Neighbors and Old Friends – Marilyn Armstrong

Friends come in many sizes and shapes. Horses, dogs, cats and other warm fuzzy creatures give our lives texture and joy … and old things holding memories of other times and places … these too become friends, holding our memories and reminding us of the lives we have lived and things we have done.

Old Number 2 is one of Uxbridge‘s oldest fire trucks. Long out of service, he still has his own place, standing through the years and seasons in a field across from the post office. He’s become my old friend, put out to pasture but like me, remembering his glory days.

Old Number 2 in summer … with some special effects just because.

Seasons come and go, but Number 2 waits patiently. I visit him. He has many stories to tell and I listen so he will be less lonely and know no everyone has forgotten him.

Horses in the pasture, friendly and hoping for snack, an apple or a carrot maybe …

Retired now, she grazes in a pleasant pasture in the company of her friends and the goats in the adjacent pasture. Do they share their memories?

With a shake of her mane, the pony companion enjoys the autumn weather with an old pal.

Still beautiful, she poses with her good side, elegant in her peaceful paddock.

It’s a fine day to be a horse. Or a human.

Tinker, one of our two PBGVs romps now at the Bridge, but here, her big black nose pokes through the picket fence of our front yard. Just saying hello!

Tinker’s big black nose — a perfect nose for such a hound as this Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen hound nose — pokes through our pickets. She’s gone to the Bridge, but lives on in our hearts and her tooth marks remain forever embedded in our furniture, shoes, remote controls and paranoid nightmares of destruction.

Griffin, our big boy PBGV died last winter, as did Tinker. He was my personal cuddle puppy, full of joy and humor. He always made me laugh and the more I laughed, the more he would act the clown. Never has a dog enjoyed making people laugh more than Griffin. A marathon barker, entertainer par excellence, he was the best.

Many of our fur children have gone to the bridge, but they are never forgotten. More of them  on other days, I promise.

One autumn day, in a rare family project, we made a couple of friends of our own … classic New England symbols of Autumn and the harvest. We made them from yard sale clothing, two bales of hay, and their painted faces on old pillow cases were created by Kaity and Stefania … at that brief period as they were transitioning from girls to young women.

Some friends we made ourselves to celebrate the harvest and the season, sitting on a bench, backed by flowering bushes and shaded by oaks.

Finally, we meet the farmer’s old truck. He stands in a field around the corner, behind the fire station … an old friend put out to pasture, holding too many fond memories to send him to a junk yard. Instead, he stands ever waiting if he should  be called back to duty.

Just this, no more, all within a mile of home. It IS home.

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LOVING THE WESTERNS

Western movies. You love them or hate them. Hardly anyone is neutral. I’ve always loved them, since I was a little girl, pretending to be a cross between The Lone Ranger and Jesse James.

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But why? What is it about westerns that makes them so appealing to those of us that love them?

Let’s work this as a list, top to bottom. Remember, this is my list. You may have a completely different list and totally not relate to mine. That’s okay.

Why I love Western Movies

1) Horses. I love horses. The more horses, the better. You could leave out the riders and I would sit there and watch the horses, no problem.

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2) Scenery. The deserts, the mountains, the plains. The dusty trail as the wagon train rolls westward. The Rocky Mountains looming, challenging. Sunsets over Monument Valley. Some of the most incredible cinematography has been done for westerns. From Ride the High Country to almost anything ever filmed by John Ford. To the dusty streets of Tombstone … the big sky hangs over everything, a huge blue dome. Everything is bigger, brighter, younger. The beauty is hard to match and it goes so well with the eye of the camera.

Dusty Streets of Tombstone

3) Simple ethics, simple philosophy. There is something terribly appealing about a world where the excuse “He needed killing” is an actual defense at trial. You can put a lot of violence into a western and it’s just fine. The bad guys wear black hats, figuratively or literally. The good guys are the ones with the nice horses, better clothing … and white hats. No ambivalence. No confusion. Not at all like the real world made up of endless shades of gray. It’s a black and white world, black and white morality. “He needed killing. So I killed him.” I get that.

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4) Heroes. This is really a continuation of the previous, but Wyatt Earp kills a lot of people and it’s okay. I can cheer him on as he and Doc Holliday rampage through the west. “Yes!!” I cry, waving my fist in the air. I could never kill anyone, but I can be really grateful that someone else is doing it for me. In real life, I favor gun control. In westerns? Blast away!

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If the movie also has a good plot, terrific sound track, great cinematography? Some wit, cleverness and even a few laughs? Bonus material.

That’s it. Pretty simple, eh? Horses, gorgeous scenery, good guys being good, bad guys being bad. Add music, dim the lights and pass the popcorn.

 

Reviewing the Oldies: Along Came Jones (1945)

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I love western movies. I love horses. I love to laugh. What’s better than a funny western? Not much in my opinion.

My favorite — but little-celebrated — movies are western comedies. It isn’t the most popular movie genre, yet there are a reasonable number worth watching. Almost everybody has seen City Slickers and Blazing Saddles. How many people remember Cat Ballou, or have seen Rustler’s Rhapsody? Both charming and very funny movies. Lee Marvin got his only Academy Award for his role in Cat Ballou. On acceptance, he gave credit to his horse who deserved it. But I digress.

