THE BLACKSTONE RIVER – Marilyn & Garry Armstrong

A Photo a Week Challenge: Quintessential Bridges

When you live in the Blackstone River Valley, life is about the river or one of its tributaries. Or an attached stream, pond, lake, or waterfall. The valley has always been about the river.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

It’s also about the bridges. No one thinks much about the bridges because, in our lifetime, there have always been bridges. But the bridges have grown old and every couple of years, one of them becomes bad enough that they have to close it down and rebuild it. That is when you discover how important all those little bridges are and how difficult travel in the valley becomes when even one bridge is down.

Bridge over the Blackstone
Photo: Garry Armstrong

We have lived in the valley for 18 years. During this time, at least half a dozen bridges across the Blackstone River have been taken down and replaced and there are many more that will need to be replaced. When suddenly, the next village over is not a 1-mile drive but instead is a 10-mile drive, you realize how important the river is and the importance of even the smallest bridge.

FARMING ALONG THE RIVER – Marilyn Armstrong

It has been very hot for the past week. It rained here last night. Maybe an hour of pouring rain and it must have been very local since no one else even noticed we had any rain. But my flowers are much happier and I’m sure the air feels light.

Today’s a holiday, but tomorrow, I’m hoping the weather will cool down. It’s supposed to rain tomorrow. Not an hour, like yesterday, but a full day of downpour. After which, the heat should break along with the humidity and life will be a little better for those of us for whom breathing hot, sodden air is unhealthy. Not to mention unpleasant.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Around the corner, there’s a big farm. Really, it’s our neighbor but to get to it without driving, you’d have to walk all the way through our woods and come out the other end. We have no walking paths in our woods. Just many trees, rocks, ruts and the boroughs and homes of many small creatures. A few not so small creatures. Lots of hawks and a few eagles. Skunk, raccoon, coyote, foxes, fishers, bobcats and some spiders the size of dinner plates. Frogs. Mice.

We have rabbits. We used to see them lounging around the backyard. Not these days, though. Every since the Bobcats came to live here, they get eaten. Not only the Bobcats, either. Everything eats them.

Rabbits seem to be the favorite lunch special at the diner in the woods. The squirrels have not disappeared, but they rarely come down from the trees. They are safe up there — mostly — as long as they stay up top. Even so, the hawks and eagles manage to grab them right out of their nests. Up top in the trees is still a better deal than being the Bobcat’s dinner.

Since the Bobcats came to live here, the chipmunks have virtually disappeared. They used to hang around our driveway and chatter at us. I’d tell them to “beat it” and they would argue with me. Chipmunks are back-talkers. They are worse than the dogs, though probably not worse than the Duke who is a bigtime back-talker.

Duke can also jump the fence out of the yard and does so regularly. Normally, this would put me into a panic, but I’ve noticed he doesn’t go anywhere.

Just into the backyard to nose around. He’s a thrice-rescued dog and he knows where home is. He has no plans on leaving. Bonnie is more likely to go wandering than Duke.

Gibbs is also a rescue dog and he’s not a wanderer, either. I think rescues have a strong attachment to home. They’ve had a hard life and they aren’t taking any chances!

Photo: Garry Armstrong

I thought I should mention that our local cows have pastures — several pastures — by the Blackstone River. If they graze on the south side of Chestnut street, they get the deep shade of the oak trees and breezes off the river, but if it’s REALLY hot, he lets them graze on the north side where there’s a little stream.

Calf wading in the stream

They love standing up to their hocks in the water. Turns out, cows like wading. I’ve never seen one actually try to SWIM and to be fair, the water’s not all that deep, but they will stand in the water all day look and look happy. What a nice farmer! He also feeds the wild turkey’s, so there are tons of them hanging around the chicken areas.

Author Gordon Winter, Garry, and pet chickens

The chickens used to roam free, but I think between getting run down by cars and trucks and eaten by coyotes and foxes, he finally decided that some fences were in order.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

So now, they have huge fenced yards to keep the birds near home (and out of the road) — and keep the lurking predators away. We have coyotes, foxes, and fisher cats, as well as some pretty sizeable raccoons, eagles, and red-tailed hawks. Chickens look like lunch to all of them.

If it sounds like there is river everywhere, there is. I don’t think you can be anywhere in the valley and be further than a quarter of a mile from the river or one of its tributaries or streams or ponds. Nice for the wildlife, as long as we keep getting some rain. It also means we have a LOT of wetland and swamp. You have to be careful where you park or you’ll sink right into the bogs.

