Critters of the Worst Kind

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A few years ago Bill and I put in a perennial garden that included a stone stairway to nowhere.  The garden was on a bank and we had huge flat stones that we placed as stairs.  It was satisfying work and we placed a bench on the top step to sit and enjoy the view of the back forty with our morning coffee.

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Yesterday I noticed this.  

A friend of mine had just posted about the problem he was having with rabbits in his garden.  I had commented on how I have a lot of animals around my garden but they never get in it.  Apparently they have enough to eat everywhere else.

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This hole is huge.  I see these woodchucks daily in the back forty grazing on the grasses and I know where numerous holes are around the property but this one was a surprise.

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Now the problem is how to get rid of the buggers.  I don’t even know how many there are.  I actually don’t mind them being on the property I just don’t want them here.

I’m open to suggestions.

Learning New Things About Old Things

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This morning I was doing some photography for a book that Peggy is writing on wool.  It’s been a long time since I’ve taken photographs for someone else, let alone tabletop items.  It was stressful and wonderful at the same time.  She also wanted a photo of my wool wheel in a specific place.  As you can see I had more than one obstacle to deal with.  He is a master of photo bomb.  I had to physically remove him from the area.

Along with the photographs I took was one I had to scan.

Charlton Woolen Weave Room

This is a photograph of the weave room at Charlton Woolens probably taken in the mid to late 1930’s.  My grandfather’s toolbox is one of many in the photograph.  This photo was one of the many reasons I wanted to experience the Crompton and Knowles power looms. In doing so this photograph is so much richer.  I now have an understanding of what was happening in this room, where the weavers stood, the noise.  I look at this photo and think about how you must have felt the vibrations in your feet and gone home with your ears ringing.  I have a better idea of the kind of job a loom mechanic had.

I’m always amazed at just how long research takes when it comes to history if you want to understand the whole story.  Genealogy gives you the names and dates of the people – the who, what and where kind of thing.  The photographs, when you can find them, begin to fill out the story.  Then there is the living history.  This is far more elusive but when you find it you can put yourself in your ancestors shoes with a little bit of imagination.

Social history is what makes studying the past come alive.  It’s where you begin to understand a little about the way people thought about their world and made their life decisions.  Public records give you clues into things.  You begin with the big stuff – politics and religion and work your way down to minutia.  Things like what were they wearing and how did it affect how they moved and did their work.  You look at how men and women treated each other, how economics made or broke their lives.

I think there’s been an injustice served on the American people in not teaching our history in a way that is accessible to everyone.  I think a lot of the turmoil that we see is a lack of understanding of what has gone on before.  I feel like people are making up things as they go along in a way that is only self-serving. Their knowledge is so narrow.  Maybe because social media has taken over our lives and rather than read a book we read twitter every morning.  I think the idea of knowing our history has been lost.  It’s too bad because some of the greatest stories ever told are true.

I plug along learning new things about old things everyday.  I’ll continue to put myself into situations where I can understand what was going on or the work involved.  One year I dug my garden plot completely by hand so I could feel what kind of work went into putting in a kitchen garden for the women of 1840.  It’s one thing to read about it, quite another to do it.

The real goal is putting the family history into words with understanding.  Not just any story, a story that makes these people human. One that makes you understand that the world could be just as scary a place to them as it sometimes is to us.  History repeats itself, over and over, but unless you know something about it you don’t recognize it when it happens.

 

 

Just Trying to Keep These Kids Alive

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For the past few years whenever I photographed the house I could do it at such an angle that it looked pretty good.  The shed had been rebuilt and painted and so had the front.  The gable ends were a different story.  We’d talked about getting a high lift for the job but even in one of those it’s pretty high up there.  Then there is the square footage that needed painting.

We’re not painters.  In our younger years we painted because we had to and I can truly say I didn’t enjoy a single minute of it – especially exterior painting.  We decided to hire a company that works with college kids for the summer.  The kids are local but they have to play by the rules which gets me to the ranting part of this blog today.

