Water Closet for June 22, 2018

     Two old-timers, former members of the Rings Island Rowing Club, borrowed a dory from Lowell’s Boat Shop and along with two old friends rowed up the Merrimack River on the tides to the Artichoke River and back.  Old in the previous sentence refers to years not spunk and spirit.  Nancy and the Old Closeteer invited Newburyporters Anne Spraker and Helen Pinsky to join them on the river in a handsome replica of 19th century work boats called dories.  From 1985 to 2005 their Rings Island Rowing Club had a half-dozen dories home-ported at Salisbury’s riverside knoll of granite surrounded by salt marsh named for 17th century colonial fisherman John Ring.  His name is coincidentally appropriate for the sixteen-acre knoll of ledge ringed by seawater at high runner tides.  For a few hours during a northeaster this past March it was an island when connecting causeways were submerged.  As a boy in the 1940s, the Closeteer, raised on Pettengills’ farms just a mile north on Ferry Road sold eggs and sweet corn to the Rings Islanders.  When not peddling he swam in the river and nearby Mill Creek, climbed the abandoned granite quarry walls, and played WWII games with the salty Ring Island lads.   Nancy, artist from New Hampshire, came to Rings Island  in 1978 and wisely bought a house looking out on the river.  In the 1990s she and dog Esker joined the rowing club.  They were often seen on the river in the club’s pretty gull, a small dory.  Esker sat in the stern, not rowing, looking forward at her mistress.  When coached by Nancy she howled beautifully like a wolf.  One memorable dark night rowers in nearby unseen dories imitated her howls.  

Large dories owned by the rowing program of Lowell’s Boat Shop, Point Shore, Amesbury, on the Merrimack River. In the 19th century thousands of these rugged boats of pine planking and oak frames were made at Lowells for the schooner fishing fleets. – Alice Twombly

      The morning of their row up river was perfect.  Alice Twombly, rowing program leader at busy Lowell’s, fitted her guests out with dory #4 and gear and bid them bon voyage.  The tide and experienced old hands at the oars soon had the twenty-foot-long dory well out in the current against a fair-weather breeze from the west; at eight in the morning the beautiful river was free of noisy plastic power boats.  After a spell retired librarian and very literate Anne ably took Nancy’s place at the after oars.  Nancy moved to a nest of life jackets in the stern and read aloud selected poems by Albert Elwell, a 20th century West Newbury farmer-poet-legislator.  Some of Elwell’s lines about farming and nature reminded us of Robert Frost.  Helen, raised in Denmark, poet and many other things, sat in the forward seat and served as a sharp lookout for buoys and other boats.  She once owned and sailed a handsome Swampscott dory.  As conscientious lookout she would now and then interrupt Elwell when pointing out perceived hazards.  All seemed right with the world as Washington, Afghanistan, Syria, Korea, and the G7 meeting were forgotten.  In dry air, under blue sky, on a high tide the old timers passed between the polluted former Amesbury Hat Shop site on which condos now stand and mature pines and hardwoods on the high bank across the river at Maudsley State Park flanking the river’s narrow-passage there.  River water, this last half century clean, down from the White Mountains past bygone textile cities, meets and floats over the salty incoming Atlantic’s twice daily-contribution.  When the Closeteer was a lad, the river’s mouth on ebb tides was a stinking sewer.  The 1972 Clean Water Act and federal money that followed required sewage treatment by all communities on the Merrimack and many other polluted rivers around the country.   Who was president at the time? Whose book led to the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts?  The Closeteer asked these questions of his companions en route to Curzon Mill.   

     At Curzon Mill just up the Artichoke River, off the Merrimack, the dory-mates spoke of Newburyport’s mid-20th century novelist John P. Marquand who had lived with his wife at the Curzon Mill house for a while.  As they pulled up to the foot of the mill dam just below the house a lady from an open window on the second floor bid them “good morning.”  The Closeteer, to make sure, asked her if this house had been the one where Marquand lived.  She said, “Yes, his grandson lives here now.”  We thanked her and not being strong enough to portage our heavy boat onward above the mill dam turned around.  On the way back to Lowell’s on the now ebb tide we tried to remember the world-famous author’s books.  He won a Pulitzer prize for The Late George Apley based on his upbringing in the upper classes of Newburyport, a city once famous for its fine ships that engaged in world trade, fishing, and whaling. 

The Merrimack River as seen looking west from Maudsley State Forest in Newburyport. – Judy Schneider photo

     Upon return Alice, whose boss at Lowell’s is Graham McKay descendent of Donald McKay, number one 19th century clipper ship designer and builder, greeted us again and helped us tie up Lowell’s boat.  We four, combined ages 302 years, stepped onto the floating dock renewed.  Slowly we climbed the stairs by the venerable two-centuries-old boat shop where perhaps 50,000 wooden boats had been built for work and later play.  Our working days are over.  On trips we joke, read poetry and return without fish.    




  Precipitation Data* for Month of:  Mar April May  June  
  30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 4.65 4.53 4,06   3.95  
   2018 Central Watershed Actual  5.09 5.31 2.07   1.1

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

 For June 15 2018  Normal . . . 33 CFS              Current Rate  . . .12.0 CFS

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


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

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>