Category Archives: Water Closet Blog

A LOVELY VALLEY IN MIDDLETON, DIVIDED

Water Closet for May 26, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Precipitation Data* for Month of: Feb Mar April May
30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 3.25 6.65 4.53 4.06
   2017 Central Watershed Actual 3.46 2.86 6.53 2.2**as of May 19

Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For May 19, 2017  Normal . . . 62 CFS     Current Rate . . . 94 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru April.
** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for May.
Normals data is from the National Climatic Data Center.
THE WATER CLOSET is provided by the Middleton Stream Team: www.middletonstreamteam.org or         <MSTMiddletonMA@gmail.com> or (978) 777-4584

TOPSFIELD ASH CUT DOWN,PIECE OFF TO MIDDLETOWN

Water Closet for May 19, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Precipitation Data* for Month of: Feb Mar April May
30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 3.25 6.65 4.53 4.06
   2017 Central Watershed Actual 3.46 2.86 6.53 2.1**as of May 10

Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For May 10, 2017  Normal . . . 76 CFS     Current Rate . . . 112 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru April.
** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for May.
Normals data is from the National Climatic Data Center.
THE WATER CLOSET is provided by the Middleton Stream Team: www.middletonstreamteam.org or         <MSTMiddletonMA@gmail.com> or (978) 777-4584

MEANDERING AMONG SWAMP MAPLES

Water Closet for May 12, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Precipitation Data* for Month of: Feb Mar April May
30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 3.25 6.65 4.53 4.06
   2017 Central Watershed Actual 3.46 2.86 8.7** 0.5**as of May 5

Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For May 5, 2017  Normal . . . 84 CFS     Current Rate . . . 82 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru March.
** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for April and May..
Normals data is from the National Climatic Data Center.
THE WATER CLOSET is provided by the Middleton Stream Team: www.middletonstreamteam.org or         <MSTMiddletonMA@gmail.com> or (978) 777-4584

WATER CLOSET-VERNAL POOLS CONTINUED

Water Closet for May 5, 2017

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

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


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

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

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

Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For April 28, 2017  Normal . . . 95 CFS     Current Rate . . . 191 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru March.
** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for April..
Normals data is from the National Climatic Data Center.
THE WATER CLOSET is provided by the Middleton Stream Team: www.middletonstreamteam.org or         <MSTMiddletonMA@gmail.com> or (978) 777-4584

HERE COMES THE SUN

Water Closet for April 28, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For April 21, 2017  Normal . . . 97 CFS     Current Rate . . . 81.1 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru March.
** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for April..
Normals data is from the National Climatic Data Center.
THE WATER CLOSET is provided by the Middleton Stream Team: www.middletonstreamteam.org or         <MSTMiddletonMA@gmail.com> or (978) 777-4584

WATER LEVELS AND TEMPERATURES, 2017

Water Closet for April 24, 2017

“The netters, ages from 2 to 84 years, didn’t find salamander or wood frog egg masses as the old timers had expected.”

What a strange year this has been so far. Spring was in January and February; winter in March. The great drought of 2016 lingered on into winter and finally in the past two weeks has gone away. The Ipswich River is flowing high and fast. Middleton Pond, a human reservoir, is full thanks to almost five inches of rain and melted snow during the first week of April. Now as mid-April approaches, summer-like temperatures are with us. Last month our vernal pools were locked in ice.

April 9. Stream Teamers and guests gather at a vernal pool, one of several hundred in the tri-town area that are essential to their denizens. – Judy Schneider photo

On Sunday afternoon, April 9th, Middleton Stream Teamers and guests went forth with nets and plastic bowls to look for creatures in rain-melted iceless pools west of Middleton Pond near the North Reading line. We could have gone almost anywhere in the woods; vernal pools are found in much of the town and beyond. We’d been hearing the low crackles of wood frogs and high pitched peeps of peepers for a week and expected to find egg masses of wood frogs and those of silent yellow-spotted salamanders in long familiar pools.
Even after a week of rain, with nights and days of temperatures in the 30s to 50s, the group of fifty didn’t find either. They scooped up many beautiful, half-inch long fairy shrimp, denizens of these fishless pools. Fish can’t sustain populations in pools that dry up most summers and have no outgoing or incoming perennial streams. The transparent big-eyed, red-orange, belly up swimming beauties are very vulnerable. In pools without fish, salamander larvae and wood frog tadpoles can survive long enough to metamorphose into little adults if there is water present long enough. Then on new legs they retreat to the damp forest duff and soils their parents came from. It is thought parents return each year to the pools in which they were conceived, drawn for a so-called “big night” of reproduction in pools of exposed high ground water.

