A Light Exists In Spring — Emily Dickenson

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A light exists in spring
Not present on the year
At any other period.
When March is scarcely here

A color stands abroad
On solitary hills
That science cannot overtake,
But human nature feels.

It waits upon the lawn;
It shows the furthest tree
Upon the furthest slope we know;
It almost speaks to me.

Then, as horizons step,
Or noons report away,
Without the formula of sound,
It passes, and we stay:

A quality of loss
Affecting our content,
As trade had suddenly encroached
Upon a sacrament.

Emily Dickinson

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Daily Prompt: Say Your Name — My name is Marilyn and I’m alive.

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My name is Marilyn but you can call me Teepee. I am alive, if not always well. I plan to remain alive as long as I have the option. I apologize for any inconvenience.

A while back, I got another blogging award. It was given to Teepee12. When I started this blog, it was never my intention to hide my identity. I automatically, without thinking, entered my familiar Internet “handle” when WordPress asked for my username. I’d been using this name since 2007 when my book was published. Teepee 12 derives from the book’s title, The 12-Foot Teepee. My real name wasn’t (still isn’t) available. There are a lot of Marilyn Armstrongs out there. Most of them are more accomplished than I am and many are deceased.

I began using the Internet in prehistoric days when modems ran at 1200 BPS and no one was sure what a computer virus was. We each had a handle. No one used real names. I think it was a hangover from CB radios. I’d had a variety of handles over the years, but once the book came out, I wanted to be identified with it and so began using Teepee12. It was a poor choice. No one can spell it. Auto-correct alway changes it to Steeper (damn you auto correct!). I wish I could go back and do it over, use my real name or something close to it. But it’s hopeless.

Last I looked, there were more than a dozen of me on Facebook alone. When I Googled myself, I wound up reading a lot of obituaries with my name on them. This can be troubling. The most interesting discoveries were that all my past incarnations still exist in cyberville. I am listed as living every place I lived since 1987 when I came back from Israel. My age ranges from early 40s to mid fifties (nice). I have two Boston telephone numbers, own three houses, including one on Beacon Hill (we only rented that one), another in Roxbury.

Being oneself carries no weight. You need a computer to identify you and it can’t be your own computer, either.

A friend of ours was trying to correct his Wikipedia entry. It showed him working at jobs he never held, in states he’s never visited. Wikipedia wouldn’t let him make the corrections. It told him he didn’t have sufficient credentials to correct the entry. Being himself was not enough. You need expertise and me being me, him being him, doesn’t count. Yet  I corrected a bunch of information about some movies we watch. When asked for my bona fides, I merely said I have watched the movie a few times. That was apparently sufficient expertise. I don’t have a personal Wikipedia entry, so I don’t have to worry about it, but Garry’s brother does and I tried to correct it, but being close family doesn’t count as bona fides either.

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My mother wanted to name me Mara, but that means “bitter” in Hebrew and her whole family objected. It’s the Hebrew root for Marilyn, Mary, Mireille and a bunch of other names, so actually Marilyn means “bitter” anyhow. Technically, I should have been named Queen or something awful like that, because my real name is Malka, which means “queen” in Hebrew. I was named after my recently deceased great-aunt Malka. It’s a tradition in Ashkenazi families to name babies after recently dead relatives, even when no one was particularly close to them. Maybe especially when no one was close to them … to keep their names alive. Certainly I never heard any humorous anecdotes of adventurous Aunt Malka — or any stories at all. I doubt, other than my name, any memories are attached to her by anyone living.  I’m her memorial.

I hated my name as a kid. It was a stupid name and no one else had a stupid name like mine. All my friends were Susan, Carol, Mary or Betty. Marilyn Monroe did not make me feel better because at no point did I bear any resemblance to her. I renamed myself “Linda” for a while because it meant “pretty” and I thought it might rub off. Then I decided Delores was much more romantic. By the time I was a young mother, I told everyone to call me Spike, but no one ever did. I never even had a proper nickname. People too lazy to say all three syllables call me “Mar,” but that’s not a nickname. That’s just a shortening of a longer name. Why won’t anyone call me SPIKE?

Instead, I have become Teepee, which is a very peculiar thing to become at this late stage in my development.

