December 21st is the winter solstice but it is also the 413th birthday of Roger Williams (1603). Known for founding what would become the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Williams was a man who believed in the separation of church and state, and in the inherent right to religious freedom.
Roger Williams spent most of his life trying to develop strong bonds with the Algonquian-speaking people of southern New England, particularly the Wampanoags and the Narragansetts. The Narragansetts deeded him the land which became Providence. Williams studied their language and those of associated tribes and published A Key into the Language of America in 1643.
After founding the new colony of Providence, Williams and his friends established a society where all religions were tolerated, where Quakers, Baptists, Jews and others were welcome to live according to their traditions. A century later, the idea of a separation of church and state would be incorporated into the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Roger Williams also founded the first Baptist church in America.
Visit the Roger Williams National Memorial at 282 North Main Street in Providence and learn more about this fascinating visionary.
On night flights into Green Airport from the south and west, the contrast is amazingly clear. How the glow from urban centers, shopping plazas, industrial parks and suburban housing projects light up the landscape like uniformly placed holiday ornaments. How that glow intensifies in major metropolitan areas. And how suddenly it is gone as one looks to the north across rural landscapes and protected open spaces. That’s the dark sky country where one can do some serious star gazing.
There will be a great show in the night sky this week, weather permitting. The Geminids Meteor Shower starts slowly in early December but is expected to peak on the December 13th and 14th. After midnight, showers of shooting starts will occur until dawn in the northeastern sky at a rate of 50-80 per hour. That’s a spectacular show.
The Geminids seem to emanate from the constellation Gemini, near the stars Castor and Pollux. Trace a shooting star back to its point of origin and see if it falls in this sector to verify you are viewing the Geminids.
I always think of my Mom this time of year. She used to start writing notes to friends and addressing Christmas cards the first week in December. She had the most beautiful handwriting, having been schooled in the Palmer Method. Even her quick “scribbling” was an attractive conglomeration of swoops and flourishes.
The history of the National Heritage Corridor is captured in small details by letters written over the centuries and carefully preserved by families, historical societies and museums. I wonder how the history of our new 21st century will be preserved. The handwritten letter has become an object of art, as well a document, a rarity in this day of texts, emails, blogs, electronic postings and printer-generated communications. None of those emails or texts will be carefully bound with a ribbon and packed away for their memories.
Handwriting itself is fast becoming a thing of the past. Almost no one writes in a cursive hand any more. Whether graceful or blocky, beautiful or illegible, each person’s handwriting is so distinctive. We give up a part of our identity when we opt for the speed and immediacy of a machine.
The handwritten letter has become the dinosaur of communication. Why? It takes time and care to write a proper letter. There is a cost involved for stationery and postage. Most of all, handwritten notes lack the immediate effect of emails. That’s regrettable because emails are notoriously poorly written and not deserving of the status of historic document.
As it happens, December is Write a Friend Month, highlighted by National Letter Writing Day on December 7th. I think this provides a nice incentive to create our holiday communications manually. Think of the future historians in the National Heritage Corridor who will thank you.
There is an invasion in the National Heritage Corridor. Whether a house is old or new, updated and renovated, there’s no way to avoid it – the mice are moving back in. House mice or field mice are very small and the most troublesome rodent in the U.S. Mice are also incredible climbers. They will run up vertical surfaces and can manage thin horizontal surfaces wires. They are nocturnal and their presence is obvious from droppings and a slightly musky odor in their vicinity.
Mice typically have between 5 and 10 litters each year with 5-6 young in each litter. Little mice are born about 20 days after mating and begin to reproduce themselves in only 6 to 10 weeks. So if my calculations are correct, one pair of mice entering a house at this time of year could potentially create an enclave of hundreds more mice in a few short months.
The little critters damage structures, contaminate food supplies, shred paper and other materials, often chewing up items humans consider valuable. Worse, mice can carry pathogens like salmonella and their dropping contaminate surfaces.
Professional exterminators that will offer up baits and traps. It is advisable to close up any cracks that mice can use, although this is very difficult in the average size house. Eliminating sources of food may be more effective: keep food stored in tight containers and don’t forget the dog and cat food, and bird seed. Playing on their acute sense of smell, good peppermint or spearmint oil (not extract) applied to cotton balls and left in areas that mice frequent will overwhelm their sense of smell and they will leave that area alone.
