All posts by Pike Messenger

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.
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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

VITO’S LANDINGS

Water Closet for June 2, 2017
As the spring-summer paddle season resumes in earnest on the Ipswich River, Middleton Stream Teamers want to remind paddlers of our landings and the talented man who greatly added to their appearance and safe use. The following is an essay published in October 2010.
                                               VITO’S LANDINGS

“Maybe some intrepid historian will learn that four hundred years after the Indians and two hundred after the Colonists, a stone loving man from distant Rome had placed stones not for his own castle or mill, but for people he didn’t even know.”

Men for four centuries here have built wooden structures on unsubstantial stone foundations along the Ipswich River. You’ll not see any now in Middleton. Rot and floods have taken them away. We are told that along the Tiber River in Rome you’ll see many stone access steps and foundations going back two millennia. In lucky Middleton Rome came to us about a half century ago in the person of Vito Mortalo. Since 2002 he has built the town far more than just access steps to the river at Farnsworth Landing off South Main Street, at Peabody Street, and most recently at Maple Street. His steps are works of art. We of the Stream Team who asked him for help have slowly learned his methods. Usually alone and unbeknown to us he visits the sites where we want landings and makes a plan in his head. In the case of the one at Maple Street that was about five years ago. Then occasionally we’ll see some signs of his activity around our preparatory clearing and cleanup at a site. He might have left some selected stones or have removed a previous rotting old landing. At Stream Team meetings we wonder aloud how Vito is doing. One of us then may contact this busy man with a large family and many projects of his own. Always friendly he will smile and may even visit the site with us and reveal pieces of his plan with no mention of time. We’ve learned from him to apply the wise old saying “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”   After awhile at Farnsworth, on Route 114, Peabody Street, and Maple Street the stone accesses to the river just suddenly appeared and much pleased us. Unlike others who use steel and wood for such projects his landings are of forever stones, beautifully arranged.

Stairway of great stones descending to the Ipswich River at Mortalo Landing off Maple Street, Middleton – Judy Schneider photo

For the steps at Maple Street we learned that for years he had been picking out large flat stones he happened upon in his work. One time a couple Stream Teamers saw them laid out waiting in his back yard. And then last year there they were, some weighing a ton, artistically placed where once rotting steps made of old railroad ties had been. Visit the landing there and descend on a half dozen great native rocks to the river. One is seven feet across. To their sides higher stones invite one to sit after a canoe trip or when just passing the time, perhaps with a snack from Farmer Brown’s across the river. It is pleasing to imagine generations hence sitting there letting the passing water sweep their troubles away.

Selected stones beautifully placed grace the Ipswich River bank at the Peabody Street Landing, Middleton – Judy Schneider photo

Let’s go with that flow of diluted-washed-away-worries two miles down river. Upon rounding a great curve in the shade of silver maples off the Greenbelt’s field just up from Peabody Street we are greeted with great stones arranged in a most attractive way, not steps at all, rather a sculpture to sit upon. One stream teamer yearly visits there with his young grandson. The old man sits on one of the stones and watches as the boy 70 years younger wades below him in the gravel and sand shallows. Before Vito’s gift the landing had been an eroding bank of briars. Visitors will find the Peabody Street site as pleasing to the eye from above in the little park as it is from an approaching canoe or kayak. A couple years ago a Stream Teamer on passing one fine early morning saw a man sitting at the picnic table above the stones smoking. His motorcycle was parked nearby. The strangers chatted quietly for a bit. The cyclist said he stopped each day to clear his mind en route home from the graveyard shift at his workplace. He was obviously content and so was his new acquaintance upon hearing the simple story. Such places are needed ‘round and about any town. Before Vito’s steps the land along the river there had been a rubbish strewn parking area with wheel rut puddles inside a moldering roadside safety barrier.

