All posts by Pike Messenger

RETURN TO CHOATE ISLAND

Water Closet for August 25, 2017

     On Saturday, August 12th, eight people, Steam Teamers and a friend, drove to beautiful Essex by the sea and put 4 kayaks and two canoes into the salt marsh crick at the end of Island Road off Route 1A.  The tide was at low ebb.  Clammers, their pickups waiting, had preceded the group.  Kayaker-photographer Elaine Gauthier had done much the same outing in October of last year.

“Twenty years ago the movie The Crucible was partially filmed in a colonial village of facades around the surviving Choate house”

 This year, she, our leader, planned to ride the tide out to the back of Crane Beach and there hike one of The Trustees of Reservations’ (TTOR) many lovely trails among the high dunes.  After hiking the tiny fleet returned on the low flood tide to Choate Island for a picnic followed by a climb to the summit of this island hill.  An early rain had departed before the paddlers start.  The sun’s rays softened by interesting clouds were with the group all day.  If you haven’t visited this wondrous area of water, flats, salt marsh, labyrinth of cricks, white sand beaches, dunes and ocean, so near, by all means do so.  For background see the Water Closet that follows about last October’s paddle. MST 

WHERE THE RIVERS MEET THE SEA (October 18, 2016)

     Ipswich Bay, in the Gulf of Maine, an extension of the Atlantic Ocean, is encompassed by a twelve mile arc of sandy beaches and bars cut through by the Ipswich and Essex Rivers.  Almost white sands make up the changing channels and disturbing bars at these rivers’ mouths between Plum Island and Crane Beach and between Crane and Wingaersheek Beach, Gloucester. 

Back of Crane Beach dunes, right, and the Essex-Ipswich estuary, left, at low tide. – Elaine Gauthier photo

Behind these beaches, protected by their dunes, are 10,000 acres of soft marshes of accumulated peat and sediment one to thirty feet deep from their edges and only a few thousand years old.  At low tides thousands of accessible acres of exposed mud flats teem with life.  During spring tide highs, after new and full moons, the grass-covered, flat salt marshes are often covered with sea water. “Spring” here is not related to the season.  Spring and neap tides are the monthly highs and lows based on the positions of Sun, Moon, and Earth.  For an hour on some high springs, especially during easterly winds, the marshes behind the barrier beaches appear as vast bays.  As a boy in Salisbury the Closeteer and other called these highs “high-runner-tides.”  

     Fresh water from the uplands of Newbury, Rowley, Ipswich, Essex, Rockport, Gloucester and beyond joins these estuaries where salt and fresh water mix to form a thin but rich soup that ebbs to enrich the ocean. Easily worked “Merrimack sandy loam” surrounds the tidal waters to the west. The Closeteer was brought up on farms with very little freeboard.  Years ago he attempted a poem about estuaries that were in his blood long before he’d heard the word.

Dark and light green grasses
In cowlicks swirl ‘tween soft mud cricks
Levied by dune and upland rock
Watering place for more than ducks
Has depth and breadth
Beyond its bounds
Where larval travelers get their start
And subtler cycles turn
To nourish out a thousand miles

     In Ipswich Bay between Salisbury and Gloucester the nourishment in large part comes from the watersheds of the Merrimack, Parker, Rowley, Eagle, Ipswich and Essex Rivers.  Each is fed by many tributaries.  The Merrimack’s bring molecules all the way down from the White Mountains, the headwater streams of the Ipswich from off the roofs and parking lots of Burlington Mall and Wilmington.

     On October 16th from the end of Island Street, Essex, twelve tiny vessels joined the mix for a paddle to a high hill arising above the Ipswich-Essex marshes.  From Argilla Road to Crane Beach the paddlers had often admired the spruce covered hill called both Hog and Choate Island.  It had been free range for hogs and other livestock for three hundred years.  Early last century after grazing ceased, spruce trees from Europe were planted.  Now 86 years old they rise up seventy feet shading half the island’s 200 acres.  The paddlers were en route to explore the hill, a glacier-deposited oval drumlin, steep on its southwest and northeast flanks and northwest end. Yearly the gentle southern slope is mown.  The drumlin’s NW-SE axis was the direction of the movement of the estimated half-mile thick ice sheet that melted over 10,000 year ago.  It is completely surrounded by wide salt marsh cricks that visitors must cross.  These barriers had once kept livestock out of mainland gardens.

Essex-Ipswich salt marsh and its labyrinth of cricks from the summit of Choate Island. The dunes of Crane Beach are seen between the salt marsh and the ocean. – Elaine Gauthier photo

     Some among the visitors not familiar with high-runner-tides were surprised with what greeted them upon arrival at the clammers’ Island Street landing.  That mid-day the marshes were under water.  The mile paddle out to Choate is usually an indirect one via meandering wide cricks.  These and the grassy marshes were hidden by salt water which they paddled over.  With a brisk, westerly fair weather breeze, the adventurers, backs and raised paddles acting as sails, were soon under the steep windward side of high Choate.  Helped by an ebb tide the fleet turned toward the drumlin’s open southeast slope looking for a place to land. 

     A half hour after getting underway the paddlers’ tiny vessels were tied at the toe of the drumlin to bushes covering an ancient stone wall.  They struggled through and over the thicket and entered a wonderful southeast facing field of 50 acres kept opened by the Trustees.  Twenty years ago the movie The Crucible was partially filmed in a colonial village of facades around the surviving Choate house. 

Choate or Hog Island, a glacial drumlin, as seen from the west.. – Elaine Gauthier photo

The handsome house built in the early 1700s and renovated by the movie maker still stands empty in the field marked with stone walls.  Actors Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder and the ghosts of John Proctor and Abigail Williams, the sinners they played, were not seen or heard.  Maybe on a night visit their spirits might appear to ask you why they aren’t in Salem.  Playwright Arthur Miller certainly didn’t have them there.  Choate was probably chosen because of views from its high field.  God was there watching over his errant children among the coastal marvels of his evolution.  The paddlers, just ordinary moderns not plagued by Puritan notions gone terribly awry, sat in soft grasses picnicking in sunshine half way up the high meadow.  They looked out across Ipswich Bay, fair marshes, beaches and sand bars.  The gods certainly seemed to be with them, but whose gods, the Indians’ or Cotton Mather’s?  It was best that no one spoke of either while enjoying the lovely day as they looked out on the sea where explorers Giovanni da Verrazano, Samuel de Champlain, and John Smith had passed four centuries gone.   

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WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION

FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD

  Precipitation Data* for Month of:  May June July Aug
  30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches  4.06 3.95 3.89 3.37
   2017 Central Watershed Actual  4.87 6.08 3.43 0.9 as of Aug 18

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

 For Aug 18, 2017   Normal . . . 6.6 CFS             Current Rate  . . . 1.74 CFS

 *Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru July
——————————————————————–

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

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>

ROCKBOUND

Water Closet for August 4, 2017

“For the past twelve years the regatta has attracted small vessels from up and down the coast and even inland lakes.”

