Category Archives: Water Closet Blog

FALL FOLIAGE SHOW IS LATE THIS YEAR

Water Closet for October 27, 2017

     Just northwest up the road from Middleton in North Andover are Boston Hill and Holt Hill.  These glacially deposited and sculpted drumlins at 380 and 420 feet are the highest hills in Essex County. 

“The land in the last century has gone from grass, to bushes, to trees, which now in mid-October are surprisingly almost all still green”

From these highlands surface runoff of rain and snow-melt plus seeping groundwater flow northeast to Boston Brook and south to Skug Brook, then on to the Ipswich River where they converge with it eleven miles apart.  A century ago waters ran off treeless pastures.  Now trees cover much of New England.  In early- nineteenth century 80 % of Massachusetts was open gardens and pastures.  Farmers migrated west where soils are deep.  From the hills in any direction one looks, the roads and buildings of the suburbs are largely hidden by trees all the way down to the Boston skyline.  Blue Hill, which could be seen south of the city, is also heavily forested.  Like the other green hills at a distance it appears blue.

     Last Friday, October 13th, a group of seventeen Middleton Council on Aging/Conservation Commission walkers climbed up Boston Hill’s southeast slope and then in a round about way over to Ward Reservation’s unpaved Chestnut Street, now a north-south woodland trail.  Beneath magnificent oaks, yellow birches, dying ashes, and a few old white pines they walked in the shade.  Sprouts from a few long-gone American chestnuts still alive underground were seen along the path.  Their parents lain low a century ago by blight probably once dominated the street.  Many of the old oaks were “pasture trees” that without competition spread widely thus providing shade for travelers on this lovely wide street and for livestock just over the walls in the abutting pastures.  The old Closeteer, while trying to read the history of the land by its trees, imagined carriages and early 20th century cars on family and courting outings, folks out viewing scenery or picnicking from nearby Lawrence and Andover.  In winter there were horse drawn sleighs and children sledding in the high pasture land.  All the drumlins’ slopes are pleasantly shaded now by mature trees, mostly oaks.  There are no cows, horses, or sheep.  The land in the last century has gone from grass, to bushes, to trees, which now in mid-October are surprisingly almost all still green.  The two to three rod-wide Chestnut Street is flanked by lichen covered stone walls.  Their crevices are the habitats of chipmunks, squirrels, and many other animals largely unseen by groups of happily chatting hikers. Bird songs came up to the hikers from the heavily vegetated brook to the east and from uphill to the west in the pines and oaks.  In the fine cool October air all seemed right with the world.  No cell phone conversations were heard and the drone of traffic on Routes 114 and 125 became background noise, easily shut out and forgotten.  Many thanks must be given to The Trustees of Reservations who keep 700 acre Ward Reservation and its 15 miles of paths free of litter and fallen trees.  In three miles the Closeteer on a practice hike found only a baby’s pacifier and a sock to carry out.  

Young hardwoods on the lower south slope of Boston Hill, Ward Reservation. Mid-last century this was pasture. The road now blocked by trees was used by farmers and their cattle. – Pamela Hartman photo

     The walkers spread out as they leisurely hiked north on Chestnut Street for a mile.  They saw no horses, oxen, carts, carriages, bicycles or other people.  The large reservation hides other hikers well on its well marked narrow paths.  Swales and brooks have sturdy unobtrusive plank walkways over them.  The group turned east off Chestnut Street and slowly descended to Boston Brook’s damp stepping stones.  The brook was without running water due to a drought with half average monthly rainfall since the end of July.  The dark leaves of water-loving spice bushes flanked the rough path in the damp flood plain of the brook.  After the brook they slowly ascended Boston Hill southeasterly toward the summit.  Several stops were made en route to the handsome 14 acre “barrens” near the top  kept free of trees by people with saws and periodic fires in an attempt to reproduce the once common high hill habitat cleared for grazing in colonial times.  Before that annual Indian fires kept sun flooded areas open in savannah like wild gardens where certain plants and animal species thrive. 

Chestnut Street, Ward Reservation, North Andover. This wide unpaved street for cattle, horse drawn carriages, wagons, and sleighs is now a lovely shaded woodland path flanked by stone walls and old trees. The ferns are turning brown. The tree leaves above this strange fall are still green. – Pamela Hartman photo

Boston Hill’s south sloping barren where clearing was started in 2009 is a place of low plants such as blueberries and switch grass to name only two of scores of species of herbaceous plants and woody bushes partly shaded by a few pitch pines and oaks that had been spared.  The Ward Reservation ranger and volunteers installed a dozen or so bluebird houses in the sunny sprout land.  Many sprouts grew from each oak stump cut.  They’ll be periodically cut.  From this handsome wild garden, the group admired the Boston skyline and beyond in an arc spanning east to west.  The hikers had come in part for leaf peeping but the rolling land in view from Middleton to Andover was still green with just spots of warmer colors here and there. 

     For decades the Closeteer had tried to write a fall poem about the color changes.  This fall he came up with one he dared share.  However, he thought the hike was not the place for a recital.  The fall atmosphere on Boston and Holt hills was too precious for mere words.  He gave the poem to the Water Closet for inclusion is this account of an outing too early this strange year to see the show.    