The rain last night was wonderful. One and a half hours of pouring rain to wet down the kindle-dry woods. Today the garden will be happy having gotten soaked last night! Summer in the valley. The snapping turtles are growing fat. I’m sure we have lots of young herons, swans, and geese since it has been a good breeding year with plenty of water in the ponds. After two years of trees stripped by gypsy moth caterpillars, this is a peaceful summer.

I thought I’d mention this because someone mentioned it to me today. He got a snapping turtle on a hook in the river. He didn’t want to let the turtle go with the hook in its mouth, but he also didn’t want that hefty snapper to take his thumb off. Somehow, he got it done. I have to ask him how he did that. Those big snappers scare the wits out of me.

Welcome deep summer!

PACKED? CHECK. CAR GASSED UP? CHECK. READY, SET, GO! (CHECK) – Marilyn Armstrong

All checked off and ready to go …

So why aren’t we gone yet? Because I need some coffee first. I don’t go anywhere without the coffee. It’s a thing.

We’ll be away for a few days. The dogs will be here and Owen will be keeping the place running well.  It’s not going to be much of a vacation year with all the stuff going on, so this is probably as close as we are going to get.

Just a few days with Tom and Ellin, then home again.

Heron in the water of the Blackstone canal …

Meanwhile, please do not get upset if I miss a few comments or fail to post. It is going to be an exceptionally busy summer, so this is about all the time off we’ll get.

I have new posts scheduled. Moreover, I’m sure I’ll find something to say, one way or the other. I always seem to find a few words lurking in the atmosphere.

Have a fine few days and I’ll see you all on the weekend.

REMEMBERING LAZY SUMMER DAYS – Marilyn Armstrong

Remember?

School was out. The days were long and warm. There was no homework. You played games with your friends and if it wasn’t too hot, you jumped rope or rode your bike.

You moved slowly. No one had air-conditioning. You took it slow and the days were lazy and just a bit sleepy.

In Israel, summer was even lazier. It was the heat. By the time you got to August, you moved as little as possible. If there was a way you could just stay in the water all the time, that would have worked fine.

These days, though, in New England summer is “catch up” time. Because winter is when your house gets eaten by snow, ice, and icicles, now more lovingly known as “ice dams.” Icicles didn’t sound evil, but ice dams do.

Summer is stockpiling the wood. Patching the roof. Replacing shingles and the sagging windows. Tearing down the old rotting things and putting up new stuff to survive the winter to come.

The sagging window has to go and so does the rotting outdoor shower. You have to hurry, hurry, hurry because summer is short while winter is long and hard. If you don’t get it done before October, it probably won’t get done until next year.

Who dares predict what will be next year? I barely know what’s going to happen tomorrow.

Our really lazy days are in the winter when we are socked inside by piles of snow. So much of our winter are snow days, roads covered with ice and a storm coming before we’ve figured out how to dig out of the one we just had.

Laying in supplies. Hoping it doesn’t get too cold — and the price of heating oil doesn’t go through the moon.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Hoping no one, nothing gets sick. There’s little you can do about anything much in the winter, so those are the lazy slow days. Okay, you have to wear two sweaters, but you aren’t going anywhere — unless you are one of the lucky snowbirds who fly to a warmer climate.

No more lazy days of summer. No more slow golden autumn weeks, either. The closer to winter it gets, the more frenzied you get trying to finish off the stuff which you can only do when the weather is warm.

The cows know when it’s time to lay in the grass and just relax

But today, I am tired. I need some warm, lazy weeks. Some slow days without appointments and plans. A few months when my hobby seems less like a job and my worry level can drop off and leave me to sleep in peace.

I expect we could all use that. Much more of that.

BLACKSTONE RIVER AND CANAL IN MAY – Marilyn Armstrong

Bridge and canal in May

We had just enough sunshine to get out of the house and down to the canal. About an hour in total.

Reflections in the water. You can see the fallen pollen from the oak trees floating on the water

A quiet day with the river shining like glass. May telling me that summer really is here … or nearly so.

Peaceful

MAY WATER EVER FLOW – Marilyn Armstrong

WATER EVERYWHERE


There’s a lot of wetness when you live in a water shed. It flows over rocks and down the dams. It runs into little rivulets and bigger streams and sometimes, into the old canal. We have some lakes, too, including a very large one that has a Native American name that no one who didn’t grow up in this area can ever pronounce. Webster Lake, for Anglophones.

For valley natives,  it is Lake “Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg” (/ˌleɪk tʃɚˈɡɒɡəɡɒɡ ˌmænˈtʃɔːɡəɡɒɡ tʃəˌbʌnəˈɡʌŋɡəmɔːɡ/). This is a 45-letter alternative title is frequently called the longest place-name in the United States. If there’s a longer one, no one has yet told me what it might be.