Fairy shrimp temporarily captured for study. The presences of these small crustaceans legally protect many vernal pools from being filled or altered. – Judy Schneider photo

The netters, ages from 2 to 84 years, didn’t find salamander or wood frog egg masses as the old timers had expected. It was the right time of year, the pools were full and the previous week’s temperatures and humidity had been favorable. The old Stream Teamer, who roams around the woods in all weathers and seasons, often passing vernal pools, wonders if February’s strange long period of warmth might be the reason. After extended thaws in January and February the pools were often ice free or nearly so except for surface skins in the morning after freezing nights. Under thin snow and last fall’s leaves the soils were not frozen as in most winters. In late February we were hearing spring peepers, buds were growing and pussy willows were being gathered. Spring, strangely a whole month ahead of time, appeared to be here. Had the salamanders on warm nights left the duff covering their woodland soils and visited the pools in February? Did the dark eggs and embryos absorbing the sun’s warmth hatch early into larvae (tadpoles) that survived under March’s ice? Did eggs remain dormant through cold March, dormant in ice or in 32 F degree water? We found no signs of egg masses. On February 26 Ipswich River water testers at Thunder Bridge measured the water temperature at 41 F, a month later at the same spot it had dropped to 35 F. In normal years these numbers would be reversed.

Great blue herons at nests built in dead white pines above a beaver impoundment that has water year ‘round is a very lively place. The herons raised in this 17 nest rookery just southwest of Middleton Pond will fledge in August. Their parents will then part until they return to the same nest mid-March to raise another family. – Pamela Hartman photo

Reversals make for interesting guesses, scientists call hypotheses, which lead to more questions, studies, and experiments. We in the Stream Team don’t usually get much beyond the observation and guessing stages. This year we’ll ask naturalists more in the know what they think and also continue trips to the pools for clues. Perhaps there just haven’t been reproductive visits by spotted salamanders yet; and the wood frogs have just not conjugated again as they may have in warm February. The sounds of peepers, tree frogs, and wood frogs and the presence of fairy shrimp seem to belie this.
How essential these woodland vernal pools are to animals that have gotten their start in them for millions of years. The old Stream Teamer guesses there may be 200 vernal pools in Middleton alone. The Wetland Protection Act often hailed here keeps people with bulldozers from filling these spring nurseries once deemed by farmers and then developers as just in the way puddles. Now our conservation commissions watch out for them and ask for undisturbed buffers out from their edges.
If you’d like to know more about these valuable pools contact the Middleton Steam Team or your town’s Conservation Commission. There is a book we much value that guides us amateurs. A Field Guide to the animals of Vernal Pools by Leo P. Kenney and Matthew R. Burne, published by the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, is richly illustrated with colored photos and has good basic descriptions of their habits and life cycles. Contact the Vernal Pool Association if you’d like to obtain one. While you are waiting for your guide, guide yourselves to bodies of water nearby that declare themselves each spring with over knee deep water and animal sounds. Bring a fine net and gently sweep along the bottom debris. Our temporary puddles are full of life. If you don’t find the species mentioned above you’ll usually find many insect larvae, worms, tiny snails, little clams, crustaceans . . . the list goes on.     _______________________________________________________________________________

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

Precipitation Data* for Month of: Jan Feb Mar April
30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 3.40 3.25 4.65 4.53
   2017 Central Watershed Actual 4.02 3.46 2.89 4.9**as of April 13

Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For April 13, 2017  Normal . . . 124 CFS     Current Rate . . . 194 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru March.
** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for April..
Normals data is from the National Climatic Data Center.
THE WATER CLOSET is provided by the Middleton Stream Team: www.middletonstreamteam.org or         <MSTMiddletonMA@gmail.com> or (978) 777-4584

WOOD DUCKS (April 2011, revised March 2017)*

Water Closet for March 31, 2017

The other morning Middleton Stream Teamers while spring cleaning the park at Farnsworth Landing on the Ipswich River compared notes on Aix sponsa, wood ducks, recently seen.  We agreed that there has been an increase of this species in the last couple decades.

