THE CHANGING SEASONS – SEPTEMBER AGAIN (2017)

LAYERED – THE DAILY POST WEEKLY PHOTO CHALLENGE


In this third year of watching the seasons change from month to month, this is the first time we have reached late September, yet fall has not come.

Just as summer arrived a month and a half late this year, it appears that autumn will be equally late. Almost as if this earth has been slightly knocked off its typical circuit and isn’t rolling around in the usual way.

Old brickwork along the Blackstone Canal and river

It is still late summer outside. Although you can see hints of red and yellow here and there, the normal colors of autumn are pastel and difficult to see. Patches of some of the trees, especially those along the river, have a bit of color, but not what I would normally expect.

Of course, this is by no means the latest autumn has arrived. Autumn — that burst of brilliant color — is keyed to the weather. Dry weather with cold night is what usually makes the sap stop running and turns the trees bright and clear. We’ve had warm days with cooler nights, but not cool enough. And right now, we are enjoying rain brought to us by the remnants of former hurricane Jose. No wind, or at least not in this neighborhood. Maybe it is windier along the coast and on the Island — Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard maybe.

When the rain ends, then we shall see. October is always “the” month for autumn in this region. Further north, in Canada and Maine, they might already be deep into autumn, but I’m hearing that it hasn’t happened there, either. It is still late summer, even in the north.

I have a lot of pictures this month, but  you will have to wait one more month to see our glorious New England autumn.

Please don’t forget to visit:

Max a.k.a. Cardinal Guzman – The Changing Seasons 

for more of this months wonderful seasons around the world.

THE EARLIEST WHIFF OF AUTUMN

A Photo a Week Challenge: Signs of Fall


I was going to use last October’s pictures because it isn’t really Autumn yet. It will be. Maybe a week from now if no-longer-hurricane Jose would move on out, taking the rain and gusty winds with it.

And if the nights would turn cold while the days were dry and sunny.

In the meantime, it’s autumn-like in patches. A bit here, a bit there. Just of whiff of the season lays in the trees right now.

We took pictures of this very early Autumn. Although the whole season is not here, the hint of it is beautiful in its own way.

BORN ON THE BLACKSTONE

America: Born Bankrupt


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

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, British shipping, and British trade routes.

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

Photo: Garry Armstrong

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

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

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

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

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

What Did We Have?


Slaves and land. Sugar and rum.

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

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

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

North and south, slaves made their owners rich. North and south, fortunes were made selling human beings, then profiting from their labor. When it came time to write the Constitution and transform a bunch of individual colonies into one country, the Devil’s compromise was needed. Abolishing slavery would doom any attempt to pass the constitution … so slavery became law. The groundwork was laid for the bloodiest war America would ever fight.

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

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


Question: If our Founding Fathers were so smart, how come they didn’t see that slavery would come back to bite us in the ass?

Answer: They knew it was wrong and knew that it would result in civil war. In other words, they did knew it would bite us in the ass. They could keep slavery and form a strong nation — or eliminate slavery and end up with two weak countries, one slave, one free. They chose what they thought was the lesser of the two evils.

Was it the lesser evil? Hard to say and it’s a bit late to second guess the past. It was clear from the get-go there was no way we were going to form a nation if slavery was made illegal. From private writings by members of the continental congress, it’s clear they knew the issue of slavery would eventually be resolved by war. Long before 1776, slavery was the polarizing issue in the colonies. So “The Great Compromise” was put into place, the Constitution was approved and a later generation fought the war.

The Right Thing went head-to-head with The Bottom Line. The Right Thing lost. Imagine that!

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

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

So About Those Mills …


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It invited development. The question was how.

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

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

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 had spent years working at an English textile mill. He recognized that Brown’s machinery was never going to work. Slater had fine engineering skills. In under a year, he’d redesigned and built a working mill on the Blackstone River.