Along Came Jones is funny, but it’s gentle and sweet. It’s a love story with Loretta Young as the romantic interest, with Cooper in a role that it pokes fun at westerns and Coop himself without being mean-spirited. The plot is the basic mistaken-identity tale. Easygoing and slightly inept Melody Jones (Gary Cooper) and his friend George (William Demarest) ride into a town. Jones is mistaken for a badass bandit named Monte Jarrad (Dan Duryea) mostly because he has the same initials on his saddle. The mixup earns him a lot of unexpected respect (which he likes) then rapidly changes to trouble and finally love. The real Jarrad is hiding out in the home of his girlfriend Cherry (Loretta Young). In the beginning, she uses Melody to send the law off in the wrong direction, but as she gets to know Jones, her feelings change. There is a happy ending for all.

Cover of "Along Came Jones (Sub)"

Gary Cooper produced the movie and put his own money into it. It gave him a chance to be something other than the grim hero he so often played. In this, he is a lighter and more humorous version of his typical role. It was the only feature film Cooper produced during his more than 40-year movie career and Melody Jones was his favorite role. It’s easy to see why.

It’s a rare feel-good movie that isn’t trite. Cooper poking fun at Cooper is amusing without being over the top. His slow-talking, aw shucks style is perfect. This is an oldie that doesn’t play very often on cable, but it does pop up on Turner Classic Movies from time to time. If you find it, it’s worth watching. If you get TCM, you can find out when it’s playing on their website.

It has stood the test of time surprisingly well. You can see where financial corners were cut, but it doesn’t matter. The movie is character-driven and the scenery is just a stage set.  When we got a DVD player, it was the first movie I bought. It’s available at Amazon in combination with other Cooper movies and rather expensively on its own.

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There’s no fancy cinematography, no nudity, cussin’, or graphic violence. A bit of shooting, no gobs of blood flowing. The tension won’t raise your blood pressure. It’s got some laughs and lots of smiles.  It’s a pleasant way to dump reality and visit a version of the old west that never was.

From Garry Armstrong, AKA “The Movie Maven”:

I spotted “Jones” when I was surfin’ the overnight movie fare and knew I’d struck gold for both of us. Charlton Heston once told me that Gary Cooper was his favorite actor and inspiration for his own little western “Will Penny”.

Coop was the idol of many, including one young woman in Brooklyn, New York, who decided to name her first-born after the legendary star in 1942. I digress, as usual, when talking about movies. After 15 years of commercial and critical hits, Gary Cooper was top gun at the box office in 1945. One of his favorites was “The Westerner” done 5 years earlier but that was stolen from him by Walter Brennan’s “Judge Roy Bean”.

Cover of "The Westerner"

Cooper loved his character in “The Westerner” and wanted to give him another go on his own terms. Melody Jones would be that guy. A Coop bio I read long ago says he made “Jones” mostly with his own money. Got it released as an independent so he would have last cut rights.

You’ll notice it’s low-budget by the exteriors and “rear projection” scenes, but that hardly matters. Loretta Young also did the movie “for a song”. Coop hand-picked Dan Duryea who was still a very young and aspiring actor with few major film notches, except for “Pride of the Yankees.”

Lane Chandler, one of the bad guys in the film, was originally supposed to do “Wings” (I believe), the silent that gave Coop his big closeup and break for stardom. Coop got that cameo not Chandler — and the rest is history.

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Love that Masked Man — but I’ll skip the movie

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My Lone Ranger wallpaper

The “new” Lone Ranger opens today, but the reviews are already in. In newspapers around the world, the reviews are appalling. Really bad. Not a little bad. Seriously terrible. I had no plans to see it anyway, so these reviews merely confirmed my expectations.

The Lone Ranger Panned and Predicted to be Box Office Poison by Mike Smith gives a pretty good summary of the reviews to date. It’s exactly what I expected. I would have preferred to be wrong. Given the Johnny Depp factor, I expected a travesty and it appears we got one.

Seeing the movie would desecrate the memory of my first true love. If I don’t see it, at least I have my memories.

From my first earliest encounter with The Masked Man and his Faithful Companion, I was in love. There were times when it was unclear whether I loved the horse or the rider. I think Silver had an edge, but I yearned for the both.

To satisfy my passion and because I grew up when wallpaper was something glued to walls, I had Lone Ranger and Tonto in my bedroom. Life was not easy for me, but I had the daring and resourceful masked rider of the plains all around me. It helped me through the really dark times.

Other girls had Disney Princesses, but I had “Hi Yo Silver” and “The Lone Ranger.” Although my walls did not play music, I could hum well enough, and I had many a long chat with Lone and Tonto as I lay abed pondering the meaning of life and how I could convince mom to let me have a horse. And hoping I’d discover I was adopted. Because if I were adopted, there was some small hope my real parents would come and take me away. Unlikely, but kids are optimists.

The original Lone Ranger and Tonto — Jay Silverheels and Clayton Moore

Eventually I grew up and out of my wallpaper, but it did not end my allegiance to The Masked Man. Even now, I’ll happily watch the old reruns. Silly? Maybe. But kindly, with some dignity allowed to the characters.

And, whatever else you could say about the show, they managed to cast a real Native American as (gasp) a Native American! More than half a century later, we get Johnny Depp? That’s the best we can do?

Remakes don’t have to be awful, even though they usually are. There have been remakes that are better than the originals. I can name several off the top of my head and probably so can you. It’s not impossible but it requires studios to make an effort to produce quality films. To get a good script and assemble a cast that can do it justice. It’s not that hard to make good movies. Good script, good actors, competent director. Voila! A good movie. They just don’t make a real effort.

My initial delight at learning Disney was making a new Lone Ranger movie changed to dread when I realized Johnny Depp was playing Tonto. We awaited the release of  trailer of the new “Lone Ranger” with foreboding. We were right to worry.