                         FALL THEATRE

A million billion actors await high in the wings
Without dressing rooms will change, no shame
Soon the last performance before they fall
Among an audience that admires colors
With final bow the breezes will applaud
Take them for a ride before they reach the ground
When dry there’ll be a last encore
Played with feet, delighting ears with crunchy sounds
People who don’t like them in death’s stately browns
Will rake or noisily blow them into piles
Young children free of such odd thoughts
Will run and jump into crisp crackling arms
Old, wiser now, I leave them ‘neath the trees
Where they should be to feed the soil
To nourish waking buds at next spring’s shows
Old actors never truly die just disappear awhile
And later show their stuff in new green costumes

__________________________________________________________
WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION

FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD

  Precipitation Data* for Month of:  July Aug Sept Oct
  30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 3.89 3.37 3.77 4.40
   2017 Central Watershed Actual  3.43 1.22 2.44 0.6 as of Oct 20

 Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):

 For Oct 20, 2017   Normal . . . 8.8 CFS             Current Rate  . . .1.46 CFS

——————————————————————–

 *Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Sept.

** 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>

THE OREGON TRAIL BY BOOK

Water Closet for October 20, 2017

     The old saw “The devils are in the details.” is carried to a high level by dreamers Rinker and Nicholas Buck.  Unlike many dreamers their dreams don’t get in the way of practicality and can-do attitudes.

“They, Olive Oyl, and the mules Jake, Bute, and Beck made a diverse and lovable team as they cross the 21st century continent in mid-19th century style on roughly the same paths as the pioneers headed for Utah, California, Idaho and Oregon did”

 Claudia Johnson, retired Middleton librarian, put the Old Closeteer and others on to Rinker’s 2015 book The Oregon Trail.  This New York Times best seller is an account of his trip over 2000 miles long in a mule drawn wagon on a route often wide with many short-cuts called the Oregon Trail.  Rinker Buck, a crackerjack writer and historian, with sharp eyes, sharper ears and a good sense of humor brings historical details easily to trail life.  He, newspaperman and freelance writer, might object to being called a historian.  Buck is certainly not one of the academic types, although he could have been had he so chosen.  As a long time reporter he seems to deeply understand how America works now and did in the past.  He might approve of Bill Clinton’s campaign slogan, “It’s the economy stupid.”  Substitute “money,” the word on the street for economy, in this sentence. 

Best selling book by Rinker Buck about his 21st century 2000 mile journey on the Oregon Trail. The Buck party was made up Rinker, brother Nicholas, dog Olive Oyle, and three mules, Jake, Bute, and Beck. – courtesy of internet

     Upper middle age, after living what to the rest of us would seem several lives, Rinker sees some of the famous wheel ruts of the Oregon Trail made by tens of thousands of wagons pulled mostly by mules.  Inspired by a family horse drawn wagon trip in Pennsylvania organized by his father for a summer vacation in 1978, he decides to repeat that trip with one a hundred times longer and rougher by retracing the 19th century Oregon Trail in a wagon pulled by mules.  His amazing brother Nicholas, contractor, mechanic, animal lover, actor and raconteur from Maine, insisted on going along bringing with him his beloved, stinky, dog Olive Oyl.  It would take Rinker a separate book to describe self educated genius Nicholas who knows everything useful and is much loved for his stories, helpfulness and enthusiasm.  Nick, Jack of all trades and master of many needed on such a journey, was accepted with delight and not a little apprehension by his more orthodox brother although the word orthodox is an oxymoron with these guys.  Nick has marched quick-step throughout life, very much his own drummer.  Tidy Rinker, while well educated and equally energetic, is more cautious.  They, Olive Oyl, and the mules Jake, Bute, and Beck made a diverse and lovable team as they cross the 21st century continent in mid-19th century style on roughly the same paths as the pioneers headed for Utah, California, Idaho and Oregon did.  Rinker engagingly in day to day detail tells of the Bucks’ journey from May to October and much more about our country. He weaves the stories of the Buck journey with those of the gutsy, many desperate pioneers who participated, probably unknowingly, in the spirit of Manifest Destiny.  The spirit of those pioneers carries over today in the “Red States” according to Rinker.  There rugged individualism is held in high esteem.  Historically, that characteristic, so much touted by westerners, is “utter bunk” in Buck’s opinion.  Our legendary movement west was, from the 1840s on, much subsidized by the Federal Government.  Wyoming, a central Oregon Trail state still receives massive amounts of Federal help relative to its sparse population and yet claims in campaign slogans not to want aid.  The rugged and friendly individuals the Buck party encountered on the trail made their trip a delight because of their interest in the wagon adventure and their natural generosity.  Many ranchers went miles out their way to help with repairs, guidance, hay, food, company, and pasture.  One ornery couple who were inhospitable became eternal villains in the print of this popular book.  Thousands that did the trail for real in the 1800s were taken advantage of by sharp traders profiting from migration.  The Bucks experienced this in a small way when they purchased their two wagons.  The “jump off” towns along the Missouri and the many “camp towns” along the trail were wild, rough places where many cheated the newcomers.  Much valued household goods left behind to lighten loads littered the trail from end to end.  Entrepreneurs recycled them.  Many people died en route under wheels or as victims of cholera.  The skeletons of cattle, horses and mules were found all along the trail.  Shallow human graves were common. Even the 21st century Bucks left a few unnecessary things behind.  A constant problem for them and the early Oregon bound pioneers was water, too much at swollen rivers and streams and too little for long stretches in the deserts west of Nebraska.  Without large parties with many animals the Bucks’ biggest challenges were steep grades on sometimes narrow rough paths.  They had no gangs of people to help them.

