Changing seasons

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February is drawing to a close.  Each day there is more light.  Spring is in the air.  Today I ordered seeds from Territorial Seed in Oregon.  My first draft of federal Income tax is completed.  We’re looking to reserve our first get away in March or April, maybe to Virginia, Williamsburg area.

It’s been a dull winter so far.  Too many cloudy, rainy days.  Cold but not one good snowfall (although there is still time).  I’ve endured because of the woodstove and books.  Mornings are spent in daily routines, frequently a walk, maybe a little project.  But by early afternoon on most days I have a fire keeping me entertained and warm.

 

I’ve read a mixed selection of books since Christmas.  Dickens “A Christmas Carol” was the first.  I treasure a 1938 Garden City edition, illustrated by Everett Shinn from our years in Boston.  It was delightful.  Before the holiday, as we do every year, we watched Albert Finney in “Scrooge.”  Then the read.  Next up was a gift from our Taylor friends,  “Kitchen Yarns: notes on life, love and food,” by Ann Hood.  Another good food memoir.  Hood learned the basics from her mother and although she’s become a more adventurous cook, she consistently returns to Gogo’s meatballs and chicken salad.  Each chapter ends with recipes.  I’ll try some.

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I  decided to read a novel I’d given Diane, “Rattle of the Looms,” by Paul Lavalee.  We’d read about it in September when we explored several mill towns in central Massachuttes where Diane had relatives.  It traces the lives of several generations of French Canadians who move to the area to work in the mills.  Unfortunately there is a minimal about mill life; reads more like a soap opera.  It may have been sel-published. There are probably better books about the area.

 

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Like food books, there is always another book about books.  I’ve read many.  I had ordered “ A Passion for Books: a book lover’s treasury”  by Harold Rabinowitz.  It’s a collection of essays, poems, even cartoons about books, bibliophiles, and libraries.  I’ve written about my personal “passion” for books, so easy to collect, so hard to part with them.  I am not alone, although many of the collectors described in “Passion” dealt in rare books, first editions, special collections.  Rosenbach from Philadelphia was featured.  How do you store and organize your collection?  Do you lend books? Have you read every book you own?  Throughout the read, I heard Diane, “You need to get rid of all those books.”  (I’ve started, but slowly).

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A reread was “On the Rez” by Ian Frazier.  I may have been drawn to it after the Washington D.C. confrontation between the High School student and the Native American activist.  Much of the story is the friendship of author Frazier with an an Oglala Sioux, Le who is usually broke, borrowing money, sometimes drunk, into crazy schemes.  The Rez is Pine Ridge in South Dakota, poverty, unemployment, alcoholism, car accidents are common.   We learn a little about Crazy Horse and Black Elk (famous Oglala) and modern Native American activism in the 70s.  Frazier attempts to understand the culture.

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As a follow up I read James Fenimore Cooper’s “The Last of the Mohicans.”  A classic that I thought I’d read but maybe not.  Diane had bought the copy due to the New York State setting but didn’t get too far. It is a difficult read, flowery language, unusual vocabulary, multiple names for people and places and natives who frequently speak in metaphors and parables.  But I persevered.  The plot is the capture of two British officer’s daughters (Cora and Alice) by the French allied Hurons. The Scout, Hawkeye (in other books Natty Bumpoo) his Native friends and an officer in love with one of the girls attempt a rescue.  If the Hurons are pro-French, the Mohicans are pro-British and the Delawares seem to sit the fence.  There is a lot of killing, slaughter, scalping, and the feisty daughter Cora and the son of the Scout’s friend, Unas are killed in the end.  It was a surprising read but I’m glad I did.  Need to rewatch the recent movie.

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I don’t know the source of my next read but it was a disappointment.  Several times I was ready to give up but didn’t.  “How the Irish Saved Civilization: the untold story of Ireland’s heroic role from the fall of Rome to the rise of medevial Europe” by Thomas Cahill.  He writes about the fall of Rome ( speculations about the cause) and  the invasion of the barbarians.  A  threat to the classical world heritage.  But finally to the rescue, along come the Irish (actually Irish monks), monasteries, reading, copying, and preserving the classics of Greece and Rome.  They spread this learning throughout the emerging Europe.  Interesting but not a very good read.