We watched the trailer. After it ended, silence enveloped us. Garry and I, wrapped in our individual thoughts, sat for a while. Thinking. Finally, I turned to Garry and said:  “Let’s wait till it comes to cable.”

He pondered that for a minute or two. “No, he said. “Let’s just wait.”

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Daily Prompt: Tourist Trap — Williamsburg, Virgina

There is a negative inference to tourist trap, that such places are less worthy of attention because they are too popular as a vacation destination. In that context, the entire city of Paris should be discounted as a tourist trap. Certainly Martha’s Vineyard, one of our favorite places on earth, as well as Cape Cod and Cape Ann would have to be eliminated. There are places worth avoiding … and many others that are too much fun to miss. The trick  is finding a time to visit when there is less traffic. Many places, that’s before the end of the school year or after Labor Day. If you don’t have children and you have flexibility to schedule vacations during off-peak times, you can have the best of all worlds and save a bit of money too.

Tourist traps are great places to visit. That’s how they became tourist traps.  Are they expensive? Usually. Popular destinations cost more. If you go someplace no one wants to be, you’ll definitely save money. The market drives prices up.

Tourist traps are places designed to accommodate visitors. Unlike many out-of-the-way places, local residents and businesses are glad to see you. You are welcomed into shops and restaurants. You can find plenty of places to stay and lots of things to do. While some people want a vacation to “get away from it all,” some of us already live away from it all. We want vacation places that aren’t just like home. We live amidst trees, streams, ponds, wildlife and quiet. When we travel, I want other things to do. I want history, shopping, good food, the company of compatible people and comfortable accommodations. Is it a tourist trap? Maybe. But is it fun? Absolutely.

This was Williamsburg, Virginia. I had been here many years before, in the early 1960s when it was barely on the map. It has changed and become a genuine, gold card-carrying tourist trap. Great photo ops, lots to buy. Even better? The nearby theme park and roller coasters! And that was our next day!

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Daily Prompt: Weaving the Threads – Sharing

Sharing is many things. Sharing food, sharing space. Sharing our homes, lives, playtime, work time.

Joining together to sing, make music, celebrate. It’s all sharing. It’s life.

Days Of Our Lives Drifting Through My Mind…

Marilyn Armstrong:

This is such an amazing, terrifying, remarkable — and true — story, I hope all of you will read it.

Originally posted on Hot Rod Cowgirl:

Days of our lives drifting through my mind…life is forever…right? Our lives were running out of time with only seconds left…run…run from what? Wait…what? RUN NOW!

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Looking back now, the images seem almost surreal. Everything that happened to us, happened in a matter of seconds. We were all players, fulfilling our roles in this real life and death drama…only it was our life and death drama and it was very real. We survived the unusual flash flood, the timing of us all being together was a blessing from above. The flood went down in history due to the massive amount of water and debris, calling it a historic 100 year flash flood.

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This post is a bit different as it picks up where the last one left off but I have added more photos of the flood’s destruction. I will tell part of the story and add a picture, describing…

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Ouch!

I don’t want this to sound as if I think I’m special because I deal with pain. I realize I’ve got plenty of company. It’s just that sometimes, I feel like I’m in an over-crowded lifeboat. Sinking.

There a central irony to this story, so I’ll start with the irony and go from there.

Parents, school advisors, well-meaning friends and family are forever urging kids to get out and get physical. Join a team. Take up a sport. Get some fresh air. Exercise. It’s good for you, right?

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It is good for you. Mostly. But. Youthful athletic activity is often the start of a lifetime of pain. How many young men destroy their knees playing football? How many girls dislocate their spines in gymnastics? How many head injuries happen during little league baseball games? How many broken backs are the result of falling off horses? It’s not rare or unusual.

These days, everyone knows about the dangers, but it doesn’t stop kids from playing or parents from encouraging their involvement. Safety equipment is available, but injuries happen anyhow. Active sports are dangerous. It’s a fact. I’m not suggesting anyone stop playing sports. Life is meant to be lived, risks and all.

The irony is that sports are good for you if you don’t get hurt. If the helmet keeps the baseball from braining you. If getting tackled doesn’t tear the ligaments and tendons in your knees. If you don’t break your ankle coming down from a jump shot. If you ride well, don’t fall and land on your butt … or head.

For me, it was horses. I love horses. I love riding. I didn’t take lessons. I just got on and rode. I fell a few times. It looks funny when you land on your butt. Everyone laughs as you get up and limp back to your mount. You’re young. You suck it up.

Ignoring pain isn’t necessarily good. Pain can mean something is wrong. I dislocated my spine. Repeatedly. Each fall worsened the problem. One day after riding, I noticed my back didn’t hurt. I couldn’t feel much of anything. My back was numb and aside from tingling, so was my right leg. That scared me. I was used to pain. I figured it was part of athletics. No pain, no gain, isn’t that what everyone says? But numbness was new and I figured maybe I should see a doctor.

My spine was 50% displaced and was pressing on my spinal cord. Which accounted for the lack of sensation. If something wasn’t done about it, I was going to be in a wheel chair before I was old enough to vote — 21 back then.

At 19, it hadn’t occurred to me I might have a real problem. In those days, we didn’t run to the doctor for every bang, bruise or pain not because we were tougher, but because we were ignorant. We’re more sophisticated these days but in the early 1960s, no one thought much about sports injures. Kids played hockey, rode bikes and horses, played sandlot baseball. Nobody owned safety equipment. If we had, we’d have been embarrassed to use it. Only a total weenie would wear a helmet on a bicycle. Has that changed or do kids remove their helmets the moment they are out of mom’s sight?

