MUSE: FOLLOWING THE RIVER

I fell in love with the Blackstone River when we moved to the valley fifteen years ago. The birds that nest along its length, its canals, tributaries, bridges, ponds. Even the swamps make this one of the most beautiful places in the world. In the autumn, the trees are magnificent.

We have swans and geese, ducks and herons. Turtles, beaver, fishers, and trout — they all live along or in the river. It is a rich and fertile world. Beautiful and ever-changing.

HOW DOTH MY GARDEN GROW – JUNE 2015

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The winter did some serious damage. I didn’t believe anything could kill the spiderwort, but we had almost none this year. We have day lilies, but fewer than half what we had last year … and they are late. The wild strawberries didn’t make it, nor did any of the fancy Chinese lilies return this year. Two rose bushes died.

The remaining three rose bushes are doing well. Two are red, one is pink.

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We have some Columbine. The Goat’s Beard I planted in the woods years ago has finally come into its own, much to my surprise and delight. Hosta are apparently unkillable.

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That any garden remains is nothing short of remarkable. Between the past two bad winters and neglect, I expected worse. Only the holly bush has truly thrived.

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It is huge and will have to be cut back or it will block the entire front path. It has nasty thorns and will grab clothing and flesh if it gets the chance. Still, nice that at least something did well!

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All the pictures were shot with the Pentax Q7 in late afternoon.

PREPARE TO REPEL BRIDGE

SURVIVAL IN A VERY SMALL SAILBOAT

Gwaihir, my 16-foot Soling was a doughty sloop. Built of fiberglass, aluminum and a bit of teak for deck, rails  and hatch, she lived in my basement through the off-season. I lovingly painted her hull and lavished layers of varnish on her bright work.

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I co-owned the little boat with a moody guy who lived on a shallow canal on the south shore. A Soling is easily launched from a trailer, but it was convenient to keep her in the water. If the tide was with us we could sail. Sometimes, even with the centerboard up, with a draft of just 16 inches, there wasn’t enough water at low tide to go anywhere without getting stuck. So we waited for the tide to turn.

My husband had grown up on the water, had his own sailboat from childhood. He was completely unafraid of the ocean. Bad weather, good weather, it didn’t matter. He loved sailing.

A drawbridge spanned Sloop Channel under which you had to sail to get to the Atlantic Ocean. Our little boat was just a bit too tall to go under the bridge if it were closed, but to get the bridge opened, you had to make an appointment and you had better be on time. If you were in a sailboat and hadn’t lowered your mast, you could not sail under the bridge. You had to lower your main sail and use your outboard motor. Our little boat’s mast was just 27 feet, but it was a foot and a half too high.

There are strong tides in Sloop Channel. It can be hard to navigate, especially under sail. Moreover, a 16-foot centerboard sailboat is not ocean-worthy. Maybe if the ocean is flat, it might be “doable,” but it would never be a good idea. Each time my husband insisted we sail out to the ocean, I spent the voyage with my heart pounding hoping we didn’t become a statistic, a cautionary tale of poor judgment on the sea.

Did I mention that my son,  a toddler, was with us? Did that deter my husband, his father? It did not. His father had sailed the family boat through the eye of Hurricane Carol with he and his sister aboard. He was not about to be deterred. By anything.

This day, we planned to drop the main and use the outboard to power us under the drawbridge. We hadn’t made an appointment, so the bridge wasn’t going up. Too bad. That was my favorite moment, when they stopped traffic in two directions so our little sailboat could pass beneath.

This day was beautiful with a brisk following breeze. The tide with us. We skimmed smartly over the water towards the bridge.

“Uh, Jeff? Shouldn’t we drop the main sail? The bridge is coming up awfully fast … really … look … it’s right there.”

By the time the words were out of my mouth, Jeffrey bellowed the immortal words every sailor wants to hear: “PREPARE TO REPEL BRIDGE!”

The bridge was on us. I was at the front fending off the bridge with a fiberglass boat hook, while our captain tried to start the outboard and simultaneously drop the mast before it snapped.

Sunrise Rockport

Fortunately, he dropped the main first and started the engine next. We got a little banged up, hitting the cement pylons as we bounced under the bridge. No problem. We still had a mast.

Eventually, the engine came to life and we had power, sort of.

I had successfully repelled the bridge. On this day, the ocean held no terror. I had fended off a bridge. I had no more adrenaline with which to be afraid. It was just another sunny day on the Atlantic Ocean.

