Category Archives: Water Closet Blog

LEST WE FORGET

Water Closet for February 24, 2017

“A Euro type confederation might be formed called the United Islands of the West Indies (UIWI). Coral reefs, turtles, bird migration flyways and fisheries would be protected by UIWI swat teams in fast catamarans, their base in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.”

Note: The following was written in the immediate aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in January 2011. The Middleton Stream Team hopes there will be renewed debate in congress and throughout the country on the use of fossil fuels.
LEST WE FORGET ( Reprinted from January 7, 2011)
Who remembers Ixtoc I? Certainly we remember Deepwater Horizon and Exxon Valdez even while memories of those accidents too quickly fade. In all three oil was released into the sea in massive amounts; Deepwater Horizon leaked eighteen times more crude into the Gulf of Mexico than did Exxon Valdez into Prince William Sound. In 1979 Ixtoc I, a BP well off the state of Compeche, Mexico, lost roughly three-fourths of its Deepwater Horizon record 200 million gallons. Some estimates are that 75% of BP’s oil is still out there in forms and whereabouts not fully known.

Deepwater Horizon disaster 2010. Gulf of Mexico. This was one of but thousands of oil wells off the Gulf Coast. – photo courtesy of Pixabay

We were reminded of these environmental disasters this past week (January 2011) on hearing from Pamela Beaubien, longtime friend of the Water Closet who is excited about an upcoming ecotourism trip to Costa Rica. This grandmother who has been to Pakistan and most of South Asia is as worried as a school girl about who her as yet unknown roommate will be? Her Road Scholars’ tour group and many others go to beautiful Costa Rica because much of the country’s area is wildlife preserve. There is no standing army. Upon hearing about her planned trip we got out the Closet’s atlas as we argued about whether Costa Rica is on the Gulf of Mexico or the Caribbean Sea. We thought it ironic that Costa Rica, Mecca for environmentalists and naturalists around the world, might be on a body of water where two of mankind’s greatest and most careless accidents had occurred. The evening after Pamela’s email we watched Ray Suarez of PBS’s News Hour interview Dr. Jane Lubchenco, Director of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, about Deepwater Horizon, the story of the year.

Great Egret on marsh damaged by crude oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster. – photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region via Wkipedia Commons

Before we continue, let’s review the geography of the area. Costa Rica isn’t on the Gulf of Mexico. Its eastern shore abuts the Caribbean Sea; on the west coast, over high mountains, twice that length is washed by the Pacific. Is the Gulf part of the Caribbean Sea? The Mexican name has both connecting bodies of water in El Mar Caribe. Suarez asked Lubchenco if the oil still lingering in the Gulf would eventually get flushed out into the Atlantic. She said there is a loop current coming in and going out so there is some exchange. Back to the atlas we went to look for current arrows on the maps. Sweeping west across the Atlantic from Africa come the warm surface waters of the North Equatorial Currents, which flow between the many islands of the Lesser Antilles on into the Caribbean Sea. The broad current continues west south of Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic-Haiti, Jamaica and then Cuba, the longest of the Greater Antilles. The Antilles swing north then westward in a 1600 mile arc from Trinidad just off South America to the tip of Cuba which points toward the Yucatan Peninsula. Upon passing northward between the Yucatan and Cuba the current enters the Gulf of Mexico. It then turns easterly north of Cuba and south of Florida on to the Bahamas where it merges with the Gulf Stream, which flows on north to us, warming and affecting weather.
How long will residual oil remain in the Gulf? Lubchenco didn’t know but guesses “years or decades.” One big concern is the oil on the bottom of the Gulf around the capped well and beyond. One estimate has a “kill zone” there of 80-square miles of bottom thickly covered with oil, about a third the area of Essex County. In late November 2010 4200-square miles of the Gulf were closed to shrimping because of tar balls found in nets and on the surface. All these estimates are very approximate. It will be years, if ever, before all the areas affected and the long term effects are known.
We have an idealistic scheme for civilian Pamela and North and South American and UN officials visiting Costa Rica. Cultivate contacts and then urge Costa Rica to serve as environmental consultant and perhaps even cop for the Caribbean and its western extension, the Gulf of Mexico. The deal might be: we warriors will protect you from foreign bother if you with our monetary help act as park ranger to the Caribbean’s ecosystems. Think of what might be done with such aid to governments in the West Indies in amounts spent each week in Afghanistan and Iraq. With that money the islands, with Costa Rican and Cuban help, could protect the environment while promoting ecotourism. Transport for tourists would be by sail and solar powered vessels. A Euro type confederation might be formed called the United Islands of the West Indies (UIWI). Coral reefs, turtles, bird migration flyways and fisheries would be protected by UIWI swat teams in fast catamarans, their base in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The western world brutally exploited the Caribbean, Haiti perhaps the most, for five centuries. Now it is time for reparations that benefit all from booming Brazil and Venezuela in the south to our Gulf States in the north. We would all help the islands for our mutual benefit. Crazy dreams you might say, but how else are we to solve global environmental problems without bold moves? Thus far Rio, Kyoto, and Copenhagen gatherings haven’t worked. ((2017. The Paris Accord is now in danger due to possible United States withdrawal.)) The world has past examples of great accomplishments. Look what Mandela peacefully did for South Africa, Gandhi for India, Roosevelt with war on two fronts, and Truman and Acheson with the Marshall Plan after WWII. Oscar Arias, President of Costa Rica 1986 to 1990 and 2006 to 2010, won the Noble Prize in 1987 for successfully negotiating peace among neighboring countries. Humans are capable of doing big and wondrous things. It takes inspired leadership and responsible people.
We old timers can remember the hope felt by much of the world back in 1945 when the United Nations was formed. It is high time for another idealistic move outside the bag of traditional “self interest,” the mantra of state departments and foreign ministries around the world. We have long known that the interests of all are intertwined especially in the case of environmental problems that should have no national bounds. Let’s look at these arcs of islands and seas ringed by continents not as arbitrary political entities but rather as migration flyways, nursery beaches for turtles, continental shelves, deep ocean trenches, tidal flats, mangrove swamps, marshes, enriching currents, fisheries, land areas providing nourishing runoff, rookeries, coral keys and reefs, paths of hurricanes, sources of our weather, the list is endless. All these things are ours collectively; in the long run our lives depend on them. For the past half a millennium we’ve taken from them mindlessly, now we need to come together and nurture, to give back. Far out you say, we answer, yea. We want healthy birds, coral, fish, and the thousands of other organisms including us that need clean water. Let’s have an annual “Remember Ixtoc and Deepwater Horizon Day” until the dangerous oil wells are gone and cruise behemoths are replaced by smaller ships under sail and solar.
Pamela, when you and other members of your Road Scholars’ trip return please lobby for a United Islands of the West Indies (UIWI) type organization that will include the surrounding continents.
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WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD`

Precipitation Data* for Month of: Nov Dec Jan Feb
30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 4.55 4.12 3.40 3.25
   2016 Central Watershed Actual 2.68 4.41 4.02 3.1**as of Feb 17

Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For Feb 17, 2017  Normal . . . 61CFS     Current Rate . . . 43 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Jan.
** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for Feb..
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

SCHOONER DESIGNER, BUILDER, AND TEACHER

Water Closet for February 17, 2017

“Burnham has given us three lovely schooners in the Thomas E. Lannon and the pinkies Fame and Ardelle that take out folks in the warmer months from area ports. “

Just east of us in Essex 11th generation shipwright Harold Burnham still builds wooden schooners in much the same way his ancestors and many others along our coast did for 200 years. The other night at Michaels Harborside restaurant in the once famous shipbuilding city of Newburyport, Burnham was guest of the Friends of the venerable Lowell’s Boat Shop in Amesbury. He spoke to the Friends with enthusiasm about the old fashioned skills he has become famous for. About six years ago the Closeteer, a long time admirer of schooners and a fan of Burnham’s, and a friend made an unannounced visit to the shipbuilder’s cluttered shipyard, a back yard sloping to tidewater on the Essex River in Essex, where a lovely pinky schooner named Ardelle was being built. Friendly Burnham greeted the old strangers and let explore at will and even to climb seemingly rickety staging. it was no doubt perfectly good staging but what staging isn’t questionable to rickety old guys in their 80s. The visitors climbed to where a couple of helpers were fastening the last planks of the about fifty foot long handsome hull of a type common two centuries ago. The Ardelle is a pinky (pointed at both ends) schooner, of a type once called Chebacco boats for the old name of the eastern part of Ipswich before it became Essex. The Middleton Steam Teamers spent a happy hour marveling at the heavy oak frames and planks being fastened with wooden trunnels (corruption of tree nails) to them. Except for the modern tools it was an 1820 scene. Some of the tools scattered about were jury rigged for their jobs. No one lectured them on safety or restrictions. A couple of times boss shipwright Burnham took the time to kindly answer their questions. They treasure that time with a talented man sharing the genes of scores of shipbuilders going back three centuries.

