BEYOND A CENTURY … Marilyn Armstrong

A Photo a Week Challenge: Over 100 Years Old

The Blackstone Canal was dug between 1824 and 1834. It was up and running almost immediately. In fewer than 50 years, the railroad took over and the canal became redundant — just another waterway in a valley full of rivers.

In many areas, the canal and river are one unit and in others, they separate and flow side by side. Where such separation wasn’t possible, locks were added to level the water for barges. You can see tiny canals and huge canals, designed for every kind of barge. The walkways we use were where the horses pulled the barges.

Sometimes, you don’t realize it’s a canal until you realize that it is sided with hewn rocks.

Birds feed there. Kayaks travel along the flat parts of the canal. Fish and turtles live along and in it. It has become another part of the river.

MAY WATER EVER FLOW – Marilyn Armstrong

WATER EVERYWHERE


There’s a lot of wetness when you live in a water shed. It flows over rocks and down the dams. It runs into little rivulets and bigger streams and sometimes, into the old canal. We have some lakes, too, including a very large one that has a Native American name that no one who didn’t grow up in this area can ever pronounce. Webster Lake, for Anglophones.

For valley natives,  it is Lake “Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg” (/ˌleɪk tʃɚˈɡɒɡəɡɒɡ ˌmænˈtʃɔːɡəɡɒɡ tʃəˌbʌnəˈɡʌŋɡəmɔːɡ/). This is a 45-letter alternative title is frequently called the longest place-name in the United States. If there’s a longer one, no one has yet told me what it might be.

It is also one of the longest place-names in any language.

Tall Ships, Boston 2017

I grew up in New York. The city part of the state and the nearest “water” were the docks along the horribly polluted rivers. Thank Pete Seeger for helping fix that so that the Hudson River is no longer so polluted you could actually develop film in the water.

I lived in Queens and if we wanted to see water without someone driving us, we got on our bicycles and rode for a couple of hours to whatever were the nearest docks. There was a tiny little lake right by my high school, though. Beaver Dam. I’m assuming that once upon a time, there were beaver there. I suspect it is gone. It didn’t seem to have any inlets or outlets and that’s usually the end of a body of water.

We never had flowing water locally. No streams, no rivers. We did have some large puddles and named them as if they were lakes, though we knew they were not. Still, they were the only thing we had, so we had to make do.

If we wanted an ocean, someone’s mother or father had to drive us to the beach. Mine was not a beach-going family. My mother had cancer in her 40s. Too much radiation, so she could not go into the sun. When she had no choice, she wore caftans and huge hats. They hadn’t invented sun-screen yet, but later, she would wear that, too.

Sunset at the marina

I liked the beach because my friends liked the beach. I loved the ocean itself and that crazy feeling of standing in the oceans, feeling the sand moving under your feet as the wave pulled out before the next rolled in. Otherwise, I never liked sand. It always got into places I thought sand didn’t belong.

Woodcleft Canal, Freeport

I remember burning my feet trying to walk barefoot to the car through the parking lots of Jones Beach. We didn’t have flip-flops then. I don’t think anyone had invented them. I don’t remember owning sandals until I was an adult.

I liked the ocean off-season better. I liked the mist on the ocean and an empty beach. No umbrellas, no couples rubbing each other with oil. No endless smell of hot dogs.

Those were the days when everyone wanted a tan. I never tanned. I got more and more freckled though and you’d think eventually they would meld into a tan, but nope. Once, I get a slightly orange hue to my skin I thought was my best tan ever. Garry — to whom I was then married — laughed hysterically.

He used to have a contest with another Black friend about who could get the blackest over the course of the summer. Garry never won because there’s a lot of red in his skin. Probably those Irish grandparents, but Michael got really dark. I was this ghostly little thing and any attempt I made to get a golden tan resulted in days of pain and peeling.

Eventually, I gave up. I did get a sort of tan the year we went for our first cruise. Garry talked me into spending a couple of hours a week at a tanning salon so at least I would look tanned. It turns out those fake tans don’t keep you from burning, by the way. I got a terrible burn on a beach in Haiti even though I was wearing a t-shirt AND a hat — and had that fake tan. Water reflects sun upwards. Live and learn.

Local tame goose looking for something to eat

Those tans weren’t “real” anyway. They faded fast, but at least they weren’t as ugly as the spray. I did try one of those and it looked like I’d been heavily involved with orange paint I could not wash off.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Living here, in the valley with the rivers, dams , waterfalls plus all the woodland … this suits me well. The rivers are shady and cool. Not for swimming, mostly.

