KINDNESS OF STRANGERS – Marilyn Armstrong

Israel was in turmoil. Years of bad blood between Arabs and Jews, a disastrous economic situation, and an intense heatwave which had everyone cranky and ill-tempered. It’s no wonder that most riots take place in the heat of summer.

The predominantly Arab areas were seething with resentment while the Jewish population was none too happy either. It was a rough patch, but when had it been otherwise?

Jerusalem’s diversity is part of what makes the city unique. The Jewish population is highly diverse. From secular and downright anti-religious, to ultra-Orthodox and everything in between. There are Christians of every stripe and every flavor of Islam. Bahai, Samaritans — and sects I never heard of — and more than a few wannabe Messiahs.

French Hill

I sang along with the Muzein when he called the faithful to prayer. I loved the chanting, the traditions, the clothing, the open-air markets. I loved everything and everyone, but not everyone loved me back.

The newspaper I was running was broke. We’d been going on fumes for the last few issues and it was obvious we’d be out of business and out of work very soon. We kept hoping for an angel, someone to come along and invest enough to get us well and truly launched. In the meantime, it had been weeks since we’d gotten paid.

I was doing my share, trying to keep the newspaper alive, so when someone had to take the pages to the typesetter in Givat Zeev up by Ramallah, I volunteered. I had a car. I’d been there before. Why not?

There’s a myth that Jerusalem has just one road, but it winds a lot. The theory is, if you keep driving, sooner or later you’ll get there, wherever “there” is. That’s not quite accurate. You may get close — but when I’m the navigator close may not be close enough. I have no sense of direction. When I hear the words “You can’t miss it,” I know I will miss it.

Which is how I wound up in downtown Ramallah in the middle of a minor riot in late August 1983. I didn’t know what was happening or why (exactly), but I was sure I shouldn’t be there.

ramallah-2

I was lost. No idea how to retrace my steps and get back to French Hill. Going forward wasn’t an option. I pulled to the curb and sat there, wondering what to do next.

A few moments later, two Arab gentlemen jumped into the car with me. No, I hadn’t locked the doors. If they wanted to break into my car, they might as well use the doors as break the windows. Was I about to be murdered? Abducted?

“You are lost,” the man in the front seat said.

“Oh, very much,” I agreed. The two men conferred in Arabic. I picked out a couple of words, one of them being “American.” That’s easy. It’s the same in almost every language.

“Okay,” said the man in the front seat. “You need to leave. Now.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” I responded. We swapped places. He took the wheel and drove me back to French Hill.

“You must be more careful,” he chided me. “You must not go to dangerous places.” I thanked him with all my heart. He smiled, and the two of them headed back, on foot, to Ramallah. Offering them a lift didn’t seem the thing to do.

As a final note, their act of kindness was a genuine act of bravery. They could have come to real harm for their generosity which some would have regarded as a lack of loyalty to whatever the current cause is or was. They were under no obligation to help me. Yet they did, at considerable risk to themselves.

An act of kindness by strangers and people who were, in theory, not on “my side.” People can be incredibly kind when you least expect it.

I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.

WOODCLEFT CANAL, FREEPORT, LONG ISLAND – Marilyn Armstrong

Freeport, Long Island. It’s in Nassau Country, the closest county on Long Island to New York.

I grew up in the city. In Queens, which is a borough of New York. Each of New York’s boroughs has its own character and in many ways, is a city in its own right. Certainly, people who grow up in Brooklyn identify themselves as Brooklyn-ites and if you come from the Queens, Staten Island, or the Bronx, you will always identify that as your “home ground” rather than just “New York.”

Maybe it’s because New York is so big. Each neighborhood is like a city unto itself. Boston is like that, too. Maybe most big cities are.

Colorized postcard of Woodcleft canal with houses visible on the right side of the photo. Postmark: “” Merrick, N.Y, September 3, 1907″ Addressee and Address: “M.A. Hansen, 791 59th Street, Brooklyn” Message [on the front]: “” Sept. 1, 07. Have a good time. May” – From the Freeport Historical Society Postcard Collection

Between the picture postcard and our visit lay almost exactly a century.

