WHEN IT’S TOO LATE, IS IT STILL PROCRASTINATING? – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango:
Procrastinating Until Time Runs Out

PHOTOGRAPHS: OWEN KRAUS

And who amongst us does not procrastinate? I used to do everything ahead of time because I figured if I did whatever I didn’t want to do EARLY, then I could stop fretting about it. This concept died instantly the day I retired. Now, I do everything as late as I can … except when I procrastinate for so long, it’s too late to do it at all.

But then there is Planet Earth and I live in sheer terror that we have been plundering our world for so long that it is already too late. I don’t know why I was sure that the full weight of climate change would wait until finally, we were ready to tackle it. It was a stupid idea, but the full power of this change was more than I was ready to confront. Especially because — other than trying to recycle (pointless in a town that has no dump for “clean” trash — and no recycling facilities of any kind — not even a place to take stuff for recycling elsewhere).

Poisonous swamp near an old factory

Massachusetts, overall, has tried pretty hard to do its best to clean up its own mess. And there has been a pretty huge mess to clean up. As one of the oldest states, it is here that “The Industrial Revolution” began.

The Blackstone River was its power. It’s tight, twisting design and rapid drops were perfect for building mills. And of course, the leftover products of those mills went right back into the rivers.

Never think that “modern” poisons are worse than “natural” poisons. By the mid-1970s, the Blackstone River was one of the top 3 most polluted rivers on this continent. Today, after almost 100 years of fighting the pollution, you can fish in the river and there are even places where it is safe to swim — if you don’t mind getting your toes nipped off by some really gigantic Common Snapping Turtles!

The poisonous earth is, so far, not repairable. Behind each of those dams on the river (there were 46 of them, but I think they managed to remove two of them recently) are tons and tons of poisoned earth. If they take away the dam, all the hazardous soil will pour into the river. Far too dangerous.

You can’t build on it. You can’t cover it with clean earth because the poisons leach upward. Every time they try to build atop one of those deadly areas, everyone in the building gets sick and they have to close it down. This happened relatively recently in Boston when they built the new PP1 station on a hazardous site and in weeks, they had to abandon it. I think, in the end, they imploded the building, dug down as far as the bedrock and took the earth somewhere else.

Where? Is there somewhere that has a use for poisoned earth?

As soon as they moved the foul factories down south to be closer to where the cotton grew, they decided on another terrific idea: “Let’s build some Nuclear Generators!”

Sometimes I wonder why all of us don’t just glow in the dark.

Having had a personal one-on-one tour of the Seabrook Generator, I’m still wondering what they are going to do with those “spent nuclear rods” that run the generators. No one wants them. They hid the nukes behind 30-foot barbed-wire fences and barren green hills. In our lovely green parks. You know there’s a nuke there because of the warning signs telling you to STAY OUT OF THAT AREA. Are we so stupid we don’t know what’s going on? Except when they suggested maybe “Just one more generator?” and angry mobs form in the streets.

We are not quite that stupid, it seems.

Meanwhile, up in Millbury and Worcester, they STILL dump raw sewage into the Blackstone because (are you ready? really really ready?), it would cost every household $1 a month more in taxes to build a water cleaning facility. We may not be that stupid, but a lot of the people who run our towns seem to be.

Massachusetts is really trying hard to clean itself up. We are the Good Guys! Can you imagine the horrors you are going to find down in Texas and Oklahoma, not to mention all those areas in the deep south where they took our factories and mills and installed them there?  They thought they were lucky to get the work. We thought we were lucky to lose the pollution. But some work would be nice, too. CLEAN work, however.

I have no answers because these are questions too big for me. I can change to green power. I can send my paltry earnings to the National Parks Foundation. I can support zoos and other areas where they breed animals who are going extinct. But overall, I feel helpless. The problems are huge and my abilities to deal with so small.

OUR CLIMATE CHANGE DIDN’T HAPPEN SINCE TRUMP TOOK OFFICE – Marilyn Armstrong

NOTE: I’m not putting in any pictures of dead creatures, malls, or rivers the color of fire. These are too depressing. There are plenty of pictures of slaughtered animals, poisonous rivers, dead malls.

If you have the stomach for it, look them up. 


Forty years ago, I was the English-language editor at the University of Jerusalem’s Environmental Health Laboratory. I worked there for almost five years during which we addressed issues of wastewater, air and soil management.

