Massachusetts

Inside the old barn … Marilyn Armstrong

Inside an old barn in Uxbridge, Massachusetts. The barn was built about 1760. The house is also completely restored and dates from the same era.

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.

DAILY PROMPT: MONEY FOR NOTHING – RUINED FOR WORK

Daily Prompt: Money for Nothing

I had been looking for a job that would let me flex my hours so Garry and I could spend time together. It was difficult. He worked terribly long hours, gone before the sun came up and not home until it was dark again. Ironic. Most people think reporters work “a few minutes a day” because that’s all they see on the news. Not true.

To get those few minutes of finished news on the air, they drag themselves through every kind of weather — blizzards, hurricanes, bitter cold, unbearable heat — and endless traffic, from one end of the state to another. They are often on the scene of the worst imaginable horrors before the first responders arrive.

And they have to look good while doing it. Without a break for lunch or even a bathroom. Someone once commented it’s like being in the army, just without the uniform.

His days off were Wednesday and Thursday. That meant we had barely a few minutes after work to meet and greet each other. Everything else waited until vacation. By which time Garry was exhausted and needed two weeks of sleep to recuperate so he could go back to work again.

The good part of his job? He loved it. I think everyone in the news business is an adrenaline junkie. The thrill of getting the scoop, tracking down the story, coming up with a different angle on something every other station is also doing and sometimes, finding new information to crack open a case. Garry loved his work. He didn’t love every single moment of it, but he loved most of it, loved knowing he could make a difference, shine a light into a dark corner and fix something that had been broken.

When I married him, I married his work. No whining about him missing all the family events, never being around to help with the housework or the shopping. I knew from the get-go I’d be keeping his dinner warm for whenever he got home. That was the deal we made. We didn’t spell it out, but we both understood. We were social equals, but his job came first. Period. End of story.

dream-job-1024x682

One day, I got a call. A large HMO was looking for a technical writer to put together documents for their various computer programs. Aimed at users, this was entry-level stuff. For me, used to working on really complex software, it was a piece of cake — with icing.

I went to the interview. Bad part? It was a part-time job, paying (25 years ago money was worth more) a retainer. I would be paid for 20 hours a week at $25 an hour, less than my usual rate. But it was a retainer and all you freelancers out there know that there’s nothing better than a retainer. I might work all 20 hours, or no hours, depending on what was going on. I would not be required to go into the office. At all. Ever. I would work from home or wherever I and my computer might be, including the back porch of the house on the Vineyard.

It was half the money I’d been earning, but I could take free-lance gigs to make up the gap.

I took the job. This was a job from Heaven. When I accepted it, I figured I’d be working most of the 20 hours. It turned out … there wasn’t any work. Or almost none. Weeks and months went by. I would call to find out if maybe they’d forgotten me and didn’t they want me to do something? No, everything is fine, they said. No problem. We’ll call you. Once in long while, they did call and for a few days, I worked. It was almost a relief. Even though it was writing I could do in my sleep.

For a couple of years, I got a steady paycheck for which I did essentially nothing. I did a bit of free-lance stuff here and there and was obliged to bring a laptop with me when I went on vacation, just in case. It was the dream job: getting paid and not having to work for it.

One day, I picked up the Boston Globe and discovered the division for which I worked was being disbanded. Apparently someone noticed that no one in the department actually worked. So I called my boss, Anita.

“Anita,” I said. “I was reading the Globe this morning. Does this mean I have to look for a new job?”

“Yes,” she sighed. “We all do. But you’ve got three or four months, so you should be fine.”

I couldn’t believe it. They were taking away the best job in the world. I was going to have to go to work, show up at an office. Stay there all day. What a horrible thought!

I went job hunting and found what would turn out to the best real job I ever had. The best colleagues and absolutely the greatest boss. But it was work. I had to think (a lot), learn (like getting a masters in advanced object linking in a couple of weeks), synthesize, design documents, write them. Back to meeting deadlines. My 2-year paid vacation had not eliminated my skills. I was as good as ever. But.

Never again would I feel comfortable in a 9 to 5 job although I worked them for twenty more years. I got terribly restless. Just having to be in one place for all those hours made me itchy. I got my work done and done well, but I was spoiled. No regular job felt right.

I was ruined for the real world.