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I’ve been blogging for a while now and I can’t quite figure out how to get my name back. I’ve put my name on Serendipity’s header and in the “About Me” section. I sign my name when I write to people. But it apparently doesn’t matter. I have become a teepee and a teepee I shall stay. A 12-foot teepee, which is the smallest possible teepee that isn’t a miniature. I suppose I don’t really want to become Giant Teepee. That would carry other implications.

For the record, my name is Marilyn Armstrong. I wrote a book titled “The 12-Foot Teepee” and my online ID is Teepee12 whether I like it or not. Marilyn Armstrong is not available and I would have to be MarilynArmstrong00054 or MArmstrong876987 or something and that sounds too much like an android or robot … so for the forseeable future, you can call me Teepee.

Teepee12 — that’s me.

Following the Blackstone River

Despite hundred of years of industrial pollution, the Blackstone River Valley survives.

A complex of rivers, tributaries, wetlands, forests, lakes and streams., the Blackstone River Watershed contains more than 30 dams  in its 46-mile length. This does not include dams on tributaries and other waterways, only those on the Blackstone itself.

West Dam

The watershed links two states and 24 communities. Over time and with the demise of the mills and disappearance of the factories, the dams created marsh and wetlands that have become critical to the ecosystem.

Mumford River, Uxbridge
Mumford River, Uxbridge

Several lakes are part of the system, including Webster Lake and some big ponds that seem to be nameless. They are just there, by the road, sometimes with boat slips or docks, occasionally having little beaches where you can swim, if you can find them.

The Blackstone River‘s levels rise and fall with the seasons, with heavy rain and melting snow, and with periods of drought.

About Those Dams 

Depending on who you ask, there are at least 30 dams on the Blackstone, but there many more dams if you include tributaries and large streams. In fact, there are dams just about everywhere if you look for them. They create waterfalls and exquisite ponds, as well as wetlands.

Manchaug

Dams would typically be associated with a mill, but many now appear to stand alone. Probably, there was a mill there once. But it’s gone.  The dam lives on in the middle of nowhere. Figure there was something there  — maybe a gristmill for local farms or something like that. Some  of these old dams are works of art.

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Old Stone Fences

Speaking of the middle of nowhere, a lot of land around here was cultivated but has returned to forest. Our home is on former farm land. Many clues about the history areas in New England can be found if you can find the stone fences.

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Our modest acreage is crisscrossed by stone fences. These walls mark the edges where fields were. Now, they’re the middle nowhere, which of course is just where I live.

Finding Places

Most of the good stuff is invisible until you get out of your car and take a walk. I look for areas where I can safely stop and park (the definition of what is good enough changes depending on terrain and how badly I want to stop). With narrow roads bounded by close-growing woods and wetland, it’s good to be cautious when you take your vehicle to an unpaved area.

Often, patches of ground that look like weedy, slightly muddy ground are the edge of the marsh. I use the “if it looks wet but it hasn’t rained in the last few days, don’t go there” rule. That generally works. I am not as intrepid as once I was . The problem is always to find a safe place  for the car that still puts me within modest walking distance from my target area. I should mention that I can’t walk too well these days. My goat-girl clambering years are past.  I’m not surefooted and my hip joints and I have a deal: I let them alone and they let me walk.

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I look for little sandy pull-off areas that appear to adjoin a dirt road, and if possible, near an overpasses. An overpass tells me that the river is right under me, so whatever I’m looking for is not far. When you see a pull-off next to a dirt walking trail, that means other people come there. Not instructional and surely not on any map, but for this area, pretty good. Unlike the suburbs, rural areas don’t have signs telling you what you can or cannot do … or where you are. They figure you know where you are or ought to, and you’ll do whatever you came to do.

On the up side, you’re unlikely to have anyone yell at you that you’re not allowed to go there. For that matter, if you fall in the rapids and drown, it might be a while before they find you. I have adjusted my roaming accordingly. I try to bring a friend who can call 911 if I do something dumb.

If these places have names, there’s no sign. Rhode Island is better about signage than Massachusetts, where the attitude is “If you don’t know where you are, why are  you here?” Rhode Island is more densely populated, maybe because it is so tiny.