It is also one of the longest place-names in any language.

Tall Ships, Boston 2017

I grew up in New York. The city part of the state and the nearest “water” were the docks along the horribly polluted rivers. Thank Pete Seeger for helping fix that so that the Hudson River is no longer so polluted you could actually develop film in the water.

I lived in Queens and if we wanted to see water without someone driving us, we got on our bicycles and rode for a couple of hours to whatever were the nearest docks. There was a tiny little lake right by my high school, though. Beaver Dam. I’m assuming that once upon a time, there were beaver there. I suspect it is gone. It didn’t seem to have any inlets or outlets and that’s usually the end of a body of water.

We never had flowing water locally. No streams, no rivers. We did have some large puddles and named them as if they were lakes, though we knew they were not. Still, they were the only thing we had, so we had to make do.

If we wanted an ocean, someone’s mother or father had to drive us to the beach. Mine was not a beach-going family. My mother had cancer in her 40s. Too much radiation, so she could not go into the sun. When she had no choice, she wore caftans and huge hats. They hadn’t invented sun-screen yet, but later, she would wear that, too.

Sunset at the marina

I liked the beach because my friends liked the beach. I loved the ocean itself and that crazy feeling of standing in the oceans, feeling the sand moving under your feet as the wave pulled out before the next rolled in. Otherwise, I never liked sand. It always got into places I thought sand didn’t belong.

Woodcleft Canal, Freeport

I remember burning my feet trying to walk barefoot to the car through the parking lots of Jones Beach. We didn’t have flip-flops then. I don’t think anyone had invented them. I don’t remember owning sandals until I was an adult.

I liked the ocean off-season better. I liked the mist on the ocean and an empty beach. No umbrellas, no couples rubbing each other with oil. No endless smell of hot dogs.

Those were the days when everyone wanted a tan. I never tanned. I got more and more freckled though and you’d think eventually they would meld into a tan, but nope. Once, I get a slightly orange hue to my skin I thought was my best tan ever. Garry — to whom I was then married — laughed hysterically.

He used to have a contest with another Black friend about who could get the blackest over the course of the summer. Garry never won because there’s a lot of red in his skin. Probably those Irish grandparents, but Michael got really dark. I was this ghostly little thing and any attempt I made to get a golden tan resulted in days of pain and peeling.

Eventually, I gave up. I did get a sort of tan the year we went for our first cruise. Garry talked me into spending a couple of hours a week at a tanning salon so at least I would look tanned. It turns out those fake tans don’t keep you from burning, by the way. I got a terrible burn on a beach in Haiti even though I was wearing a t-shirt AND a hat — and had that fake tan. Water reflects sun upwards. Live and learn.

Local tame goose looking for something to eat

Those tans weren’t “real” anyway. They faded fast, but at least they weren’t as ugly as the spray. I did try one of those and it looked like I’d been heavily involved with orange paint I could not wash off.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Living here, in the valley with the rivers, dams , waterfalls plus all the woodland … this suits me well. The rivers are shady and cool. Not for swimming, mostly.

There is either a minor pollution problem dating back to when the Blackstone was one of the most polluted rivers in the world … or there are so many snapping turtles if you treasure your toes, don’t dangle your bits in the water.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

That’s okay. It’s great watching the herons, eagles, egrets, geese, ducks, swans and other waders pluck fish from the water. It’s sad when we have a drought and all you can see is mud and you wonder what has become of all those turtles and fish … and where have the eagles and the herons flown.

Yet the fish and the turtles and the water fowl come back, despite the bitter cold and the endless winter storms. They make new life and so far, the world spins on in the valley.

THE DAM AT THE POND

Dam at Whitins Pond

This is a dam that’s hard to find. You can hear it from the road, but you can’t see it without going around the big brick building that was formerly — you guessed it — a mill. A cotton mill, I believe.

A perfect water lily
A perfect water-lily

Funny to finally discover this dam after passing so near for more than a dozen years. You really can’t see it from the road, which is where we usually shoot from and I probably heard it, but didn’t pay attention. It’s an interesting dam, not like any of the other local dams.

It’s not very tall, perhaps 10 or 12 feet. Water doesn’t flow over the dam as much as it comes through holes in the dam, set at various heights in a long crescent.

The waters spits out and onto a plateau of flat rocks. I’m not sure what this design was intended to accomplish, but there must have been some special purpose in the design.

Close up at the dam

The old mill used to be an antique cooperative until last year. They recently converted it to an adult activity center. The senior center in Uxbridge is tiny, so this is definite upgrade. The building has been beautifully restored and its location, adjacent to the river and Whitins Pond … well, it couldn’t be lovelier.