The cemetery is in the center of the town, across from the dam and just a hundred or so yards from the river itself. It’s up on a hill, so it never floods, even when the rivers rush over their banks. The people who created that cemetery knew about the rivers. And flooding. They picked a beautiful spot. It has a perfect view of the dam and river, but it’s dry and safe for bones and memories.
An old cemetery, dating back to the early 1700s. It contains traces of many generations of those who lived and died in this town, this valley. Folks who lived along the Blackstone and its many tributaries fished in its lakes and streams. They fought in our wars and are buried here — Revolutionary War soldiers, Civil War veterans as well as those who fought in all the American wars since.
Every anniversary of the end of some war we fought, the cemetery blooms with bouquets and flags. The schools bring the children here, so they will remember too and traditions will be maintained. They bring bouquets of wildflowers or from the back garden. Lilacs and lilies, scarlet poppies … and always a miniature American flag. Even if there’s no special holiday, the cemetery always shows signs of caring, remembering.
Maybe it’s easier to remember here, with such a small population. Is that it? Or it’s just part of the air, the character, the history. Remembering is what we do in the Valley.
The cemetery is one of my favorite places. We’re newcomers after all, only living here 19 years. Our ancestors — Garry’s and mine — come from Sligo, Antigua, Minsk, Bialystok. We come from tiny villages in Ireland, England, the West Indies, and a wide variety of shtetls in eastern and northern Europe. Our people were always on the move.
Valley people have been here longer. Many came from French Canada in the late 19th century to work in the mills. Another large group formed the dominant Dutch population. They built churches, businesses and factories, dairy and truck farms, shops, horse farms, and sawmills. Their names are prominent wherever the rivers run.
Newcomers, like us, aren’t rare anymore but also not common. We have no ancestors in the cemetery, at least none about whom we know. Anything is possible in America.
The valley is the only place I’ve lived where the majority of families have lived in the town or in nearby villages for three, four, five generations.
“We’ve always lived in the Valley,” they say, meaning they have lived here as long as anyone can remember. If gently prodded, they may recall at some point, long ago, they came from somewhere else. Some can’t remember when or if it’s true.
I point out they must have come from somewhere because unless they are Native American, they came to this place, even if it was a long time ago. They get misty-eyed trying to remember old family stories handed down when they were young.
It’s hard to remember, they tell you. “You know, that was 75 years ago … a long time.” We nod because it was a long time ago. We can’t remember a lot of things from our “old days” either. So many years have passed and so much stuff has happened.
How many wars have we fought — just in our lifetime? I can’t count them anymore. It’s endless. We honor our dead. I think we’d honor them more by ending the cause of their deaths which I doubt it will happen. Peace is not in us, or at least not in most of us. Certainly not in the people who run our countries.
So another year passes and little flags and flowers bloom in the old cemetery in the middle of town.
I thought everyone was going to get tired of birds. Honestly, I thought I would get tired of the birds, but it turns out, I find them beautiful and love having them around.
I yell at the squirrels, but I don’t mind them having a piece of the buffet. I would just prefer they not eat all of it every single day. I have switched to cheaper feed. I really couldn’t keep up the high-class buffet with such massive eating going on!
The trouble is, our squirrels are becoming less and less afraid of me. Now I have to make loud noises or they just sit there and stare back at me and I swear they are saying, “Oh yeah? And what’re you gonna do about it?”
Truthfully, not much. Make more noise? Wave the broom at them? Or, we could train them to be better trained members of our burgeoning household.
I live in a peaceful valley and I hope it remains peaceful. We’ve got our share of troubles. Not much work, relatively poor as places to live go. But we live in beauty, sometimes so much so I am amazed that somehow I ended up living here.
Not being religious — or even Christian — I have to admit a great love of Gospel music. This is one of my favorites and it sure does fit the “peaceful” challenge. The singer is Jim Reeves. Elvis also sang it beautifully. I could not find a good quality recording of it. Johnny Cash also sang this very well, but again, the recordings were poor quality. This one is just fine.