The Oregon Trail, the paths of tens of thousands of pioneers and animals in their difficult 19th century treks west. – courtesy of internet

     Librarian Claudia’s best pitch when putting the Closeteer and others on to this book was “I frequently laughed out loud.”  The Closeteer also laughed while learning much more than he had before about our country.  The details Rinker so loves from the pioneers’ letters, maps and journals were intertwined with what the Buck party experienced and observed along the trail.  Mule and human behavior and the harnesses and rigs connecting them are well and at times of stress dramatically described.  Rinker, Nicholas, Olive, and the mules are emotional cusses and Rinker often lets it all hang out in entertaining and at times disturbing ways.  The laughing, and almost crying parts at times, come from the relationship between the two loving but very different brothers and an occasional visit by their father’s ghost to Rinker.  Take the Oregon Trail with the Bucks; you can do so in your reading chair without fear of running out of water for the mules.  Better still after reading get your own team and wagon before it’s too late.  Don’t use an RV.  Rinker doesn’t think much of the big rigs and clueless occupants who visit historical sites.  He isn’t at all shy about expressing such opinions or exaggerating as he dramatizes the hazards of the trail encountered.  Exaggeration is perhaps unfair.  It took courage and persistence to do the trail without a large company of other wagons as most all did in the old days without roads, rail, law, or communication other than mail that took months.  Rinker should be allowed a few tall tales told in perfect sentences.

His descriptions of the spectacular trail and surrounds are terrific.  He contrasts them with those from old letters and journals. 

     Nicholas blurts out at one point on a western Wyoming desert while approaching the lovely meanders of the Green River seen below, “I don’t ever want to go back home.  I want to live in this wagon the rest of my life.”  He must have been sincere because for a change he leaves out his usual f – words.  

___________________________________________________________

WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION

FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD

  Precipitation Data* for Month of:  July Aug Sept Oct
  30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 3.89 3.37 3.77 4.40
   2017 Central Watershed Actual  3.43 1.22 3.2 0.6 as of Oct 13

 Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):

 For Oct 13, 2017    Normal . . . 8.8 CFS             Current Rate  . . . 2.19 CFS

—————————————————————–

 *Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Aug.

** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for Sept and 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>

GARDENS AND BIRDS ALONG THE RIVER IN THE RAIN

Water Closet for October 13, 2017

     It was raining the morning of a recent Ipswich River Water Association’s bird walk. 

” Several coopers hawks, a sharp-shinned hawk, a Merlin, a peregrine falcon, two harriers, a red tailed hawk, and a possible goshawk were seen”

Those looking forward to the Suzanne Sullivan1 led event stepped out before eight into a cold rain.  The Old Closeteer, who wore a rain jacket and carried an umbrella, decided to drive to the beautiful State-owned fields on the Middleton-Danvers line just east of the Ipswich River2 where the event was to start.  He expected to return in a few minutes because no one would be meeting on such a day.  He drove by the house of a friend who had planned to go but her car was still in the yard. It looked like she, who helped organize the bird walk, wasn’t going.  He soon crossed the river and turned southeast into the lovely open land along Gregory and Dayton streets.  The meeting place on the edge of the community gardens came into view and there to his surprise were eight cars.

     Suzanne in rain gear with large camera in a plastic bag stood smiling in a little group similarly dressed, half also under umbrellas.  The Closeteer immediately knew this was no meeting to discuss cancellation due to weather.  He, a non-serious birder since boyhood mid-last century, hadn’t realized the spunkiness and dedication of true birders.  He should have; he’d heard about them.  Judy Schneider, the friend whose car he’d passed, soon arrived with her daughter Rachel and the group now complete was greeted and briefed on how to behave.  “Move slowly, no sudden moves, be quiet,” Suzanne instructed the several obvious veteran birders and us rookies who were silently shivering and wondering how long the gathering would last in the still cold rain.  Staying close so they could hear one another, the ten or so participants moved very slowly after their leader between the wet gardens, corn fields and a couple of heavily vegetated patches of   illegal 20th century dumping from the Danvers State Hospital now over grown with trees and bushes.  Less than a century ago patients had worked the fields the birders now  walked.  When visiting this area, almost a mile square of bottom land and surrounding foothills devoted to agriculture, the Closeteer imagines ghosts of long suffering patients now at rest.  Their bodies were interred in two graveyards nearby.  Spirits finally free they may walk the lovely fields down to the river or up to the summits of the nearby drumlins.

