Water Closet for June 24, 2016
[pullquote]”The dominant trees seemingly leaning on the river were silver maples (Acer saccharinum) with delicate leaves in their season’s best green on top and silvery underneath.” [/pullquote]On a perfect spring-summer, almost solstice, Saturday, four old Middleton Stream Teamers, the daughter of one, and surprise guest Robert Painey Metcalf put vessels into the Ipswich River off heavily traveled Route 97 in Topsfield. The now five old timers, average age about 75, had signed up for the Ipswich River Watershed Association’s fund raising “Paddle-a-thon.” The association’s goal of $15,000 for the event had been exceeded by a couple thousand. Sponsored participants putting in at landings Reading to Ipswich proceeded northeast down river toward the association’s handsome headquarters at Riverbend in Ipswich where there was to be an end-of-paddling-day party.
Once off the dangerous highway, all thoughts of traffic, party, money, and any kind of “thon” disappeared. We were again on our beloved river among kindred souls. Guest “Painey,” a venerable long time stalwart of the association, with help set forth in his plastic foam kayak one-sixth his weight. An old Closeteer and former student, Katharine, manned a large canoe. Judy, Bob, and young Rachel were in kayaks. Within a few minutes we had left asphalt for an ever turning path of quiet water bordered by lush water plants. A dry northerly breeze cooled us. The logistics of getting to the start were over and all were at peace. Other paddlers quietly passed except for soft good mornings. We heard no canned music or cell phone noises in four hours. There were no motors of any kind on the river. No one was paddling hard or in a hurry. A barely detectable flow moving in a meandering channel toward the sea helped our fleet of five along. Below the surface were water plants and blooms of “maiden hair” algae. Escaping bubbles of oxygen glistened from the algae on the surface. In coves off to the river’s sides white water lilies graced the shallows. The dominant trees seemingly leaning on the river were silver maples (Acer saccharinum) with delicate leaves in their season’s best green on top and silvery underneath. These soft maples were our companions for much of the next four hours. From start to finish handsome reed-canary grass dominated on the flooded flanking floodplain. This can now be said of much of the fresh water river from Reading to the dam in downtown Ipswich below which very different fauna and flora are found due to twice daily doses of seawater.
Beaver dams in the past two decades have given us a different Great Wenham Swamp. The loosestrife is gone; the great silver maples under stress are drowning. Just a decade ago a paddle on the river from the Ipswich River Wildlife Refuge to Ipswich-Topsfield Road was in partial shade. Now it is savannah-like with a year-round inundated prairie of reed-canary grass. The dark snags of dead maples stand sentinel along the river’s banks. The head high grass stems, in full bloom now, are beautiful shades of green. Cows and haymakers are long gone. All grazing now is done by geese, ducks and other animals that hardly make a dent in the tremendous biomass.
The fast growing silver maples once lined the banks of the river from Thunder Bridge, Middleton’s swimming hole, on down. When the banks erode on their river sides some slump outward seemingly leaning on the channel’s water. Branches now pointing skyward become a new mini-grove of trees all arising from the tipped parent. When wind and snow fell them away from the river the maples shallow roots rise skyward above the banks and new groves from the fallen trunks rise above. The old trees beneath are great mounds of dark gnarled roots and trunks along the channel. Because water has been higher thanks to beavers many of these water-loving maples have died and are unable to send up new shoots. On Saturday’s paddle we passed scores of black trunks slowly rotting away. The savannah of flooded grass now receives much more light. This sounds grim and sad but somehow it is not. The silver maples are probably as they were four centuries ago before the beavers were trapped out. The maples will probably move to higher ground on the floodplain’s edges.
Silver maple leaves are delicate and deeply lobed with longer flatter stems than other maples. More flexible leaf stems make them subject to the movements in the slightest breeze. David Culross Peattie in his Natural History of Trees waxes enthusiastically when describing silver maples along the Ohio River. “. . .every breath of wind is sure to set the foliage to spinning or fling it over. The contrast in hues of the two surfaces is seen to greatest advantage; when composed the tree seems clothed in dark green foliage. In the next moment the whole of one bough, or one half-side of the whole tree, will suddenly turn silver, as the blades are reversed and show their undersides. Then, the summer breeze having sighed away, the tree regains its green composure. . . . But when begin those day-long gales that are destined to blow summer quite away, the Silver Maples along every stream are whipped into continuous whitecaps, threshing and seething and flashing their silver in more torment than delight.
Saturday in a light but invigorating breeze we felt only “delight,” in the green survivors. There are stands nearby along the river that can be viewed from dry land. Hike lovely River Road in Topsfield and look down at the trees along the channel or stop on Rowley Bridge Road bridge and look both up and down the river. We doubt if you’ll get carried away in Victorian prose as tree lover Peattie did but then who knows how each of us interprets the music of trees when played by moving air.
If you need a canoe or kayak to appreciate the wonders of the Great Wenham Swamp and beyond please let us Stream Teamers know; we’ll tell you where some may be found. Soon the emergent pickerel weeds, smart weeds and arrow heads will be putting on quite a watery flower show. The expanses of reed-canary grass are doing so now. It too waves and shifts color in the wind. The changes in plants and animals day to day, week to week, and seasonally will have us back often until ice no longer allows. And who knows what the next few years will bring?
WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD`
|Precipitation Data* for Month of:||Mar||Apr||May||June|
|30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches||4.65||4.53||4.06||3.95|
|2016 Central Watershed Actual||3.80||2.65||1.71||1.5** as of June 21|
Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For June 21, 2016 Normal . . . 22 CFS Current Rate . . . 1.5 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> or (978) 777-4584