Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Just Like My Grandmother's Knitting

Royal Society knitting brochure cover

I hear a backlash brewing against all the hip new knitting books and magazines. Check out "Stop Insulting My Grandmother" from Rosieblogs: The Official Blog of Rosie's Yarn Cellar.

There must be 500 new knitting books being published this Spring. And 475 of them have the word "young," "cool," "hip," or "easy" in the title....We're sick of people claiming that what they do is "not your grandmother's knitting," as if there was something wrong with our grandmother's knitting. Hey, publishers--stop insulting my grandmother....Eve Plotnick and Dorothy Myers were women of skill, patience, resourcefulness, and creativity.

Kim at String or Nothing speaks out with uncharacteristically harsh language in Brain Dead In the Book Aisle.

I detest the majority of knitting books published over the last three years....the attitude, the contents, the presentation...there are intelligent, well-written books out there for beginners. You can usually find them by avoiding key words in the titles....I'm not interested in simple, hip, trendy, urban-gritty, easy, shortcuts, weekend, boxy, cropped, giant-gauge, flash, dummies, or quick.

Clearly, there is a down side to buying for a yarn shop or writing knitters' product reviews: it'll get you all riled up. I don't look at these books or follow magazine trends. I can visit knitters' blogs (for free) if I want to see what the kids are doing these days, but mostly, I look through my grandmother's and mother's knitting leaflets (1930's through 1960's). Socks, sweaters, mittens, and hats--whenever I've moved beyond these basics, the projects have languished unused in a clothes closet (until I unraveled them and put the yarn back into stash storage). The patterns in this "Royal Society" brand brochure would look just as nice now as they did in 1946, when they were published. Notice the price--25 cents. It's actually crossed out in pencil, and "12 cents" is handwritten in. My mom always shopped for bargains.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

More Pocahontas County Links

I turned up these three new and new-to-me links relating to Pocahontas County this week. I thought I'd add them to our collection.

  • The Pocahontas Alternative: Alternative News, Alternative Ideas, Alternative Solutions. This is a brand-new forum, with very few posters so far. Neither the administrator and nor the early participants use their names. Topics range from Pocahontas county photography, household hints, pets, and gardening to David Duke, the Oklahoma City bombers, and preparing for the end of civilization as we know it. It will be interesting to see how this develops.
  • Eight Rivers Safe Development. This is a new Web site concerning the proposed sewage treatment plant at Slatyfork. They describe themselves thus:

    Eight Rivers Safe Development, Inc. is a West Virginia nonprofit corporation organized for charitable and educational purposes. We encourage and advocate the conservation and protection of karst, caves, and karst landscapes, and promote safe development on karst terrains. 8 Rivers is a true grass-roots effort, formed as a coalition of cavers, anglers and conservation/watershed groups who were hastened into action upon learning of an ill-conceived proposal to construct a 1.5 million gallon-per-day sewage treatment plant upon a karst floodplain and trout stream near Slatyfork, Pocahontas County, West Virginia.

  • West Virginia Highlands: The Blog of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. The West Virginia Highlands Conservancy has had a Web presence for several years, and a blog since last September, but I just ran across it the other day. Here's how they describe themselves:

    First coming together in 1965, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy is one of the state's oldest environmental activist organizations. Over the past 40 years, the Highlands Conservancy has continued to be the leader in protecting the natural environment of our state through both defensive and offensive campaigns.....Protecting clean air, clean water, forests, streams, mountains, and the health and welfare of the people that live here, is what the Highlands Conservancy is all about....

    The Highlands Conservancy publishes the Hiking Guide to the Monongahela National Forest. Our monthly newspaper, the Highlands Voice, has been in continuous monthly publication since 1967.

Monday, February 26, 2007

We Pick on the Poor Possum

Possum in the window 1

Our pint-sized possum was quite persistent. We heard him hissing and growling under the house about 4 am Sunday morning, apparently in a dispute with the small skunk that has moved in. Sunday afternoon, he was back in the kitchen window. It was snowing, we were feeling slightly shack-whacky, and this is what happened. We hope to see him only at a distance in the future.

Possum in the window 2 Possum in the window 3 Possum out the window

Some possum links:

  • Animal Facts: Virginia Opossum
  • The Possum Network, where Possum history, culture, and business are discussed with due seriousness.
    Welcome to 'Possum Network, the home page of America's only native Marsupial, the Virginia Opossum. Love a Koala? Dream of seeing a kangaroo some day? Why not take a look at a home grown North American marsupial. These pages chronicle the meeting of man and woman with one of creation's other fine critters - the Virginia Opossum. So, see what John Smith saw before he gazed upon Pocahontas. Learn why Teddy Bears might just be a passing phase. Watch American culture.
  • The National Opossum Society has information and recommendations about possums, their care and feeding.

