THE BATTLE FOR WHITIN’S POND – Marilyn Armstrong

There is an ongoing war between the Canada geese and the swans. It has, it seems, been going on forever and will go on forevermore.

Ducks get along with every other kind of waterfowl. Swans, geese, even herons will swim with ducks. No friction. It doesn’t matter what kind of duck, either. Any color, any shape duck will swim anywhere with any kind of fowl.

Between Canada geese — or maybe any geese — and swans, there’s an ongoing battle. You will see swans on a pond or you will see geese, but unless they are fighting, you won’t see both.

Why not? You’d have to ask the birds because I have no idea.

In the nest
In the reeds
Nesting

Swans have possession of Whitin’s pond. They swim there, eat there, nest there, raise their cygnets on those quiet waters before the small dam where the river continues. Really, Whitin’s pond is not a pond. It’s just a really wide part of the Blackstone and it is very shallow. This makes it particularly good as a nesting site.

This year, the geese decided to invade the swan’s nesting site. They cracked open the swans’ eggs and took over the site.

The battle is waged.
The battle is waged.

The swans fought back and ultimately, managed to drive the geese away. The geese are much more agile than swans, at least out of the water. In the water, though, swans are much bigger and a lot stronger than the geese.

There are usually more geese than swans, so by sheer number, the geese have an advantage, but the swans are very persistent in protecting their locations. And this part of the Blackstone belongs to the swans and has as long as we have lived here.

Attack mode!

As it happened, we showed up on the day of the first big battle of the geese and the swans. We didn’t know until a few weeks later who won the war, but there were the swans and their cygnets, so they are the victors. I have not seen any more geese on that part of the river.

Watching for the invaders.
Watching for the invaders.
Where were you while the battle was going on?
Where were you while the battle was going on?
Forgive? Will they build a new nest?
Forgiven? Will they build a new nest? They did and from it came cygnets, so all was not lost.

It’s hard to understand the battle. There are plenty of places to raise cygnets and goslings. It’s a big river and there are more than adequate ponds and lakes. Maybe there is more food on this part of the river.

Swan and nearly grown cygnets

Whatever the reason, this is where the battles begin and end.

ALL LINED UP? – Marilyn Armstrong

For Judy. All lined up!

COMPLIMENTS AND SUGGESTIONS UNBIDDEN – Marilyn Armstrong

I read a post by The English Professor at LargeShe was writing about kindness and love and the simple things you can do to make the world a better place to live. If you have a chance, read her piece. You probably already agree, but she says it so very well and with so much class.

Mated for life

I got to thinking that my version of that is to offer compliments (unasked for) to people who I expect are rarely offered a compliment.

Ducks on a golden pond

I tell people they look great and they do. Maybe not for a 20-year old, but for them, they look fantastic. I tell them when they seem to have lost weight. I got a bullseye last week when it turned out she really had lost 50 pounds. I tell them they have a beautiful smile.

Saying nice things to people who don’t often hear them is the only gift i have to offer. I usually don’t know whether it was appreciated, but I know an unexpected compliment makes me feel good. Sometimes a bit embarrassed too, but what’s a little embarrassment between friends?

Red finch!

On the other hand, I am very wary of offering suggestions to anyone. I have a friend who takes pretty good pictures on her cell phone. She has come a long way, but can’t seem to remember to hold it level. Every picture is just a wee bit crooked. My pictures are crooked too, even with the leveler built into my camera. But I have Photoshop so I can straighten them later.

She doesn’t use any software. What it does mean is if the photo starts crooked, it will slant for all eternity. But she’s sharp. So I finally suggested she try and pay attention to holding the phone level when she shoots. I bet she will, too, because she is one of those “tell her once and she gets it” learners.

I’m pretty sure I complimented at least one follower into getting a better camera and she’s become an amazing photographer. Sometimes, a compliment, a well-meant suggestion can make a huge difference.

The most important part is to offer a compliment or suggestion without an expectation of payback and realize if you get rejected, drop it. The best thing is when you make someone feel better or improve their work or get them started in a different direction … and maybe they don’t even realize you’re the one who did it. When that happens, remember to never mention it. If you bring it up, you’ll ruin it.

Be happy. And shut up.

RIGHT TIME, RIGHT PLACE WITH GREAT LIGHT! – Marilyn Armstrong

Weekly Photo Challenge: Right Place, Right Time!


Right place, right time is the name of the photography game. That and the right light. Most of my best photographs were a combination of having a camera when I needed it and being where something happened worth commemorating.

From sunsets to laughter, it’s always about being there and having a camera ready. I always keep a camera with me and even though it weighs down my bag, you just never know what out of nowhere, suddenly, there’s a great picture.