I went to the doctor. He told me to do absolutely nothing until he got me into surgery. I got a second identical opinion. Don’t bend. Don’t lift. Don’t fall. Don’t do anything. I asked if that meant I couldn’t ride. The surgeon looked at me like I had two heads, both stupid. I figured he meant “No.”

My surgeon didn’t enumerate the risks. I doubt it would have made any difference if he had. I wasn’t going through life unable to do anything active. Whatever the risks, I wanted to be repaired. I wanted to ride. At 19, I had a spinal fusion and laminectomy.

The doctor mentioned I might develop some arthritis at the site of the surgery later in life.

“Uh huh,” I said. Later in life was a million years away. After I healed — a two-year process — I went back to riding. I never fell again. I took lessons, a wise move that might have prevented youthful injuries, but my parents were unwilling to pay for lessons. Too frivolous.

Fast forward 47 years, arthritis began to make inroads. I had to stop riding. My doctor explained if I fell, I might not get up. Ever. The fusion had disintegrated. I was glued together by arthritis, nature’s way of keeping my spine intact. When the pain got worse, I went back to my doctor.

“Surely,” I said to him, “you can do something for me.”

“No,” he said. “Pain management. Cortisone shots will help. For a while.”

I’ve been down cortisone road. The shots do help for a few weeks, after which the pain returns. The human spine isn’t engineered for bipeds. Many of us have spinal weaknesses we don’t know about until after we get hurt. When I was young, a bad back was not so common. With the passing of decades, almost everyone I know has some kind of back problem. Unless you are very lucky, the chances you’ve had a back injury are high. So I live with pain and quite possibly, so do you.

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There are a lot of members of the back pain club. After you join the club, you usually get a lifetime membership. I finally discovered I have a problem I can’t fix. No amount of persistence, research, medical attention or cleverness is going to make it go away. So I’ve designed the world to make my back happy. We have a back-friendly home. From our adjustable bed, to the reclining sofa, our place is kind to spines.

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There’s no moral to this story. It’s just life. If you don’t die young and live an active life, you hurt. The years roll on, pain gets worse.

I yearn for a scooter, but the one I want doesn’t exist. I want a scooter that’s an ATV, but weighs like a bicycle and folds up. There is no such thing. I probably couldn’t afford it if it did, but I can dream.

I have had to accept reality but I do not have to like it. Sooner or later we all face an intractable problem or several. It’s a nasty shock if you’ve always believed you are unstoppable. When you hit that wall, I recommend you get some very comfortable furniture.

From Slaves to Spinning: Born On the Blackstone

America: Born Bankrupt

America was born bankrupt. We won the revolution, but lost everything else. Our economy was dependent on Great Britain. We produced raw material, but Great Britain turned those materials into goods for the world’s markets.

Not merely did we depend on the British to supply us with finished goods we could not produce ourselves, we depended on British banks, British shipping, and British trade routes.

Everything has a price and we had no money. We had hoped we could reach an agreement with England short of war and had there been a less intransigent monarch on the throne at the time, we might have been able to do so. Despite the Massachusetts “Sam Adams faction” who were hellbent for battle, most colonists felt at least some allegiance to England.

We had no “American identity” because there was no America with which to identify. Nor was the yearning to breathe free burning in every heart. What the colonists of North America wanted was simple. They wanted the rights of free Englishmen. We wanted seats in British Parliament. We wanted the right to vote on taxes and other policies that affected colonial life. A deal should have been reached, but George III was not a sensible, reasonable or judicious king.

The result was war, the staggering loss to England of their wealthiest colonies and birth of a new nation.

That we won the war was astonishing. We had little in the way of arms and no navy. We were sparsely populated. Existing militias were untrained, undisciplined, little better than rabble. That George Washington was able to turn this into an army was no mean feat. No wonder they wanted him to be the first President.

French military support enabled us to beat the British. It was a loan, not a gift. We agreed to pay it back, so the French revolution was an unexpected and deeply gratifying development. It was like having the bank that holds your mortgage disappear taking your mortgage with it. It vastly improved our debt to income ratio. When Napoleon came to power and suggested we repay our war debt, we said “What debt?”

Our shipping industry was in its infancy. We had few ships or sailors, minimal access to world trade. The British ruled the seas and being soreheads, refused to share it with us. It would take many years before we could challenge their ascendency on the seas.

What Did We Have?

Slaves and land. Sugar and rum.

If you who think slavery was an entirely southern institution, you’re wrong. Although slaves lived (mostly) in the southern colonies, they were brought to these shores by New England sea captains, held in New York, Boston, and other northern cities, sold to slavers at markets in the north, and then sent south to be sold again to individual owners. The entire economy of the nascent country was based on slave labor. The institution of slavery could not have persisted had it not been supported by business interests in the north.

The new-born United States had, for all practical purposes, no economy. We were pre-industrial when European countries were well into the modern industrial period. We had no factories. We had no national bank, currency, credit, courts, laws or central government. Our only thriving industry was the slave trade.

Although there was an abolitionist movement, it was tiny, more sentimental than real.

North and south, slaves made people rich. Not the slaves, of course, but other people. North and south, fortunes were made selling human beings, then profiting from their labor. When it came time to write the Constitution, to turn a bunch of individual colonies into one country, the Devil’s compromise was needed. Abolishing slavery would doom any attempt to pass the constitution … so … slavery became law and the groundwork was laid for the bloodiest war America would ever fight.

It would twist and distort American history, shape our politics, society, culture, and social alignments. Its legacy remains with us today and probably always will.

So How Come We Didn’t Find a Better Way?

