CLOTH DIAPERS?

PAMPERING VS. DIAPERING


When my son was born, my mother bought me dozens and dozens of diapers with big safety pins. Rubber panties, too. And, because she was no dummy, she also got me a brand new washing machine and dryer. They were Maytags and I bet they are both still running somewhere, 47 years later.

Cloth diapers by Gerber

Owen was only a few months old when Pampers, the first of the paper diapers appeared on the market. They were insanely expensive and incredibly leaky and poorly fitted. I checked them out … and stayed with cloth diapers. I liked cloth diapers. They were really useful. Dusting, mopping, polishing, among other things. I sometimes wish I had a few dozen of them. They were made pretty good dish towels.

Eventually, when the kid got older and the price of paper diapers dropped … and their quality improved, he was switched over. By then, he had mostly gotten it together with toilet training anyway.

These day, Pampers and other paper diapers have become a major source of pollution. I wonder if anyone has reconsidered making a u-turn and going back the other way. Of course, cotton has gotten ghastly expensive … but maybe there’s some other reusable material that would work. Because, before everything was disposable, many things were reusable.

It wasn’t such a bad arrangement, as long as you had a good washing machine and dryer.

CLOSE TO HOME TOO

Matthiessen State Park day trip, by Rich Paschall


When you are heading out on your Day Trip, you may wish to take a long a few provisions.  On our recent trip, my friend and I took a small flexible cooler with some water and flavored water.   Then we dropped into the pockets some granola bars, chewy bars of something and some small pieces of chocolate or something.  They were just quick snacks.  If you plan to visit some picnic grounds, it is a bigger production and you should plan in advance and start earlier.  We are not so organized so our lunch was at the concession stand and our dinner was at Culver’s on the way home.

Our main goal of the day trip was Starved Rock State Park.  This spot is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Illinois and rival’s Chicago’s Navy Pier in surveys of the best places to visit.  This may seem a bit odd to those outside the state who know of Chicago only.  We must do a lot of state park advertising in neighboring states.

After our view from the top of the famous rock, my travel companion was interested in heading down into the canyon and seeing at least one of the waterfalls. I confess that I was totally unaware of the next stop of the day.  It is not as well-known.

Just a few miles south of Starved Rock State Park is Matthiessen State Park.  I did not want to disappoint my friend on his quest to find an Illinois waterfall, so we took the short drive down Illinois State Route 178 and found the entrance to this wonderland of flora and fauna.

French fort

Frederick William Matthiessen had acquired 176 acres of land here in the late 1800s where he built the private Deer Park.  In it he constructed trails, stairs, bridges, and dams.  The private buildings of his estate are gone now, perhaps a sad decision, but the park does contain a reconstruction of a fort like the ones the French built in the 1600s.  After Matthiessen’s death the land was donated to the state.  Additional land was acquired and the park is now a sprawling 1700 acres.

Going down

A peek at our destination.

The fort marks the beginning of the hiking trails that will lead you down into the canyons.  The trails are well-marked and you will not get lost, even though there are many choices along the way.  There are two waterfalls you may wish to see in the upper and lower dells.  I guess we chose the closer one in deference to my considerably slower pace.   You can head up the trail to Matthiessen Lake and Lake Falls or down into the canyon and the “wishing well” and Cascade Falls.

Above the falls

We had already gone down a long way when we got the view of Cascade Falls from above.  We could see some hardy souls had made the descent, and we decided to head down the trail until we found the stair way that would take us the rest of the way down.

Sandstone walls

A stream runs from Lake Matthiessen down to Vermilion River.  Over the centuries a waterway carved out the canyon revealing the sandstone walls.  The minerals in the water have added to the coloring of the sandstone. The mineral springs on the land are also an attraction for the large deer population.

We followed the stream through the canyon until we decided the only safe route was not through slippery paths and mud, but along the stream.  We took off our shoes and socks and wondered  on our way.  We saw others trying not to get mud on their shoes, without much success.  You would have to cross water to get to the falls.  After the long trip down, we were going to make it all the way.

Cascade Falls

OK, it is no Niagara Falls, but it is hidden in a canyon and unique to our state.  It was a wonderful exploration of what nature can offer us here.  We were pleased with the pleasant nature trails and the variety of plants and trees to be seen.

The state park also has horse back riding trails, biking trails, an archery range and large picnic grounds.  It is a great place for family and friends to enjoy nature.

