Mar 1, 2017
Mar 1, 2017
Mar 10, 2017
Mar 11, 2017
An electron micrograph, colorized, showing one little leg of a teeny little soil mite.
Mar 12, 2017
John must have been about eight years old when he came across the special offer in a seed catalog: hey kids, add a penny of your own money to your parents' seed order, and you'll get a super fantastic packet of seeds just for you to plant.
If I remember correctly, we taped the penny to the order form, and I got my seeds and he got his. Both our gardens did pretty well that summer, thanks to the good advice of our neighbor on Fifth Avenue in Tuscaloosa, Mr. Crawford. John's turnip, shown here, must have been exactly the super fantastic return he'd been hoping for on his investment–and yup, he's still a gardener today, thirty years later.
At harvest time, he posed for a Polaroid snapshot in the kitchen with his brothers, Joe and Ted. Joe appears to be checking out a previously shot Polaroid, probably watching the colors emerge magically from the paper. Ted appears to be annoyed. Jealous maybe, of his brother's turnip?
Mar 13, 2017
Mar 14, 2017
Mar 15, 2017
We perhaps remember what happened last year in Great Britain when the public was invited to submit names for the government's new scientific research vessel. Almost all the people who participated suggested the same name–Boaty McBoatface–a very nice name, we thought. We even submitted it ourselves to the organization responsible for naming our first grandchild. And just like the Brits, we had our submission swatted back at us unceremoniously, and so we learned that the world is run by tyrants who tromp all over the will of the people.
In Britain, the powers that be promptly named the research ship after a long-dead naturalist, though they did throw out a little bone to public opinion in announcing that the ship's robot submarine would bear the winning name. And so this week, the little yellow Boaty McBoatface departed for its first mission, to explore meltwater flow and underwater currents in the Southern Ocean near Antarctica.
A British commentator writing under the name Stuart Heritage, a name that might be even sillier than Boaty McBoatface, helps us understand the larger issues here:
Boaty McBoatface is what the people wanted.... So it's a bad idea? So what? People vote for bad ideas all the time....
Look at [London Mayor] Boris Johnson. Boris Johnson is a terrible idea. He's a egotistical twit in a child-sized Sia wig who keeps filling London with insane foreign-owned monuments to his own genitals, but people keep voting for him anyway.... Nobody overrode the results and installed a more sensible mayor.
Boaty McBoatface would have been trampled by the might of the state had it been suggested in mainland Europe, while the gonzo patriotism of the US would have left the poll only containing options that sounded like Bruce Springsteen albums – Soaring Eagle or Thunder Avenue.... Boaty is the British character writ large. “We are British,” it says. “We have terrible ideas but, God bless us, we stick to them.”
Boaty McBoatface is a godawful name for a boat, and anyone who voted for it deserves to be stripped naked and fed poison in a dungeon for the rest of time, but the people should get what the people want. Can you hear us? Je suis Boaty McBoatface. Nous sommes tous Boaty McBoatface.
Mar 16, 2017
Mar 17, 2017
Mar 18, 2017
The river is the Li, in south China, and the lively village is Fenghuang.
Mar 19, 2017
My sister Carol is hard at work on a sewing card, in our front yard in Silver Spring, Maryland, circa 1958.
Back in the day, little girls and perhaps also some boys "sewed" around the pictures on these cards as an introductory activity intended to help prepare us for real sewing. Carol was probably three or four when she threaded the shoelace-tipped yarn through holes punched in the card; by age five or six, she had probably moved up to simple cross-stitch embroidery using real needles and thread and tiny, child-sized thimbles. All that stuff is out of fashion now, though the old cards, sometimes called lacing cards, are still available on ebay and etsy. Maybe the whole sewing thing is just too girly for modern parents. Or too 1950s.
I never was much of a girly girl, but I really loved sewing cards and cross stitch, and I kept begging and begging my mother to teach me how to use her sewing machine. As soon as I started to learn, however, I gave it all up for good. It turned out that real sewing involved ironing each seam as you went along–and I hated, hated, hated ironing. Also, sewing under my mother's eye required doing the stitches properly–in other words, I had to rip out most of my attempts at seams and do them over and over again.