Sunday, February 25, 2007


Possum in the kitchen window

We thought it would be fun to feed the birds right over the kitchen sink. It doesn't matter where we put the bird seed, though. The mammals find it.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Mothman Prophecies--Folklore In the Making

Book Cover: The Mothman Prophecies

I've been dismantling some sections of my Spice Ridge web pages, and adding other things. I so enjoyed the afterward to The Mothman Prophecies by John Keel, 2001) that I included it in some reviews I'd written of Pocahontas County-related books. It's local connection is tenuous at best, but we do see our share of signs and wonders here. This is Mr. Keel's perspective.

We had begun the 1900s with an unlimited number of beliefs about ourselves and our universe. The world seemed to be a bright and wonderful place. Famed astronomers assured us that Mars was also bustling with life along beautifully engineered canals. Automobiles and flying machines were being perfected. The 20th century was going to be terrific. But, by the end, we were embittered cynics, exhausted by wars and suspicious of mysteries and those who promoted them. The century had become a bloody scam.

For one hundred years, no matter where you lived on this ball of nitrogen, oxygen and cosmic spit, someone within two hundred miles of your home had personally seen a monster with big red eyes and, often, a penetrating stench. They were everywhere, along with the maddened dictators, publicity hungry generals and warlords, and wild-eyed scientists who kept mumbling incomprehensible formulae for manipulating things we could not see. Everyone was clearly nuts and very few of us were left alone to stumble through the forests, swamps and deserts, grimly determined to prove somehow that sanity would ultimately triumph.

We failed. Technology took over and our machines were nuttier than all of us. Our millionaires, who were multiplying like cockroaches, filtered their loot through TV networks, liquor companies, computer whizes and assorted military contractors to try to capture dinosaurs in the Belgian Congo, giant sea serpents in the lochs of Ireland and Scotland, and tall, hairy humanoids in the Pacific Northwest, China, and Russia, along with kangaroos in the Midwest and ghostly demons that mutilated cows and drank blood wherever they could find it. The end result was millions of bucks down the toilet while hundreds of bad movies and even worse TV shows were churned out, along with gigantic stacks of bad books that are still used to prop up tables in poorer communities.

Fortunately, I am of a classier type....When I first visited Point Pleasant in the 1960s and talked to scores of witnesses, I was convinced I was on the track of a very big bird of spectacular size. I have no idea what I would have done if I caught it...or if it had caught me. In later misadventures, I had experiences with numerous demonic forces and in my dotage I am very aware that our entire planet is occupied by things we see only by accident. They seem able to boggle our minds and even control our feeble little brains.

UFOmania is no different from demonomania. My forms of religious and political fanaticism are linked directly to these other manias and to paranoia and schizophrenia. We are meant to be crazy. It is an important part of the human condition. Otherwise there would be no wars, no Hitlers or Napoleons, no Woodrow Derenbergers (and his unfortunate psychiatrist). This planet is haunted by us; the other occupants just evade boredom by filling our skies and seas with monsters. I was clearly meant to blunder into that little town in West Virginia, and learn things that some men have known for centuries but were afraid to ask. I warned Sheriff Johnson and Mary Hyre that this was folklore in the making. (Afterward, New York City, August, 2001.)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Letter Home From Elk Fork, 1861

I ran across this Civil War letter home, written at Elk Fork by a Yankee soldier. AC Blue Eagle has been posting a long series of such letters home. They make fascinating reading. On the way to Missionary Ridge, letters of Pvt. Sam T. Smith, 15th Indiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment "August 28, 1861, Elk Fork Camp, Randolph County, Va."

We have not had a fight yet. I understand that one Company run themselves in danger today but got out safe, I think. I understand that there is a part of General Lee's troops that worked way back between us and Clarksburg to try to cut off our supplies, but we will catch them at it. I now got orders to have my gun in trim tonight as they don't know but what we will have to go out on double quick. If they want anything out of us let them pitch in, we will give the best we have. We have seven pieces of cannon here at this time. There are so many lies in Camp that I don't believe anything I hear. It is the greatest place to manufacture lies that I ever saw. There is some more weary news about going home in Camp this evening, but as for my part, I am easy about it, but I don't think we will come home until the war is over. Lizzie you must be cheerful, hold up your head as though you were not alone. Give my respects to all friends and relation. Tell Joe to be a good boy. No more at present, but remember your husband, Sam T. Smith...

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Land of the Moon-Eyed People

Book Cover: The Mothman Prophecies The Mothman Prophecies by John A. Keel (2002, originally published 1975) is part of Pocahontas County Free Library's "West Virginia and Appalachian Collection, donated by the West Virginia Library Commission and the Hollowell Foundation." The motto on their book plates is "To Know Ourselves." It turns out, knowing ourselves includes taking an interest in X-Files-like paranormalists.