Reflections from the Ipswich River as seen from the top of Vito’s stone steps at Farnsworth Landing, Middleton – Judy Schneider photo

The other evening the Stream Team met, appropriately at the Historical Society’s Museum, and agreed to name the Maple Street access park Vito’s Landing. There were no dissenting voices; all were happy with the choice. The selectmen will be asked for their approval. We know that long after this generation of Stream Teamers and Vito have been forgotten the inviting stones will be there. Maybe some intrepid historian will learn that four hundred years after the Indians and two hundred after the Colonists, a stone loving man from distant Rome had placed stones not for his own castle or mill, but for people he didn’t even know.
_______________________________________________________________________________

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 5.9**as of May 26

Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For May 26, 2017  Normal . . . 59 CFS     Current Rate . . . 75.3 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

A LOVELY VALLEY IN MIDDLETON, DIVIDED

Water Closet for May 26, 2017

“Shouldn’t this peaceful place with abundant wildlife and paths for humans remain a greenbelt, a retreat, for the many residents in the surrounding developments and beyond?”

An unnamed stream in east Middleton flows between a drumlin called Bare Hill and an ancient river terrace of porous deposits. Webber’s Pond on East Street, much enlarged by beavers in the last two decades, is its main source. The water from the pond flows easterly and joins the runoff and seepage from “wet” Bare Hill. At Locust Street it enters a large dark culvert that carries it under the street and Ferncroft Golf Course. It enters the light again at one of the course’s ponds on Nichols Brook, the Topsfield line, which takes it north for a mile through a broad scrub-shrub swamp to the Ipswich River.

Beaver sculpture Stream Teamers have dubbed “The Auger” on the edge of lively, enlarging Webber’s Pond. – Susan Hathaway photo

This valley between East Street and Locust Street is now town owned land of 35 acres purchased from antique dealer Alan Webber in 2002. The 35, called by some “Locust-East”, were then divided into two 17 acre parcels, one for conservation-open space land to the south and the other for general municipal use north of the brook. At a May 9, 2017 Town Meeting folks voted to allow the Selectmen to sell or do what they will with the general use land where a school was planned in the first years of the millennium. Town Meeting wisely built the grade school in the center of town leaving the general use land at Locust-East to the future. For Stream Teamers and others all 35 acres have been thought of as conservation open space land over the last 15 years. Hiking trails go from one side of the valley to the other with no signs that their statuses are legally different. This May’s Town Meeting voted 65 to 53 to allow the selectmen to sell if they deemed in the “best interests of the town.” The area is surrounded on three sides by residential development. Relatively new houses are to the west, north and south. The County Jail and MIT facility abut to the southeast and Ferncroft condo towers loom nearby to the east. The Stream Teamers and others argue that there has been enough development in the east part of town and that the fine hillside woods and red maple swamp valley with ponds should remain a place for exercise and peaceful reflection on the soft paths under mature trees. A century ago the valley’s flanking high lands were pasture with a few spreading “pasture oaks” for cattle shade. The pastures are gone; a few impressive old pasture oaks remain surrounded by mature but younger trees .

Webber’s Pond is twice the size of a decade ago. A large beaver dam, 200-ft. long, 3ft. high, has made it so. – Judy Schneider photo

Since we have no mountains the “valley” doesn’t impress passers by on East and Locust as such; however, if you follow Webbers Pond and its outlet stream you’ll get the valley feeling. Southerners might call it a “draw” or “run.” Mature oaks grace the slopes of both ridges descending to the little brook’s wetland and channel. A place where spunky Jonathan Webber, while still in high school during the ‘70s, cut a hundred cords of red maples for firewood he sold. The shoots from his stumps have grown a new maple crop that could be cut again if allowed under the Wetland Protection Act. Successful businessman Jonathan no longer cuts wood; the beavers have taken control. They don’t cut; they drown the wet soil loving red maples that can’t take standing water year-round.