Members and friends of the Ipswich River Watershed Association look for birds while standing ankle deep in wet grass on the lovely fields below Hathorne Hill (background right) where Danvers State Hospital patients once worked. – Rachel Schneider photo

     It soon became apparent to the rookies that they were with serious people having a good time as they scarred up small birds also silent in the rain.  No “singing in the rain” as Gene Kelly would have them and us do.  The birders in happy tones murmured quietly to one another about the location of birds sighted and bird characteristics observed.  “Indigo bunting to right of the left lower fork in that apple tree. Just moved to higher branch.”  “Yes indigo; Cool!”  Another vet, speaking softly but excitedly, answered.  We newcomers followed their pointing fingers and noted the directions that their binoculars pointed.  At first the Closeteer’s saw little.  Soon however, the cold was forgotten as the enthusiasm of his zealous companions caught him up; and some of the feelings of his teen years as an amateur birder, usually alone, returned.  After an hour with these patient companions, so obviously content and seemingly ready to go all day, he got in the mood and learned to use his too long neglected binoculars properly with one hand, while holding an umbrella with the other.  Accustomed to hiking quickly in the woods and fields he sees relatively little detail. This group, moving at a snail’s pace and pausing at each of many sightings, traveled less than a quarter mile in two hours as they discussed bird features.  The Closeteer had always thought true birders very competitive.  These showed not the slightest disappointment when wrong about identification.  There were discussions and then agreement or friendly disagreement.  When we, not-even-novices-yet, asked questions, the pros, especially Suzanne, answered patiently and well.  She would remember our questions a half hour later and add to her answers.  Soon we newcomers wanted to see more.  We finally dared to point out a few things on our own. Rookie Rachel Schneider got us all laughing when jokingly she said, “Those are Canada geese,” when a couple were heard passing over. 

     The highlights of the morning were the many hawk sightings.  Several coopers hawks, a sharp-shinned hawk, a Merlin, a peregrine falcon (“duck hawk”), two harriers (“marsh hawks”)3, a red tailed hawk, and a possible goshawk were seen.  Even the pros seemed more excited upon seeing the larger birds, the predators.  And speaking of predators the group long watched a coyote a couple hundred yards away hunting small animals in a neighboring hayfield.  The climax of the birding day was when a spread out flight of Canada geese, flying low, came over us from the north en route to the stubble in recently harvested Richardson fields of cow-corn.  There may have been 200 in a dozen little characteristic V formations making a great racket; over the fields they broke formation into many smaller groups and circled round and round checking out the ground before they finally landed to look for corn ears the harvest had left behind.

“What a glorious feeling, I’m happy again. Just birdin’, and birding in the rain.” – Rachel Schneider photo

     Finally after two and one half hours the group broke up, the pros seeming reluctant to leave.  The old Closeteer vowed to return with a friend now that he had learned to walk slowly and use his binoculars again. True birders aren’t crazy. Birds are beautiful and interesting as all those with feeders know.  We share DNA with them.  Many species are now thought to be endangered.  Habitats like those walked, where fields, woods, and water together are found will help them survive.  “North Andover Judy” a avid birder in our group had seen a once common bobolink in the diverse community garden field a few days before.

1 Suzanne Sullivan from Reading, longtime member of the Ipswich River Watershed Association, has long been a champion protecting our river.

2 The almost 600 acres of land in this geologically unusual basin below the drumlins  Bare Hill to the north and Hathorne Hill to the east, east of the Ipswich River has been in agriculture use for four centuries and perhaps 3000 thousand years before that under the Indians.  Much is a low basin with a manmade east-west swale but without a stream that flows to the river.  Much of it is now being cultivated by Richardsons’ Farm.  Four or so gently south sloping acres of good soil are devoted to lush community gardens. These are surrounded by hay fields and corn.  Visit and walk around these fields and see what much of New England was like before the farms went out and the trees returned last century. The land and nearby river has become a favorite place for birders and hikers.

3 The names in quotes were the names common in the Old Closeteer’s boyhood.  He bemoaned the loss of old names for new politically correct ones, such as, “oldsquaw” becoming “long tailed duck.”  Leader Suzanne strongly disagreed and soon straightened him out.  He’ll now use more descriptive “long tailed duck” when in company.  Oldsquaws translated means gossipy old women.  Long tail ducks in groups often melodiously chatter.  Was “oldsquaw” the Indian name for this small duck or did the English colonists come up with it?  By the way it is the male oldsquaw that makes most of the noise.

___________________________________________________________

WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION

FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD

  Precipitation Data* for Month of:  July Aug Sept Oct
  30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 3.89 3.37 3.77 4.40
   2017 Central Watershed Actual  3.43 1.22 3.2 0 as of Oct 5

 Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):

 For Oct 5, 2017      Normal . . . 7.7 CFS             Current Rate  . . . 1.92 CFS

 
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Aug.

—————————————————————–

** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for Sept and 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>

BAPTISMAL MAIDEN VOYAGE

Water Closet for October 6, 2017

     Middleton Stream Teamer Leon Rubchinuk’s raffle ticket drawn at the Ipswich River Watershed Association 40th birthday celebration won him a new canoe.  Generous Leon offered its use to fellow members.

“Smart weed, pickerel weed, arrow head, arrow arum and reed canary grass, emergent soft wetland plants, grew out into the channel from both banks”

The Old Closeteer, envious of its light weight, asked if he could take it on a maiden voyage for what in the navy is called a shakedown cruise.  Permission was granted.  Two days later at Farnsworth Landing off Route 114 in Middleton the shiny new Kevlar 15-foot long vessel was launched after a fairly easy lug from the Closeteer’s pickup down Vito Mortalo’s stone steps to the Ipswich River.   Alone, the Closeteer had brought a five gallon jug for ballast to provide stability and proper trim.  The water at the river’s edge was too low to immerse the jug from the bank so he pushed off in the canoe to deeper water.  Filled, the jug was pulled over the rail.  In an instant the canoe tipped and swamped; the Closeteer was in water up to his neck.  No big deal, the water temperature was 64 F, air 80 degrees without a breeze.  However, while not feeling cold he felt incompetent and stupid.  Fortunately there were no spectators.

