Water Closet for May 29, 2015
[pullquote]” In his wanderings in places around our towns still unvisited by earth moving machines he has learned how to meander easily without paths.”[/pullquote]The old Closeteer left the paved road of a new subdivision yet without houses and proceeded north on foot in mature oak woods with occasional large pines on the divide between two watersheds. Boston Brook was not far west, Pond Meadow Brook a little further to the east. Neither was in sight but it was nice to know they were there taking clean forest filtered water to the river and the sea. The Closeteer had hiked this wood without human paths a generation ago. The trees are larger now. The north-south valleys are little changed. The terrain, ledgy upland, narrow wetland, more ledgy upland, and wider wetland that he encountered may not be much different in form and relative elevation than when they were carved by the growing glacier and later further shaped by melt water carrying debris. In ten millennia since, the rocky uplands have acquired but a sparse eight-inch of dark topsoil capped with duff. Below the thin topsoil is rocky sediment, clay to boulders, left by the retreating ice. In the lower wetlands are thick organic soils, perhaps a yard or so of black muck depending on past grazing and subsequent erosion. From the late 17th century through to the early 20th most of this rough land was poor pasture.
No erosion on this walk; the forest has been unusually dry this spring. The last rain of any consequence was a month before in mid April. A brisk afternoon wind must have had firemen and folks with houses surrounded by woods nervous. Before entering the woods the Closeteer was too. Upon hearing bird songs accompanied by new leaves being played by the wind he relaxed. His mind was on lovely knee high huckleberry bushes and now and then magnificent red and white oaks and isolated white pines, some pines four feet in diameter. He often wonders on daily walks about the Indians who inhabited this area for almost ten millennia and the Colonial farmers who followed. He has read much about both yet doesn’t really know them. The Indians were displaced quickly by English farmers with soil-disrupting hoofed animals; the latter after three centuries gave way to machines that did the work. Now the few farm hands left ride above their bosses’ fields in tractor cabs and only visit now and then for spring plowing, weed killer applications, planting and in the fall for harvest and the sowing of cover crops. The Indian squaws worked the soils with clamshell hoes and sticks; the Colonists cultivated with iron hand tools and horse and ox drawn implements. The hands and feet of both Indians and Colonists were often in the living soil. Today 99% of Americans have nothing directly to do with the sources of their food other than super market choices where produce from around the world is weekly fresh or well preserved. In losing our direct feelings for our lands and waters we’ve let them become exploited by big agriculture, big oil, miners, loggers, road builders, and high tech fishing.
Such thoughts are often the Closeteer’s as he slowly wends his way around boulders, now and then briars, downed tree trunks, and through shallow swamps. He was brought up on subsistence farms that still used horses. His grandfather watched two sons turn to small tractors. One made his own. The Closeteer worked with both sources of power but as a boy was usually on the ground wielding hoe, pitchfork, or in the winter bucksaw and axe. In a couple family fields he found arrowheads but more often just the flakes of flint cast aside in their making. Walks in Middelton’s undeveloped areas reveal places where fires had passed through resulting in more open woods with less undergrowth, reminders of the Indians who purposely burned patches of land each year. The treeless rocky fields the Colonists’ livestock grazed are easier for him to imagine; since WWII he’d seen their demise on farms around the county. A few open areas remain on the North Shore well tended by the rich who have horses, need hay, or just want lots of lawn. Greenbelt provides some natural meadows. In Middleton we admire several hundred acres used by working Richardson’s Farms.
The Closeteer on his daily hikes is usually alone with no horses, cows, Indians or Colonial farmers as companions that others can see. Except for 200 year old lichen-softened stone walls every few dozen rods in such places, there are no signs of men, at least to those who know nothing of past farming and logging. The mature forest stirred by the wind was without motor sounds on last week’s hike. Even the sounds of planes passing high above were absorbed in the turbulence of leaf and wind. His pathless place was a pleasant one of mature trees, each many times his mass. He carried neither fire, axe, nor chainsaw. New leaves, flowers of ground cover plants, and bird songs filled the clean air of the natural gallery he had stepped off the road to visit. Although in his eighties and bushwhacking on rough ground, he didn’t tire; there was no hurry, no place he had to be. Fallen logs and stonewalls were available to sit on if a break was needed. He had learned in old age that it is better to rest standing, no need to get up when ready to move on.
In his wanderings in places around our towns still unvisited by earth moving machines he has learned how to meander easily without paths. A great advantage is having no need to travel in efficient lines from A to B. He doesn’t even need a watch; the rarely used family cell phone is usually at home forgotten. Without car, camera, computer, compass or any timepiece but the sun he is one with the trees and ancient stones left scattered by the glacier. Many of the stones were later lined up by bound-conscious farm families into walls. The trees are in all stages of life from seedlings to rotting hulks, still standing half dead, or fallen down. He barely remembers being a seedling but can imagine himself in the old trees. It is somehow comforting to see lives in all stages in the woods. Organisms, most unseen and interconnected in ways we are just learning about, are not naturally related to our human world of tools, machines, and guns. Death here among the plants and their creature companions is natural without ambulances, resuscitating tubes, and pills. These are wondrous inventions of man and we suppose they shouldn’t be slighted. They and we have made, however, two worlds on one planet where there was once a diverse network. The gulf between the natural and artificial grows. Our species’ now clearly has the upper hand and is changing at will, without much thought, the habitats of others to neither side’s long term good. We know this now and worry. Let’s add wisdom to genius and try harder to protect more of what we were once a part of.
The old Closeteer on his northerly walk felt for awhile he was “a part of “ the woods between south flowing brooks.
WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
OR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD
|Precipitation Data* for Month of:
|30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches
|2015 Central Watershed Actual
|0.1 as of 5/26**
Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For May 19, 2015 Normal . . . 61 CFS Current Rate . . . 4.8 CFS
Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru April.
**Middleton Stream Team is source of actual precipitation data for May.
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