These seven goslings were raised on Webber’s Pond this spring. – Susan Hathaway photo

Travelers on East Street have seen Webber’s Pond, once popular for skating, growing wider and expanding in length eastward. The busy beavers in the past decade have built five dams down stream, the first is now 200 feet long and 3 high. A new dam built on a crossing stonewall in the past half year has now added another watery acre to the beaver impoundment. Two very recent small dams below are flooding the nearby wetland as beaver activity moves easterly downstream. The floor of the valley is opening to the light as the maples die. New rich habitats called beaver meadows are forming.
Change again and again, is an ongoing theme of the Water Closet for twelve years.   Let us summarize the last four centuries, the first three from reading history and the last from observations and signs. Pre-colonization by the English: The valley in Naumkeag-Agawan times was probably something like now with the Indians’ savannah-like woodland of big trees flanking beaver controlled lowlands.   After the Indians died from imported diseases the English famers cleared land not already open for pasture. The beavers were trapped out. In the latter half of the 19th century industry surrounded our towns, agriculture moved west. The pastures gave way to scrub brush land and then trees. The Webber family used the land as a playground and cleared the understory, the land become somewhat savannah like again. They made many paths to which the children gave whimsical names. In the ‘70s Jonathan cut the maples. In 1996 the state passed a law against steel leg hold traps, the beavers soon returned after an absence of three centuries; very early in the new millennium some found Locust-East valley. At about the same time the town bought the land from Webber. Oriental bittersweet vines invaded the uplands from the east and the beavers with their dams from the west along the brook.

Webber’s Pond, Middleton: Standing dead trunks and bent and fallen trees sometimes strike somber moods on beaver impoundments, some of the richest and liveliest of habitats. – Susan Hathaway photo

Indians and beavers, colonial and American farmers and their hoofed animals, a lively family and woodcutter in the draw, wildlife and beavers again, and now the town’s selectmen hold the fate of Locust-East in their hands. We’ll end with a question. Shouldn’t this peaceful place with abundant wildlife and paths for humans remain a greenbelt, a retreat, for the many residents in the surrounding developments and beyond?
_______________________________________________________________________________

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 2.2**as of May 19

Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For May 19, 2017  Normal . . . 62 CFS     Current Rate . . . 94 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

TOPSFIELD ASH CUT DOWN,PIECE OFF TO MIDDLETOWN

Water Closet for May 19, 2017

“This impressive piece will be smoothed, and its annual rings labeled with important dates for display, e.g. 1905 – President Theodore Roosevelt sets aside lands to be protected around the nation; 1961 – Essex County Greenbelt Association started by Henry Sawyer; Jack Pierce, and Stephen Madden; 1980 BTA/BOLT launched; 1987 Ipswich River Watershed Association born; 1997 – Middleton Stream Team formed; 2017 – this Topsfield ash cut down; . . .”

From the 1880s an American white ash in the Parson Capen house’s front yard grew skyward. In an early glass plate photograph of the house the small tree has two main head high branches. One leans northwest toward the house just 30 feet away; the other southeast toward the future site of the Topsfield Historical Society’s restored Gould Barn.
On the morning of April 29, declared Arbor Day in Topsfield this year, the great double tree stood 90 feet high on a seemingly firm oval base five to six feet across. Unknown to most observers a brown plane of rot grew between the halves of the great trunk. The half leaning northward threatened the house, which is much more than twice the age of the tree. “The tree must go,” decided the Historical Society, “and be replaced by an older growing species such as white oak.” The Society planned an Arbor Day festival on the old ash’s departure. Maybe next year there will be a more traditional Arbor Day event at its replacement’s planting.

Rachel Schneider, new Ipswich River Watershed Association Outreach Manager, admires the trunk of the white ash that threatened the Parson Capen house seen in the background. Her foot rests on a base slice cut for the association. – Judy Schneider photo

Before 10 AM on d-day celebrants gathered around the taped off lawn of the Capen house. It reminded the old Closeteer of a crime scene. Mayer Tree Service, donating its services for the day, took over as its crane operator and two climbers took the branching stage. The crane rose well above the condemned ash as it raised the rugged men with chain saws to its top. The dismemberment safely proceeded downward for the next two and one-half hours until the venerable house being protected stood alone beside a low stump. The last cut from the base of the long-fused trunks was a slab some called a “cookie.” It was sliced from the base trunk which was moved by crane a 100 feet from its stump. The 40 year old Ipswich River Watershed Association (IRWA) and its daughter, the 20 year old Middleton Stream Team (MST), had asked for a historic “cookie.” These environmental organizations had been invited to participate in Topsfield’s Arbor Day celebration. The Historical Society granted their request with a 500 pound slice of ash.