At the beginning of the holiday season and pies are integral to our cultural traditions, due to our heritage from the British Isles and French-speaking Canada.
Pies are a pastry container for meats, vegetables and fruits, as we all know. The 10-12 inch exhibit of bakery perfection that graces our holiday dessert tables is fairly recent in the evolution of pie. Pies, or pyes as they were called in medieval England, were usually meat spiced with pepper and small fruits like currants or the more exotic dates. Those with one crust were known as tarts; it took two crusts to be a full blown pie. Small, individual sizes were baked for travelers or tavern-goers. Larger version were served at gatherings and some of them were very creative, including live birds added inside at the last minute so when the pie opened up – surprise! Remember the children’s nursery rhyme Old King Cole? There is always truth somewhere in a folk tale!
Not to burst the folklore bubble surrounding the first Thanksgiving, but the Pilgrims had no pumpkin pie at their feast in 1621 according to historical documents. The first reference to pumpkin pie is not found until 1675 when it was first recorded in a cookbook – actually it was a version of boiled squash and spices. As the colonists expanded in the new country they make “opportunistic” pies, putting anything between two crusts of pastry – meats and an increasing number of all-fruit pies. Canadian meat pies, one of my favorites, became a traditional Christmas dish in northern areas of New England as well as Canada and in National Heritage Corridor as French-Canadian immigrants came to work in the mills. We can also thank the French for placing a cheese custard with meats, fish or vegetables into a crust – the famous quiche.
The last warm days of the fall brings swarms of ladybugs. They invade houses, seeming to get through every tiny space. Not 10 or 20 – hundreds. They are an invasive species –the Asian Lady Beetles – up to 22 spots on an orange back with a distinct “m” on their pronotums. Native to China, they were introduced in 1988 to control aphids. I don’t know if that worked but they did displace and destroy the three species of ladybugs native to Blackstone Valley – Parenthesis Ladybugs, the Convergent Ladybug (most common) and the Nine-Spot Ladybug, now an endangered species.
Asian Lady Beetles, while carnivorous, do not prefer human flesh but they will bite. They are a major nuisance, finding their way into everything. If crushed or vacuumed up, they release a foul odor and leave spots on objects.
So how do we bolster the populations of native Ladybugs and send the Asian Lady Beetle packing? There are sprays and dusts available from commercial sources that will prevent the Asian Lady Beetle from entering the house. Non-toxic methods include traps placed near windows and other entry points that use lures to attract and trap the insects. Caulking cracks, installing weather stripping and repairing broken screens are all useful solutions that will also reduce energy bills.
It was November 10, 1986 when Public Law 99-647 was passed and signed. What an impact that had on our Blackstone Valley! That was the day that Congress created the second National Heritage Corridor in the country – the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor. From that day forward, the role that our watershed played in shaping the future of American Industry was federally-recognized: we became known as the Birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution.
So has it made a difference to have a National Heritage Corridor here in Massachusetts and Rhode Island? The Corridor has brought a federal investment into the region of more than $10 million. It has been able to assist partners – nonprofit, municipalities and state agencies – with scores of projects to preserve our history, our culture, and our natural resources. It has created a unique identity for the 25 towns and cities that make up the geography of the National Heritage Corridor. It has given birth to a new National Historical Park.
That’s 30 years of great work! Here’s to the next 30!
Volunteerism on the Rise in Blackstone Heritage Corridor
BHC Releases Inspiring Year-End Volunteer Report
Blackstone Valley (October 27, 2016) – A year-end report filed by Blackstone Heritage Corridor, Inc. (BHC) for its National Park Service Volunteers-in-Parks (VIP) program reveals that volunteerism is on the rise in the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor.
For fiscal year 2015-2016, a total of 1,283 volunteers donated their time to a number of programs for a total of 13,431 hours, a significant increase from the previous year with 6,651 hours recorded for 146 volunteers. The dollar value of a volunteer’s time for fiscal year 2015-2016, at $23.56 per hour, came to the considerable sum of $316,434.
