Hole in the Clouds
Jan 1, 2015
In the earliest moments of the year 2010, the people of the Filipino city of Legazpi, south of Manila, celebrated with fireworks, as the Mayon volcano in the distance stirred up some fireworks of its own.
As we slip slide into 2015, here's hoping we all stay warm and healthy and full of sparks. And where's that cup of kindness when we need it?
Jan 3, 2015
Lila Mae Helmke was 23 years old in 1936 when she appeared in this family portrait with her husband Bill, their son Allen, and her husband's brother, whose name was not recorded.
The photographer, Russell Lee, noted that the family all lived "in a one-room shack on a ninety-acre farm near Dickens, Iowa, owned by a lawyer."
We don't know how long Lila Mae and her family lived in that shack. But she and her husband had been born into farming families in Palo Alto County, Iowa, in the early years of the twentieth century, and they had been educated in country schools there. When they married in 1934, in the depths of the Depression, prospects for American farmers were nightmarish, even in places like northern Iowa, where the topsoil was three feet thick.
We have no record that the Helmkes ever owned any farmland. But they were farmers, and they stuck it out, trying to make a go of it somehow or other, for the first seventeen years of their married life, till Lila Mae was 38 and Bill was in his mid-forties.
In 1951, they gave it up and moved to town. They settled in Ruthven, Iowa, about seven miles east of the farmland near Dickens, where they had been born and raised.
By 1951, they had two nearly grown children, Allen and his younger brother Elton, known as Butch. Both boys would grow up, marry, and raise their own families in Ruthven, and they were still living there in January 2006, almost seventy years after the photo was taken, when their mother's death at the age of 92 was reported in the the Graettinger Times newspaper. Husband Bill–William August Helmke–had died in 1976, when he was 69.
Once the family had moved to town, Lila worked as a substitute cook at the Ruthven Community School and cleaned houses and the Ruthven State Bank.
She enjoyed sewing, gardening, and cooking, according to the obituary writer, and loved Jackie Gleason, Red Skelton, and The Price is Right.
The cat in the photo may have loomed large in her life: "She always had a family pet," wrote the obituary writer.
The smiling young man who is holding the cat in his lap, however, is lost to time. The photographer noted only that he was Bill Helmke's brother; we don't know his name, and Lila Mae's obituarist did not mention him at all, not in the list of survivors and not in the list of the predeceased. He looks of an age in 1936 to be called off to war just a few years after sitting for the family portrait, but even that detail is beyond our knowing.
Lila Mae Helmke
(Image credit: Russell Lee via Shorpy)
Jan 4, 2015
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.
Olympic National Park
(Image credit: singletrack.com)
Jan 5, 2015
A fisherman goes out at night with his cormorants on the River Li, amidst the karst spires of south China. The photo does not make clear how he monetizes his fishing in these postmodern times: by selling fish, or by entertaining tourists?
(Image credit: Garret Suhrie)
Jan 6, 2015
Our son Joe and his Aunt Carol coax duets out of the keyboard.
Jan 7, 2015
Above, wildebeest cross the Mara River during their annual migration northward from the Serengeti in Tanzania to the Masai Mara in Kenya. An estimated two million animals, mostly wildebeest but also including hundreds of thousands of Thompson's gazelle, zebra, and eland, make this long trek every year during the dry season, as they seek greener pastures; their navigation techniques are not fully understood, but one strategy they seem to follow is to head toward thunder and lightning.
This photo, by Nicole Cambre, took first place in the "Nature" category of National Geographic's 2014 photo competition, which attracted more than 10,000 entrants from 150 different countries.
Below, ice on a window in Tabasalu, Estonia, propagates in a crystal form that the photographer, Maie Kinmann, calls "Dragon." This photo won honorable mention in the "Nature" category.
(Image credits: top,Nicole Cambre; bottom, Maie Kinmann)
Jan 10, 2015
Last January, when this picture was taken, Rittenhouse Square looked plenty wintery. The snow hasn't been as deep this January, but the cold has been, if anything, even deeper. Which just goes to show, except that actually it doesn't.
