Water Closet for March 31, 2015
[pullquote]”Budding, flowering and bird arrival times of species known by Thoreau are on average earlier. A significant number of species are no longer found in the area.”[/pullquote]
Walden Pond just 25 miles WSW across two watersheds is known around the world because of Henry David Thoreau, the genius who wrote Walden. Thoreau also gave us much much more in his 45 years. His famous journals, about 1700 pages still mined by naturalists, scientists, and philosophers, were written after daily off road walks of several hours. Some seemingly magic synergy of parental DNA and surroundings, both natural and social, gave us this great man. His Concord neighbors and friends included Emerson, the Alcotts and Hawthorne. Outdoor folks, especially hunters and boys who could now and then escape farm chores, recognized a kindred soul and reported to him of their findings. Thoreau, a man of some means, could roam freely much of the week. As a surveyor without a wife and children he prided himself on getting along by only working in a conventional sense one day in seven. Gossip about and criticism by the orthodox of a man who could spend hours on a stump or rock staring at things seemed to roll off his back. He was truly an independent soul and natural naturalist. We know of him because of his superb and at times rebellious writing.
Modern naturalist-writer Richard Primack, a reader of Thoreau’s journals a century and one-half later, reminds us of him with his new book Walden Warming.1 While novel in style it is no novel. Primack is a conscientious Boston University biology professor who with students painstakingly goes to the great man’s journals and picks out the names of plants Thoreau reported on first seeing in bud and flower, and of the arrival of birds and insect sightings in the spring. Not only do they study birds and plants and climate but other organisms from insects to salamanders to Boston marathon runners. Spring and summer first-sighting dates and running times and temperatures over the years are compared. For the long gap between their and Thoreau’s observations they have found other naturalists who have kept flowering and arrival time records. They relate these to historical temperature data easily obtained. A question by so many worldwide now asks, have natural phenomena been affected by global warming these last two centuries? Primack and helpers have gone the extra miles and hours collecting and rigorously analyzing data in eastern Massachusetts’ habitats to find out. They often visit Concord and try to follow in Thoreau’s footsteps. Primack, with great candor supporting and raising doubts about hypotheses, tells of their findings and conclusions which show that in many cases animals and plants have been significantly affected. Budding, flowering and bird arrival times of species known by Thoreau are on average earlier. High bush blueberries bloom three weeks earlier. A significant number of species are no longer found in the area. Last Friday’s Boston Globe (3/27/15) features an article about a disturbing report just out of the New England Wildflower Society2 about changes in plant populations that worries us Stream Teamers. It gives indirect support to the findings reported in Walden Warming.
We wish Texas Senator and now Presidential aspirant Ted Cruz had read Primack’s book and the Wildflower Society’s report before telling us last week in his announcement speech that global warming and such changes are something we don’t need to worry about. We hope during the campaign this bright and bold politician will evolve, a natural process he may also have doubts about. After hearing his speech some wonder if the word “doubt” is in his vocabulary. We recommend professor Primack’s book to all candidates running for public office. His facts and figures page after page make for an important book that is no page turner; however, if taken slowly it is very readable. Primack’s good prose is sprinkled with interesting descriptions of his research methods. Lines from Thoreau’s writings begin each chapter. U.S. Representative and Speaker of the House Tip O’Neil famously said “All politics are local.” We know that while this isn’t true it contains much wisdom. The best research in ecology may be that done locally over time. Primack and his and our hero, immortal in his works, have carefully looked at nature close to home in central New England for periods over two centuries.
Primack ends, as we so often have here in the Water Closet, urging folks to leave electronic screens and roam in the great outdoors with eyes and ears wide open. He encourages us to keep journals. The late Page Campbell of Middleton, hiker here for 60 years, kept one of yearly first sighting times and other things. On walks with colleagues she’d tell them what to look out for. Her lessons have not been forgotten.
1 Primack, Richard C. Walden Warming: Climate Change Comes to Thoreau’s Woods (University of Chicago Press, 2014)
2 “State of the Plants” report: New England Wildflower Society. March 2015. by Elizabeth Farnsworth, Society’s Senior Research Ecologist
_______________________________________________________________________________WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD`
|Precipitation Data* for Month of:||Dec||Jan||Feb||March|
|30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches||4.12||3.40||3.25||4.65|
|2014 – 2015 Central Watershed Actual||8.45||3.67||3.55||2.3 as of 3/31**|
Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For March 31, 2015 Normal . . . 141 CFS Current Rate . . . Unavailable
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Feb.
**Middleton Stream Team is source of actual precipitation data for March.
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