By law in Massachusetts if the building where paint is to be removed was built before 1978 it is assumed the paint is lead based.  If you are a contractor doing the work every chip has to be accounted for and if, God forbid, it touches anyone’s skin they could be poisoned.  This law, in my opinion has put these kids at extreme risk in their jobs.  As you can see from the photograph they are wearing hooded coveralls, booties, respirators and goggles.  I should also tell you they began work at 7 A.M. and finished around 4:30 P.M.  It was over 85 degrees and the humidity was over 90%.  The booties they wear have nothing on the bottom of them that prevent slipping so they climb up and down an aluminum ladder that is pretty slick.  One false move at the top of one and we’re talking bad, bad news here.

My first thought when I walked out to see their progress was “I hope to God they have amazing liability insurance.” My second was to make sure they had enough water.  It was so hot.

They scraped all day with the paint landing on the plastic they had carefully laid over the vegetation near the house.  At the end of the day they used a shop vac to pick up anything that was in the grass.  At least they took the hoods off to do that.

They told me over the weekend and yesterday morning that they had estimated 24 man hours to scrape both ends of the house – I laughed.  A little over ambitious was my replay.  All day 4 of them scraped and just about finished one side with the idea being today two of them would prime while two worked on scraping the other side (you must have a lead abatement person present whenever paint is being removed).

It poured rain last night (much, much-needed I might add) and threatened to do so this morning so painting was out.  One of the kids was sick overnight (my guess was heat stroke) and they decided to put it off until tomorrow.  Maybe it’ll cool off and they will have recovered.

Want to know the worst part of this story?  If we had decided to paint it ourselves we do not have to adhere to the MA law, we wouldn’t have to suit up.  Even worse? All of the exterior wood was replaced on the house in 1984- there isn’t any lead paint on it.

It’s Always Something

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It starts with this.  Poorly wound cones of wool.  Not only are the cones badly wound but the wool is not greatly spun.  There are slubs, lots of them – places where the fiber is not twisted and readily comes apart.  That leads to this.

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The yarn breaks while winding it onto the bobbins either due to the slubs or by catching on the tangles that are on the bottoms of the cones.   Or the bad spinning leads to this –

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Endless broken warp threads, endless repairs.

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I really should have been helping her instead of taking her picture.  The weaving was a real stop and start affair for the past two days.  One blanket wove with a single broken warp thread, the next had over 30 I would guess.  It often looks like this –

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Then you can have issues that cause mechanical failure – there have been a few broken bobbins lately.

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I have to tell you that makes a pretty ugly sound when it happens.  The other day Peggy suggested my next blog post should be titled “Breaking Bad”.  It made me chuckle and it helps to have a sense of humor when things aren’t going along as well as you’d like but then your morning ends with an image like this – wp-1463679844093.jpg

Crawling under the loom is never good (even if it was highly enlightening for me).  The top of a heddle frame caught and broke while the loom was running, number 16.  I stand and watch for broken threads while it’s running and tell Peggy to stop it, I didn’t even see this happen.  There is so much to look at while the machine is running – so much.  We moved the threaded heddles to the frame in back of it (thankfully unused) and took the frame apart and off of the loom.

I learned a lot from this particular incident.  First, experience is everything, Peggy knows where to be looking or knows the sound of a happy or not so happy machine.  Second, this is no game for an older person in questionable physical condition.  I could have gotten under the loom but the question remains, how long would it have taken me to get back up?

Then there is the question of just how long can you run machinery that there are no longer parts for?  With the best running practices things are still going to break.  There are piles of loom parts in the barn where the looms are located but it’s not like you can just order something up on-line when you need to.  I supposed the metal parts could be reproduced by a skilled machinist, but at what cost?  Then there are the bobbins which I daresay were discarded quite often in a running mill.  Who makes those now?

I feel privileged to be able to experience this first hand but am saddened by the knowledge that this is truly the end of the road for this weaving (unless I’ve missed something).  I’m not saying it ends this year or next but the end is visible.  The day you can no longer fix this loom is the day is becomes a ton and a half of scrap metal and that is sad indeed.

 

Manic

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A couple of days ago I finished a 10 yard run of towels and took them off of the loom, hemmed, washed and folded them all in one afternoon.  This never happens, I have things I have yet to finish from last year.

When I near the end of one project I’m always moving on to the next and my excitement may get in the way of the finishing part.  That’s my theory anyway.  I’m in wedding present mode and asked one of my nieces if there was anything in particular I could make her that would be useful.  She asked for a specific type of towel.  I asked what colors and she said something to the effect of light shining through ferns.  She is an amazing artist and thinking about projects for her pushes me creatively.