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THE JOB THAT RUINED ME FOR WORK

I had been looking for a job that would let me flex my hours so Garry and I could spend time together. It was difficult. He worked terribly long hours, gone before the sun came up and not home until it was dark again. Ironic. Most people think reporters work “a few minutes a day” because that’s all they see on the news. Not true.

To get those few minutes of finished news on the air, they drag themselves through every kind of weather — blizzards, hurricanes, bitter cold, unbearable heat — and endless traffic, from one end of the state to another. They are often on the scene of the worst imaginable horrors before the first responders arrive.

And they have to look good while doing it. Without a break for lunch or even a bathroom. Someone once commented it’s like being in the army, just without the uniform.

His days off were Wednesday and Thursday. That meant we had barely a few minutes after work to meet and greet each other. Everything else waited until vacation. By which time Garry was exhausted and needed two weeks of sleep to recuperate so he could go back to work again.

The good part of his job? He loved it. I think everyone in the news business is an adrenaline junkie. The thrill of getting the scoop, tracking down the story, coming up with a different angle on something every other station is also doing and sometimes, finding new information to crack open a case. Garry loved his work. He didn’t love every single moment of it, but he loved most of it, loved knowing he could make a difference, shine a light into a dark corner and fix something that had been broken.

When I married him, I married his work. No whining about him missing all the family events, never being around to help with the housework or the shopping. I knew from the get-go I’d be keeping his dinner warm for whenever he got home. That was the deal we made. We didn’t spell it out, but we both understood. We were social equals, but his job came first. Period. End of story.

dream-job-1024x682

One day, I got a call. They were looking for a technical writer to put together documents for their various computer programs. Aimed at users, this was entry-level stuff. For me, used to working on really complex software, it was a piece of cake — with icing.

I went to the interview. Bad part? It was a part-time job, paying (25 years ago money was worth more) a retainer. I would be paid for 20 hours a week at $25 an hour, less than my usual rate. But it was a retainer and all you freelancers out there know that there’s nothing better than a retainer. I might work all 20 hours, or no hours, depending on what was going on. I would not be required to go into the office. At all. Ever. I would work from home or wherever I and my computer might be, including the back porch of the house on the Vineyard.

It was half the money I’d been earning, but I could take free-lance gigs to make up the gap.

I took the job. This was a job from Heaven. When I accepted it, I figured I’d be working most of the 20 hours. It turned out … there wasn’t any work. Or almost none. Weeks and months went by. I would call to find out if maybe they’d forgotten me and didn’t they want me to do something? No, everything is fine, they said. No problem. We’ll call you. Once in long while, they did call and for a few days, I worked. It was almost a relief. Even though it was writing I could do in my sleep.

For a couple of years, I got a steady paycheck for which I did essentially nothing. I did a bit of free-lance stuff here and there and was obliged to bring a laptop with me when I went on vacation, just in case. It was the dream job: getting paid and not having to work for it.

One day, I picked up the Boston Globe and discovered the division for which I worked was being disbanded. Apparently someone noticed that no one in the department actually worked. So I called my boss, Anita.

“Anita,” I said. “I was reading the Globe this morning. Does this mean I have to look for a new job?”

“Yes,” she sighed. “We all do. But you’ve got three or four months, so you should be fine.”

I couldn’t believe it. They were taking away the best job in the world. I was going to have to go to work, show up at an office. Stay there all day. What a horrible thought!

I went job hunting and found what would turn out to the best real job I ever had. The best colleagues and absolutely the greatest boss. But it was work. I had to think (a lot), learn (like getting a masters in advanced object linking in a couple of weeks), synthesize, design documents, write them. Back to meeting deadlines. My 2-year paid vacation had not eliminated my skills. I was as good as ever. But.

Never again would I feel comfortable in a 9 to 5 job although I worked them for twenty more years. I got terribly restless. Just having to be in one place for all those hours made me itchy. I got my work done and done well, but I was spoiled. No regular job felt right.

I was ruined for the real world.

MEDICARE – MAKIN’ ME CRAZY! IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THIS BAD (REALLY)

I have a high IQ. I know this. I don’t say this as a brag, but as an illustration of the problem. I spent my professional life writing highly technical documents which means I know how to read a document too. I need to switch from my “Medicare Advantage Plan” — the ultimate oxymoronic misnomer — to straight Medicare backed by a Medicare Supplement Plan and a Part D Prescription plan. Which is what I had before I changed to my current horrible plan.

medicare confusion

When I signed up for this plan exactly one year ago, it had maximum out-of-pocket costs of just over $2200. Next year, it would be $6700+. They haven’t raised the premium, just reduced the benefits. We do not have $6700 and could not raise it if we sold everything we own. So I need to change plans. I have to get something that will cover me really, even though the premiums will be more than triple what they are now. Mind you I can’t afford higher premiums, but I’m out of choices. My life’s on the line, so I have to make this work.

