September 2011

Posted by Ellen

Once upon a time, about ten days ago, the Carnes family of Cottondale, Alabama, noticed that a llama had taken up residence on a hillside way at the back of their property. It was skittish around people and ran off when they approached, but the next day it was there again.

Meanwhile, at the very same time and less than half a mile away, the Smith family, also of Cottondale, noticed that one of their llamas was missing, and that the chain-link fence around their pasture was damaged. The Smiths had bought three llamas, including a baby, its mother, and another female, just three days earlier, partly because they'd been told that the presence of llamas can discourage predators such as wildcats from attacking other livestock. It was the mother llama that had come up missing.

There had been reports of a cougar in the vicinity, and the Smiths, who raised horses, geese, and ducks, had recently lost a dog to wounds that the vet told them were probaby inflicted by a cougar.

The Smiths feared the llama may have been another cougar victim. A mother llama would not normally abandon her young, they believed. And llamas almost always prefer to hang with their herd; they rarely venture far on their own.

The Smiths asked their neighbors, but nobody had seen anything. The Smiths did not know the Carneses, and apparently the Smith neighbors were not in close contact with people who were in contact with the Carneses, who were also making inquiries.

The Carneses checked with the sheriff's office, but there were no missing-llama reports. They finally called up the Tuscaloosa News, which sent out a photographer and ran a feature story about a mysterious wayward llama. If nobody claimed it, the Carneses told the newspaper reporter, they'd eventually try to catch it and turn it over to the Humane Society, which ran a sanctuary ranch for wayward llamas in Oliver Springs, Tennessee. But so far, the animal had run away whenever they came near.

The Smiths did not subscribe to the Tuscaloosa News, but they had friends who did, and soon enough the two families were able to put the two stories together. They speculated that maybe the cougar or some other terrifying creature had in fact put in an appearance, jumping the fence into the pasture and frightening the llamas. Llamas often freeze when frightened. But maybe a mother llama would behave more protectively, perhaps attempting to chase the intruder even after it left the pasture. And then, because she was so new to the neighborhood, she got lost and could not figure out her way back home.

The Smiths schemed to get her back. They'd bring her baby and some corral panels over to the Carne place and use the baby as a lure to arrange her capture.

At this point, oddly, the newspaper dropped the story. Did the plan work? Or is the llama still on the loose? We just don't know.

Perhaps it's worth noting that this is an old-media story. The Smiths and Carneses didn't tweet about the llama; they weren't brought together by Facebook status updates. But the Tuscaloosa News is letting us down here. We can only hope that now that the weekend is over and the football game is won, the journalists can get back to work and dig up the rest of the story.

Posted by Ellen

"Some time in the 1950s, probably in Decatur, Illinois." That's the baby boomer, stomping away.

Posted by Ellen

One of the Love Murals on Market Street in West Philly.

Posted by Ellen

Way, way out in the country, a million miles away from city lights, on a clear night the sky is lit by stars, as we see above at left, in a photo taken in Glacier National Park in Montana. The few small clouds in this starlit sky show up as black blotches that block some of the stars; a completely cloudy night in remote parts of the world is a very, very dark night, too dark to photograph at all.

In the megalopolis, however, clouds actually light up the sky by reflecting urban light pollution to brighten the night dramatically; an overcast night in a big city like Berlin, shown above at right, can be up to ten times brighter than a clear night.

Posted by Ellen

The rhododendron that were blooming back in June, when we spent a week at a camp on Little Sebago Lake in Windham, Maine, are just a memory now. Marion P. grew the flowers and cut them for us and arranged them and even supplied the bucket.

Posted by Ellen

Note to wedding planners: When choosing a date and venue, do take into account the possibility that the city's annual Naked Bicycle Ride will roll past your event just as guests are leaving the ceremony.

Actually, when this wedding let out late Sunday afternoon, the wedding party did have just enough time to hustle into the limo and peel away before hundreds of naked bikers swarmed the street in front of the church. The young man shown here who was dressed to join the bike ride was a few minutes early; he was waiting in Rittenhouse Square for his fellow riders to reach this part of the route.

By the time the main body of naked bikers showed up, the limo was gone, and the wedding guests in their finery were standing around in front of the church with cameras and cellphones trained on the dressed-down action in the street.

The two young women on bicycles near the left side of the picture were friends of the young man's who met up with him here by accident; like the wedding guests, they were not aware that the annual naked ride was about to descend on Rittenhouse Square. By the time the riders arrived, the women had made up their minds; they pulled off their shirts, stuffed them in their backpacks, and joined the parade.

Posted by Ellen

The bronze leg of the sculpted woman here appears to have graffiti on it. The bronze head of the man appears to have a seagull on it.

The people appear poised to run into the surf near the boardwalk in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Posted by Ellen

On June 30, 2011, rhe cloud at the righthand side of the sky in this picture cast a big shadow over the West Arm of Grand Traverse Bay, near Traverse City, Michigan. That's because the sun had already set, and its last rays were hitting the cloud from a very low angle, well below the horizon.

The top of the shadow looks curved, I'm told, because of the extremely wide angle of vision here. It's a perspective thing–we think of the horizon line off in the distance as a straight line, but in a wide-angled scene like this we can see that it's actually a curved arc. For a few minutes, the shadow darkens a wedge of the celestial sphere; then this part of the world turns away and the scene is in serious earth shadow, not just cloud shadow, till morning.

Posted by Ellen

Photographer Lewis Wickes Hine, when he stopped in Tifton, Georgia, in 1909 during his travels to document child labor in America, made the following notes about this picture:

Family working in the Tifton Cotton Mill. Mrs. A.J. Young works in mill and at home. Nell (oldest girl) alternates in mill with mother. Mammy (next girl) runs 2 sides. Mary (next) runs 1½ sides. Elic (oldest boy) works regularly. Eddie (next girl) helps in mill, sticks on bobbins. Four smallest children not working yet. The mother said she earns $4.50 a week and all the children earn $4.50 a week. Husband died and left her with 11 children. Two of them went off and got married. The family left the farm two years ago to work in the mill.

Researcher Joe Manning, who has been working for years now to discover what became of the children in Hine's photos, picks up the story:

 For more than four years, I tried to identify the mother and children in this up, starting again, giving up, etc. I posted the photo on my website, hoping that someone would see it and know who this family was. On January 24, 2011, almost exactly 102 years since the date of this photo (January 22), I received the following email: “The family of Mrs. A.J. Young of Tifton, Ga. is a picture of my grandmother and great-grandmother's family. My mother knows more information.” Several hours later, I talked to both the writer of the email, and her mother, got a few more facts (they didn’t know a lot), and spent the rest of the day searching census and death records on the Internet. After eight more months of research, and interviews with numerous descendants, I have assembled the incredible story of this family, and I am close to posting the entire story on my website. I was able to track down the story of the mother, every child in the photograph, the two children who had recently married and are not in the photo, and the husband/father who had died. Exactly three months after Hine encountered this family, Mrs. Young, in desperation, placed the seven youngest children in an orphanage, and within several years, most had been adopted and lost contact with one another. One hundred years later, the descendants now know what happened to all of them.

I promise to let y'all know as soon as Manning posts the details of the Young family saga. In the meantime, Happy Labor Day Weekend to one and all.