Pinky schooner Ardelle is seen here being built the old way in Essex by shipbuilder and designer Harold Burnham and crew. The ship can be clearly seen from the Essex Shipbuilding Museum nearby. – Middleton Stream Team photo

While talented, Burnham when a grammar school student was infamous for his messy old fashioned classroom desk with a hinged top. One of his teachers now living in Middleton, told us of teachers becoming so exasperated with young Harold they tipped his desk upside down to dump its untidy collection out. From that clutter as well as from that in his ship yard has come beauty. In school his mind was no doubt on more important projects.
Essex in the mid-19th century had 15 yards putting out schooners for the Gloucester fishing fleet. Burnham built dories as a lad under the watchful eye of family and another Essex shipwright of the Story family. He still calls his schooners “boats”; some picky about words call them ships. Burnham seems not to have a bit of picky in him. He talked to the audience at Michaels straight forwardly in words all could understand. His enthusiasm and good nature stimulated many chuckles. For some time now he has been helping to restore, refurbish, rebuild, replace, and salvage the famous schooner Effie M. Morrissey; later the Ernestina-Morrissey and now usually just Ernestina, for history and education and the fun of doing it. Burnham is obviously happy with what he does from designing vessels to finding logs for his sawmill where they are cut to size. He and his helpers put the heavy curved pieces together as in days of yore, in open air, often on freezing days.
Helping patch Effie-Ernestina for the half-dozenth time in a century was the subject of his slide-talk with his Lowell Boat Shop fans.
Effie was built in 1894 by Tarr and James Company, shipbuilding neighbors of the Burnhams on the river. She dory-fished out of Gloucester until 1926 when she went exploring in the arctic with Captain Robert Bartlett who in Burnham’s words “had an affinity for the ice.” Like all wooden vessels the Ernestina was continuously rotting and loosening up here and there. The old joke about boats being holes in the water to throw money in has long been certainly true for owners. British 18th century frigates were good for less than 20 years. The Constitution is forever being overhauled as have been the Ernestina and another of Gloucester’s champion schooners, the Adventure, on which Stream Teamer Glenn Bambury’s father Tom fished mid last century.
The Ernestina is now in a Boothbay Harbor, Maine, yard being made seaworthy for her owner the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Burnham has long been active in her revival. After his talk, he fielded questions about the expense and whether a ship with a tiny percent of her original wood that had sailed in the Atlantic from Cape Verde to northern Greenland and among the South Pacific Island was worth the trouble. She in her beginning 30 years was a “high liner”; her first fishing trip alone paid for her construction. After exploring in the arctic with the famous Bob Bartlett she continued to serve under him in WWII transporting military supplies and surveyors to arctic bases until 1945. After the war she was engaged in the packet trade among the Cape Verde Islands and America. She was given by the Government of Cape Verde to the United States in 1997.
Many of Burnham’s listeners hearing of Ernestina’s frequent hospitalization and transplants from keel to mast wondered about holes in the water for money. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to build anew, using the same lines? When indirectly asked about this Burnham talked eloquently for several minutes about her place in the world and the importance of getting kids out on the water for a glimpse of history on this famous beauty now owned by Massachusetts, by New England, and by many with a stake in her continuance. Burnham has given us three lovely schooners in the Thomas E. Lannon and the pinkies Fame and Ardelle that take out folks in the warmer months from area ports. Look them up online to see their schedules and photos. Captain Harold Burnham may not be your skipper on the sail but his spirit will certainly be on board from the keel up into the topsails. Before or after sailing visit Essex and see where they were born. The fine Essex Shipbuilding Museum next to Burnham’s yard will provide the details.
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WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD`

Precipitation Data* for Month of: Nov Dec Jan Feb
30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 4.55 4.12 3.40 3.25
   2016-2017 Central Watershed Actual 2.68 4.41 4.02 1.7**as of Feb 10

Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For Feb 10, 2017  Normal . . . 61CFS     Current Rate . . . 30 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Jan.
** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for Feb..
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

OAKS AND HISTORY

Water Closet for February 10, 2017

“Early on before agriculture and sophisticated tools acorns provided a staple food for peoples in the temperate latitudes of the planet.”

Over much of the Ipswich River Watershed and far beyond, the sky is connected to the earth by trees. Yearly the ground is filled with water thanks to fifty or so inches of rain and melted snow. The plants via roots, stems and leaves carry much back to the air. The dominant tree species by far making up our area’s woods are oaks which in summer shade four-fifths of the forest’s floor. We only ever see half or less of their masses above the soil; the roots are hidden except for those of fallen trees tipped skyward. Root systems permeate the soil well out beyond the drip edges of the tree’s crown and from the surface downward several feet. The roots branch repeatedly getting smaller and smaller until ending in many millions of microscopic root tips that grow at temperatures above 40 degrees F. In so doing they twist, turn around soil particles, and absorb water for living tissues throughout the plant. Entwined with these tiny roots is an intimate labyrinth of fungal hyphae that share nutrients and water in relationships called symbiosis.

Red Oak rising 80 feet toward the light and sky. Water is being pulled up by leaves in tubular tissue beneath the bark. – Judy Schneider photo

Last year’s dead oak leaves now cover the forest floor. The fallen leaves pave the soils’ surfaces like flexible tiles, now several shades of lovely brown. 2016 was a mast year (lots of nuts) for many oaks. On the Stream Team’s Winter Hike in late January photographer and animal lover Elaine Gauthier exclaimed, “The acorns in places feel like marbles under foot. My donkey loves them, just vacuums them right up.” Deer, blue jays, turkeys, voles, and squirrels also like them. The jays are famous for carrying acorns away and burying them separately for later meals. One study has them recovering only one of four they hide. The oaks much profit by this seeming inefficiency. As a result oaks spread relatively quickly across the land. This and more was learned from what is now a treasured gift.

Inside each of these tiny fruits called acorns is a seed those cells contain the instructions (DNA) to make a mighty tree that might live 100s of years. The acorn on the lower is one of thousands from a White Oak tree. The larger one in the center is from a Red Oak. – Judy Schneider photo

The old Closeteer, long an admirer of oaks, received a book for Christmas entitled Oak: The Frame of Civilization by arborist William Bryant Logan (W. W. Norton and Co., 2005). After finishing its 300 pages about acorns and the people who ate them, about oak forests and the people who cut and used their wood and bark, and about much more, he can’t wait to share with friends. Logan has added tenfold to the Closeteer’s knowledge of oaks and people. Sprinkled among the author’s invariably fine sentences are gems of botany, history and philosophy along with expressions arising from oak and its users. “In for the long haul”, describing a person who perseveres despite difficulties, came from hauling oak with oxen and horses from sources to coastal shipyards. The mighty timbers carved out where the trees had stood involved whole neighborhoods in stripping bark for tanning, felling trees and shaping the timbers to the ship’s needs with axes, gathering chips for fuel and finally difficult days of transport on poor roads.

