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.

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.

pond before manchaug dam

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.

Manchaug falls june 2015

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

5 PHOTOS, 5 STORIES – GARRY AT THE DAM – DAY FIVE

FIVE PHOTOS, FIVE STORIES CHALLENGE – DAY FIVE

There is a challenge called Five Photos, Five Stories.  I secretly hoped to be asked to participate in it. Looked like it was right up my alley.  Sure enough, Cee at  Cee’s Photography Blog asked me to join!

I have been following Cee and participating in her challenges for a while.  If you aren’t familiar with her and her beautiful work, I invite you to visit her.

The rules of Five Photos, Five Stories Challenge are:

1) Post a photo (or more!)  each day for five consecutive days.

2) Attach a story to the photo. It can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, or nothing more than a short paragraph. It’s entirely up to you.

3) Nominate another blogger to carry on the challenge. Your nominee is free to accept or decline the invitation. This is supposed to be fun. It is not a command performance!

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I was not shooting alone at the dam. Garry was there too. I always find it interesting how similar — and different — we shoot the same scene. Some of our pictures are nearly identical.

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For others, he finds a way to shoot it differently and it often works better than my way. (Not to be outdone, I pushed the limits of my camera to its 600 mm limit to capture details of the Great Blue Heron’s feathers. It’s a bit of a trick to overcome camera shake. It’s also very easy to lose the target entirely, have to back off and zero in on it again. The heavy use of the telephoto and frequent refocusing eats your battery in a big hurry.)

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Because of his perch on the ledge, Garry got angles on the falls I couldn’t get. I’m much too chicken about falling. His fearlessness is impressive and scares the pants off me.

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Nonetheless, I admire his derring-do. When I was young, I would do all kinds of crazy things to get a picture. I’m surprised I didn’t get run down by a truck or fall off the edge of a mountain. These days, nope, no way. But Garry will still go literally out on a ledge.

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I leave the ledge to my better half. These are some of his pictures.


The rules of Five Photos, Five Stories Challenge are:

1) Post a photo each day for five consecutive day

2) Attach a story to the photo. It can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, or a short paragraph. It’s entirely up to the individual.

3) Nominate another blogger to carry on the challenge. Your nominee is free to accept or decline the invitation. This is fun, not a command performance!


I got more than a little negative feedback initially, but eventually, quite a few of you have joined in. You’ve been sharing wonderful stories and beautiful images. I am so glad. This is an idea whose time has come.

It’s simple. Most of us have more than enough pictures to never run out and cameras and phones to take more whenever we want. I have more than 100,000 images in files, many of which I haven’t looked at for years. This is a great reason to go poking around in the archives of my life!

The Daily Prompt is dead. WordPress is not going to bring it back, so we all need to find something else to do. I like this. If you want to be realistic, the Daily Prompt wasn’t so great when it was “in full flower.” Many of the prompts were silly, morbid, and could be answered in a single word. This is more fun and seems to me what blogging is about — showing pictures and telling stories.

This being the final day of the Five Day, Five Story Challenge, anyone who wants to continue is welcome.

You are welcome to link with me. We can form a network of photo-and-story bloggers. If you send a pingback, I’ll accept your link. We can prompt ourselves and each other. We can make our own prompts. If you sign up for emails from me, you’ll know when a new one comes out.

I am subscribed to most of you already. If I’m not, let me know and I’ll fix it. Onward and upward!

Today’s Participants (I will keep adding to the list as your posts come out):

  1. Bright Eyes|Evil Squirrel’s Nest
  2. Photos and Stories behind them: In the Motorway Tunnel, Day 3
  3. FIVE PHOTOS FIVE STORIES: Garden Fresh Greens ! (Day 3)
  4. FIVE PHOTOS, FIVE STORIES CHALLENGE (DAY FIVE): OCEAN’S FURY
  5. FIVE PHOTOS FIVE STORIES: Let’s start with a Serendipitous Bang (DAY 4)
  6. Photos and Stories behind them – day four – The secret places in Bern the capital town of Switzerland
  7. I Went To A Carnival, And A Baseball Game Broke Out!

5 PHOTOS, 5 STORIES – A GREAT BLUE HERON – DAY 4

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Just across from the dam …

FIVE PHOTOS, FIVE STORIES CHALLENGE – DAY FOUR

There is a challenge called Five Photos, Five Stories.  I secretly hoped to be asked to participate in it. Looked like it was right up my alley.  Sure enough, Cee at  Cee’s Photography Blog asked me to join!

I have been following Cee and participating in her challenges for a while.  If you aren’t familiar with her and her beautiful work, I invite you to visit her.