Question: If our founding fathers were so smart, how could they didn’t see that turning this gigantic ugly wrongness into law would come back to bite us in the ass?

Answer: They knew it was wrong and knew that it would result in civil war. They had a choice: keep slavery and form one reasonably strong union, or try to eliminate slavery and end up with two weak countries, one slave, one free. They went with what they thought was the lesser evil.

Was it really the lesser evil? Hard to say. It’s a bit late to figure it out. Regardless, it was clear from the get go that there was no way we were going to form a nation if slavery was made illegal.

From private writings by members of the continental congress, it’s very clear they knew slavery could be resolved only by war. Long before 1776, slavery was the polarizing issue in the colonies. So “The Great Compromise” was put into place, the Constitution was approved and a  later generation would fight a war.

Morality and righteousness went head to head with the bottom line — and lost.

Eighty years later, 630,000 lives, more or less, would be the butcher’s bill for the compromises made in 1789. An ocean of blood would be the cost of ending America’s traffic in human lives. Many more years would pass before this country’s non-white population would see anything resembling justice, much less equality.

When you dine with the Devil, bring a long spoon.

So About Those Mills On the Blackstone River …

Slaves, rum, and sugar — the triangle of trade that kept America’s economy alive — was profitable for plantation owners, sea captains, and other slave traders, but it didn’t generate a whole lot of entry-level job opportunities for average working people. A lot of people needed work, even more needed trade goods and dependable sources of income.

Most people didn’t own ships and if they did, were disinclined to take up slaving. It was never a profession for “nice folks” and a fair number of people found it rather distasteful. Decent people might live off the labor of slaves, but the actual process of buying and selling human beings was more than they could stomach.

Crown and Eagle Mills-Uxbridge

So as great political and legal minds gathered in Philadelphia to draft a document to build a nation, other great minds were seeking ways to make money. It’s the American way.

Renovated into elderly and affordable housing, the old Crown and Eagle mill in Uxbridge is beautiful today.

The Crown and Eagle Mill today, renovated into elderly and affordable housing.

In one of the stranger coincidences of history, the Constitution went into effect on March 4, 1789 while simultaneously, the American Industrial Revolution took shape on the banks of the Blackstone River.

Slater’s Mill, 1920s or thereabouts.

Moses Brown had been fighting his own war. He was battling the Blackstone. With a 450 foot drop over a 46-mile course — an average drop of about 10 feet per mile — the Blackstone River is a powerhouse. Not a wide river, its sharp drop combined with its narrowness and meandering path give it much more energy than a river of this size would normally generate.

It invited development. The question was how to get it done.

All through 1789, as the Constitution was gaining approval throughout the former British colonies, Brown wrangled the river, trying to build a cotton thread factory in Pawtucket, RI at the falls on the Blackstone River. He was sure he could harness the river to power his mill, but as the end of the 1789 approached, the score stood at Blackstone River – 1, Moses Brown – 0.

America had her welcome mat out in those days. We needed more people and especially people with industrial skills. We weren’t picky. All immigrants were welcomed. This turned out to be a stroke of luck for Moses Brown.

In December 1789, Samuel Slater – a new immigrant from England — began working for Brown. Slater had spent years working at an English textile mill. He recognized that Brown’s machinery was never going to work. Slater had fine engineering skills. In under a year, he’d redesigned and built a working mill on the Blackstone River.

Slater’s Mill, today, preserved and restored.

By 1790, Slater’s Mill was up and running, the first successful water-powered cotton-spinning factory in the United States. Slater’s Mill proved you could make money in New England doing something other than whaling, fishing, or running rum and slaves. Entrepreneurs hopped on the idea like fleas on a dog. Mills were an immediate success. New England was inhospitable to agriculture, but fertile for factories.

Mills grew along the Blackstone from Worcester to Providence, then sprouted by the Merrimack in Lowell, and eventually, throughout New England. Wherever the rivers ran, mills and factories followed.

Locks on the Mumford River, one of the small canals used to move goods between mills. It’s destination was Bernat Mills.

On the Blackstone, mill owners urgently sought a better way to move their goods.

The features that made the Blackstone a natural for generating power made it useless for shipping. The only other choice — horse-drawn wagons — was slow and expensive. the trip took 2 to 3 days over dirt roads from the northern part of the valley to Providence.

When the weather turned bad, the trip was impossible. All of which led to the building of the Blackstone Canal. Meant as a long-term solution, it actually turned out to be no more than a short-term temporary fix … but it was an impressive undertaking.

Building the canal, 1824 – 1828.

What Does This Have To Do With Slavery?

Mills brought employment to the north. It created a real industrial base that would give the north the ability to fight the civil war … and win. It started with a river, continued with a canal, expanded with the railroads. Which is why the Blackstone Valley is a National Historic Corridor and known as the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution … a revolution that brought the U.S. into the modern world and positioned us to become a top dog on the international scene.

The Canal

The Blackstone Canal took four years to build, from 1824 to 1828.

The main canal runs alongside the Blackstone and in some sections, the canal is the river (or vice-versa). There is also an extensive network of small canals, many on larger tributary rivers like the Mumford. The main canal was designed to handle large barges. It travels in a relatively straight line from Worcester to Providence.

The Blackstone Canal in Uxbridge. The old horse trail is on the left and is now a walking path for people and their dogs. No horses allowed. This is the main canal, big enough room for full-size barges.

The smaller canals allowed mills to move goods to many places not immediately on the Blackstone. These small barges could move smaller amounts of cargo between towns and from one mill to another.

The big barges were faster and cheaper than horse-drawn wagons. A single barge could haul as much as 35 tons of cargo and only needed two horses, presumably going downstream.