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

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

The Blackstone Canal


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

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

Slow moving water in the canal …

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

What Does This Have To Do With Slavery?


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

Building the Canal


The Blackstone Canal took 4 years to build, from 1824 to 1828. The main canal runs alongside the Blackstone. In some places, the canal and the river are one. There is an extensive network of small canals, many on tributary rivers like the Mumford. The main canal was designed to handle large barges. It travels in a relatively straight line from Worcester to Providence.

The smaller canals allowed mills to move goods to places not immediately on the Blackstone. Small barges could move cargo between towns and mills.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

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

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

Railroads


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

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

75-Train-NK-014a

Photo: Owen Kraus

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

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

Pollution


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

We’re still cleaning up. Although not as polluted as it was, the watershed has a long way to go. The river’s tributaries are less polluted than the Blackstone itself because against all logic and reason, waste-water is still being discharged from a sewage treatment plant in Millbury. It’s hard to fathom what reasoning, if any, those who favor pouring sewage into our river are using. The fight never ends.

72-Heron_145

Good news? The birds and fish are back.

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

MY TARA – BY ELLIN CURLEY

The highlight of each year for me growing up, was the summer I got to spend at our summer-house in Easton, CT. This was not a charming cottage in the woods. It was a magnificent 40 acre estate.

My father bought the land from a farmer in 1933. 40 acres for $10,000! He had the opportunity to buy an additional 40 acres but decided that he didn’t need all that land. He regretted that decision for the rest of his life. That land appreciated so much it’s obscene.

In 1934, Dad built the main house, on top of a small hill. It sat on several acres of manicured grounds. Those grounds consisted of a large circular driveway with a giant tree in the middle. There was also a stone garage across from the house at the other end of the driveway.

original house without porch

There was a large retaining wall along one side of the house that bordered the lawn and flower gardens. The house, the wall and the garage were made of stone and were constructed by expert stone masons. As it happens, there was a severe depression in Italy in 1934. Many churches and cathedrals had to halt construction. That left many highly skilled Italian stone masons out of work, some of whom migrated to America. These were the men who built Dad’s house, wall and garage. The workmanship was impeccable. These guys had just been building cathedrals in Italy!

While the house was being built, my Dad also had a pond dug, on the flat land at the bottom of the hill, next to a 17 acre field. The view from one side of the house and from the front lawn, through the trees, was this lovely pond.

However, the pond has a tragic back story. A deaf-mute couple down the road had two young daughters. They would come to play on the site where the pond was being dug. Beneath the pond was a treacherous muddy muck that could suck things down like quicksand. One of the girls fell into the pond and started to sin. Her sister went in after her to save her. They both drowned. That story has always haunted me, and my father as well.

My grandfather fell out of his canoe once and also started to sink. But by some miracle, he managed to get out. He was covered in mud from head to toe. My grandmother nearly had a heart attack when she saw him.

When my dad married my mom in 1949, she immediately added a screened in porch to the front of the house and a maid’s room to the back. The stone masonry on these projects was clearly not up to the standards of the original Italian workers.

In 1953, when I was three and a half, my parents added a small house behind the garage. The house was divided into two, one bedroom cottages. The larger one was for my grandparents so they could spend summers next door to their granddaughter. The smaller one was for the caretaker couples my parents hired to take care of the houses and property year round. A swimming pool was also added around this time, next to the pond at the bottom of the hill, away from the house.

It was heaven for me to have my grandparents right there all summer! When I was little, my grandfather and I would fish and canoe and play in the pool and hunt for frogs in the woods with our dog. My grandmother would cook with me and teach me to crochet and talk with me endlessly. I spent all day in and out of their house.

I also had the caretakers to hang out with. I spent a lot of time with them and they became part of the extended CT family. Bill and Marion had a dog named Tidy Paws. I’ll never forget that name!