Middleton Stream Steamers Francis Masse, an original member, and Leon Rubchinuk relax at the team’s recent Earth Day Festival. For the past two decades they’ve often been seen working on team projects. The shed moose antlers on display are one of several found by Leon and his wife Sandy in Maine. – Judy Schneider photo

This impressive piece will be smoothed, and its annual rings labeled with important dates for display, e.g. 1905 – President Theodore Roosevelt sets aside lands to be protected around the nation; 1961 – Essex County Greenbelt Association started by Henry Sawyer; Jack Pierce, and Stephen Madden; 1980 BTA/BOLT launched; 1987 Ipswich River Watershed Association born; 1997 – Middleton Stream Team formed; 2017 – this Topsfield ash cut down; . . .
The great “cookie” lay prostrate on the lawn. Mayer’s crane had departed and the dilemma became how does one move such a great weight to its temporary new home in Middleton? The old Closeteer, recipient of the piece, immediately thought of Leon Rubchinuk, a stalwart Stream Teamer. Leon, a native of Middleton, has been moving big things most of his life as had his rigger-salvage man father, the late Peter Rubchinuk. Leon’s career as a heavy equipment operator and rigger expanded to big jobs often on salt water from the Gulf of Mexico to the Gulf of Maine.   His latest was off Anthony’s Pier Four from a barge in Boston Harbor. In 20 minutes on the Capen lawn using just a well worn ratchet strap and a single plank the great piece was safely resting on Leon’s large pickup’s bed. The old Closeteer, along to help, had circled around doing little but kibitzing and pushing where needed, still had intact fingers, arms and legs. His supervisor chuckled at frets about such a simple chore done without need of engine power. He had patiently worked the piece up a single plank inch by inch.

At Stream Team Earth Day Festival several years ago. Leon gives ride to a lucky lad on a mobile wood splitter with a hydraulic log lift he built. His work-a-day equipment runs to over a hundred tons. – Judy Schneider photo

If given the large trunk of ash still lying on the Parson Capen lawn, Leon would get something useful from it and not just firewood. In his shop and yard he fashions sculptures from salvaged stones and hunks of wood, and makes hydraulic wood splitters, other machinery and tools from scratch. His carved granite birdbaths are the most sought after prizes at the Stream Team’s Earth Day Festivals. If there is anything he can’t make or fix his friends haven’t seen it. One wonders, if given the trunk still lying on the Parson Capen lawn, what he would make from it. His shop is a popular place. Surrounding it are marine artifacts retrieved from jobs that philistines might call junk. Bollards, large rusty anchors, chains and shackles; exotic stones of all shapes and colors; and strangely shaped logs are his media. In Leon’s eyes some will be sculpted into what suits his and others’ fancy. Generous to a fault, many will be gifts to friends or the Stream Team. With his fine homemade wood splitter he splits many cords of hardwood logs each year left him by a tree company. The fire wood is given to old timers who no longer cut much of their own.
The white ash cut, except for the gift slab, will also be used for firewood. Ash unlike many woods burns well not long after cutting. Upon burning it will become what the processes of photosynthesis made it from for 131 years: carbon dioxide, water and energy. Thanks to the venerable old tree Topsfield invited the IRWA and MST to tell their stories at its lively Arbor Day festival attended by lots of kids. The wooden souvenir was then given these groups. More importantly a talented friend came forth once again and helped as he has on so many other occasions. The Stream Team may note Leon’s birth on the 1948 annual ring.
_______________________________________________________________________________

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 2.1**as of May 10

Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For May 10, 2017  Normal . . . 76 CFS     Current Rate . . . 112 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

MEANDERING AMONG SWAMP MAPLES

Water Closet for May 12, 2017

“The swamp-floodplain there is dominated by silver maples that in their dotage pushed by storms fall and block easy travel on the river’s surface for a while.”