Herons are pretty good about standing still while you take their picture. Unless you startle them.

Waiting for me in the river, one Great Blue Heron

The thing was, I didn’t have a long lens on the camera or even with me, so instead of zooming, I had to creep up on him.

More heron!

The ground was mucky and muddy, but I decided I could cope with mud because I wanted that bird. Except I was wearing open-back shoes and when I tried to clamber up from the bank of the river, my shoes stuck in the mud. My feet moved on, but my shoes stayed put. That was when I discovered I could not climb up the hill without my shoes. So I sat down to wait. I figured eventually, Garry would wander by and we’d work it out.

Which we did.

Don’t wear open back shoes in the mud by the river. And it’s always good to have a long lens with you.

NOTHING GOLD CAN STAY – Marilyn Armstrong

A Photo a Week Challenge: Gold

I live in the land of gold, at least for somewhere around a month every year. Autumn is golden time here in the northeast unless we are rudely interrupted by a hurricane or a very early snow. Sometimes, the gold lasts right through November and finally vanishes in December.

Lackey Dam, ducks and a swan
Mallards on the Mumford

Followed about one week later by a major blizzard. I’m not sure why, but that’s the way it seems to work.

APPROACHING EARTH DAY WITH THE SWANS – Marilyn Armstrong

Usually, when I publish pictures of swans, I clean up the water, but these are the originals … the way the photographs looked before clearing out the rubbish.


As we again approach America’s “Earth Day,” I find myself ready to go on the “lecture tour.” I grew up in a country setting. Technically, it was part of New York, but really, it was a strange little farming community that got surrounded by a city, but never became a part of it.

I grew up with people who raised plants. Wheat and corn. Who raised horses and burros and geese. Who nursed sick birds. Who cared for the trees.

Along the shore – where all the garbage lives

We were surrounded by woods and trees. We learned how to find rare plants and we played in the woods … and apparently children don’t notice mosquitoes as do their elders because we must have been chewed to pieces. But we never seemed to care.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

That didn’t make me “ecology” conscious, of course. What made me conscious of the ecology was — you guessed it — my mother. She grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. That was where most new immigrants grew up, especially Jewish and Italian immigrants.

As a result, my mother believed all trees were sacred — and her personal crusade.  She could not bear the idea of anyone cutting down a tree and that’s why we had so much land. When our neighbors decided to sell the woods next to our house, my mother told my father that he was going to borrow however much money it would cost him to get that parcel because someone else might build factory or an apartment house.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Those were her trees. Really, they were all her trees. From tiny little sprigs to the giant white oaks that towered over the house, they were hers.

Every year, she called the city’s tree specialists to check out the condition of the white oaks on our property. They were the last remaining white oaks in the five Burroughs, all the rest having been cut down to use as masts on sailing ships. How they missed that little corner of New York? Just luck.

I still hate the idea of cutting down trees, even when its obvious the tree needs cutting. We had to take down some trees that were too close to the chimney and we had a cutter come and cut down about two dozen more oaks because they were growing so close together, it was unhealthy. Also, we had no light in the house at all. But it hurt me to see the trees being felled, even though it was necessary, safe, and would in the end, improve the forest.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

I grew up hating trash. I grew up believing littering was a crime. That hurting any living creature was cruel and even though I never made it to vegetarian, I feel guilty eating meat. I don’t believe that vegan is a healthier way to eat, but I dislike knowing something died so I could eat. I don’t think it will ever stop bothering me.

I learned early that breakwaters damaged the sea-shore. That sandy beaches can disappear during a hurricane. Several local beaches did exactly that while I was growing up on Long Island. That dune buggies destroy the dunes, the nests, the birds, the baby birds.

Dirty water swan

And my loathing of people who throw trash into the woods or the river grows with every passing year. Every time we go down to the river to take pictures of the swans, I see them swimming through trash and wonder how they can eat whatever is growing in the grungy water that’s full of filth.

It wasn’t hard to make me ecologically conscious and six years working at the University of Jerusalem’s Environmental Health Laboratory taught me much more than I wanted to know. I saw the plumes of pollution pouring out of the rivers into the Mediterranean. I saw the reports of what was in those plumes.

I understood also that just because a microbe is in the water does not mean you will necessarily catch it because not all microbes are absorbed the same way … but after seeing those pictures, I could never bring myself to swim in the Mediterranean again.

At this point, I don’t even like swimming pools. All I see are tubs of microbes.

THE FUN FOTO CHALLENGE: A CEE NEUNER PRODUCTION – MARILYN ARMSTRONG

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Kind and Caring

A family 

Gibbs and The Duke
Snowy helpmates
Always together through life