I got a big kick out of this book. John A. Keel is not your average hobbyhorse-riding UFO chaser. He is literate, self-deprecating, and funny. For example, he opens the book with a description of a frightening late-night encounter in Point Pleasant, West Virginia. Eventually he reveals that he himself was the ominous apparition, walking for miles on rainy night, looking for a phone to call a wrecker for his stalled car. Here is how he places the Mothman in a West Virginia context:

The Indians must have known something about West Virginia. They avoided it. Before the Europeans arrived with their glass beads, firewater, and gunpowder, the Indian nations had spread out and divided up the North American continent. Modern anthropologists have worked out maps of the Indian occupancy of pre-Columbian America according to the languages spoken. The Shawnee and Cherokee occupied the lands to the south and southwest. The Monocan settled to the east, and the Erie and Conestoga claimed the areas north of West Virginia. Even the inhospitable deserts of the Far West were divided and occupied. There is only one spot on the map labeld "Uninhabited:" West Virginia.

Why? The West Virginia area is fertile, heavily wooded, rich in game. Why did the Indians avoid it? Was it filled with hairy monsters and frightful apparitions way back when?

Across the river in Ohio, industrious Indians--or someone--built the great mounds and left us a great heritage of Indian culture and lore. The absence of an Indian tradition in West Virginia is troublesome for the researcher. It creates an uncomfortable vacuum. There are strange ancient ruins in the state, circular stone monuments which prove that someone settled the region once. Since the Indians didn't build such monuments, and since we don't even have any lore to fall back on, we have only mystery.

Chief Cornstalk and his Shawnees fought a battle there in the 1760's and Cornstalk is supposed to have put a curse on the area before he fell. But what happened there before? Did someone else live there?

The Cherokees have a tradition, according to Benjamin Smith Barton's New Views of the Origins of the Tribes and Nations of America (1798), that when they migrated to Tennesee they found the region inhabited by a weird race of white people who lived in houses and were apparently quite civilized. They had one problem: their eyes were very large and sensitive to light. They could only see at night. The fierce Indians ran these "mooneyed people" out. Did they move to West Virginia to escape their tormentors? (Chapter 5, section II: pp 53-54.)

Cornstalk's Curse has been offered to me as the explanation of many unfortunate events and conditions in West Virginia, from poor economic conditions to bad weather. Keel seems to be offering it in much the same spirit.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Martian Topographic Map

Martian topo map

I'd love to see these topo maps of Mars. The European Space Agency has produced Martian contour maps:

12 February 2007. Scientists using data from the HRSC experiment onboard ESA's Mars Express spacecraft have produced the first 'hiker's maps' of Mars....The maps are known as topographic maps because they use contour lines to show the heights of the landscape....

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Self and Non-Self

Rafe Colburn's warning to bloggers, Your Permanent Record, spooked me a bit.

...when I'm involved with hiring people...I can find out more...from their blog archives than I can by interviewing them. In interviews, people usually tell the interviewer what they think they want to hear. In other contexts, they are usually less circumspect. When I find I may work with someone, I look for blog posts, messages to mailing lists, comments on blogs, Usenet rants from a decade ago, and anything else I can find. There's more to anyone than their persona on the Internet, but more information is almost always better than less.

Now, I try to be circumspect, but I'm well aware that there are other Rebecca Claytons who are Not Me. At one time, a search for my name on Google returned first an irritating young artist in Oxford who wrote tediously of her favorite drinks at the local coffee shop. She was particularly Not Me. But how can the snoopy prospective employer tell the difference?

These Rebecca Claytons are not me.

These links (and this blog) are me.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Big Brother Will Be Watching Someday

The recent controversy concerning bloggers hired by various presidential candidates has reached even the weblogs I read. Rebecca Blood's "What's In Rebecca's Pocket" directed me to Attack of the Blog Archives by Reid Stot at

...political bloggers “expressing their opinions in provocative and often crude language“ [is] not only counterproductive towards the all-but-dead dream of an Internet that would advance political discussion into a new realm, but also ultimately destructive to their very own partisan cause....Your words...count just as if you’d said them to someone’s face, with the difference that they are archived for a very very long time.

It’s hardly news. But people are still waking up to it....Stipulated, it’s your right to express your political opinions in the harshest manner you can muster, dump ad hominem all over your opponents, and cuss at will. It’s your blog....This is the price. When you can really make a difference, it will come back to bite you...

Stot's points are valid, and his range of blog topics coincides with my interests, but I'm unlikely to return because the post was long, rambling, and repetitious. It read like a promising first draft. This was the same reaction I had to John Edwards' discarded bloggers--too rambling to bother with. These writers have more readers than I by three orders of magnitude, but if I bail out, there must be others. Rebecca Blood's writing is clean to the point of minimalism, and she has shown staying power.

