Category Archives: nature

Slip Slidin’ Away…

_mg_7525

This past Saturday my wife and I took of just to get away for a while. Things have been hectic and a “get-away” was overdue. We decided to drive up the “alpine” Helen in the north Georgia “mountains”. It’s less than an hour from where we live and my wife loves a particular restaurant there. Personally, I can take it or leave it, but she absolutely loves going there.

The town of Helen has sort of a Danish/German/Bavarian flavor to the heart of the little town. There’s a beer garden surrounded by shops and places that are made to look alpine. But just outside of the town is an old mill that still operates and produces milled flour, grits, etc. It’s a fun place to stop and lots of interesting things are there to photograph.

One of the favorite things of my to shoot there is a dam. The creek that turns the mill stone flows behind the building. It’s a rather lazy creek, but the dam has water flowing over the top of it constantly, and this time I noticed that there are pipes a bit below the water surface on the down-dam side. I thought it was rather pretty to watch the water shooting over the top of the dam and through the pipes, too, so I took today’s picture of it to share with you.

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY: in 1898, a massive explosion of unknown origin sank the battleship USS Maine in Cuba’s Havana harbor, killing 260 of the fewer than 400 American crew members aboard.

One of the first American battleships, the Maine weighed more than 6,000 tons and was built at a cost of more than $2 million. Ostensibly on a friendly visit, the Maine had been sent to Cuba to protect the interests of Americans there after a rebellion against Spanish rule broke out in Havana in January.

An official U.S. Naval Court of Inquiry ruled in March that the ship was blown up by a mine, without directly placing the blame on Spain. Much of Congress and a majority of the American public expressed little doubt that Spain was responsible and called for a declaration of war.

Subsequent diplomatic failures to resolve the Maine matter, coupled with United States indignation over Spain’s brutal suppression of the Cuban rebellion and continued losses to American investment, led to the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in April 1898.

Within three months, the United States had decisively defeated Spanish forces on land and sea, and in August an armistice halted the fighting. On December 12, 1898, the Treaty of Paris was signed between the United States and Spain, officially ending the Spanish-American War and granting the United States its first overseas empire with the ceding of such former Spanish possessions as Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines.

In 1976, a team of American naval investigators concluded that the Maine explosion was likely caused by a fire that ignited its ammunition stocks, not by a Spanish mine or act of sabotage.

TRIVIA FOR TODAY: The Sahara Desert at one time was lush grassland and savannah. Overgrazing and/or climate change in 8000 B.C. began to change the area from pastoral land to desert. Now it is the world’s largest hot desert at over 3,630,000 square miles—roughly the size of the United States. Antarctica is considered the largest desert (of any type) in the world.

What in the world is it?

_mg_7427

OK…this is weird. The other morning after a very cold night, my wife called tme and said I should bring my camera. I asked what for, and she said it was because there was something in the birdbath that is on the back deck. I went to get my camera, thinking it was a bird or perhaps some leaves or pine needles. Imagine my surprise when I saw thing:

_mg_7432

I had never seen anything like it, nor have I since (but hey – that was only less than a week ago). I couldn’t figure out what it could possibly be that caused it. There was nothing inside of it except air bubbles, yet there it was, ice sticking straight up about six inches out from the surface of the birdbath. If it had a branch in it, a feather perhaps, it might be understandable, but nothing? How does water mound itself up in defiance of gravity and do in such a way that it instantly freezes before it falls back into the liquid from which it sprang?

I was totally at a loss for the cause…until today, when an old friend of mine shared a photo he’d taken on Facebook of the exact same phenomenon at their home! He didn’t know what it was, either, but one of the people who read his post knew what it was: an ice spike. You can read about it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ice_spike. Even thought I read about how it is believed to form, I’m not sure that I understand it at all. Regardless, it is an explanation.

Have you ever seen such a thing?

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY: in 1996, a cargo plane crashed in Kinshasa, Zaire, (modern day Democratic Republic of the Congo) killing somewhere between 225 and 350 people and injuring another 500.