     Chris-Kerry, a temporary name* he has given the new canoe, was dragged to the bank and emptied.  The jug was placed far forward to balance the lone paddler sitting in the after seat.  Chris-Kerry moved slowly up river in a channel with loose rafts of  dying plants.  Her shiny hull pushed fairly easily through the rotting debris.  All else outside the channel in the river’s beaver inundated floodplain and in the forested uplands beyond was still lush green, surprisingly so for late September.  Despite Chris-Kerry’s first moments in the water and noted tenderness compared to larger canoes owned by the Stream Team, the Closeteer, still soaking wet in the warm sun, felt content and any embarrassment was fading.  The river will do that. All seemed right with the world.  A couple great blue herons ahead spotted him and separately took flight up river.  They’ll do that for a while, keeping somewhat ahead of paddlers.  Two small flocks of ducks flew past just above the water.

Lush vegetation along the edges of the river’s channel will soon turn brown. Smartweed and duckweed, still green, are seen here. – Judy Schneider photo

     It was the plant filled water near the surface which soon had the paddler’s attention. To those unfamiliar with bodies of water not flowing this time of year it looked dirty.  Potamogeton, a plant with long stems up from bottom ending in lance shaped leaves, was dead or dying near the surface.  Below it were dark clouds of soft coon tail floating up within a couple feet of the surface.  They hadn’t been noticed just a couple months before.  Covering large patches of water surface were thin layers of brown-gray scum, bacteria and fungi.  The water plants so lush all summer were undergoing eutrophication a fancy word for excessive growth and rotting.  Their dense populations in slow moving water, growth stimulated by nutrients, had crowded each other out.  Bacterial and fungal decomposers, the river’s cleanup crew, were clearing the water up.  It recurs every late summer and early fall.  In another month the surface water temperature, now 68 F, will cool to the temperature of the water on the bottom and the water column will be at equal density throughout.  Winds will cause movement and the water, surface to bottom, will mix.  Nutrients circulated up from the bottom will stimulate the growth of photosynthetic plankton and in cooler water the dissolved oxygen level will rise.  Cold water holds more dissolved gases than warmer water.  The water will soon be clear again ready for winter and another yearly cycle.  The water column turn over will occur again in the spring when winter’s colder surface water and warmer bottom water reach the same temperature.  Thoughts of these marvelous changes cycled through the Closeteer’s mind as Chris-Kerry slowly pushed on through the floating and suspended vegetation being broken down, surprisingly without unpleasant odors, just a comforting musty smell emanating from each paddle stroke.  Two hours passed in the dramatically meandering passage among walls of lush green.  Smart weed, pickerel weed, arrow head, arrow arum and reed canary grass, emergent soft wetland plants, grew out into the channel from both banks.  In some stretches the channel was only two paddle-lenths wide.  The smart weed’s  handsome two to three-feet high stems ended in spikes of off-white blossoms and dominated the near scene.  Beyond them across the wide floodplain between Danvers, Peabody, and Middleton the foliage of mature hardwoods and patches of tall pines filled the lower sky.  Still dark green they showed little color change except for a few swamp maples along the floodplain’s edges.

Ipswich River water is now cloudy over long stretches with bacteria and fungus and the vegetation they are decomposing. A very normal process in our water bodies this time of year. – Judy Schneider photo

     After being stopped by an 80-foot long, two-foot high beaver dam, the Closeteer not wanting to portage, shifted seats and ballast and headed back in his wake, this time bow first.  After all, this was a shakedown cruise for Chris-Kerry so he had to make a proper report to owner Leon.  She is tender in sailor’s parlance, tippy to landlubbers.  Then isn’t this as women are supposed to be?  Old now, hardwired with these prejudices, he knows this is nonsense.  He had just shown himself to be tippy and is often more so in other ways on land. 

     Back at Farnsworth Landing where he had stepped out a hundred times from other vessels he pulled alongside the bank near Vito’s lower step and grabbed a favorite river birch to hoist himself up and out of the canoe.  He stepped out onto the bank.  The soles of rubber sandals slipped, his grip on the tree didn’t hold.  He was again intimate with his beloved river.  He started wet and would drive home wet having proven himself tippy.  What should he report to owner Leon about Chris-Kerry?    

*Chris for Christine Sandulli, president of the board of directors, and Kerry for Kerry Mackin, past executive director, of the Ipswich River Watershed Association   

____________________________________________________________

WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION

FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD

  Precipitation Data* for Month of:  June July Aug Sept
  30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 3.95 3.89 3.37 3.77
   2017 Central Watershed Actual  6.08 3.43 1.22 2.7 as of Sept 29

 Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):

 For Sept 29, 2017  Normal . . . 8.1 CFS             Current Rate  . . . 1.68 CFS

——————————————————————–

 *Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Aug.

** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for Sept..

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>

PARKER RIVER PADDLE

Water Closet for September 29, 2017

     The Parker River flows between the Merrimack and Ipswich rivers as it meanders fifteen miles from Groveland to Plum Island Sound.