On a prefect sunny April morning after two raw days of wet air off the ocean three Stream Teamers and a friend paddled from the Peabody Street Landing, Middleton, easterly to Route 97 Topsfield beyond the fairgrounds. Filled over the brim by six inches of April rain, the Ipswich River ran swiftly to the sea. The surface was perfectly smooth; no breezes were felt below the trees. Light poured in by still tiny tree leaves and flowers. For guest paddler Nancy Sander, an artist and puppeteer, the muted colors in many shades were her favorites of the year. While subdued, to many, they outdo the grand shows of the fall. If it wasn’t for the meanders and fallen logs reaching out from the banks we paddlers could have napped while drifting. All was peaceful except for the drone of Route I-95 which is easily willed from consciousness. Songs from birds, especially warblers in the blooming red and silver maples, had the upper hand. The two photographers in kayaks were painstakingly trying to catch the birds digitally. Notice how the once common phrase “catch on film” has disappeared. Even to experienced eyes and hands on calm waters small birds photographed from a vessel are hard to capture. The photographers pleasantly slowed the group down so much more was seen. Signs of beaver, as along most of the Ipswich River and its tributaries, were seen on every turn. Between the Peabody Street Landing and Middleton’s swimming hole at Thunder Bridge we passed quickly over the two foot drop down from a famous beaver dam. About ten years ago the Middleton Friday morning hikers were walking by the then new dam. It had rained the day before so the river was up a bit. As the dozen or so old timers were admiring the dam it parted suddenly into two halves, opening like French doors leaving a gap several feet wide. Had the walkers arrived or passed fifteen seconds earlier or later the event lasting five seconds wouldn’t have been seen. Red Caulfield visited two days later to marvel at the site. He found to his surprise that the busy beavers had patched the breach. The long dam was as good as new. Thus with their valuable dams the beavers keep the water level relatively high year round. Even during great droughts such as last year’s the river all across town was largely navigable. After shooting over the dam the paddlers fretted about not being able to get under Thunder Bridge due to the high water.   We did so easily by ducking down a bit.

Red oak in Topsfield field on the south side of Ipswich River is almost five foot in diameter at breast height. It may have shaded cattle and hay makers for two centuries in what is now called the River Road Historic District. – Judy Schneider photo

While approaching where Nichols Brook up from Danvers to the southeast joins the river, we heard a splash nearby as a beaver jumped from the base of a large tree it was girdling. Over the years we’ve seen beavers many times since they returned in the late 1990s after a three century hiatus. Despite his frequent paddles and wanders along our streams the old Closeteer has never happened upon one cutting a tree. This time he missed by a second. Years ago James Barlas, an old man living just up the river, was showing the Closeteer some riverfront he planned to give the town as conservation land. On that cold morning they heard a cracking sound and looked up to see a poplar falling not one hundred eet away. They walked quickly toward the understory into which it had fallen in hopes of spotting the cutter. Upon hearing them the beaver ran toward the river unseen. The old men found the tree laying prostrate on the duff. The gnawers don’t always know where their falling trees are going. People have found them under trunks, victims of their victims.

Punctuating the Ipswich River’s banks from Thunder Bridge to deep in the Great Wenham Swamp are the upturned roots of fallen silver maples. Before beavers kept the water levels higher year around, the branches of the fallen maples pointing skyward became mini groves. The last decade saw fewer of these clones. The old base parent trees are dying. – Robin Lee McCarthy photo