The country was still quite small. I think we had maybe 7 million people at that point. The scientific staff traveled from kibbutz to kibbutz, then to any other area that was under cultivation. The goal was trying to explain why it was so critical we stop using nitrogen-enriched fertilizer and start managing wastewater while finding ways to use it.

No one listened. My boss predicted we’d lose our aquifer by 1985. He was wrong. It was dead by 1983.

The point to this is not that I knew something secret and important about our climate before most people were really up to speed on the subject. The point is that we have known about the danger to our environment for at least 100 years. We have had better science and statistics about it for at least the past fifty.

We can loathe Trump for taking a desperately bad situation and making it worse at every possible opportunity. But the reality is that with or without Trump, the planetary climate madness we are seeing was going to happen anyway, no matter who was in office. Because we didn’t do nearly enough. This issue did not begin in 2016. Much of the worst damage was done in 1916 when we casually and carelessly dumped poison into our air, water, and land.

Since the 1970s when we declared “Earth Day,” we’ve done some good stuff. We didn’t do nothing, but we didn’t do enough. Not here. Not in China. Not in Europe. Not in South America or Africa or Australia.

We improved car emissions. We knocked out the smog in some major cities. We cleaned up some horribly polluted rivers. Some of us did our best to manage recyclables. Some places did better than others. We didn’t build enough plants to deal with the plastic and paper and we charged extra for products made from recycled materials — which was not what people expected. Reality notwithstanding, we didn’t expect to be charged a premium for recycled goods. A lot of places — like where we live — do not have “real” recycling. We don’t even have a dump much less a recycling plant.


Despite all arguments anyone cares to make, WE DID NOT DO ENOUGH. If we had done enough, we would not be where we currently are. 

The world’s population has grown exponentially everywhere. For every little green area we plow so we can build a condo or mall we don’t need, birds and other small animals die, often forever. In poor countries, you can’t blame them for trying to create farms to feed their people. Large mammals — like elephants — are antithetical to local farming.

Of course, most of the large mammals are murdered for worse reasons: fun. I have a venal hatred of “sport” killing. There’s nothing sporting about it and I think everyone who slaughters an animal that is disappearing deserves to die a similar death, but slower including a full understanding of why he is dying.

Then there’s all the drilling for oil — and the massive spillage in the arctic and the Gulf of Mexico — and add to that fracking. What could possibly go wrong with that?

I spent five years surrounded by nothing but environmental scientists. I edited their material, sent it to magazines for publication. Read the papers. Understood how important it was.

And for all of that, I didn’t understand. I didn’t imagine it would happen to me. That my world would change. That my birds would die. That insects that aren’t supposed to live in this climate would move in bringing with them diseases that would kill us. And our way of stopping the insects –which are the direct result of the climate change we’ve been denying or worse, ignoring — is poisoning everything.


It’s a planetary problem and it needs a planetary solution. It needs us to do the single thing we never successfully do. Work together for a common cause, even if we hate each other. It doesn’t matter how we feel or what our political system is. This is a planetary issue and we need a planet-size solution.

For all I know, we are beyond fixing it. Maybe we can ameliorate the process. Maybe we can stop building on every piece of ground we find. Maybe we can do something to create food for more people with less destruction to the earth. I don’t really have answers. I just know we are in serious trouble and aren’t addressing it.

CHANGING THE SEASONS OF THE WORLD – Marilyn Armstrong

I haven’t read the official report, but I’ve read a lot of summaries and I wasn’t at all surprised by any of it. Twelve years left and then we can’t “save the earth.”

I consider it highly unlikely we’ll make that deadline.

I was one of the enthusiastic founders of the original Earth Day. Over the years, as we have cleaned up a lot of the inland waterways — the Blackstone and Hudson Rivers are two notable successes — and cleaned up the air around New York and on the west coast — I knew we weren’t making progress fast enough, but at least I could believe we were trying to head in the right direction.

Now with the big orange dictator setting up the world for extensive additional pollution, I wonder how quickly we will bring about our own doom?

People are the problem.

Our misuse of the earth, our pollution of the waters, our coughing up of coal dust into the air? People. Human beings. We did it, are doing it, and are unlikely to stop.

No other animal has polluted anything. Just people.