When I was eleven, Arthur and Marie came on as caretakers and stayed for 18 years. They were truly family to me. It was Arthur who taught me how to drive. I spent a lot of time with both of them, their kids, and eventually their granddaughter, “Little Marie”. I recently reconnected with “Little Marie” through a mutual friend. We reminisced and I gave her one of many needle points her grandmother had made for me. She was thrilled.

I was also allowed to keep pets in CT, but not in the apartment in New York City. The caretakers took care of the pets during the winter. So during the summers, I also got to spend time with my cat, my dog and at one point, a rabbit. Talk about paradise for a child!

Me with my dog and my bunny

I spent as much time as I could at the house through college and law school. My grandfather died in 1972 and my grandmother in 1975. So in 1976, my new husband and I moved into my grandparent’s cottage for weekends and part of the summer. When we had our first child, we turned a closet into a crib area. When my son got older, we moved him into the living room to sleep.

By 1987, we had two kids, aged two and seven. Both were sleeping in the living room in tent beds. It was getting pretty cramped. That’s when we decided to build a house of our own on a piece of my father’s land, deep in the woods, behind the main house. We moved into our new summer-house in 1989 and moved their full time in 1991. I’m still there!

My mom died in 2002, shortly before I married my current husband, Tom. She had refused to do the estate planning that her lawyers had been urging her to do for years. So in order to pay the estate taxes, I had to sell her CT house along with the remaining 27 acres of land. I was heartbroken! That house and property meant so much to me!

Selling the house was particularly sad. Growing up, my father would have annual anxiety attacks, usually around tax time, and insist that we could no longer afford to keep the house in CT. I would get hysterical. I would cry and beg. I would make my parents promise, over and over, year after year, that they would never sell the house and that someday it would be mine.

The irony is that they never did sell the house but I had to! And I have to look at it every time I drive down the road. It’s still a dagger to the heart, after all these years.

At least I still have my house right next to the stream and mini waterfall where I used to play as a child. I’m still on part of my father’s original land so I’ve preserved some of the family estate. And that makes me happy.

When I decided to move to CT full-time, my mother called me a “hick” because I wanted to leave New York City for country life. She wanted to know what she had done wrong with me. After all, she had exposed me to all the culture and excitement of New York City, why hadn’t any of it stuck? I replied that she had also exposed me to idyllic summers in the country surrounded by extended family and pets. THAT was where I was truly happy. And THAT is what stuck!

The beautiful porch from the inside with a view of the glorious front lawn (a friend is on the chaise)

A LEAF ON THE FIRST FULL DAY OF AUTUMN

A LEAF – NOT AUTUMN YET


Not a great day for the leaf, I’m afraid. It’s cool outside, but it’s also extremely humid and the wind — ex-Jose of the hurricanes — has returned. Again. This is the first year we are suffering from hurricane remnants that just won’t go away. Usually they come, they blow, they rain, they leave. This one is just bouncing around the north Atlantic, washing out Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, as well as Cape Cod.

Locally, we’ve got drizzle, some slightly heavier rain, and humidity that makes breathing a real effort. I do not like this weather one little bit and it is messing up autumn.

THE YOGA YEARS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I taught Yoga for eight years, from 1995-2003. Those were eight very happy years. After that, I developed severe sciatica and had to stop teaching. I still miss it.

I got into Yoga in a backhanded way. In 1994, my then 14-year-old son was struggling at school with, among other things, ADHD. I was trying anything and everything, including medication, to help him get through school in one piece. I had heard that Yoga could help with focus, so I decided we should give it a try.

The class was torture for David. He couldn’t even focus enough to follow the class and fell hopelessly behind. I, on the other hand, left the class feeling that my life had changed in some significant way.

By 1995, I was serious enough to enroll in a Kripalu Center Training Program that trained and certified Yoga instructors. Most training programs involved a one month, live in commitment. I don’t know who can ever disappear from their lives for a whole month. I certainly couldn’t.

Fortunately Kripalu offered a weekend program that covered, I think six weekends, somewhere in Pennsylvania. Hours away but doable. Perfect for me.