Barge and horse.

The canal system is intact. Trails along the canals where horses towed barges have become walking trails. The barges are gone, but small boats can enjoy the open stretches of canal and river.

The Railroads

The Providence and Worcester line continues to use this trestle  The tracks adjoin the Mumford. Though the train still runs (infrequently), it passes through town without stopping.

Ultimately, railroads were the game-changer. As soon as rails from Worcester to Boston, and Worcester to Providence were built, the canals were abandoned. Business boomed.

The Blackstone River was lined with mills and factories at the end of the 1800s. The Blackstone supplied the hydro power and in return, the river was used to dispose of industrial waste and sewage.

West Dam by the West River

By the early 1900s, the Blackstone River in Massachusetts was grossly polluted. Fortunately for the river, though not necessarily for the valley’s residents, this was also the beginning of the end of the textile industry in the northeast.

As of 1923, the majority of nation’s cotton was grown, spun and woven down south. Without its mills and factories, the valley’s population began to shrink.

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Pollution

In 1971, the Blackstone River was labeled “one of America’s most polluted rivers” by Audubon magazine. It was a low point for the region.

It was time to clean up the mess.

We are still cleaning up and will have to continue for a long time to come. Although no longer as polluted as it was, the watershed has a long way to go. The river’s tributaries are less polluted than the Blackstone because against all logic and reason, waste-water is still discharged from a big sewage treatment plant in Millbury. It’s hard to fathom what reasoning, if any, those who favor pouring sewage into our river are using. The fight never ends.

The good news? The birds and fish are back.

American eagles nest in my woods. Herons and egrets wade in the shallows to catch fish that breed there. The river is alive despite man’s best efforts to kill it.

American industry: Born on the shores of the Blackstone

Broke at Birth

America was born bankrupt. We won a war, but lost everything else. Our economy had been completely dependent on Great Britain. We produced raw material, but it was Great Britain that turned these materials into commodities for the world’s markets.

Not merely did we depend on the British to supply us with finished goods we could not produce ourselves, we depended on British banks, British shipping, and British trade routes. Everything has a price and we had no money. We hoped for a long time that we could reach an agreement with England short of war and had there been a less intransigent monarch on the throne at the time, we might have been able to do so. Despite the Massachusetts “Sam Adams faction” who were hellbent for war, most other colonists felt a continuing allegiance to their mother country. There was no “American identity” yet nor was the yearning to be free burning in every heart.

Most colonists did not want to be “Americans.” Firstly, because there was no such thing. But they did want the rights of free Englishmen. Colonial Americans wanted seats in the British Parliament. They wanted the right to vote on taxes and other policies affecting life in the colonies. A deal should have been easy to reach, but George III was not a sensible or reasonable man, nor a judicious king. The result was war, the huge loss of the richest of its North American colonies for England and the creation of a country by unready colonists.

That we gained independence was a miracle of sorts. We had little in the way of armaments, virtually no ships … certainly no war ships. We were thinly populated and were unlikely to be able to support an army for an extended period. The existing militias were untrained and undisciplined, hardly better than armed rabble. That George Washington was able to turn this bunch into an army was no mean feat. No wonder they wanted him to be President. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The French military support that enabled us to beat the British was a loan, not a gift. We were supposed to pay them back. It was, from our point of view, a great stroke of luck when France’s revolution knocked off the government with whom we’d cut the deal. It certainly improved our debt to income ratio. Later, when Napoleon came to power and suggested we repay the war debt, we shrugged our collective shoulders and said “What debt?”

Our shipping industry was in its infancy. We had few ships or seaman and little access to the rich trade around the world. The British ruled the seas and seemed disinclined to share it with us. It would be many years before we would be in a position to challenge them.

River Bend Farm dates back to the late 1790s. It’s on the river, of course. Everything is.

The new-born United States had, for all practical purposes, no economy. We were pre-industrial when European countries were well into the modern industrial period. We had no factories. We had no national bank, currency, credit, courts, laws or central government. Our only thriving business was the slave trade. The sugar-rum-slave triangle of trade was our economic pillar … and more than a few people were not thrilled about that.

Although there was a nascent abolitionist movement, it was more sentimental than effective force in the late 1700s. From north to south, slavery made people rich. Not the slaves, of course, but other people. New England sea captains and southern plantation owners alike made their fortunes selling human beings. Thus when it came time to design our Constitution and try to turn this polyglot of individual colonies into a functional nation, it was the Devil’s choice: to get the Constitution passed into law, slavery could not be abolished because none of the southern states would support it.

From private writings of various members of that continental congress, it’s obvious our founding fathers knew that the issue of slavery would ultimately be settled by war. It was already the main polarizing issue even before the break from England. So “The Great Compromise” was put into places and the Constitution was approved in record time … leaving a later generation to fight the bloody battles. Morality had met the bottom line and lost. Eighty years later, 620.000 lives would be the butcher’s bill that paid for the compromise. An ocean of blood would flow before trade in human lives would end. Even more years would pass and lives lost before persons of color would see anything resembling equality.

Crown and Eagle Mills – Uxbridge, long gone. Late 1700s or early 1800s.

Renovated into elderly and affordable housing, the old Crown and Eagle mill in Uxbridge is beautiful today.

Renovated into elderly and affordable housing, the old Crown and Eagle mill in Uxbridge is beautiful today.

Slaves, rum, and sugar, however profitable, didn’t generate job opportunities for enough people. Americans needed work, goods, dependable sources of income. Most people didn’t own ships and even if they had, they might well have rejected slaving. It was never considered a profession for “decent people.” Decent people might live off the labor of slaves, but the ugly process of bringing them in from Africa and selling them as chattel was distasteful and ungentlemanly.