(Image credit: Little Fuji)
Jan 11, 2015
A young man with flair poses for the camera on Philly Photo Day 2014, back in mid-October.
Philly Photo Day
(Image credit: Amir Cotton)
Jan 12, 2015
Lap cat shows plenty of lap. Philly Photo Day 2014.
(Image credit: Eleanor Barba)
Jan 23, 2015
(Image credit: Little Fuji)
Jan 24, 2015
This is the front panel of a Nechada barrel organ, made in Odessa, Ukraine, in the early years of the twentieth century. It was often set up in the street outside a bar or brothel, in hopes that the popular tunes it blasted out would draw a crowd of potential customers. Sometimes, of course, the organ grinder had a monkey as an added attraction, or a troupe of very young girls, perhaps eight or ten years old, who danced and sang and turned cartwheels to entertain the drunks.
Odessa was home to a number of piano manufacturers, who made these organs as a sideline. No musical skill was required to operate them; the organ grinder just turned the crank on one side of the box, which pumped air through the organ pipes and also spun rolls of paper that had been pre-programmed with the desired musical compositions. The paper blocked air from entering the pipes except where holes had been punched; when a hole in the paper came in line with the opening to a pipe of the desired pitch, air was forced through the pipe, generating each note of a song.
Odessa street organs, called sharmankas, were sold throughout the Russian empire from about 1860 until they began to be replaced by more modern music machines, notably record players, in the 1920s. Even then, they remained in use by street buskers, particularly in Tbilisi and other Georgian cities, where street organs were popular well into the 1960s.
The inscription across the bottom of this organ gives the name and address of its maker. Ivan Viktorovich Nechada worked out of a piano factory on Balskovskaya Street, now Isaac Babel Street, in Odessa. This organ is in the collection of the new Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona, but recently a very similar Nechada organ, said to be in perfect working order, was advertised in Moscow; "May be sold or exchanged for a car," wrote the seller, in an ad in Mechanical Music Digest.
Musical Instrument Museum
(Image credit: Fuji T)
Jan 25, 2015
From the Lockridge community near Durham, North Carolina, comes this photo and note from Carol Stack: "My first selfie, with birthday flowers."
This time of year also marks the birthday of our boy John, a.k.a. J.J. Good cheer to both, many happy returns, and let's hear it for one-eyed floral birthday selfies!
(Image credit: Carol Stack)
Jan 26, 2015
The sun rises over Gasworks Park and Lake Union in Seattle, or at least it tries to. The clouds scuttling into town from the the west (right edge of this picture) are about to roll all over the golden disk and thus reestablish normal winter gloom.
(Image credit: Fuji T)
(h/t: Amy and Allen)
Jan 27, 2015
In 1899, snow was shoveled off busy Manhattan streets, loaded into wagons, and hauled down to the docks, where it was dumped in the river.
Nowadays, the EPA doesn't like for states or municipalities to dump dirty snow from city streets into rivers or, as in the case of Portland, Maine, into the ocean. Portland used to throw its snow from downtown into the harbor, but it now builds mountains of snow, dump-truckload after dump-truckload, in an empty field near the airport.
New York City trucks its snow to melting machines, known as snow dragons, which can melt thirty tons of snow an hour and discharge the meltwater into the city sewer sytem. In an emergency, however, such as a ridiculously huge blizzard, we are told that the EPA will look the other way while the city rids its streets of snow the old-timey way.
(Image credit: Detroit Publishing Co via Shorpy)
Jan 29, 2015
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.
Marysville-Pilchuck High School
Timberline High School
(Image credits: Hank Stein
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!
Jan 30, 2015
Caught by the camera just as he finishes up his unauthorized street decor, this graffiti artist in Queratoro, Mexico, appears to have done a pretty darn good job painting a quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent of the ancient Aztecs.
(Image credit: Hector Muñoz)