Jnana's Red Barn

A Space for Work and Reflection

Tag: New England

JUST HOW BIG IS THAT TOWN WITH THE MILLS?

When I began drafting Big Inca versus a New Pony Express Rider, I was coming off a two-year stint that had me traveling across the Northeast, including the Atlantic Seaboard from Maine through Virginia. I hunkered down in Baltimore to concentrate on a handful of major writing projects in a very intense year of self-imposed sabbatical. (No university support, if you were wondering.)

While Big Inca marked a sharp departure from my other works, moving into dark subconscious realms and mysterious meanderings, it did incorporate castoffs from some of the other projects. The prompt, though, was a vague dream of restoring landmark mills beside a river, a project that could have happened just about anywhere in the region I’d been traveling.

We think of them as textile mills, and many of them were. But the water power could be employed for just about any kind of manufacturing, as I’ve since learned, from machine-making itself to shoes to clothespins to locomotives, as well as the grain and sawmill operations I’d been introduced to on our trips to historic sites in my childhood, starting with the overshot wheel and grindstones in Carillon Park in Dayton and the reconstructed Spring Mill village in Indiana.

As a youth, I’d also owned a gorgeous volume the duPont company had published to celebrate its history, and my favorite parts were the illustrations of its early mills and supporting waterways and lands in Delaware.

So there was already a degree of romance in my thinking about the use of old-fashioned waterpower.

Then, in my first job after college, I was introduced to the ruins of cigar factories beside a dam in the Susquehanna River, a tangled patch I returned to frequently, as I describe in my set of poems, Susquehanna. Just how would the mills have looked, anyway? And how would they have shaped the adjacent neighborhood, a setting reflected in Riverside, another of my poetry collections?

My more recent employment had me calling on places like Fall River, Massachusetts, with its array of vacant stone mills, as well as towns incorporating the more common red brick versions, large and small.

Add to that mention of the entrepreneurial impact of the many mills that once stood along the Jones Falls in Baltimore itself, before the freeway wound through the sites, and I was quickly writing.

Since releasing the novel, though, I’ve been wondering about scale. Just how big a town are we dealing with? And, for that matter, how big a mill yard?

In the back of my head I’d imagined something along the lines of Binghamton, New York, a city of roughly 50,000 – large enough to move about in inconspicuously but not too big to be, well, anywhere in the corporate radar these days. Or, more accurately, the recent past when the action takes place.

That’s had me looking more closely at old mill towns, of course, and asking if this one or that could be the right setting. Security, by the way, adds another consideration – I wouldn’t want the novel’s mills sitting right downtown, as they do where I now live or in several of the neighboring towns. Somersworth, to the north, has train tracks separating its old mills from the rest of the town, and Binghamton had a freeway.

A smaller town, in contrast, might simply have too many nosy neighbors who would insist on knowing everything about a newcomer like Bill, and that wouldn’t do. Still, there are some beautiful sites for imagining as you move about.

LEVIATHAN, AS AN EMBLEM

1

now to see
North Atlantic
in my sphere

landlocked
till twenty-eight

that week, camping tide-to-tide
beside North Pacific

and you speak of turning to Christ?

2

who found the eagle in the desert canyon
and high mountains
before the Upper Mississippi
or Great Falls of the Potomac?

still, moose fail to inspire me
as elk did

3

whales, then
rather than moose
in contrast to elk of the Yakima Valley

this mirror of historic economy

besides, moose and whales do not leave tracks
everywhere we trek here,
unlike the elk out west

to say nothing of ticks

4

water, defining land
defining water
and the overlap

I want to know what the ocean voices
in its repetition
addressing the absent moon
or distance, even in the erasure

bank of fog
curtain of resounding
fog horn or bell

or vast silence
before

the hundred thousand variations of nor’easter
just off this point

no need to circle the planet

we have our fill of floundering
agents of change

Poem copyright 2016 by Jnana Hodson
To see the full set of seacoast poems,
click here.

A FEW MORE NOTES IN THE SCORE

The mind dances here and there, rarely in a linear fashion. So what’s on my mind these days? How about counting on these fingers?

~*~

  1. Even before she argues I’m regressing to adolescence, she has many reasons to ask: Am I still emotionally … 15? Maybe this time I’ll get it right. Or just FINALLY.
  2. How is it so many people see me as masked, restrained, even inhibited? All these years. Will the real me please stand up?
  3. Like a pack of cards, “shuffle the deck,” the way of the Red Barn – or my all too rambling life with all of its competing interests! Don’t we need a job or children as focus? Or God?
  4. A jazz guitarist asks me between sets, “Are you a musician? You listen like one.” I take it as a compliment. As for my choir?
  5. Too easily I find myself retreating for too much of the day (and night) in my attic studio, apart from the rest of the house. Call me a third-floor hermit. That’s where I think I write best.
  6. I’d dreamed of having Molly Ringwald join in a movie I’d scripted: 61 Candles. We’d all grown up. Or something like that. Even I was younger then.
  7. It’s a familiar goal in revising a piece of writing and, as I’m finding, in making music. Think of the visual arts, too, and any number of places in daily life. Gain lightness in what had been blocks of density.
  8. Inscribed on the tower: “Maybe he was the love of my life … but I wasn’t his.” (Which interpretation do you prefer?)
  9. How is it I got so old? Even within an old soul?
  10. My overcoat, still tinged with city grime, needs cleaning.