Late Afternoon sun on the canyon walls

Because of its proximity to Plum Island sanctuary, you may be lucky enough to spot a bald eagle here in late fall and winter.  I was lucky enough to share this adventure with a good friend, and that is all that really matters to me.  Get out on a day trip with friends and enjoy the world around you.

Related: CLOSE TO HOME, Day Trip

THE DOCK BY THE RIVER – AFTER AND BEFORE

BLACK & WHITE SUNDAY: AFTER AND BEFORE Y1-08


From Paula: This challenge is the AFTER and BEFORE. It invites you to post the same image in black and white, and in colour. The topic and subject are arbitrary. The only condition is you post an image captured in colour and you turn it monochrome in post processing.


We were down by the river today. I was hoping to discover Autumn lurking in the trees, but we found, instead, a fine summer’s day. Rather warm and bright … and humid enough so I had a lot of trouble keeping my glasses from skittering down my nose whenever I looked into my camera. Plastic eyeglasses and a sweaty nose-bridge do not go well together.

The little pier that was falling down last time we were here has been repaired … and here it is. First, in color, then black & white.

The dock at River Bend

The dock at River Bend – monochrome

A lovely day … but not Autumn yet. The light is the right color — yellow, almost amber — especially as it gets late in the afternoon. There is a yellow gold tint in some leaves, but overall …. it’s still summer in the valley. Hot and humid.

Garry is gratefully enjoying an unexpected month of summer. He has rightly pointed out Autumn will be here soon enough. In the meantime, we’ll enjoy the blue sky and the deep green trees.

mergeyes_widget

WAKE UP AND MAKE A DIFFERENCE!

During the past two and a half years, Garry and I have logged endless hours watching the current political nightmare unfold. I can’t count the number of hours spent analyzing “millennials,” folks approximately my granddaughter’s age. How disaffected they are. How they aren’t going to vote because “this has nothing to do with me” — a direct quote from my granddaughter.

I love my granddaughter with all my heart, but that just pissed me off to a fare-thee-well.

The world into which the now oft-dismissed “baby boomers” were raised — despite maudlin memes on Facebook — was very far from a perfect world. Classified advertisements for jobs were divided into “Help Wanted: Male” and “Help Wanted: Female.” It was legal and enforced. As for people of color and immigrants, their help wasn’t wanted on any page.

help-wanted-advert-1892

70 years later, the Help Wanted advertisements looked pretty much the same as they had in 1892. Photograph: Library of Congress Archives

Jim Crow laws were legal. Inter-marriage between races was illegal in all southern states and many northern ones. There was no Medicare. No Medicaid. If you lost your job, or your job didn’t offer medical benefits — and employers were not obligated to provide benefits — you were out of luck.

People reminisce about the 1950s and early 1960s as if they were perfect days for everyone. A world in which jobs lasted forever. Spanking kids was totally cool. No one was hungry. True-ish — but only if you were triple white.


Triple white = White collar. White skin. White picket fence.


If you were anything else, you lived a very different reality.

civil-rights-bill-passage-nytimesheadline

Did I mention that abortion was illegal? Illegal abortions were frequently fatal and effective birth control hadn’t been invented. It’s not that we didn’t have sex outside of marriage. Of course we did. Hormones, boys, girls, love, and passion were never different than now, but acting on these urges was far more dangerous. The ramifications of “getting caught” were perilous and possibly illegal, so we were sneaky. We had sex in cars, not beds.

We hid our social lives from “the grownups” who were also “the enemy.” Child abuse was not illegal. It was ignored or absolutely approved of. Beating your kids was “discipline.” Which is why I get enraged every time I read one of those Facebook “nostalgia” posts about how great it was to be able to hit your kids.

Hitting kids doesn’t make them better people. It just informs them it’s okay for bigger, stronger people to hit smaller, weaker ones.

January 22, 1973 woman could finally breathe a sigh of relief. We thought the days of back room abortion were finally over. Maybe yes. But maybe it was just a temporary reprieve.

January 22, 1973 woman could finally breathe a sigh of relief. We thought the days of back room abortion were finally over. Maybe yes. But maybe it was just a temporary reprieve. Photograph: New York Times archive

My generation — we old people — were out there manning the barricades. Marching for justice.