On the same blog link trail, Rafe Colburn's well-written warning about Your permanent record gave me the willies.

....unless you are anonymous, what you blog about will affect your career....Yes, your blog can raise your level of visibility and present you with new opportunities, but it can also foreclose opportunities that might otherwise have been available....

This certainly comes into play when I'm involved with hiring people. I can find out more about anyone from their blog archives than I can by interviewing them. In interviews, people usually tell the interviewer what they think they want to hear. In other contexts, they are usually less circumspect. When I find I may work with someone, I look for blog posts, messages to mailing lists, comments on blogs, Usenet rants from a decade ago, and anything else I can find. There's more to anyone than their persona on the Internet, but more information is almost always better than less.

"Circumspect" is my watchword, but I have commented on troll websites (thinking they were legitimate; the topic "Appalachian culture" seems to bring out the worst in some people), joined hobby and pet Listservs, and let slip a few personal details. A few months ago I blogged about my newest part-time job, and within hours got emails from my new boss and the university IT department. I had said that I was pleased to be working there, and that refreshments at the Faculty Development Day were outstanding. If I'd known they were watching, I would have emphasized intellectual matters and downplayed gastronomic matters.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Denmar's 90th Anniversary

West Virginia Colored Tuberculosis Sanitarium

On this day in West Virginia history: It's the 90th anniversary of Denmar Sanitarium, now a prison. The West Virginia Colored Tuberculosis Sanitarium was established on February 16, 1917. The West Virginia Board of Control purchased 185 acres of land and several buildings at Denmar in Pocahontas County, and the facility opened in January 1919. Through its various incarnations, many people from our end of the county have been employed here, and there is a body of stories about ghosts on the premises.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Febuary 14, 2007 on Droop Mountain

Valentine's Day Ice storm on Droop Mountain, 2007

The sun came out for a few minutes yesterday afternoon--not really long enough to compose a photograph.

Barbara Ellen of Big Ridge

While searching for something else, I found this interesting article: "Beyond the Mountains": The Paradox of Women's Place in Appalachian History by Barbara Ellen Smith, 1999 (from NWSA Journal Volume 11, Number 3). Smith's prose sometimes lurches about in that academic code-talking style,

[T]he history of women in Appalachia has only begun to be written. Those who make the attempt must come to terms with implicitly gendered constructions of Appalachia and narratives of regional history that feature men as the determinant actors....
but she always recovers, and tells engaging stories of her family and how it informs her studies in Appalachian women's history. I expect the following passage will send you on to read the complete article. Big Ridge is continuous with Pocahontas County's Allegheny Mountain.

I have a faded color photograph of my grandmother, Lelia Belle Fridley Smith. She is standing at the side of the dirt road on the summit of Big Ridge, an ancient mountain that lies on the present border between West Virginia and Virginia, where she and my grandfather settled in 1913. She is gazing east over a panorama of ridges, which are incandescent with fall. Her face is turned away from the camera.

The plain wool scarf, knotted under her chin, her dark sweater and long skirt, the high cheek bones that jut out from the partial profile of her thin face--all mark her as a "mountain woman" from an earlier era. She bore and raised eight children in log cabins and frame houses that never had running water; hoed 50 years of successive plantings of corn on steep mountain hillsides; raised gardens of tomatoes, cabbage, peas, and endless varieties of beans; and used a shotgun to kill the copperheads and rattlesnakes that lurked in the dark corners of the barn and sunned themselves near the blackberry patch. Her dinner table groaned with the bounty that her tending produced.

I remember her as a shy person; even with children, she was quiet to the point of awkwardness. I cannot remember the sound of her voice, or a single word she ever spoke to me. Maybe that is why I have invested her with so many of my own feelings and thoughts. As I gaze at her gazing out over the mountains, I imagine that this rare moment of leisure, when she can enjoy the beauty of the mountains rather than work their soil for a living, brings her pleasure and contentment. As I look at the undulating ridges in front of her, I feel a sweet yearning--for home, for the mountains, for what I imagine her life to have been.

One day I was looking at this picture with my father. He interrupted my sentimental reflections. "She was all the time looking beyond the mountains," he mused to himself. "Big Ridge was like a prison for her; she wanted to see the rest of the world."

...[T]his is a cautionary essay about unquiet women....Nothing I set down on paper seems authentic; nothing captures their experiences, although they are certainly Appalachian women. There is no established historiographic tradition, no "literature review" in which their lives may be interpreted....These women have been dead for anywhere from eight years to more than a century, but they haunt me now.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

1924 Valentine's Day Party, Prescott, Iowa

These children's Valentines were in a box of my mother's handkerchiefs, along with some holiday postcards, dated 1922 to 1926. She attended country school near Prescott, Iowa during that time. Happy Valentine's Day!