I found a modification of an old draft that I modified further and worked up half a warp yesterday hoping this came close to ferns.  As I was winding it I decided to call it “A Walk in the Woods” because it had the colors I envisioned when I walk onto the fern lined path headed into the wood lot in the back forty.

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Today I’ll finish winding the warp and possibly get it onto the loom.

Right now I’m in that creative manic mode that seems to really set in after a loss.  When my mother died I made quilts and rag dolls – lots of them.  I gave most of them away to my friends.  Again, it’s the process, not the product.  Weaving seems to be what’s on the agenda right now although I do have a knitting project going as well as needle felting, rug hooking and, oh yeah, the gardens.

This time around though there’s a different sort of feel – like time is getting short and there’s still so much I want to do.  Maybe it’s that generational shift that comes when you lose your last parent.  Maybe it’s the realization that if you’re lucky you have a quarter of your life left to go and who knows how productive all of it will be.

Most of the time I don’t really think about it but on those days when all I can think about is the project I’m planning and working on to the point of no sleep it does make me wonder.  I think some of it is a distraction, maybe a defense to fight off the depression that could take over or the overwhelming sadness at moments.  What’s the saying? “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop”.  I just have to keep going, keep creating.

Calling in the Expert

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With a mechanical problem with a vintage loom there are times you need to have someone look at the equipment that knows it so well he can fix things with his eyes shut (or diagnose it over the phone).

I met Lenny this past weekend when he came over to make a few adjustments that would help with the changing of the bobbins in the shuttles.

wp-1463313840919.jpgLenny is the spryest 90-year-old I have ever met.  Steady, agile, clear of mind and he knows his looms.  He should, he’s been working on them for 76 years.  He made a couple of adjustments, ran the loom a little, made a couple more and made a suggestion on changing how we wind the bobbins.  Today everything ran the way it should.

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Along with the fix we were treated to some serious reminiscing about the mills.  The noise, the work, the different types of looms he had worked on.  Being a loom mechanic or fixer was probably one of the most important jobs in a mill and it takes a person with the right type of mind to be one.

Lenny is different in his love for the machines.  He’s never stopped – loving them, working on them, restoring them.  You can see it in his face when they are running.  There’s the look of delight you so rarely see except in the eyes of a child.

As he was leaving he looked at me and said “Well, that was a bit of fun!”.

We all need a passion in life that does that for us. That one thing that brings a broad smile to our face.  That’s something that has continually evolved for me, I like learning new things – new crafts and bringing them to perfection.  It’s always something with my hands producing something that can be amazing.

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Lenny knows what he knows but he loves what he does and the product it produces.  I think that love is what has kept him so young.

 

 

Loving the Mechanics

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I’ve always had a fascination for things mechanical, things with lots of parts that move together to make something happen.  My father’s sawmill running on steam was a sight to behold – so much motion.

Today I watched the loom in action.  There have been a few minor set backs to this particular job but I love how it makes your brain work to solve a problem or two.  Being able to watch it work was another step towards understanding what it can do.  Everything has its limitations but you have to understand how it works before you can troubleshoot the problems.

As it ran and I observed it almost made me laugh out loud.  So, so many moving parts all working together.  This is a machine that was improved over time back in the day when it was practical engineering minds that were tweaking it here and there or redesigning parts of the whole to make it work better, faster, more efficiently.  These were men whose minds understood gear ratios, tension, pulleys, levers.  They knew how to make things work without a degree in engineering.

I dare say a loom mechanic was not that different from a car mechanic.  They worked on the same machine day in and day out.  Most times fixing similar problems or the parts that typically wore out.  My grandfather’s tool box has all kinds of little things in it that I’m sure were a lot of his job.  There are boxes of bigger parts in the barn here as well.  Until today I didn’t know what they were.

Watching this work is mesmerizing, there is so much going on at the same time.  It makes me sad to think of what younger people are missing with so much now replaced with electronics.