People from Manhattan have a strong sense of superiority because they come from The City. For reasons that are hard to explain, but perfectly obvious to anyone who has lived there or even visited for any length of time, Manhattan is the heart of New York in ways that cannot be simply explained. It’s not just because it’s the center of business. In fact, that really has little to do with it. It just is what it is. Even when I was a kid growing up in Queens, when we said we were going “into the city,” we meant New York. Manhattan.

If we were going anywhere else in the five boroughs, we said we were going to Brooklyn or the Bronx or some specific neighborhood … but the city was Manhattan and no doubt still is.

I moved to Long Island in 1963 when I was 16 and had just started college. I never moved back to the city, though for many years, we went there for shows, museums, etc. And of course, work.

A few years of my childhood, before I was 5 and moved to Holliswood, we lived in an apartment house — really, a tenement — on Rose Street in Freeport, near Woodcleft Canal.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the area near the canal was decrepit. Living “near the docks” was not a good thing, certainly nothing to brag about. My family was going through hard times and it was the best we could afford.

My mother hated it. It was the middle of nowhere and she didn’t drive. For her, born in Manhattan, a lifelong resident of New York, what was Freeport? Long Island? That was farm country where you went to buy vegetables at farm stands. My mother, an urbanite to her core, understood poverty but being poor in the country was her version of Hell.

My memories are limited but I see in my mind a big white stucco building with no architectural features. A large white box that didn’t fit into the neighborhood. Even by the less stringent standards of 60-years ago, it was an eyesore. It hasn’t lost that quality. It is still an ugly building, but I expect the rent is higher.

We drove down Rose Street to look at it. I was curious if I would recognize it, but I did. Instantly. I think early memories are deeply embedded in our psyches. Then, having satisfied curiosity, we found out to the canal.

Reflections in the canal.

I shouldn’t have been surprised to find the canal lined with marinas and yachts. The road along the canal has the usual expensive restaurants featuring faux nautical decor. It was a trifle weird.

There were many huge Victorian houses in Freeport back in the 1970s that you could buy for almost nothing. A great deal if you had a lot of money with which to fix one of them up. Those grand old houses … there are still a few around there and here too, but restoring one is big bucks and maintaining them, even if you can afford the initial restoration, out of the range of most people. I’m glad that some have survived. They are magnificent, though even thinking about the cost of heating one is frightening.

Everything changes.

You can’t go back in time except in your memory. Sometimes, if you treasure the way it was, how you remember it, it’s better not to revisit places. Keep your memories intact because then, the places you remember will always be the way they were.

A DANCE IN A GRAVEYARD – Marilyn Armstrong

The year I was fifteen, I started my senior year of high school. That September (1962), while I was sitting and watching television, I found a rather big, hard lump near my right ankle. I checked the other leg. No lump there. It was a painless lump. Mom had me visiting a surgeon just a couple of days later.

It turned out to be non-malignant, an osteochondroma. It was, however, pretty big. Big enough so in the short time between seeing the doctor and getting into the hospital, it more than doubled in size.

It had thoroughly wrapped itself around my fibula and the surgeon had to remove a piece of bone and replace it with a pin. I was in no mortal danger, but I was going to be on crutches for at least half a year.

Jamaica High School was (is) huge. Five stories including the basement (swimming pool level) and top floor — the tower where the choir and chorus rehearsed. There were no elevators. No handicapped access. It was also extremely crowded, no place for someone on crutches.

High School, really

Thus I came to be assigned a home tutor. I was not her only client and for reasons of her own, she decided to introduce me to another of her clients.

Mary was older than me, 18 years old. Which, at 15, seemed very mature from my perspective. She was a schizophrenic at a time when the drugs to control schizophrenia had not been invented. She was not at all violent. In fact, she was wonderfully sweet, a brilliant artist … and her view of the world was, to say the least, unique.

She loved cemeteries. Especially at night. One night, we went to see Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? which had just been released.

“Would you like to go?” she asked.

“Sure, why not.” I was always up for a movie. But this one, I didn’t much like. I still don’t. Just … not my cup of tea. Too creepy.

