Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day 2009

What a wonderful day!

I was genuinely moved as I watched the Presidential Inauguration. I felt proud to have a President who is smart, articulate, compassionate and charismatic. I felt lucky to see our first African American president take office. I felt pleased to see the obvious affection between he and his lovely wife. And I felt joyful to see their two beautiful daughters.

For so many years I have either disliked or simply tolerated our presidents. Finally a president I like--a president I believe can restore our dignity as Americans.

What a truly wonderful day!

Friday, January 9, 2009

On the Connecticut

In case you haven’t already guessed, we live right on the Connecticut River. The town of Monroe, New Hampshire sits on a sandy bluff overlooking the river about fifty miles north of Hanover. We live in the center of town, but we can’t quite see the river from our front porch due to the steep embankment that leads down to the water’s edge.

Our house in 1936

We do, however, have a nice view of Vermont. A dear old friend who lived across the river some years back used to proudly say that the folks over on this side were lucky because they got to look at Vermont. I tend to agree with her.

In 1762, New Hampshire Colonial Governor John Wentworth issued grants to 64 persons in what are now the towns of Monroe and Lyman. They were obligated to clear, farm and settle one tenth of each of their parcels or forfeit their grants. Only two even made the attempt.

One of them was Colonel John Hurd of Portsmouth. He was granted a parcel of land that included the riverbank and five small islands. It was named Hurd’s Location.

The first known settler was John Hyndman, who built a log cabin and settled with his wife and son on the largest of the islands in 1784. He was followed by Joseph, Timothy and Israel Olmstead along with their wives and children.

Twenty-three of the parcels were combined with Hurd’s grant to become West Lyman. In 1854, it was incorporated as a separate town and renamed Monroe after the fifth president.

There once were two long covered bridges that connected Monroe with the town of Barnet, Vermont, which is right across the river from us.

The lower or Lyman Bridge connected Monroe Center with McIndoe Falls, the biggest of Barnet’s five villages. It was the third bridge on this site. More than 300 feet long, it was built as a toll bridge in 1833 by Peter Paddleford, a Monroe resident and inventor of the Paddleford Covered Bridge Truss.

The Lyman covered bridge

After 96 years of continuous use, the bridge was still in good condition when it was dismantled in 1930 and sold to Julius Long for a barn. It was replaced with an arched, steel truss bridge.

The upper or Beard’s Falls bridge was the fifth bridge on that site. The first four were lost to weather or flood.

It was a 220-foot Town lattice with arch structure and built as a toll bridge by Phillip Henry Paddleford of Monroe in 1877. It was condemned and replaced by the current steel truss bridge in 1938.

The Beard’s Falls covered bridge

The Beard’s Falls bridge toll gate

The completion of the Connecticut and Passumpsic Railway line in 1850 connected Monroe and MacIndoe Falls with the outside world. It also opened urban markets to area businesses.

McIndoe Falls was named for the natural falls that stretched across the river between Barnet and Monroe. They provided water power for a large sawmill on the Vermont side and a large grist mill on the New Hampshire side. Both are long gone.

McIndoe Falls from Monroe near the beginning of the 20th Century. The sawmill is on the left of the falls and the gristmill on the right.

Built in about 1875, George VanDyke's sawmill was the largest lumber mill in northern Vermont. It employed more than 100 men and manufactured about 15,000,000 feet of lumber per year.

H.P. Hood and Sons, a Boston Milk company, ran a huge icehouse in McIndoe Falls in the early 20th Century. Every winter in January or February, depending on weather, the river ice was cut into large blocks for shipping to Boston to refrigerate the Hood plant.

Over in Monroe, Charles McFarland's gristmill, built around 1840, had five runs of millstones and handled about fifty car-loads of western grain per year. Eber A. Willey's butter-tub factory, built in 1884, ran on steam-power and had the capacity for manufacturing 10,000 butter-tubs per year.