We changed the world. Not as much as we hoped, but some. We certainly tried. We fought racial and gender discrimination. While waiting for the law to change, we hid our homosexuality or trans-gender identities. Not doing so might do us in. We never gave up the fight, but time has had its way. We got old and most of us have put down the signs and stopped marching.

It’s your turn.

Selma alabama 1965 resized

The world got so much better and now it’s getting so much worse again. Looks like the stuff we fought for is going down the tubes.  I know you feel the world has failed to live up to its promises to you. Life is hard. Good jobs are scarce.

The truth is that life — real life — has always been hard. Good jobs were always hard to find. No one told me life would be easy. Did someone tell you that? If they did, they lied.

It’s time for your generation to step up to the plate. Put down your phone. Go fix stuff. Fight for a better life and a better world. Vote! That’s how change happens. If you don’t care enough to stand up for yourselves and your future, no one else will care. All the work we did will vanish. It will be the real 1950s all over again. I don’t think you will like it.

Then, as my mom used to say, you’ll really have something to cry about.

GEORGE CLOONEY ABOUT WHY HILLARY CLINTON LOST – THE DAILY BEAST

George Clooney Opens Up About Why Hillary Clinton Lost: ‘I Never Saw Her Elevate Her Game.’ The Oscar-winning actor-filmmaker-humanitarian spoke with Marlow Stern about his timely new film ‘Suburbicon,’ racism in America, and what happened with Hillary.


Written by:  MARLOW STERN  09.22.17 9:30 PM ET


INTRODUCTION

If the Hollywood powers that be ever endeavor to produce a Cary Grant biopic, George Clooney would be the perfect man for the job. Like Grant, he is possessed of an immense level of charisma with a pinch of playful mischief. It lends his best performances — Out of Sight, Ocean’s Eleven, From Dusk Till Dawn — a carefree insouciance.

The charm bleeds off-screen, too. When you chat with Clooney, he will regularly address you by name, and maybe even compliment your place of employ‍. But the 56-year-old has a serious side, too. For nearly a decade, he has been a UN Messenger of Peace; has served as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations; and has done more than perhaps any U.S. civilian to shed light on the genocide in Darfur. In August, it was revealed that he and his lawyer-wife, Amal, had partnered with UNICEF to help send 3,000 Syrian refugee children to school in Lebanon.

On top of acting, humanitarian work, and starting a family, Clooney has found the time to direct (and promote) his latest film. Suburbicon, which premiered at this year’s Venice Film Festival, is a tale of two families in 1959 suburbia. On one side of the picket fence is Gardner (Matt Damon) and Margaret Lodge (Julianne Moore), a middle-class white couple prone to kink and murder; on the other is William (Leith M. Burke) and Daisy Myers (Karimah Washington)‍, a middle-class black family—Suburbicon’s first—whose arrival sets off a powder keg of racism and resentment. The white townsfolk’s suspicious stares soon give way to a full-blown lynch mob, as dozens of angry, torch-bearing East Coast “liberals” form a wall of hate around the Myers’ home, completely oblivious to the real villains across the way.

The Daily Beast spoke with Clooney about the film’s resonance in the wake of Charlottesville‍ — and much, much more.
I enjoyed the film. One of my big takeaways from it was that it confronted white liberal guilt in an interesting fashion—similar in some ways to Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. The notion of, “oh, you say you believe in equality but then don’t uphold those values when it comes to your doorstep.”

THE INTERVIEW

I remember the movie Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and, although not a perfect film, there’s something great about the idea of, “Yeah, I’m a liberal, but don’t marry my daughter!” And it was fun because, having grown up in Kentucky, when I see movies depicting any type of racism it always sounds like Mississippi Burning—hick accents and all. And when I was looking at the crisis of Levittown, these people sounded like they’d come from the East Coast and they were still hanging Confederate flags on houses and saying all these racist things. It’s good to remember that it wasn’t just the South that was fucked up. It played out everywhere.

You mentioned your home state of Kentucky. Did you witness any acts of racism in your formative years that really stuck with you?

‘BATTLE OF THE SEXES ‘ — IS TRUMP VS. HILLARY WISH FULFILLMENT? 

