Imagine millions of tiny prisms in the sky refracting moonlight on a cool night, just for you. That’s exactly what happens when you look up and see a ring or “halo” around the moon. The prisms in this case are millions of tiny hexagonal-shaped ice crystals in cirrus clouds 20,000 feet in the sky. The six-sided crystals are splitting the light and bending it toward your eyes- your eyes in particular because no one sees exactly the same lunar halo created by the same ice crystals. Each lunar halo is unique to each observer. In folklore a halo around the moon meant that rain was on the way- "Ring around the moon, rain is coming soon," which may be true because high cirrus clouds often lead a storm front. Enjoy a time-lapse video below I made of a lunar halo on June 27th in Hamilton, Ala.
On June 26, 1870 the German composer Richard Wagner’s opera Die Walküre premiered in Munich, Germany at the National Theater. Die Walküre is most famously known for a prelude called "The Ride of the Valkyries." Die Walküre is part of a larger body of operas known as The Ring of the Niblungen. Wagner based The Ring on a Norse saga about the history of a family of gods and their pursuit of a magical golden ring. Wagner’s idea for the four operas was to incorporate all aspects of art- music, drama, poetry and stage craft- into one vast work. He began writing the operas in 1851 and finished the work 20 years later. The first complete performance of the four operas took place in 1876 at the Beyreuth Festival in a theater specially designed for The Ring. Wagner even invented a new instrument for the operas, the Wagner Tuba.
"The Ride of the Valkyries" introduces the third act which begins with the Valkyries, the warrior maidens raised by the god Wotan, riding horseback from battle before gathering on a mountaintop. "Ride" was featured in the 1979 film "Apocalypse Now" and the 2009 film "Watchmen." You can hear and see it performed as part of the New York Metropolitan Opera’s 2010-12 production of The Ring of the Niblungen in the Youtube link below. Enjoy!
On June 25, 1950 the Korean War began when North Korean communist forces attacked the Republic of Korea along the 38th parallel, the division line between the two countries that had been established after World War Two. In order to stem the spread of Communism and protect assets in Asia, the United States Congress, at the request of President Harry Truman, consented to commit 12 billion dollars for military action in Korea. A United Nations force consisting of South Korea, the United States and Great Britain fought the forces of North Korea, Russia and China. 54,000 Americans died during the three-year war. In the fall of 1950 the 252nd Truck Company, an Alabama National Guard unit that was based in Hamilton, Ala., was called up for deployment to Korea. The unit operated in support of the Second Infantry Division of the United States Army. My cousin Joel Palmer was a member of the 252nd. I visited him today and he showed me his scrapbook of photos, memorabilia and newspaper clippings. The scrapbook consists of photos that he and his fellow soldiers made with personal cameras. They would then have the rolls of film developed while on leave in Japan. Afterwords they would often trade photos with one another, he said. You can see a gallery of those scrapbook photos below.
On this day in 1824 Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce was born in Meigs County, Ohio. Bierce would live to become a soldier, a journalist and one of the most well known humorists and satirists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, not to mention the greatest front line eye-witness author of the American Civil War. His tales of what he saw during the war would earn him the name “Bitter Bierce.” In April 1861 at the start of the Civil War Bierce enlisted, at age 18, in the Union Army joining the 9th Indiana Regiment. During his time as a soldier he participated in the June 3rd 1861 Battle of Philippi, considered the first land battle of the Civil War that led to the June 21, 1861 Battle of Bull Run. Bierce also participated in the July 1861 Battle of Rich Mountain where, under heavy enemy fire, he rescued a gravely wounded comrade from the field. His experiences at the Battle of Shiloh would later become the basis for his memoir “What I saw of Shiloh.” (To read more about that click here.) It was during the Atlanta campaign in the spring of 1864 that Bierce experienced his most horrific first-hand experience of battle. At the Battle of Pickett’s Mill in Georgia Bierce saw men cut down by the hundreds after they were ordered to charge into lines of entrenched Confederates. He writes:
“Our brave color-bearers were now all in the forefront of battle in the open, for the enemy had cleared a space in front of his breastworks. They held the colors erect, shook out their glories, waved them forward and back to keep them spread, for there was no wind. From where I stood, at the right of the line—we had “halted and formed,” indeed—I could see six of our flags at one time. Occasionally one would go down, only to be instantly lifted by other hands.” Bierce goes on to describe the battle. “The Federal troops approached within a few yards of the Confederates, but at last were forced to give way by their storm of well-directed bullets, and fell back to the shelter of a hollow near and behind them. They left hundreds of corpses within twenty paces of the Confederate line. When the United States troops paused in their advance within fifteen paces of the Texan front rank one of their color-bearers planted his colors eight or ten feet in front of his regiment, and was instantly shot dead. A soldier sprang forward to his place and fell also as he grasped the color-staff. A second and third followed successively, and each received death as speedily as his predecessors. A fourth, however, seized and bore back the object of soldierly devotion.”