McIndoe Falls some time before 1930.

Between 1928 and 1930, a dam and hydro-electric generating station were built on McIndoe Falls. It currently generates about 11 MW of electricity. We can hear the roar of rushing water inside our house when they open the gates to lower the water level.

The new hydro-electric dam and steel truss bridge in the 1930s.

Things up here don’t look all that much different than they did when the above photo was taken. The biggest change is the hillsides are now heavily forested. The upper valley’s hillside pastures are rapidly filling in. Our lovely views are disappearing.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Our Bully Child

We helped raise a bully child in the Middle East.

Israel has the right and duty to protect its citizens against terrorism and aggression from its neighbors; but the level of their retaliation is way out of proportion to attacks by the Palestinians. Hamas has killed 14 Israelis in the last two weeks. Israel has killed 900 Palestinians.

Like a child who beats up his smaller playmates when things don’t go his way, we’ve allowed Israel to get away with being the neighborhood bully in the Middle East for half a century. We’ve condoned their hyper-aggressive military tactics, supplied them with sophisticated weapons of mass destruction and given them aid.

It’s like sending a spoiled child who was hit with a stick back out into the yard with a bazooka.

In addition to adopting our weapons, Israel has adopted our arrogant, xenophobic attitude in dealing with its enemies. They don’t put the same value on the lives of Palestinian children as they do on Israeli children.

To the Israelis, Palestinian civilians are nothing more than expendable pawns. They’re employing civilian carnage to coerce Hamas into submission. Using the excuse that Hamas militants deliberately hide among civilian populations, Israel has taken license to bomb civilian targets, blockade food and medical supplies to wounded civilians and destroy civilian infrastructure.

They saw how we used the ends to justify illegal military means in Iraq. Like a child who learns from his parents’ actions, Israel is simply copying us.

Is this where we tell them do as I say, not as I do?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Collective Amnesia

As George Bush staggers through the final days of his failed administration, we all seem to be suffering from collective amnesia. Or maybe it’s collective fatigue.

We seem content to let him slink off into the sunset, relieved that he'll finally be gone. There seems to be little interest in holding him accountable for the horrible damage he’s done to our country.

In our post-election euphoria, we seem to have forgotten that he and his administration:

  • turned a sizeable budget surplus into an unprecedented deficit
  • rammed though tax cuts for their wealthy cronies at the expense of the low and middle class
  • dismantled the last remnants of a regulatory system designed to protect the economy
  • deceived us into an illegal and imperialistic war that resulted in the death of more than 4000 brave American soldiers and the maiming of thousands more plus the death of several hundred thousand Iraqis
  • wasted a trillion dollars on the war, much of it going to corrupt military contractors and Iraqi officials
  • violated the Geneva Conventions by torturing war prisoners
  • ruined our hard-won reputation for fairness and decency in the international community
  • took away our Constitutionally-granted civil liberties
  • left thousands of American citizens stranded in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and
  • jammed through a $700 billion financial bailout package on his way out the door that benefits the greedy investment industry that helped create the current economic disaster

The Bush Administration’s stock-in-trade was lies and deception. Its policies led us from one catastrophe into another. Its remedies consisted of one broken promise after another.

George Bush and Company are criminals that have violated U.S. and international laws with impunity. Even as they sleaze out of Washington, they continue to spin their lies into a web of historic distortion.

Yet no one seems to have the stomach to take these miscreants to task for their crimes.


Saturday, January 3, 2009

Profile of a silhouette artist

I think we’ve all gone on line and Googled our own name just to see what comes up. I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered silhouette artist Karl Johnson.

Once a popular art form, silhouette cutting is rare these days. According to his website, Karl has been practicing since he was ten years old. He learned from his father, who was taught many years earlier by a long-time family friend.

Karl cuts every silhouette entirely freehand. He looks at the subject's profile and then cuts their likeness out of black paper. Each silhouette is an original, one-of-a-kind work of art. Karl has cut thousands of silhouette images.