But my night of creepiness was far from over because, after the movie, Mary invited me to visit one of her favorite places … the local cemetery. Through which she happily danced, kissing each of the stones while declaring that these were the happiest of all souls.

Thus began my interest in cemeteries and tombstones. And the end of my brief relationship with Mary. I’m pretty strange in my own way, but that was a bit much for me.

We have great cemeteries here in New England. Old ones with wonderful tombstones, amazing old inscriptions. Come visit.

THE EARLY GOLD OF AUTUMN – Marilyn Armstrong

The leaves have definitely begun to change! The aspens are bright yellow and there are edges of red on the maples. There is a hint of gold on al the leaves as if some painter was doing a watercolor and washed it with light golden amber.

And there were a bunch of Tufted Titmouses on the feeders this morning. Can the rest be far behind?

THEY DON’T CALL THEM FILTHY RICH FOR NOTHING – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Guileless but white

For all the right-wing evangelists, have any of you noticed that at no point in the Torah or the Gospels is there any mention of race or skin color? Nor any mention of superiority based on color, either.

It’s not that there was no such thing as color. Some people were dark, others much lighter. Especially in the Mediterranean area, colors vary quite a lot and no one seems to care.

Why do we care? What makes us so special? What makes white people superior? We aren’t better farmers or better people. We are cruel, vicious, and willing to destroy the world while guilelessly sitting on a fence saying “who me?”

Why is it important to be “white?” Were the Sphinxes built by “white people?” Not unless the Eqyptians have done some serious color shifting. How about the great Mayan and Aztec pyramids? They weren’t white either.  All the palaces and temples in India were built by brown people as were those in Tibet and other areas of Asia. No white folks there, either.

How about the Great Wall of China? A lot of white people building that one?

So other than our greed and cruelty to those who are different than us, what makes white people special? As far as I can tell, nothing. We invented a lot of technology which hasn’t done the world any good and is in the process of doing it permanent harm.

So as we sit around, guilelessly acting as if we are the world’s great innocents, ponder who has done the worst things to most people. Who has done the most slaughtering? Who has the biggest butcher bill to pay?

You guessed it. White people. Now we want to take over the world because we haven’t done enough damage.

Why not? We’ve been trying to do that for hundreds of years. We might get there yet. I’m not sure what kind of world we will be taking over or if there will even be a part of it that remains safe for humans to live.

We can be proudly white in a world of horror.

THE SNOW IS GONE – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP Tuesday: SNOW

The snow is gone.

We didn’t get a lot of it this year. It didn’t show up at all until March and it only lasted a week and a bit, but it rained and stormed almost continuously from February through this month. So our water table is doing fine.

Now that the Gypsy moth caterpillars have been spotted locally, we really need the rain — so of course, we have lovely, dry spring weather. The rain brings forth a little caterpillar killer bug that drops those caterpillars dead from the trees. But we need rain and a lot of it.

It’s as if the weather is rebelling. Whatever it is we want, we can’t have it. It’s not a lack of weather. It’s a lot of weather — at all the wrong times.

It’s funny to think about snow now. All I have on my mind are the hospital tests and getting finished with them. I think I’m about to (in late May and June) finally complete … and how doth the garden grow.

March blizzard

And how many squirrels are hanging on the bird feeder. Perhaps, as Stuart Templeton said yesterday, “Isn’t it great  to see some birds on your squirrel feeders?”

Unsurprisingly, the feeders were filled last night and were nearly empty this morning. I was going to let the feeder run empty and try to convince the squirrels to do their own hunting, but if the caterpillars take over, there won’t BE any food to eat. Those nasty bugs strip the woods and everything goes hungry.

The Gypsy moths are an evil omen in an evil year. Last time, I survived by getting everything sprayed, but I don’t have the money this year — and I don’t even know what (if any) company is set up to to the work. No one was expecting them to come back so soon. They usually lay low for decades before making a return appearance.

If it gets ugly (and Garry is horribly allergic to these nasty critters), I’m going to hide inside and refuse to leave. Since our squirrels are always starving, can they be convinced to eat these guy? Except almost none of the birds will eat the big hairy caterpillars, but many will eat the egg masses they leave behind. We do have most of those birds here. On our deck.