Famous Curtis Oak on Peabody Street in Middleton. Some guess this five-foot diameter White Oak is over 400 years. The owners of the land kept it from the shipbuilders for three centuries. – Judy Schneider photo, February 2017

Logan from his imagined perches in the crowns of oaks and from tunnels down among their roots sees forests and people long entwined. He then weaves human history, biology, evolution, continental drift, and carpentry into seamless baskets of information that make sense and has us wanting more. After a super chapter on the coopers’ practical art, their medium oak, he writes: “Industry did to craft what Babylonian agriculture did to hunting and gathering. It caused a tremendous increase in output, but at high human and environmental cost. Industry often starts as a liberator but ends as a slaver because it cannot control itself.” Barrels and buckets are now machine molded or of stamped plastic.   A few sentences later he ties in the value of craftsmanship: “Human beings show restraint when they value, worship, and respect what they encounter. Value comes from understanding, and from understanding intimacy. Humans in the age of oak had to confront the resistance of their materials every day. Memory reason and skill wove a world of oak.” Ships, cathedrals, and millions of essential barrels and buckets were made well by skilled craftsmen. Logan wisely goes on about much more than basic materials and tools. He rings the world with ships of oak.
Oak was the material of beautiful Viking ships that flexed like fish and gave ships more speed. Later the mighty British merchant marine and navy of thousands of oaken ships took over much of the world. Logan tells of the oak’s characteristics and the details of construction that provided the great strength needed in stormy, uneven seas. When he writes of England we must remember that here was once England. Our first ship builders, immigrants happy in a new land of many oak trees, and later generations launched thousands of ships from New England’s shores. It was the builders who knew of both trees and ships as good blacksmiths know of iron and the requirements of what they fashion. Middleton has a craftsman-artist who works intimately with iron and wood to make fine tools and now and then a whimsical sculpture. His materials come from scrap steel and sometimes logs from his firewood pile. The Closeteer while reading this book often thought of Carl Close and his forge and cellar shop out of which have come beautiful tools, wooden buckets, snow shoes, and even steam engines. Logan much admires such people who bring “memory, reason, and skill” into making things.

The Curtis Oak, Middleton, with owners, friend, and pets. Arthur Curtis (left), Joseph Reed, and Ernest Curtis (right) circa 1960. The Curtis brothers were farmers and owners of nearby water powered sawmill. Reed worked with them. – Courtesy of Carl Close

Early on before agriculture and sophisticated tools acorns provided a staple food for peoples in the temperate latitudes of the planet where oaks grow. The Indians of California were husking and grinding acorns for flour up until their demise a century ago. It was also an important food here for the Agawams and Naumkeags before the English wood cutters took their trees for ships, buildings and firewood. If you want to try acorn flour you’ll find it in Korean markets. It is tasteless but more filling over longer periods than grains. The Indians and Logan in his trials added supplements such as insects and berries to get some taste. Acorns were a perfect food for hunter-gatherers; they stored well for long periods in both dry caches and those alongside cold streams.
The author’s history and botany in Oak will strengthen and expand our minds, and last long within them. It is the best book on trees and the cultures that have long depended on them the Closeteer has read. Try it; we’ve only chipped away a bit at its many branches here.
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WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD`

Precipitation Data* for Month of: Nov Dec Jan Feb
30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 4.55 4.12 3.40 3.25
   2016 Central Watershed Actual 2.68 4.41 5.6** 0.1**as of Feb 3

Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For Feb 3, 2017  Normal . . . 64CFS     Current Rate . . . 50 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Dec.
** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for Jan and Feb..
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

UP, DOWN, AND OUT THE MERRIMACK

Water Closet for February 3, 2017

“What may amaze modern folks the most was the inclusion of his son from an early age in his often dangerous work. At five Henry, Jr. was on the water with Father. “

A remarkable new book entitled Up-River, Down-River, and Out-to-Sea (2016) was received by the old Closeteer as 2017 began. Author Henry H. Woodard, Jr. tells us stories of his upbringing in the Merrimack River estuary and Atlantic waters between the Isles of Shoals and Cape Ann. His father, always Father with a capital F, was a commercial fisherman and perhaps the most admired man in Salisbury by us boys growing up there. Henry, Sr., had boats and a fish market open 24/365 that made money even during the great depression. He provided many men on Rings Island full or part time work. What may amaze modern folks the most was the inclusion of his son from an early age in his often dangerous work. At five Henry, Jr. was on the water with Father. By ten when not in school he was actively involved with the commercial fishing business in the “Fish House” and on boats. His skillful father and helpers taught him the ropes right down to the number of manila strands per line. Woodard well remembered those days ages four to mid-twenties when he learned intimately of tides, currents, waves, bottom topography, eddies, storms, and of a score of fish species and their vulnerabilities from experts educated on local waters. All this schooling occurred in dynamic places in and near the tricky mouth of the mighty Merrimack River where tides twice daily flooded and ebbed, rose and fell and combined fresh currents from as far away as northern New Hampshire with cold clean salt water. These areas of tidal mixings are called estuaries, very rich habitats indeed for all creatures including boys and girls. They are the places of clams, clammers, sea worm diggers, spawning fish in season, fishermen, migrating birds, duck hunters, bird watchers and in Woodard’s and the Closeteer’s boyhood, the last of the salt hay makers.

Henry Woodard, Jr., was over ninety when he finished his book of lively stories from the 1920s through the 1940s. They are as fresh as when he lived them. – Woodard family archives

Woodard like many kids early to mid-20th century, and no doubt before, had almost complete freedom to roam and discover the estuaries and their ever changing conditions. From them he brought back minnows, eels, muskrats, ducks, clams and driftwood for his neighbors’ stoves. The salt marshes were within 12-gauge shot range from the young “gunner’s” house on Rings Island, a 70 acre knoll of riverside ledge surrounded by salt marsh on three sides and to the south the river. On nor’easters at high tides it is truly an island. Spare hours between school and work with his father were spent swimming, hunting, skating, trapping muskrats, hiking, rowing in marsh cricks, ice cake riding, and hunting for treasures in drift debris along the shores. His was a life of high adventure thanks to his parents and the culture at the time. Old timers often go on about this freedom they had as kids. Woodard’s territory was larger than that of his peers because he frequently went up, down, and out to sea in Father’s boats. The rest of us boys who hung around Rings Island watched with envy as Henry and helpers, including young Hank, left the Ferry Slip at all hours depending on tides and the reported locations of fish. Our explorations on the water were limited to old skiffs and dories powered with oars and jury-rigged sprit sails.

The Henry Woodards of Rings Island fishing, clamming, and hunting grounds and waters. On the north side of the river in Salisbury is seen the rocky knoll that is Rings Island just east of the Route 1 Bridge. In this estuary where salt and fresh water mix are marshes, mud flats, barrier beaches and ocean. – USGS map, Newburyport quadrangle

In those days we knew lots of characters with nicknames. Rings Island had its share especially in the clam shucking shacks where words we weren’t supposed to use and gossip were heard. Woodard tells funny little stories about fellow Islanders in non-judgmental ways. Bricky drowned excess cats in weighted burlap bags, a common practice in those days. Talented fisherman Toot chewed tobacco and when at sea left brown spit on gunnels much to young Hank’s discomfort when he discovered clumps with hand or bottom. The author also sprinkles his stories with short one sentence lessons from a wise father.
Most kids even in those days hardly knew what their fathers did for a living except for those on farms and engaged in home businesses. Many went to work in local shoe factories and weren’t seen again until supper. Henry, senior, from junior’s toddlerhood, included his only son in his daily life as a successful fisherman and extraordinary sea food seller, who owned boats, trucks, clam shucking shacks, and a “Fish House”. By his late teens and early 20s young Henry could no doubt have stepped into Father’s shoes. After the Navy in WWII he went off to Dartmouth College. He later became a geologist and professor at Beloit College in Wisconsin. He left the sea’s edges but never forgot his wonderful quarter century there. His mother when his sisters weren’t around taught him how to cook fish. Henry gives us several pages of very practical methods and recipes used over three quarters of century at home in geology field camps. Fish must be fresh! Don’t overcook!