Sure. Look, by the time I was aware of things we were in the midst of a very progressive time in history. I was born in ‘61, so by the time I was really aware of things it was the end of the ‘60s. At that moment, we were all very hopeful. We felt like segregation—certainly in the South—had just ended, and things were moving in the right direction. So the way you saw racism was always in much sneakier ways. If you were going to a restaurant they’d say, “Oh, no open-toed shoes” or “No shirts without collars” but they would only enforce it with black people. There was pervasive implied racism. It took me a while to realize what was going on because most of us growing up at that time, we thought, “Oh, this is all fixed. Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X, they all died for a reason. And this reason is now coming to fruition.”

And what we soon realized was that we weren’t even beginning to exorcise our deep-seated original sin.

In Suburbicon, it’s an interesting juggling act as a writer and filmmaker, balancing the A and B stories—the white family and the black family—and giving each ample heft while managing the disparate tones.

Tone is always the trick, you know? And I’ve sometimes failed at getting tone right. It’s a tricky thing. But this one was interesting because, when we sat down to work on it, one of the things I talked to the actors about—including Karimah, who plays Daisy Myers—was that there’s somebody out there that would be the perfect person to do the African-American version of this story.

That’s not where my expertise lies, and probably where it shouldn’t lie, but I do have a fairly strong sense of white males worried about losing their place in society and blaming minorities. I grew up around that so I can speak to that, and we wanted to focus on that version of it.

And also, here’s the interesting thing about this: films never lead the charge. They’re usually reflective of a point in time.

So what we were talking about, when we started to do this, was less about black and white, although that’s something that unfortunately always comes up, and more about the idea of how I was watching a candidate on the campaign trail [Trump] talking about building fences, scapegoating minorities, and branding Mexicans, Muslims, or anyone who didn’t look like a seventy-year-old white guy as “the enemy.”

When we were doing this, I thought it was unique to see [the white community] building fences around a black family’s home and scapegoating them, while the entire time the white family’s doing everything wrong. I think that’s something that happened an awful lot—and can still happen. It was about white privilege and the fear of losing it, and the reason they think they’re losing it is because minorities are stealing it from them — when of course it has nothing to do with that.

On the topic of Trump, it’s interesting to think of him in the context of this film because the first time. Trump made headlines was in the ‘70s when he was sued by the Justice Department‍ for discriminating against Black applicants applying to live in his apartments.

Yup. And think about it this way: he got up and did that Boy Scouts speech, a nice political speech in front of twelve-year-olds. And in it he did a ten-minute riff on William Levitt and talked about what a great guy William Levitt was. How he was one of the richest men in the world and a brilliant man. He was probably a friend of his dad’s because they were both real estate guys on the East Coast at the time.

William Levitt, who created Levittown, was taken to court because he wouldn’t put Blacks in Levittown. And rather than integrate, he quit! So it just makes so much sense for Trump to say that this guy’s outlook is great. Yeah, it was great if you were a white, straight man. Otherwise, not so much.

QUESTION:

You mentioned the hanging of the Confederate flag on the black family’s windowsill during the film’s big riot sequence, with the white mob crowded around their home, some holding torches. On the heels of Charlottesville, it must have surprised even you how prescient those scenes were.

ANSWER:

Here’s the thing, Marlow. I do have a bit of a view into this. I grew up in Kentucky, around the Confederate flag, and although Kentucky was technically neutral during the Civil War, it was very much a part of the South.

I remember these guys would come into town and we’d do these Civil War reenactments, and you could choose whichever side you wanted. They’d bring you uniforms and guns with blanks in it, and you could play either a Rebel or Union soldier, and we’d do battle all around town.

We all wanted to be Rebels because it was fun—everybody wants to be a “rebel”—and we never thought twice about the Confederate flag; it never even dawned on me that that was a symbol of hate. And also, I was pretty young and wasn’t paying enough attention.

But as you get older, you see this was only a symbol of hate, and you remember that the Confederate flag was designed to be marched into battle against the United States of America in favor of racism. And they lost.

It’s important to remember all these things. It’s literally a symbol of hate that was designed as a symbol of hate. So OK, you can wear it on a T-shirt or a hat because that’s freedom of speech and you can do whatever you want. I don’t give a shit. Those are the rules we’ve made as the United States, and I believe in them.

But to have the Confederate flag on a statehouse paid for by African-American taxpayers? No fuckin’ way! That would be like going to the Holocaust Museum and saying that they have to pay for a Nazi flag hanging over it. It’s just ridiculous. I grew up in the South, and I know there are an awful lot of people who feel the same way which is, “Hey man, this is not the hill that we want to die on.”