There is either a minor pollution problem dating back to when the Blackstone was one of the most polluted rivers in the world … or there are so many snapping turtles if you treasure your toes, don’t dangle your bits in the water.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

That’s okay. It’s great watching the herons, eagles, egrets, geese, ducks, swans and other waders pluck fish from the water. It’s sad when we have a drought and all you can see is mud and you wonder what has become of all those turtles and fish … and where have the eagles and the herons flown.

Yet the fish and the turtles and the water fowl come back, despite the bitter cold and the endless winter storms. They make new life and so far, the world spins on in the valley.

MIGHTY OAKS, MOUNTAINS, AND WHERE THE RIVERS RUN – Marilyn Armstrong

WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: PLACE IN THE WORLD

I guess the height of building do it for some people, but for me, it’s the mountains and the oak trees. I live in an oak forest. The trees are tall. In winter, I worry about them falling from heavy snow or ice. In the summer, I worry about wind and then, finally, about the millions of leaves that are going to fall everywhere in my world.

Followed by the snow. Again.

Sunset – Jackman, Maine

I grew up in New York and for many years lived in Boston. None of these are “the place in the world.” For me, it’s always wild places. The height of our trees, the peaks of mountains. the valleys and rivers the places against which I measure my place on this earth.

MY WATERFALL – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I have a small, but picturesque, waterfall and stream in my backyard. It only flows for part of the year when there’s a lot of rain and/or snow. The summers are usually pretty dry. During those months, you can just make out a ribbon of rocks among the trees that mark the spot where the dormant waterfall sits silently.

Spring waterfall after a big rain

This waterfall plays an important part in my life. As a kid, I used to play with my neighbor in the woods on my parents’ 40 acres of land in Connecticut. We climbed all around the waterfall that was in those woods. We perched on rocks at the spots with the best views of the rushing water. We tried to divert the water into different patterns. This proved difficult, if not impossible. But we had fun trying.

Waterfall today

Flash forward 30 years. My mother has given me a piece of her land so I can build a house, next door to her country house. She wanted to keep me and her grandchildren close. We have to decide where to put the house and how to orient it. My ex husband, the architect and I walked through the woods and came across the waterfall, bordered by old world stone walls. Eureka!

This is where the house has to be! How could we not take advantage of this unique and glorious natural wonder? How many people get to look at something like this every day?

Winter waterfall

So the decision was made to place the house near the stone walls and the waterfall. But there was a conundrum. Most people want their houses to have a southern exposure, for maximum sun and light. But south for us meant that the house would have to face up the driveway, looking at nothing but the driveway and the woods. The waterfall was due west. Not the best exposure for the sun.

Southern exposure view

But for us, views were more important than sun (which bleaches out all your furniture and fabric anyway!) So we designed a house with LOTS of windows and angles that maximized the views of the waterfall. Therefore our living areas face west, not south.

Kitchen bay window to left and round porch to right

I have been grateful for that decision every day for the past 29 years! The waterfall played an important part in the design of my house and continues to play an important part of my life every day I live in that house. It never fails to make me smile when I get to drink coffee and look out at it.

View from my bay windows in the kitchen

Looking at my waterfall, I don’t just get the usual sense of peace and Zen that everyone gets when they experience nature. I also get strong memories of my past. I first set foot on this Connecticut property when I was eight months old, in 1950. I took my first steps here. I am still part of my carefree childhood playing in the woods. I am still connected to my parents and their love of this property. Because of my deep love of this piece of land, I have called it “My Tara,” after Scarlett O’Hara’s beloved plantation.

View of the stream from the kitchen and porch

Growing up, we lived in New York City nine months of the year (that’s where I went to school). I think that increased my appreciation of the country even more. It was a special summer treat for me. Also, my grandparents built a house on the property so I got to see them every day when we were all in Connecticut. That ramped the specialness and joys of the place up to eleven!

I moved to my house in the woods full-time in 1990, when my kids were five and ten years old. My mother, still a city lover, asked me why I could move out of the city after being exposed to all the cultural benefits of city life. I responded: “Because I was also exposed to the glories of country life. And that is what resonated more with me at that stage of my life.”

View of waterfall from my round porch

I’m grateful for all the years I got to spend in New York City. All the theater I got to see, all the museums, art galleries, ballets and concerts. But I can still drive in for those things if I want to. It’s more important for me now to be able to sit and write at my kitchen table, enjoying my view of the woods, of my dogs playing in the backyard, and, of course, of my waterfall.

