Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time. Thomas Merton

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Stardust, the LHC, and Walt Whitman

We are stardust, we are golden,
We are billion year old carbon

Today at CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC) near Geneva, Switzerland, experiments were conducted in hopes of answering unresolved questions in particle physics which could yield clues to the nature of the early Universe.

Recipe for a Universe

from CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research

Take a massive explosion to create plenty of stardust and a raging heat. Simmer for an eternity in a background of cosmic microwaves. Let the ingredients congeal and leave to cool and serve cold with cultures of tiny organisms 13.7 billion years later.

To understand the basic ingredients and the ‘cooking conditions’ of the cosmos, from the beginning of time to the present day, particle physicists have to try and reverse-engineer the ‘dish’ of the Universe. Within the complex concoction, cryptic clues hide the instructions for the cosmic recipe.
Slowly simmer.

Space, time, matter... everything originated in the Big Bang, an incommensurably huge explosion that happened 13.7 billion years ago. The Universe was then incredibly hot and dense but only a few moments after, as it started to cool down, the conditions were just right to give rise to the building blocks of matter – in particular, the quarks and electrons of which we are all made. A few millionths of a second later, quarks aggregated to produce protons and neutrons, which in turn were bundled into nuclei three minutes later.

Then, as the Universe continued to expand and cool, things began to happen more slowly. It took 380,000 years for the electrons to be trapped in orbits around nuclei, forming the first atoms. These were mainly helium and hydrogen, which are still by far the most abundant elements in the Universe.

Another 1.6 million years later, gravity began to take control as clouds of gas began to form stars and galaxies. Since then heavier atoms, such as carbon, oxygen and iron, of which we are all made, have been continuously ‘cooked’ in the hearts of the stars and stirred in with the rest of the Universe each time a star comes to a spectacular end as a supernova.

When I heard the Learn’d Astronomer

WHEN I heard the learn’d astronomer; When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

Walt Whitman (1819–1892). Leaves of Grass. 1900.

We are stardust, we are golden,
We are billion year old carbon,
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.

Hubble Space Telescope photos:

"Woodstock" words and music by Joni Mitchell, performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young

When I heard the Learn’d Astronomer:

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Palm Sunday

Giotto di Bondone
No. 26 Scenes from the Life of Christ: 10. Entry into Jerusalem 1304-06
Fresco, 200 x 185 cm
Cappella Scrovegni (Arena Chapel), Padua
(Web Gallery of Art

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Scenic North Alabama: Wheeler Dam

What a nice day. We decide to head west on US Hwy 72 and see where we end up. Eventually, we find ourselves at the Tennessee Valley Authority's Wheeler Dam near Rogersville, Alabama. Here are some photos. Click on them for enlargements.

TVA was created in 1933 to improve navigation, control flooding, provide electricity through the generation of hydroelectric power, and improve economic development in the Tennessee Valley, a region that was one of the most economically depressed in the country. A total of 50 dams have been built along the Tennessee River and its tributaries from Knoxville to the Ohio River. Construction on Wheeler Dam began in 1933 and it was completed in 1936. The dam impounds the Wheeler Lake of 67,070 acres and its tailwaters feed into Wilson Lake. The Wheeler Reservoir above the dam stretches 74 miles east to Guntersville Dam. Fifteen miles downstream from Wheeler Dam is Wilson Dam at Florence and Muscle Shoals. Wheeler Dam is named for Civil War general Joseph "Joe" Wheeler, who later became a U.S. Congressman.

South end of the dam from the overlook parking lot

Sign at south end of dam

About to drive across the dam

Entrance to one of the locks at the north end of the dam

Another view of the locks looking south

Sign showing the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) dam system on the Tennessee River (Wheeler Dam is in the lower left portion). Unfortunately, the sign has been embellished with graffiti.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Lesser Green Broadbill at Lincoln Park Zoo (

Thursday, March 11, 2010

And the Winner Is...


Congratulations go to Lobug for being the winner of the drawing to celebrate my 100th blog post. The prize is still a mystery, so you are in for a surprise. I promise to get it to you as soon as possible, but it could be a few weeks, depending on what I decide to make.

Thanks to everyone who commented. I really appreciate hearing from all of you. Lets all keep up blogging, reading our favorites, checking out new ones, and having fun.

