Water Closet for November 25, 2016
[pullquote]”He was reminded of wind chill as his back and bare hands had their heat carried down wind. Within minutes stiffening fingers had trouble picking up clams.”[/pullquote]Often indoors we forget the wind. The other day the glass at noon read 50 degrees. The flags, church and country, flying in front of St. Agnes Church, Middleton, were straight out under a clear sky. A fair weather gale out of the northwest had them so. Relying on the temperature and bright sky the old Closeteer preparing for a clamming trip to Ipswich thought he wouldn’t need gloves. He hadn’t worn them on the flats since April. Two sweater vests under a tattered light windbreaker might do. One had been adequate for a woodland hike at the same temperature that morning. With clam digger, five gallon bucket, and homemade copper-wooden clam basket, a gift from the late “Old Joe”, he drove to Fran Masse’s, his mentor in-outdoor-things. He and Fran loaded Fran’s small SUV and then picked up fellow stream teamers Judy Schneider and Sandy Rubchinuk and left for Ipswich. These four of the team’s six clammers have had a good year on the flats below Eagle Hill, off the Eagle Hill River, Ipswich.
In Fran’s sturdy vehicle they forgot the wind and loudly, as some folks with old ears will, talked politics. A new president had been elected on Tuesday. The four were not fans of the winner. The new fellow, who accuses others of being losers, will take some getting used to. He is a big city boy-man seemingly not interested in environmental issues. Their town, Middleton, voted for him. Still none of the old timers had plans to move to Canada where they would be unfamiliar with the flats. Finally Judy wisely ordered that the political talk cease. A few last words and it did.
After passage through the lovely center of Ipswich they descended easterly by the Town Landing where low tide was visually confirmed. Even wise leader Fran had read the tide charts wrong a couple times. His apprentice clammers never let him forget it. On east they drove until the marshes now in fall caramel color dominated the scene. They were happily flanked again by Whittier’s “low green prairies of the sea.” On the causeway from the mainland to Great Neck they parked in line with the vehicles of four other clammers already at work. As they opened the doors, the wind made itself known with a vengeance. A northwest gale unfettered by houses and trees swept in gusts over the marshes’ vast reach. Leaning into the wind the group tacked to starboard over the gently sloping gravel and then mud flat until they were at their familiar acre among hundreds. While in a usually pleasant 50 degrees the wind quickly took away heat especially from uncovered hands. The Closeteer knew it would be a long hour plus before his allowed ten quarts were dug. He and others went right to work in order to get warm. Not wanting old eyes facing windward the Closeteer bent his broad stern to it and began digging at a spot where he found plenty of big clam holes, a place without too many residual puddles from the last high tide. Water from them quickly fills the diggers’ shallow excavations; clams encountered disappear. While eyes were protected by his stance, jacket and sweaters were raised by the wind. He was reminded of wind chill as his back and bare hands had their heat carried down wind. Within minutes stiffening fingers had trouble picking up clams. He tried to lash down the bottom of wind-catching jacket to no avail. So he came about and faced the wind as his wise companions were doing.
Now face and eyes became factors in the effort. His mind drifted to “Old Jackman” yarns told him by his Salisbury grandfather “Bummy Pettengill” whose farm was across the street from clammer Jackman who didn’t play at digging. On well below freezing days in winter he’d clamp his left woolen mitten covered hand on digger handle and dip it in salt water. The resulting shield of ice kept his hand from freezing. After digging a barrel of clams he’d load them on a wheelbarrow with wide steel tire and push back across a mile of soft salt marsh and upland sand to his house. On occasions when the clam buyer offered Jackman too little money he’d give the clams to grandpa for the chickens. Grandpa liked to tell Jackman stories. The Closeteer does too and lays them on us every few years; the temperatures and distances in the story get ever lower and longer. Old Jackman like many long gone was tough.
The Closeteer with cold hands told himself, “Don’t be a sissy” and dug on wishing his two peck basket would fill faster. The great thing about clamming in cold weather is finishing. We bet the pros nearby digging much longer periods on low tides feel the same. We hoped the fluctuating value of clams after such efforts were high for them. Old “mess diggers” don’t have to worry, our money hustling days are over. How did Old Jackman and others get along before Medicare and Social Security? We like to think our last moments will be a sudden heart attack on the flat or marsh. Our late clamming leader “Old Joe” Elston at 87 died suddenly at home a week after his last clamming trip while planning for another.
WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD`
|Precipitation Data* for Month of:||Aug||Sep||Oct||Nov|
|30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches||3.37||3.77||4.40||4.55|
|2016 Central Watershed Actual||2.14||1.85||6.81||2.3**as of Nov 16|
Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For Nov 16, 2016 Normal . . . 42 CFS Current Rate . . .44 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.
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