A SUNNY SUNDAY BY THE RIVER – Marilyn Armstrong

On a sunny weekend along the Blackstone River in North Smithfield, Rhode Island, we took out our cameras and took pictures.

Garry posted some of his photographs a couple of days ago. I decided to see if I could make mine look a bit different. I’m playing with the impressionist filters, trying to get a painted feeling, yet still retain as much of the photograph’s details as I can. It’s an interesting balance and I don’t know if I’ve quite gotten what I’m looking for yet, but I’m working on it.

Red kayak by the Blackstone
Red kayak waiting by the boat slip …
Readying the kayak for a trip upriver
Putting the red kayak into the river
Off he goes
Have a lovely paddle
And a meadow full of buttercups

KAYAKING ON THE BLACKSTONE – Garry Armstrong

And so on a particularly warm and bright June day, we took ourselves down to the Blackstone in Rhode Island.

Not knowing what we would find, this time we met two kayakers. Each had his and her own kayak, one blue and one red.  There was a lot of discussion about whether to paddle up or downstream.

A general consensus existed that there wasn’t very far upstream one could paddle … that it was too rocky or possibly too narrow, but they decided to give it a try anyway. I don’t know how far they got, but it was a beautiful day, so why not?

Getting the kayaks ready
Paddling up the river

AMERICANS DON’T PICK COTTON – Marilyn Armstrong

Photography: Garry and Marilyn Armstrong

You really get a feel for rivers when you live in a regional watershed. The Blackstone and its tributaries flow down from the Worcester hills at the northern part of the state.

The Blackstone is not a wide river. Not like the Mississippi or even the Hudson. It’s a relatively narrow river that drops about 900 feet from its beginnings. It does a lot of twisting and turning, making it much more powerful than its size would suggest.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

It concludes its nearly 50-mile run as it flows into the sea down around Newport, Rhode Island. All the dams were built to power factories and mills, which is why every town in the valley is called “mill” something — or has the name of one of the mill owners.

Early greenery along the river in Rhode Island

Uxbridge is unique. We are named after Uxbridge in England. That’s our twin town, though it’s nothing like our Uxbridge. England’s Uxbridge is an affluent suburb of London. We’re not an affluent anything.

Spring by the Mumford Dam – Photo: Garry Armstrong

The problem with the dams is they block the river and make it hard for wildlife to move up and down the river and many people want to get rid of the dams.

Because this region was the “birthplace” of America’s industrial revolution (1788), most of the earth used to build the dams is hazardous. It’s amazing how much pollution we created in the good old days, before the chemical revolution. We made things every bit as poisonous as we do today.

Spring, downtown Uxbridge

So although they would like to release the dams, they can’t. That hazardous dirt would poison the river. The 45 years we’ve spent cleaning up one of the most polluted rivers in the world (as of the 1970s) would be undone. Instantly.

The train doesn’t stop here anymore – Photo: Garry Armstrong

We are — in 2019 — more or less the poor cousin to other towns in New England, but once upon a time, this was the most prosperous area in the country. Uxbridge had a population and stuff like trains, buses, and businesses.

In the early 1900s, mill owners decided they weren’t rich enough. So they moved down south to where cotton grew and where people worked cheap. By the 1920s, they had closed all the factories in New England.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

The south got the mills, the dams, and the pollution. Then, they realized they were rich, but not rich enough, so they said “Screw the USA” and moved the mills to the far east where people were willing to work for pennies, including children as young as four or five.

Suddenly, all the modestly priced cotton sheets we used to buy became expensive. Between moving the mills and fabric factories to another continent, they simultaneously realized it was also cheaper to buy the cotton there, too. Like, from India, Pakistan, Israel, and places in North Africa.

So it was and so it has remained.

Roaring Dam: Photo: Garry Armstrong

It’s why you can’t find decent percale sheets anymore. The cotton they grow overseas is different than the cotton we grew. It’s finer and silkier, but not as strong or crisp.

To finish us off, we then banned immigrants from picking crops. The idea was that Americans would pick cotton once those brown-colored foreigners were gone. Instead, it turned out that no American of any color, race, or creed will pick cotton. The professional pickers are gone and so are the farms where cotton grew.

Bridge over the Blackstone River

Americans will not pick cotton. Not only do we not do the job well, but we refuse to do it at all. Today’s Americans do not pick cotton. Not white, brown, black or any shade in between. We would rather starve.

John Grisham wrote a book about growing up in the south and picking cotton called “The Painted House.” It’s his little autobiography about before he became a lawyer, then an author. It’s enlightening.

Early autumn at Manchaug

David Baldacci has written something along the same lines about his native West Virginia and how it has been completely destroyed, its people uprooted and ruined. These lawyer-writers are interesting guys. They are more than lawyers, more than writers. They are thinkers.

These southern authors come in two varieties: racist and incredibly liberal.

Guess which ones I read?

ALMOST SPRING BY THE BLACKSTONE – Marilyn Armstrong

Photographs: Garry and Marilyn Armstrong

Almost spring does not mean the same thing everywhere. In New York, it meant that everything was budding. We were waiting for it to burst into bloom. Cherry trees and apple trees were often already flowering. So almost spring really was almost. It was warm, bright, and shortly it would be absolutely lovely.