The rules of Five Photos, Five Stories Challenge are:

1) Post a photo (or more!)  each day for five consecutive days.

2) Attach a story to the photo. It can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, or nothing more than a short paragraph. It’s entirely up to you.

3) Nominate another blogger to carry on the challenge. Your nominee is free to accept or decline the invitation. This is supposed to be fun. It is not a command performance!

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It was time to visit the dam in the middle of town. The weather was finally warm enough for short sleeves. Probably for shorts, too, if we felt inclined. We planned the excursion for today, knowing it would rain yesterday.

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Spring is here. No leaves, but the trees have a soft, fuzzy look.  I decided to start shooting from above the dam. I usually shoot from the bridge, but I have many pictures of the dam from that angle. I thought I’d give try something different.

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I felt pretty good, so I followed Garry out onto the ledge. I’m too scared of heights to go all the way. I’m a wall hugger. But I got a nice shot of the husband on the ledge. From behind. With my back against the wall.

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It was just about that time when I spotted the bird. A very large bird and it wasn’t a bird I’d seen before. I got all excited and took so many pictures, I burned through my spare battery. At which point, my camera shut down. I should get a second spare battery.

Turned out, it is a Great Blue Heron. Sounds like something Perry White might say. “Great Blue Heron, Superman!” I did not know what it was. Despite all the birding sites that assure me how common it is, I’ve never seen one. I’ve spotted and photographed other herons, egrets, geese, swans, ducks of all kinds. But never one of these guys and I’m sure, given he was taller than me, I’d remember a sighting.

This bodes well for our river. The Great Blue Heron follows the fish. As of 1974, the Blackstone River was one of the top five most polluted rivers in the U.S. It has come a long way since then and this bird is the proof. If there were no fish, he would not be waiting by the river. The birds always know.


The rules of Five Photos, Five Stories Challenge are:

1) Post a photo each day for five consecutive day

2) Attach a story to the photo. It can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, or a short paragraph. It’s entirely up to the individual.

3) Nominate another blogger to carry on the challenge. Your nominee is free to accept or decline the invitation. This is fun, not a command performance!


I’ve gotten a lot of negative feedback when asking others to participate in this. I don’t understand the problem since it’s what we do anyway. We post pictures and write about them or other things of which the pictures reminds us. This challenge doesn’t require much writing. A paragraph will do.

I’m not going to ask anyone specific, but I hope a few of you will volunteer. Considering how many bloggers complain about the Daily Prompt, I would expect everyone would welcome something new. Not exactly true.

ODE TO SPRING

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March 20, 2015. It was the first day of spring. Cold, raw, with leaden skies and a promise of snow. Supposedly not a lot of snow. The forecast called for less than an inch. Not noteworthy. After the past 7 weeks, “noteworthy” has a new meaning.

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So I said “Let’s go shooting,” and Garry agreed.

Garry goes out everyday. I am sometimes inside for a week or more. Usually, it doesn’t bother me. This winter, though, I haven’t been able to get out at all, not even to the backyard or deck.

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Finally, I got restless. I had a sudden, urgent need for a change of scenery. An airing. It was, after all, spring. The vernal equinox.

We went down to the river and took pictures.

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I’ve lived in the northeast my entire life, minus 9 years. Garry too. We’ve both been in New England through many winters. I don’t remember this much snow still on the ground so late in the season. Not in my 28 winters. Garry’s been here or in Boston for 45 years and he doesn’t remember one like this, either.

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I don’t necessarily expect it to be warm and flowery at the end of March, but I expect the snow to be mostly melted. Maybe see a crocus or two. Robins returning to build nests.

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Not this year. No crocus, no robins. And the thing is, it’s cold. Still dropping into the low twenties at night and barely going above freezing by day.

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NOTHING SAYS SPRINGTIME LIKE MORE SNOW

March 21, 2015. It was the second day of spring. Surprise! It’s snowing. It had been snowing since the previous afternoon and there wasn’t much accumulation. But it wasn’t nothing, either. All the ground which had appeared was white again.

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I took pictures out the front of the house, out the back window and over the deck. I still can’t get to the deck, but I can push the door open about halfway. We call this progress.

We cancelled our planned excursion for the beginning of April. Even if the weather turns suddenly seasonably warm, it will take more than two weeks for the mess to clear up. For the mud to dry up. For the huge piles of dirty ice to disappear. Maybe we’ll go in the autumn.

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Maybe we’ll just stay home.

RIVER OF DESTINY – BORN ON THE BLACKSTONE

BORN ON THE BLACKSTONE: A SHORT HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION

Born Bankrupt

America was born bankrupt. We won a revolution, but lost everything else. Our economy depended on Great Britain. We produced raw material, but England turned materials into goods.