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My eight book since Christmas was “Catfish and the Delta: confederate fish farming in the Mississippi Delta” by Richard Schweid.  The author lived in the Delta for months, meeting people, learning about the culture but focused on the catfish industry in the 1990s.  One of many books I’ve read about a particular food.  Of course I’ll be looking for catfish to fry in the coming weeks.  Schweid has a reporter’s style, similar to John McPhee who I wrote about recently.  He explores every aspect of the industry which replaced cotton as a primary Delta product.  From financing, raising, harvesting, processing, marketing he explores every aspect of the catfish industry including it’s ups and downs.  Lots of interesting details like how you can get cut handling the fish.  Race is another theme.  White farmers own the catfish  ponds and processing plants; Blacks work at low paying jobs that produce the catfish.  Ironically Blacks also eat a lot of catfish.  Schweid explores housing, the segregated educational system (private academies for Whites after “Brown”), the blues,  B.B. King and others (which sometimes brings the races together), mosquitoes, Delta pride and self-sufficiency but a declining, mostly poor population.  Schweid can the catfish save the Delta?

I know it’s days, weeks until Spring.  It’s warm today but 3 o’clock.  Time for a fire, new book, and glass of wine.  I’ll finish taxes tomorrow or the next day.

 

 

 

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McPhee

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Time magazine recently published a profile of John McPhee. He is one of, maybe my favorite writer.  First published in the New Yorker in 1963;  87 years old.  The Time interview takes place on the 4th floor of Guyot Hall, the geosciences building on the campus of Princeton University.  McPhee is reviewing applications for his Sophomore writing class. He’s taught at Princeton for decades.  Years ago I wrote him asking if I could audit  a class.  He responded that Princeton did not allow audits of his classes but he was giving a public lecture.  I went but was disappointed; I thought his writing was much better than his speaking.

I don’t think I realized McPhee’s childhood was in Princeton. From Time:

While growing up in Princeton, where his father was a sports-medicine physician at the university, Albert Einstein–leonine white hair and all–would watch McPhee and his buddies play ragtag football on the lawn of the Institute for Advanced Study, Einstein’s workplace. “He would stand there and contemplate us,” McPhee says. In high school he had a gig killing fruit flies and washing centrifuge tubes stained with beef blood for the university’s biology department, in the very building where his office now sits.“

I  enjoyed some of the personal stories.

“To keep sharp, McPhee tries to ride a bicycle 15 miles every other day in and around Princeton, where he’s lived all his life. During these treks, McPhee shares with his riding partners stories about the history of local landmarks, his journalistic adventures, his family. (McPhee dedicates The Patch to his 10 grandchildren.) One friend describes him as the world’s nicest know-it-all.”

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I think “The Pine Barrens” (1968) was probably my first exposure to McPhee.  “The Survival of the Birch Bark Canoe” (1982) was second.  Both of them were on a reading list I had for a junior English course at Holy Ghost Prep. McPhee’s New Yorker, magazine style combining history, science and personal observation had me hooked.

I began to read anything he published in book form.  Oranges (1975),   Encounters with the Archdruid (1977), Levels of the Game (1979), Pieces of the Frame (1979), A Roomful of Hovings (1979), Basin and Range (1982), The Control of Nature (1990), Coming into the Country (1991), Looking For a Ship (1991),  The Crofter and Laird (1992), The Headmaster: Frank L Bowden of Deerfield (1992),  The Curve of Binding Energy (1994), The Ranson of Russian Art (1998), Irons in the Fire (1998), A Sense of Where You Are: Bill Bradley at Princeton (1999),  Assembling California (1994), La Place de la Concord Suisse (1994), The Founding Fish (2003).  I’ve missed a few.

I have strong memories of many.  The geology books were not favorites but I was always intrigued by how McPhee made them interesting, especially Assembling California.  The more I learn about his life; it explained his books.  He went to Deerfield Academy after high school, before Princeton.  In Silk Parachutes (2011) which I just read, he writes about Deerfield and Lacrosse.  Diane and I have visited the historic town and taken open hearth cooking classes there several times.  I remember his fishing in the Delaware River near Trenton in Founding Fish; Bill Bradley; both Princeton connections.