And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

— English Standard Version, Old Testament (Torah)


I’m not religious, or at least not in any traditional sense. Moreover, I don’t think the seven books of the Old Testament — the Torah — are close to the whole story. I have a lot of backup for this belief. It is widely believed there were hundreds of biblical books, most of which were destroyed during the first burning of the Great Temple. And then again, whatever was left were burnt in Alexandria. Even the memories of what was remembered died with the old Rabbis between the Crusades and the Holocaust.

A pack of gray wolves passes by a remote camera within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. The landscape surrounding the failed nuclear reactor now supports a large population of wolves due to the limited human activity.

Hundreds of other books that were equally as holy as the seven we currently revere were burned, buried, destroyed. Do you think maybe they had something to say to us? Maybe this bit of text was not intended to tell us to exploit and despoil every inch of earth and every animal on the planet?

We have dominion over the earth, but we have not ruled the earth so much as destroyed it and now, it’s on the edge of fighting back.

I read a report recently about how well the area around Chernobyl has revived. Without human habitation, it has blossomed and wildlife has returned in plenitude. It’s not that the radioactivity has vanished, but that somehow, the world finds a way to move forward, radioactivity and all.

It turns out the earth can handle nuclear devastation. The only thing that it can’t manage is us.

Bee-eater in flight

This report does not offer us a lot of turnaround time — a mere dozen years. Perhaps you can take comfort in that although the earth may well become untenable as a place for human habitation, once it extracts us, it will be beautiful again as it was when we lived in the Garden of Eden, right below the mountains bordering Syria.

I have, by the way, been there. It’s an incredibly beautiful place where the underground waters that feed the Jordan river fountain up from the earth and wild bee-eaters take flight.


There are two signs on the path to the place.
In Hebrew, the words are “גן עדןmeaning “garden of Eden.”
The other sign says, in English, “Paradise.”

I felt, being there, that indeed if there was an Eden, this could be it. 

You might also take a look at Gordon Stewart’s “Climate Change in the Golden House.”

NOT ONLY CLIMATE CHANGE

Sometimes, being human depresses me. There’s so much that needs fixing. Not just climate change. Not just animal extinction. No single thing. It’s many things and mainly …

It’s us. People. 

Small canal along a mill on the Mumford.

Mumford River

We’ve poisoned the oceans and many of our rivers. Here in New England, the very first massively polluted river was our own Blackstone. From Worcester to Slatersville, Rhode Island, we built mills. Cotton and wool. Dye and weaving. Tanneries. We built dams and behind those dams were — and still are — tons and tons of hazardous waste. If you think pollution is a 20th century problem, it isn’t.

Dust bowl storm

The huge Black Sunday storm – the worst storm of the decade-long Dust Bowl in the southern Plains – as it approaches Ulysses, Kansas, April 14, 1935. Daylight turned to total blackness in mid-afternoon.

We’ve been poisoning our planet for hundreds of years and we aren’t done yet. It’s the reason we can’t remove many of the dams on the Blackstone. Removing dams would release massive amounts of poisoned earth into the rivers, effectively undoing decades of effort put into cleaning the river.

Egret and garbage in waterCalifornia has mudslides and perhaps has always had them … but I’m pretty sure all the building on the cliffs has weakened many areas. Trees and grass hold the earth and when you remove the trees and the grasses, the earth falls apart. There’s nothing to hold it.

We have built houses practically in the water. Destroyed the dunes where the birds nested. We drive dune buggies through fragile shoreline. It kills the birds, their nests, and adds more pollution.

Water trash MexicoThe ocean is full of floating plastic garbage and worse.

If climate change were our only problem, that would probably be an improvement. But we are still drilling and creating trash as if there’s a giant hole where we can put all of our garbage. With President Shithead in power, there will be more drilling, more exploding oil rigs. More tons of oil pouring into what were healthy waters full of fish and plants. Not all that long ago, George’s Banks was the breeding ground for north Atlantic fish … and now, it has been fished out. It will be years — if left in peace — before the fish begin breeding again.

Roaring Dam

Fishermen were warned repeatedly. You can’t fish forever and without giving the fish a chance to breed and grow to full size. But they all said they couldn’t afford to not fish there … and now, no one can fish there. Smart, right?

The Sahara is a manmade desert. We managed to do this in prehistoric times , long years before modern times.

Not every change in the earth is the result of climate change. A lot of what is wrong with the world is us. Humans. Digging and drilling and killing. Plowing grassland until it becomes a dust-bowl.

mudslide California January 2018

So don’t fear that climate change is the only terrible thing occurring in our world. We are capable of far more destruction than that. We’ve got lots more garbage and filth to spread around.