This is not A.C.A. — aka Obama Care. This is regular old Medicare. It was like this when I first signed on (2004) except the premiums and deductibles were much lower and covered more.

They’ve been raising premiums and reducing coverage for the past decade. Bit by bit, tiptoeing around — like we won’t notice. They think we are stupid.

Until two years ago, I had MassHealth (Medicaid Massachusetts-style). I really didn’t notice because MassHealth picked up whatever Medicare didn’t. When they took away MassHealth, holy moly … talk about getting whacked with a two-by-four. My head is still spinning.

Meanwhile, I have to get an answer to this question: “What steps do I need to take to change from my current medical plan, with which I am dissatisfied, to a better plan? To whom do I need to talk? What forms need filling out?”

I cannot be the only person unhappy with their plan who wants to switch. Open enrollment starts on October 15, so I’m right on target for taking care of business. I’m good at this kind of thing. Usually. Yet fifteen minutes into trying to get an answer to this question, I find myself staring at asterisks that do not lead to footnotes or other information. Statements telling me “This plan may not cover all medical expenses.” With no explanation of what that means. Doesn’t that sound a bit threatening to you? Sets my teeth on edge, lemme tell ya.

Medicare-Payment-Methods-1024x768

I’m smart. I’m not senile. I’m not on any mind-altering substances but my brain is turning to jelly and I’m ready to start banging my head on the table. Who wrote this stuff? The only way you can write documentation this bad is (a) be a really bad writer, and (b) not know what you’re talking about. Only with that precise combination of poor writing skills and misinformation can you produce documentation which informs no one while confusing and infuriating everyone. It doesn’t have to be this bad.

Hire me. I’ll rewrite it and when I’m done, pretty much everyone will be able to understand it. It’s not such a leap to ask that information be written clearly and organized logically.

Considering Medicare is aimed at the elderly and infirm and I — not all that elderly or infirm — cannot make heads or tails of it? Pity the folks who’ve had a stroke or just aren’t good at deciphering complicated documents.

Hello My Government! Yoohoo out there! Show some compassion. Hire some writers. Make informed decisions possible. This stuff is life or death, y’know?

JUST DIE ALREADY

That’s the message. The ACA doesn’t affect me directly since I’m already on Medicare — except that the out-of-pocket costs of Medicare have been going up each year. Higher deductibles and premiums, less coverage for the money and the doughnut hole in prescription coverage just keeps going and going and going. They are nibbling away at the coverage. Slowly and surely.

Coffin

Ever since I turned 65, it’s been a rapid downhill slide into worsening medical care. As long as was on MassHealth, the Massachusetts version of “Obama Care,” I was fine. I got medication for cheap or free and if I was sick, they took care of me. Thank God I had cancer while I was still covered under MassHealth!

The day I turned 65, they tossed me off of MassHealth. I had thought I was protected because of my disabled status. I received Disability payments rather than Social Security. Being officially disabled automatically entitled me to Mass Health. But, they had a simple solution to the conundrum.. They reclassified me and took me off disability, switching me to standard Social Security. It’s the same money, but without any protection. Wow! I was no longer disabled — a miracle indeed.

Did I get really get richer or healthier? Nope. The Great Minds who designed the system decree when you hit 65, you are healed of your disabilities and can can live on 1/3 the amount of money you needed just days before. Poverty is redefined to levels so low you couldn’t afford maintenance on a refrigerator crate.

Apparently The-Powers-That-Be believe the benevolent folks who hold our mortgage and other debts will knock 2/3 off our payments because they understand we are older and poorer.

In your dreams.

poor-old-man2

I knew it was going to happen but I’d been trying not to think about it. I knew because it happened to my husband when he turned 65. Bang, no more MassHealth. You’re on your own, buster. Garry has fewer major health issues than I do, a situation that is not guaranteed to last forever but so far, so good.

Me, on the other hand … well. I’m just about to hit the second anniversary of the two tumors which cost me both breasts  — the definition of a bi-lateral mastectomy. I had cancer twice — simultaneously. Those two-for-one sales are a killer.

