ANGRY BIRDS AT THE FEEDER – Marilyn Armstrong

The one bird we are never short of around here are woodpeckers. We have at least five kinds. Only three of them come to the feeders: the little Downy Woodpecker, his big brother, the Hairy Woodpecker, and the Red-Bellied Woodpecker. The Red-Belly is the biggest of the bunch, but by physical size, the Blue Jay is a bigger bird.

I never realized what large birds Blue Jays are until I saw how big they are compared to the rest of our birds. Not, of course, counting the really big woodpecker who I see in the distance once in a while and the hawks and eagles.

Blue Jay still on the railing

Anyway, when the Blue Jay drops by for a meal, the other birds say “Yes sir, Mr. Jay,” and flutter off. Today, while big Mr. Jay was enjoying a little dinner, the Red-Belly decided to come by for a snack too. The Blue Jay is bigger, but other birds just don’t mess with the woodpeckers. Those birds have long beaks and hard heads and they are always in a grumpy mood. I think that’s from pounding their heads into oak trees all day long.

This is a series of pictures I got from the rather amusing event.

Blue is already there when the Red-Bellied Woodpecker arrives.
“Can we talk about this?” asks Mr. Jay.
“I don’t think so. How about you leave?” says Woody.
“This is MY feeder,” says Woody. “Take a flyer.”
“Okay, then. I’ll be flying a bit. See you around the woods,” says Jay.

The Red-Belly hung around for a while, it being dinner time. And when he was done, the Blue Jay came back and had his dinner too.  All was well but for some flurrying of feathers. As go the birds, so goes the world.

A STRAW AND A CAMEL – Marilyn Armstrong

I understand that Amazon is overloaded and slow delivery is routine and that’s okay. Most things I don’t need tomorrow or the next day. I don’t mind waiting a week and sometimes much more.

What gets me is that they deliver my stuff to other people’s houses. Our left-hand next door neighbor is one ornery, nasty old cuss. We used to listen to him shouting at his wife. She’s gone for at least a decade. I’m surprised she stayed as long as she did.

Not surprisingly, since Amazon has taken to dumping our packages on his walk, he has found it annoying. He refuses to return the packages. If we can’t figure out that he’s got them, he keeps them. Yes, it’s illegal and once we had to send the cops who explained the legalities and he decided maybe he should return the packages.

But, in all fairness, this is an ongoing issue. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told the package was delivered but it wasn’t … and it never appeared. It was delivered somewhere, but not here.

We have provided our phone number and very specific directions on how to get here. We put up a sign along the road so if you are trying to find the We have given Amazon specific instruction on how to get to this house and we have a big sign at the top of the driveway that has our house number on it. Four packages were supposed to be delivered today and all four of them went to the nasty old neighbor. And all four delivery slips said “packages given directly to residents.” No, they weren’t. Not to us, not to the neighbor. Not to anyone but us.

They promised me it would never happen again. I wasn’t my usual placid me because I can’t count how many times they have said this exact line to me and it hasn’t changed anything.

That they can’t get the address right is annoying. That they lie when they say they handed it to a resident is much more than annoying. I understand te drivers are under pressure, but they had other options including “delivery is delayed” if it is. But it wasn’t delayed. It was delivered to the wrong place.

I hate the lying. That they make it increasingly difficult to get in touch with anyone at Amazon to deal with problems is most annoying of all.

The whole point of ordering things is so they get delivered. To me. Not my neighbor who lives a quarter of a mile down the road. It wasn’t that the packages were delayed, lost, or still on the truck. They were delivered — just not to me. The guy lied, said he delivered them to a resident, and dumped them on our neighbor’s sidewalk. It isn’t okay. And if I have to find local places that sell what i want, then I’ll have to do it.

I hope the state lets some more store open soon because it gets increasingly difficult to buy anything except groceries.

ASK FOR RAIN, GET RAIN – Marilyn Armstrong

We needed rain. The river was low and I had to assume so was our aquifer — which means our well was also low. Not low enough to affect us yet because we have a 475 foot deep well. That’s about three times deeper than most people have. It must have cost a fortune to dig it, but it means we have more water in it than most people.

So on Saturday, it rained. We had about 2 or 3 hours of heavy rain and yesterday, most of the day was sunny. But around 3 in the afternoon, the sun disappeared and by dinner time, it was as dark as midnight. We could hear the thunder rolling almost continuously in the background. We were watching the news and the lights were flickering, so Owen came upstairs and we lit candles in each room because it looked like we were going to lose power any time.