Sometimes on a paddle down river we’ll scare up several while rounding each of its many meanders. 

“See the mating pair on the dark and shaded flood of a little woodland river; they seem to float as lightly as the drifting leaves”

This discussion led one member to the Closet’s treasured volumes by ornithologist extraordinaire Edward Howe Forbush.  A century ago he gave us three thick books, entitled Birds of Massachusetts and other New England States.  This monumental work was published by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1925.  We have a set in the Closet thanks to Francis Masse who passed on this gift from his father, the late Chester Masse, who served the area as a state game warden.

We can’t resist starting with an old fashioned bit of what some would call Victorian purple prose.  Flashes are found throughout Forbush’s pages between more objective passages and anecdotes.  Authors then didn’t have the media we have, illustrations in books at the time were black and white photos, ink sketches and a few expensive colored plates of paintings, hence the need for word pictures.  Here is Forbush peeking from a riverside hiding place:

“See the mating pair on the dark and shaded flood of a little woodland river; they seem to float as lightly as the drifting leaves.  The male glides along proudly, his head ruffled and his crest distended, his scapular feathers raised and lowered at will, while his plumes flash with metallic luster whenever the sun’s rays sifting through the foliage intercept his course.  She coyly retires; he daintily follows, exhibiting all his graces, the darkling colors of his plumage relieved by the pure white markings of head and breast and the bright red of feet and bill and large lustrous eye.  What a picture they make, as, intent on one another, they glide along close together, she clothed in modest hues, he glowing and resplendent.

Pair of wood ducks molting. This difficult to obtain close up photo was taking in late August 2016 on the beaver impoundment just southwest of Middleton Pond. – Donna Bambury photo

He nods and calls in low sweet tender tones and thus, she leading, he pursuing, they disappear into the shadows where the stream turns upon another course.”

Wow! Maybe we should end here and leave them to imagined bliss.

The courting Forbush so delightfully and anthropomorphically described may lead to a snug high-rise apartment with the female sitting on 15 eggs.  Wood ducks are cavity nesters.  We wonder if the increase in wood ducks isn’t due to an increase of holes in trees.  In the last half century there has been a significant increase in protected forests and less cutting in others.  The trees are getting older hence more holes.  Also people like Middleton’s Red Caulfield have put up wood duck boxes.  Along our rivers and streams since their return two decades ago beavers have been drowning many acres of trees.  The upright corpses attract wood peckers, insects, and fungi, hence in time more hide-a-ways.  Then there is the change in people’s behavior so vividly remembered by old timers who lived in rural areas.  Just 70 years ago there were shotguns and twenty-twos, often loaded, in barns, workshops and farmhouse entryways.  To some any wild thing that moved was fair game.  Most hawks and owls were deemed chicken killers.  Ducks were shot and eaten.  Other animals, even small birds were practice targets.  Another 60 years before those waning agrarian years, the hunting of birds occurred on a massive scale along our coast by market hunters.  The “good old days,” so nostalgically remembered by many old timers were bad ones for wild creatures.  According to Forbush, wood ducks in the mid-19th century darkened the skies at times and by the end of the nineteenth century were almost extinct.  European poultry fanciers were sending wood ducks raised there back to the states from whence their ancestors came.  The good news is they are coming back in the wild.  Jim Berry Ipswich ornithologist, who has been working with colleagues throughout the state on the Massachusetts Audubon Bird Breeding Atlas, reports that wood ducks were reported in 377 of 1077 area blocks inventoried three decades ago in Atlas issue 1.  Atlas 2, 2012, has them in 664 of the 1077 blocks.  Jim warns us to take these numbers with a grain of salt.  The inventories for Atlas 2 have been more intensive, the areas better covered.  However, he a life-long North Shore birder, agrees with us Stream Teamers that there are more of these very beautiful-dabbler ducks that are roughly half the weight of common mallards, also dabblers.