Karl attributes his success, in part, to having vision in only one eye. Not having binocular vision forces him to judge the distance and shape of an object by examining its shadow. This gives him an uncanny ability to capture an image in silhouette.

Karl's studio is in Los Angeles. You can see and buy his unique works of art on his website at http://www.cutarts.com/index.php

Friday, January 2, 2009

What the Second Amendment means to me

Last year’s Supreme Court decision that the Second Amendment included people’s rights to own firearms for personal protection elevated the rhetoric on both sides of the issue.

Over the last eight years of the Bush Administration, I came to see the Second Amendment from a different perspective. I believe the founding fathers intended that we should be armed as part of a well-regulated militia to protect our rights against a government that might try to deny them like the King of England had.

These men had just put everything on the line to stand up to a government that imposed taxes on the middle class to support the extravagant lifestyle of the rich without any representation by that middle class – a government that stifled individual freedoms and small businesses and used the military to control the public's right to dissent. They were driven to an armed revolt against a rich imperialist monarch who cared only about making himself and his cronies richer.

I believe that’s why they included the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights. It had little to do with hunting, sport shooting or self-defense. It was primarily about protecting democracy from tyrannical leaders.

Tyrants count on the citizenry being complacent and obedient. They can’t risk things getting out of hand. And that risk is precisely why we need a strong Second Amendment – to make sure that our leaders have second thoughts about taking away our rights.

That said, there’s a simple reason to insist that all those guns be registered. It puts the ultimate responsibility for every firearm in the hands of its owner. If a gun is misused or improperly safeguarded, its registered owner should be held accountable. No excuses. No second chance. Just heavy fines and possible jail time.

With every right comes a responsibility.

Old Picard

There was a hermit known as Old Picard in our town when I was young. He lived in a ramshackle house on Proctor Hill that was nearly hidden behind piles of scrap lumber, cordwood, rusted metal odds and ends, broken tools and rabbit cages.

When you drove by in the summer, you’d see him working in a small garden next to the house or sitting on the porch in a broken-down old rocking chair. Everything was weathered gray, including Old Picard.

Adelard Picard was a French-Canadian lumberjack and stonemason. It was said that he could hand cut and stack three cords of wood a day in his prime. Now he was a gnarled and sinewy old man with a severe stoop, stringy gray hair and ragged clothing.

My grandfather was an attorney who had taken up woodcutting and farming in his retirement. He took me with him several times to have Picard fashion a handle for an ax or an adze. I was a little afraid of the raggedy, wild-looking old man, but my grandfather said that Picard’s handles were made by hands that knew the swing of the tool.

Sometimes my grandfather paid in cash. Other times he bartered for tobacco or other goods.

The two old gentlemen enjoyed swapping stories. You had to listen closely when Picard talked in his hoarse, gravely voice because his accent was thick and his expressions archaic.

Every year on Thanksgiving afternoon, my grandfather drove over to Picard’s house to bring him dinner. And every year, my grandmother made a big fuss about taking her good china. It was an annual event in their ritual bickering.

Picard would be in the kitchen in a tattered old easy chair. The room contained an old iron cookstove, a battered blue and white enamel-topped table and a couple of rickety kitchen chairs. It was filled with piles of newspapers and firewood, and there were rabbits everywhere. The house reeked of cigarettes, wood smoke and rabbits. It didn’t dawn on me until I was older, that Picard probably ate those rabbits.

Picard transferred the food to one of his plates. The two men chatted for a few moments, and then we left.

Years later when I was in college, I worked summers at Silver Lake State Park. The park manager, Mark Dutton, was an obstinate old-timer who ran the place like clockwork for years.

One summer, we needed some anchors for a new swimming raft. We loaded two large flat rocks that Mark had been saving just for that purpose into the back of his pickup truck. He explained how the flat rocks would sink into the mud at the bottom of the lake where the suction would hold them fast.