Then there was the hail, so heavy is started coming in through the dog’s door.

Our back porch garden was flattened. They don’t look broken, but they are seriously bent and will need staking to prop them up. There was a lot worse in this storm, but fortunately for us, the storm turned sharply eastward and moved off to the coast and the Islands.

That’s what you get when you ask for rain, You get rain. Then you get hail. Then you get wind and torrential rain with so much lightening it looks like the clouds are lit from behind.

Well, I asked for rain. We got rain and a few other things, too.

NEW PICTURES OF THE LOUNGING SQUIRREL – Marilyn Armstrong

To the best of my knowledge, squirrels are the busiest animals in the world. They are eating, jumping, climbing, leaping, running. Busy, busy, busy. When whatever tore down our feeder tore it down, it was full, so Owen just put it on the deck.

Relaxed squirrel

All the birds and the chipmunk and the squirrels came and ate from it sitting on the deck. Apparently we don’t need to hang it. Just pour the seeds on the ground or leave the feeder on the deck. I makes photography kind of weird — sort of impossible — but the critters are happy. As long as none of them is a black bear. That would ruin the party.

Old-fashioned squirrel at rest

I might fend off a raccoon, but I’m pretty sure me and a bear would be “Bear – 1, Marilyn – 0.” Although maybe if one of them tore down the deck THEN the insurance would pay for it. One can dream, right?

So today, after everything ate their hearts out, the squirrel who had spent probably four hours chomping through probably three or four pounds of seeds, basically without stopping to breathe, decided he’d had enough.

Graphic squirrel

That’s right. The squirrel had eaten so much he couldn’t eat any more. A miracle, is it not. He tried to launch  himself into the woods, but he was pretty full and I guess too tired to move very far. So he got to the top of the railing and decided “What the hell, it’s a nice, sunny day. I think I’ll hang here for a while. Yawn.”

Thus I got these cool pictures of one squirrel too tired from trying to eat 10 pounds of food in one morning. He could see me fine. He watched me, I took pictures of him and he was just too well fed and full of seeds to go anywhere.

DEATH OF THE LAST BIG BIRDFEEDER – Marilyn Armstrong

When Owen came upstairs this morning, he looked out the window and realized the birdfeeder was missing. It’s a very big feeder and (used to) hold almost 20 pounds of seeds. We had the feeders down for a few weeks and only put them back a couple of days ago.

Not only was the feeder gone, but the bracket that held it was torn off the oak stanchion, We didn’t have the camera up, but it had to be a big racoon … or a bear. We do have bears, but so far, they haven’t bothered us. And they won’t bother us … unless we keep feeding them. They apparently habituate quickly and lose their fear of people in a hurry. These are black bears, the smallest of North American bears … but even a small bear is a lot stronger than a person.

Whatever took the feeder down was strong. I hope it was a racoon. I’m not ready to deal with bears. Both raccoons and bears not only tear down feeders, but frequently steal them entirely, tucking them under their arms and taking them home to the nest..

Aw, c’mon! That’s not fair! Feeders are not cheap!

Owen found ours on the ground. It’s pretty bent up, but at least the bracket is in one piece and he can probably straighten out the rest of it, more or less. I don’t think the birds will care if it’s bent. I’m not sure what else to do, but I’m thinking of just tossing seed to the ground and let everyone have a go at it without having to climb onto the deck.That would minimize photography, but I’ve gone through four feeders this season … and it’s only the end of June.

Raccoons are not true hibernators, but grown ones store up fat so that they can sleep through most of the winter. The problem is, our weather is getting warmer. Will winter be cold enough for bears to hibernate? Or will they be coming after the feeders and trash cans all through the year?

Sketchy Goldfinches

So, for now, since we have a lot of feed, we will put it on the ground below the deck. Everything can eat without climbing the deck. Bears are big and strong. If the Duke goes after a bear, it will not go well for the Duke.

I’ve run of money. I can’t afford more feeders. I’m worried it might have been a bear because so many have been seen locally. Bears also mean finding secure places to store trash cans. Bears can break into sheds, or for that matter, houses.With such warm winters, even a hibernating bear might not sleep soundly and come out for a midnight snack. 

AT LEAST IT’S A CHIPMUNK – Marilyn Armstrong

He is a chipmunk, but he’s a tiny little thing, maybe the size of the palm of my hand. He always comes alone, and if there are no birds or squirrels (or photographing people) around, he looks for fallen seeds on the deck. In fact, he is a “Least Chipmunk,” a rather miniaturized version of the big guys.