Essentially, I’m getting no care at all, not even checkups. My insurer has too few oncologists. I hope for the best and don’t think on it much. Usually. Except at night, when I’m trying to fall asleep. Then, I wonder what’s really going on in my body. It is not the sort of thinking conducive to peaceful sleep.

I have evolved into a cardiac disaster area. I need a new mitral valve and other things. Turns out that my Medicare Advantage Plan (an oxymoron if ever I heard one) charges $50 per day co-pay for cardiac rehab. Since there is no way we can come up with that money, I can’t afford cardiac rehab. With all the deductibles, I’m not even sure I can afford the surgery itself … and I’m not sure they’ll perform it if I can’t do the rehab. I’m trying real hard to find something funny here and not doing such a great job.

HealthCareCosts

I’ve been considering using Magical Thinking as a medical alternative. Magical Thinking is holistic medicine for the hopelessly deluded. Rather than medication and surgery, I pretend I’m fine and kaboom — I’m fine. Problem eliminated. Magical thinking is cheap, efficient and much less stressful than actually dealing with the problem.

Okay, back to earth. I’m getting a message from the ether and the message, ladies and gentleman is (wait for it) … “Just die already.”

If I could afford $220 per month more, I could get a policy without deductibles. Ironically, that’s exactly what it costs me monthly to keep the house heated. On the budget plan. Could I skip heating and trade up for better medical insurance? But this is New England. It gets cold.

Or, for an additional $200 per month (which we don’t have) — plus the cost of Medicare — I could get a Medigap policy that would cover everything Medicare doesn’t cover. I’d need a prescription plan separately and no plan covers that big doughnut hole in the middle of prescription coverage. Kind of a moot point since I don’t have the money. Hell, we have more month than money now. More? From where? Our generous government entitlements?

If I don’t take care of the bad valves, I will die. If I delay too long, the chances of the surgery working well become increasingly poor. I can’t afford the surgery, not really … and the alternative is?

The message comes through loud and clear. I’ve outlived my usefulness. Just die already.

With the shut down of the government by those opposed to the ACA (let’s call them “Republicans” and be done with the niceties), with the GOP apparently believing “Just die already” is a reasonable message to send to me and lots of other people, I have to wonder how I wound up here. We worked hard our whole lives. We deserve better than this. I try not to be whiney about it, but it hurts to find oneself discarded, marginalized, back against the wall with the wolves closing in.

How did the United States become this ugly, mean-spirited country that would rather close down than offer medical care to its poor, its children, its senior citizens? How did we come to this? Who are we, anyhow?

I know. I get it. Just die already.

WEEKLY PHOTO CHALLENGE: SATURATED – RED ON WHITE

Red Barn White Snow

As bright as is the autumn, winter is intensely white. A monochromatic world where the intensity of the whiteness makes any other color jump out at you. As does this red barn on a fresh white snowy field. Hadley, Massachusetts.

1771 – The First Quaker Meeting House

Conveniently located at the corner of our street and that other road, just short of a mile from our front door, you can see the historic first Quaker Meetinghouse in Massachusetts, built in 1771. It’s right on the Rhode Island border (as are we) and only the happenstance of the way the lines were drawn prevented it from being in Rhode Island like most of the historic Quaker Meeting Houses are in New England.

It isn’t in weekly use any more, but services are held there on Thanksgiving morning and many people arrange for weddings and other important celebrations to take place there. I think we will have our 25th anniversary vow renewal there. It will be our 3rd renewal. Just 2 years to go! If we all stay healthy, come on down!

The church is unheated. They’ve rigged up a sort of warm air blower to take the worst of the chill off, but even at Thanksgiving when deep winter hasn’t arrived, it’s cold inside. You need an overcoat.

It’s spare, plain, and simple inside, as you would expect. And beautiful, as you would also expect.

Located at the intersection of Rt. 146A and Rt. 98, if you find it, you've almost found us. Let me know if you'll be in town!

Located at the intersection of Rt. 146A and Rt. 98, if you find it, you’ve almost found us. Let me know if you’ll be in town!

It is a registered national landmark and is well maintained. You cannot get inside unless it’s one of the special occasions when it’s open to the public, but you are always welcome on the grounds. Hard to get a good angle on it since it’s awkwardly placed on top of a hill, surrounded by trees, its own road, and the intersection of Rt. 146A and Rt. 98, but I’m going to try it again with the widest lens I have and some close-ups of windows and doors … if it ever stops raining here.