Here, in south central Massachusetts, there’s a lot of open areas that don’t seem to belong to anyone and it’s rare to bump into other people. When you do, they aren’t chatty. You don’t go to places no one can find to converse with strangers. Thus, most places I go  places are unmarked. No road signs, nothing to tell you which piece of river, lake or dam you’ve found. If you don’t find it amusing, you’ll spend all your time grousing, so you might as well laugh.

Photograph by Garry Armstrong. Aldrich tributary.
Photograph by Garry Armstrong. Aldrich tributary.

When I’m shooting, I roam. I often have no idea how I got to wherever I landed. Sometimes the GPS helps, but many places are off-road and not on the map. There are places I’ve been once, but never found again. Off a path by a bridge along a side road near a farm, maybe in Massachusetts, perhaps Rhode Island. I have always loved going wherever the road took me.

I’m especially fond of the old low stone bridges that I call “keyholes” but probably have another name. A lot of them are also now in the middle of nowhere, on paths that are long gone and not even accessible by foot.

The Canal in Fall

Some of the oldest bridges are still in use, repaired and rebuilt many times, now supporting heavy traffic — cars and trucks — on roads that were designed for horse and buggy or herds of cows. Better not to think too hard on that.

One of the larger lakes that forms a part of the watershed is Webster Lake. A map from 1795 shows the name as “Chargoggaggoggmancogmanhoggagogg”. A survey of the lake from 1830 names the lake as “Chaubunagungmamgnamaugg”, which is an older name. The following year, both Dudley and Oxford, which at that time bordered the lake, filed maps listing it as “Chargoggagoggmanchoggagogg”.

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Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg or Webster Lake is probably the largest open body of water in the valley. Spelling of  this lake’s long (probably Algonquin) name varies a lot, depending on where you read about it. Since it isn’t English, it’s at best a rough transliteration anyhow. The actual meaning is conjecture. Local residents pride themselves on being able to pronounce the long name of the lake. I can’t. I just call it Webster Lake. It doesn’t make it less beautiful.

And so it goes. Hopefully there will come a day (soon!) when the pollution is gone and our river is clean. Meanwhile, the beauty is there for all of us.

DAILY PROMPT: JOURNEY – AN IRISH HONEYMOON

We surprised everyone — except ourselves — when we announced our plans to honeymoon in Ireland. “Neither of you is Irish,” they said, foreheads wrinkled.

I’m not sure why people assume the reason to go to Ireland is to look for “roots.” The Irish make the same assumption. While we were there, we were often asked why we’d come and on hearing neither of us is Irish, would get looks of puzzlement. Then, they’d look again and ask “Are you sure?”

It was a great place for Americans. There’s strain between the Irish and English for longstanding historical reasons, but they have nothing but smiles for Americans. From Dublin to Sligo, Shannon, Galway, Cashel and all the lovely towns in between, people were friendly, open, and welcoming. When they learned we were honeymooners, we were treated to rounds of drinks and offered the best accommodations. Avoiding big hotels, we stayed in bed and breakfasts which we found using the National Tourist Board guidebook and a map. At first, we’d zero in on a destination and phone ahead. After we’d been there a while, it began to work the opposite way. Wherever we landed, we’d see who had a room and stay there. We always found someplace nearby and each home was spotlessly clean and comfortable, although tiny by American standards.

Cong and Garry
Cong and Garry

Our first stop after Shannon was Cashel. The bed and breakfast was like a little European pension. In the shadow of the Rock of Cashel, adjacent to the ruins of a medieval Dominican church, the location was perfect. We stayed two nights, then headed for Dublin.

Dublin, after we began to pick way through the one-way systems and detours, was a city of music and good company. There were evening’s at Foley’s, where Irish music played every night and we all joined in, each in our own key. And then there were the pubs, where the Irish Coffee was always strong and the people eager to wish us well and advise us on our itinerary. We shopped, sang, and drank, not necessarily in that order. We listened to stories, told some of our own, and would gladly have stayed another week or more.

English: The Rock of Cashel in Ireland picture...