First I thought he was a baby, but he is the same size he was in February.

A least chipmunk
More seeds and I’m so hungry
He’s watching me doing his portrait

The last two times he visited, he somehow managed to get up onto the feeder. The big chipmunks seems to have disappeared. Possibly eaten by bigger predators? The big ones make a proper dinner, but this little guy is hardly worth the effort.

Portrait of a tiny chipmunk

Related to squirrels, flying squirrels, and chipmunks, he’s like a miniature version of a normal chipmunk.

Good meal, wasn’t it?

He sees me taking pictures. He watches me while he eats. When he fills his mouth pouches with seeds, he quickly leaves. He has figured out that I’m not a predator, but you never know about those birds!

Just think for a moment what a LONG trip it is for this tiny guy. He has to climb from the ground up the rail of the deck — at least 20 feet. Then he found his way onto the deck, then up the rail. Finally, he climbed the center rail and finally, finds a place on the feeder.

FALLING BETWEEN THE CHAIRS – Marilyn Armstrong

Trying to get a loan to install a new boiler in this house ought to be easy. I’ve been paying off as many debts as quickly as anyone on social security can, but apparently not fast enough. Never mind that the money has almost entirely been spent trying to keep the house from falling apart.

What I don’t “get” is that this is a zero percent loan. They aren’t even paying out the money. National Grid is paying the money.

Also, It’s not a huge number. At zero percent, it’s easy to pay off. But they have a computer. When it dings, you’re donged.

So I have a choice: find a lender with a soul, or not pay my mortgage until I have saved up enough money, and then pray that the the bank will make a deal. Or we wind up on the street. I’m hoping we won’t wind up in the street because I don’t think we would last long. We’re a little old for that.

It’s ironic. We make too much money to get housing assistance, but NOT enough to really afford housing. Once more, we have fallen between the chairs.

Daylilies

However, you will have to forgive me if I’m not overly cheery. I’m scared. Somehow, I’ve always found a way to survive, no matter how bad things got, but it’s not looking good. But who knows? Maybe it will get better?

And you know? Today the daylilies bloomed and a tiny chipmunk made his way onto the feeder and nibbled at it. Everything is fine … except … it’s not.

TREES BY THE RIVER – FOTD – GARRY ARMSTRONG

FOTD – June 18 – Trees by the river


Down by the river, Garry took some pictures. I keep hoping we’ll get a little bit of rain to clear the air of the pollen. Because tree pollen would normally be gone by now, but it has been so dry, it’s still lingering around.

The river, some kids, and wildflowers across the water
And some loverly reflections

And then there are leaves and trees, and some really pretty violet wildflowers growing wild along the Blackstone River.

Trees framing the river
Wildflowers

LIFE’S A MESS SO LET’S MAKE BREAD – MARILYN ARMSTRONG

Fandango’s Provocative Question #72


From Fandango:

Things are pretty screwed up right now. The world is still dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. The United States now has had almost 1.9 million cases of COVID-19 and more than 108,000 have died due to the virus, far and away more cases and deaths than any other country.

There is significant civil unrest and there are massive protests in the streets all across our country over our inability to come to grips with America’s original sin of slavery and the social and political inequalities that continue to persist 150 years after slavery in America ended.

And the U.S. has a madman for its president who is threatening to deploy the American military against American citizens on American soil.

So for this week’s provocative question, I’m going to try to shift your focus from the depressing to the exciting by asking you this simple question:


Life is insane. I’m emotionally and mentally exhausted and I’m pretty sure so is everyone else. I think if I were 30 years younger, I might be excited and more involved, but I’ve gotten on in years and I don’t have that amount of energy. Not even after a good night’s sleep and I don’t think the energy is coming back in this lifetime.

I want to help more, but I have limits. So, I write. That’s probably what I do best anyway. I write about right and wrong. I try to explain at least some of the history that has brought us to this time and place. I’m glad to help explain how this exploding country didn’t “just happen” because of one or several recent incidents. It has been growing and intermittently exploding since the colonies became the United States.

The last time the rioting started, Garry and I were living in Roxbury, aka “The Bury” which is a Black neighborhood. It is becoming (gradually) more mixed. I was an early mixer. Since Garry had always been the one dark guy in white neighborhoods, I thought it was time for me to be the white one in a Black neighborhood. Our ten years in Roxbury were wonderful. It was a great place to live and if it weren’t for The Big Dig, we might still be there.