Wood ducks just spooked while swimming on open water, Boston Brook, Middleton. On ascnding they make squeaking sound unlike the quacks of mallard. Yearly in the past more wood ducks have been seen and heard in the area. – Judy Schneider photo

One old Stream Teamer reports seeing more wood ducks each passing spring.  This March 2017 he spooked 70 in scattered small groups in a half hour’s hike along Boston Brook in Middleton.

We digressed above and left the developing embryos in the tree cavity under mother where they will be for four weeks until hatching.  They’ll then hang out in their protective apartment fasting for a day before venturing forth in the open air dressed in light down.  Now observations become dicey.  John James Audubon observed a brood jumping from a high exit hole to water far below.  Their mother rounded them up and then led them on a much longer more dangerous adventure through to fledging.  Other observers have seen them with their sharp claws and a bill tip, called a nail, climbing down trunks to ground and water.  Still others say they’ve seen mothers carrying them one by one to the water where they’ll feed until fledging if the snapping turtles, large fish and snakes don’t get them first.  Life for young ducklings and goslings is precarious.

The Closet’s small copy of Audubon’s famous elephant portfolio is open now to his wood duck painting.

Male wood duck in early stages of molting below the heron rookery near Middleton Pond. – Donna Bambury photo

Audubon, without camera, shot his subjects with gun and then wired them into dramatic poses.  Here before us are two “glowing and resplendent” males and two females “clothed in modest hues.”  One of the females is looking out from a hollow tree.

A few years ago stream teamer Glenice Kelley, while spring cleaning at Farnsworth Landing, accidentally touched with rake a well hidden female mallard, distant relative of the wood duck. She was incubating a dozen eggs in a ground nest.  Mother mallard moved, hence was revealed.  We’ve returned several times since to peer in at her on a nest among the leaves at the base of a red cedar just twenty feet from major highway Route 114.  She sometimes has her wings spread over the sides of her nest, feathers somewhat extended, almost a perfect match for the brown oak leaves.  May her brood and those of all ducks survive to be led by mothers to water and then on to fledging and flight.  We can only wish; predators will determine.

* Essay was frist published in April 2011. This is a March 2017 revision. Wood ducks are back here in numbers again this spring. Each year we see more.  

__________________________________________________________

WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION

FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD

  Precipitation Data* for Month of:  Dec Jan Feb March
  30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 4.12 3.40 3.25 4.65
   2016/2017 Central Watershed Actual 4.41 4.02 3.46 1.5** as of March 24


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

For March 24, 2017   Normal . . . 189 CFS    Current Rate  . . . 78.2 CFS

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


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

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>

KATHARINE BROWN WILL BE LEAVING TOWN

Water Closet for March 24, 2017

“It would be nice if she’d organize a Rye Harbor to Isles of Shoals paddle for us Stream Teamers on some mild summer’s day, or better still start a Rye Stream Team.”

After twenty years of stalwart service and enduring contributions, Middleton Stream Teamer Katharine Brown will soon be leaving us for Rye, New Hampshire, not far from the ocean and just five miles west of the Isles of Shoals. Maybe ancient ocean genes like all humans have are drawing her to the sea.

Katharine Brown has been a stalwart on the Middleton Stream Team since its start in 1997. – Judy Schneider photo