After the beaver interruption, the fleet of three small vessels passed under I-95 where thousands of large vehicles pass daily at high speeds. When the great interstate highway now connecting southern Florida with northern Maine was built here mid last century the engineers reduced the floodplain passing width from 400 to about 70-ft. between new bridge abutments. The three hundred foot road bed dam like the beavers’ dams increased flood heights and widths up river resulting in more rich wildlife habitat.
The paddlers left the shade of the bridge and entered the river’s meanders behind Masconomet Regional School. The swamp-floodplain there is dominated by silver maples that in their dotage pushed by storms fall and block easy travel on the river’s surface for a while. The fallen trees’ masses of shallow roots with clinging soil rise up in the air. Seemingly they have died, but that is not so. Side branches now pointing skyward become tiny groves of trees, clones of the fallen. After passing Masconomet and the convergence of Fish Brook that brings water all the way down from Stiles Pond near Bradford, the vessels silently slid under Rowley Bridge Road in Topsfield.
Upon leaving the bridge’s brief shade and echoes, a pastoral world came into view. Fields kept open for four centuries sloped down from Meredith Farm and the Coolidge Estate. A great red oak standing alone mid-field caught our eyes and prompted a stop for photography and other essentials. In the green fields rolling away from the river we kidded about seeing and hearing Julie Andrews running over a hill crest toward us, arms spread singing “And the hills are alive!”
The rains and longer days of spring had brought forth the bright green of well tended hayfields long watched over by a scattering of old spreading oaks unbridled by close neighbors. The field centered oak that had us stop is almost five-feet in diameter at breast height and may have been there since before the revolution.
It was a magic mile flanked by fields and old trees including hickories, oaks, a few tamaracks, dying white ashes, and sugar maples. After we passed under Route One and by the Fair Grounds, we closed in on Route 97 between Topsfield and Wenham, the end of the paddle for that day. Our paddles slowed. We were reluctant for the time on our beautiful river to end at the paved road. There, like many Americans going almost anywhere we’d do so by a car with a carbon footprint, with a kinder vehicle riding on the roof.
Judy Schneider after loading her kayak, told us of four new signs, one at each corner of what we Middleton hikers call the Topsfield loop; the loop we passed through this time on water. She estimates she does the three mile loop sixty times a year on foot.
Each sign says:   Entering – RIVER ROAD – Historic District –
National Register of Historic Places
Set aside for foot and paddle, these historic places of water, fields, trees and low stonewalls restore the soul.
_______________________________________________________________________________

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 8.7** 0.5**as of May 5

Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For May 5, 2017  Normal . . . 84 CFS     Current Rate . . . 82 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru March.
** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for April and 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

WATER CLOSET-VERNAL POOLS CONTINUED

Water Closet for May 5, 2017

“Many salamanders, both Spotted and Bluespotted, were located and admired, along with quite a few Wood frogs and Spring peepers. “

Every couple weeks the Middleton Stream Team receives a Quoddy Nature Note from way Down East in Pembroke, Maine, where each day the sun first shines on the United States. Naturalist Fred Gralenski, a keen observer who intently studies the nature of his yard and surrounds, writes with humor and intimate knowledge of his finds. He shares his learning with area folks and an old Stream Teamer here who has asked again to pass one of his biweekly notes on. “Use as you see fit,” Fred’s reply. His report fits fine after our vernal pool hikes here. Although Fred’s hikers go out in the dark, their discoveries shed light on our daytime spring hikes in Middleton. Maybe next spring we’ll require miners’ lights and go forth in the dark.
Quoddy Nature Notes
EARTH DAY, ARPIL 22    by Fred Gralenski
I started celebrating Earth Day a little early this year with an Amphibian Walk in Pembroke at 8:00PM on the day before. It has been a strange year weather-wise, as March and April had been pretty raw and cold, and generally not to the liking of our amphibians, but I had scheduled these walks a while ago. On the evening of the Pembroke walk a pretty good crowd of people showed up, with about eight adults and a dozen excited children, and most armed with the latest LED headlight. Now this is sort of what I expected, however, the new technology requires a little lesson in manners, that is, don’t ask someone a question with your super bright headlamp shining in their eyes. I found myself guilty of doing this several times over the course of the evening.