From Dublin, we drove cross-country to Sligo. As we entered Sligo, the rain began to pelt down. For perhaps five minutes, it poured. Then, as the rain slowed to a drizzle, in front of us appeared a brilliant double rainbow. I felt that it was our personal rainbow, welcoming us to Sligo. Our destination was a bed and breakfast called Rathnashee, which we later learned means “fairy ring.” Indeed, there is an earthwork fairy ring in the field adjoining the house. I had selected it because it had a room with a private bath, was on a main road (we never stopped getting lost, but we did learn to enjoy it), and had a library.

The entire parlor of the house was a library about Ireland, and Sligo in particular. Evenings, by the warmth of the peat fire, settled in with a pot of tea and a plate of cookies, we read about Yeats, about the Great Hunger, and the long and often tragic history of the north. In the course of events, Garry discovered that he might after all have Irish roots, while I dreamt of fairy circles and magic mountains.

Sligo is bursting with magic. You can feel it as you explore the ancient earthworks, standing stones, cairns, and castles. I became convinced that the “Little People” live there still. Loch Gill, where lies the Isle of Innisfree, has its own kind of magic. We spent a grand afternoon exploring the recently restored Park Castle. The crystal waters so clearly mirrored the sky that those viewing the pictures we shot that day have trouble telling which is water and which is sky. Later that same day, while heading toward Knocknarea, the mountain top cairn of the legendary Queen Mab, we met Gordon Winter, ex-spy, author, and local character. We were photographed in close encounters with his pet chickens, sipped tea in his kitchen, and bought an autographed copy of his latest book “Secrets of the Royals.”

Author Gordon Winter, Garry and chickens
Author Gordon Winter, Garry and chickens

Throughout our vacation, the weather never stopped changing. The sun shone, disappeared and reappeared in rapid succession. Wind blew, and clouds rolled in, and it rained. A few minutes later, the rain stopped, the wind died, the sun came out, the temperature rose, and just as you had taken off your jacket and put on your sunglasses, you’d realize it was raining again. We took our sunglasses on and off twenty times an hour, and took our jackets on and off almost as often. The second morning in Sligo, we awoke to pounding rain. I peeked out the window to see another rainbow, even brighter than the one we’d seen coming in, in the field across the road.

Rainbow over Sligo
Rainbow over Sligo

By the time we went to breakfast, the sun had come out, but by breakfast’s conclusion, it was again drizzling. Such is Irish weather. It never rained all day, but it rained a little almost every day, and we learned to ignore weather and proceed with our plans, counting on the ever-changing skies to give us enough clear weather to tramp through a ruin, scale a castle wall, or walk down by a riverside.

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After three days in Sligo, we traveled down to Connemara. One afternoon, we drove to Cong, where John Ford shot “The Quiet Man” years ago. Being ardent movie buffs, we literally climbed over fences and through pastures until we found the “quiet man’s cottage,” now in ruins. The setting is as idyllic as ever, though, and the stream still flows past the cottage door and under the little bridge. Clearly the movie was the biggest thing to ever hit the town. Cong is full of Quiet Man memorabilia, and the local residents full of anecdotes and memories.

Cong, September 1990
Cong, September 1990

Our time was almost up, and as we continued down along the coast, we began to realize that we would really have to go home. The idea was so depressing that we stopped in the nearest pub for some solace.

Probably the only difficult part of our Irish honeymoon was driving. Keeping left was one problem; the roads themselves were another. Narrow, with a terrifying mix of blind curves, roaming sheep, and meandering cattle, local people nonetheless drive these lanes at frightening speeds. Often, on a road that appeared hardly wide enough for our little compact car, we were overtaken and passed. More than once we felt obliged to check and see if the door handles and mirrors were still attached.

Irish Signs

Pretty much every intersection — even way out in the countryside — had signs telling you where you were. In Connemara, the signs were often in Irish, which we couldn’t read nor match to anything on the map. Apparently we were not the only ones who found the signs in Irish less than helpful because they were full of bullet holes. Eventually we just stopped worrying about where we were and enjoyed wherever that happened to be. Every place was beautiful, so we let the road take us where it would.  It turns out you don’t need to know exactly where you are. If you’re not on a schedule, you can roam and find things that aren’t in the tourist guides. We could be sure that whenever and wherever we stopped, a warm pub and friendly faces would greet us.

We always hoped we’d go back again, but other places called and the years ran away faster than I believed possible. But forever, Ireland lives in memory and photographs.