“We are thrilled to see the increase in volunteerism here in the Blackstone Heritage Corridor,” remarked Charlene Perkins Cutler, BHC’s Executive Director. “Since our relocation to Whitinsville, MA, this past spring, interest in our organization has spiked considerably.”
BHC manages the Volunteers-in-Parks program for the National Park Service. Nationally, VIPs work side-by-side with National Park Service employees and partners in parks across the nation to help preserve the nation’s most precious natural, historical, recreational and cultural treasures. Locally, volunteers are placed throughout the 25 communities of the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor and the historic nodes of the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park.
With the launch of its Trash Responsibly™ program last fall, volunteer numbers started to increase with the cleanup events BHC spearheaded and partnered with throughout the National Heritage Corridor. With this program alone, 907 volunteers signed up as one-day volunteers for 22 cleanup events and gave 4,066 hours of their time. BHC also launched a corporate “Day of Service” program, working with local companies and employees to make a difference in the communities that they live or work in. From cleaning historic sites inside and out, to landscaping the grounds, 58 employees from five companies gave 203 volunteer hours.
According to Suzanne Buchanan, BHC’s Volunteer Coordinator, many of BHC’s long-term VIPs incorporated the Centennial celebration of the National Park Service into popular programs including weekly paddles with the Blackstone Valley Paddle Club, exploring many tributaries of the Blackstone River. In partnership with the VIPs, three National Park Service Ranger interpretive paddles were held this past season, highlighting Slatersville Reservoir, Hopedale Pond and the Blackstone Canal. In addition, there were weekly bike rides with the Blackstone River Bikeway Patrol, exploring all the bikeways within the boundaries of the National Heritage Corridor, including three “Ride with a Ranger” interpretive tours on the Blackstone River Bikeway highlighting the historical significance of the Blackstone River and Canal.
“This was an exciting year for the volunteer program,” remarked Buchanan. “Several people came forward wanting to offer new programs, including “Birding on the Blackstone” by VIP Rosanne Sherry offered in the spring at the Blackstone River State Park in Lincoln, RI, and in the fall at Blackstone River & Canal Heritage State Park (River Bend Farm) in Uxbridge, MA. Volunteers from Trout Unlimited Chapter 737 in Rhode Island partnered with the Blackstone River Watershed Council/Friends of the Blackstone and offered a day-long fly fishing school along the banks of the Blackstone River.”
BHC’s second annual GO! program in September gave the opportunity for 66 volunteers to lead experiences throughout the National Heritage Corridor, ranging from a full moon walk, guided tours through historic cemeteries, interpretive walking tours at places like the Millville Lock and Triad Bridges, and much more.
A big jump in volunteer numbers came by way of a youth service project sponsored by Youth Unlimited of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Volunteers, 104 in total, were hosted by the Pleasant Street Christian Reform Church and registered as VIPs for a week of service in the communities of Northbridge, Uxbridge, Millville, Douglas and Grafton, MA. A total of 3,168 volunteer hours were tallied as they tended to site maintenance at the Millville Lock, trail work at Blackstone River & Canal Heritage State Park/River Bend Farm, and more. This was the first of a three-year commitment from Whitinsville Serve, with more volunteers returning the summer of 2017.
The VIP program also benefitted financially from one volunteer’s former employer. Joe Richer, a Woonsocket, RI-resident, worked for Pfizer prior to his retirement and when he decided he wanted to volunteer to stay active, he remembered the Pfizer Foundation Volunteer Program which encourages volunteerism among Pfizer colleagues and retirees and helps them obtain grants for non-profits where they regularly volunteer. Richer volunteered at Blackstone River & Canal Heritage State Park/River Bend Farm and at the Capt. Wilbur Kelly House Transportation Museum, and after meeting Pfizer’s requirements (employees must volunteer for at least six months and serve an average of six hours per month for a minimum of 72 total hours) Richer worked with Buchanan to apply for the grant. BHC received a check for $1,000 from Pfizer in October, which will be applied to the volunteer program for supplies.