Katharine has been a member of the weekly Water Closet team since its start in 2005. In our early years she negotiated with the Tri-Town Transcript for a weekly Stream Team column which she wrote for awhile. She continued to edit, format, and distribute the Water Closet after the old Closeteer took over the writing. With her good eye and ear she has excelled at sprinkling the essays since with needed punctuation. She has had many friendly exchanges with the tin-eared Closeteer on the placement of commas. She reveled in correcting him, her former high school teacher.
On the last Sunday of each month since the beginning of the Ipswich River Watershed Association testing program in 1997, Katharine and helpers have sampled Ipswich River water in all weathers from the bridge over the river on the Peabody-Middleton line. There the water descends over a long riffle below the Bostik Dam that harnessed power for 300 years. If the fish-blocking dam is gone by this fall as scheduled the flow for new samplers may be quite different.
For many years as Stream Team secretary Katharine sent information and good ideas out to the team. Hers was the communication network that kept the slowly growing team together. She raised the money for the handsome display case in the Post Office lobby, which she designed presentations for.   In the late 1990s and the first couple years of the millennium, she, with often only four or five others attended the fledgling team’s meetings. The team under the leadership of President John Bacon steadily grew until 2014. It has continued to grow under President Sandy Rubchinuk. By this past fall when Katharine turned her pen over to our present secretary, Joan Caulfield, attendance at monthly meetings had grown to over 25 members.

Katharine Brown, Middleton Stream Team, and Wayne Castonguay, Director of the Ipswich River Watershed Association, paddle together on their beloved river as the team and the association have since 1997. – IRWA photo

In addition to the work mentioned above, Katharine, for more than a decade together with Milly Clark, made fine cards of prize winning photographs from the annual Stream Team photo contests, which she initiated and organized for many years. Sales of these attractive cards have helped keep the frugal team’s ledgers in the black. You may have seen the many attractive displays from the photo contests in the Post Office lobby. Photographer Judy Schneider now runs the contest and designs the displays.
Recently Stream Teamers Katharine, Tom Jacques, a friend of Katharine’s and the old Closeteer visited her recently purchased house near the center of lovely Rye, New Hampshire. Rye’s many stonewalls, which have been kept intact over the centuries, greatly add to the lawns and remaining fields. We hope she isn’t moving to New Hampshire “To Live Free or Die.” Her two acre lot is surrounded on three sides by farmers’ stone walls, one abuts the firehouse. If she ever has fire trouble short hoses can wet her house down without vehicles being moved.

Middleton Steam Team paddlers on the Ipswich River March 9, 2016. Katharine Brown is wielding the bow paddle. – Sandy Rubchinuk photo

After leaving her modified cape, now in various stages of renovation, we drove easterly to the Atlantic’s edge and after a mile or so continued north on Route 1A within the sound of surf and the smell of seaweed en route to a meeting at the Seacoast Science Center held by ocean protection planners.* After the program, we called them collectors of data about humans’ connections with coastal waters out to 200 miles and beyond. A panel of four bureaucrats and a lobsterman followed a slick PR film entitled Ocean Frontiers III with talks about their organizations. In the little time allowed they answered questions from a few of the 60 or so folks in attendance who are interested in the human-stressed continental shelf from Florida to Newfoundland. The use of judgmental words like bureaucrats and slick here is perhaps unfair, the several groups cooperating are doing very important work by providing layer upon layer of up-to-date information for governmental agencies, environmental groups, and industries; e.g, fishing, aquaculture, wind farming and sand mining, in order ensure tranquilly and the protection of resources. The Seacoast Science Center where the panel very appropriately met is located on an important WWII site once riddled with bunkers that defended Portsmouth Harbor and its submarine shipyard and base. The guns are gone; on the land above the surf is a fine educational building for school field trips and gatherings such as the one we attended. Tide pools, a clamshell’s throw away are twice daily exposed for study.
In her new state Katharine’s coast of only 16 miles of beaches and exposed ledge is between the Merrimack and the Piscataqua rivers and the historic ports of Newburyport and Portsmouth, places rich in history dating back to prehistory when the land was locked in the Wisconsin Glacier’s deep ice. Her walls of stones deposited by the ice and later gathered into lines by English farmers are a very tangible part of that history. Three centuries earlier, about 500 years ago, gutsy men in little ships speaking Portuguese, French, and English from the misnamed “Old World” sailed 3000 miles plus each spring to waters off Rye and the Isles for their abundant fish.
Now our Katharine and her friends and visiting family near the sea will wade in the billions of years-old slowly warming and rising water. We’ll miss her and hope she’ll return now and then for Stream Team events. It would be nice if she’d organize a Rye Harbor to Isles of Shoals paddle for us Stream Teamers on some mild summer’s day, or better still start a Rye Stream Team.
* Aimee Bushman and Priscilla Brooks, Conservation Law Foundation; Betsy Nicholson, National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration; Ted Diers, NH Division of Environmental Services; and David Kaselauskas, lobsterman, Kittery Point
_______________________________________________________________________________