Battle of Lexington and Concord revolution

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

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

We had no “American identity” because there was no America with which to identify. What colonists wanted were the rights of free Englishmen. A deal should have been reached, but George III said no. It was war. England lost their wealthiest colonies and we were born.

How did we win the war? George Washington did an amazing job considering what he had to work with. And then, there were the French.

French military support was the key. Ships, guns, mercenaries. It was a loan we agreed to pay back. The French revolution was a stroke of luck indeed. Afterwards, when Napoleon suggested we repay our war debt, we said “What war debt?” Phew.

What Did We Have?

Slaves and land. Sugar and rum. Most slaves lived in the south, but were brought here by New England sea captains. Held in New York, and Boston, sold to slavers at northern markets, they were then sent south to be resold to individual owners. Our entire economy was based on slaves.

The new-born United States had no factories, no national bank, currency, credit, courts, laws, or central government. Even before 1776, slavery was the polarizing issue in the colonies. When it came time to write a Constitution, it was obvious abolishing slavery would doom it, so slavery became law, laying the groundwork for America’s bloodiest war.

87 years later, more than 600,000 lives would be the butcher’s bill for that “deal.” It would twist and distort American history, shape our politics, society, culture, and social alignments. Its legacy remains. When you dine with the Devil, bring a long spoon.

Welcome to the Blackstone Valley

People needed work. Trade goods. If this country was going to develop into anything, it needed reliable sources of income.

Slave and rum might work for a few, but most settlers didn’t own ships. Moreover, slaving was never a profession for “nice folks.” Decent people might live off the labor of slaves, but actually buying and selling people was more than they could stomach.

As great minds gathered in Philadelphia to draft a document to build a nation, other great minds sought 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.

As the Constitution went into effect in 1789, the American Industrial Revolution took shape on the banks of the Blackstone River.

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 combines with its narrowness and meandering path to give it much more energy than a river of this size should generate.

As the Constitution was gaining approval, Brown tried to build a cotton thread factory in Pawtucket, RI at a falls on the Blackstone River. He was sure he could harness the river to power his mill, but at the end of 1789, the score stood at Blackstone River – 1, Moses Brown – 0.

America had her welcome mat out in those days. We needed people. We weren’t picky. All immigrants were welcomed, a stroke of luck for Moses Brown.

Slaterville Mill -- oldest mill in the Blackstone Valley

Slaterville Mill — oldest mill in the Blackstone Valley

In December 1789, Samuel Slater — a new immigrant from England — began working for Brown. Slater was an engineer with years of experience working in English textile mills. In less than a year, he built a working mill on the Blackstone River. America’s first factory was open for business.

Slaters Mill restoration (museum)

Slater’s Mill restoration (museum)

Mills sprang up everywhere along the Blackstone. From Worcester to Providence, its banks were lined with mills and factories. More sprouted by the Merrimack and eventually, everywhere in New England where a river ran.

The Blackstone Canal

What made the Blackstone a natural for generating power made it useless for shipping. Horse-drawn wagons were slow and expensive. It took 2 to 3 days over dirt roads from Worcester to Providence.

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When winter came, the trip was impossible. All of which led to the building of the Blackstone Canal.

What Does This Have To Do With Slavery?

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

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The canal system remains largely intact. Trails along the canals where horses towed barges are walking paths. Barges are gone, but small boats enjoy the open stretches of canal and river.

Railroads

Railroads were the game-changer. When rail arrived, the canal was abandoned. Business boomed.

By the end of the 19th century, the Blackstone River was lined with mills and factories. The Blackstone supplied the hydro power and in return, the river was used to dispose of industrial waste and sewage.

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By the early 1900s, the Blackstone River in Massachusetts was grossly polluted. This was also the beginning of the end of the textile industry in the northeast and the beginning of mass unemployment in the north.

As of 1923, the majority of nation’s cotton was grown, spun and woven down south — and that’s where the mills went. One by one, they closed, never to reopen. Without its mills and factories, the valley’s population began to shrink.

Pollution

In 1971, the Blackstone River was labeled “one of America’s most polluted rivers” by Audubon magazine. It was the low point. Time to clean up the mess.

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We’re still cleaning up. Although not as bad as it was, the watershed isn’t clean yet. Against all logic and reason, waste-water is still being discharged from a sewage treatment plant in Millbury. It’s hard to fathom the reasoning, if any, of those knuckleheads still pouring sewage into our river.

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Good news? The birds and fish are back. American eagles nest in my woods. Herons and egrets wade in the shallows to catch the fish who breed here. The river is alive, if not entirely well. An apt description of our nation too.