Along the banks of the Blackstone
Little islands in the river

Up here, it means it’s raining. A few flowers are blooming (daffodils, azalea, tulips … and in very sunny places, apple trees), but there aren’t a lot of buds on the trees. The only leaves I can see are on the still living despite having at least three trees fall on it, lilac — and forsythia.

Me and the trout fisherman

Spring in New England is frustrating. It’s winter, winter, winter, chilly rainy and muddy … and you look around and it’s gray. Then, one day in the middle of May (depending on weather, of course), it bursts into summer in a matter of hours.

More trout fishing

Today I actually had to turn the heat on again. I really didn’t want to because I am trying hard to NOT need another tank of oil before fall. Winter this year was a bit weird. Not nearly as snowy as usual, but blowy and periodically, very cold.

Green growth by the river
This is normally just a tiny stream, but with so much rain, it has become quite a river in its own right

We didn’t get those long sieges of bitter weather we often get in January and February, but it was cold enough to need $300 in plowing and an extra tank of oil. And all we had was one snowy month.  If it had snowed the rest of the winter, we’d be bankrupt.

Reflections

Yesterday was sweatshirt warm and if you were in the right place, even warmer. It wasn’t raining, so we went and took pictures. A lot of pictures because who knows when we’ll have another chance to go out again?

Young fir trees and bare branches by the river

The constant rain begins to get to you after a while. Last night it poured with thunder and lightning Lucky us, no tornadoes.

Oh, for the people who recognize plants. The woodlands are full of that green stuff that looks like skunk cabbage. I couldn’t get close enough to get a tight picture. It was across the waterway, but I think that’s what it is. Doesn’t anyone know for sure? I’m not good with recognizing wild plants. I’m not even good at recognizing garden plants so assistance would be appreciated!

THAT GOOD OLD RULE OF THIRDS – Marilyn Armstrong

A Photo a Week Challenge: The Rule of Thirds

Photography – Garry Armstrong and Marilyn Armstrong

The whole point about this rule — which is not a rule, but a guideline — is to try to urge photographers to not put everything dead-center of the photograph. Moving things around so that they are off-center make the picture more “active” and interesting. It gives it a sense of “action” that moves the viewer’s eyes.

Blackstone River in Rhode Island – Photo, Garry Armstrong

Except when you absolutely need something right in the middle and there are pictures which call of that.

Hey, you’re a photographer. Guidelines are useful, but they are not a replacement for artistic judgment or using your eye to get the picture the way you want it.

Marilyn with the camera – Photo, Garry Armstrong

Yesterday, Garry and I went out shooting because it was a nice day and the rest of the week will be alternatively gray, rainy, very rainy, monsoon-like, and chilly. We’ve had the wettest April on record and I’m hoping May won’t be equally damp.

Half my garden has drowned in the mud and I can’t even try to fix it because it’s still raining and the ground is like quick-mud.

A chubby dove – Photo: Marilyn Armstrong

We went down to the Rhode Island end of the Blackstone River yesterday. Why there? Because they are doing roadwork on our street in the direction of town and now that they’ve passed laws against driving while dialing, everyone makes their phone calls or sends texts when they are at a stop sign.

Two Goldfinches – Photo, Marilyn Armstrong

The result is a really slow progression of cars. Since all of our local roads are just two lanes (in some cases barely even two), one slow car stops everything.

We went the other way where there was no traffic. And we took pictures.

REMEMBERING WARM SUMMER DAYS – Marilyn Armstrong

It’s sleeting. It’s the followup to the snow that just ended. I’ve heard the freezing rain is next on the agenda and my feet are cold.

My feet are cold all winter. The rest of me is okay, but from the ankles down, permanent frostbite. It seemed like a good day to think about the river and the bridge and fishing along the Blackstone on a warm summer day.

Garry and I took a lot of pictures last summer. I went backward in time and processed a few new ones. It’s not that I don’t like winter. In a lot of ways I do, but it is difficult to do a lot of things. Like, walk up the driveway without falling down.

And although we are careful with our car in the winter, it’s surprising how many people don’t seem to realize how dangerous the ice flying off the top of their cars is to everyone else on the road. Today, on the way to the hospital we had to pass two big trucks while chunks of ice were flying off them. Several big SUVs were carrying a lot of ice and snow too.

Seriously folks. You live in the north and it is winter. Clean your car! If we can do, so can you.

Maybe time for a little dreaming.

The deep green of the trees. The quiet shine of the river. Reflections of the sky and trees. Kids with their fishing poles.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

I’m sure I’ll complain about summer, too. I was born to live in the Caribbean. Meanwhile, I’ll relish my memories of warmer days.

THE GREAT OUTDOORS, NEW ENGLAND VERSION – Marilyn Armstrong

A Photo a Week Challenge: The Great Outdoors

We live in rural Massachusetts, but it’s hard to think of it as “the great outdoors.”

There’s something a bit enclosed about New England. Trees and stone fences. No big open areas, but smaller sections. Fields, valleys, rivers, lakes … and an amazing Atlantic coast. We are less grand than the west but cozier. Greener.

Less grand than the west, but friendlier. And we get more than enough snow to make up the difference!

The cows in the meadow
The last of the woods, now bare
Vermont mountains
Roaring dam in Blackstone
Photo: Garry Armstrong
Photo: Garry Armstrong
River Bend in early winter
Photo: Garry Armstrong
Photo: Garry Armstrong –Winter at home