As much of the Wisconsin continental glacier turned to liquid water, the rising ocean moved up the valleys and around the hills and mountains of Maine. Their tops became islands and peninsulas, their valleys bays. After the ice was gone plants and man populated the rocky land. This happened in the past 15,000 years, no time at all to geologists. In the last few millennia people have been “messing about in boats” along our salty shores. The Indians did so in birch and dugout canoes until gutsy fishermen and colonists from afar arrived in sailboats to take over the seas and shores. No fair wind did these newcomers bring to the Indians who were soon gone from their summer playgrounds by the sea.

Three of fifty eight boats at the Traditional Small Craft Association’s Small Reach Regatta (SRR) held in the waters off Brooklin, Maine, last week. The red, white, and blue dory is a replica of Alfred Johnson’s Centennial that he sailed alone across the Atlantic in 1876. “Centennial II’s” maiden voyage was on July 27 at the regatta. – SRR photo

Fast forward 300 years to the last century. Since childhood many of us have been told stories and later read yarns, many false, about those early days with colonization and Manifest Destiny in mind. As kids we built rafts and little boats. Occasionally we recovered one freed from its mooring by a nor’easter. The old Closeteer’s first boat was a skiff found in a post storm driftwood line. He named the river-worthy boat the Whistler after the Golden Eye Duck, also called Whistler. Thus he, like many near water, became a boat enthusiast. There are thousands forever hankering for a time away on water even though they no longer need to be for a living.   It is fun, interesting, and challenging.
Some have formed groups of kindred souls, many who build their own boats in cellars, garages, and sheds. One organization here on the Yankee coast and beyond is the Traditional Small Craft Association (TSCA). Their boat fever has been exacerbated over the last four decades by the fancy magazine “Wooden Boat”, and the unfancy, but comfortably homey “Messing About in Boats” magazine, the latter sometimes mentioned here in the Stream Team’s weekly Water Closets. Tom Jackson, editor of “Wooden Boat”, long a leader in all things boating helped organize a gathering of tiny yachts called the Small Reach Regatta (SRR). For the past twelve years the regatta has attracted small vessels from up and down the coast and even inland lakes. Owners, many their builders, gather on Maine’s rockbound coast among long ago immersed hills now islands showing nice green tops where ledge and salt spray allows. The hardscrabble farms are gone as is most of the fishing. Lobsters and tourists are now the targets. Old tourists still passing north are reminded of the “Keep Maine Green” signs that greeted them at the border mid-last century. The tourists soon learned the request had two meanings.
Serious boat builder Dan Noyes, once a student of the Closeteer’s and a young member of the Rings Island Rowing Club on the Mighty Merrimack, invited the old timer to crew in his spanking new “Centennial II” at the TSCA’s 2017 annual soiree. The first Centennial, a 20-foot Gloucester dory was sailed across the Atlantic by Alfred Johnson alone in 1876 to celebrate our country’s hundredth birthday. Dan launched his red, white and blue copy appropriately on July 4th. (See WC of July 14, 2017.) He then rigged it in time for the Small Reach Regatta (SRR) held July 18 to 23 in the cold waters around way Down East, Brooklin, Maine.
In Brooklin about 90 boat devotees arrived along with 58 small motor less vessels for five days of sailing, rowing and happy boat talk about ballast, trim, sail rigs, boat finishes, glues and a hundred other boat topics. The Closeteer no longer felt so old, a good two-thirds of the participants looked like grandparents and some even great grandparents. In and around their vessels they moved like teenagers, albeit a little slower. Many joyfully lent helping hands when lugging boats around. Even the old Closeteer scrambled in and out and about “Centennial II” with renewed vigor hoping Captain Dan wouldn’t think him a malingerer. Enthusiasm and good cheer were the orders of the day. Even head hits by shifting booms got smiles. Passing on either land or sea most of the sailors and rowers greeted each other hardily. In the evenings around the campfire sailor-musicians played several instruments and sang chanteys and salty ballads. All learned that mosquitoes like music. Kindred souls all as happy as could be, as befits Kenneth Grahame’s famous words in Wind in the Willows by River Rat to Mole, “There is nothing . . . absolutely nothing . . . so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” The Closeteer, long a rower, quickly learned there is nothing “simple” about today’s small craft and their modern gear when added to the numerous variables of sailing. Many of the gung-ho skippers had twenty pieces of equipment aboard their small craft. The days of the basic fishing dories without life jackets are long gone. Visit a boat store and you’ll see what is meant. Bring plenty of money.
What Mole and Rat couldn’t have known was the number of boats made by different hands over the centuries that would evolve. There must have been twenty species each with several subspecies at the regatta. Well represented was the dory with a half dozen types made of different materials, heavy and light. Some TSCA purists, who pride themselves on wood, frown on molded plastic but still kindly allow them in the SRR fleet. Here are at few types and rigs Dan named for the new-to-the-scene Closeteer: duck punt, peapod, melon seed, Swampscott dory, pearl, lug, ketch, yawl, lateen, Marconi rig, sprit rig, sloop, beetle cat, sandbagger, and on and on.
Once underway, more or less together at first, the vessels showed their stuff in various winds as the ever more spread out fleet threaded its way among lobster buoys. It must have amused the lobstermen to have so much non-working company. They motored from pot to pot among us providing gentle wakes, well knowing we might buy lobsters.
Long ago when the Indian and Colonial children picked up lobsters from low tide pools life was much harder but perhaps more rewarding to those who earned their living from the sea. They paddled and sailed at the mercy of the gods. The Indians, long integrated with their surroundings gave thanks to the animals, plants, and rocks they saw as kin. The Colonists built churches on the ledges and gave thanks to God. Each early morning in first light after rolling from his tent the Closeteer hiked a mile up an empty highway to admire the vegetation that richly populated the hard land with little soil. The rising sun reflected off blueberries, spruces, firs, bayberry, and lichens, the latter covering exposed rock. On a gentle rise he found a Spartan looking church, one of two in sparsely populated Brooklin. This church called Rockbound, no denomination noted, had a sign up announcing: Hymn Sing, All Invited, July 27. What events those must have been in the days before radio and TV when spread out neighbors in a beautiful hard land gathered to gossip, sing and pray. The Closeteer bet much of the talk year round was of boats and gear as it was back at the SRR camp. The difference is that those talkers of old wouldn’t be leaving after a week of play.
_______________________________________________________________________________WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD`

Precipitation Data* for Month of: April May June July
30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 4.53 4.06 3.95 3.89
   2017 Central Watershed Actual 6.53 4.87 6.08 3.8 as of July 28

Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For July 28, 2017  Normal . . . 6.5 CFS     Current Rate . . . 36.6 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru June.
** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for July..
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

PHOTOGRAPHERS, LIGHT, AND WATER

Water Closet for July 28, 2017

“The paddle back from the Atlantic to Pope’s landing in the increasing dark, the full moon behind us, was on shimmering, mirror calm water from the new Beverly-Salem Bridge.”