Africa Air was a private freight company that operated on the margins of legality. They were well-known for sometimes ignoring safety regulations, and enforcement of the rules was lax in Zaire. On January 8, the company went even further, sending its Russian Antonov AN-32B into the sky from N’Dolo Airport in Kinshasa even though its certification for flying had been revoked. Making matters worse, the Russian crew members had loaded the plane with freight beyond its capacity. The plane was allegedly on its way to bring supplies to Jonas Savimbi’s notorious rebels in Angola.

As the plane barreled down a runway on the sunny afternoon, its engines smoked and then burst into flames. The plane could not attain any altitude and simply ran off the end of the runway, toward a marketplace filled with wooden and iron shacks. The plane crashed into the crowded market and exploded. Fires broke out everywhere and would-be rescuers were driven back by the intense heat and smoke.

In all, estimates of the death toll ranged from 225 to 350 people killed and approximately 500 seriously injured. Of the six crew members on board, four survived. The angry marketplace crowd attempted to lynch them but was thwarted by authorities. There was a second attempt while the crew was at a local hospital but it also failed. The crew members were extradited to Russia for prosecution and sentenced to two years in prison. Pilot Nicolai Kazarin stated during the trial “the market shouldn’t have been there, so why should they be entitled to compensation?” Africa Air subsequently went out of business.

TRIVIA FOR TODAY: In 1995, Hiroyoki Gotu memorized 42,195 places of pi and is considered the current pi champion. Some scholars speculate that Japanese is better suited than other languages for memorizing sequences of numbers. The first 144 digits of pi add up to 666 (which many scholars say is “the mark of the Beast”). And 144 = (6+6) x (6+6).

The Joy of Leaves

_mg_7041

I like to photograph leaves in the autumn. I haven’t really done that this year and it is really too late now. Alas. I love the way they change colors and how a single leaf can break out in a flurry of various colors and shades. They are amazing and it delights me to see them.

But, perhaps there is no greater joy of leaves than that which comes to a child who can run and jump into a big pile of leaves!

On Thanksgiving day, our youngest son and his family came to our house for the Thanksgiving celebration. Prior to their arrival, my wife and I had raked up a HUGE pile of leaves for the purpose of letting their kids have some fun with the leaf pile. Fortunately, we have NO shortage of leaves as our home is surrounded by tree and backs right up to the Dawson forest with no fence in the back yard. So the leaves were plentiful!

I shot over 200 pictures of the little girls giggling, running, jumping, leaping, turning somersaults and messing up the pile of leaves we’d worked so hard to create. Did I mind that the pile got destroyed? Absolutely not! That was the point, after all!

And then this morning after church, our youngest grand daughter crawled up in my lap and said, “Pop-pop, it was SO MUCH FUN playing in the leaves at your house the other day!”  (I have one sequence of shots when she was running to the pile, jumped in, got twisted around, and at one point, only her rear end and shoes were sticking out of the leaves…but she emerged with a huge grin and laugh! I laughed so hard when I saw the pictures of that sequence!!!

Guess what? I’ll rake up a big pile again next year and let them destroy it again – laughing all the time!

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY: in 1703, an unusual storm system finally dissipated over England after wreaking havoc on the country for nearly two weeks. Featuring hurricane strength winds, the storm killed somewhere between 10,000 and 30,000 people. Hundreds of Royal Navy ships were lost to the storm, the worst in Britain’s history.

The unusual weather began on November 14 as strong winds from the Atlantic Ocean battered the south of Britain and Wales. Many homes and other buildings were damaged by the pounding winds, but the hurricane-like storm only began doing serious damage on November 26. With winds estimated at over 80 miles per hour, bricks were blown from some buildings and embedded in others. Wood beams, separated from buildings, flew through the air and killed hundreds across the south of the country. Towns such as Plymouth, Hull, Cowes, Portsmouth and Bristol were devastated.

However, the death toll really mounted when 300 Royal Navy ships anchored off the country’s southern coast—with 8,000 sailors on board—were lost. The Eddystone Lighthouse, built on a rock outcropping 14 miles from Plymouth, was felled by the storm. All of its residents, including its designer, Henry Winstanley, were killed. Huge waves on the Thames River sent water six feet higher than ever before recorded near London. More than 5,000 homes along the river were destroyed.

The author Daniel Defoe, who would later enjoy worldwide acclaim for the novel Robinson Crusoe, witnessed the storm, which he described as an “Army of Terror in its furious March.” His first book, The Storm, was published the following year.