1924 children's Valentine, front 1924 children's Valentine, back another 1924 children's Valentine, front another 1924 children's Valentine, back

Steel Cut Oats: Experimental Results and Literature Search

I couldn't remember yesterday morning how much water to put in my oat groats. Is it three parts water to one part oats, or four parts water? My experimental results indicate the optimal ratio is somewhere in between. Below are some links I collected in my before-breakfast Internet search. For the record, I microwaved my oat groats in a mixing bowl, two cups of water to one half cup groats. The authorities below would probably all scoff at the microwave, but I get good results on all my long-cooking porridge mixtures thus: microwave (in an oversize bowl) on full power for two minutes, let porridge stand for two minutes; repeat until you achieve the desired consistency. I do this while wandering in and out of the kitchen getting ready for work, or while drinking my tea and tidying up.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Self-Patterned Socks In the Snow

Striped sock in progress

I don't buy self-patterning yarn. Why should the yarn designer have all the fun? I pattern my own socks, thank you very much. However, my wonderfully-named friend Merrily bought this "Froehlich Wolle Blauband MaxiRingel" sock yarn, and mailed it from Michigan on her grand tour of the West. It's quite delightful, and I never would have thought to put a coral stripe in this violet medley. Unfortunately, the yarn is discontinued. Note to self: use more discordant colors in Fair Isle socks.

Froehlich Wolle used for socks

Monday, February 12, 2007

History of Carbohydrate Chemistry

In my continuing search for materials on the history of chemistry, I've been browsing the Web for carbohydrate chemistry. Here are some good sources. Reading about "how they came to know that" seems to help me understand and remember this material, which was always less than intuitive for me.

  • Web Articles by Edwin Thall including several good history of chemistry topics. I found this set of articles via Stereochemistry, Thall's discussion of three-dimensional organic chemistry, and how "they figured it out."
  • Chemical Heritage Foundation has extensive history of chemistry resources.
    CHF maintains a world-class collection of materials that document the history and heritage of the chemical and molecular sciences, technologies, and industries; encourages research in CHF collections; and carries out a program of outreach and interpretation in order to advance an understanding of the role of the chemical and molecular sciences, technologies, and industries in shaping society.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Stranger With a Camera

Here are a couple more quotes dealing with the issue of cultural stereotypes and Appalachia. Please note that Shelby Lee Adams uses his family ties to Hobart Ison as a reassurance to Lecher County residents that he is "one of them," and not exploiting them. I am somewhat less convinced by this credential, as people often exploit their own. However, Ison and Adams have a lot to show us about the conflict between the "from here" and "come here" Appalachians.

"Appalachia, Democracy, and Cultural Equity" by Dudley Cocke of Appalshop's Roadside Theater
A story points to how confusing poverty is to those who are poor and those who try to empathize with it....As part of the national media's coverage of...[Johnson's War on Poverty], CBS produced "Christmas in Appalachia." Charles Kuralt narrated: "Up on the hill is the Pert Creek School. And up there on this one day is the only sign in this hollow that it is Christmas in Appalachia." The camera cut to half a dozen kids gathered around a coal stove singing "Silent Night." After the broadcast, a little town in Virginia named Appalachia received so many pairs of shoes, simply addressed to "Appalachia, U.S.A.," that....a shoe-burning party was proclaimed by City Council.

The events covered in Stranger With a Camera, 2000 deal with the results of such well-intentioned attention.

....On September 24, 1968, a Lecher County, Kentucky landowner, Hobart Ison, shot and killed National Film Board of Canada director Hugh O'Connor for filming a poor family on his land....filmmaker [Elizabeth] Barret uses...this incident to raise troubling ethical questions about identity, balance and media exploitation which no journalist...can afford to ignore.

Poverty was not new to Eastern Kentucky in 1968; absentee mine ownership, mechanization, unemployment, strip mining, decaying company towns had left more than half the population living below the poverty line. But it was the politically charged atmosphere of America in the 1960s that transformed these creeks and hollows into symbols of persistent poverty, a standing rebuke to the American Dream. Barret traces how a courageous expose by a local lawyer, Harry Caudill, generated front page articles in the New York Times, a BBC documentary and Charles Kuralt's classic documentary, Christmas in Appalachia....

Many locals agreed with Ison that the issue wasn't poverty but the right of outsiders to holdup another people's culture. Ultimately Ison served only a year in jail for his crime. In the 60's Ison's argument about outside agitators was already familiar in the South from White Citizens Councils attacks on the Civil Rights Movement. Today it resonates strangely with certain strands of post-modern cultural criticism....