Before we’re done, we can totally trash the planet. I have faith in us.

SATISFACTION: THE ROARING DAM ON THE BLACKSTONE RIVER

WORDPRESS PHOTO CHALLENGE: SATISFACTION


There were at last count, 46 dams on the Blackstone River. That’s not counting any of its tributaries, most of which also have dams. We’ve seen maybe a dozen of them locally, but today, my granddaughter and I discovered another: Roaring Dam in Blackstone, Massachusetts.

There was a large factory here, now long gone. Every time you see a dam, you know there was a factory of some kind that used the power from that dam. The group managing the river has been trying to remove dams, so I don’t know how many dams remain and I couldn’t find a count anywhere. I’m guessing fewer than the original 46.

I have no idea which ones have been taken down and which remain. Removing the dams would allow the river to run freely and encourage trout and other fish to return.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of polluted soil buried near the dams. The river has come back a long way from being the most polluted river in the country during the mid 1970s. This is not a minor problem. The amount of pollution in the earth in those areas is hazardous to humans, animals, and the water itself.

This is a water shed. We all drink this water, whether we realize it or not.

But we are satisfied with how far the river has come. It’s hard to even explain how evil this river was. It was pure poison from top to bottom and now, areas are safe for boating and even a few area are safe for swimming. Anything that might upset the balance must be undertaken with the greatest care.

I participate in WordPress’ Weekly Photo Challenge 2017

OH MOTHER OF INVENTION, HOW ABOUT ELIMINATING US?

It’s really a simple solution, you know.

We may already have one somewhere. It probably needs a little refinement, but I think it would solve the Earth’s problems. A bomb. A huge one.

Not neutron because  that kills animals as well as people. Too much other destruction, too. We need a special people-eliminating bomb. After all the people are gone, Earth can recover and eventually, a new species will reign supreme. Hopefully the new masters of earth will show respect for Mother Earth and other creatures who share her bounty. A species which would allow the trees to grow, water to flow without damming or poisoning every stream. A species without the compulsion to dig up every mineral, pave every inch of ground, replace forests with cities belching soot, smoke and chemical fumes.

Pogo - Earth Day 1971 poster - Walt Kelly

Pogo – Earth Day 1971 poster – Walt Kelly

Earth needs a caretaker species. Not humans. We don’t care. We think God gave us permission to ravage and destroy our home as well as every living thing on it. I don’t remember any God — ours or anyone else’s — saying anything of the sort. How did I miss such an important passage in someone’s mythology? Why do I think that isn’t what any God would want?

Short of wiping out the human race, how about our species display a little self-restraint? How about not pouring sewage and industrial poison into the rivers, filling the air with dirt? Tearing open the earth to get to fossil fuels on which we should not be depending? How about behaving like proper guests of Mother Earth? You know, not eating our own Mother? How about that?

Are we even capable of not destroying our own nest?

Following the Blackstone River

Despite hundred of years of industrial pollution, the Blackstone River Valley survives.

A complex of rivers, tributaries, wetlands, forests, lakes and streams., the Blackstone River Watershed contains more than 30 dams  in its 46-mile length. This does not include dams on tributaries and other waterways, only those on the Blackstone itself.

West Dam

The watershed links two states and 24 communities. Over time and with the demise of the mills and disappearance of the factories, the dams created marsh and wetlands that have become critical to the ecosystem.

Mumford River, Uxbridge

Mumford River, Uxbridge

Several lakes are part of the system, including Webster Lake and some big ponds that seem to be nameless. They are just there, by the road, sometimes with boat slips or docks, occasionally having little beaches where you can swim, if you can find them.

The Blackstone River‘s levels rise and fall with the seasons, with heavy rain and melting snow, and with periods of drought.

About Those Dams 

Depending on who you ask, there are at least 30 dams on the Blackstone, but there many more dams if you include tributaries and large streams. In fact, there are dams just about everywhere if you look for them. They create waterfalls and exquisite ponds, as well as wetlands.