Me with a fellow student at the Kripalu Teacher Certification Program

I loved that program and I came to love the people. There was lots of reading and home practice so my family had to do with much less of me for those six weeks. The classes and the material were very much oriented to teaching us how to teach. I’m very grateful for that because I honed my teaching skills in those classes. I found it fascinating. I also found that I was good at it.

I’ve never been a spiritual person. I’m an atheist who believes in science and hard evidence above all else. Thankfully, this class also focused on explaining the science of Yoga. There are physiological reasons why every Yoga practice actually effects your body and mind on a cellular level. I learned that the breath is how we communicate between our mind and our body. I learned how muscles stretch and change  — gradually and in conjunction with the breath.

I learned how relaxation and breathing techniques can help promote focus, centeredness, self-confidence, inner calm and a positive perspective. It’s amazing to me that monks from thousands of years ago understood this sophisticated level of biology, physiology, physics and chemistry.

Me, on the left, my mentor in the center and another Yoga teacher

I loved teaching. My students liked me too, which was very gratifying. I really felt that I changed people’s lives. I helped people deal with chronic pain and chronic stress as well as injuries and family crises. It was much more than an exercise class.

I just found out that someone who got interested in Yoga through my class, has just opened her own studio in my area. I’m going to take her class to show her my support and to see how much I influenced her Yoga and teaching style. That should be a wonderful experience for me.

I taught in a variety of venues. I taught classes in wellness Centers, Yoga Centers and Fitness Centers. I taught private classes in people’s homes for anywhere from two to four people.

My official “instructor photo” at the Fitness Edge

I liked to teach my students how to use the Yoga they learned in their daily lives. So I collected and handed out articles on the practical application of Yoga principles in everyday life. Things like how to sit at a computer so as to reduce physical and mental stress. Stretching exercises to do in the shower, on line at the supermarket or at your desk to reduce muscle tension and other forms of physical and emotional stress. How to use your breath to diffuse your automatic and damaging physiological stress reaction to a stressful situation.

I ended up creating a whole booklet for my students called “On The Go Stress Control”. In 2016 I published a four-part blog of the same title, for Serendipity.

See ON THE GO STRESS CONTROL – PART 1;  ON THE GO STRESS CONTROL – PART 2ON THE GO STRESS CONTROL –  PART 3; and ON THE GO STRESS CONTROL – PART 4.

The cover of my student manual

I understood that most people don’t have twenty minutes every day to meditate or 40 minutes every day to do Yoga. I felt that people needed to be able to incorporate simple Yoga techniques into their everyday routines. My goal was to give my students one to two-minute mini breathing or relaxation exercises to use throughout their day. This would help them deal with the 24/7 stress of modern life, which can be physically as well as mentally toxic.

I tried to get my manual published but was initially told that the subject matter was too obscure. A few years later, Yoga began to become more mainstream and I tried again to get published. This time I was told that the quick and easy Yoga and stress relief market was already glutted. I couldn’t win.

I was teaching a Yoga class on the morning of September 11, 2001. The first plane had hit before class started but it wasn’t until class was over that we learned about the second plane and about the terrorist attack. We did some extra breathing and relaxation exercises. I hope that helped my students deal with the horrific reality that was unfolding as we left class and turned on our radios and TV’s.

Front page of a marketing flyer for my Stress Control Program

Although I can’t do the physical practice of Yoga regularly anymore because of my sciatica, I still use breathing and relaxation techniques all the time. I use one to help me sleep, one to make walks more productive and less tiring and many others to help stay centered and positive. I use stretching combined with breathing to keep my muscles tension and pain-free most of the time.

Both my body and my mind are different now then they were before Yoga. I am in a much happier and healthier place in my life, in part because of my immersion in Yoga. I highly recommend it for people at any stage of life. It’s never too late to grow and change for the better. And have fun along the way.