Category Archives: Water Closet Blog

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.  

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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 3.46 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.
_______________________________________________________________________________

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

RIVER OTTERS

 

Water Closet for March 3, 2017

“As streamlined swimmers they undulate gracefully on their 3-D dance floors.”

Now and then in our travels around the Ipswich River Watershed we spot a handsome member of the weasel family, the otter. A decade or more ago four were admired playing in Tragert’s Pond off Essex Street, Middleton.   People like otters and will telephone or email the old Closeteer with reports of sightings. Most folks know more about the Pacific coast sea otters who often star on TV shows. Those Enhydra lutris are three times the size of our river otters, Lutra Canadensis. The dense, fine hair of both species keeps the heat in and the water out, hence no need for blubber.
As streamlined swimmers they undulate gracefully on their 3-D dance floors. When together at water play they twist and turn seemingly trying to out do one another. They make aquatic-dancing groups like Ester William’s look awkward.
While great swimmers and catchers of fish they also spend quite a bit of time roaming from water body to water body on land. They favor places where streams enter or leave ponds. Like us otters don’t like polluted water. Unlike us they don’t pollute it. Radio tracking shows the adult males have ranges of up to 30 square miles; females have only 12 or so. A male’s range may overlap those of several females. Breeding occurs between December to April during a six week period of estrus. Due to delayed implantation birth doesn’t take place until the following late winter-early spring.

Otter enjoying sashimi on ice without rice on the Ipswich River in Topsfield. – Judy Schneider photo

On a warm January day with little snow or ice, like most days this warm winter, a couple of Stream Teamers scouting out a route for the Stream Team’s annual winter hike northeast up Cudhea Crick Valley from Prichard’s Pond, happened on an adult male otter corpse near the concrete dam that forms the pond. Death had to have been recent; the undamaged black coat still had its sheen. Other than very slight bleeding from one nostril and the mouth, there were no signs of trauma. The nearest road with dangerous cars was a half mile to the west. The night before a snowless nor’easter roared through the woods. Perhaps a fallen branch had hit the otter causing internal injuries. Also males have been known to fight over females in heat, but there were no surface scratches or bit marks. Later Stream Teamer, outdoorsman Leon Rubchinuk, on seeing a cell phone photo of the body thought it skinny, and suggested malnutrition may have been the cause of death. The numerous scat sites largely of fish scales near the dam indicated plenty of the otter’s favorite food can be found in the large shallow pond which receives clean water from Boston Brook down from Boston and Holt Hills seven miles upstream in Andover.
Since the deceased was in good shape we were prompted to revert back to a popular, some might say macabre 19th and early 20th century hobby. After our Winter Hike scouting trip we returned and took the 15 to 20 pound otter to a taxidermist living one third-mile away. Perhaps while stuffing he will determine the cause of death.
The pine shaded eastern edge of Prichard’s Pond has a bank lodge built and occupied by beavers. Vertical holes leading to visible water near it, within 20 or more feet from the pond’s edge, lead us the think the bank has many tunnels connected to the pond. It is in such holes and cavities that female otters raise their young. Otters don’t make their own dens. Families have even been found in woodchuck holes some distance from water bodies.
In winter, tracks and slides in snow of overland movements are found especially along the long abandoned Essex Railway bed flanked on both sides by Boston Brook. Otters slide down the bed’s shoulders into openings in the ice. The slide tracks are like those of a child on a little toboggan. However, their sliding doesn’t require a slope. The Closeteer once followed the slides of two otters for a quarter mile in new snow on the flat ice of Prichard’s Pond. Ten or so foot-slides marks were followed by a few feet of five-toed tracks, enough to launch the next slide and so on and on, the two within one foot of each other side by side. What were they saying during such play? Were they racing? On such paths in snow there is often a distinct tail mark. Their tail, a third of the body’s length, is relatively heavy; no doubt important in-water propulsion.
Last summer on a kayak-canoe paddle on the beautiful mile long impoundment in the Ipswich River between the Boston and Maine Railroad Bridge and the EBSCO Dam in downtown Ipswich, a group of us came upon three otters fishing on the up-river side of the dam, the source of power for Ipswich mills for three centuries. No intakes to mill sluice ways threaten wildlife and haven’t for almost a century. The river is now clean and safe for river animals. If you’d like to see otters and many other animals and plants join the Ipswich River Watershed Association and borrow one of their kayaks or canoes waiting for you on the bank of this section of the river.
We Stream Teamers have no population figures, just reports of now and then sightings. We’ve read that otters are thought to be on the increase here in northeast. The waters are now cleaner and in Massachusetts leg hold traps are banned. No longer intensely trapped beavers, muskrats, mink, and otters may be enjoying places closer to what they were like 400 years ago before the English brought agriculture and industry. The many beaver dams with the help of the Massachusetts River Protection Act have produced long impoundments that in just two decades have become the best of habitats for animals that thrive in.
_______________________________________________________________________________

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 3.1**as of Feb 24

Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For Feb 24, 2017  Normal . . . 86 CFS     Current Rate . . . 136 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

 

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.
_______________________________________________________________________________

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.
_______________________________________________________________________________

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.
_______________________________________________________________________________

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