I live in a small town. Just under 13,000 people call Uxbridge home. The village, or as we say around here, “downtown,” has a classic brick town hall, circa 1879, an elegant old library, and several other historic buildings.
Our neighboring town, Millville, makes Uxbridge look like Metropolis.
Their town hall is a unit in an old condo building. The center of town is a sub shop. There’s no sign to indicate you are in Millville, so it’s easy to miss. When you get there, it will be closed anyway. The following notice is posted on Millville’s website:
Due to budget constraints, effective immediately the Town Clerk’s office will only be open on Mondays from 9am-1pm and Wednesday evenings from 6pm-8pm for public assistance. If you cannot be at the Municipal Center during these scheduled hours, please call the Town Clerk’s Office to schedule an appointment.m
There are approximately 3100 people living in Millville.
Perhaps 9 or 10 years ago, the town of Millville decided they needed a Deputy Animal Control Officer. I don’t remember how I heard about the job. It may have been a tip from our local animal control officer who knew I liked animals and needed part-time work.
This was about as part-time as a job could be. The pay was $1200 per year, payable semi-annually. Before taxes.
Millville already had a Senior Animal Control Officer who was theoretically in charge, but passionately fond of golf. I suspect he also had a full-time job elsewhere. So, in exchange for $600 every 6 months, I would have the official title of Deputy Animal Control Officer. I would be on call 7 days a week, 24 hours a day.
I’m basically an optimist. I figured Millville is tiny. How many calls could there be? I took the job. I was sworn in, just like in the movies, hand on the Bible. I promised to protect and serve.
A mere couple of hours later, I got my first call. A homeowner had found an almost dead skunk by their trash bin and wanted it taken away. It was my first call — a Sunday morning — so my “senior officer” thought he should come along, show me the ropes as it were.
Luckily, the skunk did the right thing and went from nearly dead to absolutely dead while I was trying to figure out what I was supposed to do. I was informed by my erstwhile boss that the skunk had probably been rabid and I should not touch it. If the skunk had not died on his own, I would have been obliged to shoot it.
Me: “Shoot it?”
Boss: “Yes, shoot it. With the rifle.”
Me: “Rifle? What rifle?”
Boss: “Oh, didn’t I mention that? We have a couple of rifles in the office. When an animal is behaving suspiciously, you have to shoot it.”
Me: “Behaving suspiciously?”
Boss: “You know, approaching people rather than running away. Acting weird. Most of the animals you’ll get calls about are rabid. There’s a lot of rabies around here so you don’t want to get close. Just shoot’em.”
Rabies. Shoot the animals. $100 a month. I was getting that creepy feeling I get when I think maybe I’ve signed up for something, the implications of which I had failed to fully grasp.
After we bagged the skunk to send to the county animal medical examiner, I promised to go to city hall as soon as they reopened to discuss guns and the other equipment I would need. Like shovels, leather gloves, heavy-duty plastic trash bags (the non-human version of body bags), tags for the medical examiner. Forms to fill out. Oh, and where to put the corpses. Turns out, you can’t just stack them up in city hall.
My boss was not upset that I’d never handled a real weapon. I’d never shot anything currently or previously alive. I was puzzled about what I was supposed to do if I got a call, actually needed a rifle, but it was locked up at city hall which was pretty much always closed.
Would the offending animal make an appointment for a more convenient time? Or wait for me to call someone, get them to unlock the gun cabinet, then hang around while I drove over to get it, then drove back to shoot him? Are the rabid animals of Millville that cooperative? Was I supposed to keep the big hunting rifle in my house in case I needed it? The rabies thing had me spooked, too.
When I was finally able to get to city hall, I demanded a rabies vaccination. No way was I going to handle rabid animals without a vaccination. They pointed out rabies vaccinations are expensive and I was only the deputy. They suggested I pay for it myself.
Me: “How much will it cost?”
Clerk: “Around $450.”
Me: “That’s four and a half months pay.”