The Woodards and helpers unloading fish at the Ferry Slip, Rings Island, circa 1946. The young man in the bow is author Henry Woodard, Jr. His father is to the far right on the slip. – Woodard family archives

This reviewer considers self lucky to own Woodard’s handsome history of well written stories about a spunky hardworking lad who reveled in his salty apprenticeship. His entertaining accounts are glimpses into mid-last century of an industry which has largely gone over to large draggers at sea for only a few days a year. The stories are of an enviable father-son relationship. His Mother, always with a capital M, was equally important. She raised four daughters in addition to young Henry. She was the very able family doctor. The Closeteer as a lad and his mother knew and much liked her as did most Rings Islanders and other Salisburyites. As a farm boy the Closeteer weekly sold eggs to Angie Woodard and many others on Rings Island. Mrs. Woodard was very kind and had a delightful sense of humor. On very cold winter days she insisted that the young egg seller linger to warm up a bit before lugging his basket of fragile food on. The Woodard house, first on Ferry Road from the north, was his first stop. Two fine paintings of river scenes by her grace her son’s book which also includes many photographs from the “family archives.” While reading Woodard’s pages one can feel the presence of the whole vibrant family of seven. A large power boat built by a friend for the Woodards was christened Sevenovus.
The author describes the characteristics pros and cons of each of the Woodards’ series of power boats and explains well the details of fishing methods and equipment used. Fishermen made much of their own gear as well as maintaining their boats’ engines for propulsion and hoisting. Woodard doesn’t skimp here. He makes sure the reader understands the techniques designed to catch different fish under varying conditions. The stories the old Closeteer, brought-up in the same area, likes best are those illustrating Father’s and experienced helpers’ knowledge of where and when to look for fish. Without having formally studied tides, ecology, and animal behavior they learned what they needed to know through years of trial and error. The book describes those skills well, from catching magnificent blue fin tuna (“horse mackerel”) with harpoons and hand lines to the lowly menhaden (“porgies”) with seines. It was a more complicated business catching fish before modern fish finding gear and radar. They located positions by visual bearings and buoys and by an intimate knowledge of the sand bars, ledges and currents. The Woodard boats fished pretty much all year, often in very cold weather. The many variables encountered were ever changing. At an early age young Henry learned these and now shares them with us. He does so with personal stories about another time in a true neighborhood of about thirty houses where all knew one another. He includes the names of interesting people and specific places. The Closeteer enthusiastically recommends this valuable first hand history of very active lives in the days of prohibition, the great depression, and WWII.
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WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD`

Precipitation Data* for Month of: Oct Nov Dec Jan
30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 4.40 4.55 4.12 3.40
   2016 Central Watershed Actual 6.81 2.68 4.41 5.4**as of Jan 27

Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For Jan 27, 2017  Normal . . . 55CFS     Current Rate . . . 152 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Dec.
** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for Jan.
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

 

WATERSHEDS MIXING WITH THE GULF OF MAINE

Water Closet for January 27, 2017

“Bob Steneck, a professor in the school of marine sciences at the University of Maine, said the Penobscot Bay estuary is the largest ecosystem in Maine.”

A Stream Teamer found the following May 2016 article in The Working Waterfront about the Penobscot Watershed of interest. While some might consider this piece by Tom Groening dated as news, the subject certainly isn’t. Our Merrimack River and Ipswich River watersheds are also contributing to the warming  Gulf of Maine. Groening, editor of The Working Waterfront*, has kindly given the Middleton Stream Team permission to use his article. While the Ipswich River Watershed is much smaller than the Penobscot’s, the problems considered below are much the same.
PENOBSCOT WATERSHED CONFERENCE UNDERSCORES REGION’S     IMPACT: Environment, history and future weighed by 300 conferees
                   By Tom Groening
ON THE MAP of Maine, Penobscot Bay lies at the midpoint of the coast. It resembles the fulcrum on which the northern and southern halves pivot.

The Gulf of Maine’s water is becoming warmer, more acid, and higher. – Internet map

On the map of the Penobscot Watershed, which was used throughout the venue that hosted the Penobscot Watershed Conference on April 9, 2016, the image looms even larger. Rain falling near both the Quebec and New Brunswick borders could end up in the river and bay. Almost all of the I-95 corridor north of Bangor lies within the watershed.
Instead of a fulcrum, the water shed map looks like a tree whose spreading branches are drawing sustenance from the bay and river that share the same name.
Bob Steneck, a professor in the school of marine sciences at the University of Maine, said the Penobscot Bay estuary is the largest ecosystem in Maine.

The Penobscot River and its tributaries drain an 8610 square mile basin. Fresh water from Maine, Quebec and New Brunswick mingles and enriches seawater in the Gulf of Maine and its estuaries. – Internet map

“Our lives are affected by so much of the watershed up and down the river,” said Chellie Pingree, Maine’s 1st District Representative to Congress, speaking at the conference’s opening session.
“We know this is a critically important region to the rest of the state,” she said. “People care deeply about the health of the bay because our economies are built on tourism and fishing.”
Break-out sessions explored the watershed and bay’s marine and forest economies, the environmental health of lakes and streams, climate change and recreation.
Decisions from the past have created the current environment, speakers said, as scores of weirs along the coast reduced the fish populations. So did fishing practices.
But change is possible.
Curt Spalding, EPA administrator for New England, said the waters of Boston Harbor area were among the most toxic in the region in the 1980s, and now the cities’ beaches are among the cleanest. Environmental problems are less visible, though.
“We used to be able to do things with a court,” he said, going after one large polluter. Now there are many small discharges into the waters.

The Ipswich River watershed encompasses 155 square miles. The fresh water from it enriches the Gulf of Maine’s seawater in estuaries from Plum Island to Cape Ann. – Ipswich River Watershed Association map

A changing climate bringing higher seas and bigger storms is another pressing problem. How will communities protect low-lying infrastructure, such as wastewater treatment plants, he asked. The “pipe and treat” approach may no longer work, Spalding said.
“For most of America, climate change is a matter of fact,” he said.
Pingree, in her remarks, couched climate change in very local terms. A long time resident of North Haven Island, she said sea-level rise is “going to be devastating for the communities in Penobscot Bay.”
Seas predicted to be 3-feet higher by the end of the century could put 10 percent of North Haven’s developed community under water, she said. “That’s our ferry terminal.” J.O. Brown’s boatyard is “gone.”
The fact that the Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 95 percent of the world’s saltwater is perhaps the scariest number I’ve heard in a long time,” Pingree said.
UMaine’s Steneck compared the rivers and streams that empty into the Penobscot Bay to the human circulatory system. Parts of the watershed blocked by dams are unhealthy for the system, just as clogged arteries are. From 1800 to 2000, an average of one dam a year was built in the watershed, he said.
In one of the break-out sessions, Ted Ames of Penobscot East Resource Center recounted how Vinalhaven fishermen in 1919 landed 250,000 pounds of Pollack in a single day, but by 1935, fishing in the upper bay had collapsed. By the 1950s, cod and haddock were gone in the lower parts of the bay, and by the 1990s, the entire fishery was gone from the region.
Pingree issued the call to action in the face of new problems like ocean acidification and old ones like fishery collapse. “There are no big pots of federal money” to deal with these issues, she said, but leaders today must address these challenges.
“If not, our children and our grandchildren are going to be really angry at us.”
* Island Institute in Rockland, Maine, publishes The Working Waterfront, a monthly paper
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WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
OR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD`

Precipitation Data* for Month of: Oct Nov Dec Jan
30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 4.40 4.55 4.12 3.40
   2016 Central Watershed Actual 6.81 2.68 4.41 3.4**as of Jan 20

Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For Jan 20, 2017  Normal . . . 54 CFS     Current Rate . . . 75 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Dec.
** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for Jan.
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

THREE MILES OUT FROM RING’S ISLAND

Water Closet for January 20, 2017

“How many country boys have hundreds of acres of flats for clamming, a few hours later for sailing, swimming and fishing?”