Bring on the birdseed!

And, for what it’s worth, squirrels eat them too, even the caterpillars. So I guess we’re going to keep those feeders full!


More information from Mass Audubon Society and Pests.org:

Some native birds, such as cuckoos, downy woodpeckers, gray catbirds, and common grackles, will eat gypsy moth caterpillars but, unfortunately, not in large enough quantities to have an effect during an outbreak. White-footed mice, and occasionally gray squirrels, prey on gypsy moth larvae and pupae.

Pests.Org

These little-known buggers can lay waste to entire forests and crops as they munch their way through the leaves and plants. Up until last year, the Gypsy Moth Caterpillar was not considered a big deal. Granted, they are still a problem when they infest your farm, but they had taken a backseat to other common pests. That is until some states (the northeast and especially Massachusetts) saw the worst Gypsy Moth infestation in more than 30 years.


NOTE: In 2016 and 2017 — here in the Blackstone Valley — virtually every hardwood and fruit-bearing tree were defoliated by the caterpillars), farmers started paying attention. 


Some birds typically eat Gypsy Moths. Birds such as the Bluejay, catbird, blackbird (cowbirds ARE blackbirds), crows (we have them, though they don’t favor our woods) and such find these insects delicious.

These ARE blackbirds!

One of our many cowbirds.

Encourage these birds to visit your property to feed on these moths by not chasing them away when they come.


We definitely encourage them!

FEATHERS – Marilyn Armstrong

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Feathers

Since last November, the bird feeders on the deck have been supplying me with more than ample amounts of feathers. Usually, birds go with the features, though I do have some feathery things that are not birds.


I think the small Goldfinch in the gallery is a recent fledgling. I guess he’s learning “the ropes.” Don’t you love the patterns on their wings? So elegant!


One of our many cowbirds. I have seen as many as a dozen of them in the feeders, waiting on the rail, and in nearby trees. This is one of the boys. Although they are considered one of many blackbirds found all over the world, in the right light, they are almost deep blue or green and they have a matching beak.

Lady Brown-headed Cowbird showing off her dark tail.

Mrs. Brown-headed Cowbird

The weather has been awful since last February. Cold, constant rain. I’m sure the birds are getting depressed, too.

Chipping Sparrow

Another Chipping Sparrow. These are surprisingly friendly little garden birds.

I found a Chipping Sparrow sound asleep on one of the feeders this morning. I finally got worried that maybe he was not sleeping, but dead. However, when I opened the window, he woke up and flew away.

What a relief!

Our feeder has attracted much more attention than I imagined possible. I have learned a lot about the birds and so has Garry who previously showed little interest in birds. But having them so close — and finally being able to hear them sing — changed his mind.

Black-capped Chickadee – our Massachusetts official state bird

We seem to have become the home base for a crew of Brown-headed Cowbirds while the Goldfinches arrive in flocks. That’s normal for finches of all kinds.


Yo, bro, how’s it hanging?

Every Dove needs a bit of conversation and Frog looks so friendly.

The conversation — Dove and Frog — continues.

Thanks for the chat!

Birds are normally so well groomed, but this Dove had obviously just washed her hair. This was a very cute picture that I saw coming. I was just waiting for the dove to actually walk right up to the frog and have a little chat. I did not (for once!) wait in vain.


They have nearly taken over both feeders — except for the squirrels that, if allowed, will eat every seed we put out there. I don’t mind them eating, but there are a lot of them and they seem to be the smallest, cutest, fuzziest and most hungry critters in our woods. They eat nonstop and as soon as one departs, another one or more show up.

Two Tufted Titmouses – with one departing.

Squirrels and bird feeders are one of those things. I just would prefer they leave a little something for the birds!

Mrs. Cowbird and Mr. Chickadee, sharing a light snack

And so it goes. These are our most recent visitors, minus the Pileated Woodpecker who disappeared before I could press the shutter — and the Red-Bellied Woodpecker who like to eat on the opposite side of the feeder where I can’t see him, though I know he is there. What a flirt!