Off to Connecticut today to pick up a car that friends are passing along to us as they got something ever so much spiffier. It will be good for us as it’s an all-wheel vehicle that will serve us well in the upcoming winter.

Funny about living here. It’s not yet the 4th of July, full air conditioning season. But thoughts are already turning to winter. Warm weather is brief in New England. This year, as soon as May ended, it turned into the monsoon season, nothing but torrential downpours, 100+ temperatures, followed by more rain. Interspersed with tornadoes, thunder and lightning. It’s the green time of year. Not just leaves. Everything is green with mold from dampness.

My gardens are drowned. My two baskets of fuchsia are still doing okay and one begonia is trying to hold on to life, but there’s been no sun. Plants can’t live in mud. There’s no air in mud and our soil is clay and hard. It doesn’t drain. So summer’s been a washout. Literally.

I hope we manage to squeeze in a few glorious weeks of autumn between season and season. It’s our reward for surviving the rest of the year and maybe it will stop raining long enough for the leaves to change color before they are washed away!

George’s Coney Island

George’s Coney Island Hot Dogs is an original, serving hot dogs from generation to generation, everyday except Tuesday.

Founded in 1918, George’s Coney Island remains in its landmark location at 158 Southbridge Street in downtown Worcester, Massachusetts. In 1938, its namesake George Tsagarelis expanded his “store” to include its art deco design, wooden booths, tile floor and all-important counter.

In 1940, he added the Romanoff designed 60 foot neon sign. Modeled after George’s hand, the hot dog dripping mustard sign has welcomed hot dog lovers and seekers of the secret sauce as well as photographers and artists from all over the world.

Swan Boat Summer

Boston Common is more than a park. With the Boston Public Garden adjacent to the common, it forms the green heart of a city that has grown big around the edges, but remains small and cozy at heart.

Friendly ducks, and squirrels will greet you.Friendly people, too. Boston is not New York. It’s got its share of weirdos and crime, but you can talk to strangers; they won’t remain strangers long. Except, maybe leave the Yankees cap back home. Just saying.

Still more neighborhood than metropolis, “The Com” belong’s to everybody in all seasons.

This is summertime, when swan boats circle the pond and sun shines warm.

Following the Blackstone River

Despite hundred of years of industrial pollution, the Blackstone River Valley survives.

A complex of rivers, tributaries, wetlands, forests, lakes and streams., the Blackstone River Watershed contains more than 30 dams  in its 46-mile length. This does not include dams on tributaries and other waterways, only those on the Blackstone itself.

West Dam

The watershed links two states and 24 communities. Over time and with the demise of the mills and disappearance of the factories, the dams created marsh and wetlands that have become critical to the ecosystem.

Mumford River, Uxbridge

Mumford River, Uxbridge

Several lakes are part of the system, including Webster Lake and some big ponds that seem to be nameless. They are just there, by the road, sometimes with boat slips or docks, occasionally having little beaches where you can swim, if you can find them.

The Blackstone River‘s levels rise and fall with the seasons, with heavy rain and melting snow, and with periods of drought.

About Those Dams 

Depending on who you ask, there are at least 30 dams on the Blackstone, but there many more dams if you include tributaries and large streams. In fact, there are dams just about everywhere if you look for them. They create waterfalls and exquisite ponds, as well as wetlands.

Manchaug

Dams would typically be associated with a mill, but many now appear to stand alone. Probably, there was a mill there once. But it’s gone.  The dam lives on in the middle of nowhere. Figure there was something there  — maybe a gristmill for local farms or something like that. Some  of these old dams are works of art.

cropped-75-blackstonegold-nk-1.jpg

Old Stone Fences

Speaking of the middle of nowhere, a lot of land around here was cultivated but has returned to forest. Our home is on former farm land. Many clues about the history areas in New England can be found if you can find the stone fences.

96-StoneFence-HP-2

Our modest acreage is crisscrossed by stone fences. These walls mark the edges where fields were. Now, they’re the middle nowhere, which of course is just where I live.

Finding Places

Most of the good stuff is invisible until you get out of your car and take a walk. I look for areas where I can safely stop and park (the definition of what is good enough changes depending on terrain and how badly I want to stop). With narrow roads bounded by close-growing woods and wetland, it’s good to be cautious when you take your vehicle to an unpaved area.