In kayaks without noise, exhaust fumes, or wakes, Elaine Gauthier and her guests ride lightly on our waters. At night she dons a tiny headlamp to become a fire fly above her vessel unseen in the dark below.
In mid-July, Elaine of Middleton, invited other Stream Teamers to join her for a sunset-moonrise paddle on the Danvers River. In late afternoon she had three of us leisurely paddling down the river from Pope’s Landing, Danversport. For four miles we rode the low tide ebb to the sea. The wide for its length river had us winding down through home territory, so familiar from a car that we thought we knew it well but didn’t. To the old Closeteer who has lived in nearby Middleton for over half a century, Danvers behind, Beverly to the north, and Salem south were strange from the river. He’d had a similar experience of disorientation when walking a rail trail in Danvers for the first time near familiar asphalt streets; however, from the railroad bed he saw things as train passengers had long ago. For kayaker Elaine our topography, trees and buildings along the Danvers River are familiar viewed both from roads and water.

Elaine Gauthier on the edge of the Atlantic looks eastward to Bakers Island off Salem shining in the setting Sun. – Donna Bambury photo

As a crackerjack photographer, who likes to share, she on our paddles happily enthuses about views and light. We catch the mood and try to see the shifting colors as she and fellow camera bugs do. The mood of course is largely evoked by the changing scenes due to moving sun, moon and clouds. Artist are people trying to catch them for the joy and so they may share and perhaps revisit. Now that expensive film and developing costs have passed, all have a shot.
Now and then Elaine and others come up with photos that evoke wows and delight. She has done so a couple dozen times in the past few years. This June two of her photos were sold at a show put on by her and photography course classmates* at a gallery in Ipswich. When light, time and mood are upon her she’ll rush out alone with light catcher to bag a scene. The winter before last just after a wet snow storm she went out at sunset and recorded frosted trees glowing a spectacular pink. You’ve seen some of her photos over the last few years here in the Water Closet.

The most democratic of vessels on Salem Willows Park beach. For a day’s pay one can become skipper-owner and travel lightly on the world’s calm waters. – Donna Bambury photo

On arrival on the Atlantic Ocean off Salem, Baker’s Island shining to the east, we left our vessels on a tiny beach at Salem Willows Park. After leisurely eating Low’s famous “chop suey sandwiches” on a park bench under a magnificent sycamore, among families out for a Sunday evening, we got underway again. The Sun would soon be setting, we wanted to watch it from the water. We paddled and drifted westerly on a sinuous course around moored sail boats in the river’s salty mouth while waiting for sunset and for full moonrise to follow. The tide had turned. The surface flow had moored boats still pointing up river. The lighter brackish water on the surface was flowing out. The denser saltier water coming in below had the whole moving up and in. Our tiny fleet was on the rising edge of a twice daily tidal wave whose crest moving our way was six thousand miles to the east.
The following were attempts to describe the ever changing water between Pope’s Landing, Danversport, and the ocean and back on a perfect evening in early July.   Elaine said she and her camera loved being at goose eye level on the water looking out and up, a swimmers view. We started in bright, late afternoon light in a gentle breeze from the south. The air was dry and pleasantly warm. There were no clouds in the sky. The tide while near slack was still falling and taking us on brackish water to the sea. A power boat would occasionally pass slowly as per harbor rules thus providing us with a gentle wake. All seemed quiet as the drone of traffic was tuned out. Three paddlers in three kayaks frequently stopped paddling, the photographers to aim and the unarmed old Closeteer to take in the scene. He enjoyed listening to the ladies softly oohing and aahing at the changing light. Elaine now and then punctuated silent periods by pointing out land marks and navigation hazards. Gulls, cormorants, geese and ducks passed us by. In the shallows the gulls seemed to walk on the water warning us to stand clear. Unless rough this is no problem in a tough, light kayaks that can be simply backed off on grounding.
The Closeteer finally gave up trying to describe the water in words. Some of Donna’s and Elaine’s photos caught fleeting moments. The paddle back from the Atlantic to Pope’s landing in the increasing dark, the full moon behind us, was on shimmering, mirror calm water from the new Beverly-Salem Bridge. The Sun long below the horizon was bouncing brightly off the Moon. The beautifully silhouetted trees of the Salem Golf Course reminded us of those on African savannah in moonlight. The power boats gone, the magical scene now with us alone rendered us less talkative. In the moonlight as our host had advertised, we, though somewhat tired, almost reluctantly landed and returned our vessels to her truck. While we were paddling the landlubbers had gone to bed, no one was around. There as little on the ride home, a pleasant tiredness and memories had taken over.
Elaine is now planning a paddle on the tides in mid-August out to impressive Choate Island rising above the Essex-Ipswich salt marsh.
* Another Middleton photographer displaying her best at the show was Judy Schneider, prize winner and almost weekly Water Closet contributor.
_______________________________________________________________________________WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD`

Precipitation Data* for Month of: April May June July
30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 4.53 4.06 3.95 3.89
   2017 Central Watershed Actual 6.53 4.87 6.08 2.0 as of July 18

Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For July 20, 2017  Normal . . . 8.2 CFS     Current Rate . . . 33.4 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru June.
** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for July.
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

PEOPLE WHO KNOW TREES AS KIN

Water Closet for July 21, 2017

“Trees have been shown in the last three decades to be sensitive and capable of communication.”

One of the wonderful things about life is that art keeps coming. An artist friend of the old Closeteer recently loaned him two books written by kindred souls that can be read together, a chapter by botanist-Indian naturalist Robin Wall Kimmerer in Braiding Sweetgrass, and then one by brilliant and thoughtful forester Peter Wohllenben in The Hidden Life of Trees. Many short chapters allow this back and forth to go smoothly.   Both are superb writers with the discipline to avoid technical terms and scientific jargon. Both scoff at being accused of anthropomorphism. For them animals and plants are other beings and similar in many ways including much of the DNA code they share with us. Trees have been shown in the last three decades to be sensitive and capable of communication.1 Children and Indians have long believed this. Potawatomi Nation’s Kimmerer, comfortable among microscopes and test tubes, often leaves the lab, and ventures outside among living rocks and a network of organisms as her Indian ancestors did. “The world is alive with the sounds of music!” for them and us. Everywhere are the sounds of birds, insects, breezes, waves, thunder, and trees. We only have to listen.
Most important for us is that these authors are superb teachers. The Closeteer, trained in classical biology and other sciences, found these books up to date and very valuable reviews of what has been learned in natural science in the last quarter century. He hopes Kimmerer and Wohlleben have met and are connected through the “wood wide web.”