“You know Old Picard?” he asked me.

“Sure. I used to go there with my grandfather.”

“Well, you take these stones over there and ask him to drill a hole for an eye bolt through each one.”


Mark gestured to the curved, fieldstone stairway that led up into the picnic area. It was a work of art.

“You see those stairs over there. Picard built them single-handedly.”

As I drove away, I wondered how one old man could move all those heavy stones into place. Some of them weighed more than two hundred pounds.

Picard was sitting on the porch in his rocking chair when I pulled up in front of his house. It had been years since I visited with my grandfather. Picard was even more stooped and unkempt than I remembered.

He looked me over suspiciously, then got out of his chair and walked over to the truck.

“Hello,” I said as I climbed out of the truck.

“What do you do with the stone?” he growled, glancing into the pickup bed.

“Mark Dutton said to bring these over and have you drill a hole through each one for those eye bolts.”

Picard didn’t respond. He examined the rocks with his crooked fingers. He picked up the long, heavy eyebolts.

“I used to come here with my grandfather,” I said nervously.


“Sam Spence.”

Picard’s face cracked into a thousand wrinkles. “He was a good man.”

I offered him a cigarette.

“You smoke the same ones,” he chuckled as he pulled a big wooden match from his shirt pocket and struck it on his thumbnail. I recognized the shirt. It was one of my grandfather’s old wool shirts. His hand trembled as he lit the cigarette.

I followed Picard through the piles of junk into a decrepit shed. He muttered how everyone had stolen all his good hammers and drills. He found an old sledgehammer, a file and some star drills. Back at the truck, he quickly and expertly sharpened the drills and then climbed up into the back.

“You hold the drill here,” he instructed, pointing to a spot near the middle of the first stone.

His hands still trembled as he picked up the sledgehammer. I moved away, holding the drill at arms length.

“Get closer,” he barked. “I won’t hit you”

Picard swung that hammer again and again, never hitting the drill even slightly off center. His aged muscles may not have been as strong as they once were, but they were just as accurate.

“Once it would take me half as long,” he apologized when he finished the first hole.

We stopped for another smoke. Picard regaled me with stories about logging in 19th Century Quebec. He told how he started working in a logging camp kitchen when he was twelve and later worked as a lumberjack and stonemason.

He described a long-ago world in another time… long cold Canadian winters away from civilization for months on end, trees a man’s height through the middle taken down with hand tools, and strong teams of oxen pulling huge logs through the snow.

Picard was proud of his work and the rugged lifestyle, but he complained that it had left him old and bent.

Then, he abruptly showed me where to position the drill on the other rock. Like the first one, he didn’t miss a blow. He finished the second hole and inserted the eyebolts.

“How much for the drilling,” I asked.

“Four dollars.”

“You sure that’s enough?”

“Four dollars,” he repeated.

I gave him the four bucks.

There was an awkward silence.

“Thank you,” I said as I turned to go.

When I opened the door to the truck, I remembered the carton of Chesterfields Mark kept in the glove compartment. I reached in, took out the open carton and handed it to Picard.

“That’ll save you a trip to the store,” I said as I slammed the truck door.

Picard smiled. “Your grandfather, he was a good man.”

I never saw Picard again.

A year or so later when I was away at college, Picard’s house burned down. Some townspeople got together and rebuilt it for him, but he died soon after. There is no trace of the house now.

According to Social Security records, Adelard Picard was born in 1878 and died in 1968. That means he was about 85 when he drilled the holes through those rocks in 1963.

New Year’s Resolution

For 2009, I’m making a resolution that I hope we all can share.
In the hope for real positive change in the coming year,
I pledge that I will try to better understand those who disagree
with my political, religious and philosophical points of view,
avoid dismissing their ideas without first listening to them,
and not use derogatory terms to diminish them and their beliefs.
I’ll try my best. Will you join me?