Decades ago I wrote to McPhee asking if I could audit a class at Princeton, a day, a semester.  He responded saying the University did not allowbaudits of his classes but he was giving a public lecture that I could attend. I did.  Unfortunately I didn’t find McPhee the speaker as fluid or engaging as McPhee the writer.

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Last year I read Draft No. 4: the writing process (2017).    I was surprised when I recently found several McPhee books that I hadn’t read.  Heirs of General Practice     (1986) and Silk Parachutes (2011). I ordered and read both.  Still on my Amazon buy list is The Patch (2018).  This is a shelf in my library devoted to McPhee.  Most books are Farrah, Straus and Giroux paperbacks.  Somewhere there should be a hardback edition of the Pine Barrens with photographs by Bill Curtsinger.  Bill, a National Geographic photographer illustrated a magazine Pine Barrens article and later contributed to the  book.  He told a story of being high when he shot the National Geographic cover image.

Like many things in my life, it’s time to revisit, reread, reexperience John McPhee.  Maybe Princeton allows audits or I could apply for his writing class.  Dreams.

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Benjamin Franklin

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I just finished reading “Young Benjamin Franklin; the birth of ingenuity,” by Nick Bunker (2018).  The book was a Christmas gift from Jerry and Susan Taylor.  Interestingly Bunker dedicated the book to Doylestown’s Henry Chapman Mercer, “an ingenious American.”

I’ve read other biographies of Franklin but I’m amazed at how a historian or biographer can mine new information; there are 42 pages of footnotes.  Franklin was born in 1706.  He died in 1790.  A long life.  “The Young . . .” only explores his first 41 years until 1747.  Decades before the American Revolution and Constitutional Convention.

The details of Franklin’s early teen years, apprenticed to his printer brother, James, in Boston, journey to Philadelphia are amazing.  There are his family relationships, father Josiah, mother Abiah Folger (she was from Nantucket), older brother James, and other siblings, he had 16.  The Franklin clan were craftsmen, mechanics, striving to be gentlemen.  Franklin inherited their ambition.

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There are many new stories but also the classic ones recorded in his autobiography.  Interesting details about his work for brother James’s on The New England Courant and his Silence Dogood letters. There was his comic first meeting with Deborah Read, who he would marry.  Then there is the false promise from Governor William Kieth and the trip to London.  Franklin, so young, was being exposed to a world bigger than Boston or Philadelphia.  He also learned more about printing and publishing.  And the most memorable story about Franklin’s plan/program to eliminate vices from his life. His jokes, hoaxes, Poor Richard’s all bring back memories.  I need to find a copy of the Autobiography to reread.

Bunker writes a bit about Franklin’s marriage and children.  Deborah was his bookkeeper.  He mentions a few of his extramarital affairs and struggles with the dark side, women, alcohol, sloth.

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It was interesting to read about the many characters in Franklin’s life.  There were printers, employers, rivals, Bradford and Keimer. There were failures who borrowed money and dragged him down.  But mainly Franklin rose to the position of “Gentleman” printer/ tradesman through friendships and partnerships with the better class.  Men, leaders,  like James Logan (Penn’s Secretary), Andrew Hamilton (lawyer) and William Allen (politician). These contacts aided Franklin’s success, his government printing contracts and position as postmaster.

 

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Franklin was always a man of ideas.  The existence of God and role of religion was a perennial question.  At times he wrote and thought like an Athiest.  But he attended church, had a pew at Christ’s Church, respect for other’s religious beliefs, but a dedicated reader of the books that questioned and debated religious questions.  He had a brief fling with the Great Awakening preacher, George Whitefield.  In the final analysis the Diest label probably fit.

Political ideology and eventually political parties, Whig and Tory conflicts in London became part of the colonial experience.  The Whigs opposed an absolute monarchy, maybe a bit liberal in thinking.  Franklin was a Whig.  Remember during the American Revolution, Tories supported England.