“Humans have paddled these waters for 10,000 years. They’ll no doubt continue in the estuaries of an ever changing coast”

In mid-September several Middleton Stream Teamers and friends in two canoes and seven kayaks joined the flow at Middle Road in Newbury near The Governor’s Academy.1  The paddlers put in among the cattails and leisurely rode easterly on a high ebb tide flanked by an ever saltier marsh of largely short salt marsh grasses.  The brackish water-loving narrow leaf cattails were soon left behind.  Had the paddlers tasted the water en route they’d have found it only moderately salty.  The seawater that had come in on the morning’s flood tide had mixed with the freshwater runoff and groundwater from the upriver watershed.  The total area drained by the Parker River and its tributaries is 82 square miles. A morning fog had lifted; the world between the sky and water was lush green.  Only a few distant Virginia creeper vines climbing trees on the marshes’ edges showed the bright red of fall.  Cord grass on the river’s banks and salt hay grass on the flat high marsh2 showed no signs of the caramel color they’ll soon become.  Here and there on the marsh small patches of glasswort had turned shiny green to pink-maroon.  While stopping for a picnic lunch on a knoll of granite at the convergence of the Mill River up from Rowley, the paddlers found and tasted the reddening leaves of “pickleweed,” another name for glasswort.  One paddler found that those that had turned red are saltier than those still green.  In years gone by this little succulent was pickled for use as a winter condiment.   

View of the Parker River and its salt marsh in Newbury as seen from a knoll with exposed granite ledge. The marsh is less than 3000 years old; the rock of the ledge is over 300 million. – Elaine Gauthier photo

The northeast corner of the picnic knoll has a high expanse of ledge facing northeast that provides a fine view of the river and salt marsh.  As the paddlers parked their vessels in the cord grass, a Newbury man with two young daughters passed by slowly in a motor boat.  Friendly, when questioned about the ledge where they had stopped, he volunteered.   “I was engaged on that rock.  I brought my bride-to-be out here with a ring and a bottle of champagne.  She said yes. ”  How could she have said otherwise in such a lovely place? The paddlers wondered how many others had been courted in this lovely estuary painted and photographed so many times.  Martin Johnson Heade of the Hudson School of Illuminists introduced our salt marshes to the world in the 19th century after visits here and other marshes along the east coast.  For years the Closeteer had passed along the legend that famous Heade painted with Frank Thurlo, a Newburyport artist and frame shop owner who did scores of marsh scenes.  There is no evidence of this, but examination of the men’s paintings strongly indicate a connection.  The younger Thurlo no doubt knew of Heade and may have been inspired by him.    

Glasswort, a small succulent marsh plant, turns red in September. Paddlers from the Parker River are tasting the soft stems of this plant once pickled for use as a winter condiment. – Elaine Gauthier photo

  The snack laden paddlers climbed to a red cedar and oak-fringed clearing on the knoll’s top.  As they ate and rested the old Closeteer’s mind drifted back to his days as a young boy in late July and early August on the salt marshes of Salisbury where his grandmother brought food and a refreshing molasses-water drink called switchel to her husband and helpers making hay.  While they ate she fished for eels and flounders in nearby Pettengill’s Crick.  On catching an eel she would scream.  Much amused one of the hay makers would run to her and take the squirming eel off the hook.  Here and all along the Parker’s tidal waters from colonial times into the early 20th century almost all the high marsh was mown for “salt meadow hay.” The miles of crick and river banks were also cut for cord grass that was used before the Revolution for thatch.  Some high marsh hay is still cut for mulch. The seeds won’t sprout in upland soils.  Winter ice cuts the tall cord grass which then drifts in on the high-runner-tides of nor’easters to pile up on the shoulders of causeways.  Some is yearly gathered by the Closeteer as free mulch. Out beyond Route 1A, in from the barrier beaches on the low tide flats, the grass cutters might have brought home baskets of clams if they caught a low tide and could spare the time.  As a boy the Closeteer dug sea worms on the same flats, which he and friends  used as flounder bait.     

Canoes such as these are now out numbered by kayaks. These paddlers are riding the high ebb tide on the Parker River in Newbury. – Elaine Gauthier photo

After lunch the paddlers returned to their vessels.  The water level had dropped two feet and the descent down the muddy bank to the floating canoes and kayaks was tricky. One spunky lady slid into the water up to her shoulders. Stream Teamer Glenn helped pull her out and into canoe.  Asked by her canoe mate if she was all right and needed a dry shirt, she said, “Feels good in this heat.”

     An easterly breeze riffled the water and replaced the hot humid air as the paddle down the beautiful, ever-widening Parker River resumed.  Soon the fleet passed under the Boston and Maine Railroad Bridge at half tide when tidal flows are at maximum velocity.  The Closeteer remembered his late mother telling how much she liked her daily commute by rail to school in Boston almost a century ago across the several salt marshes seen en route to North Station.  In too short a time the paddlers passed under the new Route 1A Bridge to a landing where they took out and returned to being landlubbers.  With the tide they could have easily paddled another four miles down to Plum Island Sound and on to the mouth of the Ipswich River and the sea, or north up the Plum Island River to the mighty Merrimack.3 

      As long as the gravities of the Moon, Earth and Sun interact the tides will keep on coming.  Humans have paddled these waters for 10,000 years. They’ll no doubt continue in the estuaries of an ever changing coast.

