THE HOUSE WITH THE BLUE DOOR AND THE RED TREE

You can see it across the street from the grocery store. There’s a maple tree next to it that is a reliable indicator of Autumn. If it isn’t the first tree to change color, it is always the first one to show the best color.

October 11, 2017

This year, it didn’t change color until a couple of days ago … and for the first time, it’s not red, but orange, maybe a dark lemony rust.

November 9, 2016 — the bay window was new this year.

October 13, 2015

September 29, 2014

You can also see that the tree is aging. It looked a lot healthier two or three years ago. I suspect a couple of years of gypsy moths have not done this tree any good at all. But still, it is my favorite tree. You can see it anytime you happen to be here in Autumn. It’s just across from the grocery. Bring a wide-angle lens.

AUTUMN FIGURES

Autumnal figures are common and popular in New England. Many are home-made, some are bought at farm stands somewhere. Where did they originate? No one knows. It seems as if they have always been here.

We like creating them. It’s fun. They can be any size, any shape. Scarecrows or political figures, Guy Fawkes. Your annoying boss at work. It doesn’t matter. We make them, put them wherever we have room. They make us laugh, smile, remember.

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Do these common autumn figures have special meaning? Some kind of spooky history? I doubt it. You’ll see them everywhere you go. On front porches, benches, along driveways. Kids make them. Families create them together.

I made these from left-over clothing. Their heads are from old pillow cases on which the kids drew faces. We left the figures sitting on their bench until the spring.

 

LIVING OFF THE BEATEN PATH

A Photo a Week Challenge: Off the Beaten Track

Find a place off the beaten track? Thinking about it left me puzzled.

The road home

Aldrich Street as the sun sets

When I got to think about this, I realized I couldn’t find a more “off-the-beaten-path” place than where we already live. We aren’t near a major highway or even close to the suburb of a city. We are, as they say, “in the middle of nowhere.”

It is a lovely nowhere and we have no plans to move back to “somewhere.”

HANGING AROUND: ORANGE BEGONIA MACROS

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Letter F – Topic is Fun or Flowers


I am planning to bring both of these plants indoors at the end of the season. I thought that might mean now, but summer is lingering … so … October? November?

Macro orange begonia

I don’t know if they can survive in my house. We don’t have much sunlight. They may die a slow death in our darkness, but it’s worth a try. We are trying to swap with someone to take down some trees in return for the wood. It’s all oak, so it’s good wood … and fewer trees would brighten the place a lot.

Two orange begonias

Meanwhile, I thought I’d take a few pictures. These extremely bright flowers have been a photographic challenge for me. I think — finally — I’ve more or less “got it.”

The first thing is do not photograph them in full sun. I suppose it’s “doable,” but it’s so much harder than shooting in shade. Bright shade will give you better detail and truer color.

If you own a macro lens (or have a macro setting on our camera), this is the time to use it. I’ve taken a lot of pictures of flowers. Many lenses shoot close enough so you wouldn’t necessarily need a macro.

But super bright flowers like these? The macro will help. Try it. You’ll see.

That’s it. Bright shade. Macro setting. And maybe turn down the brightness and use a little less saturation when you process them.

LAST CHANCE FOR A PLANET

After months in a cryo-tube, they finally woke me. What a headache! Sheesh. And holy moly, I really had to go to the bathroom, after which I needed not so much a shower as a sandblasting. That cryo gunk is sticky and it gets into places you just wouldn’t … well, maybe you would … believe.

Then there was food. Never in my entire life have I wanted to eat a starship, including the cargo. Talk about an appetite. Not just me. Everyone had just been wakened at the same time and we all felt hollow.

T.S. Eliot was spinning in my head:

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us-if at all-not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.

I remembered more of the poem.

This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man’s hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.

I hoped the poem was not a predictor of explorations to come. Given the awful condition in which we left Earth, we needed to find a new home. A fertile planet on which crops will grow. Where the battered human race could remember its better self. We had not been superior to cockroaches in a long time.