So, as great political and legal minds gathered in Philadelphia to draft a document on which a nation could be built, other great minds were seeking ways to make money in socially acceptable ways.

In one of the peculiar coincidences of history, the Constitution went into effect on March 4, 1789 as the American Industrial Revolution took shape on the banks of the Blackstone River.

Slater’s Mill, 1920s or thereabouts.

Moses Brown had been fighting his own war, battling the Blackstone. With its 450 foot drop over a 46-mile course — an average drop of about 10 feet per mile — the Blackstone River is a powerhouse. Not a wide river, its sharp drop combined with its narrowness and meandering path give it much more energy than a river of that size could be expected to generate. It invited development. The question was how to get it done.

Mill buildings, Hope, RI, 1810 – 1850

All through 1789, as the Constitution was gaining approval throughout the former British colonies, Brown wrangled the river, trying to build a cotton thread factory in Pawtucket, RI at the falls on the Blackstone River. He was sure he could harness the river to power his mill, bit as the end of the 1789 approached, the score stood at Blackstone River – 1, Moses Brown – 0.

Named after Samuel Slater, this was the first “planned” mill town. It’s over the RI border, on the same road as my house. It’s a bit nicer now.

America had her welcome mat out in those days. We urgently needed more people and especially people with skills, training in various industries. We weren’t picky about who they were. Whatever your origin, immigrants were welcomed. This turned out to be fortunate for Moses Brown.

In December 1789, a new immigrant from England by the name of Samuel Slater began working for Brown. Slater had spent many years working at an English textile mill. He immediately recognized that Brown’s machinery was never going to work. Slater had the soul of an engineer, and the skills too. In under a year, he’d completely redesigned and finished building a working mill.

Slater’s Mill, today, preserved and restored.

By 1790, Slater’s Mill was up and running, the first successful water-powered cotton-spinning factory in the United States. Slater’s Mill proved you could make money in New England doing something other than whaling, fishing, or running rum and slaves.

Entrepreneurs hopped on the idea like fleas on a dog. Mills were an immediate popular success. New England was inhospitable to agriculture, but fertile for factories.

Mill lodging along the Merrimack River.

Mills grew along the Blackstone from Worcester to Providence, then sprouted by the Merrimack in Lowell, and eventually, throughout New England. Wherever the rivers ran, mills and factories followed.

Locks on the Mumford River, one of the small canals used to move goods between mills. It’s destination was Bernat Mills.

On the Blackstone, mill owners urgently sought a better way to move their goods. The same features that make the Blackstone a natural for generating power make it useless for shipping. The only other choice — horse-drawn wagons — was slow and expensive. the trip took 2 to 3 days over dirt roads from the northern part of the valley to Providence.

Old horse pulling the barge. These were very big horses.

When the weather turned bad, the trip was impossible. All of which led to the building of the Blackstone Canal. Meant as a long-term solution, it actually turned out to be no more than a short-term temporary fix … but it was an impressive undertaking.

Building the canal, 1824 – 1828.

Building the Canal

The Blackstone Canal took four years to build, from 1824 and 1828.

The main canal runs alongside the Blackstone and in some sections, the canal is the river (or maybe vice-versa). There is also an extensive network of small canals, many on larger tributary rivers like the Mumford. The main canal was designed to handle large barges. It travels in a relatively straight line from Worcester to Providence.

The Blackstone Canal in Uxbridge. The old horse trail is on the left and is now a walking path for people and their dogs. No horses allowed. This is the main canal, big enough room for full-size barges.

The smaller canals allowed mills to move goods to many places not immediately on the Blackstone. These small barges could move smaller amounts of cargo between towns and from one mill to another.

The big barges were faster and cheaper than horse-drawn wagons. A single barge could haul as much as 35 tons of cargo and only needed two horses, presumably going downstream.

Barge and horse.

The canal system is intact. Trails along the canals where horses towed barges have become walking trails. The barges are gone, but small boats can enjoy the open stretches of canal and river.

And then came the Railroads

The Providence and Worcester line continues to use this trestle  The tracks adjoin the Mumford. Though the train still runs (infrequently), it passes through town without stopping.

Ultimately, railroads were the game-changer. As soon as rails from Worcester to Boston, and Worcester to Providence were built, the canals were abandoned. Business boomed.

1850 – Railroads of the US.

The Blackstone River was lined with mills and factories at the end of the 1800s. The Blackstone supplied the hydro power and in return, the river was used to dispose of industrial waste and sewage.

West Dam by the West River

By the early 1900s, the Blackstone River in Massachusetts was grossly polluted. Fortunately for the river, though not necessarily for the valley’s residents, this was also the beginning of the end of the textile industry in the northeast.

As of 1923, the majority of nation’s cotton was grown, spun and woven down south. Without its mills and factories, the valley’s population began to shrink.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In 1971, the Blackstone River was labeled “one of America’s most polluted rivers” by Audubon magazine. It was a low point for the region.

It was time to clean up the mess.

We are still cleaning up and will have to continue for a long time to come. Although no longer as polluted as it was, the watershed has a long way to go. The river’s tributaries are less polluted than the Blackstone because against all logic and reason, waste-water is still discharged from a big sewage treatment plant in Millbury. It’s hard to fathom what reasoning, if any, those who favor pouring sewage into our river are using. The fight never ends.

The good news? The birds and fish are back.

American eagles nest in my woods. Herons and egrets wade in the shallows to catch fish that breed there. The river is alive despite man’s best efforts to kill it.