Last week the Closeteer was the happy recipient of a book about his boyhood hiking, swimming and rowing territory. Up-River, Down-River, Out-to-Sea was written by another old timer, Henry H. Woodard, Jr., a Wisconsin geologist, who grew up in the same area of varied habitats that the Closeteer did. As a commercial fisherman’s son Woodard’s circle was larger and wetter. The purpose of this week’s essay is to lay the ground and water work for a review of Woodard’s book that may be read here next week. Woodard moved far away yet he like the Closeteer fondly remembers the place both boys took for granted.

This Ring’s Island Rowing Club Sign was moved in 2015 from Salisbury to Middleton by Middleton Stream Teamers. It had been on a historic building that was once the island’s one room school house and later its fire house. From about 1988 to 2010 it was the rowing club’s boat house. Ring’s Island, a 70 acre knoll of granite rising above salt marsh and the Merrimack River, was Salisbury’s fishing village for over three centuries. – Judy Schneider photo

Decades later it dawned on the Closeteer that he’d grown up in a boyhood heaven. Let’s put Ring’s Island, Salisbury, a place of about 35 houses, in the center of a three mile radius circle, the distance even a boy could easily walk, bicycle, or row. For longer distances in those days we hitchhiked, but let’s stay within the three miles. Ring’s Island is a 70 acre knoll of exposed granitic ledge those rock geologists say is over 400 million years old. It was surrounded by salt marches before the English built causeways out to where it rises on the north edge of the Merrimack River two miles in from the ocean. Its rocky summit is about 40 feet above mean annual high water. On high-runner tides, during northeast winds, it again becomes a true island as water covers the highways. The Closeteer remembers there were times when he was a lad that for several hours Ring’s Island was inaccessible. After some storms Ferry Road, the causeway from the north, was strewn with cord grass rafted in from the salt marshes stretching east to the barrier beaches. After those storms the roads nearest the beaches had seaweed deposited upon them that had been torn from the rocky coast’s intertidal strips. Both thatch and seaweed were gathered and used for mulch and fertilizer on the Closeteer’s grandfather’s and uncle’s farms on Ferry Road, a mile north of Woodard’s house on Ring’s Island. In colonial times Ferry Road led to one of two ferries before bridges between Newburyport and Salisbury were built across the Merrimack.

Land locked boat house in Middleton – Judy Schneider photo

The topsoil of eastern Salisbury between the marsh and higher land was graced with stone-less Merrimac sandy loam, the sand of long ago barrier beaches. The easily worked soil made cultivation easy, the effects of drought hard. On its surface arrowheads were relatively easy to find due to the absence of other stones. Around the marshes and fields were woodlots and pastures. Among these features near the coast are found Indian middens of clamshells, places where a few boys searched for stone artifacts.
Up the river’s north side from Ring’s Island, an area that was for 300 years Salisbury’s fishing village, the pattern continues, exposed ledge, then salt marsh cricks and marshes. The brackish water becomes increasingly fresher as current brings water 100 miles down from the White Mountains. We boys knew that up river there were large cities rarely if ever visited by most of us who never got past Haverhill. We didn’t get far from home in those days. The signs of the cities were too plentiful along the stinking at times river banks. Occasionally we found treasure among the discarded leather, tar, grease, timbers and unmentionables. We especially liked to find dead birds with leg bands that were sent to the Feds for acknowledgement and a map showing where they had been banded, or as skeletons for our smelly collections we called museums. Then there were odd shaped pieces of driftwood our mothers liked. Now and then we’d find a boat.
South across the river from Ring’s Island was Newburyport, a small city, but in its seafaring days one with a worldwide reputation as a trading port and place where many ships were built from oak and pine logs floated down the Merrimack or later brought in by ship. Newburyport is still there; however, what boys in their early explorations would like boutiques, fancy restaurants and antique shops? As older teenagers we discovered girls who went to Newburyport High. Before TV there were two movie theatres we might take them to. Now only a few commercial fishing boats and many fiberglass pleasure boats are in the once busy port. Woodard’s boats were built of local wood. The large sailing ships and shipyards of yore, 17th through 19th centuries, have long been gone. Bluefin tuna were brought in now and then; those huge beautiful fish and their champion catchers like Billy Packer provided some excitement.
Let’s get back to the center of all this at Ring’s Island. By the way, many of the islanders snootily thought of themselves as Newburyporters not Salisburyites. Guess they wanted to be city slickers not shit kickers.   It was certainly a Mecca for us boys after school and chores. If not swimming in the river or nearby Mill Crick or climbing the Island’s quarry walls we could leave the Ferry Slip at Ring’s Island or Pettengill’s Crick from salt marsh moorings and row or sail on the tides to Plum Island, to the clam flats and to exposed bars like the Humpsands and to favorite flounder fishing spots. If seas were calm and tides right we’d risk exiting the mouth of the Merrimack between the jetties into the Atlantic in our skiffs and dories.

The mouth of the Merrimack River and surrounds were the play grounds of Salisbury and Newburyport kids who explored the salt marshes, tidal flats, barrier beaches and river on foot and in small boats. Arrow points to Ring’s Island. – Newburyport quadrangle, – USGS map

How many country boys have hundreds of acres of flats for clamming, a few hours later for sailing, swimming and fishing? Six to eight feet vertically above the low tide flats are 1000s of acres of salt marshes spreading north to Hampton River, Seabrook, and south to Ipswich. Networks of meandering cricks in the marshes allow never boring explorations. Surprises might wait around each bend. In the winter thick ice cakes floating in them provided for a dangerous sport called ice cake jumping, a sport not recommended. The duck hunters among us much liked the salt marshes. A few farmers still mowed portions for cattle fodder and mulch. Many of us explored them year-round stalking birds passing along our famous migration flyway. They were our prairies. Here is a poem included a couple times in the Water Closet before. It is about the diverse habitats encountered during dawdling hikes, rows, sails, and cross country ski trips by kids lucky enough to live in an estuary. Places author Woodard knew well and hasn’t forgotten.
Looking for Arrowheads
We often did this fallow field
Eyes in competition down
Sharp out for glint of flint
A chip, a flake, a sign
Or perhaps the product still intact
We’d found them here before.
Hope rose anew and held us
To our random downcast wander.
Perhaps just to be there was enough
Salt hay smells joined those of the woods
Across the marsh the river shone
Always beckoning to us boys.
After rains we sought again
Surface rocks stood in relief
Each must be checked for telltale marks.
I still look down in kindred fields
Without much hope of much to find
But out of habit from another time
When cool spring soil met naked feet
My full attention on soil’s skin
Seeking signs of those before.
_______________________________________________________________________________

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

Precipitation Data* for Month of: Oct Nov Dec Jan
30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 4.40 4.55 4.12 3.40
   2016 Central Watershed Actual 6.81 2.68 4.41 2.3**as of Jan 13

Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For Jan 13, 2017  Normal . . . 50 CFS     Current Rate . . . 94 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Dec.
** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for Jan.
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 LITTLE KNOWN VALLEY, ONE OF MANY

Water Closet for January 13, 2017

“In constructing this system over almost two decades they have provided shallow, sunny open ponds for other animals, a pattern replicated countless times in the northeast now the beavers are back. “

The Cudhea-Prichard family of Middleton and beyond have for decades provided conservation land for plants, animals and for us to visit. Three generations of the family have given about 500 acres in Middleton to the town, the state and Greenbelt. On the last Friday of 2016 the Council of Aging/Conservation Commission hikers walked some of these conservation lands on an inch of glistening new snow under trees whose twigs, branches and trunks were decorated with coatings of sparkling ice. It had rained, cooled and snowed in the night. The results were played on by sunlight as the intrepid group hiked to the Cudheas’ Cottage on Prichards Pond and then on to a 165 foot long, six foot high, concrete dam that was built early last century by Charles Prichard. The dam across Boston Brook resulted in a one-third mile long “Pleasure Pond” for his family. During the great Mother’s Day Flood of 2006 a 30 x 2 x 2 feet section of the dam was torn from the top. The pond level fell 2 feet. That fall the beavers who occupied the pond built a new 36 foot long arc just above the breach which restored the water level to where it had been. Each fall since they have replaced their section when needed.