Finally after eating for what seemed an eternity, we donned our lime green suits — the lightweight ones for worlds that are not hostile, merely unknown — and they opened the doors. We emerged. Into paradise.

Breathtaking. The colors were a bit odd. The plants were all kinds of colors, like a riotous flower garden. The whole planet was a garden. So we named it “Eden” — which I thought was a mistake. We got kicked out of Eden already. What do I know? I don’t make the Big Decisions. Way above my pay grade. I was just along for the ride. Before we got back on board the ship, I had a thought. I dawdled. Picked up the litter we’d left behind. Found a big piece of cardboard.

Must have been a box of some sort, but it would make a pretty good sign. I found a piece of wood to which I could attach it. I had a nail gun in my tool kit and a big marking pen. It hadn’t dried out and worked in the lower gravity of this new planet. New to us, but home to so much other life. Like Earth had been before we stripped her of everything but trash. I put my sign near where we’d landed. Hopefully future expeditions would land in more or less the same spot.

I wrote my message. In my best handwriting. Using huge letters so no one could miss it — or mistake its meaning:
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LAST CHANCE FOR A PLANET

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.

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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.

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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.

ALL HURRICANES SHOULD BE CALLED DARWIN – BY TOM CURLEY

I’m not sure why we name hurricanes. I have no idea how the names get picked. I could Google it and maybe find out, but I’m too lazy to bother right now.

Regardless, I think all hurricanes should be named Darwin. Why?

Because nothing weeds out the gene pool and brings out the stupid in people like a hurricane. The bigger they are, the dumber they get. As I’m writing this, Hurricane Irma, or what I call it, Hurricane Darwin the 1st, is hitting southern Florida.

The worst is yet to come.  I’m watching the coverage, which is the exactly the same on all the networks. An anchor, who makes millions of dollars a year, is sitting in a warm cozy network studio. (Except for Lester Holt who was out there in the wind and rain just like a real reporter.)

He’s talking to the poor schmuck who drew the short straw and is standing in the middle of the hurricane telling everybody how dangerous the hurricane is and how nobody should be out in it. Except of course for him and his crew.

Now, granted, I know that they aren’t in as much danger as it seems. I worked for CBS News for 40 years and I know they set up in safe spots outside the wind. They only need one shot where the wind is howling and it looks like they are hanging on for dear life. When the live shot is over they all go back inside, smoke cigarettes, have lunch, play Candy Crush on their phones  and wait for the next live hit.

(I know Garry is nodding and laughing right now)

(Note: Garry is laughing — because he isn’t the schmuck out there in the storm.)

The really stupidest are the people who think they can ride these things out. I watched a news report a few days ago where they interviewed two people who planned on riding out Irma from a trailer park.

Excuse me? Did you just say A TRAILER PARK??? One guy said he already lost his mobile home two weeks ago in a run off the mill flood. They happen there all the time.  

His plan was to stay with a friend in another mobile home. They expected it to be destroyed too.

What was their Plan B? To hang out in a temporary construction trailer! A mobile home lite!

I’m looking at the screen screaming “Are you nuts? Don’t you know hurricanes and tornadoes hate mobile homes?! A tornado will go around an entire town to get at just ONE TRAILER PARK!!”

To a hurricane, mobile homes are just tasty little snacks!

I know it’s much more complicated than this.  Some people can’t get out for valid reasons — lack of anywhere to go or no vehicle or destitution.

But, for the guy who goes surfing as the hurricane hits, and dies ….

And, the guy who is kite surfing as the hurricane hits  …

Oh Boy! I’m heading right toward the tornado! Cool!

And, the family on the beach with their kids taking video of the guy kite surfing …

And, the poor schmuck interviewing them …

I hope you all survive Hurricane Darwin the 1st.

That wasn’t so bad.

I wish  mother nature could come up with a way, WAY less catastrophic method of weeding out the gene pool.

Seriously, folks — stay safe!