TRIVIA FOR TODAY: A modern coin-counting machine can count 2,500 coins a minute. A bank note-counting machine can tally up to 100 bills in 4 seconds. It can also tell what denomination they are and if they are fake.

Take the Plunge!

_MG_4816

I love waterfalls. I am terrified of getting into the water above a falls as I’ve read the book about deaths in Yosemite National Park of boneheads who got into the pools above Mist or Vernal or Yosemite or Bridalveil Falls and were swept over the falls to their death on the rocks below. Surprisingly, it sometimes takes weeks (or longer!) for the bodies to be found. So, I’m content to just look at falls an photograph them from various vantage points.

I shot today’s photo at Silver Falls State Park in Oregon. This is South Falls and it is the second highest falls in the park at 177 feet…but it is also the longest single drop of any falls in the park. It’s very easy to get to, and you can hike down a trail and pass behind the falls as you can see from the picture. Notice the railing…and if you look closely, you can make out some people standing behind the fence behind the waterfalls.

We were there when the water wasn’t flowing very heavily (in fact, some falls pretty much dry up there during the “dry” season (bet you didn’t know there was such a thing in Oregon, did you?).  Still, I thought it was beautiful.

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY: in 1865, in what may be the first true western showdown, Wild Bill Hickok shot Dave Tutt dead in the market square of Springfield, Missouri.

Hollywood movies and dime novels notwithstanding, the classic western showdown–also called a walkdown–happened only rarely in the American West. Rather than coolly confronting each other on a dusty street in a deadly game of quick draw, most men began shooting at each other in drunken brawls or spontaneous arguments. Ambushes and cowardly attacks were far more common than noble showdowns.

Nonetheless, southern emigrants brought to the West a crude form of the “code duello,” a highly formalized means of solving disputes between gentlemen with swords or guns that had its origins in European chivalry. By the second half of the 19th century, few Americans still fought duels to solve their problems. Yet, the concept of the duel surely influenced the informal western code of what constituted a legitimate-and legal-gun battle. Above all, the western code required that a man resort to his six-gun only in defense of his honor or life, and only if his opponent was also armed. Likewise, a western jury was unlikely to convict a man in a shooting provided witnesses testified that his opponent had been the aggressor.

The best-known example of a true western duel occurred on this day in 1865. Wild Bill Hickok, a skilled gunman with a formidable reputation, was eking out a living as a professional gambler in Springfield, Missouri. He quarreled with Dave Tutt, a former Union soldier, but it is unclear what caused the dispute. Some people say it was over a card game while others say they fought over a woman. Whatever the cause, the two men agreed to a duel.

The showdown took place the following day with crowd of onlookers watching as Hickok and Tutt confronted each other from opposite sides of the town square. When Tutt was about 75 yards away, Hickok shouted, “Don’t come any closer, Dave.” Tutt nervously drew his revolver and fired a shot that went wild. Hickok, by contrast, remained cool. He steadied his own revolver in his left hand and shot Tutt dead with a bullet through the chest.

Having adhered to the code of the West, Hickok was acquitted of manslaughter charges. Eleven years later, however, Hickok died in a fashion far more typical of the violence of the day: a young gunslinger shot him in the back of the head while he played cards. Legend says that the hand Hickok was holding at the time of his death was two pair–black aces and black eights. The hand would forever be known as the “dead man’s hand.”

TRIVIA FOR TODAY: In early 2010, amateur astronomers spotted a massive ammonia blizzard raging on Saturn. The monster storm is five times larger than “Snowmageddon,” the snowstorm that shut down Washington D.C. in February 2010.

Stalking the Elusive Bird

_MG_4697Crop

Sparrows are everywhere, aren’t they? But there are many different kinds of sparrows. This is a box sparrow (or so my wife tells me.) I took this picture in Steigerwald Wildlife Preservation Area. I didn’t have the leans I would have liked for this shot (my 70-300mm telephoto) so I shot it with my 18-270mm lens. It would have been even better with the longer lens, but when I saw this and saw the bird’s beak open and singing a song, I was thrilled with this shot. It made me feel like singing, too!