This, the fourth dam below three dams above that cross Cudhea Crick, was built this fall. The surface of the three acre impoundment above it is four feet higher than that of the brook below. – Pamela Hartman photo

The man-made beaver-patched structure was not the hikers’ goal. Three hundred feet downstream from Prichards Dam a tributary enters Boston Brook from the north. The Middleton Stream Team dubbed this four-fifths mile long brook Cudheas’ Crick. The rough narrow stream drops 40 feet from its headwater swamp en route to Boston Brook. The hikers turned north and trudged along the west ridge of the crick’s valley headed upstream for a system of four beaver dams that cross the crick in its upper 1000 feet. The use of the words valley and ridge bring to mind mountainous terrain. The ridges flanking this crick are only 30 to 60 feet above the brook’s floodplain, which is only a few hundred feet wide at its widest parts. No one except perhaps Stream Teamers would even call this wrinkle in the topography a “valley.” The terrain is typical of glacier- sculpted hills of ledge and sediment with drainages down between them. In the livestock grazing days the treeless ridge-valley topography in plain view was probably much more appreciated. Now the whole northern part of town embracing the crick’s watershed is shaded by patches of mature pines and many hardwoods, the latter mostly oaks. Before the beavers returned in the mid 1990s after a hiatus of three hundred years their present shallow impoundments called “beaver meadows” were red maple swamps. To those who see trees as only trees the wet lowlands were just woods. In the winter the lack of leaves give admirers a greater idea of what the rough pastures were like before the trees returned.

This beaver lodge in a 50 acre impoundment above four dams has housed 4 to 6 occupants each year. Generations of beavers have been building and maintaining a series of dams in Cudhea Crick since 2003. Before the beavers the impoundment was a shady red maple swamp. The year-round-water killed the maples; some of their still standing corpses are seen here. – Pamela Hartman photo

Because of the rough nature of the boulder strewn land the old hikers proceeded with care. Almost 400 hundred years ago the English came with hard-hoofed livestock who thrived in the savannah-like land near the coast that had been kept open perhaps for millennia by yearly Indian fires. Sharp hooves and close grazing endangered the thin eight to twelve inches of topsoil that had accumulated on the uplands for 10,000 years since the retreat of the glacier. The black organic soil is much thicker in the lowlands. In overgrazed places of upland the runoff from heavy rains picked up the hoof-stirred loam and carried it down slope where it settled in the wetlands. Many of the rougher higher areas in our towns have little topsoil hence ledges and the exposed boulders left by the glacier are readily seen. It was not like this when the Indians, not cursed by livestock, hunted in the savannah and engaged in agriculture in the river bottoms here. Often in the 17th century free ranging hogs and cattle caused serious problems for both colonists and the few surviving Indians. Many complaints at selectmen meetings had to do with the voracious grazers and soil breakers. The forest is back; the livestock are gone. In undeveloped areas new topsoil very slowly forms from rotting leaves, twigs, and fallen trees. Along streams such as sections of Cudhea’s Crick, fast flow has carried sediment on down to larger brooks and the slow flowing rivers. The floodplain along steeper, faster flowing sections has little muck and many exposed boulders where bushes and briars thrive among the trees. The walkers stayed on the rough slopes to the west as they slowly proceeded northward up the valley.

Three of a series of four dams across Cudhea Crick. Dams hold water in watersheds as well as providing rich wildlife habitat. – Donna Bambury photo

About a fifth of a mile from the headwater wetland they encountered the last to be built dam across a narrow place in the channel. The 25 foot wide structure was built this past fall. The head, vertical distance between the new pond’s surface above the dam and the brook’s surface below, is three feet; the 500 foot long impoundment formed above it covers about two acres. Around and over moss and lichen covered rocks the now tired hikers moved carefully on. After 250 more feet a familiar well-maintained dam 20 feet long crosses the crick. This dam’s head is one foot, its impoundment one-tenth an acre. Then 60 feet further on is yet another dam 40 feet long and three feet high. Its height had been increased in the fall when many beaver dams are raised a bit. The resulting pond above it covers three-fourths acre. And finally our main goal on such hikes up Cudhea Crick hove into view. It is an 80 foot long dam that we’ve admired since the beginning of the millennium. This was the first dam in this drainage to be built in modern times. Every few years the furry engineers and contractors add a few inches; it is now six or more feet deep. Along its muddy top and downstream slope is a thicket of pepper bushes and other water loving plants. The first logs and sticks used to make the dam have rotted and become part of an earthen structure 12 feet wide at its base. New branches are added as needed on the downstream side each year. More mud is plastered on the upstream gentle slope. Ten years ago after a substantial rain the old Closeteer found a two foot wide notch one foot deep, freshly cut in the dam’s top center. The beavers’ lodge 200 feet upstream in the dam’s 60 acre or so impoundment had been in danger of having its apartment floor flooded. The inhabitants went forth and notched the dam to lower the water to a depth a few inches below their floor. We wonder what language or signs are used to organize such actions.

Cudhea Crick dam. Beavers often make them higher in the fall. – Donna Bambury photo

This 1000 foot stretch of crick draining 250 or so acres of watershed has a series of dams holding water back so that the 50 pound rodent engineers and families can safely swim and float food branches and others for dam and lodge construction, place to place. In the winter due to higher water there is room beneath the ice to swim in. In constructing this system over almost two decades they have provided shallow, sunny open ponds for other animals, a pattern replicated countless times in the northeast now the beavers are back. At times during spring and fall visits, we’ll spook hundreds of migrating ducks resting and feeding. The list of animals including birds, mammals, amphibians, insects, and crustaceans profiting from beaver impoundments and their sunlight is impressive.

165 foot long Prichard Pond dam of concrete was build a century ago across Boston Brook. – Donna Bambury photo

These elaborate systems of transformation are found throughout New England now that beavers are protected. After a cold snap we’ll return and walk on the impoundments’ ice and marvel at the unseen life, active and sleeping, in the mud and rotting red maple logs below. Much is resting as are our minds in such places. Before visiting leave cell phones and pocket computers at home.
_______________________________________________________________________________

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

Precipitation Data* for Month of: Oct Nov Dec Jan
30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 4.40 4.55 4.12 3.40
   2016 Central Watershed Actual 6.81 2.68 4.8** 1.0**as of Jan 3

Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For Jan 5, 2017  Normal . . . 55 CFS     Current Rate . . .103 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Nov.
** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for Dec & Jan.
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

CIVIL WAR AROUND BOSTON HARBOR

Water Closet for January 6, 2017

“Philbrick takes no sides; as a good historian he just tells us what happened month to month and day to day as the two sides uttered often unwise words on both sides of the Atlantic and then stumbled into war.”