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There is no question that Franklin was a hard worker.  The image of him wheel barrow full of paper, an early morning, was probably accurate.  But he wasn’t in it just for money.  He wanted to do good for the community.  I always enjoyed and applauded his civic activism, fire company, Library Company, insurance, the Junto, and American Philosophical Society.  Membership in the Library Company is available today for a initial purchase and annual fee; I’m thinking about joining.

 

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Bunker is particularly interested in “the birth of ingenuity.”  Once he was financially secure, with several print shop partners, a house on Market, investments; Franklin was ready to retire.  Increasingly he becomes friends and associated with scientists in England and a few in the colonies.  John Bertram is one.  The practical physist Franklin invented or improved on the wood stove.  And there are other inventions not mentioned by Bunker.  But it’s electricity that grabs Franklin’s attention.  What is it?  How do you harness it?

In 1747, Franklin is 41 years old.  His life changes and will be devoted to science, politics and civic engagement.  Amazing. This is what is so fascinating about Franklin for me. He lived many lives.  It is almost 30 years before the Revolution, Paris, the Constitutional Convention.

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My Franklin experience was enriched with a National Endowment for the Humanities program.

“The “Landmarks of American History” grant will bring more than 80 teachers to Philadelphia during the summer of 2011 for “A Rising People: Benjamin Franklin and the Americans,” June 25-July 1 and July 10-15. Teachers will study with scholars of early America, visit sites that Franklin knew, examine documents written by Franklin, and experience a host of historic opportunities in the weeks surrounding Independence Day.

‘We’re absolutely delighted that the NEH funding will allow this program to continue,” said Dr. George Boudreau, associate professor of history and humanities at Penn State Harrisburg and the program’s director. “Understanding Benjamin Franklin is essential to understanding the history of the United States.’”

I participated in 2009.  My lesson plan can be reviewed at:

https://www.lasalle.edu/teachingfranklin/files/2015/11/Neighbbors_and_Friends_Profy.pdf

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It was a great week.  Most memorable was George Boudreau reaming me out for missing an evening activity.  I had a graduate class to teach at LaSalle. Another memorable event was the police visit after a student verbally threatened Boudreau.  It was never clear why.

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I took the train daily to 30th street station.  We met at the McNeil Center for Early American History across the street from the University of Pennsylvania.  Mornings were devoted to lectures by different Franklin scholars.  In the afternoons and some evenings there were field trips. We went to Independence Historical Park, the Franklin complex on Market street, visited the Library Company of Philadelphia and the American Philosophical Society.  There was an evening concert of colonial music in a Society Hill church and a luncheon or dinner in City Tavern.  Most memorable was the final day walk from Franklin’s house to Christ Church cemetery.  George was a bit emotional as he described the number of people who came and paraded on the day of Franklin’s funeral.  Drop a penny on his grave.

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Franklin was an amazing person.  I want to not just reread the Autobiography but search out my books for others related to Franklin. It would also be fun to re-explore Philadelphia sites associated with him.  A spring project.

 

 

 

 

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Looking ahead, 2019

 

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January 1, 2019

My plans, hopes for the new year.  Not resolutions really but goals. A list to guide me each day, week, month.  Some are already part of my routine; others new or need development.

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Walk a mile, an hour, most days, push a bit longer,  sometimes with Diane and Nala exploring new and familiar places; sometimes local.

Exercise, upper body with weights; pedals for legs.

Meditate.

Food shop at farm markets, speciality stores.

Weekly lunches out, old favorites, new places.

Bake and cook using cookbooks.

Organize and get rid of stuff. Organize and get rid of stuff.

House repair; yard improvement.

Shop & tools clean up.

Yard Sale.

Read new and reread books.

Watch films, new and classics.

Listen to music more frequently.

Get back into photography. Organize photographs.

Doll house completed.

Local field trips, Philadelphia several times a month, on train, theatre, museums.

Get to NYC.

Ride bicycle, use kayak.

Garden.

Travel, at least a month, six weeks away from home.

New activities with Eli and Viv.

Contact with relatives and friends.

Express thanks to Diane and others who help so much.

Volunteer.