Bullfrog, water meal, duckweed, and lots of other organisms unseen below enjoy the rich soup of natural ponds. Contrast these living waters with the lonely chlorinated pools we make for ourselves. – Pamela Hartman photo

Nature magazine came up with “wood wide web” when publishing Suzanne Simard’s landmark paper in 1997.2 Forest ecologist Simard noticed in the early 1990s that birches seemed to be helping Douglas firs thrive. She delved deeply into the soil under these neighbors and found networks of root and fungal connections. Since then research has uncovered much more information about the interactions between soil fungi and plants. She writes in a note closing Wohllenben’s book: “Peter highlights these ground-breaking discoveries in his engaging narrative The Hidden Life of Trees. He describes the peculiar traits of these gentle sessile creatures – the braiding of roots, shyness of crowns, wrinkling of skin, convergence of stem rivers – in a manner that elicits an aha! moment with each chapter. His insights give new twists on our own observations, making us think more deeply into the inner workings of trees and forests.” While happily reading, the Closeteer, a daily wanderer among trees, experienced many “aha moments,” sometimes several per chapter. Walks among and thoughts about plants will never be the same for him.

One of the many artificial pools in the wealthy world that require upkeep, filters and chemicals to keep our fellow organisms at bay. – Pamela Hartman photo

Kimmerer has been immersed since birth in the woody www so well felt by Wohllenben and intimately known by Simard. In thirty-five lyrical chapters she seamlessly in moving ways braids modern science with Indian lore and beliefs. In a chapter called Mothers Work she tells of laboring year after year attempting to clean her half acre pond of algae and plants for a swimming pool for her two daughters. Mother Kimmerer pulls out thousands of rake loads of growth. Samples are taken to her laboratory where she identifies the algae and other organisms. For the Closeteer this story of her swimming pool project is the best over view of a pond’s yearly cycles he has read. Her living pond supports a myriad of organisms interacting and ever changing. She happily wades in her slowly improving pond but never quite gets it clear enough for her daughters. However, she understands the pond is naturally clean as she swims among the plankton and tadpoles. Her daughters grow up and move away but she keeps on cleaning for exercise, compost and to provide clear areas.
We humans are water bodies made of scores of different tissues interacting. She quotes her visiting sister who ties the pond project to humans. “Among the Potawatomi people, women are keepers of the water. We carry the sacred water to ceremonies and act on its behalf.” Her sister continues, “We carry our babies in internal tide pools and they come forth into the world on a wave of water. It is our responsibility to safeguard the water for all our relations.”
Hundreds of chlorine doctored pools dot the landscape of our suburbs. For air passengers who approach and leave Logan, they standout in striking aqua. Human beings swim in them alone or in groups devoid of other creatures. Yet nearby are swimmable ponds and rivers. We’ve left the natural water wide webs and know them not. Indirectly, gently, Robin Kimmerer and Peter Wohllenben reintroduce us.
In the tri-town area Stiles Pond and Ipswich River are just down the road. Visit them. Their waters are much more interesting than the new man-made pools. Bring along the books recommended here to read while drying out. Read in the shade of Peter’s trees by Robin’s richly populated water. These populations are connected, ours can again be too.
1 Example: Now during the present gypsy moth caterpillar infestation, affected trees are sending chemical signals through the air warning neighbors, which thicken leaf skins in response. In the ground roots of different trees and connecting fungi are communicating chemically while sharing food and water.
2 S.W. Simard, et al, “Net Transfer of Carbon between Tree Species with Shared Ectomycorrhizal Fungi.” Nature 388 (1997): 579-82.
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WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD`

Precipitation Data* for Month of: April May June July
30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 4.53 4.06 3.95 3.89
   2017 Central Watershed Actual 6.53 4.87 6.08 2.0 as of July 13

Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For July 13, 2017  Normal . . . 9.1 CFS     Current Rate . . . 39.8 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru June.
** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for July..
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

ANOTHER CENTENNIAL LAUNCHED ON THE FOURTH

Water Closet for July 14, 2017

“En route to England, the Centennial swamped twice in storms, was righted in warm Gulf Stream water and bailed out.”

Six year old Coral Withe leaning against “Centennial II” on Fourth of July said, “This is beautiful.” Assembled family and friends gathered for the launching of builder Dan Noyes’ copy of a famous sailing dory, agreed.

Replica of the sailing dory Centennial just after launch on Fourth of July in the Parker River – MST photo

Last year Dan and the old Closeteer visited the first Centennial at Cape Ann’s lovely museum near the city hall in Gloucester. In 1776 patriotic fisherman Alfred Johnson built and then sailed her across the Atlantic to the country we had broken away from a century before. Dan carefully took the measurements off Johnson’s still intact twenty-foot dory while the Closeteer roamed the museum admiring other boats and fishing schooner models of note, and especially Fitz Henry Lane’s well known paintings of Gloucester harbor in the days of sail. A year passed as Dan’s new “Centennial II,” still not yet named, took shape in his small boat shop. Finally almost finished she was launched at high tide the morning of July Fourth 2017, 241 years after our nation’s independence had been so bravely declared. Dan left her in cord grass at the old Newbury Landing on the Parker River as the water slipped away. In spanking new red, white and blue paint she would lay until Dan returned at high tide in the evening to anchor her just off the river channel. On her second night on the water he would sleep on the narrow floor between center board and side planks where Johnson had slept or tried to for 52 days in the summer of 1876. Dan has no plans for crossing. Since Johnson’s, the first recorded crossing sailing in a dory alone, a dozen or more solitary rowers and sailors have followed in small boats. No radios or other modern safety devices helped the early fishermen who toiled in thousands of dories without even lifejackets. En route to England, the Centennial swamped twice in storms, was righted in warm Gulf Stream water and bailed out. The renowned Centennial voyage averaged 70 or so miles per day under three sails, a large main and two foresails and oars now and then. We are now eager to see her 21st century replica under sail. Dan who is currently dealing with sail makers has plans for several hundred pounds of ballast on the keel. Johnson had successfully designed his for quick righting if tipped over at sea. What the Closeteer temporarily calls “Centennial II” may have a name by first sailing, the builder has solicited suggestions. The Closeteer has put forth “Togetheragain” thus celebrating not rebellion but a team of stalwart allies in the two world wars and beyond. This year under new administrations, a Brexit one in Great Britain and a Make American Great Again here, there have been strains. We wonder how Johnson’s arrival seemingly celebrating separation was received upon arrival in Abercastle, Wales, on August 12, 1876 and in Liverpool on August 21. Togetheragain, Britain-America, like Sevenovus, a name given Dan’s great grandfather Henry Woodard’s new fishing boat, out of Rings Island in the 1940s, has a positive message. Henry’s daughter Ruth named her dad’s new boat for the seven members of her family. “Abercastle” where Johnson safely landed on British soil, is being mulled over along with other names by Dan.
Whatever her name, she, as little daughter Coral Withe from a boat building family of six exclaimed, is a beauty. Her low-key launching by family on the Parker’s lovely summer bank was in the Closeteer’s opinion a better Fourth than ones with patriotic speeches, gun salutes or fireworks displays. The ebb quietly flowed over her new planks painted with our colors and via the Gulf Stream will follow in Johnson’s wake to England our mother country. It’s too bad the late John Lennon from Liverpool isn’t around to write a song about her.
_______________________________________________________________________________WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD`

Precipitation Data* for Month of: April May June July
30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 4.53 4.06 3.95 3.89
   2017 Central Watershed Actual 6.53 4.87 6.08 0.5 as of July 7

Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For July 7, 2017  Normal . . . 12 CFS     Current Rate . . . 38.2 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru June.
** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for July..
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

POND LILY TIME

Water Closet for July7, 2007

“Pond lilies provide food, shade, protection, substrate for small creatures and perhaps even aesthetic delights as clouds above us do.”