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Little Sockprints in the Snow

Completed socks in the snow

Here's evidence that I occasionally complete a knitting project. The pattern is "Little Wave" from Barbara G. Walker's Second Treasury of Knitting Designs. It's a good sock choice, as it draws up slightly, and stretches well. I'm not sure why I felt compelled to rush outside and photograph the socks in the snow on our tractor, but here it is.

sock pattern close-up: Barbara Walker's Little Wave pattern

Friday, February 09, 2007

Shelby Lee Adams' Photographs

I love to look at old black and white photographs. I'm not fussy--Ansel Adams is great, but I also like the work of unknown portrait makers showing people in their yards, their porches, or their coffins. Some time ago, I started to write a short essay on Shelby Lee Adams's work for my Appalachia collection, and just bogged down with it. I still can't decide what I think of his work. In composition, and in the use of contrast, the photographs are beautiful. I don't find his portrait subjects all that disturbing, but I grew up on a farm in Iowa, where hog butchering, woodsheds, satellite dishes, and outhouses were routine, and I wasn't raised to ignore the poor, the handicapped, or the infirm, either.

Adams' photographs feature all these subjects in rural Kentucky. While he protests that these people are his friends and relatives, he only "summers" in the Appalachians. When he returns to his Massachusetts studio, he has to understand that his suburban gallery-go-ers will gawk at these pictures like a fatal car crash. "My God! The poverty, the deformity, the white trash! How much for a print?"

He's making money and a career off the hillbilly stereotype, like so many others (including James Dickey and John Fox, Jr.) have before him. I'm not sure what I think of that, but God help me, I like many of the pictures. You can see some at these links, and also read other reviewers' anguished musings about what it all means.

  • Shelby Lee Adams Gallery photos
  • More gallery photos, with Adams' CV & bio
  • Shelby Lee Adams, Gallery Exibition
  • Another gallery, another exhibition
  • another one yet
  • 2002 review: "I do not see poverty in my pictures:"
    Are Shelby Lee Adams's documentary stills of rural Kentucky insightful or exploitative? Sarah Milroy talks to the photographer, who is himself tormented by contradiction.
  • From: Appalachian Books Summer 1998 Releases: Appalachian Legacy: Photographs by Shelby Lee Adams. Oxford: University of Mississippi Press, 1998.
    The author's autobiographical essay and his explanation of his rationale for creating this disturbing book are both interesting. Adams grew up in rural Letcher County, Kentucky, and ironically Hobart Ison who shot and killed a Canadian photographer there in 1967, when Adams was a senior in high school, was his cousin. Adams claims he is interested in the last remnants of traditional mountain people, but he has obviously chosen for this book a disproportionate number of traditional people who happen to have physical and mental abnormalities. They sometimes appear especially grotesque the way Adams has configured the pictures. Thus, despite the title and despite the fact that several of the pictures here are outstanding, this is not a book about Appalachia. Instead, too much of it is simply a book which serves merely to reinforce the worst stereotypes of the region as a whole. As part of a larger collection of all kinds of regional photography, this book may serve an artistic or sociological purpose....
  • The holler dwellers: The photographs of Shelby Lee Adams' Appalachia are so honest, they make you wince" by Christina Rees (Dec 3, 1998).

    ....We're more likely to look to third-world countries for signs of gross poverty or archaic society than we are to search our own back yard....To most of us urbanites, Appalachia's impression was sealed in celluloid in 1972....Part black-and-white documentation, part haunting artistic vision, Adams' photos go beyond the call of duty on either end....National Geographic meets Diane Arbus, On the Road with David Lynch instead of Charles Kuralt.

    ...most viewers will likely forget they're even looking at stunningly composed photographs. They're too busy marveling at what they reveal: a legacy of rural tradition anchored in welfare, alcohol, coal mining, religion, and questionably extended families....We are outside looking in, and though we try, we can't quite grasp what separates these people from the rest of us. We can't fathom that it's because we own computers and fast cars and work in office buildings, and they handle snakes in church and slaughter hogs and use outhouses. Sure, theirs is an evaporating culture in a fast-homogenizing world, but you can see in those eyes, those knowing, challenging gazes, that their mixed fate is rooted far deeper than the material, far past their lack of college education and paltry paychecks. That Adams' photos can hint at the complexity of this buried mountain culture without exploiting its people is the second part of his art.

    ....It's difficult to neatly package an emotional response to this work. The sensationalist in us wants to know all the dirt, to find affirmation in our suspicion of the subjects' depravity. The humanitarian in us wants to suspend judgment and study the photos as art and fact. Devil on the left shoulder, angel on the right. In the end, our projected criticism may say more about us than about them--Adams' endangered holler dwellers. And we can only hope that if someone photographed us in our natural environment, our eyes could meet the camera with the same soulful honesty, the same beautiful truth.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Sewing, Linux and Social Bookmarking banner

I've been trying to understand Web 2.0, and social networking. Really, I have. For me, Technorati, Digg, and other hip sites just aren't very interesting. I keep checking back every few months, though. Last week I made my first interesting discovery using the social bookmarking tool You'll see by my sidebar that I like Linux and sewing. Here's a website relevant to both topics: patterns for Tux

Welcome to the free-penguin project page. This project provides 'executables' that enable you to make your own soft-toy Linux® penguin.