In his new book Bunker Hill, Nathaniel Philbrick has proven once again that “the devils are in the details.” He did so for the Pilgrims a decade ago in his wonderful history and bestseller, Mayflower. Bunker Hill is about the beginning of the revolution by our New England ancestors. An Arlington friend gave this book of 300 well written pages and 100 pages of notes to the old Closeteer after a discussion about Philbrick’s Mayflower.   Bunker Hill, a “masterpiece” according to a Boston Globe review, is about far more than the battle that actually took place on Breeds Hill just down the pike from Middleton by horse or by sloop from Salem. Now commuters from here can get to downtown Boston in half an hour.
Let’s set the scene and compare the Boston and neighboring towns we know with the places there when the nation was so chaotically and bloodily born.
Boston, a small city perched on Beacon Hill, was an island with an umbilical cord to Dorchester called a neck. Its vast harbor sprinkled with islands, many now connected, was a place of salt marshes, flats, sandbars and tidal waters diluted by the Neponset, Mystic and Charles Rivers. Only forty thousand or so people occupied its islands and peninsula hills.   Stretching south, west and north on the mainland were farms, the source of the food and fighters for the patriots. In the two centuries since our beginning as a nation, the marshes and flats once crossed by causeways and necks have been filled and the city we know built upon them. Philbrick’s book with maps, old drawings and clear descriptions bring the old Boston mostly of water with ships and boats alive. He obviously has been to all the sites. Readers are urged to visit today’s tall buildings with early maps and try to flood with their imaginations the places filled. If the ocean rises as melting polar ice foretells, future generations may not have to imagine how it was.

Compare a 21st century map of Boston Harbor with this 18th century map when in 1775 the British army and navy occupied most of the islands, peninsulas and waters in between. The shallows have been filled since the British left after the famous battle above burning Charleston. – from the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society,  Marshall’s “Life of Washington” published by P. Philips

In well-researched particulars Bunker Hill tells us of the interactions and communications of two peoples speaking the same language, sharing the same ancestors, and worshiping the same God. Both were Englishmen, one group, the British army and navy, a month or more away by ship from home where aristocratic officers bought their commissions and then proved themselves (or didn’t) in battles; and the other, Americans, also Englishmen, with the same king. The latter, called patriots, rebels, countrymen, and many more names by the Redcoats, had democratic governmental bodies called Town Meetings; their military leaders were determined by merit based on how many neighbors and kin the aspiring officer could convince to follow him. Many senior officers including Israel Putnam, William Prescott, John Stark, and George Washington, to mention a few, were veterans of the French and Indian War. They had fought alongside many of the older British officers. Philbrick also includes the actions and words of fighters and spectators without ranks on both sides.
From our high school history books we learned too much of the boring, relatively petty squabbles about taxes that led to a bloody war neither side, except for a few zealots, wanted. The Americans were relatively free compared with the homeland British who remained directly under the thumbs of an aristocracy. Bostonians Sam Adams and Dr. Joseph Warren and other firebrands convinced their countrymen they needed more freedom for white men but not for their slaves. Black poet Phillis Wheatley at the time wrote of their pronouncements about freedom as “strange absurdity.” Philbrick takes no sides; as a good historian he just tells us what happened month to month and day to day as the two sides uttered often unwise words on both sides of the Atlantic and then stumbled into war. On the gentle hayfields of Breeds Hill in smoke up from burning Charleston the regulars and rebels shot and bayoneted each other face to face. Over one thousand brave, obedient Redcoats died from musket balls shot down at them from crude fortifications manned by patriots in homespun. Only about one hundred and seventeen of the latter died before retreating back to the continental army’s camp and headquarters in Cambridge. The British won the tactical battle, but lost strategically. The same could be said of the skirmishes on the way back from Concord and Lexington a few weeks earlier. Within a few months long suffering General Thomas Gage was recalled. General William Howe, miraculously alive after leading his men up Breeds Hill, took over and in 1776 abandoned Boston with Britain’s fleet and army for Halifax. Washington’s rag tag army moved in without destroying the city. Philbrick withdraws at this point from what was to be an eight year long war from Quebec to the Carolinas. He leaves us with an interesting epilogue featuring John Quincy Adams who watched the battle as a seven year old boy with his famous mother Abigail. It is a fine ending with a lesson about character which we’ll leave to you dear reader.
Despite our knowledge about who ultimately won, Philbrick’s lively stories arising from careful readings of letters, notes and reports are well worth hearing in the participants voices. The shenanigans of the ambitious, some brilliant and very brave patriots and loyalists, remind the Closeteer of the horrors of civil wars such as those now terrorizing civilians in Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Algeria, and southern Sudan. The big difference other than religion is that the participants in our revolution fired single shot muskets not machine guns and no bombs and missiles came from flying machines.
An important unstated lesson of Philbrick’s account is to beware of careless communications that might result in civil strife such as famously happened here on the edge of Massachusetts Bay, just a four hour gallop or a half day sail away from Middleton via Salem. Facebook messages and tweets without time for thought between sending and receipt could well be the next sources of rumors resulting in lost lives.        _______________________________________________________________________________

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

Precipitation Data* for Month of: Sep Oct Nov Dec
30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 3.77 4.40 4.55 4.12
   2016 Central Watershed Actual 1.85 6.81 2.68 4.8**as of Dec 30

Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For Dec 30, 2016  Normal . . . 57 CFS     Current Rate . . .70 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Nov.
** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for Dec.

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

HOORAY, ICE IS BACK

Water Closet for December 30, 2016

Ice is back as it should be in December. On Friday, 16 December, the early morning temperature was 0° F; the flags on a fair northwest wind in front of St. Agnes Church, the old Closeteer’s wind gauge, were straight out.

“Even those of us who are very familiar with ice have gone through. Don’t go testing ice alone. “

TV weathermen excitedly said the wind chill was -15 F. The Council on Aging/Conservation Commission Friday morning walkers cancelled their hike.

Middleton Stream Teamers and guests crossing Prichards Pond on a foot of ice in 2005. – Stream Team photo

Some Stream Teamers, who have never given snow birding to Florida a thought, think such weather is not only cold but “cool.”   The water molecules are “chilling” as they lose their kinetic energy.  At 32 F their dance is so slow they cling to one another and become a vast solid of called ice.  As the air above becomes ever colder the heat in the still unfrozen water below the new ice on the surface loses heat.  Remember from your high school physics and chemistry that heat flows from higher to lower temperatures?  If you don’t, step outside for a moment and feel what happens.

Two hikers are walking on the ice of a beaver impoundment among the trunks of drowned red maples. – Judy Schneider photo

One of the reasons that Stream Teamers, lovers of  water bodies, like cold and the resulting ice is the access it gives to beaver impoundments, lakes, ponds, and other water bodies not to be explored on foot.  A week of day long freezing air allows us out on Emerson Bog, Aunt Betts Pond and surrounds, the beaver impoundments under the Pond Meadow Pond Rookery, the southwest Middleton Pond Rookery, the upper Cudhea Crick impoundment, and a dozen other places under water in Middleton.  If foolhardy some might after long cold snaps venture out on the Ipswich River.  The winter of 2014-2015 was infamous to DPWs and wonderful for us ice walkers who ventured out on the tricky ice of Nichols Brook’s broad floodplain between Topsfield and Middleton.  DON’T TAKE ANY CHANCES. Even those of us who are very familiar with ice have gone through. Don’t go testing ice alone.

Three peeping Toms looking though a window of black ice around a tree trunk. An underworld of liquid water above freezing temperature is revealed. – Katharine Brown photo

En route on safe ice we look for places with black ice.  Black ice, not black at all, is transparent. Muddy bottoms absorb light and don’t reflect much back.  White and gray ice full of tiny bubbles does. Upon encountering patches of transparent ice lie down and peer into the liquid water below.  You may be surprised at the activity you see in 32 F water.   We’ll not explain further. Go look.  Black ice is often seen around the inundated bases of tree trunks where the water is last to freeze.  The sunlight absorbed by the trunk keeps the water next to it warmer. Even after intense periods of cold you might find halos of liquid water around trunks.

