MY BRIEF CAREER IN ANIMAL CONTROL

I live in a small town. Just under 13,000 people call Uxbridge home. The village, or as we say around here, “downtown,” has a classic brick town hall, circa 1879, an elegant old library, and several other historic buildings.

1893 Thayer Library Photo: Garry Armstrong

1893 Thayer Library Photo: Garry Armstrong

Our closest neighboring town, Millville, makes Uxbridge look like Metropolis.

Their town hall is a unit in an old condo building. The center of town is a sub shop. There’s no sign to indicate you are in Millville, so it’s easy to miss. When you get there, it will be closed anyway. The following notice is posted on Millville’s website:

Due to budget constraints, effective immediately the Town Clerk’s office will only be open on Mondays from 9am-1pm and Wednesday evenings from 6pm-8pm for public assistance.  If you cannot be at the Municipal Center during these scheduled hours, please call the Town Clerk’s Office to schedule an appointment.

There are approximately 3100 people living in Millville, spread out thinly.

Downtown Millville.

Perhaps 7 years ago — I don’t remember exactly — the town of Millville decided they needed a Deputy Animal Control Officer. I don’t remember how I heard about the job. It may have been a tip from our local animal control officer who knew I liked animals and needed part-time work.

This was about as part-time as a job could be. The pay was $1200 per year, payable semi-annually. Before taxes.

Millville already had a Senior Animal Control Officer who was theoretically in charge, but passionately fond of golf. I suspect he also had a full-time job elsewhere too. So, in exchange for $600 every 6 months, I would have the official title of Deputy Animal Control Officer and would be on call 7 days a week, 24 hours a day.

I’m basically an optimist. I figured Millville is tiny. How many calls could there be? I took the job. I was sworn in, just like in the movies, hand on the Bible. I promised to protect and serve.

A mere couple of hours later, I got my first call. A homeowner had found an almost dead skunk by their trash bin and wanted it taken away. Since it was my first call — and a weekend — my “senior officer” thought maybe he should come along, show me the ropes as it were. Luckily, the skunk did the right thing and went from nearly dead to absolutely dead while I was trying to figure out what I was supposed to do. I was informed by my erstwhile boss that the skunk had probably been rabid and I should not touch it. If the skunk had not died on his own, I would have been obliged to shoot it.

Me: “Shoot it?”

Boss: “Yes, shoot it. With the rifle.”

Me: “Rifle? What rifle?”

Boss: “Oh, didn’t I mention that? We have a couple of rifles in the office. When an animal is behaving suspiciously, you have to shoot it.”

Me: “Behaving suspiciously?”

Boss: “You know, approaching people rather than running away. Acting weird. Most of the animals you’ll get calls about are rabid. There’s a lotta rabies around here so you don’t want to get close. Just shoot’em.”

Rabies. Shoot the animals. $100 a month. I was getting that creepy feeling I get when I think maybe I’ve signed up for something, the implications of which I had failed to fully grasp.

After we bagged the skunk — literally, using gloves and shovels provided by the town of Millville — to send to the Worcester county animal medical examiner, I promised to go to city hall as soon as they reopened to discuss guns and the other equipment I would need, like shovels, leather gloves, heavy-duty plastic trash bags (the non-human version of body bags), tags for the medical examiner. Forms to fill out. Oh, and where to put the corpses. Turns out, you can’t just stack them up in city hall.

My boss was unconcerned I’d never handled a weapon other than a Red Ryder Daisy BB rifle. I’d never shot anything currently or previously alive. I was puzzled about what I was supposed to do if I got a call, actually needed a rifle, but it was locked up at city hall which was pretty much always closed. Would the offending animal make an appointment for a more convenient time? Or wait for me to call someone, get them to unlock the gun cabinet, then hang around while I drove over to get it, then drove back to shoot him? Are the rabid animals of Millville that cooperative? Was I supposed to keep the big hunting rifle in my house in case I needed it? The rabies thing had me spooked, too.

When I was finally able to get to city hall, I demanded a rabies vaccination. No way was I going to handle rabid animals without a vaccination. They pointed out rabies vaccinations are expensive and I was only the deputy. They suggested I pay for it myself.

Me: “How much will it cost?”

Clerk: “Around $450.”

Me: “That’s four and a half months pay.”

Clerk: “Well, we don’t normally pay for it.”

Me: “I’m not doing this unless I’m vaccinated.”

It turned out that the animal medical examiner could provide me with the appropriate vaccination, so Garry — who had begun to look alarmed – drove me to the doctor. While the doctor prepared the inoculation, we got a rundown of exactly how common rabies is in our neck of the woods. “Why,” he said, “Just the previous week they found a deer with rabies. Chipmunks, skunk, fox, coyotes, squirrels, deer … even possums get rabies.” The only exceptions are rabbits who are naturally immune. Go figure.