Enjoy!

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY: in 1879, Doc Holliday commited his first murder, killing a man for shooting up his New Mexico saloon.

Despite his formidable reputation as a deadly gunslinger, Doc Holliday only engaged in eight shootouts during his life, and it has only been verified that he killed two men. Still, the smartly dressed ex-dentist from Atlanta had a remarkably fearless attitude toward death and danger, perhaps because he was slowly dying from tuberculosis.

In 1879, Holliday settled in Las Vegas, New Mexico, where he opened a saloon with a partner. Holliday spent his evenings gambling in the saloon and he seemed determined to stress his health condition by heavy drinking. A notorious cad, Holliday also enjoyed the company of the dance hall girls that the partners hired to entertain the customers–which sometimes sparked trouble.

On this day in 1879, a former army scout named Mike Gordon tried to persuade one of Holliday’s saloon girls to quit her job and run away with him. When she refused, Gordon became infuriated. He went out to the street and began to fire bullets randomly into the saloon. He didn’t have a chance to do much damage–after the second shot, Holliday calmly stepped out of the saloon and dropped Gordon with a single bullet. Gordon died the next day.

The following year, Holliday abandoned the saloon business and joined his old friend Wyatt Earp in Tombstone, Arizona. There he would kill his second victim, during the famous “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” in October 1881. During the subsequent six years, Holliday assisted at several other killings and wounded a number of men in gun battles. His hard drinking and tuberculosis eventually caught up with him, and he retired to a Colorado health resort where he died in 1887. Struck by the irony of such a peaceful end to a violent life, his last words reportedly were “This is funny.”

TRIVIA FOR TODAY: In early 1917, British cryptographers deciphered a telegram from German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmermann to Germany’s minister in Mexico. The telegraph encouraged Mexico to invade U.S. territory. The British kept it a secret from the U.S. for more than a month. They wanted to show it to the U.S. at the right time to help draw the U.S into the war on their side.

Living the Wild Life

_MG_4666_7_8

On our recent trip to visit out oldest son in Oregon, we went for a nice hike one day at a  national wildlife refuge. A portion of the refuge borders on the Columbia River. It was a peaceful place and it was mostly an overcast day with occasional splotches of sun breaking through.

There are lots of grasses, brush, trees, birds, turtles, rabbits and other critters in the preserve, though we didn’t see some of the more obscure ones. The birdsong filled the air and though at times they weren’t visible, their songs were lovely.

At the end of the hike on the side of the outhouses is a board where people can list the animals that they saw. My wife added some bird species to her “life list” and to the board. Not to be outdone, I added that we’d seen a bigfoot…but I wasn’t able to get a picture because I had put my shoes back on!

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY: in 1938, Douglas Corrigan, the last of the early glory-seeking fliers, took off from Floyd Bennett field in Brooklyn, New York, on a flight that would finally win him a place in aviation history.

Eleven years earlier, American Charles A. Lindbergh had become an international celebrity with his solo nonstop flight across the Atlantic. Corrigan was among the mechanics who had worked on Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis aircraft, but that mere footnote in the history of flight was not enough for the Texas-born aviator. In 1938, he bought a 1929 Curtiss Robin aircraft off a trash heap, rebuilt it, and modified it for long-distance flight. In July 1938, Corrigan piloted the single-engine plane nonstop from California to New York. Although the transcontinental flight was far from unprecedented, Corrigan received national attention simply because the press was amazed that his rattletrap aircraft had survived the journey.

Almost immediately after arriving in New York, he filed plans for a transatlantic flight, but aviation authorities deemed it a suicide flight, and he was promptly denied. Instead, they would allow Corrigan to fly back to the West Coast, and on July 17 he took off from Floyd Bennett field, ostentatiously pointed west. However, a few minutes later, he made a 180-degree turn and vanished into a cloudbank to the puzzlement of a few onlookers.

Twenty-eight hours later, Corrigan landed his plane in Dublin, Ireland, stepped out of his plane, and exclaimed, “Just got in from New York. Where am I?” He claimed that he lost his direction in the clouds and that his compass had malfunctioned. The authorities didn’t buy the story and suspended his license, but Corrigan stuck to it to the amusement of the public on both sides of the Atlantic. By the time “Wrong Way” Corrigan and his crated plane returned to New York by ship, his license suspension had been lifted, he was a national celebrity, and a mob of autograph seekers met him on the gangway.