PARAMOUNT PICTURES – Julianne Moore and Matt Damon in a scene from ‘Suburbicon.’

QUESTION:

Do you feel that President Trump is emboldening these white nationalists to step out of the shadows of the internet and into the light? And what do you feel is fueling these people? Because many of the (mostly) men who marched in Charlottesville were quite young.

ANSWER:

Well, think about it this way. If I was President of the United States and David Duke is praising me and the white nationalists were talking about how I was on their side, the first thing I would do is I would come out and say, “Fuck these guys. Anyone who believes this is not in my camp. I don’t believe it, and I completely reject it.”

Don’t play coy and claim that you don’t remember who David Duke is when you were actually running for president 25 years earlier and said that the reason you got out was because David Duke was in the party. That’s just a lie!

So what you’re doing is winking at everybody and saying, “It’s OK, come on over, because that’s my base.” Well, that shouldn’t be your base! It’s the simplest thing in the world in politics: “Nazis bad.” It really doesn’t get any easier than that.

Those associations between Trump and the “alt-right” seemed to be exacerbated by the fact that a person like Steve Bannon‍ was acting as Trump’s consigliere.

Steve Bannon is a pussy. Steve Bannon is a little wannabe writer who would do anything in the world to have had a script made in Hollywood. He wrote one of the worst scripts I’ve ever read—and I’ve read it. His fake Shakespeare-rap script about the L.A. riots. Oh, you’ve gotta read it! It’s just fuckin’ terrible.

But here’s the truth: if Steve Bannon had Hollywood say, “Oh, this is really great, and a really good script,” and had they made his movie, he’d still be in Hollywood writing his fuckin’ movies and kissing my ass to be in one of his fuckin’ films! That’s who he is. That’s the reality. It’s almost like someone in Hollywood should’ve given him a script—or approved one of his scripts—just to keep him out of the right wing.

QUESTION:

You explored the world of journalism in Good Night, and Good Luck., and your father was an anchorman. Why do you think Trump has targeted and tried to discredit the news media?

ANSWER: 

There’s a great documentary that came out a few years ago called Nixon by Nixon. It’s sort of the last of the Nixon tapes. It reminds us that not one fucking thing about this is new. We think it’s all unprecedented but it’s not unprecedented. It’s a little louder because there’s more outlets to see it, but it’s not unprecedented. You hear Nixon on the tapes talking about [Walter] Cronkite and [Eric] Sevareid and how they’re going to sic the IRS on ‘em and scare the shit out of ‘em. And you see Daniel Schorr, this wonderful reporter who had been doggedly chasing Nixon, in front of Congress testifying about how this administration has set about to delegitimize our news, because if you can delegitimize the news, you can do anything. It’s the exact same thing.

So when Robert Mueller comes in and says, “Hey, guess what? You did fuckin’ obstruct,” and people report on it, Trump can say, well, Robert Mueller has all these liberal Democrat lawyers and the news-people who are reporting it are all fake, when of course all you’ve really done is take the Russian fake news—which is a real problem—and applied it to help serve yourself.

Well, congratulations. I also really feel like the institutions are taking hold. I don’t know how you feel about this, but I think a good number of our institutions abdicated their duty in the run-up to the election. I feel they didn’t ask enough tough questions. If you turned on many of the news programs on television, there would be an empty podium with a message saying, “Donald Trump will speak soon.” That’s crazy.

Julianne Moore and Matt Damon in a scene from ‘Suburbicon.’

That’s the interesting thing about Trump’s attacks on CNN. CNN is the network—more than any other network—that perhaps helped the most in getting Trump elected. They had about eight Trump surrogates in regular rotation, and aired his rallies start-to-finish.

Certainly they were the network that enjoyed putting him on the air. But on the other hand, watch how good Jake Tapper has been, and watch how good The New York Times, Washington Post, and even The Wall Street Journal have now taken their jobs, and watch how the other arms—the legislative branch, the judicial branch—they’re taking hold, and I’m optimistic. I feel that, well, with the exception of the one thing the president can do by himself, which is push a button, the checks and balances are starting to take hold. And I’m excited by that.