The following day, I got another call. A really big snapping turtle had wandered into the road and was blocking traffic. It didn’t sound too threatening, so armed with my shoulder-high heavy leather gauntlets (no rifle), I drove to the site and met the snapping turtle from Hell.

A common snapping turtle.

Keep in mind that there is water everywhere in the valley. Not only the Blackstone, but all its tributaries, feeder creeks, lakes, brooks, ponds, pools, and swamps. Snapping turtles are called common for good reason. They live just about everywhere you find water. Undoubtedly, the big snapper had wandered into the road, lost his bearings. Someone needed to grab the turtle and carry him back on the river side of the road. That someone was me.

This turtle was not in the water, not docile. His beak was sharp. His neck was extremely flexible. Not my kind of nature pal.

So there I was, by the side of the road, trying to figure out how I could grab him. He was approximately 30 pounds of pissed turtle. He seemed pretty agile to me. He could move. Okay, maybe he’d lose a footrace to a rabbit, but he could trundle along at a nice pace. And he had that snaky neck and was determined to bite me.

Meanwhile, an entire construction crew, these big brawny guys who supposedly repairing the bridge, were watching. They didn’t seem eager to help. In fact, they were the ones who called in the first place.

I eventually herded him across the road. I looked at those jaws, looked at my leather gloves, did a quick mental calculation as to strength of gloves versus power of turtle’s jaws, decided the gloves weren’t all that sturdy.

Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina)

Have you ever tried herding a turtle? Of course not. You can’t herd a turtle, but I did. I don’t know exactly how I got him across the road. I know there was a big shovel involved, but otherwise, it’s a blur. The next thing I remember doing after getting the turtle over to the river side of the road, was calling the clerk and resigning.

The turtle was enough for me. I figured if I didn’t get out quick, they’d have me hunting rabid coyotes with a large gun and I’d shoot my foot off.

They tried to bill me for the rabies shot. We settled for not paying me. I think I got the better part of the deal.

ONE BIRD SINGING

A strange day, windy and warm

Trees bending and swaying

Our doors slamming up and down the stairs.

No storm. Just a wind, wailing until

A bird came and sat on the deck railing

He sang a song so loud and clear

We thought it was a computer, maybe a phone

Too loud to be real.

But then it didn’t stop.

Wood_Warbler_(Phylloscopus_sibilatrix)

Irregular the song and ever louder he called until

I rose and went to see where the music began.

There he was. A tiny warbler on the railing.

From his open throat a song trilled pure and clear

And he such a tiny thing. Feathers, beak and a big voice

Yet so loud the wind could not match him.

That was my day. Today.

Come back tomorrow little songbird. Serenade me again.

- – - – -

WEEKLY WRITING CHALLENGE - Time for Poetry

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE LIGHT – Marilyn Armstrong

Why do you take pictures? What makes you pick up your camera? Is it just the beauty of the scene? Or the smile on someone’s face?

chewy 52

I’m sure it is different for each of us, but this morning, I remembered what it is for me. Because even before I turned on the coffee machine, I grabbed my camera. The light was coming through the window and the Dutch door and I saw something. I remembered abruptly that this is what always grabs me. Of course I take pictures of my granddaughter, my dogs, friends and sometimes total strangers because they are important to me or just because, though I can’t always say what it is. Spectacular scenery is inevitable. Like any photographer, I’m going to try to capture it. I’m as much a sucker for a pretty picture as anyone.

But that’s not it. In the final analysis, for me it’s about light.

It has always been about light. My very first roll of film, in black and white, about half the pictures were of light coming through trees.  I’ve spent a lifetime trying to show just how light filters through leaves or the way it shines through a window. Reflected light on water or wet sand. The sun as it rises or sets. I love the subtleties, the minute by minute changes of color of the sky.

Tide Sun and Sand

That’s why I almost never raise saturation in a photograph and probably why I don’t much like HDR photography. I’m looking for shadings and delicate colors. I don’t want everything more vivid … so when I post process, I am far more likely to turn the color and contrast down than  I am to push it up.

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The changing colors of the light through the seasons: golden in autumn, nearly white in winter and how these annual color shifts change the way the world looks … so ephemeral, so fleeting and delicate. I love shadow, the brother of light and how these change with the time of day and the seasons. I can watch for hours the changing colors of the sky while the sun moves across until it finally sinks below the horizon to full dark.

96-Moon-Small-34

Have you ever watched a sunset from late afternoon until full dark? Light lingers long,  even after the sun invisible. The further north latitude you are, the longer light remains. Everyone shoots brilliant sunsets or sunrises. I favor sunrises, but I realize that may have something to do with living on the east coast. Facing east makes sunrise more accessible.  A brilliant arrival or departure of Apollo’s Chariot is spectacular. Yet even the most ordinary dawn or dusk contains an equal amount of beauty. It’s harder to capture it. Brilliant color is easy compared to slight incremental pastels. You don’t get nearly as many “oohs” and “aahs” from a photo composed of soft pastel tones.