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

Precipitation Data* for Month of: Dec Jan Feb March
30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 4.12 3.40 3.25 4.65
   2016/2017 Central Watershed Actual 4.41 4.02 3.46 1.5**as of March 17

Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For March 17, 2017  Normal . . . 132 CFS     Current Rate . . . 57.7 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Feb.
** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for March.
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

DISPATCH FROM THE SUGARWOODS 2017 BY DAVE MANCE III*

Water Closet for March 17, 2017

We know that getting hit is part of the sport.” -Boxer Frank Buglioni
    

“Nothing has been normal – the start date, the timing of the runs, walking around the woods in a T-shirt in February. But to date we’re at about 8 gallons per tap, which is closing in on what in the good old days was considered a crop.”

Thirty-two degrees is a magic number in sugaring because without it sap doesn’t flow. A freeze at night and then a thaw during the day creates pressure in the trees. During a run, the sap migrates from the high pressure environment in the trees to the low pressure environment outside the trees, through the tapholes. The run will last as long as there’s a discrepancy between the internal tree pressure and the external, barometric pressure. This might last eight hours, or 24, or 48 (though the longer it goes, the slower the flow gets).

March 2017. Venerable sugar maples well over 100 years old along two centuries old wall flanking Cross Street, Topsfield. Sap buckets of old have not been replaced by plastic tubes. – Judy Schneider photo

Another important number is 60 degrees, which I kind of look at as the temperature at which spring starts to happen. At 60 the microbes – the bacteria, yeasts, fungi that are in your spouts, sap lines, sap tanks – wake up from their winter slumber and really start to dance. In the early season microbial loads might be 1,000 per milliliter of sap, but above 60 degrees, that number can double every 20 minutes. (And keep in mind that the temperatures in your lines, or in your greenhouse of a plastic truck tank, can be much higher than air temperatures, so really any time it’s above 50 degrees sugarmakers start to take notice.) Do that double-every-20-minutes math over the course of a season and your microbial loads can grow to a trillion parts per milliliter; early-season sap is so clear it looks like water, late-season sap is so cloudy it looks like milk. Eventually, the microbial loads slime up the inside of a taphole and the sap stops running, even if you get a return to ideal temperatures late in the season. Temperatures above 50 and 60 also affect the physiology of the trees. The warm temperatures influence the sap biochemistry as the tree begins to ramp up to break bud, which affects the flavor.

Amateur sugar bush off Mill Street, Middleton. Red maples in floodplain of Emerson Brook are being tapped into plastic jugs. – Judy Schnieder photo

So. When sugarmakers tell you that ideal sap weather is 25 at night and 45 during the day, that’s the Goldilocks zone – not too cold, not too hot. If we could control the weather with a thermostat, that’s what we’d set it to. But we play the hand we’re dealt, which over the last two weeks in our bush looked something like this:

Date    High    Low (daily high and low temperatures in the following table)

2/16 31 19,   2/17   32   11,   2/18   54   12,   2/19   52   41,   2/20   44   21,  

2/21   45   14,   2/22   58   34,   2/23   69 35,   2/24   72   40, 2/25   69   35,