(It is white water lily time again. The following Water Closet piece was first published in the Tri-Town Transcript on July 4, 2008. Visit Stearns Pond in Harold Parker State Forest to see a mile long watery field of these beauties or almost any shallow water body including beaver impoundments. Favorite viewing spots in Middleton are Webber’s Pond on East Street, Prichards Pond on North Liberty Street, and coves of the Ipswich River above the Bostik Dam. This spring of 2017 the beavers at Stearns Pond and Webbers Pond have raised the water over a foot by adding to the manmade dam at Stearns and their own at Webbers. The result at the end of June seems to be fewer water lilies which thrive in shallow water.)
POND LILY TIME
Check nearby ponds for Nymphaea odorada “white water lilies”. You can’t miss them floating in the shallows. There seem to be more this year.

The shallows of Prichards Pond, a third mile long bulge in Boston Brook, are now White Water Lily gardens. These beauties are framed in even shallower water by Pickerel Weeds in blue bloom. – Judy Schneider photo

Some are reminded of Japanese Obon festivals where white paper lanterns each on a tiny wooden float are launched at twilight bearing a candle. These represent visiting spirits being sent gently back. As they sail before the breeze, prayers are silently offered by kin and spectators. There is really little comparison. Lily blossoms open in the morning and close in early afternoon. Clusters of the finest white, often pinkish, petals supported by a few green sepals are moored by soft cables to large bottom stems called rhizomes, a favorite food of muskrats.

This White Water Lily, one of many now on shallow ponds and beaver impoundments, is surrounded by its round raft-like leaves, green on the top and reddish-orange below. Each submerged surface is an upside down island for small organisms and a protective cloud for fish below. – Judy Schneider

Join these aquatic rodents looking skyward as they munch. There, just a couple muskrat-lengths above are circular islands; lily leaves and flowers, each a third-muskrat in diameter. Flat leaves, maroon beneath, appear as anchored clouds. The green upper surfaces are pocked with microscopic openings called stomata. The leaves of most plants surrounded by air have these gas exchanging portals on their undersides. Let us leave the island analogy for a moment and think of these sun-facing surfaces as solar panels, which they truly are. The chloroplasts in their cells absorb light and convert it to electro-chemical energy. Carbon dioxide enters through the stomata and with water from surroundings and tissues below, reacts in the processes of photosynthesis to make sugars, which diffuse to stems and roots where they are used or converted to and stored as starch until the following spring.

White water lilies grace a large beaver impoundment in the floodplain of Boston Brook alongside the old Essex Railway bed in Middleton. – Judy Schneider photo

Imagine thousands of creatures, scores of species, from otters to fish, from tiny crustaceans to insect larvae and even tinier protozoa, all in this shady dining hall. Pond lilies provide food, shade, protection, substrate for small creatures and perhaps even aesthetic delights as clouds above us do. Each leaf is a raft, smaller denizens clinging to the bottom.
Upon visiting such places reach or wade out and pluck a blossom leaving only a short piece of stem. Pop into a bowl of water so it floats. Bring home and observe your captive beauty’s daily openings and closings. Play the visiting insect, lean down and sniff. The smell is as lovely as the look.
If you like the idea of Obon think of your stolen lily as some departed soul on an early summer visit. See it off with thankful thoughts. Leave the more tangible parts to the muskrats.
________________________________________________________________________________WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD`

Precipitation Data* for Month of: Mar April May June
30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 6.65 4.53 4.06 3.95
   2017 Central Watershed Actual 2.86 6.53 4.87 7.3**as of June 30

Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For June 30, 2017  Normal . . . 17 CFS     Current Rate . . . 71.5 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru May.
** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for June..
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

DEATH ON THE HIGHWAY (2008)

“On this walk he counted the flattened carcasses of 5 painted turtles, 1 snapper, 6 frogs, 2 muskrats, 2 squirrels, 1 chipmunk, 1 mink, 1 beaver, and 1 woodchuck for a total of 20 deaths on the narrow shoulders devoid of vegetation.”

Female turtles have been spotted en route to nest sites this late spring and early summer. We find their battered corpses on and along our dangerous roads. Two weeks ago on a hot sunny afternoon the old Closeteer happened upon three active painted turtles a couple hundred feet apart on the soft shoulders of the Essex Rail Way between Howe Manning School and Essex Street in Middleton. They paid no attention to him while continuing to dig holes to deposit their eggs as their ancestors have done for millions of years. The Closeteer wondered if their forbearers had also ignored the trains rumbling by from 1849 to 1926.
     Last week while roaming around town he found a half dozen turtles recently killed. This reminded him of a survey he had done in mid June, 2008. Last Sunday morning he repeated that non-scientific study along busy highway, State Route 114, in western Middleton. He hiked the one and one half miles of road both sides as before from Emerson Brook crossing to the Rockaway Road turnoff near the North Andover line looking for victims. Here is his tally: 5 turtles (2 snappers, 2 painted,1 1 stink pot), 4 frogs (2 bull, 2 green), 2 snakes (1 northern water and another badly damaged and unidentifiable), 1 cowbird, and 1 dragonfly for a total of 13. Below is his report and thoughts from nine years ago after checking the same area.
DEATH ON THE HIGHWAY (June 2008)
Last week the old Closeteer took a macabre mid-day hike up busy North Main Street (Route 114) in Middleton, from Emerson Brook to the North Andover line and back on opposite sides. He had just read articles about June turtle movements in the Tri-Town Transcript and a Massachusetts Fish and Wildlife newsletter. For years he had noticed road kills, especially turtles in this stretch of highway, much of which is flanked by wetlands. On this walk he counted the flattened carcasses of 5 painted turtles, 1 snapper, 6 frogs, 2 muskrats, 2 squirrels, 1 chipmunk, 1 mink, 1 beaver, and 1 woodchuck for a total of 20 deaths on the narrow shoulders devoid of vegetation.

Imagine crossing a road forty times your length on belly with huge vehicles hurdling past. This is what many turtles especially females are experiencing now as they seek out nest sites. Next imagine a just hatched turtle crossing the same road 500 hundred times its own length. Many don’t make it. Even bicycle, especially dirt bikes, and foot traffic on our woodland paths kill many each year. – Judy Schneider photo

He made no attempt to search beyond in the weedy lower shoulders for casualties. He wondered how many had been wounded, been pressed into uncountable stains in the asphalt, been dragged off by scavengers, or were roaming disoriented in the woods suffering PRCS (post road crossing syndrome). In three weeks, after the height of turtle egg-laying, he plans to repeat this three mile walk.