MANCHAUG DAM – JUNE 2015

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Each year, it’s different. Everything depends how much rain we get in the spring rainfall as well as the amount of snow that melts after the winter.

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When we are not having a drought, the dam will have a strong waterfall. Manchaug is at its most magnificent when we’ve had plenty of rain. I haven’t seen the dam at full strength in four years.

Manchaug June 2015

Last year, the dam was nearly dry. The pond formed by the dam was a puddle, because they had closed the dams upstream to save water.

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When the rivers don’t run and the ponds dry up, it’s tough on the wildlife. There’s no place for the swans and geese to nest. The fish can’t breed. But there’s no choice.

Manchaug dam falls maple trees

The dams control and contain water when rainfall is insufficient, which has been most of the past five or more summers. This year, the dam has a moderate waterfall, reflecting a good winter snow-melt, but weak spring rains.

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Today, for example, it was supposed to rain, yet there was barely a sprinkle. We had no rain at all in May until the 31st of the month. Water restrictions are in place in most of the valley’s towns and villages.

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I’m hoping we’ll have more rain. Everyone complains when it rains. Sunshine is popular for picnics and summer activities. Rain is not. But we need rain. Without good, drenching rains, the aquifer can’t refill. Reservoir levels drop. Wells go dry.

closeup manchaug dam waterfall

Water is as necessary as air. We cannot survive without it. Nothing survives without water.

Manchaug above the dam


The pictures in this post are by both Marilyn and Garry Armstrong. You can tell by the signature who took each picture.

I was using two different Olympus PEN cameras (PL-5 and PL-6) and a variety of lenses. I don’t remember which lens I used for which pictures (sorry!). Garry was using his big Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ60 with its amazing 24-600 mm Leica lens.

manchaug daisies

BROWN RECLUSE SPIDERS DON’T LIVE HERE

In the last week, since Garry has been less able to do “the heavy lifting,” the question of who will help who and which of us can perform the more physically demanding chores has loomed large. We haven’t found an answer. Maybe there isn’t any.


The doctor said it looked like a brown recluse spider bite to her. She was looking at the swollen, scabbed over wound on Garry’s leg.

“It doesn’t look anything like a tick bite and Garry’s blood panel was normal. No indication of any other infection. All levels normal.”

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I said “All the experts say there are no brown recluse spiders in this part of the country.” Of course there are loads of apocryphal stories and data to belie that smug assertion, but experts are expert. They can’t be wrong so you can’t argue with them.

The doc gave me a look and said “Right!”

The initial Lyme titre already came back. Negative. It probably would be negative at this point even if there were an infection incubating. I’m optimistic because my beloved shows no symptoms of a systemic infection. Only his leg hurts. Which makes sense — if he was bitten by the spider that doesn’t live here. The mythical spider reported by so many people, but completely denied by official experts.

Sometimes, experts sound like they are deep in denial. Or is that just me?

We’ll run another blood test for Lyme in about a month, but the odds are? Garry was bitten by a brown recluse spider. Which probably was living by the side of the house where the woodshed was until recently, when my son tore it down.

That’s exactly where these spiders (the ones that don’t live around here) like to hide. In old rotting wood piles, cardboard boxes, damp garages, and basements. Oh, I forgot to mention that these same experts assure us that these are very non-aggressive spiders and only bite when they feel threatened. What would make a spider feel threatened is left to our own imagination.

Nonetheless, experts say we don’t have brown recluse spiders around here. So — what, me worry?

JUNE IN THE BLACKSTONE VALLEY – MONTHLY PHOTO CHALLENGE

Monthly Photo Challenge: Changing Seasons 06

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The rules are simple. Every month, each of us posts pictures of the same area where we live that shows the seasons as they change. It’s June and spring has truly sprung. Everything is blooming.

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The waterways are full. The wind is gentle and warm. To think, less than two months ago, we were up to our hips in snow and ice.

I went a little farther afield and included a picture of the harbor at Quincy, about 25 miles away. Otherwise, these are all within 3 miles of home. A few of them are Garry’s. Look at the signature for appropriate attribution.

The world turns and each season comes, to be replaced by the next. I got a couple of new lenses, so you’re going to say long shots and macros. Because what’s the point of a new lens if you don’t use it, right?

Fuchsia 4  June 2015