TRIVIA FOR TODAY: Elias Howe (1819-1867) said one inspiration for his invention of the sewing machine came from a nightmare he had about being attacked by cannibals bearing spears that looked like the needle he then designed.

I Won’t Do It, but I Appreciate It

_MG_4500_1_2_tonemapped

Today’s photo was also shot in the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California, USA.  I have to tell you that I hate yard work – always have, always will. I don’t have a green thumb…if anything, my thumbs would at best be described as poisonous when it comes to dealing with plants. If I try to plant a plant, it’s a sure bet that it’ll die.

That doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t appreciate a beautiful garden such as this one – and I admire the amount of work it must take to maintain it. I am glad that there are people in this world who love plants and love to arrange and form landscapes where before there was perhaps nothing but dirt.

Just don’t ask me to do yard work if you want your plants to live and thrive!

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY: in 1882, John Ringo, the famous gun-fighting gentleman, was found dead in Turkey Creek Canyon, Arizona.

Romanticized in both life and death, John Ringo was supposedly a Shakespeare-quoting gentleman whose wit was as quick as his gun. Some believed he was college educated, and his sense of honor and courage was sometimes compared to that of a British lord. In truth, Ringo was not a formally educated man, and he came from a struggling working-class Indiana family that gave him few advantages. Yet, he does appear to have been better read than most of his associates, and he clearly cultivated an image as a refined gentleman.

By the time he was 12, Ringo was already a crack shot with either a pistol or rifle. He left home when he was 19, eventually ending up in Texas, where in 1875 he became involved in a local feud known as the “Hoodoo War.” He killed at least two men, but seems to have either escaped prosecution, or when arrested, escaped his jail cell. By 1878, he was described as “one of the most desperate men in the frontier counties” of Texas, and he decided it was time to leave the state.

In 1879, Ringo resurfaced in southeastern Arizona, where he joined the motley ranks of outlaws and gunslingers hanging around the booming mining town of Tombstone. Nicknamed “Dutch,” Ringo had a reputation for being a reserved loner who was dangerous with a gun. He haunted the saloons of Tombstone and was probably an alcoholic. Not long after he arrived, Ringo shot a man dead for refusing to join him in a drink. Somehow, he again managed to avoid imprisonment by temporarily leaving town. He was not involved in the infamous gunfight at the O.K. Corral in 1881, but he did later challenge Doc Holliday (one of the survivors of the O.K. Corral fight) to a shootout. Holliday declined and citizens disarmed both men.

The manner of Ringo’s demise remains something of a mystery. He seems to have become despondent in 1882, perhaps because his family had treated him coldly when he had earlier visited them in San Jose. Witnesses reported that he began drinking even more heavily than usual. On this day in 1882, he was found dead in Turkey Creek Canyon outside of Tombstone. It looked as if Ringo had shot himself in the head and the official ruling was that he had committed suicide. Some believed, however, that he had been murdered either by his drinking friend Frank “Buckskin” Leslie or a young gambler named “Johnny-Behind-the-Deuce.” To complicate matters further, Wyatt Earp later claimed that he had killed Ringo. The truth remains obscure to this day.

TRIVIA FOR TODAY: President James Garfield could write Latin with one hand and Greek with the other hand simultaneously. (Now there’s a skill that’ll really make someone rich, right?!?!?!)

In the beginning…

_MG_2338

Everything here on earth has a beginning, and I suppose that means that some day it will also have an ending – one way or the other. Mighty redwoods spring from a very tiny seed. Great rivers start from somewhere and flow downhill toward the sea.

Today’s photo is one such example. While one would be hard pressed to describe the Jordan River along the eastern edge of Israel and bordering on Jordan to be a “great river”, it, like all rivers, has a beginning.

The Jordan River is big in history, but small in size. I was rather taken-aback by how small the river really is. In my mind, I’d always pictured it being bigger…at least 2-3 times as wide as it really is.