Manchaug

Dams would typically be associated with a mill, but many now appear to stand alone. Probably, there was a mill there once. But it’s gone.  The dam lives on in the middle of nowhere. Figure there was something there  — maybe a gristmill for local farms or something like that. Some  of these old dams are works of art.

cropped-75-blackstonegold-nk-1.jpg

Old Stone Fences

Speaking of the middle of nowhere, a lot of land around here was cultivated but has returned to forest. Our home is on former farm land. Many clues about the history areas in New England can be found if you can find the stone fences.

96-StoneFence-HP-2

Our modest acreage is crisscrossed by stone fences. These walls mark the edges where fields were. Now, they’re the middle nowhere, which of course is just where I live.

Finding Places

Most of the good stuff is invisible until you get out of your car and take a walk. I look for areas where I can safely stop and park (the definition of what is good enough changes depending on terrain and how badly I want to stop). With narrow roads bounded by close-growing woods and wetland, it’s good to be cautious when you take your vehicle to an unpaved area.

Often, patches of ground that look like weedy, slightly muddy ground are the edge of the marsh. I use the “if it looks wet but it hasn’t rained in the last few days, don’t go there” rule. That generally works. I am not as intrepid as once I was . The problem is always to find a safe place  for the car that still puts me within modest walking distance from my target area. I should mention that I can’t walk too well these days. My goat-girl clambering years are past.  I’m not surefooted and my hip joints and I have a deal: I let them alone and they let me walk.

Swans_20 - Marilyn Armstrong

I look for little sandy pull-off areas that appear to adjoin a dirt road, and if possible, near an overpasses. An overpass tells me that the river is right under me, so whatever I’m looking for is not far. When you see a pull-off next to a dirt walking trail, that means other people come there. Not instructional and surely not on any map, but for this area, pretty good. Unlike the suburbs, rural areas don’t have signs telling you what you can or cannot do … or where you are. They figure you know where you are or ought to, and you’ll do whatever you came to do.

On the up side, you’re unlikely to have anyone yell at you that you’re not allowed to go there. For that matter, if you fall in the rapids and drown, it might be a while before they find you. I have adjusted my roaming accordingly. I try to bring a friend who can call 911 if I do something dumb.

If these places have names, there’s no sign. Rhode Island is better about signage than Massachusetts, where the attitude is “If you don’t know where you are, why are  you here?” Rhode Island is more densely populated, maybe because it is so tiny.

Here, in south central Massachusetts, there’s a lot of open areas that don’t seem to belong to anyone and it’s rare to bump into other people. When you do, they aren’t chatty. You don’t go to places no one can find to converse with strangers. Thus, most places I go  places are unmarked. No road signs, nothing to tell you which piece of river, lake or dam you’ve found. If you don’t find it amusing, you’ll spend all your time grousing, so you might as well laugh.

Photograph by Garry Armstrong. Aldrich tributary.

Photograph by Garry Armstrong. Aldrich tributary.

When I’m shooting, I roam. I often have no idea how I got to wherever I landed. Sometimes the GPS helps, but many places are off-road and not on the map. There are places I’ve been once, but never found again. Off a path by a bridge along a side road near a farm, maybe in Massachusetts, perhaps Rhode Island. I have always loved going wherever the road took me.

I’m especially fond of the old low stone bridges that I call “keyholes” but probably have another name. A lot of them are also now in the middle of nowhere, on paths that are long gone and not even accessible by foot.

The Canal in Fall

Some of the oldest bridges are still in use, repaired and rebuilt many times, now supporting heavy traffic — cars and trucks — on roads that were designed for horse and buggy or herds of cows. Better not to think too hard on that.

One of the larger lakes that forms a part of the watershed is Webster Lake. A map from 1795 shows the name as “Chargoggaggoggmancogmanhoggagogg”. A survey of the lake from 1830 names the lake as “Chaubunagungmamgnamaugg”, which is an older name. The following year, both Dudley and Oxford, which at that time bordered the lake, filed maps listing it as “Chargoggagoggmanchoggagogg”.

75-SundownOnTheLake-HPCR-3

Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg or Webster Lake is probably the largest open body of water in the valley. Spelling of  this lake’s long (probably Algonquin) name varies a lot, depending on where you read about it. Since it isn’t English, it’s at best a rough transliteration anyhow. The actual meaning is conjecture. Local residents pride themselves on being able to pronounce the long name of the lake. I can’t. I just call it Webster Lake. It doesn’t make it less beautiful.

And so it goes. Hopefully there will come a day (soon!) when the pollution is gone and our river is clean. Meanwhile, the beauty is there for all of us.