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.

Gone fishing …

 

There’s a lovely section of river that’s part of an intricate network of waterways that collectively form the Blackstone Valley watershed.

This particular beauty spot is down the road from our house. Literally. It’s on our road, a few miles south, on the right. There’s small parking lot, a picnic table, a tiny boat launch ramp, and a lot of posters nailed to trees that explain the many ecological problems and issues affecting the area. The signs explain what you should not do because these are things that will exacerbate existing problems.

I think I am the only person who has ever read the signs.

It turns out people dump all kinds of things in the water like koi, goldfish and turtles. They empty the plants from their aquariums.  Some of these plants refuse to die. They take root, grow, spread, breed. These non-native species become nuisances and worse. They crowd out native species or poison rocks, roots, and water critical to the environment.

We met a bunch of people fishing in that creek and I asked if they actually ate the fish they catch.

“Oh, it’s just trout,” they explained. “We’ve been eating it for years. The river’s not polluted anymore …” and they paused and looked at me. “Is it?”

I sighed. I did. Loudly. Because the water is polluted and will continue to be polluted because the city of Worcester continues to discharge wastewater from a sewage treatment plant into the Blackstone River at Millbury and that pollution, those toxic wastes, flow down the entire river right into Narragansett Bay where they disrupt the delicate ecology where many species of fish and birds breed.

To fix the problem and eliminate the discharge from the sewage plant, the powers-that-be in Worcester would have to raise taxes and they don’t want to do that. How much would they have to raise taxes, you ask? About $100 per home per year, or less than two dollars per week for each affected household. Approximately the cost of a cup of coffee and a donut.  Well, maybe just the coffee, no donut.

I explained the river was much less polluted than it had been in 1971 when the Blackstone River was declared one of America’s most polluted rivers. But it is far from clean and it might not be a good idea to eat the fish.

“I’ve been eating it for years,” one guy said, as he untangled his line. “So far, so good.”

He was perhaps 30 years old. “It isn’t one fish dinner or twenty fish dinners. It’s cumulative over your lifetime. Toxins accumulate.” I left it at that.

I do what I can. I try to get the word out. People will listen or ignore me. They will hear what they want to hear. Carping just annoys them. No one likes to be harangued or nagged. Hopefully I left food for thought. Maybe they’ll get angry that one town will imperil the well-being of every town in the valley because they are too spineless to do the right thing. Worcester is near the source of the Blackstone. Millbury is just south of Worcester, so the toxic waste they dump into the river affects everyone south of their sewage plant:  almost everyone in the valley.

Most folks living in the valley don’t have “city water.” We have wells. All of our wells pump water from the same aquifer. The aquifer is part of the Blackstone Valley watershed which the city of Worcester is blithely polluting as if the rest of us don’t matter. Worcester has spent more money fighting the EPA in court than it would have cost to fix the problem without raising taxes at all, but they are determined to fight for the right to pollute. I find it difficult to understand how they justify this. It does not compute. It’s my water too. I don’t want to drink their sewage.

We have so many problems in this world that cannot be solved. This is a problem that has a well-known solution that would not, even in this bad economy, cause significant hardship. It boggles my mind.