“We are also pleased to play a part in helping volunteers move along their career path by way of volunteering with us,” Buchanan added. “I just got an email from one of our volunteers, Blake Stone, letting me know he was just accepted into a Geoscientists-in-the-Parks (GIP) program at Death Valley National Park. He used his experience volunteering this summer with Coes Zone in Worcester, MA, helping with water quality programs.”
“I knew that practicing skills in water resource management would be beneficial to both myself and the watershed,” Blake Stone said. “I enjoy researching water quality, and having the opportunity to volunteer as a citizen scientist in the Blackstone River Valley helped me in preparing my application to the Geoscientists-in-the-Parks (GIP) program at Death Valley National Park. I am proud to have begun my VIP experience with the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor, and I recommend getting involved with your local park no matter what your background and interests may be.”
BHC hosts monthly Volunteer Open House events with the next ones scheduled for Monday, November 14, 2016 at 6:30 p.m., and again on Monday, January 9, 2017 at 6:30 p.m., at its offices at Linwood Mill, 670 Linwood Avenue, Whitinsville, MA. To register, call Suzanne Buchanan at 508-234-4242 or email volunteer@BlackstoneHeritageCorridor.org. To learn more about BHC, visit BlackstoneHeritageCorridor.org.
About Blackstone Heritage Corridor, Inc.:
An energetic nonprofit, the Blackstone Heritage Corridor, Inc. partners with organizations, local communities, businesses and residents to ensure the long term vitality of the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor. Learn more at BlackstoneHeritageCorridor.org.
October 27, 2016 – The raccoon (Procyon lotor) was once very common throughout the Blackstone Valley but populations have declined in recent years due to the spread of rabies. While the raccoon adapts well to a wide range of habitats, it is most often seen in mature woodlands, along streams, near ponds and beside marshes. From these habitats, the raccoon finds a variety of food sources including frogs, crayfish, bird eggs, acorns and wild berries. Due to its adaptability to man-made changes in their habitat the raccoon also lives in close association with human developments. So their food sources now include those found in a human’s waste receptacle!
Raccoons have short pointed ears, long pointed snouts and grayish-brown fur covering the body that is between 22 and 26 inches long. The most identifiable features are the black “mask” around the eyes and black “rings” around the long, bushy tail. Raccoons can stand on their hind legs so they can investigate items held between their front paws. Those paws are quite developed with five “fingers” that allow the critter to be very dexterous. In fact, touch is the most important sense that a raccoon possesses and it is hyper-sensitive and extremely quick. Raccoons are excellent climbers. They can move forward or backwards on their way up a tree trunk and are one of only a few animals that can descend head first.
The face mask has assigned the raccoon a reputation for being a thief. They possess great visual acuity, particularly night vision. Zoologists suspect they are color blind although their eyes are good at picking out green light. Raccoons have an especially keen sense of smell.
Raccoons will “den-up” for the coldest months of the year. They are not true hibernators because during warm spells in the winter they will come out of their den to search for food. They are not too particular about their dens and will use any suitable cavity, be it the hollow of a tree or someone’s attic!
October 20, 2016 – Although it is early in the fall, I’ve noticed that many people have turned their attention to the foods of the season and the particular comfort ones that will get us through the winter months. I have been involved recently in various conversations about pies (pumpkin, apples, mincemeat, squash, custard…), pumpkin bread and cookies, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, apple cider (sauce, brownies, and Squabble muffins). I love this season and its culinary traditions.
So here is a recipe Squapple Spice Muffins. This has lived on an index card in my Mom’s and now my recipe box for years and I don’t know its origin. Combine 2.5 cups of flour, 2 cups of sugar, 1 teaspoon baking powder, .25 teaspoon salt, .5 teaspoon of cinnamon, .25 teaspoon of cloves and a dash of nutmeg. In a separate bowl, combine 2 large eggs, 1 cup of cooked squash, .5 cup of vegetable oil, and 1 teaspoon of vanilla. Add to the dry ingredients and mix well. Stir in 2 cups of peeled and chopped apples and .5 cup of chopped walnuts. Spoon into muffin tins. Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes. If you want a little more sweetness, you can add an optional streussel topping on the batter before baking, made by combining 2 tablespoons of flour, .25 cup of brown sugar, .5 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1 tablespoon of softened butter.