TOPSFIELD ASH CUT DOWN,PIECE OFF TO MIDDLETOWN

Water Closet for May 19, 2017

“This impressive piece will be smoothed, and its annual rings labeled with important dates for display, e.g. 1905 – President Theodore Roosevelt sets aside lands to be protected around the nation; 1961 – Essex County Greenbelt Association started by Henry Sawyer; Jack Pierce, and Stephen Madden; 1980 BTA/BOLT launched; 1987 Ipswich River Watershed Association born; 1997 – Middleton Stream Team formed; 2017 – this Topsfield ash cut down; . . .”

From the 1880s an American white ash in the Parson Capen house’s front yard grew skyward. In an early glass plate photograph of the house the small tree has two main head high branches. One leans northwest toward the house just 30 feet away; the other southeast toward the future site of the Topsfield Historical Society’s restored Gould Barn.
On the morning of April 29, declared Arbor Day in Topsfield this year, the great double tree stood 90 feet high on a seemingly firm oval base five to six feet across. Unknown to most observers a brown plane of rot grew between the halves of the great trunk. The half leaning northward threatened the house, which is much more than twice the age of the tree. “The tree must go,” decided the Historical Society, “and be replaced by an older growing species such as white oak.” The Society planned an Arbor Day festival on the old ash’s departure. Maybe next year there will be a more traditional Arbor Day event at its replacement’s planting.

Rachel Schneider, new Ipswich River Watershed Association Outreach Manager, admires the trunk of the white ash that threatened the Parson Capen house seen in the background. Her foot rests on a base slice cut for the association. – Judy Schneider photo

Before 10 AM on d-day celebrants gathered around the taped off lawn of the Capen house. It reminded the old Closeteer of a crime scene. Mayer Tree Service, donating its services for the day, took over as its crane operator and two climbers took the branching stage. The crane rose well above the condemned ash as it raised the rugged men with chain saws to its top. The dismemberment safely proceeded downward for the next two and one-half hours until the venerable house being protected stood alone beside a low stump. The last cut from the base of the long-fused trunks was a slab some called a “cookie.” It was sliced from the base trunk which was moved by crane a 100 feet from its stump. The 40 year old Ipswich River Watershed Association (IRWA) and its daughter, the 20 year old Middleton Stream Team (MST), had asked for a historic “cookie.” These environmental organizations had been invited to participate in Topsfield’s Arbor Day celebration. The Historical Society granted their request with a 500 pound slice of ash.

Middleton Stream Steamers Francis Masse, an original member, and Leon Rubchinuk relax at the team’s recent Earth Day Festival. For the past two decades they’ve often been seen working on team projects. The shed moose antlers on display are one of several found by Leon and his wife Sandy in Maine. – Judy Schneider photo

This impressive piece will be smoothed, and its annual rings labeled with important dates for display, e.g. 1905 – President Theodore Roosevelt sets aside lands to be protected around the nation; 1961 – Essex County Greenbelt Association started by Henry Sawyer; Jack Pierce, and Stephen Madden; 1980 BTA/BOLT launched; 1987 Ipswich River Watershed Association born; 1997 – Middleton Stream Team formed; 2017 – this Topsfield ash cut down; . . .
The great “cookie” lay prostrate on the lawn. Mayer’s crane had departed and the dilemma became how does one move such a great weight to its temporary new home in Middleton? The old Closeteer, recipient of the piece, immediately thought of Leon Rubchinuk, a stalwart Stream Teamer. Leon, a native of Middleton, has been moving big things most of his life as had his rigger-salvage man father, the late Peter Rubchinuk. Leon’s career as a heavy equipment operator and rigger expanded to big jobs often on salt water from the Gulf of Mexico to the Gulf of Maine.   His latest was off Anthony’s Pier Four from a barge in Boston Harbor. In 20 minutes on the Capen lawn using just a well worn ratchet strap and a single plank the great piece was safely resting on Leon’s large pickup’s bed. The old Closeteer, along to help, had circled around doing little but kibitzing and pushing where needed, still had intact fingers, arms and legs. His supervisor chuckled at frets about such a simple chore done without need of engine power. He had patiently worked the piece up a single plank inch by inch.

At Stream Team Earth Day Festival several years ago. Leon gives ride to a lucky lad on a mobile wood splitter with a hydraulic log lift he built. His work-a-day equipment runs to over a hundred tons. – Judy Schneider photo

If given the large trunk of ash still lying on the Parson Capen lawn, Leon would get something useful from it and not just firewood. In his shop and yard he fashions sculptures from salvaged stones and hunks of wood, and makes hydraulic wood splitters, other machinery and tools from scratch. His carved granite birdbaths are the most sought after prizes at the Stream Team’s Earth Day Festivals. If there is anything he can’t make or fix his friends haven’t seen it. One wonders, if given the trunk still lying on the Parson Capen lawn, what he would make from it. His shop is a popular place. Surrounding it are marine artifacts retrieved from jobs that philistines might call junk. Bollards, large rusty anchors, chains and shackles; exotic stones of all shapes and colors; and strangely shaped logs are his media. In Leon’s eyes some will be sculpted into what suits his and others’ fancy. Generous to a fault, many will be gifts to friends or the Stream Team. With his fine homemade wood splitter he splits many cords of hardwood logs each year left him by a tree company. The fire wood is given to old timers who no longer cut much of their own.
The white ash cut, except for the gift slab, will also be used for firewood. Ash unlike many woods burns well not long after cutting. Upon burning it will become what the processes of photosynthesis made it from for 131 years: carbon dioxide, water and energy. Thanks to the venerable old tree Topsfield invited the IRWA and MST to tell their stories at its lively Arbor Day festival attended by lots of kids. The wooden souvenir was then given these groups. More importantly a talented friend came forth once again and helped as he has on so many other occasions. The Stream Team may note Leon’s birth on the 1948 annual ring.
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WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD`

Precipitation Data* for Month of: Feb Mar April May
30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 3.25 6.65 4.53 4.06
   2017 Central Watershed Actual 3.46 2.86 6.53 2.1**as of May 10

Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For May 10, 2017  Normal . . . 76 CFS     Current Rate . . . 112 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru April.
** Middleton Stream Team is the 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

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