  1. For PR reasons the governor’s surname Dummer was dropped this millennium from the name of centuries old Governor Dummer Academy.  Many alumni disagreed with the change considering it incorrect and snooty.         
  2. The flat surfaces of the salt marshes seen when passing through our estuaries are the elevation of mean high seawater.  On spring tides, when the moon is full or new, the marsh grasses are often covered by higher water. On neap tides which correspond with the first and last quarter moons, the levels, at twice daily highs, are lower than average. On September 17, the day of the Stream Team paddle, the tide chart read:  high 9.9 ft.; low, -0.3 ft.  Three days later, the day of the new moon:  high 10.7 ft.; low  -0.7 ft.  On full and new moons the spring tides are higher and lower than average. On the neaps the ranges between highs and lows are less.  The haymakers used to cut on the neaps when the marsh was relatively dry.
  3. Comparing some of our rivers: Parker  – 20 miles long, watershed 82 sq. mi.;  Ipswich – 35 mi. long, watershed 155 sq. mi.;  Merrimack – 117 mi. long, watershed 5,010 sq. mi.;  Piscataqua (See last week’s WC.) 14 mi. long,  1,495  sq. mi.

__________________________________________________________
WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION

FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD

  Precipitation Data* for Month of:  June July Aug Sept
  30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 3.95 3.89 3.37 3.77
   2017 Central Watershed Actual  6.08 3.43 1.22 2.7 as of Sept 22

 Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):

 For Sept 22, 2017  Normal . . . 5.5 CFS             Current Rate  . . . 3.13 CFS

——————————————————————–

 *Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Aug.

** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for Sept..

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>

PISCATAQUA RIVER – GREAT BAY CRUISE

Water Closet for September 22, 2017

     Historic Portsmouth, a small city with a great seaport, is less than an hour north of Middleton via an asphalt river that flows from the now suffering Keyes up into Maine.

“Beneath the water at half tide, unseen to the visitors, are eel grass meadows, nurseries for many species who feed fish well out into the Gulf of Maine”

 From the mouth of the Ipswich River on a fair west wind you might sail to Portsmouth in under half a day. Portsmouth Harbor’s rocky entrance, the Piscataqua River, doesn’t shift as do the barrier beaches of sand that flank the Merrimack and Ipswich rivers’ exits to the sea.  Some say the name Piscataqua degenerated from Algonquian’s Peske (branch) and Tegwe (strong or tidal current); both suit this dynamic river and its large drainage well.  The water from the watershed enters the Atlantic between Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Kittery, Maine. 

Buoy number 13 marking the Picataqua’s channel bows to the river’s powerful currents. Here brackish water ebbing tips it toward the sea from whence the water came. – Judy Schneider photo

The half tide currents between the two reach four to five knots.  In contrast our twice-as-long Ipswich River has only one fifth the watershed area and relatively slow currents.  The rivers in our arc of the Gulf of Maine from Cape Ann to Kittery, the Ipswich, Parker, Merrimack, Hampton, and Piscataqua, are very different rivers. 

     Last week on their annual outing about forty Middleton Stream Teamers and friends took an early evening cruise from downtown Portsmouth up the ebbing Piscataqua into Great Bay and back.  The large engines of the 50 foot long Portsmouth Harbor Cruise vessel labored against the strong current.  It took one and one-half hours for the 12 miles up from the start and only forty five minutes to return. The fast moving water roiled around the huge columns supporting routes 1 and 95 bridges.  In the days of oars and sails, boat and ship movements were done on slack or favorable tides.  The Old Closeteer remembers rowing races in dories in the Portsmouth harbor area.  Two strong young men trying to buck the ebb and flood currents at peak flows with oars stood still and soon fell off and went with the flow.  Races were planned for slack lows or highs. 

The impressive bridge towers of routes 1 and 1 A further east are being rebuilt. Portsmouth is seen to the right. The once infamous white U. S. Naval prison in Kittery can be seen in the background. – Elaine Gauthier photo

Despite the currents, deep water in the narrows between Portsmouth and Kittery has made this a busy and well known Atlantic seaport since the early 1600s.  For a century before that fishermen from the “Old World” in small ships no doubt used it when here fishing spring to fall.  We know they had fishing stations on the Isles of Shoals just six miles to the east off shore.  The half-dozen granite islands’ early English name was Smythe Isles, so dubbed for warrior, entrepreneur, and explorer John Smith. 

     His and subsequent fishing stations in the area were among astoundingly rich waters, thick with fish, nourished by the Piscataqua River and 6000 acre Great Bay and its six feeding rivers.  The cruise took the group up into the shallow, much warmer, bay where about half its area is exposed mud flat at low tide.  The captain cited marine studies done there to bring the oysters and anadromous fish back.  The oysters are still there, and herring return to the bay’s rivers each spring to spawn.  Their numbers, however, don’t compare to early colonial days and before, when for ten millennia natives occupied the coastal lands and waters.  Beneath the water at half tide, unseen to the visitors, are eel grass meadows, nurseries for many species who feed fish well out into the Gulf of Maine.  The cruise ship passed patches of floating eel grass the currents that had torn loose and  were en route to sea where they too would become food.  Great Bay is said to be the second largest inland estuary along the east coast of the country that is not directly connected to the sea.  The boat passed by UNH’s Jackson Lab where marine life is studied and oysters resistant to a devastating virus up from the Chesapeake Bay are being developed.  Stream Teamer Fran Masse and his oystering buddies, who raked the Eagle River in Ipswich, used to bring empty shells to Jackson Lab for use as substrate.  After a composing period in quarantine  shells are sprinkled in the bay for planktonic oyster larvae to attach to.  The tiny “spat” need hard surfaces as lifelong anchors. 

