Water Closet for October 6, 2017

     Middleton Stream Teamer Leon Rubchinuk’s raffle ticket drawn at the Ipswich River Watershed Association 40th birthday celebration won him a new canoe.  Generous Leon offered its use to fellow members. [pullquote] “Smart weed, pickerel weed, arrow head, arrow arum and reed canary grass, emergent soft wetland plants, grew out into the channel from both banks”[/pullquote]The Old Closeteer, envious of its light weight, asked if he could take it on a maiden voyage for what in the navy is called a shakedown cruise.  Permission was granted.  Two days later at Farnsworth Landing off Route 114 in Middleton the shiny new Kevlar 15-foot long vessel was launched after a fairly easy lug from the Closeteer’s pickup down Vito Mortalo’s stone steps to the Ipswich River.   Alone, the Closeteer had brought a five gallon jug for ballast to provide stability and proper trim.  The water at the river’s edge was too low to immerse the jug from the bank so he pushed off in the canoe to deeper water.  Filled, the jug was pulled over the rail.  In an instant the canoe tipped and swamped; the Closeteer was in water up to his neck.  No big deal, the water temperature was 64 F, air 80 degrees without a breeze.  However, while not feeling cold he felt incompetent and stupid.  Fortunately there were no spectators.

     Chris-Kerry, a temporary name* he has given the new canoe, was dragged to the bank and emptied.  The jug was placed far forward to balance the lone paddler sitting in the after seat.  Chris-Kerry moved slowly up river in a channel with loose rafts of  dying plants.  Her shiny hull pushed fairly easily through the rotting debris.  All else outside the channel in the river’s beaver inundated floodplain and in the forested uplands beyond was still lush green, surprisingly so for late September.  Despite Chris-Kerry’s first moments in the water and noted tenderness compared to larger canoes owned by the Stream Team, the Closeteer, still soaking wet in the warm sun, felt content and any embarrassment was fading.  The river will do that. All seemed right with the world.  A couple great blue herons ahead spotted him and separately took flight up river.  They’ll do that for a while, keeping somewhat ahead of paddlers.  Two small flocks of ducks flew past just above the water.

Lush vegetation along the edges of the river’s channel will soon turn brown. Smartweed and duckweed, still green, are seen here. – Judy Schneider photo

     It was the plant filled water near the surface which soon had the paddler’s attention. To those unfamiliar with bodies of water not flowing this time of year it looked dirty.  Potamogeton, a plant with long stems up from bottom ending in lance shaped leaves, was dead or dying near the surface.  Below it were dark clouds of soft coon tail floating up within a couple feet of the surface.  They hadn’t been noticed just a couple months before.  Covering large patches of water surface were thin layers of brown-gray scum, bacteria and fungi.  The water plants so lush all summer were undergoing eutrophication a fancy word for excessive growth and rotting.  Their dense populations in slow moving water, growth stimulated by nutrients, had crowded each other out.  Bacterial and fungal decomposers, the river’s cleanup crew, were clearing the water up.  It recurs every late summer and early fall.  In another month the surface water temperature, now 68 F, will cool to the temperature of the water on the bottom and the water column will be at equal density throughout.  Winds will cause movement and the water, surface to bottom, will mix.  Nutrients circulated up from the bottom will stimulate the growth of photosynthetic plankton and in cooler water the dissolved oxygen level will rise.  Cold water holds more dissolved gases than warmer water.  The water will soon be clear again ready for winter and another yearly cycle.  The water column turn over will occur again in the spring when winter’s colder surface water and warmer bottom water reach the same temperature.  Thoughts of these marvelous changes cycled through the Closeteer’s mind as Chris-Kerry slowly pushed on through the floating and suspended vegetation being broken down, surprisingly without unpleasant odors, just a comforting musty smell emanating from each paddle stroke.  Two hours passed in the dramatically meandering passage among walls of lush green.  Smart weed, pickerel weed, arrow head, arrow arum and reed canary grass, emergent soft wetland plants, grew out into the channel from both banks.  In some stretches the channel was only two paddle-lenths wide.  The smart weed’s  handsome two to three-feet high stems ended in spikes of off-white blossoms and dominated the near scene.  Beyond them across the wide floodplain between Danvers, Peabody, and Middleton the foliage of mature hardwoods and patches of tall pines filled the lower sky.  Still dark green they showed little color change except for a few swamp maples along the floodplain’s edges.

Ipswich River water is now cloudy over long stretches with bacteria and fungus and the vegetation they are decomposing. A very normal process in our water bodies this time of year. – Judy Schneider photo

     After being stopped by an 80-foot long, two-foot high beaver dam, the Closeteer not wanting to portage, shifted seats and ballast and headed back in his wake, this time bow first.  After all, this was a shakedown cruise for Chris-Kerry so he had to make a proper report to owner Leon.  She is tender in sailor’s parlance, tippy to landlubbers.  Then isn’t this as women are supposed to be?  Old now, hardwired with these prejudices, he knows this is nonsense.  He had just shown himself to be tippy and is often more so in other ways on land. 

     Back at Farnsworth Landing where he had stepped out a hundred times from other vessels he pulled alongside the bank near Vito’s lower step and grabbed a favorite river birch to hoist himself up and out of the canoe.  He stepped out onto the bank.  The soles of rubber sandals slipped, his grip on the tree didn’t hold.  He was again intimate with his beloved river.  He started wet and would drive home wet having proven himself tippy.  What should he report to owner Leon about Chris-Kerry?    

*Chris for Christine Sandulli, president of the board of directors, and Kerry for Kerry Mackin, past executive director, of the Ipswich River Watershed Association   




  Precipitation Data* for Month of:  June July Aug Sept
  30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 3.95 3.89 3.37 3.77
   2017 Central Watershed Actual  6.08 3.43 1.22 2.7 as of Sept 29

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

 For Sept 29, 2017  Normal . . . 8.1 CFS             Current Rate  . . . 1.68 CFS


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

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

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>