~*~

This is it, indeed.

This is it, indeed.

INDUSTRIAL AGE BIRTHPLACE

This is where it began.

This is where it began, starting with the Slater Mill on the left and building into the Wilkinson Mill, center.

The modest Slater Mill complex in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, is honored as the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution.

The operation originated when apprentice Samuel Slater slipped through British security with secrets for textiles manufacturing and was hired by Moses Brown to replicate them in America, with the mill opening in 1793.

The fact that Brown, a Quaker, and his partners advertised for what was essentially stolen information troubles me – I do wonder how they justified their actions when questioned by their Friends meetings. The English, meanwhile, had long before enacted barriers that penalized fellow citizens in Ireland and America. Perhaps that was sufficient inspiration, even before the American Revolutionary War. Perhaps one action apologized for the other.

I was resting my finguers on this waterpowered lathe when I realized it was the origin of mass-production.

I was resting my fingers on this water-powered lathe when I realized it was the origin of mass-production. Without uniform parts, each item would have to be handcrafted from scratch.

 

There were differences between the Quaker Work Ethic and the Puritan Work Ethic, but they would have agreed on this sign.

There were differences between the Quaker Work Ethic and the Puritan Work Ethic, but they would have agreed on this sign.

More remarkably, though, Slater’s assistant, David Wilkinson, then provided the next leap – a lathe that produced large screws that were far more uniform than those painstakingly made by hand. Whether he or Henry Maudslay in England was the first to produce such precise work can be argued, but the results were the foundation for the innovative precision toolmakers who would transform industry. This was, in effect, the foundation for mass production. The thinking behind Wilkinson’s model inspired a league of New Englanders to advance the technology in applications across the region.

I doubt this was the origin of the phrase “Yankee ingenuity,” though it certainly fits.

My fondness for old mills, by the way, did prompt a novel, Big Inca.

WHO INVITED INCA INTO MY NARRATIVE, ANYWAY?

Why Inca, anyway? For starters, when it came to conceiving my novel Big Inca versus a New Pony Express Rider, I seem to recall an attraction to the wordplay, Inca for Inc., befitting a story about corporate intrigue.

Maybe there was even a sense of llama and alpaca wool as raw materials for the abandoned waterpower textile mills that instead become the front for covert business activity.

I was already aware of how much indigenous lore remained lost or buried in the American inheritance and wondered how much more might be festering somewhere. Even before issues of illegal immigration entered the picture, I was curious about the alternatives lurking in the imagined jungles of Latin America. Maya and Aztec, for example, also had rich imperial cultures that contrasted with the Spanish invaders.

The novel takes on its own meandering along the edges of consciousness and subconscious currents. Just what are we doing in our careers, anyway, at least in the face of ultimate existential purpose? And what is the allure of corporate politics, strategy, and gamesmanship, at least in the higher offices? Bill may be out in the sticks, but he is a puppet of sorts for the Boss. A player. Or maybe just his apprentice. Either way, he’s green and supple.

Here we encounter, however dimly, a darkness conquered by another darkness, perhaps crueler under its Christian veneer. Yet a New World Native undercurrent runs counter the peasantry of Old Europe, and pagan influences infuse both sides in the millpond of Bill’s labors. As for the company paying his Bill’s bills? It’s at least as mysterious as the Inca itself.

OR THAT?

Being mindful of what’s right in front of us can always be a challenge. Here are 10 new items from my end.

~*~

  1. I haven’t said anything about shoveling snow, have I?
  2. One tension in today’s world is a matter of staying in place in a restless world. Sinking roots, as it were. Going deep. Without getting stuck. How is this rooting balanced with personal growth and evolution? And, too, how is it I’ve stayed Quaker, amid all the other self-identities in play?
  3. Am continuing my practice of learning Spanish before breakfast – along with our Cuban-roast coffee.
  4. A friend shows us the mass of stonework in the cellar of his 1755 New England saltbox house, and we recognize it’s a thermal mass that holds heat in winter, keeps the place cooler in summer. Those old Yankees were way ahead of our times.
  5. So the day starts clear, then clouds over. Snow on the way? Gotta check our weather vane, see if the wind’s coming in off the ocean.
  6. Observing two side-by-side icicles hanging over our second-floor windows, I see one’s bumpy while the one next to it’s smooth. Then realized, yes, water drops freeze as bumps, and thus the smooth one becomes the question.
  7. As Boss would have told Bill in Big Inca: “I told you to report EVERYTHING.” Maybe there are limits.
  8. Listening to piano music by Louis Moreau Gottschalk, keep hearing a riff that sounds like “Skip to the Lou,” itself a puzzling phrase. Turns out it’s Scottish for “love,” and the tune accompanied a circle game. Also, Gottschalk was quoting a slightly different and more wistful tune from New Orleans, which explains the notes that move sidewise.
  9. The Libertarian Party really blew its big opportunity. Royally. Now where does it turn?
  10. Perhaps tomorrow will be a bathrobe day. Or at least sweats. No driving, just stay indoors at home. Plenty to do here, anyway.