 

Juniper T Ranch Quietly Changes Scenery As The Seasons Of Life Continue On…

Marilyn Armstrong:

As someone who has lived through and with major spinal surgery, I not only empathize, I literally share that pain. Spinal surgery is the most painful of all.

Originally posted on Hot Rod Cowgirl:

Juniper T Ranch quietly changes scenery as the seasons of life continue on with Autumn’s golden light on the landscape…where did summer go?

Life has been a bit crazy and I have not been able to blog as often as I usually do…I love to write and write and write…I love to photograph tons of various pictures to share with you and I like to yak a lot:)

I have missed reading your blogs…which makes me sad, as I enjoy hearing about your lives and seeing your photography…seeing a glimpse of your world.

A week ago Thursday my hubby Wild Bill had surgery on his neck. He was pulling hard on a wrench under a vehicle on the hoist last July and all of a sudden he heard a snap and loud pop sound in his right shoulder…instant pain…but “Mr. Tough Guy” did not say anything to me until about…

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Farm in the Valley

The cat on the lawn lives here. They grow corn. And hay. Plus some veggies. It’s a lovely place.

There used to be many more working farms around here, but the farming families have grown old. Their children don’t want to work that hard. Who can blame them? Farming anywhere is a difficult life, but in New England?

I love this region and this valley, but it’s hard to figure why anyone would choose to farm here. We have terrible soil, if you can call it soil. It’s all roots and rocks.

The “New England Stone Fence” … those scenic stacked rock walls you can find just about everywhere were not built for some special mystical reason. It was just something to do with all the rocks farmers had to take out of the fields so they could actually plow the ground.

A stone fence along a country road.

What thrives here? Apples. Dairy cattle. Horses. Short growing season crops like tomatoes and cucumbers and a particular kind of corn, called locally “butter and sugar” because it’s yellow and white, and sweet as sugar. This is the time of year when you can find it in the local grocery stores. It will be gone in another week or two.

Most of our local farms are organic … sometimes too organic for my taste. I like my milk homogenized and my eggs unfertilized. It may not be politically correct, but I can’t help it. I’m me, un-PC and all.

The farm is lovely and the farmer is a friendly guy, but he’s getting old. When he’s gone, the fields will become sub-divisions, if property values rise even a little bit. Otherwise, as is happening all over the valley, the fields will go back to woods and stream.

Cat on the lawn.

This is one of the few places in the country where wild life is returning. Animals that have been gone from this region for as long as a century are coming back. Fishers (also known as fisher cats, though they are weasels and closely related to mink, not cats of any kind), coyotes, bobcats and now, bears too. Deer are everywhere and moose can’t be far behind. Racoon and skunk, out-of-control chipmunks … we’ve got it all.

Stone fences are great homes for snakes and rodents, but when they meet, the snake usually wins.

The eagles are back, too. We have a nesting pair of American Eagles in our woods.

We had rabbits and squirrels, but the bobcats ate them. Almost all of them. That’s okay. They will be back, but then, so will the bobcats. The circle of life is in our yard.

Neighbors and Old Friends

Friends come in many sizes and shapes. Horses, dogs, cats and other warm fuzzy creatures give our lives texture and joy … and old things holding memories of other times and places … these too become friends, holding our memories and reminding us of the lives we have lived and things we have done.

Old Number 2 is one of Uxbridge‘s oldest fire trucks. Long out of service, he still has his own place, standing through the years and seasons in a field across from the post office. He’s become my old friend, put out to pasture but like me, remembering his glory days.

Old Number 2 in summer … with some special effects just because.

Seasons come and go, but Number 2 waits patiently. I visit him. He has many stories to tell and I listen so he will be less lonely and know no everyone has forgotten him.

Horses in the pasture, friendly and hoping for snack, an apple or a carrot maybe …

Retired now, she grazes in a pleasant pasture in the company of her friends and the goats in the adjacent pasture. Do they share their memories?

With a shake of her mane, the pony companion enjoys the autumn weather with an old pal.

Still beautiful, she poses with her good side, elegant in her peaceful paddock.

It’s a fine day to be a horse. Or a human.

Tinker, one of our two PBGVs romps now at the Bridge, but here, her big black nose pokes through the picket fence of our front yard. Just saying hello!

Tinker’s big black nose — a perfect nose for such a hound as this Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen hound nose — pokes through our pickets. She’s gone to the Bridge, but lives on in our hearts and her tooth marks remain forever embedded in our furniture, shoes, remote controls and paranoid nightmares of destruction.

Griffin, our big boy PBGV died last winter, as did Tinker. He was my personal cuddle puppy, full of joy and humor. He always made me laugh and the more I laughed, the more he would act the clown. Never has a dog enjoyed making people laugh more than Griffin. A marathon barker, entertainer par excellence, he was the best.

Many of our fur children have gone to the bridge, but they are never forgotten. More of them  on other days, I promise.

One autumn day, in a rare family project, we made a couple of friends of our own … classic New England symbols of Autumn and the harvest. We made them from yard sale clothing, two bales of hay, and their painted faces on old pillow cases were created by Kaity and Stefania … at that brief period as they were transitioning from girls to young women.

Some friends we made ourselves to celebrate the harvest and the season, sitting on a bench, backed by flowering bushes and shaded by oaks.

Finally, we meet the farmer’s old truck. He stands in a field around the corner, behind the fire station … an old friend put out to pasture, holding too many fond memories to send him to a junk yard. Instead, he stands ever waiting if he should  be called back to duty.

Just this, no more, all within a mile of home. It IS home.