During our recent vacation to Israel, we went to the headwaters of the Jordan. While there are three sources for the river, there is a karst spring from which the majority (about 50%) of the river rises. Today’s photo was taken perhaps 500 yards from that karst spring. It was cold…but beautiful.

_MG_2345

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY: in 1962, Francis Gary Powers, an American who was shot down over the Soviet Union while flying a CIA spy plane in 1960, was released by the Soviets in exchange for the U.S. release of a Russian spy. The exchange concluded one of the most dramatic episodes of the Cold War.

Powers had been a pilot of one of the high altitude U-2 spy planes developed by the United States in the late-1950s. Supposedly invulnerable to any Soviet antiaircraft defense, the U-2s flew numerous missions over Russia, photographing military installations. On May 1, 1960, Powers’ U-2 was shot down by a Soviet missile. Although Powers was supposed to engage the plane’s self-destruct system (and commit suicide with poison furnished by the CIA), he and much of the plane were captured. The United States at first denied involvement with the flight, but had to admit that Powers was working for the U.S. government when the Soviets presented incontrovertible evidence. In retaliation, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev called off a scheduled summit with President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Powers was put on trial, convicted of espionage, and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. In February 1962, the Soviet Union announced that it was freeing Powers because of a petition from the prisoner’s family. American officials made it quite clear, however, that Abel was being exchanged for Powers—a spy-for-a-spy trade, not a humanitarian gesture on the part of the Soviet Union. The U.S. government announced that in exchange for Powers, it would release Col. Rudolf Abel, a Russian convicted of espionage in the United States. On February 10, Abel and Powers were brought to the Gilenicker Bridge that linked East and West Berlin for the exchange. After the men were successfully exchanged, Powers was flown back to the United States.

In an announcement, the Soviet Union declared that its release of Powers was partially motivated by “a desire to improve relations between the Soviet Union and the United States.” U.S. officials were cautious in evaluating the Soviet overture, but did note that the action could certainly help lessen Cold War tensions. The exchange was part of the ongoing diplomatic dance between Khrushchev and President John F. Kennedy. Both men seemed earnestly to desire better relations, and the February 1962 exchange was no doubt part of their efforts. Just a few months later, however, the Cuban Missile Crisis, in which the Soviets helped construct missile bases in Cuba, erased the memory of these diplomatic overtures and brought the two powers to the brink of nuclear conflict.

The recent Tom Hanks movie, Bridge of Spies, was about this prisoner exchange (and was a good movie!!!!)

TRIVIA FOR TODAY: The English word “girl” was initially used to describe a young person of either sex. It was not until the beginning of the sixteenth century that the term was used specifically to describe a female child.

It doesn’t look dead…

_MG_2981

Dead Sea, Israel, January 2016. Camera pointer: Galen Dalrymple.

I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. I’m not really sure what I expected the Dead Sea to look like, but I didn’t expect it to be a spectacular blue color. It looks so inviting and alive, yet you don’t see boats on the water, nor do you see fish jump.

The Dead Sea is also called the Salt Sea. The surface and shore of the sea is 1407 feet below sea level, making it the lowest place on land on the face of the planet. The sea is 997 feet deep, making it the deepest hypersaline body of water on the planet.  The water is 34.2% saline, 9.6 times more salty than the ocean, but it isn’t the saltiest body of water on earth. It is 31 miles long and 9 miles wide at its widest point, but no animals live in it due to the salt and minerals. In has only been recently that I’m told they did discover some bacteria that live in the sea, but that’s it. Nada. Zero. Zilch.

The sea attracts visitors from around the world and around the Mediterranean basin for thousands of years. In the Bible, it is a place of refuge for King David as he flees from King Saul and his envious rage. Herod the Great used it as one of the world’s first health resorts. It has produced as wide variety of products, from asphalt for Egyptian mummification to minerals for fertilizers. The salt and minerals are also used to create cosmetics and herbal products. Because the Dead Sea water has a density of 1.24 kg/liter, it truly takes no effort to float…just squat down into the water, lean back, and stick your hands and feet up in the air and voila…you’re floating effortlessly! (It was fun!)

But, you can’t stay in the water too long or you’ll start to have a burning sensation. If you swallow the water, they warn you to tell someone so you can be treated, or, as one of the signs I saw stated, you could die. It’s not to be messed with, but it was far more beautiful than I ever imagined. I pictured something of a dingy green/brown color, but not this!