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I’m fascinated by the way shadows shift with time of day; the colors of the world as the sun sinks; the way various kinds of artificial light — street lamps, candles, neon signs — each have their own spectrum and effects.

For me, it’s all about light.

Dawn In Our Woods – Marilyn Armstrong

Rising sun.

Sometimes, Garry and I are guests on an overnight radio show. We used to do it every 5 or 6 weeks, but I was ill for a long time and I haven’t been able to do it for the past year. I loved doing the show and we always arrived home just as dawn broke. This was one of those post-radio show mornings.

This is mid March in New England. The sun in March is just starting its change from the white light of winter to the yellow sun of spring.

The sun is up.

The Mumford – Part 1- Marilyn Armstrong

Yesterday we were on our way from Uxbridge to Milford.

There’s really only one way to get there from here and that’s by Route 16, one of the original post roads in the valley.

The park along the Mumford River, at the falls.

We drove into town, but when we had to turn onto 16, it was closed. They were repairing the bridge over the Mumford. You really don’t notice the bridge until it’s closed and you have to find another route to wherever. Unlike more urban areas, we don’t have an extensive road system. We have no highways. Most roads, even the most heavily trafficked, are two lanes and none except Rt. 146 are even partially limited access.

Summertime at Mumford Falls.

There are only two seasons in New England: Winter and Road Repair. Road Repair is a long season and lasts from when the snow melts (thus including what we humorously call Spring) and as far into Autumn as the weather allows. Spring, when we have one, is short and is alternately known as “mud season.” If you have small children and/or dogs, you really understand why this is no one’s favorite time of year.

As soon as the snow melts and the weather is warm enough to do something besides play ice hockey or ski, every road in the region is backed up, barely passable as road crews rush to get as much damage repaired as possible before winter comes back.

Weather is erratic in New England. Winter can come as early as October or tease you by not showing up until January or February … or, in some rare years like this past one, not show up at all. But that’s rare indeed. Usually, the only question is how much snow and how cold. And if it will end in February, March or last right through most of April.

There’s never enough time. We may not have a lot of roads, but we do have a lot of weather and the amount of damage resulting from snow, ice and cold is usually more than the towns can fix no matter how early they start.

Editor’s note:  The above was originally posted on July 20, 2012.

 

Marsh and Wetlands – Marilyn Armstrong

Along the river you will find marsh and wetlands. These are the places where the birds feed and breed, where fish lay their eggs, where turtles multiply and come out to sun themselves on the rocks.

Herons, egrets, and other water fowl make their homes here. Humans generally don’t like these areas much. Too many bugs.

Mosquitoes are thick in the air, but they make wonderful food for many of the smaller creatures that live in these areas. Rich with life of all kinds, the wetlands are fed by the same river that flows down from the Worcester hills to the sea at Providence.

The wetlands are beautiful and rich … Just make sure you wear a lot of insect repellent. And bring your camera.

The wetlands and marsh that spreads out along the river are the richest ecological areas in the region and are fragile. Around the valley, because the river so dominates our environment, the wetlands are to be found anywhere and everywhere.

Homeowners get upset when they are told they aren’t allowed to build on areas of their own land because it’s protected wetlands … especially when they didn’t know they had on wetlands on the property.

I think we have some wetland way back in our woods … a small pond too, though I’ve never made it there through the brambles. It’s not a place I’d ever think to build anyway. They are an inconvenience and we have to work around them, but we protect them because we need them. And they need us.

The River – Marilyn Armstrong

When first we moved here from Boston, it was wonderful, but so different.

Although I’d lived in the suburbs and spent most of my vacation time through the years out in the country, I’d never lived so far from a major city nor in a river valley, which has a particular character of its own.

The dominance of the Blackstone both over the ecology of the valley and its economy is hard to over-emphasize.

The Blackstone River National Heritage Corridor is actual part of the National Parks system and includes all the cities in the valley, from Worcester, where the river starts, to Providence where it ends. It is a protected area, though not a park, because so many people live here, but it is considered to be of significant historical importance.

A small pond where herons like to fish is formed by the river and canal’s congruence just above the falls.

It was in this valley that the American Industrial Revolution took place.

I call it the “keyhole” bridge. It’s just before the river divides.

I became fascinated with the river. It was everywhere. Even though you can’t always see it, the Blackstone or one of its tributaries is everywhere you travel, just off the road, hidden by a hillock or trees.

There’s a walkway along the canal where everyone likes to stroll. It’s right next to the parking lot for a medical building, and there’s a small picnic area there, too.