2/26   36   22,   2/27   51   21,   2/28   51   30,   3/1   68   53

The first thing that jumps out at you are the highs. At least three of them represent the warmest temperatures ever recorded in February in over 100 years of record keeping. It makes you wonder how far back you’d have to go to see seventies in February – the Pleistocene? According to the Weather Channel, the freak warmth happened because there was a big slug of high pressure in the North Pacific that made the jet stream dip in a way that funneled colder air to the west and warmer air to us – a sort of reverse of the polar vortex two years ago that funneled the arctic air to us. But it’s impossible not to also consider the role CO2 emissions and climate change are playing in this. Five or six years ago physicists started advocating for a semantic change: they said global warming should really be called global weirding, because weather is complicated, and non-linear, and the best bet as to how rising CO2 levels were going to manifest in future day-to-day weather conditions were anybody’s bet; in other words, it was too simple to say things are going to get hotter; more precisely, things were going to get weird. Wetter and drier. Hotter and colder. Unpredictable.
Sugaring season over the past 5 years has born this out. In 2012, our season ended March 17, which at the time was unprecedented. No one had ever seen 80s in mid-March. In 2013 the sap season was “normal” – it tracked with seasonal averages – though then we had 90s in May, a foot of snow on Memorial Day weekend, and then enough rain in June to come within 0.07 inches of an all-time record. In 2014, spring didn’t come until April – there were still three feet of snow in the mountains on April 1. 2015 was a cold repeat — we made the majority of our crop in April. Last year winter never showed up – people were making syrup on Groundhog Day. And then this year.       In other words, weird.
I’m concerned. Mostly for the trees. Some popple and red maple on southern hillsides are already breaking bud here. There’s no way they’re not going to get smoked by a freeze, and this on the heels of drought conditions last summer which already have the trees a little stressed.
But the concern is ecological. (I guess moral, too, as our national conversation about how to mitigate climate change seems to be devolving.) From a human-industry perspective, we’re doing all right. We’ve had to take some punches, and scramble to get ready so early (I started tapping in mid-January), but if you look at the lows in that list we got five freezes, which means we got five “runs.” With the help of technology these days, you can gather a lot of sap each time it runs. Nothing has been normal – the start date, the timing of the runs, walking around the woods in a T-shirt in February. But to date we’re at about 8 gallons per tap, which is closing in on what in the good old days was considered a crop. With vacuum we strive to get up around 16 or 17 gallons per tap. They’re calling for good temps next week, and if we get them, and if the sap is still on flavor and hasn’t gone “buddy,” we might still get there. Of course, more of this warmth next week and we could be done. How are you other sugarmakers doing?
* Article in Northern Woodlands newsletter of March 2, 2017. Dave Mance III is an editor and a tapper of sugar maples, Acer saccharum.   Mance has kindly given the Stream Team permission to reprint.
_______________________________________________________________________________

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

Precipitation Data* for Month of: Dec Jan Feb March
30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 4.12 3.40 3.25 4.65
   2016/2017 Central Watershed Actual 4.41 4.02 3.46 0.3**as of March 10

Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For March 10, 2017  Normal . . . 111 CFS     Current Rate . . . 62.2 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Feb.
** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for March..
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

HEADWATERS OF BOSTON BROOK

Water Closet for March3, 2017

“These lands aren’t just for our aesthetic and psychological pleasure. They are part of essential systems that finally, after a 300 year toot called the Industrial Revolution, are catching our attention. “

The Trustees of Reservations have set aside a wonderful refuge for us all in the headwater hills of Boston Brook. Ward Reservation in Andover has thirteen miles of woodland trails and high open fields. Water captured on the slopes of three drumlins flows from surface duff and ground water to intermittent streams feeding Boston Brook. An old name found on deeds in Middleton is Beechy Brook. Within the reservation Holt Hill reaches 420 feet, the highest elevation in Essex County. On nearby Boston Hill, 380 feet, there was once a commercial ski slope. Between the two heights, about a mile apart, are a valley and another hill called Shrub Hill (330 ft.). On the slopes of those three hills surface runoff flows southerly to Skug River and northeasterly to Boston Brook. The Skug enters Martins Pond. Martins Brook takes it on to the Ipswich River in North Reading. Paralleling the valley floor and Shrub Hill is north-south running Old Chestnut Street, North Andover, a once handsome three rod (50-ft.) wide road flanked by stone walls and venerable trees. Except for shade trees, a century ago the whole area was open pasture. Many of the magnificent trees along the road are still there except for the conspicuous absence of the American chestnut that probably gave the road its name. Early last century, a fungus, the chestnut blight, swept away the big chestnut trees above the ground’s surface. Hidden in the roots of many of the deceased are living cells that send forth shoots that live a few years before succumbing to the blight. There are still many chestnuts at Ward Reservation. Alas most don’t get higher than fifteen feet before the lingering fungus strikes them down. Chestnut Street without pavement and horse drawn carriages, carts, sleighs or cattle drives is now a lovely, shaded woodland path.

