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Posts tagged ‘Blackstone River’

Herons Along the Blackstone River

It is very hard if you’re out in nature in New England on a routine basis to not develop a fascination with herons. These wonderfully large and patient birds are actually quite easy to photograph. Working stiffs, they only get annoyed with you if you get so close that you screw with their fishing. Can’t say that I blame them. Their markings and scars give each bird a distinctive purpose. For whatever reason, it has been a great year for heron along the Blackstone River. I thought I share a few environmental and reflective portraits as the season wanes.

hunt_160620_1120624-edit-editBlackstone River Heritage Park, Upton, Massachusetts

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hunt_160814_dsc4192-edithunt_160814_dsc4216-edit-editWoonsocket Falls, Woonsocket, Rhode Island

hunt_160831_1130586-edit-editBlackstone Valley Bicycle Path, Millbury, Massachusetts

The Pull of History

One of my favorite books of all time was Time and Again, by the great Jack Finney.  The book tells the story of a young man who with a bit of assistance from the government (clandestine of course) was able to engage in time travel.  No equipment required though.  All he had to do was make himself open to the experience.  Time passes but it doesn’t really pass.  It is still there if we know how to relate to it.  The book’s star was residing, at the request of his coconspirators, at Manhattan’s famous Dakota building.   After quite some time trying to figure out how to be open to the experience, and many false starts, he simply woke up one morning, went outside and it was the later 19th century.  He had taken up the past’s invitation to visit.

It  reminded me of what I try to see when visiting a place with the past.  I do wish I could visit it for real (of course, I’m sure I would have no idea how to cope but what fun is it to think about that). Sometimes you can find a door or at least a window to the past, an object, an artifact, a story, a book.  Walking along what was once the Blackstone Canal ins Uxbridge, MA it’s easy to hear history’s rumblings.  In the Blackstone Heritage Corridor Park you’re walking along the towpath after all.  A team of mules pulled the canal boats along the journey from Worcester to Providence.  If it’s quiet, it is easy to ponder what it was like when the towpath was actually in use, in the early 1800’s.  For me, one of the windows into that state of reverie are the intense reflections that can be seen there on a calm day..  They are intense enough to be disorienting and I offer you a small collection here.  I resisted the temptation to turn them upside down.  You’re welcome.

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Photoessay: The Blackstone River and Route 146

I’ve mentioned here that my current project focus is on the Blackstone River.  For those who don’t know, the Blackstone flows from Worcester, Massachusetts to Providence, Rhode Island.  It’s strategic importance as a source of power led to rather extreme levels of both entrepreneurship and exploitation spanning nearly two hundred years.  It remains in content with humanity even as interest in its natural potential grows.  That tension is most acutely visible, to me at least, along a two mile stretch of the river in Millbury and Worcester, Massachusetts. There the River contents with a super highway and a very active freight railroad line.  Being in the city, it also contends with city life and the best and worst that the city existence has to offer.  Here’s a portfolio of images from my travels there over the past year.

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Photoessay: Searching for a Mood Under the Highway

I hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving.  We did, it was great spending time with family as always.  I had much to be thankful for this year, including a more experimental attitude.  Why not?

I’ve been exploring the Blackstone River area in Massachusetts over the last few months.  It is striking just how much psychological as well as environmental territory the River covers.  Though it remains quite polluted from centuries of exploitation, stretches of the River are quite beautiful and natural.  Other stretches are, more complex.  No stretch of the River though, at least that I have traveled, requires more effort to understand than the Blackstone Valley Bike Trail in Worcester, Massachusetts, where the River originates.  Along this two mile or so stretch you will see the River, a super highway (Route 146), an active freight train yard and line, as well as legacy tracks, a Walmart and Sam’s Club, trees being cut by a beaver, beautiful small falls and rapids, trash and signs that say stay away from the water for health reasons.  It’s all right there.  Nature and civilization crash into one another at top speed in places and this is one of those locations.

I have photographed there for months, searching for the right way to capture the feel of such a complex place.  I’d used most every technological trick I could think of, but ultimately wasn’t satisfied.  I decided to go back and try again, this time with black and white film.  Digital is just capable of making pictures that are too perfect for this location it seemed to me.  Nothing about this location says “perfection.”  This work, like this location, is incomplete and some of the images you see here may not survive the next cut.  This is where things stand though at the moment.

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Shooting on film is interesting of course.  I realize that the look can be replicated in software using a digital means of capture.  But that somehow doesn’t seem quite right at times.  What is really different about shooting on film is the process.  You do indeed slow down.  You have to for economic reasons if nothing else.  For a time, you have to step away from the technological (rat) race.  It’s quite refreshing.

Tech Notes:  Shot on Kodak TMax and Ilford Delta films using a Nikon F6.  The later, for my money, remains the finest 35 mm camera ever made.  Negatives scanned on a Nikon 5000 film scanner and finalized in Lightroom/Photoshop (You can’t really escape the technology can you.)

A Most Beautiful Battery

From art back into history and the environment….

As we dig into the story of the Blackstone River and Canal a bit more, it becomes that much more interesting. The Canal ran parallel to the River for most of the River’s length and only actually utilized the River as a resource in those places, few in number, where the River was navigable. The Canal ran from Worcester, MA to Pawtucket, RI and was a key means of transportation at a time when transportation was more than a bit challenging.  However, the Canal itself only operated for a relatively brief period of time, from 1828 till 1848, twenty short years.  Canal transportation was disrupted as a technology by the new high tech rage:  the railroad.  The trains began to run from Worcester to Providence in 1835 and in just a few short years the Canal was no longer financially viable.  That is a relatively short life cycle for such an expensive engineering project, costing at it’s construction $750,000. The Canal fell into disrepair in relatively short order.

One of the best places to see the Canal is the River Bend Farm, in Uxbridge, Massachusetts, now operated by the National Park Service.  When we first visited, the still water was striking, offering some of the best forest reflections I’ve ever seen.

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It is really quite stunning all along the old Canal.  It is also, however, quite pristine, leading to the assumption that it had been spruced up by the National Park Service.  That’s true, but there’s more to the story than that.  The Canal had been repurposed in the early 20th Center, converting it into a rather significant source of stored energy, a giant battery if you will.  About one mile north of the visiting center is a Dam diverting water from the River into what was at that a time a rebuilt Canal. The height of the walls was increased to allow for the storage of more water.  Moving further south from the Visitor’s center, about one mile, one finds evidence of it’s alternative purpose.

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These turbines are part of a complex power generation scheme designed ultimately to run the Stanley Woolen Mill in Uxbridge.

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Water from the Canal ran directly into the factory to turn the looms and related machinery.

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It must have been an impressive project, suggestive of some very visionary thinking, along with some very deep pockets.  The Mills continued on at this location until 1988, a much longer run than the Canal.  The story is an interesting tale of entrepreneurship.  Entrepreneurs often create products or services that are intended for one thing, but end up being far more valuable for another.  Think iPhone turns into camera.  Certainly not what I would have predicted.  The Canal was intended for transportation but it ended up facilitating the industrial revolution in the United States.  This of course involved massive exploitation of resources resulting in wealth creation, jobs, and environmental damage.  Note that this source of energy was, in fact, renewable.  That’s good right, but in fact damming a river even for useful power also has its consequences.  The owners of the Mill created a giant and now beautiful battery, but the truth remains.  There’s no free lunch.