Painted turtle laying her eggs in a hole just dug with hind legs. After she has covered well and left the spot it will be barely visible. Alas, most are found within a couple days by egg loving mammals. – Tyler Simpson of Uxbridge photo

Our paved roads, which allow for high speeds, have been here less than one century.   Turtles have been on Earth two million centuries. Roads fragment the land in unnaturally straight lines that are barriers for animals following their ancient comings and goings. In contrast fish encounter dams and forbidding small-dark culverts. For amphibians the uplands and wetlands are separated. Female turtles seeking suitable soil nesting sites are particularly vulnerable; their speed is one-one hundredth those of shell crushing tires. At night the sudden onslaught of light freezes the movements of mammals. We, in the name of progress, have laid down a deadly grid upon the land.

Turtles such as this old snapper live long lives. Their ancestors have been on Earth forty times longer than man. Our network of roads without over or under passes is doing many in. Their corpses especially this time of year are rotting on our roadsides. – Judy Schneider photo

Lucky are the turtles that live near Butch Cameron’s secluded sunny garden and sandy lawn off Mill Street by the Ipswich River. He counted nine turtles, seven painted and two snappers, laying eggs there this season. Mary Jane Morrin2 stumbled upon a “frying pan size” snapper doing the same in her garden. “Since she looked about as happy as any woman in labor, I quickly went away.” Her guest must have come up from nearby Boston Brook across busy Essex Street.
The old Closeteer told us that the refrain of an old country song by Dorsey Dixon kept running through his mind on that grim hike, which goes something like, “I heard the crash on the highway but I didn’t hear nobody pray.”
1 Painted turtles lay 6 or so oval eggs on average in 4” deep holes May-July. Young hatch in late summer or overwinter until the next spring. Snapping turtles lay on average 20 to 30 spherical eggs slightly smaller than ping-pong late spring-early summer. The newly hatched turtles are very vulnerable but not nearly so as freshly lain eggs. Predators such as skunks and raccoons find most nests each year.
2 Mary Jane Morrin was one of Middleton’s most active citizens during the 1980s – 2010. Selectman, Board of Health, League of Woman Voters . . . the list goes on. She is now happily living up near Canada in Vermont’s “Northeast Kingdom.” We miss her.
_______________________________________________________________________________

WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD`

Precipitation Data* for Month of: Mar April May June
30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 6.65 4.53 4.06 3.95
   2017 Central Watershed Actual 2.86 6.53 4.87 6.1**as of June 23

Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For June 23, 2017  Normal . . . 22 CFS     Current Rate . . . 49.8 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru May.
** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for June..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

BEAVER MEADOW OF HERBS, SHRUBS AND LOTS OF WATER

Water Closet for June 23, 2017

“Swamp dogwoods, button bushes, arrow wood, tussock sedges, cattails, elderberries, swamp roses, and half a hundred other water loving plants have taken over.”

From the oak forest highlands above the Essex Railway bed north of Middleton Center a beaver-created scrub-shrub swamp outdoes the Garden of Versailles for diversity and beauty. Last Friday Middleton Council on Aging/Conservation Commission hikers climbed up from where trains traveled almost a century ago on decade old skidder trails. Hundreds of oaks had been selectively cut and hauled away. The light that poured past the remaining oaks has resulted in thriving forest understory and ground cover. The high knolls above the waist to shoulder deep beaver impoundment provide fine perches with steep slopes like bleachers for viewing the handsome garden of 200 acres stretching a mile from North Main Street easterly to Liberty Street. In perfect weather after a week featuring three inches of rain in three days a score of old timers looked out across the water garden with its countless plants, many flowering, and all with new spring leaves.

A human generation ago this beaver created scrub-shrub beaver impoundment was a red maple forest. A few surviving scraggly maples still stand above lush populations of water plants. – Judy Schneider photo

The herbaceous and woody shrubs of various heights blowing in a fair westerly breeze of clear air reminded the Closeteer of waves in native prairie grasses as described by Willa Cather in My Antonia. As the settlers moved west, the prairie with its head-high grasses and buffalo gave way to corn and cattle. What happened in our red maple swamps has gone just the other way. The bottomlands along our streams and rivers have gone back from trees and farmer-drained fields to beaver meadows as they were before early English and French trade with the Indians wiped out the beavers. Just two decades ago, before the beavers returned the whole was a swamp dominated by 30 to 40 foot tall red maples. A few branchless gray trunks still stand. New maple shoots growing from hummocks are stunted and more bush-like due to year-round water. Swamp dogwoods, button bushes, arrow wood, tussock sedges, cattails, elderberries, swamp roses, and half a hundred other water loving plants have taken over. In deeper sections of Emerson Brook, of which the wide natural garden is a flood plain, there are stretches of open water. About fifteen years ago the old Closeteer and older pal Fran Masse found a beaten up canoe someone had left abandoned on a flanking knoll. On a fine late spring day they paddled in the open areas not blocked by bushes down to Pout Pond, midway between Essex and Liberty Streets. Most of the red maples while severely stressed were still standing and leafing out; the beaver dam downstream near Liberty Street was then only a couple years old. The trees with many fewer leaves allowed much light in. A new beaver meadow had started. The explorers encountered northern water snakes and black racers basking in the sun; several racers lay on the top of a huge new beaver lodge. Painted turtles charged their batteries on fallen sun-exposed logs. Patches of Atlantic white cedars were also showing early signs of sickness from root-damage due to high water. The old timers at the time didn’t fully appreciate the dramatic transition from forest to an open shrub garden they were seeing. Neither will ever forget that day in a lovely place within a mile of their homes and town center that no one except passing animals ever visits. The old Closeteer vows to go again in a kayak and push his way through plants from Essex to Liberty. Now would be a good time while the water is unusually high for June and many plants are coming into bloom.   Alas, like many of his vows in these waning years they may not be honored. However, the high knoll perches so close will be visited more often. During winter after long cold snaps he had been out on the ice with nervous Friday groups. When covered with snow the area is laced with visible animal tracks. The winter-colors without lush greens are muted but when frosted with snow or sparkling with ice is just as lovely. The cattails, sedges, arrow wood, dogwood and high-bush blueberry stems along with dead leaves, dried flowers, and fruits of herbaceous plants provide a spectrum of fine winter reds and browns. Lichens and the few evergreen cedars and white pines still alive, give us sprinklings of dark greens. This coming winter the Closeteer will hope for many days of near zero weather so he can get out there again and safely visit places rarely accessible. The ice in such places is deceptive due to springs and heat producing biological activity from the increasingly thick organic muck below. In testing the impoundment’s edges the Closeteer has gone through the ice to his knees several times. The winter garden is more safely viewed from the surrounding uplands. The beauty of a walk on safe ice is its levelness and access to places no one has gone since the muskrat trappers decades ago. Fran as a boy was one of those trappers. He knew no Middleton beavers.