Where Main Street ends – Photo: Garry Armstrong

Right now, I’d rather be in this little town. We do not lack our share of nutters and wackos, but I doubt you could get enough people together in one location to have a riot. It’s just not that kind of town although if the water mains go down again, that might see some yelling and carrying-on. As to national events? Everything is too far away to feel relevant to most people here.

We are secluded, surrounded by trees, garden birds, squirrels, raccoons, and flying squirrels. Hawks, owls, and eagles. Bobcats, foxes, and coyotes as well as baby squirrels and chipmunks who look like snacks to the hawks, bobcats, foxes, and coyotes. That’s the way of nature. You can’t blame the predators for getting hungry any more than you can blame the squirrels for eating all the birdseed. It’s just the way it is.

So in the midst of turmoil and trying to survive COVID, I’m home. A lot. In the name of retaining sanity, I’m looking forward to the arrival of my canisters to hold the flour, and a pound of active dry yeast. After which I’m going to bake my way to mental peace.

It’s not exciting. Not world-shaking. No airports or major travel involved. Just warm, yeasty dough and a lot of flour. I’m looking forward to baking — and consuming — the world’s most expensive bread.

A BRIEF AND BROKEN MINI-HISTORY OF AMERICA – MARILYN ARMSTRONG

America was born bankrupt. We won a war we shouldn’t have won and created a country without any funding or industry. That’s the good part. The rest of it, not so much.

The United States is named that because we didn’t start out as a country. We were 13 colonies, all lined up against the Atlantic Ocean. The original thirteen were  New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.


The thing we had in common was original colonization by England, The French had Maine and the Spanish had Florida. All the rest were added after we became a “single” nation. Thus the United States because, in theory, our Constitution turned us into a single nation: “E Pluribus Unum,” or one from many.

Technically, we are one country. We pay taxes to a central government. The fifty stars on the flag represent all current states. The original 13 colonies are commemorated by a stripe (thirteen stripes) on that flag.

From a cultural and historic point of view, there are huge differences between the fifty states. Texas, for example, was its own country before we took it from Mexico.

California also belonged to Mexico and many of its oldest residents are descendants from the Mexican gentry who stole the land from the Native Americans who already lived there. It’s important to remember that North America was not an uninhabited empty space waiting for Europeans to come and take over.

Nor were the original residents white or English-speaking. The language of California and Texas was Spanish, plus the dialects of Native Americans. English came later. Many languages have been spoken here and still are.

At some undetermined moment in time, pre-Americans decided that if they weren’t going to be allowed to be “real” Englishmen (and vote in Paliament), they might as well do their own thing. A lot of the bruhaha came out of Boston with the infamous tea party et al. We always were a rowdy bunch.

We tried a loose confederacy. It didn’t work. We needed a central government, an army, a navy. An economy other than importing slaves. Money that would be accepted everywhere. (Early on, each state issued its own currency.) Schools, libraries, and industry waited in the wings.

The Constitutional Convention was attended by leading figures from each colony, each of whom had his own ideas about building a country. As a group, they were intelligent, well-educated, and wealthy.

And now, enter slavery.

The North imported Black people from Africa, then sold them to Southern slave traders. Despite rumors to the contrary, there were slaves in the north. But the northern states also had a strong group of abolitionists. Although importing slaves made some people fabulously rich, it wasn’t the basis for an expanding economy. Even families who built their fortunes on slavery weren’t willing to admit it.

The south had other ideas. They had an almost entirely agrarian lifestyle. Slaves were how they managed their huge plantations. If there weren’t slaves, how could they manage to be so rich and powerful? They might have to work! They might have to pay their workers, an idea so shocking to southerners that they would not join the union if slavery was not allowed.

The battle of slavery vs. abolition began before the revolution. The south was wedded to slavery. By the years before the Revolution, the north was getting ready to move on to an industrial economy.

Then came America’s deal with the devil. We did not foresee a union that didn’t include the south, so we enabled slavery.  Which everyone knew was wrong, including the southerners. But money speaks louder than principals as we all have discovered in recent years.

Our Founding Fathers knew that ultimately, there would be a civil war. How do we know they knew it? Because they wrote about it in their diaries and letters. They talked about it and wrote down the conversations. John and Abigail Adams were strong abolitionists. For years, Abigail Adams would not live in the White House because slaves had built it.

We won the revolution but lost everything else.