Okay, I’m really going to date myself here but I remember when Bill and I bought our first cd player.  It was another big component to add to the already massive stereo that people had back then.  We put the cd in and listened to the clean sound but we had to come to terms with the fact that we had no idea how it worked – none, it might as well have been some sort of magic.  It was disconcerting in a way to not understand how something works, especially for two mechanically minded people.  We decided to just accept that we were never going to know and move on.

Winding bobbins on the mechanical bobbin winder, listening to the loom running, walking around it to see everything moving top to bottom I couldn’t help but think that this is the magic that people are missing out on.  This is just plain fun to watch.

The Hipocrisy of It All

160510 Red Squirrel (1)Yesterday the sun finally came out after a week of cold, rainy weather.  Our lawn was beginning to look like a hayfield so I decided to take out the lawn mower.  When I engaged the blades something few out from beneath the mower and I thought it was just a leaf but out of the corner of my eye I saw it kept moving.  It was a baby red squirrel, not quite able to run, trying to crawl away.

I got off of the mower and took by jacket off to pick it up (I didn’t know if it would bite me).  When I picked it up the shivering little thing curled up in the warmth of the fleece.  I looked all around for signs of other squirrels or a nest but found nothing so I put a warm bottle of water underneath a small fleece blanket and tucked him into it.

Okay, I have to tell you that I am not a fan of red squirrels, they are destructive little buggers that get into everything.  I have a good many of them that spend a lot of their time on my bird feeders or in the shed trying to get into the containers of chicken feed or bird seed. If they feel trapped in any way they chew their way out.  We trained Chester this past winter to chase them away from the feeders and would send him out multiple times a day.  He thought it was fun and an important job, sadly the squirrels were much smarter than he was so it was really just a game played over and over again.

This was a seriously cute little animal and I couldn’t imagine just putting it back outdoors to surely die of starvation, exposure or owl fodder.  He let me pick him up and was pretty content in the warmth of my hands.  He’d hang onto my fingers.

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Years ago we had friends that raised a baby squirrel, he’d ride around in their Dad’s shirt pocket so I googled care and rehab of squirrels.  Yeah, uhm no.  Who has that kind of time and energy?  Sure he’s cute, sure I don’t want to be the one to bring him back out into the cold world to starve. Ugh, I hate this sort of thing.

I called my vet and she gave me the name of a woman who rehabs wild animals and birds.  When I called her she said she’d take him but it would have to be later in the day and to just keep him warm.

So over the course of the next few hours I continued to keep the hot water bottle hot and held him off and on just to check him out and give him a pat or two.  Made sure my sister came up to see him.  It’s so very rare to get up close and personal to a wild creature to really inspect them.  The paws are amazingly long, to grasp and climb.  And the whiskers . . .

I took him on a little car trip and dropped him off to be cared for with 17 other squirrels (this is the only red one).  It was with a sense of relief that I didn’t have to send him to his doom as well as knowing that he would be set free when old enough far away from my back yard.

 

Interred

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After what seemed like endless delays, or problems, we finally got my father into the ground yesterday afternoon.  The North Cemetery is plagued with insects – this time of year black flies but instead it rained.  I had the yard fogger with me and the bug spray in my pocket just in case.

I’ve gone to many, many funerals.  Leading up to this I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said to people that they are for the living.  I always go to show my support to people I care about in a time of great sadness.  Until yesterday I probably never truly realized what an impact the simple act of showing up can have.

This was one of those life flashing before your eyes moments. My best of friends were all there, from kindergarten until now.  People that have all held a significant piece of my life, people I truly love.

The service was rendered beautifully by a minister I’ve known since my early teens, one who I consider a good friend as well.

The military honor guard did their part in sending Dad off the way he wanted.  Taps being played was the only real request Dad had.  The flag was presented to my by a man who had worked with him at Westover.

It’s interesting the variation in rituals there are from place to place.  In more urban areas after a funeral everyone goes to a public place for food and drink.  Up here everyone goes to a family members home.  When I arrived a good friend immediately said what do you need to have done and she and her husband set out he food.  People arrived, helped themselves to food set out or found what they needed in the fridge.  That’s when you know you have people comfortable in your home – they help themselves.

From arrival to the last person leaving the rest is a blur – as I knew it would be recalling the same situation when my mother died 17 years ago.  These are the things you don’t forget.

All in all I did right by my father through the whole mess and the bonus was yesterday felt like a huge community group hug.  Thank you all.