Clerk: “Well, we don’t normally pay for it.”
Me: “I’m not doing this unless I’m vaccinated.”
It turned out that the animal medical examiner could provide me with the appropriate vaccination, so Garry — who had begun to look alarmed — drove me to the doctor. While the doctor prepared the inoculation, we got a rundown of exactly how common rabies is in our neck of the woods.
“Why,” he said, “Just last week they found a deer with rabies. Chipmunks, skunk, fox, coyotes, squirrels, deer … even possums get rabies.” The only exceptions are rabbits who are naturally immune. Go figure.
The following day, I got another call. A really big snapping turtle had wandered into the road and was blocking traffic. It didn’t sound too threatening, so armed with my shoulder-high heavy leather gauntlets (no rifle), I drove to the site and met the snapping turtle from Hell.
Keep in mind that there is water everywhere in the valley. Not only the Blackstone, but all its tributaries, feeder creeks, lakes, brooks, ponds, pools, and swamps. Snapping turtles are called common for good reason. They live just about everywhere you find water. Undoubtedly, the big snapper had wandered into the road, lost his bearings. Someone needed to grab the turtle and carry him back on the river side of the road.
The someone was me.
This turtle was not in the water, not docile. His beak was sharp. His neck was extremely flexible. Not my kind of nature pal.
So there I was, by the side of the road, trying to figure out how I could grab him. He was approximately 30 pounds of pissed-off turtle. He seemed pretty agile to me. He could move. Okay, maybe he’d lose a footrace to a rabbit, but he could trundle along at a nice pace. And he had that snaky neck and was determined to bite me.
Meanwhile, an entire construction crew — big brawny guys who were supposed to be repairing the bridge — were watching. They didn’t seem eager to help. In fact, they were the ones who called in the first place.
I eventually herded him across the road. I looked at those jaws, looked at my leather gloves, did a quick mental calculation about the strength of the gloves versus the power of the turtle’s jaws. I decided the gloves weren’t nearly strong enough.
Have you ever tried herding a turtle? Of course not. You can’t herd a turtle, but I did. I don’t know exactly how I got him across the road. I know there was a big shovel involved, but otherwise, it’s a blur. The next thing I remember doing after getting the turtle over to the river side of the road was calling the clerk and resigning.
The turtle was enough for me. I figured if I didn’t get out quick, they’d have me hunting rabid coyotes with a large gun and I’d shoot my foot off.
They tried to bill me for the rabies shot. We settled for not paying me. I think I got the better part of the deal.
Garry decided the poor birds must be starving, so he filled the feeders. Then we stood at the window and watched the tree fill up with all kinds of birds.
Which was followed by birdly jostling and bonking as various birds tried to knock the other competing birds off the feeder.
The Cowbirds are big and solid and don’t move, though they did at least look up when three finches whacked them at the same time.
The little squirrel was on the rail looking at the free-for-all, birds and more birds … and finally, he left. He didn’t feel like taking on the Cowbird either.
So there we are, looking at the feeders. On the flat feeder, there are three Brown-headed Cowbirds. They are about the size of a Robin. On the hanging feeder are a few Goldfinches and several Nuthatches with a mashup of chickadees, Carolina Wrens, and three woodpeckers.
I find, these days, that I spend less time shooting pictures and more time just watching the birds and squirrels and their interactions. Also wondering how every bird and squirrel in the woods know within a few minutes that Garry has filled the feeders. Is this what they call “Twitter”?
This is a short note because I forgot, we have to be out of here most of the day. The exterminators are coming to do the interior, so we have to get the dogs outside and us out of the house too. We need to be gone for four hours. What we can do for four hours in Uxbridge will be interesting, but we have to be gone completely until the pesticides dry and are safe. Also, they need to set traps for mice. Spring is here, or at least the bugs and the mice are here.
Mice. Ants. Whatever else crawls or scuttles. After which it dries and is safe for pets and their people.
Excuse this whole week.