And to Lobug, thanks for the mailing information.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Attack of the Kidney Stones

Well, it happened again. About 4:30 this afternoon, I started having some back pain in the area around my right kidney. It wasn't long before I began having pain in my right side and abdomen along with the back pain. Within fifteen minutes I was in excruciating pain, having difficulty breathing, beginning to experience some signs of physical shock (nausea, cold hands and feet, chills), so I decided a trip to the ER was in order. Usually when I have a kidney stone, I manage to get to the doctor's office where they "disappear" before they can show up on CT scans or X-rays and the diagnosis is "probable kidney stone." This time we caught the rascal. A small stone showed up on the scan. It has found a comfortable place for now, so I'm not having any pain--just very tired and sore and waiting for it to leave through the customary route.

This isn't much fun. Truly, I'd rather have babies with no anesthesia (been there, done that). Kidney stones are much more painful.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Sundog Sequence

We spotted a sundog while driving home from Scottsboro the other day (2/26/10). It was late in the afternoon and the sun was setting. I'd told my son to be on the lookout and, luckily, one was spotted. It started out as just a small bright spot, but as the sun got lower in the sky, the sundog became larger and the colors more intense. Finally, the sun became too low in the sky and the sundog faded. We had the camera with us, so my son did photographic duty while I drove.

Here you see the setting sun to the far right and the sundog at the far left.

In a short time, it had increased in size and intensity.

My son zoomed in and got a little better shot of the colors.

After a short time the colors began to fade.

Zooming in for a last look a little closer, you can see how much the colors have faded and the sundog has stretched out.

It was a real treat for the end of the day.

Contest Update

In case you're all thinking I've forgotten, I just wanted to let you know that I hope to have the drawing for the 100th Post Contest this weekend and should be letting you know who the winner is in the next couple of days.

I'm still not sure what the prize is going to be. The famous mystery prize. It is possible that my inspiration will be derived from the identity of the winner. Or I might have some totally random whim and whip up something from that. Your guess is as good as mine. I have been thinking about the prize since I first decided to do a contest, but nothing has really just jumped out at me as what to make. Because I do a lot of spinning and knitting and haven't had much time to do any papier mache or paper making these past few months, I've been thinking that this gives me an opportunity to consider more possibilities in the paper realm. Hmm. We'll see.

In the meantime, possibilities include, but are not limited to, handspun yarn; a small knitted or crocheted object; something made from papier mache--bowl, jar, mask, a critter of the real or imaginary variety, etc.; a journal or scrapbook made from handmade paper; something sewn by hand or machine such as a needle case, book cover, small purse or evening bag, eyeglass case, tote bag, etc.; anything else that might pop into my mind.

In the meantime, I have my thinking cap on and continue to consider what to make.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Scenic North Alabama - Ditto Landing

Mist on the water at Ditto Landing (made with my cell phone from the car last summer)

Monday, March 1, 2010

Well Digging

Here is an old newspaper article that my son scanned for me. If you'd like to read the article, just click on the photo.

This article ran in the Memphis Commercial Appeal in the spring of 1985 when I was a graduate student in archaeology at the University of Memphis (Memphis State University, MSU, back when I was there). The project was being conducted in conjunction with a renovation of the Falls Building and Gerber Annex on Front Street. The project was very low budget and almost all of us worked as volunteers. Sometimes some of us would work on the project all day and others were able to go downtown and work for a few hours between classes. A 19th-century brick-lined well found on the north side of the building under the Gerber Annex portion of the renovation project was the object of all our attention. A saloon had also been located nearby and it's owner probably used the water from the well. Eventually the well became a trash dump and was filled in at some point when it was no longer useful as a source of water. The firm that was financing the renovation and the archaeological project hoped that we would be able to recover "museum quality" artifacts from the well in order to display them in the lobby of the Falls Building in a permanent exhibit documenting the history of the building once the remodeling was done.