Maine Spring Peeper in tiny hands is lit by LED head light. Note the species identifying cross on back. – Fred Gralenski photo

The Pembroke walk first consists of checking the ditches along Leighton Point road for a quarter of a mile and finally terminating at a shallow, quarter acre pond that was excavated over 50 years ago. This pond now has pretty natural surroundings, and most of the local critters are aware of it. The road portion of the walk produced no amphibians, only a couple of small aquatic beetles in one of the ditches. In a good year for amphibian watching the road has entertained us with migrating Wood frogs, Spring peepers, and Spotted and Blue spotted salamanders, along with slugs, earthworms, and night crawlers. Critters that are often seen harvesting the latter, especially if they have been softened up by a Ford F150, are millipedes and Darkling beetles. The pond, however, in spite of the daunting shoreline with lots of mud and branches, was pretty productive, especially with the sensitive eyes and ears of the youngsters. Many salamanders, both Spotted and Bluespotted, were located and admired, along with quite a few Wood frogs and Spring peepers. Green frog tadpoles were noted. Green frogs need a permanent pond because their tadpoles require more than a year to change into frogs. Spring peepers and Wood frogs can breed in vernal pools as they generally change to terrestrial frogs before the pool dries up, but they have to spawn as quickly as possible. We did find a few dozen Wood frog egg masses, and they seemed to be a week or so old. Even though the eggs are attached to grasses and twigs, they float, and I suspect some of these were damaged, as they cannot be frozen. I took one egg mass and I will see if they hatch, and get an estimate of the success, before using to stock my own pond.
With a pretty successful preliminary Earth day we had high hopes for Earth day, but that was not to be. The evening of April 22nd was pretty grim. We reached the parking area of the old headquarters of Moosehorn at 7:45PM, with a temperature of 35 degrees and a gentle mixture of rain and snow falling. Some families from the Augusta area with young children showed, and by 8:00PM we had a posse of 12 ready to track down any and all amphibians. We headed down the trail to Dudley swamp, passed the vernal pool (still largely iced in) and finally heard some distant peepers as we got to the swamp. We found no Wood frog eggs, but we did find some spotted salamanders and dragonfly larva. The rain and snow were an obvious nuisance, and after about three quarters of an hour I heard some grumbling from one of the youngsters, and I went over to offer some words of encouragement. However, it wasn’t from the conditions. His parents had decided that the walk was over, but he had gotten the addiction of amphibians and wanted to stay a little longer. When I retire, I hope he, or someone like him, is around.
_______________________________________________________________________________

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

Precipitation Data* for Month of: Jan Feb Mar April
30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 3.40 3.25 4.65 4.53
   2017 Central Watershed Actual 4.02 3.46 2.89 8.2**as of April 28

Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For April 28, 2017  Normal . . . 95 CFS     Current Rate . . . 191 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru March.
** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for April..
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

HERE COMES THE SUN

Water Closet for April 28, 2017

“Reform will involve constant thoughtful communications and cooperation, not the threats of Putin, Kim Jong-un, Khomeini and now President Trump who tweets against the Paris Accords in the dark hours before the sun.”

In a hayfield on the summit of a classic shaped drumlin on the North Andover- Boxford line members of the Second Congregational Church of Boxford and friends gathered on Easter Morning to celebrate Jesus’ return. The tip of the lance shaped hill points southeast towards the holy land. As the red sun came into sight over hills at 6:45 the service concluded. Two Canada Geese seemingly on cue flew honking over the celebrants and their flower decorated cross. The last lines in the service’s program were George Harrison’s:
“Here comes the sun – And I say it’s all right
Here comes the sun, It’s all right, it’s all right”
The previous day in North Korea quite a different celebration greeted the sun. Masses of chanting people and their war machines paraded in unison in Pyongyang. Last week a carrier strike force, with war machines of the American 7th fleet, was ordered to proceed to the Sea of Japan off Korea. Unlike Harrison, neither the poor North Koreans nor the Americans were feeling “all right.” Again fear is underway in Korea and the rest of the world. Will man-produced sun-like heat come from the east or west tomorrow? If unleashed nuclear bombs mounted on the noses of missiles produce a deadly light rivaling the sun as was demonstrated not far away in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In nearby Japan and nearer still in Seoul the feeling of fear must be palpable.