The red maples’ shade gone the light joins the year-round higher water. The result in just 16 years is a diverse water garden covering almost 200 acres of the Emerson Brook floodplain. At least a dozen of half a hundred water loving species can be seen here from Essex Street, Middleton. – Judy Schneider photo

Beavers since 1996 have built dams all over the county and much of New England. Many of the resulting beaver meadows and shrub swamps created are similar place to place. The dozen or so in the tri-town area differ when their details are examined. Water depths, dam heights, impounded areas, rates of stream flow, surrounding topography, and past human history provide scores of variables. Wouldn’t it be nice if each watershed had a team of botanists, ornithologists, geologists, and historians to periodically explore the impoundments and record what was happening? We now know that what the earth needs most for its health besides peace are large natural areas left untouched by our species. A very readable and widely acclaimed book now making the rounds throughout the world by German forester and superb writer Peter Wohllenben is The Hidden Lives of Trees. He, never preaching or getting overly technical, tells us once again how all life-forms are interconnected by more than just DNA. We tamper with these connections at our peril.
_______________________________________________________________________________

WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD`

Precipitation Data* for Month of: Mar April May June
30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 6.65 4.53 4.06 3.95
   2017 Central Watershed Actual 2.86 6.53 4.87 3.0**as of June 15

Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For June 15, 2017  Normal . . . 33 CFS     Current Rate . . . 54.1 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru May.
** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for June..
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

CLASS ON THE TIDAL FLATS

Water Closet for June 16, 2017

“The first half hour was spent spinning ‘round and ‘round. The cox’uns frequently ordered their crews: “Starboard stop.” “Port stop.” “All together now, pick up the stroke on Emily.” “

On an overcast, sometimes misty morning at the end of May students of the Merrimack River Valley Charter School met Alice Twombly* of Lowell’s Boat Shop and her fleet of dories at Plum Island. After towing the four replicas of 19th century fishing boats down river with a motored skiff, she and the old Closeteer waited in the Plum Island Basin on the tidal flat. Sixteen sixth graders and teacher Andrew arrived in a bus. “Captain” Alice gathered her young landlubbers about her and explained their duties for the day. Then, to her experienced adult helpers, she ordered. “Rowing is to be done by students only.” Lowell’s large dories have never had a motor or even sprit sails as did their ancestors of yore. In their forerunners’ serious 19th early 20th century fishing days they were lowered off schooners with two men and a tub trawl, a long coiled line with baited hooks. Our replicas, built a century later, each had only two pairs of oars, anchor and a life-jacketed young crew of four plus an adult cox’un. The 19th century fishermen without life jackets or cell phones had only fishing gear, a small sail, oars, a tin horn, bailing bucket, and a cast of fresh water. Many couldn’t swim.

Two dories of four being pulled by their student crews on the mouth of the Merrimack River tidal flats. Salisbury is seen to the north across the river. – Alice Twombly photo

Most of the kids could swim, but we didn’t test them. We would not be out on the ocean in the swells and chop. Our classrooms were the low tide flats of the Mighty Merrimack’s mouth. A breeze from the south affected the small amateurs’ rowing. The first half hour was spent spinning ‘round and ‘round. The cox’uns frequently ordered their crews: “Starboard stop.”   “Port stop.” “All together now, pick up the stroke on Emily.” The young rowers caught on and straightened out more or less as they rowed from place to place, sometimes going aground. The commands then turned to:   “All out. Wade and pull.” “Back aboard.” “Out oars.” “Altogether now.”   And so it went from shoulder to ankle deep shallows with stops at exposed flats and bars where we stopped to see what could be found. Sand eels skittered about in the low tide pools on a large bar mid-river called The Humpsands. Kids scooped up in hands a few of the transparent beauties. Excited terns making a pleasant racket above swooped down for snacks. Green crabs, predators of little clams, crawled over and under the sand. On one black muddy-sandy beach students dug out large clams by hand. The soft-shelled mollusks squirted at their captors. While this was happily going on, the old Closeteer, who had been recruited for the day by “Captain” Alice, wandered up the beach as his thoughts drifted back four centuries. In his mind dark haired, red-brown skinned children played on the flats. Their mothers and sisters dug clams with forked sticks. Their exchanges were in Algonquian. No English was heard, but the dreaming Closeteer could guess what they were saying. Alice had turned into an impressive, elderly squaw watching over four dugout canoes. With lance held at the ready the Closeteer looked for flounders and eels to spear. Indian men didn’t dig clams.

Student and classmates finding clams in the twice daily exposed mud flats. – Alice Twombly photo

The dream flashed forward two to three centuries. English speaking boys helped their fathers dig clams on the same flats and bars. Now and then they’d find lumps of coal that had spilled off the coal ships that brought it to the Merrimack’s cities before the railroads. Pieces are still found. We adults told the kids about the shiny black rocks. In the Closeteer’s dream he was fishing on an ebbing high-runner-tide when a spanking new clipper ship passed that had just been rigged at Cushing’s Wharf in downtown, Newburyport. She was carefully piloted on peak high with just jib and mizzen sail set. Her anchor detail would remain manned until safely at sea. She loomed above the cheering fishermen in dories. The Closeteer, his bucket full of flounders as it had been as boy 70 years before in the same place, awoke and found himself surrounded by lively 21st century kids.

Sixth grade girls form the Merrimack River Valley Charter School dig soft shelled clams with hands from low tide flat. – Alice Twombly photo

The old man thought to call the kids around him and tell them of the past. He relented, not wanting to see the flat turned into a classroom. Let them be free in the salty air with their own thoughts as were the terns. They could study history and later remember the day when they learned to row in ancient wooden boats and got wet in the soft mud and shifting sand somewhere just west of Plum Island in the broad mouth of the Merrimack, the source of their school’s name. We hoped the day at low tide will be remembered as a high for them. Perhaps some will return in homemade dory, canoe, or better still a motor-less vessel of their own design.

Old fashioned clam basket and digger rest on tidal flat in the mouth of Merrimack River. Four Lowells Boat Shop dories, transport for school field trip, are seen in the in background. – Alice Twombly photo

On the flood tide, all these thoughts turned in the tired Closeteer’s mind as he and the “Captain” towed the empty dories without fish or kids back to Amesbury.
* Alice Twombly – Waterfront Coordinator/Education, Lowell’s Boat Shop, Amesbury, MA. Member and leader, Rings Island Rowing Club, Salisbury, MA, circa 1985 to 2005.
_______________________________________________________________________________WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATIONFOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD`

Precipitation Data* for Month of: Mar April May June
30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 6.65 4.53 4.06 3.95
   2017 Central Watershed Actual 2.86 6.53 6.29** 3.0**as of June 9

Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For June 9, 2017  Normal . . . 33 CFS     Current Rate . . . 191 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru April.
** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for May and June.
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

PADDLING ON THE UPPER IPSWICH RIVER

Water Closet for June 9, 2017

“A decade ago great pumps on both sides of river had drawn the water down to reveal the bottom by mid summer. Now it is full again thanks to Sullivan and colleagues who got Reading and North Reading to buy MWRA water from the distant Quabbin.”