Hardware Requirements: First research efforts have shown that at least a needle, a long thread, black and white plushy fabric as well as yellow textile are necessary. Other assets that might be needful are thimbles, more thread and scissors. Warning: Before you start, make sure that you know what you are doing. Doing things on a trial-and-error basis in the fields we are dealing with here can do a lot of harm.

And they have a blog! Will this sew a button back on my Mozilla toolbar? Only time will tell.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Poetry, Newton, and Alchemy

Here are some excerpts from an interview on Newton's alchemy with historian Bill Newman, who has some interesting things to say about alchemy, poetry, and riddles. It's no wonder alchemy interested both John Donne and Isaac Newton.

[A]lchemy has been portrayed as the epitome of irrationality and a sort of avaricious folly....But we now know that most of the great minds of the [seventeenth and eighteenth centuries] were involved in alchemy, including Robert Boyle, John Locke, Leibniz, any number of others....[Alchemy] became legal during Newton's time. But why was it illegal? There's a long association, for good reasons, between alchemy and counterfeiting.

....[Newton] thought that alchemy promised tremendous control over the natural world. It would allow you to transmute virtually anything into anything else, not just lead into gold. There are other things, too, that probably were in Newton's mind. For example, alchemists realized that if the philosophers' stone were real and it got out to the public, it would ruin the gold standard.

....[T]his was the enigmatic language of alchemy. I mean "enigmatic" in a quite strict sense: it was a riddling language. The best way to look at these metaphors is in the light of riddles....the "menstrual blood of the sordid whore" is decipherable. It means simply the metalline form of antimony. That is the "menstrual blood" that's extracted from the "sordid whore," which is the ore of antimony.

It is a code, and it's clear that the alchemists delighted in this code. It's almost a form of poetry. In fact, lots of alchemists wrote in the form of poetry, quite literally.

....Newton was reading alchemists over a period of time, ranging over perhaps a thousand years, and there was a lot of development in these treatises. But Newton generally thinks they're all saying the same thing, so that's a problem....he was weaving together extracts from different authors, trying to make sense out of them. I think alchemy was the ultimate riddle. Newton delighted in riddles, and this provided a challenge to him that he just couldn't resist.

My inevitable list of links:

  • The Alchemy Website. A broad range of articles, illustrations, and essays on the many meanings of alchemy.
  • An interview on Newton's alchemy with historian Bill Newman. Part of Newton's Dark Secrets PBS (November 15, 2005)
  • Book Cover: Isaac Newton Isaac Newton by James Gleick (2003) is an excellent biography of Sir Isaac Newton. I had previously read quite a bit about Newton, but I couldn't seem to form a mental image of the man or his environment. Gleick interweaves the scant Newtonian biographical material with the political, economic, and science history.
  • James Gleick has a very interesting internet site,, where he archives some essays, reviews, and an ecclectic collection of links. It hasn't been updated recently, but there's plenty here to amuse and instruct.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Chemistry Lessons and John Donne

I'm preparing another chemistry lecture, and I keep coming back to John Donne. It may seem strange, but it's all connected in my head. I suspected the Bridgid in Cyberspace celebrants might find the final couplet of Donne poem Love's Alchemy a little, well, misogynistic, so I went with a The Relic (equally strange and blasphemous in its own way). But my reading lately has included some history of chemistry, including its early roots in alchemy. Here's Donne's chemistry connection:

Some that have deeper digg'd love's mine than I,
Say, where his centric happiness doth lie.
        I have loved, and got, and told,
But should I love, get, tell, till I were old,
I should not find that hidden mystery.
        O! 'tis imposture all ;
And as no chemic yet th' elixir got,
        But glorifies his pregnant pot,
        If by the way to him befall
Some odoriferous thing, or medicinal,
    So, lovers dream a rich and long delight,
    But get a winter-seeming summer's night.

Our ease, our thrift, our honour, and our day,
Shall we for this vain bubble's shadow pay?
        Ends love in this, that my man
Can be as happy as I can, if he can
Endure the short scorn of a bridegroom's play?
        That loving wretch that swears,
'Tis not the bodies marry, but the minds,
        Which he in her angelic finds,
        Would swear as justly, that he hears,
In that day's rude hoarse minstrelsy, the spheres.
    Hope not for mind in women ; at their best,
    Sweetness and wit they are, but mummy, possess'd.

