Water Closet for December 16, 2016

[pullquote]”On December 3 the anniversary of Chitose Yamaguchi’s death the old Closeteer visited the same lovely spot and sprinkled some of her ashes into the Atlantic, the Ipswich River’s mouth, and Plum Island Sound.”[/pullquote] Fresh water collected from 155 square miles by the Ipswich River joins its salty parent in Plum Island Sound, named for an eight mile long north-south barrier of sand dunes called Plum Island. This beautiful undulating nature-made levee with beach plum bushes between ocean waves and soft marsh is part of a 25 mile arc of dunes extending from the ledge of Boars Head, Hampton, to that of Rockport, Cape Ann. The northern half above its wide beaches is covered with buildings from Boars Head to the Parker River Wildlife Refuge’s northern border. The dunes of the southern and eastern half are protected by the United States Government, The Trustees of Reservation, and the City of Gloucester. The Hampton, Merrimack, Ipswich, and Essex rivers pass through the barriers sharing fresh and salt waters with the tides. On an unseasonably warm day last year in November the old Closeteer and his Japanese wife of 54 years visited the southern end of the refuge. She died a couple weeks after that last visit to the ocean.

Plum Island beach is washed twice daily by the Atlantic Ocean. – Elaine Gauthier photo

On December 3 the anniversary of Chitose Yamaguchi’s death the old Closeteer visited the same lovely spot and sprinkled some of her ashes into the Atlantic, the Ipswich River’s mouth, and Plum Island Sound. The sun, which had just risen, followed as he hiked on the exposed, low tide beach clockwise around Plum Island’s southern tip. As he turned west below the glacial deposit called South Plum marking Plum Island’s end, along the north side of the Ipswich River, he leaned into a cold northwest wind which livened up his face. Any sadness that fine morning was swept away at what has been a favorite spot of his for over 70 years. His wife also loved this place where the river passing near their house twenty miles inland joined the Atlantic Ocean that joined with the Pacific of her younger years, connecting her homeland with her American home.

Sunrise as photographed from a Plum Island board walkway – Elaine Gauthier photo

Then aren’t our oceans really one? There are no barriers between them. Many environmentalists think of the continents as one with the ocean now that all are connected by ships, planes, and satellites, in an internet of electromagnetic and water waves. Elections this year on both sides of the ocean seem to have some nations thinking otherwise. Yet a shared atmosphere embraces all. The nourishing waves of one ocean break on the nourishing shores of all continents.
In Chitose’s childhood, Japan surrounded by salt water, was a deadly enemy of ours. At high school she and classmates trained to meet the Americans with sharpened bamboo sticks. After surrender her emperor stepped down from being god and the winner’s foremost military leader stepped forth to administer well the benevolent and forgiving WWII recovery plans, many called the Marshall Plan after General George C. Marshall.   Japan, under Commander in Chief Truman, General Marshall, and especially emperor stand-in General MacArthur, embraced democracy. Japan disbanded much of its military, promoted land reform, and weakened large corporations and its class system.

Plum Island is a barrier beach protected for all by the Parker River Wildlife Refuge. Left to right – ocean, dunes, salt marsh – Elaine Gauthier photo

Since that time Japan has recovered. During the same period Plum Island, also helped by our federal government, has recovered. When the Closeteer was a lad the large drifting dunes with far fewer plants reminded him of pictures he had seen of the Sahara. For three centuries common livestock pastures had grazed bare much of the island and Crane Beach south of the Ipswich River. Plum Island was a wild place in winter with an impassable road. The young Closeteer and other explorers hiked along the beach or through the dunes end to end. In the colder months other people were rarely seen. Mid last century it became a Federal wildlife refuge. Now fine boardwalks from a good road to the beach keep folks off the recovered vegetation of many species stabilizing the dunes. The dunes don’t drift anymore. It is truly a wonderful place visited by many all times of the year. The other day a score of people, a few with good cameras and binoculars, greeted the sunrise there. Some may have been carrying a loved one’s ashes or clearing their minds by walking on wind and water scrubbed sands and by breathing cleansing air brought by wind sweeping across protected salt marsh grasses. The sun shone gold and silver through a sprinkling of horizon-hugging clouds.

Shallow salt panne in marsh at Plum Island as seen from Plum Island road. Great Egrets dominate the scene on this summer’s day. – Elaine Gauthier photo

All this in a place we all can say is ours thanks to town, state, and federal parks owned and administered by governments, and those open lands protected by NGOs like the Greenbelt and The Trustees of Reservations. Without government protection supported by our taxes these lands would fall to development, every foot shaded or covered by high rises and homes for the wealthy. The loss of both public accessibility and wildlife habitat is something we all should consider before cursing government regulations and taxes. Humans sorely need lands for all, free of individual ownership. Through the influence of men like Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir America has been a “great” country in this regard. These men knew well that humans need places to rest, places where serenaded by wind and wave duets they might meditate, study, exercise, and compose poems and songs. Others, inspired or comforted by these protected pieces of the world might sing, paint, take pictures, pray, or sprinkle a handful of ashes on the daily washed sands. We hope our country’s envied examples of public open spaces spread like the gracious WWII recovery measures that helped even our enemies.


Precipitation Data* for Month of: Sep Oct Nov Dec
30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 3.77 4.40 4.55 4.12
   2016 Central Watershed Actual 1.85 6.81 4.1** 1.4**as of Dec 8

Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For Dec 9, 2016  Normal . . . 60 CFS     Current Rate . . .30 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Oct.
** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for Nov and Dec.
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