Water Closet for October 30, 2016
[pullquote]”On October 16th from the end of Island Street, Essex, twelve tiny vessels joined the mix for a paddle to a high handsome hill arising above the Ipswich-Essex marshes.”[/pullquote] Ipswich Bay, in the Gulf of Maine extension of the Atlantic Ocean, is encompassed by a twelve mile arc of sandy beaches and bars cut through by the Ipswich and Essex Rivers. The almost white sands are channel disturbing bars in the rivers between Plum Island and Crane Beach and between eastern Crane Beach and Wingaersheek Beach, Gloucester. Behind these beaches, protected by their dunes, are 10,000 or so acres of soft salt marshes of accumulated peat and sediment one to thirty feet deep inward from their edges and only a few thousand years old. At low tides thousands of accessible acres of exposed mud flats teem with life. During spring tide highs, after new and full moons, the grass-covered, flat salt marshes are often covered with water. “Spring” here is not related to the season. Spring and neap tides are the monthly highs and lows based on the positions of Sun, Moon, and Earth. For a couple hours on high springs, especially during easterly winds, the marshes behind the barrier beaches become vast bays. As a boy, like others raised in Salisbury, the old Closeteer called these spring highs “high-runner-tides.” He still does.
Fresh water from the uplands of Newbury, Rowley, Ipswich, Essex, west Gloucester and beyond join these estuaries where salt and fresh water mix to form a thin but very rich soup that ebbs to enrich the ocean. The so-called Merrimack sandy loam soil of southeastern Salisbury is surrounded on three sides by tidal waters. The Closeteer was brought up there on farms with very little freeboard. Years ago he attempted a poem about estuaries that were in his blood long before he’d heard the word.
Dark and light green grasses
In cowlicks swirl ‘tween soft mud cricks
Levied by dune and upland rock
Watering place for more than ducks
Has depth and breadth
Beyond its bounds
Where larval travelers get their start
And subtler cycles turn
To nourish out a thousand miles
In Ipswich Bay between Salisbury and Gloucester the nourishment in large part comes from the watersheds of the Merrimack, Parker, Rowley, Eagle, Ipswich and Essex Rivers. Each is fed by its many tributaries. The Merrimack’s bring molecules all the way down from the White Mountains, the headwater streams of the Ipswich from off the roofs and parking lots of Burlington Mall and Wilmington.
On October 16th from the end of Island Street, Essex, twelve tiny vessels joined the mix for a paddle to a high handsome hill arising above the Ipswich-Essex marshes. From Argilla Road to Crane Beach, Ipswich, and Route 1A, Essex, they had admired the spruce covered hill called both Hog and Choate Island. It had been free range for hogs and other livestock for three hundred years. In 1930 after grazing ceased, spruce trees were planted. Now 86 years old they rise up seventy or more feet shading half the island’s 200 acres. The paddlers were en route to explore The Trustees of Reservations (TTOR) hill, a glacier-deposited oval drumlin very steep on its southwest and northeast flanks, its steep northwest end, and the yearly mown gentle south slope. Its NW-SE axis was the direction of the movement of the estimated half-mile thick ice sheet that melted here over 10,000 year ago. It is completely surrounded by wide salt marsh cricks that visitors without a plane must cross. These barriers had kept livestock out of mainland gardens.
Some among the visitors not familiar with high-runner-tides were surprised with what greeted them upon arrival at the clammers’ Island Street landing. That mid-day the marshes were under a foot and a half of water. The mile and one-half paddle out to Choate is usually an indirect one via meandering wide cricks. These and the grassy marshes were hidden by salt water as they got underway and for another hour. With a brisk, westerly fair weather breeze, the adventurers, backs and raised paddles acting as sails, were soon under the steep windward side of Choate. Helped by an ebb tide the fleet turned toward the drumlin’s open southeast slope looking for a place to land.
A half hour after getting underway the tiny vessels were tied to bushes at the toe of the drumlin on a narrow high tide shore beneath thickets covering an ancient stone wall. The visitors struggled through and over the wall and entered a wonderful southeast facing field of 60 or so acres kept opened by the Trustees. Twenty years ago the movie The Crucible was partially filmed in a colonial village of facades around the surviving Choate house. The handsome house built in the early 1700s and renovated by the movie maker stands empty in the lovely field marked with stone walls. Actors Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder and the ghosts of John Proctor and Abigail Williams, the sinners they played, were not seen or heard. Maybe on a night visit alone their spirits might appear to ask you why they aren’t in Salem. Playwright Arthur Miller certainly didn’t have them there. Choate was probably chosen because of views from its high field. God was there watching over his errant children among the coastal marvels of his evolution. The paddlers, just ordinary moderns not plagued by Puritan notions gone terribly awry, sat in soft grasses picnicking in sunshine half way up the high meadow. They looked out across Ipswich Bay, fair marshes, beaches and sand bars. The gods certainly seemed to be with them, but whose gods, the Indians’ or Cotton Mather’s? It was best that no one spoke of either, just about the day they’d been blessed with as they looked out on the sea where explorers Giovanni da Verrazano and Samuel de Champlain had passed four centuries gone.
WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD`
|Precipitation Data* for Month of:||July||Aug||Sep||Oct|
|30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches||3.89||3.37||3.77||4.40|
|2016 Central Watershed Actual||1.41||2.14||1.85||7.4**as of Oct 24|
Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For Oct 24, 2016 Normal . . . 15 CFS Current Rate . . .Not Available
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Sep.
** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for Oct.
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