Often, patches of ground that look like weedy, slightly muddy ground are the edge of the marsh. I use the “if it looks wet but it hasn’t rained in the last few days, don’t go there” rule. That generally works. I am not as intrepid as once I was . The problem is always to find a safe place  for the car that still puts me within modest walking distance from my target area. I should mention that I can’t walk too well these days. My goat-girl clambering years are past.  I’m not surefooted and my hip joints and I have a deal: I let them alone and they let me walk.

Swans_20 - Marilyn Armstrong

I look for little sandy pull-off areas that appear to adjoin a dirt road, and if possible, near an overpasses. An overpass tells me that the river is right under me, so whatever I’m looking for is not far. When you see a pull-off next to a dirt walking trail, that means other people come there. Not instructional and surely not on any map, but for this area, pretty good. Unlike the suburbs, rural areas don’t have signs telling you what you can or cannot do … or where you are. They figure you know where you are or ought to, and you’ll do whatever you came to do.

On the up side, you’re unlikely to have anyone yell at you that you’re not allowed to go there. For that matter, if you fall in the rapids and drown, it might be a while before they find you. I have adjusted my roaming accordingly. I try to bring a friend who can call 911 if I do something dumb.

If these places have names, there’s no sign. Rhode Island is better about signage than Massachusetts, where the attitude is “If you don’t know where you are, why are  you here?” Rhode Island is more densely populated, maybe because it is so tiny.

Here, in south central Massachusetts, there’s a lot of open areas that don’t seem to belong to anyone and it’s rare to bump into other people. When you do, they aren’t chatty. You don’t go to places no one can find to converse with strangers. Thus, most places I go  places are unmarked. No road signs, nothing to tell you which piece of river, lake or dam you’ve found. If you don’t find it amusing, you’ll spend all your time grousing, so you might as well laugh.

Photograph by Garry Armstrong. Aldrich tributary.

Photograph by Garry Armstrong. Aldrich tributary.

When I’m shooting, I roam. I often have no idea how I got to wherever I landed. Sometimes the GPS helps, but many places are off-road and not on the map. There are places I’ve been once, but never found again. Off a path by a bridge along a side road near a farm, maybe in Massachusetts, perhaps Rhode Island. I have always loved going wherever the road took me.

I’m especially fond of the old low stone bridges that I call “keyholes” but probably have another name. A lot of them are also now in the middle of nowhere, on paths that are long gone and not even accessible by foot.

The Canal in Fall

Some of the oldest bridges are still in use, repaired and rebuilt many times, now supporting heavy traffic — cars and trucks — on roads that were designed for horse and buggy or herds of cows. Better not to think too hard on that.

One of the larger lakes that forms a part of the watershed is Webster Lake. A map from 1795 shows the name as “Chargoggaggoggmancogmanhoggagogg”. A survey of the lake from 1830 names the lake as “Chaubunagungmamgnamaugg”, which is an older name. The following year, both Dudley and Oxford, which at that time bordered the lake, filed maps listing it as “Chargoggagoggmanchoggagogg”.

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Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg or Webster Lake is probably the largest open body of water in the valley. Spelling of  this lake’s long (probably Algonquin) name varies a lot, depending on where you read about it. Since it isn’t English, it’s at best a rough transliteration anyhow. The actual meaning is conjecture. Local residents pride themselves on being able to pronounce the long name of the lake. I can’t. I just call it Webster Lake. It doesn’t make it less beautiful.

And so it goes. Hopefully there will come a day (soon!) when the pollution is gone and our river is clean. Meanwhile, the beauty is there for all of us.

When comes the revolution, it will start at the motor vehicle bureau

Four years ago, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts decided they could save a few bucks if they stopped reminding people to renew their drivers licenses. We are all supposed to remember what year our license expires. Since drivers licenses are good for five years, pretty much no one remembers, thus no one can renew on-line: an expired license can only be renewed in person. Because anyone who has an expired license needs an eye test.

It doesn’t matter if it’s one day or 3 years 364 days. If the license has expired, you must come to the RMV in person to get an eye test. According to the RMV, there is a direct, if somewhat obscure and mystical connection between an expired license and failing eyesight.

Note: After 4 years, you have to start over as if you never had a license at all, including written and road tests.

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To save us even more money, the Commonwealth decided to close down all the kiosk RMV (Registry of Motor Vehicle) mini offices at malls where you could get simple tasks completed quickly and conveniently. But that was not enough. They then closed more than half the local RMV branches, keeping only the main offices open.