Middleton photographer Elaine Gauthier greets the sun from Plum Island beach. – Judy Schneider photo

In 1953 waves, not of light, but humans down from China drove the United Nation’s forces, mostly American, all the way back to the 38th parallel between North and South Korea. President Truman wisely ignored the pleas of General MacArthur to use nuclear bombs. Today, sixty five years later, we hope such bombs will never again be released. We awake each morning hoping as Harrison did, and billions do daily, that “it’s all right.” In the predawn hours which precede traditional attacks we toss and turn with worry. At sunrise, even when the sun is unseen behind clouds, frets are magically swept away. No wonder the Koreans and so many cultures have worshiped the sun, the daily tranquilizer of so many. Here in April it brings forth buds and gentle greens in scores of shades, and leads our thoughts to water.

“Here comes the sun – And I say it’s alright” sang George Harrison. Sunrise as seen from Plum Island, September 2016 – Judy Schneider photo

The salt waters around Korea, Japan, and the east coasts of China are those of the Pacific. As an adjective, Merriam-Webster defines pacific as “tending to lesson conflict, and rejecting the use of force as an instrument of policy.” Why can’t Homo sapiens collectively celebrate pacific breezes and pacific words? Why do the instruments of policy always include military options even after a horrible century of knowing that the undiplomatic cliché, “All options are on the table.” may mean war? War certainly provides many with challenges and honor but for many many more, misery and despair.
The failed missiles of the North Koreans fall into pacific waters; would that all weapons would so end including ours. The 20th century saw excesses in weapons of all kinds. They became dangerous to the life of the planet not just warriors. We old timers after eight decades of war hope to see an end of wars in our lifetime. We were born when ideas like Wilson’s League of Nations gave hope to many. In our idealistic years the United Nations added distinct possibilities. Gandhi and King gave us models. Alas, when we were children the Japanese broke 36 years of peace in the Pacific with a sneaky vengeance. Their victory over the Russians in 1904-05 had made them cocky resulting in Pearl Harbor and atrocities in China. Rightfully angry our forces drove them back 5000 miles and then burned cities and civilians. Madness on both sides on a massive scale. We, cocky after our victories in Germany and Japan, later engaged in much longer wars in Viet Nam and now Afghanistan.
Will the waters of the Pacific again be the innocent victim of the weapons of war? They have long suffered from industrial exploitation and pollution. Whalers once removed the whales for something as mundane as lamp oil and girdle stays. Fishermen now lace it with thousands of miles of plastic lines. During the war man-made ships, planes, and bombs sunk below what later became great surface gyres of plastic debris. Fukushima leaks poisons. More nuclear plants are planned while the sun pours energy, we now know how to use, down upon us. Think of what a united Korea, a solar-wind powered China and India, and an enlightened United States could do if swords in all their forms became the equivalent of plowshares. There is reason for optimism now the world is networked. The planet’s problems are well known. The wise have solutions. Now we must try our damndest to take military options off tables. Those options with which the United States is so well endowed frighten and enable leaders to put themselves first before their people. Reform will involve constant thoughtful communications and cooperation, not the threats of Putin, Kim Jong-un, Khomeini and now President Trump who tweets against the Paris Accords in the dark hours before the sun. Let’s awake, instead, to the songs of John Denver and George Harrison with “Sunshine on our shoulders”, knowing “It’s alright.”
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WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD`

Precipitation Data* for Month of: Jan Feb Mar April
30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 3.40 3.25 4.65 4.53
   2017 Central Watershed Actual 4.02 3.46 2.89 5.4**as of April 21

Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For April 21, 2017  Normal . . . 97 CFS     Current Rate . . . 81.1 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru March.
** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for April..
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