~*~

Joe Pye in ice -- what had flowered does so once again in the heart of winter.

Joe Pye in ice — what had flowered does so once again in the heart of winter.

 

GARDEN DIMENSIONS

“They already were like gods
made in Yahweh’s own image
and didn’t even know it.”

“I could see the Woman would be easier
to convince. She appreciated color and
the bouquet, where the Man noticed
only the fruit’s heft and taste.”

Every snake has its own hole.
Sometimes a snake is just as snake,
Doctor Freud.

And the Serpent went on to make a fortune
developing shopping malls lined with retailers
promising to cover everyone’s nakedness.

* * *

God creates a Helper for the Man
and she helps him, all right:
helps him get into trouble,

helps him to the forbidden fruit,
helps him get ejected from Paradise.
Not only that, but I’d venture

she believed she was doing something
beneficial for him all along,
something for his own good.
(And it was very good)

* * *

Where has Eden gone? Maybe
it’s now ahead of us, down
the road, rather than behind
with its gates shut tight.

As for Original Sin,
life’s not fair.
Some parents gamble
away the mortgage,
their children’s
college tuition.
Others get to be boss
through the injustice
of genetic roulette.
But that’s not really
part of this story.

* * *

Where do the other people come from?
Maybe the question becomes, for us,
where do other people COME FROM?
You! My neighbors! My antagonist,
my friend, my spouse, my children?

Perhaps they come from that other couple
God created, in the first creation story,
just before Eden. Perhaps they, too,
are ejected from their own Eden.

Perhaps there were other gardens
that were also released –
the ones whose stories we’ve forgotten.

Poem copyright 2016 by Jnana Hodson
For more,
click here.

OH, SUCH PLEASURE IN THE SPRAY!

Penguins at the New England Aquarium take utter delight in the periodic rounds of spray around their pool.

Penguins at the New England Aquarium take utter delight in the periodic rounds of spray around their pool.

The New England Aquarium at the edge of Boston Harbor is a fascinating destination. And penguins can be endlessly amusing.

Boston is a rich and varied destination – the Hub of New England, or the Universe, as they used to say. Living a little more than an hour to the north, we’re well within its orb.

 

OF MASTS, SPARS, AND BROKEN YARDS

1

in moonlight
Cape Ann, two months after the Perfect Storm
maybe three
while standing back on a broad outcropping
25 feet above the roiling and ebb

unpredictably, a wave explodes above me
from behind
washes around my feet

I could have been swept away

so step back, gingerly, if you will

2

driving a ridge, no view of shimmering expanses

between country club and great estates
sand plowed like snow
two feet deep, both sides of the state highway

mixed with kelp

3

nothing to trifle with
this fluid motion
in its hypnotic attraction

all recitative
with cymbals and snare drum

Poem copyright 2016 by Jnana Hodson
To see the full set of seacoast poems,
click here.

THIS IS IT?

I’ve long been fond of collage as an art form. These Tendrils continue the stream.

~*~

  1. Ground Hog’s Day marks the end of solar winter, in contrast to the standard calendar’s use of the equinox on March 20. We have as much daylight now as we did around Halloween, back t the end of October. It’s another reason I view the year as eight seasons rather than four.
  2. I’ve previously posted about the ways observing Advent as the days leading up to Christmas Day – which then ushers in the Twelve Days of Christmas –greatly alters our way of experiencing the holidays. As a result, since we don’t put up our tree until Christmas Eve, we leave ours up much longer than our neighbors. Long after theirs have headed for the dump, ours is still casting magical light around our front parlor (the room we call the library) while the mass of tiny lighted bulbs outside the bay window are also still glowing. Deep winter’s much more tolerable this way.
  3. When the evergreen tree does go out of the house (meaning any day now), its place in the bay window is soon taken up by flats of seedlings we’ll transplant to the garden, likely in May. My task now is to retrieve the appropriate shelves and bars of lighting from the shed – out in the brittle cold. We always seem to be behind schedule there.
  4. How sad to see so many so-called conservatives turning barbarian, intent on destruction – pillaging civilization and culture.
  5. My last days at the office included erasing my tracks. A lot of stuffed folders went into the trash.
  6. I finally acknowledge my past lovers would have never made me a suitable spouse. How blessed I am now.
  7. Think of the books we keep returning to. Or simply journals. Which of them keep you on track?
  8. There’s a day, as the rabbi admits, for sex and delight, free from the usual intrusions. It’s called Sabbath. Seriously.
  9. Goose – all dark meat, a lot of good tasty fat – a spoonful is great for favoring other dishes while cooking.
  10. Someday has come.

~*~

Afternoon winter sky over Dover.

Afternoon winter sky over Dover.