Later, at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain Georgia, Bierce was wounded in the head by a Confederate sniper. He recovered and rejoined his unit in September 1864 in time for Sherman’s March to the Sea.
After his military career Bierce became a journalist, writer and satirist in San Francisco. During this time Bierce began writing what would later become his Cynic’s Word Book or his “Devil’s Dictionary,” a satirical dictionary of English words published in 1906. And after what Bierce experienced first hand during the Civil War we can forgive him for his definitions of certain words like “symbol” and “flag?” In his Devil’s Dictionary Bierce defines the word symbol as “something that is supposed to typify or stand for something else. Many symbols are mere "survivals" -- things which having no longer any utility continue to exist because we have inherited the tendency to make them; as funereal urns carved on memorial monuments. They were once real urns holding the ashes of the dead. We cannot stop making them, but we can give them a name that conceals our helplessness.” Bierce defines the word “flag” as “a colored rag borne above troops and hoisted on forts and ships. It appears to serve the same purpose as certain signs that one sees on vacant lots in London -- "Rubbish may be shot here." Bitter Bierce, indeed.
Bierce's story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" or "A Dead Man's Dream" is considered by some the greatest short story ever written. It can be seen interpreted to film in the 25 minute Youtube link below from a 1964 broadcast of The Twilight Zone. Happy birthday Ambrose Bierce.
This weekend is going to be a busy time for Chef Jennifer Bopp who manages Toll Gate Cafe in downtown Hamilton, Ala. The cafe celebrates its one year anniversary this weekend. And just outside the restaurant’s doors the city of Hamilton will be hosting SummerFest, a day of showing appreciation to the customers of the town. The festival will include live music, a watermelon eating contest for children and giveaways. Bopp says the Toll Gate will also be hosting special events. “We are going to have a lemonade stand outside the door and if you come in, with a purchase, you will receive a free glass of lemonade,” Bopp said. And for children, face-painting and coloring areas will be available. And like the festival the restaurant will also have drawings for free giveaways. Drawings will be held for free meals including dinner or breakfast for two Bopp said. The restaurant is also participating in the Hamilton Bucks give away. With a purchase at participating Hamilton area businesses a customer can register for Hamilton Bucks. $1300 in Hamilton Bucks will be given away on Saturday at different times during the festival. The bucks spend just like real money and you must be present to win. And to get in on the summer time theme Chef Bopp has created from scratch a lineup of ice creams and sorbets including: rose mary lemon, white chocolate lavender, dutch chocolate mint chip and blackberry cabernet sorbet. Bopp says that the past year in Hamilton has been a huge learning experience. “I’m tired!” she quipped while enjoying a bowl of ice cream inside the restaurant Wednesday evening. “No, really it’s been great. I’ve learned a lot from my first restaurant experience. We’re not going under and we’re doing really great. We’re in a really fun spot.” The SummerFest begins Friday with live music beginning at 6:30 PM and continues on Saturday beginning at 12 noon. To view the festival's FaceBook page click here. Below is a slideshow of Chef Bopp creating the blackberry cabernet sorbet.
This past weekend Neighbor Day was held in Hackleburg, Ala. The Ole Crank from Fulton, Miss., was on hand to offer fresh made ice cream. It helped all the neighborly folks beat the heat. Also, the band First Born Sons from Hamilton put on a great performance. If you haven't heard them they will be performing this weekend in Hamilton during the town's Customer Appreciation Day and Summer Fest. Click here to see more information on their Facebook page. Below is a gallery of Neighbor Day images. Enjoy!
