TOWN AND COUNTRY – PHOTOS BY GARRY & MARILYN ARMSTRONG

A LOOK AT THE BLACKSTONE VALLEY


Photo: Garry Armstrong

We don’t get lots of visitors here, probably because we aren’t a major city and we aren’t — any longer — a place for tourists. But oddly enough, this was a tourist area not all that long ago. At some point, it was too close to Boston and became exurban rather than “tourist.” That being said, it’s a beautiful valley and for those who are interested in what country living is like — with access to major cities too — this is a pretty nice place to be.

Welcome to the Blackstone River Valley.

October on the Canal – Photo: Garry Armstrong

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.

On the Blackstone – November

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.

The Mumford River — full foliage 2017

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.

Photo: Marilyn Armstrong

Roaring Dam Photo: Garry Armstrong

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.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

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.

Photo: Garry Armstrong
Manchaug Dam

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.

Meanwhile, mill owners on the Blackstone 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.

February heat wave Canal – Photo: Garry Armstrong

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.

All those 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.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

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 major player on the international scene.

Now, it’s a peaceful, quiet valley. The mills are gone, the river remains, rolling down from the hills in Worcester through Rhode Island to the sea. Come visit. We are still beautiful.

AIN’T NO UNDER-DOGS IN THIS PACK!

We ain’t got no underdogs in this house! All three dogs are over-dogs, to us anyway.

Well, okay. I suppose in polling the three dog pack, Bonnie heads the list as top dog. She has been top dog since she got here at 10 weeks old. It’s something in her personality and every other dogs acknowledges her position. And they are fine about it. She is the leader, but a very good-tempered, charming leader. The kind of boss you wish you’d had.

Duke is in the middle. He wants to be on top, but that’s not something you choose. I think nature chooses for each dog. Gibbs has chosen the bottom of the little pecking order and has never shown any enthusiasm to be anywhere but where he is. We treat them the same — mostly. They eat the same food and get the same treats with as much love as they a willing to accept.

Bonnie
Bonnie

Bonnie is the most independent of our pooches. She will join you on the sofa — for a while — but she has her own stuff going on. She doesn’t want to hang out for long petting sessions. She drops by for a visit, plays a while, then goes off and does her thing. Gibbs is our protector. If he senses a stranger somewhere nearby, he’s out barking at it. He’s a good barker. Sounds much bigger than he is, although he is also bigger than he appears. And has quite the set of jaws on him.

The Duke

Duke is busy, busy, busy. A classic middle kid, he has to make sure everyone is doing what they should be doing and apparently, he knows what that is. He certainly knows when play time and ball throwing time has come. He rounds everyone up, jumps up on each person to make sure they are in one piece — which he does by sniffing each piece of you, with a special stop at your ears. He does love sniffing ears, which makes me giggle.

Gibbs

Gibbs looks like an underdog, though. He is the saddest looking dog in the world. He looks sad while he eats a treat and not every dog can do that!

United, they are our pack. When we get up in the morning, it feels like we have at least a hundred of them, all swirling and woofing and huffing and chuffing. Circling around you as you carefully move towards the kitchen, trying to avoid stepping on — or being stepped on — by one of the pack.

Our dogs. Our gang.

SYMPHONY

Symphony is a T-stop in Boston … the underground subway adjacent to Symphony Hall, middle of downtown. I’ve always enjoyed that we have a T-stop called “Symphony.” I’m sure someone could write a little symphonic piece that would somehow represent the subway, the streets, and the hall. Maybe it has already been done. No one tells me anything.

And then, there is Symphony Hall. It’s where the Boston Symphony Orchestra plays, but it’s also where the Boston Pops plays. There’s a major redecoration between symphony and pops season, too.

I think our “symphony winters” have ended, but I will always miss them!

HARMONY ON HIGH

HARMONIZING ON THE WATER AND DEEP IN SPACE


It’s not just about music. Harmony can mean the harmonious coöperation of … well … you name it. Harmonious, as in smooth. Without a hitch or fights. No arguments, pulling, shoving. No disharmony.

Our most extremely harmonious host and hostess …

These days, life is full of pulls and shoves, so when things are going well — as they have for the past few days — it is harmony through the land! Ring the bells of jubilation!

Photo: Garry Armstrong — And “Serenity,” a totally harmonious boat …

I should mention for you gamers out there that I got a unique try at playing a whole game of “Star Trek” on the virtual machine. Running a star ship is a lot more work than I imagined. I was exhausted when I finished. I felt like I’d really been running a space ship! Tom says “Skyrim” will be even more awesome. It makes earlier efforts seem slightly primitive. Each generation of this technology is a leap over the previous version. While the “humans and sort of humans” look very realistic, they don’t yet look entirely real. But I’m betting in a year, maybe less, they will.

I absolutely know if I got one of these machines and a game? My blogging days would finish in a hurry. Lucky for everyone I haven’t got that kind of money or blogging be damned … I’m off to see the universe and blow up some spare moons!

LOLLIPOP?

I have nothing to say about Lollipop except to present The Lollipop Song ever sung. It was a hot ticket when I was 10.