ZOOMING IN AND OUT

THURSDAY’S SPECIAL: ZOOM IN, ZOOM OUT

From Paula:

Here’s another Thursday’s Special photo challenge for you. This time the theme is “zoom in, zoom out”. Show one subject/scene (whatever you like) from up close and far. Let’s see how different things seem when you have a closer look. Take your time posting for this challenge and don’t forget to have fun. Happy Thursday!


I have two cameras with serious zoom lenses and most of the time, those are the cameras I use. Why? Because no matter how superb my other cameras are, I never know what I’m going to shoot and a good — long — zoom is the difference between getting the shot — or missing it.

Close up as the water at Roaring Dam hits the rocks below …
Middle of the falls at Roaring Dam
And back a bit more …
Photo: Garry Armstrong – And from below the falls, on the lower path … and using an entirely different camera a lens …

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THE DAM AT THE POND

Dam at Whitins Pond

This is a dam that’s hard to find. You can hear it from the road, but you can’t see it without going around the big brick building that was formerly — you guessed it — a mill. A cotton mill, I believe.

A perfect water lily
A perfect water-lily

Funny to finally discover this dam after passing so near for more than a dozen years. You really can’t see it from the road, which is where we usually shoot from and I probably heard it, but didn’t pay attention. It’s an interesting dam, not like any of the other local dams.

It’s not very tall, perhaps 10 or 12 feet. Water doesn’t flow over the dam as much as it comes through holes in the dam, set at various heights in a long crescent.

The waters spits out and onto a plateau of flat rocks. I’m not sure what this design was intended to accomplish, but there must have been some special purpose in the design.

Close up at the dam

The old mill used to be an antique cooperative until last year. They recently converted it to an adult activity center. The senior center in Uxbridge is tiny, so this is definite upgrade. The building has been beautifully restored and its location, adjacent to the river and Whitins Pond … well, it couldn’t be lovelier.

 

WHAT IS THAT SOUND IN THE BASEMENT?

We were watching “Father Brown” on Netflix and in the back of my head, I was hearing a grinding sort of sound. I could not identify it, but it was coming from the basement. I could barely hear it … but it was there. It isn’t the sound our boiler makes and it didn’t sound like the dehumidifier.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Odd sounds in the house always get me investigating. I can’t ignore them. 

So I went downstairs to look around. Aside from realizing that we really are overrun by mice, the sound had stopped. I shrugged and went upstairs, pondering how the mice — which we used to have under control — went so crazy. I think it’s because no one lives downstairs now, so they’ve the run of the place. They are living here, but as far as food goes, they are “ordering out.”

Woods in winter – Photo: Garry Armstrong
Snow starting in early winter

Our Pest Control guy assured us they aren’t eating our food because you can follow the trail of acorns from the trees. Our oak trees could feed a world of squirrels. It turns out, they are already feeding a world of mice.

Living in the woods is wonderful and romantic. It’s also messy and invites many uninvited guests to drop by and stay awhile.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Today, we took Gibbs to the vet. It was his annual visit. He needed to be tested for heart worm, though I know he doesn’t have it. As we were driving home, I noticed all the little streams looked more like real rivers. Everything has overrun its banks.

The Mumford and Blackstone Rivers are full and the dams wide open. Even the usually shallow Whitins Pond is deep and wider than usual.

Manchaug Dam

That was when I realized what that sound was, the one I heard last night. It was a sound I had nearly forgotten because it has been years since I heard it.

It was the sump pump, pushing the water out of the sump under the house.

Flooding!

If we didn’t have a sump, a pump, and French drains, we would be up to our kneecaps in water downstairs. For the first time in more than a dozen years, we are facing the likelihood of flooding in the valley.

We are pretty well prepared for it because when we first moved here, we had some serious flooding issues. Before we even fixed the roof or put up siding, we were adding French drains across the entire front of the house, down the driveway and through the backyard into the woods. The sump and pump came about two years later and we haven’t had any flooding since.

Of course, if the water gets bad enough, nothing will stop it, but we don’t live on the edge of a river — though many people around here live very close to the river. We have a lot of rivers and tributaries and streams and ponds.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

We are a major water source for all of Massachusetts as well as parts of Connecticut and Rhode Island. It is the reason I get so worried when we go through long periods of drought or semi-drought. It isn’t just “our” well. We are all linked to the same underground waterways and rivers. The water belongs to everyone.