Battle of Lexington and Concord revolution

A trace of our multi-colonial origins exists. State Governors have a lot of power in their domain. The government of each state is a mirror of the national government. Also, every state in the U.S. has its own little army, the State Militia. Mostly they are used to manage natural catastrophes and rioting. Sometimes we lend our troops to other states who need help. They aren’t always armed, either. They fight fires, save people from drowning, work as medics.
The Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard are national — the U.S. armed forces.

FREE WITHOUT BENEFITS


The people who were freed from slavery were supposed to get some land, a mule, and a few cows so they could build their own communities, but these attempts were sabotaged. They stayed in the south and were effectively slaves, but without the benefit of getting housed and fed. Jim Crow filled in for official slavery and when that stopped working, black people moved north in the hopes of building a better life.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Somehow, in the course of years, we also put through a Civil Rights amendment that was supposed to finally put an end to Jim Crow laws and the oppression of Black people. That didn’t quite work out either. Some things are better, many are just the same, a lot is worse.


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 a civil war. They could keep slavery and form a stronger 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.


It wasn’t the lesser evil. Long term, it was the greatest evil. It has twisted and corrupted our country from day one. Until we come to terms with our deeply racist past, we will never be at peace.

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

Meanwhile, back in the Blackstone Valley, the American industrial revolution was aborning. In December 1789, just as the Constitution was passed, Samuel Slater Slater’s Mill was up and running. It was the first successful water-powered cotton-factory in the United States.

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.

75-Train-NK-014a
Photo: Owen Kraus

By the early 1900s, the Blackstone River in Massachusetts was grossly polluted. 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. We’re still cleaning up.

72-Heron_145

As for slavery, it’s illegal. But low-end employees of corporations are in no better position than slaves. They work for almost nothing and if they get laid off, their payoff is nothing.

We have a very long way to go.

LITTLE FLAGS IN A COUNTRY THAT’S DYING – Marilyn Armstrong

I don’t know how they will get it done, but I’m sure there will be flags in the Revolutionary War cemetery in the middle of town. It’s directly across from the dam and it is beautiful especially in the autumn.

It is just a hundred or so yards from the river itself. Uphill, so it never floods, even when the rivers rush over their banks. The people who created that cemetery knew about the rivers and flooding. They picked a beautiful spot, but dry and safe for the bones and memories.

An old cemetery, dating back to the early 1700s. It contains traces of many generations of those who lived and died in this town, this valley. Folks who lived along the Blackstone and its many tributaries fished in its lakes and streams. They fought in our wars and are buried here — Revolutionary War soldiers, Civil War veterans as well as those who fought in all the American wars since.

Every Independence Day, Memorial Day, and Veteran’s Day, the cemetery blooms with bouquets and flags. The schools bring the children here, so they will remember too and traditions will be maintained. They bring bouquets of wildflowers or from the back garden. Lilacs and lilies, scarlet poppies … and always a miniature American flag. Even if there’s no special holiday, the cemetery always shows signs of caring, remembering.

Maybe it’s easier to remember here, with such a small population. Is that it? Or it’s just part of the air, the character, the history. Remembering is what we do in the Valley.

The cemetery is one of my favorite places. We’re newcomers after all, only living here 17 years. Our ancestors — Garry’s and mine — come from Sligo, Antigua, Minsk, Bialystok … from tiny villages in Ireland and the West Indies and the shtetls of Eastern Europe.

Valley people have been here longer. Many came from French Canada in the late 19th century to work in the mills. Another large group formed the dominant Dutch population. They built churches, businesses and factories, dairy and truck farms, shops, horse farms, and sawmills. Their names are prominent wherever the rivers run.

Newcomers, like us, aren’t quite as rare these days, and anyway, we’ve lived here 18 years, so we are no longer outsiders. Nonetheless, we have no ancestors in this cemetery.

The valley is the only place I’ve lived where the majority of families have lived in this town or in nearby villages for three, four, five generations.

“We’ve always lived in the Valley,” they say, meaning as long as anyone can remember. If gently prodded, they may recall at some point, long ago, they came from somewhere else … but some can’t remember when or if it’s true.

I point out they must have come from somewhere because unless they are Native American, they came to this place, even if a long time since. They get misty-eyed trying to remember old family stories handed down when they were young. Hard to remember, they tell you. “You know, that was 75 years ago … a long time.”

We nod. It was a long time ago. A year has passed. Little flags and flowers bloom in the cemetery. It’s a nice thing they do. Remembering.

But this is not like any other year. I wonder who remembers the holiday.