We found many interesting objects that had been thrown down the well during the years before it was filled in. We had no idea how deep the well might be, but eventually the excavation ran to a depth of 37 feet (or about 12 meters) before hitting subsoil. A few of the things we pulled up out of the long-forgotten well included both broken and whole wine and beer bottles, some with corks still intact and alcoholic contents inside; fragments of various types of ceramics typical of a saloon and dining establishment (plates, bowls, other fragments of tableware, crockery, a basin and ewer/pitcher); a few coins; lots of fruit seeds--peach pits, grape seeds, watermelon seeds; a small wooden barrel; bits of newspapers from the 1800's; and a burlap bag containing the bones of a cat that had been thrown into the well to drown. It was an interesting, wet, and nasty project.

We had to water screen every bucketful of material that was hauled out of the well. Needless to say, with all the construction going on and the well being located in the huge foundation pit excavated for the renovation, there was plenty of mud and the combination of our water screening and the construction excavation resulted in very muddy archaeologists--not really out of the ordinary for us guys, but many of the usual downtown Memphis business folk who would stop by to watch seemed entertained by our muddy appearance. As the days passed, the work got much dirtier--and our appearance more humorous.

It seemed that we struck oil at what turned out to be about halfway down the well. The water that we were hauling up in the buckets began to take on an oily look that got worse the deeper we went. Eventually, artifacts and archaeologists alike were covered in black, oily goo. Memphis underwent several bouts of yellow fever in the 1800's: 1828, 1855, 1867, and the worst in the 1870s. Apparently, oil was poured down the well during at least one of the epidemics to try to prevent mosquitoes, carriers of the disease, from breeding in the water. I do not know if we were ever able to find out when or how many times this might have been done, but it would certainly render the water undrinkable. The resulting bog-like environment allowed excellent preservation of organic material. Wood, fabric, newspaper, bones (not just those of the poor drowned cat, but chicken, pork, and other meat products that might have been served at the saloon), and the many different kinds of seeds were all in excellent condition. However, it made made water screening a really messy process. As artifacts were placed on the screens and hosed off, the droplets of overspray were not just muddy and wet, but black and oily as well. We had a few rainsuits to share to try to stay as clean and dry as possible, especially on those days when we had to go back to campus for classes, but it didn't help much.

Our efforts didn't yield much in the way of "museum quality" artifacts. After all these years, with no copy of the site report, I do not remember if we ever figured out when the well was originally dug or filled in, nor do I remember much about the dates of any of the artifacts recovered other than their being 19th century. I do remember one of the bits of newspaper from the very lowest levels of the well had a partial date of June (??) [I've forgotten the exact day, but it seems like it was sometime mid-month], 182(?)--the last digit of the year was missing. I seem to recall that our principle investigator was able to trace the date through the newspaper archives to 1823 or 1824, which would predate the first yellow fever epidemic and mean that there was a good likelihood that the well was constructed before the early 1820's newspaper was printed. Of course, it is possible that some of the newspaper could have been tossed in later as trash from years past after a good house cleaning or that perhaps it was old newspaper which was discarded after having been used to wrap a object. Maybe the object itself was thrown in, too. Any artifacts that were more recent than the 1820-something date would tell us that the well was not filled in until sometime after the years of their manufacture.

One of these days on a trip to Memphis, maybe I'll make time to visit the Falls Building to see if the exhibit is still in the lobby and see what conclusions were finally reached. In the meantime, I think of hot summer evenings of an older time in Memphis with folks wandering past the well, spitting their watermelon seeds, peach pits, and grape seeds in (probably even while it was a water source), of both local folks and travelers enjoying food, spirits, and tales at the saloon, and an old Mother Goose rhyme about unfortunate cat.

Ding dong bell
Pussy's in the well
Who put her in?
Little Johnny Green
Who pulled her out?
Little Tommy Stout
What a naughty boy was that
Try to drown poor Pussycat,
Who ne'er did him any harm
But killed all the mice
In the farmer's barn!

Gulf Shores Sea Oats

I found this picture as I was going through the many photos I made during my several trips to the Gulf last year. I really like sea oats. Because of the need to protect them from erosion, there aren't a lot of areas where there is access to large areas of them, so I don't get many chances to photograph them. I made this while at Gulf Shores State Park one day. I thought it was a good example of "Art in the Wind" because of the gentle rhythm of the sea oats as they swayed in the ocean breeze. I think I'd really like to be there now, since the weather forecast for the Huntsville area tonight and tomorrow is rain with some snow.