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY: in 1942, the largest and most luxurious ocean liner on the seas at that time, France’s Normandie, caught fire while in the process of being converted for military use by the United States.

The Normandie, built in 1931, was the first ship to be constructed in accordance with the guidelines laid down in the 1929 Convention for Safety of Life at Sea. It was also enormous, measuring 1,029 feet long and 119 feet wide and displacing 85,000 tons of water. It offered passengers seven accommodation classes (including the new “tourist” class, as opposed to the old “third” class, commonly known as “steerage”) and 1,975 berths. It took a crew of more than 1,300 to work her. Despite its size, it was also fast: capable of 32.1 knots. The liner was launched in 1932 and made its first transatlantic crossing in 1935. In 1937, it was reconfigured with four-bladed propellers, which meant it could cross the Atlantic in less than four days.

When France surrendered to the Germans in June 1940, and the puppet Vichy regime was installed, the Normandie was in dock at New York City. The Navy immediately placed it in “protective custody,” since the U.S. government did not want a ship of such size and speed to fall into the hands of the Germans, which it certainly would if it returned to France. In November 1941, Time magazine ran an article stating that in the event of the United States’ involvement in the war, the Navy would seize the liner altogether and turn it into an aircraft carrier. It also elaborated on how the design of the ship made such a conversion relatively simple. When the Navy did take control of the ship, shortly after Pearl Harbor, it began the conversion of the liner–but to a troop ship, renamed the USS Lafayette in honor of the French general who aided the American colonies in their original quest for independence.

The Lafayette never served its new purpose, as it caught fire and capsized. Sabotage was originally suspected, but the likely cause was sparks from a welder’s torch. Although the ship was finally righted, the massive salvage operation cost $3,750,000 and the fire damage made any hope of employing the vessel impossible. It was scrapped–literally chopped up for scrap metal–in 1946.

TRIVIA FOR TODAY: In the mountain communities of Appalachia, whole families were reduced to dandelions and blackberries for their basic diet during the Depression. Some children were so hungry, they chewed on their own hands.

At the Base of the Falls

_MG_1539_40_41_tonemapped

Near the town of Helen, Georgia, is an old grist mill named Nora Mills. It dates back to the 1800’s and still grinds meal powered by the flow of water that turns the grinding stones. The falls are not huge, but constant, and the flow of the water is effective.

Lying on the rocks by the base of the water that flows over the dam are some logs. I don’t know how long they have been there. I don’t know what stories they could tell. But I wish I did.

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY: in 1987, a passenger ferry collided with an oil tanker near Manila in the Philippines on this day in 1987, leaving 4,000 people dead. The ferry, the Dona Paz, was severely overcrowded, carrying more than twice its stated capacity, and nearly everyone on board was killed.

Sulpicio Lines owned the 2,215-ton Dona Paz, which was supposed to carry 1,400 passengers among the many islands of the Philippines. On December 20, it was going from Tacloban on Leyte Island to Manila. There was much demand due to the Christmas holidays and the company allowed approximately 4,000 people to board. Passengers shared cots and mats were laid out in the corridors as night fell during the 375-mile journey.

By 10 p.m., many of the ship’s officers were drinking and watching television while an apprentice officer piloted the ship through the busy Tablas Strait, 110 miles south of Manila. Also coming through the strait was the 629-ton tankerVictor, carrying 8,000 barrels of oil to Masbate Island. The two ships collided, for reasons still unknown, and a huge explosion resulted. Both ships sank quickly and although the Don Eusebio arrived on the scene shortly to help, it could only circle the fiery area in vain looking for survivors.

Only 24 survivors were found, half of whom were crew members from the Victor. For the next week, burned or drowned bodies washed ashore up and down Manila Island. President Corazon Aquino called it a “tragedy of harrowing proportions.” The precise number of people on board the Dona Paz is not known, but the best estimate puts the death toll near 4,000. This makes it twice as deadly as the Titanic disaster and the worst maritime tragedy in history.

TRIVIA FOR TODAY: An early version of Google at Stanford could analyze 30-50 pages a second. Currently, it’s millions of pages a second.