Most all substances upon cooling become steadily denser.  Water is an exception. At 39 F, as bonds between the molecules form, it becomes less dense until at 32 F when it follows the usual pattern again of increasing density as the temperature continues to drop.  However, since less dense than liquid water ice floats.  If it was denser you’d need SCUBA gear and a good wet suit to skate on the frozen bottom.

Mother Nature’s art using a black and white ice medium. Can you find a head as well as a heart? – Judy Schneider photo

Why is ice less dense?   Let’s imagine the water molecules dancing individually as their surroundings cool. They slow and get closer, attracted by each other and at 39 F start to form bonds.  The tired dancers are going from a frenetic jitterbug to a waltz. By 32 F even if shy they cling to one another but in a formal way arms extended.  Another way looking at this might be to envision a rugby scrum at 39 F when the players are ordered out of the scrum into formation, one arm forward to another’s shoulder the other sideways to another. By 32 F all are so bonded with spaces now between them so the solid formed in less dense.  The extended arms represent chemical bonds.  H-O-H — H-O-H —  H-O-H —   etc. where the –s represents bonds between the H2O molecules.  The vast crystalline solid formed is called ice.  The energy lost in the freezing process is about 80 cal/g or about that energy in baby’s bite of toast.  This amount of energy is called the heat of fusion.  A gram of ice has about 1/18 x 6.023 x 1023 molecules.  If you want to see that number written out with all its zeros write .33 followed by 23 zeros.  Now of course you want know how this enormous number was determined. Go on line and look up Avogadro’s number.  The explanation is extremely elegant.

Let’s leave that research for another day and go check the ice. BE CAREFUL. The temperature as of this writing has been below freezing for the last few days.   40 F is predicted for tomorrow. The ice receiving the right amount of heat will melt to free

jitterbugging molecules.

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WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION

FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD

  Precipitation Data* for Month of:  Sep Oct Nov Dec
  30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches  3.77 4.40 4.55 4.12
   2016 Central Watershed Actual  1.85 6.81 4.1**  2.6**as of Dec 23

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

For Dec 23, 2016   Normal . . . 60 CFS    Current Rate  . . .35 CFS

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

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

Normals data is from the National Climatic Data Center.

 THE WATER CLOSET is provided by the Middleton Stream Team: www.middletonstreamteam.org or          <MSTMiddletonMA@gmail.com>

THE KILLER TURKEYS OF ZION

Water Closet for December 23, 2016

“Every couple of miles the visitor was warned: Do NOT go near turkeys. They can and will attack!”

The Water Closet is happy to report that ecologist Art McKee* is back from a long illness with another true story. You may remember several of his that we much liked and shared here a couple years ago about delicate sheets of frost in long abandoned manmade storage rooms and tunnels deep in the Alaskan permafrost, of ducks acting as buoys marking a road across a flash flooded desert, about herons swallowing pocket gophers in Oregon, and the interactions of cottonwoods, elk, and wolves along a western river. Here is his latest, a suspense filled story about hidden dangers to be encountered in Zion National Park. Those of us who have visited Zion thought sudden floods in the narrow canyons were what we had to watch out for. Little did we know that the feathered menaces lurking there are also here with us. – Middleton Stream Team
THE KILLER TURKEYS OF ZION
By Art McKee*
In late March of 2008, my wife and I spent a few days in Zion National Park as part of a spring-break tour. The snowline was very high and the Park was open. We hiked many trails, had a great time. We were frequently amused, however, at all the warning signs the Park Service had posted along the roads and in the trailhead parking lots that alerted visitors to how DANGEROUS wild turkeys are. Every couple of miles the visitor was warned: Do NOT go near turkeys. They can and will attack! No, I’m not making that up. We’re all used to Park Service messages about not feeding wild animals, but this seemed over the top.

These roosting turkeys may remind some of scenes in Alfred Hitchcock’s movie The Birds. “How absurd,” the sleepers might cackle to one another. “We are up here to sleep, away from humans and other predators.” – Photo courtesy of internet

We encountered occasional flocks of turkeys. They’d be foraging on the hillsides or floodplains, scratching through the litter, checking out the lower branches of shrubs. We passed close to some flocks and commented at how they sure looked like your basic wild turkeys, nothing very formidable about them or their behavior. And, while walking back to our cabin along the North Fork of the Virgin River, the main stream that drains the Park, we noticed a flock settling in for the night, flying up into the cottonwoods along the River and roosting close to each other. These certainly presented no threat.
On our last day at Zion, we drove to the end of the North Fork road, parked and just hiked up along the River, mostly off of any trails, exploring the side canyons, the minor tributaries. We returned around dusk, very tired and muddy, more than ready to have a quick supper, and crash for the night. By then, our station wagon was the only car left in the parking lot. I plopped down to take off muddy boots while my wife went into the well-lit bathroom to clean up.
I was relaxing and enjoying the quiet evening when a car with New Jersey plates came creeping into the parking lot, drove slowly past the bathrooms and pulled to a stop behind me. The couple in the car conferred briefly and then the wife rolled down the window and asked me if it was safe to go to the bathroom. It seemed an odd question, but I replied that yes, it was safe, that my wife was in the bathroom cleaning up after a very muddy hike — and held up a boot as evidence.

Is it any wonder that Benjamin Franklin lobbied for the turkey to be our national bird? These handsome jakes are hanging out for hand outs in a friendly Peabody backyard. – Elaine Gauthier photo

The woman opened the door and stepped out as she told her husband to go ahead and pull in next to me, that she’d go use the bathroom. The husband had also stepped out and was cautiously looking all around. He turned and in a stage whisper asked, “What about the turkeys? Where are they?”
I just pointed straight up at the couple of dozen turkeys that were roosting in the leafless cottonwoods between the parking lot and the river, silhouetted against the still bright evening sky, and said, “By now, they’re all roosting up in the cottonwoods.”
They both looked up at the silent profiles some 20 or 30 feet above us and the wife screamed, “Jesus! Let’s get the hell outta here!” They both jumped back into their car and were peeling out when my wife came out of the bathroom and watched their car laying rubber as it fishtailed out of the parking lot. She walked over shaking her head, asked what that was all about and cracked up when I told her.
We drove back to the rental cabin where we were staying for the night and discovered the New Jersey car parked in front of a cabin next to ours. All their shades were tightly drawn and every light turned on. They’d also replaced the dim yellow bug lights flanking their cabin’s doors with bright 100-watt-or-more bulbs. We ended up having to close our shades on the side facing their cabin. I joked that they’d probably pushed heavy furniture against the doors to further protect them from the killer turkeys.
We were up before dawn to head south to the Grand Canyon and discovered that our neighbors were already gone, apparently fleeing back to civilization where they’d be free from feathered threats.
* Arthur McKee, resident professor, Flathead Lake Biological Station, University of Montana, Polson Montana, has long been a mountain man. Art doesn’t trap beavers as did the wild mountain men of yore. He and his students study them, other organisms and their habitats to determine how they interact. For over 30 years he has done research in the Appalachians, Rockies, Sierra Nevadas and Brooks Range in Alaska.
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WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD`

Precipitation Data* for Month of: Sep Oct Nov Dec
30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 3.77 4.40 4.55 4.12
   2016 Central Watershed Actual 1.85 6.81 2.68 2.1**as of Dec 15

Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For Dec 15, 2016  Normal . . . 59 CFS     Current Rate . . .24 CFS
Normals
data is from the National Climatic Data Center.
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Nov.
** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for Dec.
THE WATER CLOSET is provided by the Middleton Stream Team: www.middletonstreamteam.org or         <MSTMiddletonMA@gmail.com> or (978) 777-4584