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Novel Destinations

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Several years ago I bought a journal at the Library of Congress to record my dream travel destinations.  Unfortunately medical issues may now limit my options and I haven’t recorded much in the journal.  But I can still dream, hope, plan and I should.  I think it’s called a bucket list.  But how, why, does a place end up on my list. I remember saying I was ready to go to Europe in 1976 (specifically England) because I wanted to do photography.  I had a reason. I think I was influenced by Lawrence of  Arabia who traveled to Italy to study architecture, churches and cathedrals.  A purpose.

I just finished reading “Novel Destinations: literary landmarks from Jane Austin’s Bath to Ernest Hemingway’s Key West,” by Shannon Schmidt and Joni Renton.  It’s one of those books about books; a genre I like.  The authors like to explore, visit sites, houses, places associated with writers.  Their travels are primarily in the United States and Europe.  Since I majored in literature at Boston College, I enjoy reading classic authors, traveling to their homes, exploring their sources of inspiration, fantastic.

It was fun to read about places we’ve visited — for instance,  Hemingway’s Spanish villa in Key West; or the Alcott house in Concord.  The replica cabin of Henry David Thoreau on Walden Pond was a special pilgrimage for me.  I recall a fairly recent stop at a Robert Frost house in Vermont on a snowy afternoon.  We’ve been to the Pearl Buck “Green Hills” farm house in Perkasie several times. Most recently to see a display of community decorated Christmas trees.  There is the Edgar Allen Poe house in Philadelphia and Washington Irving’s  “Sunnyside” on the Hudson in NY.  We’ve intentionally visited (but should spend the night) in the Algonquin Hotel in  NYC open to the literary vibes.  We’ve had drinks in the Plaza like Scott and Zelda.

It was interesting to see how many areas had walking tours of places from the authors’ lives or places related to the characters in their books. Bars, restaurants, hotels are frequently featured.    The last time we were in London, I wanted to take a Sherlock Holmes walking tour.  I’d been to the SH pub with it’s  recreated rooms; and I’d walked past 221b Baker Street.  But to just tour the city with Holmes and Watson, in a hanson cab maybe.  This should be entered in my destinations journal.

There are places closer to Yardley.  I’ve never been to the Walt Whitman house in Camden or the James Fenimore Cooper house in Burlington.  We’ve talked about visiting Nathaniel Hawthorne sites in Salem, MA and the Mark Twain house in Hartford, CT.

More ambitious would be traveling to Cannery Row, Steinbeck territory or Harper Lee’s Monroeville, Alabama, “To Kill A Mockingbird.”  And how I would love to explore Dicken’s London; Hemingway and the expatriot’s Paris, and Joyce’s Dublin.

There is still time.  I need to find that journal, dream, hope but most importantly plan.

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Different Worlds

37181242-1765-4603-9A2B-8317D09DBA16I continue to reread books.  I was  drawn this week to “Ishi: in two worlds, a biography of the last wild Indian in North America,” by Theodora Kroeber.  Ishi was the lone survivor of a California Native American tribe, the Yani.  In the early 20th century he wandered into the white  “civilized” world.  He was “adopted” by anthropologists at the University of California and for several years lived in the anthropology museum.

Ishi’s story is fascinating.  Several chapters explore how he and a small band of this tribe lived concealed in the hills.  Slowly the survivors died and Ishi was alone.  He emerges and adapts to a new life living the the museum.  White man’s customs and expectations.  He is a curiosity, exhibition specimen, but somehow seems to retain his personal, ancestral identity. Ishi shows his new white friends how to make fire, skin animals, chip arrow and spear heads.

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Ishi seems to understand and adapt to white culture.  He accepts something like a handshake because although foreign and strange to him it is the way of the new world.  I recall an encounter with a group Nicaraguan teens.  They were hanging out near their cars along Lake Managua.  I wanted to photograph them.  But how should I approach?    One boy waved to me.  I approached; took some fun photos.  We had crossed a cultural divide.