But first, let me say a couple of things. We’re up and away to see Tom and Ellin for a few days. Not only does this mean I won’t be on the computer nearly as much, but neither will Ellin, Tom, or Garry.

Garry and I haven’t had anything like so much as a mini-vacation since January 2016, so we are a year and a half past vacation time. This month has been a bit stressful. The Armstrongs haven’t seen the Curleys in months, either, so we have a lot to say.

Meanwhile …

The guy is outside at this very moment cleaning the gutters! He is removing the trees and mud and gunk and horrible things from the gutters this very morning. I can hear his footsteps on the roof and see gunk flying past my windows. Thank you, darling granddaughter, for finding me this gem of a man who has a phone number and returns calls and shows up on time with tools and everything! Hallelujah!

The new hot water tank arrived and the plumber is paid. He will return shortly with tools (no room in the truck with the tank it it) and a lot of zucchini. Apparently his zucchini plants went wild this year. We may be gone by then. He has the entry pass and Owen is on alert to come over as needed. Good we all live near each other. This fellow is also Owen and Dave’s plumber, so we are using someone who has a good reputation. It’s probably the only thing that has prevented me from falling into a swoon.

Please forgive me if I don’t spend our three-day vacation online. I’ve been so hooked into the computer, I’ve barely had time to do anything else. We need a break. Thanks for understanding.

Now … The Lollipop Song.

DISASTROUS? OR JUST UNFORTUNATE?

SAVE ME, THE WOLF HAS ARRIVED!


One of the things about social media is that whereas in the past we complained to our friends on the phone or over the fence, these days we complain to the immediate world. What used to be unfortunate and inconvenient … and sometimes “Wow, what a bummer!” has become “OMG the sky is falling.” It’s not that personal disaster is gone from our lives, but everything is now a disaster. Nothing is merely annoying, inconvenient, or frustrating. Everything is terrible, catastrophic. Mind-blowing. Calamitous.

I know people who are online every single day telling the world which fresh disaster has afflicted them. It is “the boy who cried wolf” writ huge and sometimes with international implications.

The result is exactly the same. At some point, “the world” just stops paying attention to the latest calamity because you can’t tell the difference between this calamity and the previous calamity. When everything is a disaster, ultimately nothing is.

I think maybe we should all tone it down. Try to determine which of our messes is a genuine killer … and which ones are just unfortunate, inconvenient, annoying, aggravating, frustrating. Which ones need the SWAT, the police and fire department … and which need a good friend, some excellent coffee and maybe top-quality cookies.

If we could tone down the note of hysteria that seems to accompany so many posts on social media, I think it would help calm us down. It doesn’t mean we won’t have some serious problems. We have plenty of really serious problem — personally, nationally, internationally  — but wouldn’t it be easier to sort them out if we weren’t hysterical all the time? I think the U.S. has been in a state of national hysteria since last November. I get it — really, really get it — but I have come to recognize that the frenzy isn’t fixing anything.

Nobody is thinking anymore. It’s all railing at the heavens.

MOXIE – IT’S REALLY חוצפה OR CHUTZPAH

Moxie is one of those words I haven’t heard in actual use in my lifetime. I’ve heard it in old British movies and some old American ones, mostly from the 1930s or 1940s, but it’s not what people say nowadays. In New York, if they don’t call it chutzpah, they would call it “nerve” or more accurately “noive” as in:


“Eh, buddy, you got a lot noive on youse.”


Another way to put it might be:


“That’s some set of balls ya got!”


This could as easily be referring to a woman as a man. Modernly speaking,”balls” is no longer an inherently masculine attachment. I’m pretty sure I’ve got bigger balls than a lot of guys and what do ya wanna make of it, eh?

The best word is truly chutzpah (חוצפה). You need a good solid guttural on the “Het” (ח) because it’s a sound the English language has no letters to express. Or, as we used to say back in that other country in which I lived:


“How’s your ח?


A good “het” (ח) is half a throat clearing with an “et” to follow and is where the letter “H” came from, before English lost its gutturals. Words like “knight” used to have a guttural and the GH was pronounced as (ח). Look it up. English was a Germanic language loosely mixed with Celtic (which has gutturals) and French, which probably had them, but lost them to that back of the tongue rolling R.

Chutzpah doesn’t merely mean (as per the dictionary) “the ability to face difficulty with spirit and courage, or aggressive energy and initiative.” It also means a willingness to stand up to possible danger. To step out of your normal comfort zone and put it all out there and not care whether or not you offend someone. Although it is not necessarily offensive, it is definitely gutsy, determined, forthright, and assertive. And somehow, essentially Jewish.

You do you not need to be Jewish to display chutzpah but it helps. Some people are just like that. And being born and raised in New York or New Jersey could do the job and I’m sure there are lots of other places that have the right attitude.

It is an attitude, y’know? You got that?

So if you need to return that thing to the guy who did that other thing and you absolutely want your money back — no stupid restocking fees, either — moxie might do the job. But if you seriously need to get the job done?


Chutzpah. Gotta have it.


Trust me. I would never lie to you.