On this day in 1777 the Second Continental Congress passed the Flag Resolution which stated that the flag of the 13 United States would have 13 stripes of alternate red and blue with 13 stars in a field of blue, representing a new constellation. Before this act was passed the flag of the 13 colonies consisted of the alternating red and blue stripes and a Union Jack, the flag of the country with whom the United States was at war. You can read about that by clicking here. However the flag act didn't limit the number of stripes that were added after a new state joined the union. Soon the stripes started racking up on the flag and it didn't look very pleasing on the banner. This was remedied in 1818 when Congress passed the Flag Act. You can read about that by clicking here. Below is a gallery of photos I've made over the years that feature the flag of the United States or some variation. Enjoy and Happy Flag Day!
Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Edward O. Wilson was born this day, 1929, in Birmingham, Alabama. Wilson spent his childhood between Washington D.C. and Mobile, Alabama, where he undertook some of his first scientific expeditions. A fishing accident at age seven left Wilson with 20/10 vision. But due to this lopsided eyesight, Wilson was left with the uncanny ability to focus on the smallest details of the creatures he studied. This led him to focus his scientific inquiry on the study of insects. At the age of 18 Wilson began a survey of all the ants in Alabama. He was the first to report that fire ants had established their first colony in the U.S. at the port of Mobile. Wilson sought to join the military to insure himself with money for a college education. However, he was turned away due to his eye condition. Wilson was able to afford enrollment at the University of Alabama where he earned a B.S. and and an M.S. Degree in Biology. He later earned a Ph.D in biology from Harvard University. Wilson earned the 1979 Pulitzer Prize for his book On Human Nature. He won the prize again in 1991 for his book The Ants. In 1996 Wilson retired from teaching at Harvard University but still holds honorary positions. In 1999, a year after the publication of his book Consilience, The Unity of Knowledge, Wilson visited the University of Alabama to accept the Clarence Cason Award. During that trip I had the opportunity to photograph Wilson on Hurricane Creek. I took a few photos that day but one of my favorites is the one of him bent down, as if in prayer, scanning for ants at the base of tree.
Red Hill is one of the highest points in Marion County, Alabama and it provides one of the best vantage points to take photos of the night sky. Last night I drove up to the point to make a photo of the planets Venus and Jupiter in the west. But to the southeast is where the real show was going on. A giant thunderhead was barreling across the horizon providing a non-stop show of lightning as the cloud moved toward the southwest. A quick check of radar via the phone showed the cloud was over Birmingam. I set my camera on a tripod and made a series of photos. I even managed to capture a meteor in one of the photos, seen above. Below is an animated GIF of 12 photos that I created. And if you look close enough you can see the planet Saturn, the bright object at top center in the GIF. Enjoy!
If you are out and about this month just after sunset take a look over to the west and you’ll see a bright, white pin-point of light in the sky. You won’t miss it on a clear evening. That’s Venus, the second planet from the sun, named for the Roman goddess of beauty. Venus has been racing from behind the sun toward earth and just yesterday reached the greatest angular distance it can travel in its orbit around the giant fireball. From our view here on Earth that point is called maximum elongation. For earthbound viewers that also means it has reached the highest point at which it can be seen in the sky after becoming visible in the fading sunlight. And while you are out glance up just to left of Venus and you’ll see another bright object. That’s the planet Jupiter. Keep an eye on Venus and Jupiter over the next three weeks and you’ll be amazed at what you see. From our vantage point, the two planets are moving closer to one another in their orbits and on June 30 and July 1 they will form a conjunction and appear to become one bright object in the Western sky. An event not to be missed. Over the summer Venus will fall back toward the horizon and move between earth and the sun. In September Venus will reappear in the southeastern sky and will rise higher and higher each morning until it reaches maximum elongation on October 26. But you will want to rise early to be out just before sunrise on October 28 to see one of the rarest events in sky watching; a dazzling three-planet conjunction of Venus, Mars, and Jupiter. So, find a moment to pause from the evening routine over the next few weeks and step out on a clear night with friends and family to see the beauty in the night sky. You'll be glad you did. And, you can impress them with big words like conjunction and maximum elongation!
Michael E. Palmer is a writer and photographer based in Alabama.
He can be reached at email@example.com