 

Another recent reread was “Gangsters, Murderers, and Weirdos” — can you guesss, “New York City’s Lower East Side,” by Eric Ferrara.  Several years ago we spent several days in NYC with John and Barbara Paglione.  One afternoon we took a tour with the author.  The Lower East Side, Little Italy, Chinatown.  Ferrara responded to our “food” interests pointing out restaurants, bakeries, groceries,  and the last pickle shop in the neighborhood.  Of course I ordered his book from Amazon.

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The Lower East Side was a different world.  Ferrara explores it through newspaper and police records.  Much of what he discovers is sordid.  Street after street; block  after block; house after house; the scene of all types of crimes; shootings; murders.  It’s an interesting read.  Most characters are not famous; although there is the ocassional well known Lucky Luciano or Meyer Lansky.  Would be a fantastic guide for a walk in the neighborhood.

So many books.  So many worlds.

 

 

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Rivers

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A few weeks ago I woke up about six and  went to the National Weather Service River prediction page.  It had rained heavy during the night and the gauge at Trenton showed a straight line up several feet.  The prediction had been a gradual rise to about 16 feet.  Would it continue to rise? So quickly.    I check some upriver gauges but it’s hard to tell. About seven a new prediction showed the rise stopping, going down, and the over the next few days going back up slowly to about 16 feet.  More rain expected and the reservoirs in New York were spilling (which they had been for weeks).

With the sun up I noticed the low land along Morgan was flooded.  The water was from Garlits Pond, which is feed by a ditch running along the canal.  The canal may have overflowed just enough to fill the pond to overflow but not enough to flood the neighborhood.  A walk on the canal in the morning showed that’s exactly what happened.  Canal overflow was in a small 4 feet strip.

Living between the Delaware River and canal makes us very aware of weather conditions, rainfall, and potential flooding.  It can happen with the Spring snow thaw, a hurricane, breaking ice packs that are damming river water, local rain flooding the canal.  Many  in the flood plain believe that the major floods of 2004, 05 and 06 were increased due to overflows from upriver reservoirs — Cannonsville, Pepacton, and Neversink. Frequently all three are at or close to 100% capacity forced to release.  Prior to the early 2000 floods, the reservoirs were frequently at 80% capacity and could hold back some heavy rain, instead of spilling and  releasing water.

The Delaware is part of the Wild and Scenic River system.  330 miles of the main stem through New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware flow free.  If I understand correctly, the three dam/reservoirs previously discussed and others are on tributaries. These dams  were created to provide drinking water for New York City.  Not wanting to be without clean water, NY wants to keep to reservoirs filled.  The Delaware River Basin Commission, which oversees the reservoirs, after the 2004-06 floods, claimed that 100% filled dams spilling water did not contribute to flooding.  Since then they have instituted minor flood control measures accepting some responsibility.

In 1965 there was a proposal to build a Delaware River dam at Tocks Island.  The federal government began to condemn land for the project.  Supporters of the dam cited the benefit of hydroelectric power and flood control.  In 1955 there was a major flood on the river.  Protests against the dam grew strong.   Abbie Hoffman, a 1960s anti-war activist,  arrived in the Delaware Valley.  Supreme Court Justice William O Douglas led a thousand people in protest.  The Tocks Island Dam was defeated by 1975.  The Delaware would continue to run free. But not all rivers run free.

E0D33988-F528-4426-AD4E-5A19522603F5I just finished rereading “ Northwest Passage: the Great Columbia River” by William Dietrich.  What a story; what a river.  Unlike the Delaware, the Columbia has been dammed, and dammed again, and again.   There are dozens of dams on the main stem and tributaries.  Why?  Some were to provide irrigation water.  And then hydroelectric power. Maybe flood control.   I recognize the dam names Bonneville and Grand Coulee.   Among the many side effects is the impact of dams on the salmon fisheries and Native Americans. Obviously not positive.  Ladders, seeding may help but the historic salmon runs on the Columbia have ended and will not return.

Ten years ago we had a trip planned to explore the Columbia River with my sister Marylee and Norvel.  It didn’t happen as planned.  Recently I’ve been thinking of my “must visit”  places.  Maybe the Columbia.  Until then I’ll continue to monitor the Delaware. No salmon; some shad.

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