Water Closet for February 26. 2016
[pullquote]”Tall dead white pines above the Pond Meadow Pond impoundment support a 45 nest great blue heron rookery.”[/pullquote]
Chamaecyparis thyoides, thrived in Middleton. The old Closeteer liked to visit them with his children in late summers when their peaty-swampy floors were relatively dry, and in the winter on ice after long cold snaps. Unlike most of our groves of trees these were of a single species usually surrounded by red maples, high bush blueberries, and a few white pines. Even on mid-day visits the light reaching the spongy log cluttered hummocky floor was dim. Mature cedar trunks in pure stands are often within three to eight feet of each other. The gloom while eerie is also somewhat exciting.
One late fall afternoon about 17 years ago when the cedars were still alive and healthy the Closeteer unwisely decided to beeline across the large cedar swamp surrounding Pond Meadow Pond in the very northern tip of town. He stepped down from the surrounding dry oak forest floor and headed northwest keeping the low sun on his port beam. He knew the swamp stretched ahead only a half-mile before he would climb onto firm upland again near the Middleton-North Andover line. After a long forty or so minutes he guessed he’d only gone half way. His legs were tired from the constant ups and downs over many fallen trees and soft peat moss depressions. Atlantic white cedars have shallow root systems; many trees get blown down. The sun was ever lower; the light under the thick canopy of the 50 foot tall cedars was retreating. He dared not retreat; either way presented the same difficulties. After a worried rest he stumbled on. The Closeteer made it out to often tell this tale. Every year the story grows with more imagined dangers. You’d think the old timer had been lost deep in the Okefenokee Swamp surrounded by alligators and rednecks. Yet it took only a bit more than an hour to do the half-mile as the heron flies. The firm upland on the north edge of the swamp was happily reached in twilight. Such marvelously strange bogs were now much more familiar. He had been in several before on flat ice that covered the rough, soft terrain.
This Atlantic white cedar swamp fan and friends often revisit the now very different groves in winter. Four years after the hike under healthy trees described above over three fourths of the town’s swamp cedars were dead. Beaver dams so often marveled at here in the Water Closet had killed the groves around Aunt Betts Pond off Lake Street near the center of town and those stretching out from Pond Meadow Pond near Boxford and North Andover. Their trees were drowned by year-round standing water. Atlantic white cedars thrive in certain swamps within 50 to 130 miles of the ocean and gulf coasts from southern Maine to Mississippi. Atlantic white cedars and Northern white cedars (Arbor-Vitae) are properly classified as cypresses; they are not cedars. The more familiar cypresses of southern swamps do well with their feet andy knees in continuous water.
Our swamp cedars don’t grow as large as those in the south where they may reach 100-feet tall. The largest ones here are about 60-feet tall, 22-inches in diameter. Atlantic white cedars, their roots in anaerobic conditions, grow very slowly. The Coseteer cut one 6-inches in diameter waist high and counted 50 annual rings; an upland hardwood or pine that diameter would be only about 20 years old. One Southern source said swamp cedars have been known to live a 1000 years. Some of us guess the oldest corpse in our beaver killed, still standing groves would be well over 100. We must go out on ice to cut and count.
In the last five weeks humans have been given two chances for ice access. After a rare continuous day-and-night freezing week in late January several of us visited the Pond Meadow Pond and Aunt Betts stands on a good 4 to 7 inches of ice. No longer is there darkness among the gray dead trunks. The leaves, tiny blue-green scales, and twigs have been gone for over a decade. The light pours in on beaver meadows of standing water making them rich habitats in their own right. Tall dead white pines above the Pond Meadow Pond impoundment support a 45 nest great blue heron rookery. Two weeks ago in mid-February, the cold, so rare this strange warm winter, returned again. Friday the 12th was very cold. Saturday started at -10 F with a stiff breeze and stayed below 10 all day. Sunday and Monday three old timers got out on the ice at first light for strolls around the refrozen water on Aunt Betts impoundment in -4 F air, this time without wind. We enjoyed hiking in and around the dense cedars, many fallen. Deep Aunt Betts Pond, an almost perfect acre circle in the midst of cedars, has two large beaver lodges on its edge. Inhabitants have kept the north outlet at a culvert to Emerson Brook blocked for over eight years. Almost all except a few young cedars growing on hummocks were drowned within three years by the resulting higher water. The swamp we used to explore in semi-darkness has long been open. Many bleached bark-less cedar trunks still stand, many more over the centuries have fallen. The muck below is criss-crossed with the pickled dead.
This past Saturday the old Closeteer and older friend Frank Masse drove to a live Atlantic white cedar grove of about three acres rising above high bush blueberries and cranberries just off North Main Street (Route 114) where the high voltage transmission lines cross over from Emerson Bog and where the ghostly trunks of a large drowned stand remain. They have been standing for half a century since the Danvers water department dam on Lake Street flooded Emerson Bog. Masse remembers picking cranberries there as a boy. The Closeteer walked north on ice into the lovely stand separated from the reservoir by Route 114. The beavers have not flooded this true acid bog with cranberries, bog-cotton, and sundews flanked by cat-tails. He did not see but knew that in the green tops were dormant stages of the Hessel’s Hairstreak butterfly which can only carryout their life cycles in live Atlantic white cedars. We urge you to visit these now disappearing cypress stands, dead or alive, on safe ice or in the dry months of late summer.
_______________________________________________________________________________WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATIONFOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD`
|Precipitation Data* for Month of:||Nov||Dec||Jan||Feb|
|30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches||4.55||4.12||3.40||3.25|
|2015/2016 Central Watershed Actual||2.49||4.72||3.31||1.4**as of Feb 22|
Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For Feb 22, 2016 Normal . . . 75 CFS Current Rate . . . Unknown
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Jan.
**Middleton Stream Team is source of actual precipitation data for Feb.
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