Water Closet for October 7, 2016
[pullquote]”The walking on spongy sphagnum moss among tuffs of knee high sedges, rushes and low bushes isn’t easy. Stepping feels like walking on a bouncy lumpy mattress.”[/pullquote]Clearly visible from high ledge and knoll in northern Middleton are two true bogs, one of six and the other of thirteen flat acres. These low areas nestled in oak covered uplands were post glacial ponds that have been slowly filled since the half-mile thick ice of the last continental ice sheet melted. An excavation of a swamp for the new Howe-Manning school a few years ago gave us a hint of how slowly these ponds and peat bogs have been filled in by plants growing out from the edges, catching some sediment in runoff, then dying and becoming pickled in the anaerobic and acidic conditions. The one meter thick black muck deposits near the school that accumulated since the ice left 10,000 plus years ago are very high in organic matter. One meter = 1000 mm divided by 10,000 years = 0.1 mm or about the thickness of a piece of paper each year. From rough measurements we think the two bog deposits may average about a meter or more in thickness. The peat moss and other bog plants will, in time, develop into peat similar to that still dug for fuel in Ireland and here when wood became scarce in the 18th and 19th centuries. In years beyond imagination, if deeply covered and subject to pressure, the bog deposits may become coal.
All these thoughts were with us on the last day of September when the four month drought experienced here allowed us to cross the bogs without getting our feet wet. The water table has descended. The dense plants’ bases of the usually saturated bogs were barely damp. Let’s hope this week’s rain will help them and all our soils get wetter. Now upland soils a few inches under leaf litter are powder dry. We are able to walk on many of our swamps and long stretches of stream bottoms, even in the river.
The walking on spongy sphagnum moss among tuffs of knee high sedges, rushes and low bushes isn’t easy. Stepping feels like walking on a bouncy lumpy mattress. The fourteen Middleton Council on Aging/Conservation Commission (COA/CC) Friday morning walkers didn’t let that stop them. Cranberries were picked and photos taken of their vines, insect catching pitcher plants, and bog skirting red maples. This dry fall those red maple leaves are a striking purple. Hikers swapped stories of 2000 year old corpses found pickled in acid bogs in Europe. The carbonic acid dissolves the bones and tans the skin into black leather. One found in Denmark had a noose around his neck. Our two bogs are not fluid enough to take us under. Some wondered about this. After a half hour admiring plants such as leather leaf, aromatic myrica gale, and pitcher plants, we stepped among the bog circling alders, swamp azaleas, and pepper bushes and climbed out on the thin top soil blanketing firm ledge. Off the soft peat substrate thousands of years old, we found ourselves again supported by igneous rock hundreds of millions of years old. The granitic rock was once magma under three mile high volcanic mountain ranges now worn down.
From the larger most diverse of the two bogs, the old hikers meandered under white and red oaks fifty or so years of age. Their single trunks from acorns compared with multiple trunks from cut stumps, rusting barbed wire on posts along stonewall bounds, and thin soils told us that the land mid last century was open, very poor pasture. Cows visited the bogs when the dryer uplands were grazed low. Most of the acres we hiked on are protected by the Essex County Greenbelt Association and Anne Cote who sold the Greenbelt thirty acres at a bargain price. Stream Teamers and Middleton trails people dubbed the area Anne’s Land. Anne Cote is a town leader in many more areas than land preservation.
On our largely trail-less walk we soon came upon a twenty acre patch of woods swept by fire several years ago. Thin barked young pines and stressed small oaks and some bushes were killed. The up and down ledgy land with less understory and ground cover due to fire pruning is now more open and pleasing to the eye. It reminded us of the yearly Indian burns we’ve read about. If towns copied the Indians’ example as practice for their fire folks we too could have the savanna-like fields of berries and grasses the early colonists found within twenty miles of the coasts upon arrival. The wet bogs and other wetlands didn’t burn. During King Philip’s War the Indians would often retreat to them upon being attacked. Later when the Indians were long gone the charcoal makers cut them for fuel to smelt bog iron.
The old Closeteer suggested to a former Middleton fire chief that town woods and fields from time to time be subject to controlled burns in early spring and fall thus producing richer wildlife habitat. In our century Smoky the Bear’s policies have prevailed and still do. Getting back to our subject, maybe towns are fearful of becoming bogged down in litigation. If officials, developers and lawyers accompanied us on our back-to-nature hikes maybe there would be more understanding and fewer disputes concerning the environment. Certainly more local natural and social history should be taught in schools and outside on woodland, bog and swamp walks.
The Middleton Stream Team’s fall hike for all will be on Sunday, October 23rd. Fall and winter hikes follow. Please visit MST’s on line site for more information. The COA/CC hikes mentioned are from 8:30 to 10:30 each Friday year ‘round.
WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD`
|Precipitation Data* for Month of:||July||Aug||Sep||Oct|
|30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches||3.89||3.37||3.77||4.40|
|2016 Central Watershed Actual||1.41||2.14||2.4**||1.1**as of Oct 4|
Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For Oct 4, 2016 Normal . . . 7.8 CFS Current Rate . . .8.7 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 Sep and Oct.
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