Between one thing and another, the result is a guaranteed daily pile-up of disgruntled Massachusetts motorists at the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

Garry discovered his license had expired and came home upset. I tried to renew it on-line, but though it had expired less than two weeks earlier, he had to renew in person because he needed an eye test. This makes sense to someone. A punitive eye test. It is your punishment for not noticing that your license was expiring.

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He wondered if he could defer it. No one ever wants to go to the RMV, but there’s no reprieve. Driving around with an expired license is not an option. Should something happen, even a minor fender bender, you would end up getting hit with a fine that would make your head spin.

We headed up to Worcester, which according to the RMV office locater was the nearest branch. That turned out to be untrue, but we needed to get it done and had barely enough time. Away we went. It was a trip backwards in time.

I remember saying if revolution comes to this country, it will start at the motor vehicle bureau where frustrated, tired, aggravated citizens get bounced from place to place in pursuit of accomplishing a simple goal in a reasonable length of time. That we were at the RMV at all was because some moron thought sending a postcard to licensed drivers every 5 years was costing too much money. I’d like to see a cost analysis on this brilliant piece of legislation.

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There used to be dozens of queues at the RMV. In the bad old days, you waited on whichever line you thought was the right one until you got to the front, discovered you had waiting on the wrong line, were directed to some other place to start over.

After several hours of bouncing from line to line, with the queues getting longer and angrier as the day wore on, at 5 o’clock sharp, they’d close and tell you to come back another day. The new method eliminates lines. Not a queue in sight. The Powers That Be have used chaos theory and a non-linear approach to eliminate lines and logic simultaneously. It’s a new world, a science fiction world, a completely incomprehensible world.

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To get you oriented, everyone starts on a single information line where you get a little deli counter paper ticket. On it is printed a 3-digit number preceded by a letter. We were I-256.

There are letter codes A, B, C, D, F, G, I and Z. I do not know what any of them mean or if they mean anything. I don’t know why those letters were chosen as opposed to other letters. It’s all part of the non-linear thing. In the front lobby, there is a single, rather small illuminated sign that flashes the next number up. There is no order to what combinations of numbers and letter might be next.

Any combination can be called any time to any window. There were about 24 queues, though not all were open. If you got lucky, you could hear a sotto voce announcement I’m sure Garry couldn’t hear at all and I could only hear parts of and only sometimes. There were words to the effect that “We are now serving A-132 at window 14″ and that number would flash on the screen. Sometimes they would flash the number for a couple of minutes, sometimes for just a few seconds.

They might be serving Z-542 at window 2, followed by D-234 at window 17. Everyone hovered near the screen because the noise level precluded being able to hear anything. When finally your number was up, you had to dash madly to whatever line you were called, which could be a long run (in my case, hobble) to the other side of the building. No way to know how soon you would be waiting. You didn’t dare leave, not even to go the bathroom.

Garry was baffled. I said that the RMV had eliminated bourgeois linearity and gone to a non-linear chaos-based formula.

“What?” he said.

“Completely random,” I assured him. We were both having flashbacks to the near riots of the 1960s as the lines in the motor vehicle bureau would stretch into the street and around the block. There were just as many people waiting now as then, but there were no lines, just folks sitting on hard benches with dull, blank faces or milling around wondering what happened to order and logic, and why don’t they simply send a postcard reminding you to renew your license? It took three and a half hours.

I took some pictures. Security concluded I was a terrorist. It had been a bad week for Boston and even on a good week, bureaucrats always assume anyone with a camera has evil intentions. I took the pictures quickly, so by the time they told me to put the camera away because “this is a State building!” (what that had to do with anything I don’t know), my camera was out of sight and I was standing around looking bored, annoyed and out of sorts like everyone else.

Finally, they called us. Garry got a new picture which is nominally less horrible than the one he had for the past 10 years. He passed his eye test, signed an autograph for the lady who served us (who became much less rude helpful after recognizing Garry), and we finally got out of there.

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I took pictures of the flag being raised again because it was exactly a week since the bombings at the Marathon which was also weird.

So I ask you: are they really saving money? Or is this just another way to make our lives more difficult?

Because I don’t believe for a moment that the savings are not more than offset by needing many more people working at the RMV instead of the rest of us being able to renew our licenses on our computers at home.