For that matter, forgive me the entire month. It has been nothing but doctor’s visits, follow-ups, and shopping for something or other.
Meanwhile, Garry had a small “piece” of something removed from his face. I (and the doctor) think it’s nothing, but it’s ugly and it changed color, so it was time for the dermatologist. We’re supposed to get a callback today on results, but it might be Monday since we will be somewhere in Uxbridge, counting the hours and minutes.
We got a new set of birds: the Brown-headed Cowbirds. A pair of them. They are surprisingly tame, which is apparently typical of them. They don’t usually live in oak woods, but they do like feeders. Anyway, the most interesting thing about them is they do NOT build their own nests. Ever. They are nest stealers. And they are pretty large birds, especially compared to the Finches, Titmouse, and Chickadees, all of whom are little feathery fluffers.
I think maybe we’ll go back to Caroline’s Cannabis shop. I want to see if I can take some better pictures. The ones I got are mediocre at best. Maybe I can stop at Hannaford and find something interesting for dinner too.
I have a piece coming on the shop as soon as I like the pictures.
Meanwhile, in a determined effort to make some money in this quaint, but poverty-struck town, Uxbridge has voted “yes” on the very first “drive through” pot shop in Massachusetts. I don’t know if there are any other places with drive-through shops, but this town needs money. Badly. They are taking an extra 10% in town taxes on top of the 20% the state is already taking. It’s cheaper to buy it off the street. A lot cheaper. My son pointed out that when the dope sellers saw the prices in the shops, they just dropped their prices.
Everyone on the waiting line at the pot shop thought they should also open a bakery. Cupcakes would be a nice touch, but meanwhile, Hannaford is getting some extra business.
Competition is good for business.
They also have the most interesting blown-glass bongs I’ve ever seen. I might buy one because they are lovely.
So I hope you will condone my absence. We are pretty much out of time. They were supposed to come later, but there were cancellations and earlier is definitely better for us AND the dogs.
I’ll try to get to comments this evening after dinner. And maybe some pictures. The dam in town is gorgeous, almost at flood stage.
While I was starting dinner, I was watching out the window. Suddenly, a hawk with a white front swooped by the deck then winged off into the woods.
I followed him with my eyes. The camera was in the dining room and I didn’t hurry to get it. I knew I’d lose the hawk before I got the camera focused. Mostly, I wanted to get a good look at him before he disappeared.
I was curious why he swept so close to the house.
Hawks are hunters and don’t usually get so close to houses. It turned out, after minimal research, to be a Cooper’s Hawk. It wasn’t hard to find because among the white-breasted hawks, there are only two living here: American Eagles and Cooper’s Hawks. I’ve seen plenty of American Eagles. They are much bigger than this hawk, so Cooper’s Hawk it had to be.
And he was hunting for exactly what was on my deck: birds and squirrels. Those are a Cooper’s Hawks two favorite foods. The deck is his perfect hunting ground, his dinner buffet.
This is one of the things I feared when I set up the feeders. We have so many predators in the area and so little prey. How did we get so out of balance? Doesn’t it usually go the other way? Don’t deer usually overtake the area?
I remember when we had so many chipmunks they used to line up and chatter at us in groups. Now, we never see chipmunks. We use to see rabbits sitting on the lawn in the sun in summertime. I haven’t seen a rabbit in years and until we put up the feeders, I hadn’t seen any squirrels, either.
Mice I know about because they invade our house every autumn. We have an annual battle to keep them outside. It’s not personal. It’s just that they make an awful mess in the house.
We also used to see more deer, but I’m sure the coyotes have taken them down.
I wonder now if the reason the squirrels have taken refuge on the deck is that they think the house is some kind of protection for them from the hawks and the other predators. Is this house protection for the birds and squirrels?
By sending them back into the woods am I sending them to their deaths? That’s a terrible thought.
I feel like I should invite them all in for a warm dinner and a comfortable nap, but I’m pretty sure the dogs wouldn’t get along with them especially well. It could get pretty raucous.
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