Water Closet for 7-24-15
[pullquote]”As the Stream Team has so many times before urged here, get out there with kayak, canoe, or just walk where you can along our river’s edges.”[/pullquote] At seven-o’clock last Sunday morning the Ipswich River passing through Middleton, and probably all the way from source to sea, was quiet. Much heat and humidity were predicted. An old Stream Teamer slid his canoe down the stone stairs Vito Mortalo had kindly built for the public more than a decade ago at Farnsworth Landing. He was alone. No other cars were in the parking area, or paddlers on the river. Without a crewmate the old timer filled two five gallon jugs with water and stowed them far forward to balance his weight in the after seat, thus trimmed he headed south up river. Noisy Route 114 fell quickly astern, even the sound of its traffic seemed to disappear when not given any thought. Walls of lush Reed Canary Grass and Smart Weed, shoulder-high, became the channel’s low walled green canyon. Half of the water’s surface was covered with floating Ribbon Leaf Pond Weed, its dark lance shaped stems and leaves pointing down stream with the current. Here and there were loose patches of Duckweed, nothing compared with the masses now covering still ponds. The sun light peeped through haze over the woods to the east in Danvers and fell on the wide jungle flanking the river’s squiggly path. Reddish our day time star promised more heat and mugginess, but had not yet swept away all the night’s coolness. Out of sight and sound of peoples’ machines, bird song broken silence enveloped him in peace as he easily paddled against the current and skimmed through water down from distant Burlington and Wilmington. The coming heat didn’t worry at all, he had but to dip his hat in and put it back wet on his head. When younger his whole body would periodically go in on hot days.
While not a botanist the plants, many in bloom, held his attention. The Button Bushes so dominant a few years ago were scraggy looking; half their spikey stems are without leaves. They are being slowly drowned by beavers whose many dams keep water higher year around. Smart Weed with delicate florescences of tiny white flowers in vertical spikes is thriving this year, twice the height remembered from previous years. Reed Canary Grass, a handsome grass that took over from Purple Loosestrife the last few years, is graced with ripe brown heads above light green leaves. Only a half dozen loosestrife, now in full bloom, were seen in two miles. Standing alone they really catch the eye as rare beauty does. Ten years ago millions covered much of the floodplain. They are rivaled only by the brilliant red of the few Cardinal Flowers seen. The old Stream Teamer upon seeing them thought of Francis not long ago a cardinal and now pope and recently author of the encyclical Laudato Si on climate change. Alas, in the media here his great admonition about caring for the planet was drowned out by news from the Supreme Court and the Iran treaty negotiations. Too bad, the Ipswich River and all habitats, those of animals’, including humans, and plants’ sorely need the attention of the wise. Such thoughts were fleeting as the surrounding masses of plants and bird sounds emanating from them restored the peace on his leisurely two hour paddle. The Pope, briefly in the forward seat, was replaced by thoughts of Henry David Thoreau who usually alone rowed his skiff on the Concord River west of here. He is often the old Stream Teamer’s imaginary companion. When with Thoreau’s ghost the Stream Teamer never dares to speak aloud. He wonders what such a crew member might have thought and said while passing by all this life. He certainly would have seen and maybe mentioned twice as many species of plants and birds heard and seen. He might drop phrases in Latin and Greek now and then on his companion without such scholarship.
At a low beaver dam up-river a mile from the start the water dropped a few inches. It flowed against the old paddler who charged an opening that could have easily been surmounted by two paddlers. Thoreau had disappeared and couldn’t help. The old paddler in his large canoe gracefully gave way to age and turned to join the flow, the direction the pond weed stems and leaves were pointing.
On his downriver run the many odonates, dragon and damsel flies, were noticed. In two hours never a mosquito was seen or felt. These voracious beauties are the probably the reason why. They flit along the edges of the channel resting on plants sometimes lighting on gunnels or paddle.
In the large floodplain south of Farnsworth Landing there are no longer any trees to speak of for a mile along the river. The several exceptions are large fallen and mostly dead willows appearing to be leaning in their dotage on the water. Birds are attracted to their few still skyward pointing leafless branches. These like the Red Maples and Swamp White Oaks just upriver are victims of the beaver-raised water. Swamp Dog Woods and Button Bushes are now the dominant woody plants in this stretch. They too are dead or showing signs of stress. Softer, herbaceous plants are taking over. A vine, Climbing Hempweed, is growing up and over the bushes’ corpses. It is now showing grayish blossoms above dark green leaves. In late fall its parts above the water will have all died and become gray-brown.
As his trip quietly continued down river a mile past the start, the wonder seen above the water and imagined below ever more impressed him. Biologist use “biomass” when they speak of the total weight of all living organisms in a unit of volume. Farmers if they could drain the water and cut the Reed Canary Grass alone might get three tons of dried hay per acre. One old timer told the Stream Teamers that when a child long before the beavers returned he saw farmers mowing portions of this, then dryer, wild floodplain in August. If one counts the layers of life from the bottom of the roots deep in the mud to the top of the bushes five feet in the air the biomass is enormous.
After an uneventful two hours, which is what he wanted, the Stream Teamer pulled his canoe out at Farnsworth, his mind as peaceful as the river seemed. His amateur’s list of plants admired has 26 species. Had Thoreau or another good naturalist been with him the list might be three times as long with as many animals included.
As the Stream Team has so many times before urged here, get out there with kayak, canoe, or just walk where you can along our river’s edges. It is blossoming and fruiting time. Go any time; it changes week to week, month to month and especially year to year.
WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD`
|Precipitation Data* for Month of:||April||May||June||July|
|30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches||4.53||4.06||3.95||3.89|
|2015 Central Watershed Actual||2.38||0.94||5.87||1.9 as of 7/21**|
Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For July 21, 2015 Normal . . . 7.2 CFS Current Rate . . . 5.4 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru June.
**Middleton Stream Team is source of actual precipitation data for July.
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