Just saying.

A strange week ended as the flag rose high

I was, unexpectedly, at the Registry of Motor Vehicles in Worcester. We had finally … and I do mean finally … finished our little bit of business and I thought I should take a few pictures because I was there, I had a camera and the flags, flying at half mast, were snapping in the wind.

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There were three flags flying: the flag of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the American flag and the MIA-POW flag. As I shot, the flags started to move up their poles.

Mourning was over and as I took pictures, the flags were raised. First the American flag was raised to her full height, then the Massachusetts flag and finally the MIA-POW flag.

It was an important moment and later I saw on the news that in Boston as they had raised the flag, the entire city fell into a complete silence. I think my husband and I were the only people in Worcester who noticed, except for the man who was raising them. He came over afterwards to apologize for ruining my shot. I assured him he had not ruined anything and that I was proud and pleased to have caught that particular moment.

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And so the nightmare that started one week ago at the Boston Marathon officially ended this afternoon. In Boston, the raising of the flag was accompanied by a respectful silence. In  Worcester, only Garry and I and the man raising the flags bore witness. A strange world in which we live.

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They got one alive!

News !!

Watching the manhunt for the last couple of hours. Surreal. How often do you get a message like this from your electric company?

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And finally, it’s over.

The second of the two alleged Boston Marathon bombers has been captured. Alive. How alive? I don’t know but he left by ambulance. Maybe we’ll find out what on God’s green earth motivated these two young men.

Boston locked down for massive manhunt; one bombing suspect killed by police, the other at-large

See on Scoop.itIn and About the News By Annie Gowen, Clarence Williams and Debbi Wilgoren, Updated: Friday, April 19, 9:39 AM

WATERTOWN, Mass. — A massive manhunt was underway Friday morning in Boston and its suburbs, after one suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings died in a confrontation with police and the second was identified as a 19-year-old immigrant from Kyrgystan who, a classmate said, attended high school in Cambridge, Mass. The two suspects are brothers, authorities said, and are believed to have lived in the United States with their family for several years.

State Department officials said the family appears to have arrived in the country legally. Alleged motive remains unclear, but they appear to be from the Southern Russian republic of Chechnya. Boston, Watertown and several other suburbs were in an unprecedented state of lockdown on Friday, with mass transit canceled, schools and business closed and residents ordered to stay indoors.

Law enforcement officials said they believed the at-large suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, may be strapped with explosives. They were taking extreme precautions in an effort to avoid further loss of life. A campus security officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was killed in a confrontation with the suspects Thursday night, and a transit officer was critically wounded. “This situation is grave. We are here to protect public safety,” Police Commissioner Ed Davis said. “We believe this to be a terrorist. We believe this to be a man here to kill people.”

The suspects were introduced to the world via photos and video footage Thursday night. The one who was killed was identified as Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26. The brothers’ alleged motive in the bombings, which killed three people and injured more than 170, remains unknown, but their family appears to have immigrated from the Southern Russian republic of Chechnya, and two law enforcement officials said there is a “Chechen connection” to the bombings. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was born in Kyrgystan, law enforcement authorities said. He has a Massachusetts driver’s license.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev was born in Russia and became a legal U.S. resident in 2007. All public transportation was shut down in the greater Boston area Friday morning, officials said, and no vehicle traffic was permitted in or out of Watertown during the massive manhunt. Residents of Boston, Watertown, Newton, Waltham and elsewhere were asked to stay inside, with their doors locked. Colleges and universities announced they would close for the day, and businesses were instructed not to open. Streets were ghostly quiet. Thousands of officers searched house-to-house, and some areas were evacuated.

A Massachusetts State Police spokesman says police closed down a stretch of Norfolk Street in Cambridge, where they think Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his family lived. “We don’t know if he’s there. There is a possibility the suspect is there,” the spokesman, David Procopio, said. Procopio said the manhunt was triggered after the brothers apparently robbed a 7-Eleven store on or near the MIT campus, about 10:20 p.m. Thursday night. They allegedly shot the Sean Collier, a 26-year-old MIT campus police officer, as he sat in his car. Collier, of Somerville, joined the force in January, 2012 after working as a civilian for the Somerville Police Department, officials said.

Marilyn Armstrong‘s insight:
I hope they get someone alive. Chechnya? Have we ever done something to them? Like, when and what? And why the Marathon? Huh?

See on www.washingtonpost.com

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