Shorpy)