Last Sunday on a perfect mid May morning some of us old Stream Teamers and a friend drove in cars fifty foot vertically against gravity up from Middleton to Wilmington where Lubbers Brook down from Tewksbury, and Great Meadow Brook, down from Woburn and Burlington, converge. We put in our four vessels near where the brooks join to form the Ipswich River. The old Closeteer had only once before gone up that far to paddle down with the flow. For his companions it was their first time. What Stream Teamers really want to do some day is start at the true “headwaters” of our beloved river. Where are the headwaters? Strictly speaking there are hundreds; every swale and small intermittent stream in the periphery of the watershed might be called headwaters. They certainly are of their branches, the river’s tributaries.

In the foreground emerging from year-around water thanks to beaver dams is this large tussock sedge surrounded by reed-canary grass and other water loving plants. The gray corpses of drowned red maples can be seen in the background. Looming above the impounded floodplain are oaks and pines on the uplands. – Judy Schneider photo

Streams form according to the topography wherever the rain may fall. Down from the sky the water comes and runs off or is absorbed into the duff and soil. Droplets that land on roofs and pavement run off in rivulets and then enter the ground water or streams. A good fieldtrip for all children, which should be a requirement for graduation, would be to follow a small stream on foot to a larger stream on down to the river; briars, ticks, poison ivy and mosquitoes be damned. It would be a good lesson for the teachers too. In doing so all would learn the true nature of their town and in the long run much much more.
The old paddlers, no longer limber school kids, compromised and didn’t rightfully start at the watershed’s upper twigs when likening a watershed to a tree.
At the Lubber-Great Meadow convergence where the Ipswich River picks up its name we luckily happened upon longtime river champion Suzanne Sullivan who had been invited to paddle with us but declined in order to dutifully monitor the river at her station for temperature, dissolved oxygen, depth, turbidity and rate of flow. This is done by volunteers from bridges the last Sunday morning of each month at 25 stations from Wilmington to Ipswich. Suzanne’s station for the past 20 years is the first as it should be for a River Queen. Her Ipswich River headwaters, unlike those of most rivers, are densely populated by people and commerce. Suzanne’s actions over the last quarter century have helped keep the river alive and healthy. Google the Ipswich River Watershed Association and visit the last issue of its newsletter The Voice of the River. On page 2 there is a tribute to Sullivan and her and upriver partner Martha Stevenson entitled “Dynamic Duo.”

Suzanne Sullivan, longtime Ipswich River champion, is seen here at her water monitoring station on Woburn Road Bridge in Winchester. – Judy Schneider photo

It was a fine way to start the morning paddle with the sun on Suzanne’s face as she waved goodbye. We turned east from her bridge station. Her last call, “Do you hear the flycatcher?”, was heard as we entered our first meander among lush reed-canary grass that almost totally dominates many stretches of the river now. Our paddles touched it on both sides of the narrow, sharply curving, channel. Away from cars and traffic as with most paddles on the Ipswich our cares quickly fell away. We could hear the drone from Route I-93 a half mile ahead but easily removed it from our minds. Birdsong from button bushes and forests beyond the marshy floodplain and the grass whisperings on the sides of our little vessels were our music as we quietly pointed out things to one another. Our ever tuning narrow path intrigued us. Every few feet it appeared to end and then, sharply turning, an opening in the high grass revealed itself.

A decade ago this lush stretch of the Ipswich River between Reading and North Reading was pumped dry. The pumps are silent. The river is full to the brim most of the year. – Judy Schneider photo

Soon our fleet was under the eight lanes of the superhighway. We hooted for echoes. From the cool shade of the great bridge we emerged into a broad stretch of the river full-to-the brim from Reading Town Forest to the south to Concord Street industrial park north. A decade ago great pumps on both sides of river had drawn the water down to reveal the bottom by mid summer. Now it is full again thanks to Sullivan and colleagues who got Reading and North Reading to buy MWRA water from the distant Quabbin. The pumps are quiet. The wide river is rich again with wildlife year-around. Ten years or so ago in August the old Closeteer and his sister walked on the river’s bottom without water except for a few stinking black puddles below the ground water table. As the river had fallen creatures retreated to the shrinking pools and died as increasing competition used up the oxygen. These pools of death were those of life for the herons, other predators, and eventually scavengers who visited for easy snacks.
On our paddle we saw none of this; all was clean high water, blues and greens reflected from sky and forest with new leaves beyond the beaver dam impounded flood plain. As the sound of I-93 fell astern, bird songs picked up. On the north bank, much disturbed land where gravel was mined behind the industrial park on Concord Street, had gone to bushes. The trees are taking over forming a screen between the huge buildings and wide river. To the south the mature trees of Reading Town Forest are a pleasant wall. We could hear unseen walkers’ voices coming from its trails. On east we zigged and zagged among half dead button bushes the higher year-round water behind beavers dams were drowning. Their still live branches were leafing out. Most striking were the many tussock sedges. Each symmetrical tuff of hundreds of stems rises like a waist-high green fountain with mini canals in between. It is in these watery channels that beavers, muskrats and ducks thrive. The tussocks remind some of stepping stones a light footed dancer might use to skip across the marsh. The Closeteer has tried only to find them wobbly for one who no longer skips. Once he cut one through at water level with a handsaw and likened what he found to a suspension bridge cable made of many wires.   In places we found tussocks with tuffs of reed-canary grass perched upon them. We’d never seen the grass growing in such mops like unruly hair before. Then we figured what had happened. The grass seeds drifting down river had caught in the tussocks and sprouted. The tussock sedges thus shaded will soon give away to the grass.
And so was the narrowing floodplain giving way to upland woods as we approached the Mill Street Bridge in North Reading. The floodplain all along its length is dotted with the corpses of standing and fallen beaver killed red maples. These places don’t disturb us at all. When these swamp maples die the light pours in and new rich habitats of soft plants take over. Swallows, woodpeckers, and other birds thrive on, in, and among the rotting trunks. Red winged blackbirds, grackles and dozens of other birds flit among the button bushes, and tussocks. Geese and deer graze on the grass. We spooked a large deer feeding in the lush pasture of belly deep water.
From this Eden we passed under the Mill Street bridge and entered an over arching shady forest. At the landing there we reluctantly left the water and rejoined the human rivers of un-flowing asphalt.
_______________________________________________________________________________WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD`

Precipitation Data* for Month of: Feb Mar April May
30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 3.25 6.65 4.53 4.06
   2017 Central Watershed Actual 3.46 2.86 6.53 6.29**as of May 31

Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For June 1, 2017  Normal . . . 48 CFS     Current Rate . . . 88 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru April.
** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for May..
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