QUESTION:

You held a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton‍ during the campaign, and she’s on her book tour right now. Do you feel like history will look kindly on Hillary Clinton? This election seemed, in many ways, like a referendum on women.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel meets with George and Amal Clooney to talk about refugee policy on February 12, 2016 in Berlin.

ANSWER:

I think it was. Here’s what I see from Hillary. Hillary, for years and years and years, has been the presumptive nominee, and quite honestly, she was incredibly qualified for the job. But being qualified for the job does not necessarily mean you’re the right person to be president. Here’s what I mean. She was more qualified than even her husband was when he was elected president, but she’s not as good at communicating things. That’s simply true. When she got up and gave a speech, it didn’t soar. Now, that doesn’t mean that she wouldn’t have done a great job as president, and I supported her because by the time we did the fundraiser the primary was over at that point and it was time to get on with picking someone to move forward, and she was the right person to side with.

It was frustrating because I never saw her elevate her game. I never saw it. And I had a lot of liberal friends who were like, “She’s not good at this.”

I see that, and I understand it. I also think, though, that if it was a guy it wouldn’t have been so polarizing. I think the fact that she’s a woman made it a much harder uphill battle. They’ve had the “Arkansas Project” where for twenty-five years the Clintons have been accused of murdering Vince Foster and accused of tons of stuff, so I thought it was a raw deal. I think that she wasn’t particularly good at articulating the things that she wanted to do.

Unfortunately we live at a time right now where articulating what you want to do is more potent in the electorate than the other way around, obviously, when Trump only said he was going to “Make America Great Again.” Don’t you think the next Democrat who runs should just run with a blue hat that says, “Make America Great Again?”

That would be an interesting ninja move. Let’s go back to Suburbicon for a moment. I wanted to discuss the power of satire. When you talk about 2017 and the age of Trump, satire has really risen to the fore as a mode of communicating people’s anger and frustration—and brings with it a sense of cathartic release.

Satire was really important in the age of Bush Jr. That was a big deal. Between Jon Stewart and David Letterman, we had people out there who were really funny. And remember, Jon Stewart was the most trusted man in news for a period of time because of it. We needed his voice then, and I miss his voice now.

But Colbert has found his feet and been great, as has Jimmy Kimmel, and Samantha Bee. Television right now is very interesting, and fun to hear. Satire is potent. When they start to make fun of you is when you’re really in trouble. That’s some deep shit.

Trump has been stoking this culture war between “coastal elites” and Middle America—the irony of course being that Trump himself is a “coastal elite.”‍

Here’s the thing: I grew up in Kentucky. I sold insurance door-to-door. I sold ladies’ shoes. I worked at an all-night liquor store. I would buy suits that were too big and too long and cut the bottom of the pants off to make ties so I’d have a tie to go on job interviews. I grew up understanding what it was like to not have health insurance for eight years. So this idea that I’m somehow the “Hollywood elite” and this guy who takes a shit in a gold toilet is somehow the man of the people is laughable.

People in Hollywood, for the most part, are people from the Midwest who moved to Hollywood to have a career. So this idea of “coastal elites” living in a bubble is ridiculous. Who lives in a bigger bubble? He lives in a gold tower and has twelve people in his company. He doesn’t run a corporation of hundreds of thousands of people he employs and takes care of. He ran a company of twelve people!

When you direct a film you have seven different unions all wanting different things, you have to find consensus with all of them, and you have to get them moving in the same direction. He’s never had to do any of that kind of stuff. I just look at it and I laugh when I see him say “Hollywood elite.” Hollywood elite? I don’t have a star on Hollywood Boulevard, Donald Trump has a star on Hollywood Boulevard! Fuck you!

ORIGINAL ARTICLE ON “THE DAILY BEAST” TUESDAY SEPTEMBER 23, 2017

NOT IRRELEVANT – DAILY POST

THE EARLIEST WHIFF OF AUTUMN

A Photo a Week Challenge: Signs of Fall


I was going to use last October’s pictures because it isn’t really Autumn yet. It will be. Maybe a week from now if no-longer-hurricane Jose would move on out, taking the rain and gusty winds with it.

And if the nights would turn cold while the days were dry and sunny.

In the meantime, it’s autumn-like in patches. A bit here, a bit there. Just of whiff of the season lays in the trees right now.

We took pictures of this very early Autumn. Although the whole season is not here, the hint of it is beautiful in its own way.

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.

75-Train-NK-014a

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.

72-Heron_145

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.