Two decades old beaver dam across the outlet brook of Mars Swamp in Andover. Year- round water in the huge impoundment has drowned thousands of red maples. Most have fallen, many trunks still stand. The shallow lake formed has become rich wildlife habitat. The water flowing over the dam will pass southeast through several more beaver impoundments in Boston Brook before it reaches the Ipswich River. – Pamela Hartman photo

Last Friday the Middleton Conservation Commission/Council on Aging hikers walked on several of Ward’s many trails among two century old stone walls. The path chosen from the park entrance was the Bay Circuit Trail. It took them to Ward Trail and Margaret’s Trail around Rubbish Meadow, which at the turn of the millennium was a red maple swamp. A beaver dam across the swamp’s outlet to Boston Brook has turned it into an impoundment. The red maples died and almost all their trunks have fallen into the shallow water. A few white pines still standing support eleven great blue heron nests. The herons will return to this decade old rookery this month. Fewer nests are found each year as the pines, their roots finally rotted through, go down. Some beaver-drowned dead pines remain standing for twenty years or more. Most of the maples’ trunks, of the once “red maple swamps,” fall within ten years of impoundment. This has happened to thousands of acres around the county and beyond.

Mars Swamp now a “beaver meadow” as seen from the dam across its outlet. The dam is in Ward Reservation, Andover-North Andover, below Holt, Shrub and Boston hills. – Pamela Hartman

The origin of Rubbish Swamp’s name remains a mystery to us Middletonites. A call to historical society folks in Andover indicate they don’t know either. Maybe the Colonial farmers thought this wet lowland not worth draining for hay or cultivation because it had “rubbish” quality. It, probably like many swamps, was a rough place of glacial till with lots of stones. Nearby, just to the north, is Mars Swamp. It is fun to speculate about “Mars.” Life on the planet of that name is still much in doubt. Andover’s Mars, also a beaver impoundment, abounds with life as light pours in on the now treeless shallow water. In late February the old Closeteer spooked a score of black ducks from a patch of ice-free water there. Soon there will be many more passing through.

A portion of 17 miles of stone walls cris-crossing Ward Reservation’s 704 acres. Now the land is largely covered with mature forest. A century and one half ago it was almost all open pasture. These walls with cracks and crevices decorated with moss, lichen, fungi and algae are rich habitats for small animals. Most of our walls were built in the 18th and early 19th centuries. – Pamela Hartman photo

The water from Mars drops six feet over a leaky beaver dam to Rubbish Meadow where it slows and is further cleansed in an area well away from polluting development. Below the outlet brook from Rubbish, the walkers spent several minutes marveling at its beautiful clear water flowing quickly over a rocky bottom. One wag to emphasize where it was going said, “If all sixteen of us peed in the brook here we might then follow the odor for nine miles down to and through Middleton to the Ipswich River.” Another jokester responded, “You first!” The old timers moved slowly on leaving the brook as they had found it. Between Rubbish and the river there are several more water cleansing beaver impoundments and wetlands. If there were one hundred simultaneous urinators most of their waste molecules wouldn’t last a mile before microorganisms had metabolized them to CO2, HOH, and other molecules incorporated into their cells.
All hail The Trustees of Reservations, Essex County Greenbelters, the Ipswich River Watersheders, and towns striving to set aside such places for all organisms. These lands aren’t just for our aesthetic and psychological pleasure. They are part of essential systems that finally, after a 300 year toot called the Industrial Revolution, are catching our attention. The hangovers still linger but at least we now know where we went wrong. We let a bloated economy consume and waste far too much. These past few weeks, environmental regulations are being questioned. This should and must be an on-going process to make these regulations more effective and efficient without crippling their purposes of clean air, clean water and healthy habitats for us all.
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WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD`

Precipitation Data* for Month of: Dec Jan Feb March
30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 4.12 3.40 3.25 4.65
   2016/2017 Central Watershed Actual 4.41 4.02 3.6** 0.0**as of March 3

Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For March 3, 2017  Normal . . . 110 CFS     Current Rate . . . 111 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 and March..
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