But Carol was and still is good with her hands. For her, the sewing cards may have served as preparation for piano lessons, or for penmanship at school. But isn't this activity more suitable for work indoors, sitting down on the floor or at a table? I'm guessing Carol put her sweater on and brought the card outside so our father could take a picture without a flashbulb.
Mar 20, 2017
A confession: I miss clotheslines. Don't miss lugging baskets of soggy clothes up the basement steps and out across the yard. Don't miss slapping at mosquitoes with a mouthful of clothespins. Don't miss convincing myself it won't rain when of course it will, and it does. Don't miss how stiff the clothes are when they're finally back inside.
I just miss seeing clotheslines when I walk the streets and alleys of my neighborhood, or any neighborhood. Nowadays, backyards look lifeless and uninteresting. Doubtless, this is a small price to pay for progress, and this nostalgia of mine is a small and silly thing, but still.
So now and for a while to come, Monday will be laundry day on Hole in the Clouds.
Mar 21, 2017
Mar 22, 2017
Mar 23, 2017
In the year 1212, the woman who became Saint Clare of Assisi founded the Poor Clares order of nuns. From the beginning, Poor Clares sisters were entirely cloistered and took vows of poverty much more extreme than those of other nuns of the time; they owned no property whatsoever, individually or collectively, and depended on alms for survival.
For the past 700 years, Poor Clares in Naples, Italy, have lived here, in Santa Chiara, a church and monstery complex built for them by Queen Sancha of Majorca and King Robert of Naples. The complex was extensively remodeled in the eighteenth century, with the addition of exuberant ornamentation, especially in this garden, that seems difficult to square with the nuns' professed poverty and simple life apart from the world.
Indeed, the tiled benches illustrate decidedly non-religious scenes, from masked pageantry at Carnival to peasants chasing after pigs. The tiles on the columns are garlanded in flowers and fruit: lemon trees, grape vines, figs and bananas. The designer was Domenico Antonio Vaccaro, an architect and sculptor known for imposing a personal stamp on every project, no matter what the client might have had in mind.
For two more centuries, the Poor Clares stayed on in Vaccaro's fanciful cloister, until 1995, some years after they had downsized to a smaller monastery next door. For the first time, their garden was opened to visitors from outside the order.
Mar 24, 2017
Mar 26, 2017
The truth is not hard to believe: these guys were in fact trying for a world record in 1893 when they loaded the sled with more than 36,000 board feet of virgin white pine logs from Ontanagon County in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
How did they pile up the load so high? The horses actually did much of the work. The men would lay each log on the ground longside the sled and affix ropes to it that went up and over the load and then back down to the ground on the other side of the sled. That's where the horses were waiting; they would be harnessed to the ropes, and as they were led away from their side of the sled, the ropes would pull the new log up to the top of the heap, guided up the side by angled tracks made from small logs. When the new log reached the top, the men would snag it into place.
How come the sled didn't just sink down in the snow? An ice road had been specially prepared, with the snow sprayed repeatedly with water and allowed to freeze rock-hard. The horses had special shoes with crampons that bit into the ice surface.
Usually, logs hauled this way were taken to a frozen river, awaiting spring, when they'd be floated downstream to a sawmill. But this particular load was pulled for just half a mile by these two horses, to a railroad siding, where the logs and the sled were loaded onto freight cars and shipped to Chicago.
There, at the Michigan pavilion of the 1893 Columbia Exhibition, the load was reassembled, sled and all, treating fairgoers to a glimpse of logging activity in what was then the world's busiest lumber region.
Did they make it into the Guinness Book of Records? We have no idea, but they did claim this was the largest load of lumber in the history of the world.
Note that most of the men here had no gloves, and of course none of them had hard hats.
Mar 27, 2017
Mar 29, 2017
Don't know these kids, just caught a glimpse in passing. One of them plopped himself down on a skateboard and hitched a ride through the airport behind the suitcase being pulled by the other kid. They could be brothers. I'm pretty sure they're the kind of kids that people call A Handful. Especially the one on the skateboard.