Water Closet for January 2, 2015

As the days of 2014 “dwindled down to a precious few”* an old Closeteer hiked a favorite woodland loop that encircles a beaver impoundment around Pond Meadow Pond in northern Middleton where it abuts Boxford and North Andover.  The glass that afternoon was close to 50 degrees.  The low December afternoon sun helped give the warm air a spring-like feel.  If there was any breeze, no signs could seen on the water.  [pullquote]”The old Closeteer hoped the hunters despite their apparent failure were as content as he on a beautiful  warm afternoon”[/pullquote]From his oft-visited “bleachers,” a twenty-foot high knoll just south of the heron rookery, the water surface unseen was mirror like.  The dead red maple and white pine snags rising above were also seen descending below thus resembling spindles floating in a valley of air.  Once the viewer had this image, it became stranger and stronger.  He knew what he was seeing but felt something else.  This magical place, a vastness of beaver flooded swamp and glacier sculpted upland of mature trees, brought contentment.  Tough terrain of ups and downs and rough ground were forgotten.  All seemed right with the world for four miles and two hours spent on largely protected conservation land.

Every other year or so thick ice allows hikers a flat circumnavigation among the drowned trees of this 15 year old impoundment.  A few of the trunks still stand.  The red maples rotted and fell first.  A score of large white pines, still vertical, support great blue heron nests.  Dense patches of dead Atlantic white cedars are standing and will for another thirty years.  Shorter with bristling branches they do not attract nest-building herons.

A 200-foot long, 6-foot high, dam crossing Pond Meadow Brook at a constriction between uplands created the large impoundment which now stretches north and east into Boxford.  Passing below it, the lone hiker soon arrived at the heron viewing “bleachers”, where he counted about 30 high nests in needleless pines above the water.  From there he continued counter clockwise on a slope among mature hardwoods culled within the last decade by two forest fires.  The openness of the woods is pleasing especially to walkers no longer nimble and strong.  While fallen trees must be skirted, this just adds time to look around and wonder about the yearly changing scenes below in the shallow beaver lake and above among fire scarred trees shading few bushes or low ground plants.  This is deer hunters’ open woods; several using black powder or arrows were stalking prey in the same area unseen.  The Closeteer thought their single shot capacity and his red shirt made him safe.  He spotted only one orange clad hunter in the distance.  The half-dozen pickup trucks parked along North Liberty Street half mile to the west made him know there were more. Some may have spotted him with walking stick clumping noisily along  spooking would be victims.  The Closeteer noted the track of both deer and men.  He carried no gun or bow but toted both jackknife and cudgel.  Both deer and men no doubt thought him harmless, just annoying.

In a fine valley to the east of the impoundment, the hiker turned northeast.  A plank walkway got him over an intermittent stream, now high after a rainy December, and on to a low island dominated by black birch saplings well thinned by beavers.

Andrew and mother Suzanne Richardson are on the edge of a large beaver impoundment in Middleton.  Bald Hill, Boxford, can be seen in the background. Fifteen years ago this now shallow lake was a red maple swamp. - Judy Schneider photo

Andrew and mother Suzanne Richardson are on the edge of a large beaver impoundment in Middleton. Bald Hill, Boxford, can be seen in the background. Fifteen years ago this now shallow lake was a red maple swamp. – Judy Schneider photo

The four to five inch diameter, two foot high stumps, point sharply into the air.  Older oaks and birch around them had been spared.  The woods here are lovely and open due this time to beavers not fire.

On the north side of the island is a long beaver dam where up until the new millennium there was a wet path crossing a swamp into Middleton from Boxford.  The beavers detected flow there and since have built a 220 foot, 3 foot high dam thus drowning another 70 acres of Atlantic white cedars and red maples easterly for a quarter mile.  We use its top as a causeway which saves us a rough upland mile around.  It is fun crossing here.  A tumble east would have us in three feet of water and mud; to the west, downstream, we’d land in mud among the dam builders’ bracing sticks.  A decade ago the Closeteer spooked a very large old buck while crossing this dam.  At the north end of the dam is Boxford State Forest. The drowned path mentioned emerges and leads to Bald Hill.

The Closeteer, less tired than when he started an hour before, turned west around the north edge of the impoundment beneath old hemlocks, pines, and oaks where there hadn’t been fires for decades.  The shaded wood is fairly passable because year round shade prevents much understory shrubs and ground hugging plants.  The next half mile northwest in Boxford toward North Andover is very interesting largely due to the age and size of the venerable trees, and the dark cool atmosphere they create.  While trekking in the pleasant gloom the open beaver meadow-lake can be seen stretching out to the south.  For much of the way described so far there has been neither path nor signs of man except for a long pasture near North Liberty Street and a couple old stone walls.  This mix of openness, diverse waters and upland habitats on protected Greenbelt and state forest land make for an ideal wildlife refuge that extends well over a mile to the west, north and east encompassing several square miles where only a hunters and hikers go.  A century or so ago almost all was pasture.

Upon reaching a brook flowing down from Boxford into an oval four acre pond called for some reason Pond Meadow Pond, the Closeteer turned north.  When friend, Francis Masse of Middleton, was young he and family fished it summers from canoes and in winter through the ice.  The beavers have raised the water in the whole area three to four feet since then.  Year ‘round standing water here has gone from about six to over 100 acres.

Yet another large long dam was encountered near the main Bay Circuit Trail between North Andover and Boxford. It is 6-foot high with an impoundment extending northeastward almost to Middleton Road in Boxford.  The Closeteer crossed the Boy Scout Bridge just below the dam and soon turned south along the west side of the Pond Meadow Pond impoundment where a mix of mature conifers and hardwoods dominate terrain with patches of exposed ledge.  The pond, surrounded by a dense stand of drowned white cedars, passed to his east.

Another interesting hour and the Closeteer was back below the first dam passed on an open pasture along the west side of clean, fast flowing, Pond Meadow Brook carrying water down to Boston Brook, and then on to the Ipswich River and the sea from whence it came.

He hadn’t heard a single loud black powder discharge.  Any arrows released were silent.  The pickups were still waiting on North Liberty Street.  The old Closeteer hoped the hunters despite their apparent failure were as content as he on a beautiful  warm afternoon.  They might say they are after meat.  Some of us Stream Teamers bet hunters and hikers are largely after the quiet such places provide.

* From Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson’s September Song sung by Sinatra and many others.




Precipitation Data* for Month of: Sept Oct Nov Dec
30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 3.77 4.40 4.55 4.12
 2014 Central Watershed Actual 2.58 8.09 4.60 8.8 as of 12/30**


Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):

For Dec 30, 2014   Normal . . . 56 CFS                       Current Rate  . . . Unavailable

*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Nov. 

**Middleton Stream Team is source of actual precipitation data for Dec..

Normals data is from the National Climatic Data Center.

THE WATER CLOSET is provided by the Middleton Stream Team: www.middletonstreamteam.org or <MSTMiddletonMA@gmail.com> or (978) 777-4584