Twelve years later, the river still fascinates me … in all its seasons and permutations. This is the river in late summer/early Autumn, from last September. This is just a single hour of shooting by the river last September. You can be sure there will be much more.

Mending Wall, Robert Frost

Wall by the paddock

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors‘.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
‘Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.’ I could say ‘Elves’ to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

A stone fence along a country road.

A stone fence along a country road.

Editor’s note: Above was originally posted by Marilyn Armstrong

Blackstone Valley Roads – Marilyn Armstrong

These are places I pass as I go to and from the various routine errands and activities of life.  They aren’t special places … or rather, they aren’t places that I have to seek out because they are along the roads I use every day.

Built in 1779, this originally housed a forge and was the shop of a blacksmith. In the 1800s, it became a shoemaker’s shop and now stands empty on the corner of Chestnut Street, a road that runs from North Street to Route 140 in Upton.

Door to the Forge House.

It’s easy to stop noticing what’s right in front of you. It’s always there, so you don’t realize that it’s special. Then, because I’ve taken my camera, my vision changes. I notice things that are more usually background to the world in which I live.

In front of the drive in restaurant where you can get the best clam puffs … if you don’t mind a bit of accompanying heartburn … they grow sunflowers. There were honeybees on the flowers, a good sign since honeybees have come a bit scarce.

They are called sunflowers and deservedly so. Like the sunshine itself, the shine brightly and turn to the sky.

And I realize that they are indeed special or would be to others and ought to be for me, too. That’s one of the greatest boons I get from photography, that it makes me notice the things around me that otherwise just pass by along the roads I travel.

Along the road, many bushes and flowers, wild and cultivated bloom.

The pods of some wildflower about to spread itself by the wind.

These are all local roads, on the way to the doctor, on the way to the grocery, coming back from the place I sometimes purchase a scratch ticket.

The general store is on Route 16 just after you leave Mendon and enter Uxbridge. They also make great sandwiches.

These old mill buildings now house business and condos. Despite efforts to preserve them, many have disappeared, mostly due to fires. The last mill that burned lasted a full three weeks … with every firefighter in the valley working to put it out. Most firefighters are volunteers since the towns in the valley can’t afford to maintain full crews. These people come when called, work for no pay and in fact, lose money while missing their normal employment. Without them, we’d be in serious trouble.

These are the ordinary roads of the Blackstone Valley in the summer.

Ogunquit, Maine: Sunrise, Sand, Rivers, Feathered and Other Friends – Marilyn Armstrong

Autumnal equinox in the northern latitudes. September. A week in Ogunquit, Maine. A tiny place but close to the beach and the river.

There are more people on the beach to see the dawn than I ever expected — there just for the peace and the beauty. Before the sun is up, the mist hangs on the sand.

Quiet this time of year. Most tourists are gone, now, so the streets aren’t crowded.

The moment there is a hint of sun, the mist disappears in a matter of seconds.

There is no more perfect time to be on the seashore of Maine than the very earliest part of Autumn.

Comes the sun …

If you are a photographer, you make take it as a sign that God loves you when having hauled your reluctant body out of bed while it’s still dark, then hike half a mile carrying all your gear to the beach while all the starving blood-sucking insects in the state gather to enjoy you as their breakfast buffet.

Suffer for your art? But you get a reward that is more than worth any and all of your efforts, because before you, as the mist burns away, a sunrise and a golden sun so breathtaking rises before you … and you are there and ready.

People of all ages walk along the water before dawn.

This is a day when your camera works perfectly, your batteries don’t run out, your lens is in perfect alignment, your eyes see and you capture exactly what you want to capture … and everything is in focus.

Then come the birds … terns, plovers, and gulls … Breakfast for the feathered residents.

Tiny plovers comfortably share the shore with one Great Black Backed Gull.

It doesn’t happen often. When it does, when it all comes together perfectly … then you must treasure it … savor it … and share it.

At times like these, it makes you remember why you started taking pictures in the first place.

The rising sun reflects on the sand as if it were polished glass.

That morning I discovered wet sand reflects light like a mirror. You can see the way the tide changes the shape of the sand along the shore.

The big seagull seems to be waiting for the sun to come up dissipating the last of the early mist.

The colors change from one second to the next.

Each moment is more beautiful than the one before it. Really, the entire time is probably no more than half an hour, but it’s a lifetime of beauty.

Then, final gold before full sunlight.

Later, I walked to the river and found this house. This is the Ogunquit River, just about a quarter of a mile before it joins the ocean. The house is virtually part of the river.

The only way I could find to get across the river to the house was by this “bridge,” really just a piece of wood across the rapids and falls. I declined to test it.

What happens in times of flood? Interesting place to build!

And finally, on my way back to our room, I found a hint of autumn near the beach in a small woodland area between the marsh and the shore.