Here's my usual list of links:

Monday, February 05, 2007

Sweatshirt Patterns--Finding a Favorite

Kwiksew book cover: Sweatshirts Unlimited

Last week I started a developing favorite sweatshirt pattern. I had purchased Kwiksew's Sweatshirts Unlimited because I liked their "Beautiful Lingerie" book, and the company Web site's blurb promised:

The Master Pattern included in this book is for a sweatshirt in eight different sizes....The book includes unlimited variations for necklines, hems, sleeve finishes, design changes, decorative finishes and much more. With the help of this book, you can design a sweatshirt for any occasion from sporty to a dressier look.

This sweatshirt book was published in 1989, at the height of the Dreadfully Oversized Women's Wear Epoch, so the photos may distress the fashion-conscious. However, there is a nice size range, from finished chest measurements of 35 inches to 56 inches, and there are many neckline, sleeve, pocket, and bottom-edge variations, as well as a substantial section on "design changes." The design changes include yokes, elaborate fabric inserts, and many surface embellishment techniques. It cost about as much as three regular patterns, and I think it was a good buy.

I handled the oversized styling issue by guessing how much wearing ease I would like. About four inches works well for me for loose-fitting knit clothes; the patterns as written allow eight inches. I copied the pattern in my best size guess, cut up an old sweatshirt (from the same Dreadfully Oversized Epoch) as a first test, and found the fit through the body about right. The shoulders were still too big for my taste, so I took out some of that fullness, and got a good fit in my second trial, using $1.50-a-yard sweatshirt fleece. Now that the fit is worked out, I can have fun experimenting with some of the design variations.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

J.J. Thomson's Experiments--At Last, I See!

When I was an undergraduate student, I believed my chemistry and physics professors hated me. I was a biological sciences major, and had to take large lecture sections with the 200-300 pre-med and pre-vet students. They were no fun as classmates. ("Will this be on the test?" they whined; later, as an instructor, I heard a pre-med choral whine of "My daddy will sue you for giving me a C.") As a student, it was almost impossible for me to ask a question in lecture, and I never got a civil (let alone helpful) answer from a chemistry or physics professor in the three years I spent in those departments.

This was in sharp contrast to my experiences in all my other classes, from Chaucer to calculus to microbiology. Of course, I graduated loving Chaucer, and statistics, and botany....and hating chemistry. Of course, every science job I ever had after grad school was in biochemistry.

Now I'm teaching a college-level chemistry class, and having flashbacks to the seventies as I prepare lectures. I'm current on DNA, but haven't thought about electron shells, subshells, and orbitals much lately. That's how I got curious about John Thomson's nineteenth century experiments on subatomic particles and electromagnetic charges. My chemistry students were supposed to work through a little computer simulation on "how we discovered the mass of the electron," but we couldn't make it "come out right." When I did this in physics lab in 1976, with equipment old enough to have been original to Thomson's lab, we got the same non-result. I couldn't make sense of it then, but I was determined to figure it out this time. That's how I came to find these excellent links. There are some amazing student resources available now. I'm a bit jealous.

Friday, February 02, 2007

St Bridgid's Day Poetry Reading

Last year Reya threw a poetry reading in honor of St. Brigid. This year, Deborah Oak is hosting the event. I find I'm reading much the same poetry as last year--for me, midwinter is John Donne season. Part of it is his surprising use of science language and imagery.

Moving of th' earth brings harms and fears;
    Men reckon what it did, and meant;
But trepidation of the spheres, 
    Though greater far, is innocent. 

Dull sublunary lovers' love 
    --Whose soul is sense--cannot admit 
Of absence, 'cause it doth remove
    The thing which elemented it.  
Part of it is the mingling of the profane and the divine. I keep coming back to "The Anniversaries." They are too long for a poetry reading, and I can't seem to excerpt, so here is a shorter, strange musing, "The Relic" by John Donne.

            When my grave is broke up again
            Some second guest to entertain,
            --For graves have learn'd that woman-head,
            To be to more than one a bed--
                And he that digs it, spies
A bracelet of bright hair about the bone,
                Will he not let us alone,
And think that there a loving couple lies,
Who thought that this device might be some way
To make their souls at the last busy day
Meet at this grave, and make a little stay?

            If this fall in a time, or land,
            Where mass-devotion doth command,
            Then he that digs us up will bring
            Us to the bishop or the king,
                To make us relics; then
Thou shalt be a Mary Magdalen, and I
                A something else thereby;
All women shall adore us, and some men.
And, since at such time miracles are sought,
I would have that age by this paper taught
What miracles we harmless lovers wrought.

            First we loved well and faithfully,
            Yet knew not what we loved, nor why;
            Difference of sex we never knew,
            No more than guardian angels do;
                Coming and going we
Perchance might kiss, but not between those meals;
                Our hands ne'er touch'd the seals,
Which nature, injured by late law, sets free.
These miracles we did ; but now alas!
All measure, and all language, I should pass,
Should I tell what a miracle she was.