This osprey flies under a 24-7 stream of cars above on route I-95. – Donna Bambury photo

An encouraging sign indicating healthy bay habitats are the stands of mature trees almost completely fringing the uplands surrounding Great Bay.  The bay’s habitats in order of decreasing area are underwater meadows of eel grass, mud flats, salt marshes, channel bottoms, and rocky intertidal edges.  The pastures and sawmills that once ringed the bay are long gone gone.  Manure and sawdust no longer run off during rains and spring melt. The trees and ground cover catch sediment; the water is infiltrated among billions of soil organisms and a labyrinth of roots.  Ground and runoff water is thus cleaned.  The bay is now protected by law from the discharge of sewage and industrial wastes throughout the watershed.  The cities of Dover and Rochester in the headwaters of the Piscataqua, once important mill towns, are now quiet.   

    

Mighty route I-95’s current flows on asphalt from Maine to Florida. In the river below its bridge across the Piscataqua the current shifts direction four times a day. – Elaine Gauthier photo

The bridges crossing the Piscataqua from New Hampshire are not quiet.  Traffic on mighty I-95 never ceases.  Routes 1 and 1A bridges are being rebuilt.  One of the highlights of the cruise was hearing from recently retired marine heavy equipment operator and Stream Team member, Leon Rubchinuk, talk about his work removing and repairing old bridges over the river.  For 27 years he worked from piers and barges, Texas to Maine, taking down and raising structures above and below the water.  As we passed under the new bridges Leon vividly described what has been done to make way for the new and what is happening now in and above the currents as the structures are built.   

     While riding the ebb back under the bridges the Old Closeteer thought about tidbits of Portsmouth’s dynamic history, a place very important in our country’s early trade and later wars.  John Paul Jones supervised the building of the new nation’s frigate Ranger in Portsmouth from 1781 to 1782.  Privateers pestered and profited from British shipping in the War of 1812.  In the 20th century submarines were built and repaired for the world wars.  The work goes on.  The Closeteer remembers when he was six in 1939 listening with his parents to the radio as the fatally crippled SS Squalus and crew, down over 200 feet outside the harbor, were being rescued.  Twenty six not taken to the surface in a recently invented Momsen diving bell perished.  As a child during WWII, the Closeteer remembers hearing strange rumblings in the wee hours of the night.  Stories next day back from the shipyard were that a U-boat had been sunk by depth charges just off the coast as it attempted to approach the outer harbor.  The State Park in Salisbury was then an Army Anti Aircraft battery to protect the Portsmouth Shipyard twenty miles to the north.  Portsmouth’s most famous international event was the peace treaty between the Russians and Japanese in 1906 arranged by President Theodore Roosevelt.  The negotiations successively proceeded under his supervision from Washington. 

     The news from modern Washington, hurricane Harvey in Texas, impending arrival of Irma, and Korea was remembered by the Closeteer upon the cruise’s return to lovely downtown Portsmouth.  He was somewhat reluctant to end the trip and go ashore.  It had been an interesting escape into the past, dreaming of days gone by and hearing of improvements in the water of Great Bay and the Piscataqua, which no longer stinks as rivers often did when he was a child.  

___________________________________________________________

WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION

FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD

 

  Precipitation Data* for Month of:  June July Aug Sept
  30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 3.95 3.89 3.37 3.77
   2017 Central Watershed Actual  6.08 3.43 1.22 2.4 as of Sept 15

 Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):

 For Sept 15, 2017 Normal . . . 4.2 CFS             Current Rate  . . . 1.74 CFS

——————————————————————–

 *Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Aug.

** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for Sept..

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>

The Hummingbird Escadrille

Water Closet for September 15, 2017

Naturalist Fred Gralenski in far off Pembroke, Maine, has been sending the Middleton Stream Team his bimonthly, Quoddy Nature Notes, for over a decade.  Below is a column from long ago, repeated recently, about hummingbirds.

“The rookies will remain to hone their skills for a while, and then they, too, will move South.  We hope they will return to liven up our outpost next Spring”

Gralenski a retired building contractor and a life long sharp-eyed naturalist reminds the Old Closeteer of the great French entomologist Henri Fabre.  Gralenski studies the behavior of animals of all sizes and sees far more than the rest of us do.  He, like Fabre, then reports with stories in often humorous language we all can understand.  Here are observations about hummingbirds, seen ever more often in the last decade probably because of the increased popularity of hanging colored water feeders and flower gardens that include plants they like.  Around here now some are seen along our streams and rivers as they visit a few lingering brilliant red cardinal flowers.

QUODDY NATURE NOTES
THE HUMMINGBIRD ESCADRILLE
By Fred Gralenski

     Spring:  The refueling stations had only just been established when the squadron commander appeared to reconnoiter.  He was quite impressive with his red satin scarf shining in the sunlight, but he was all business as he methodically examined the refueling area and mapped out flight patterns in and out.  After a few days, he was joined by his second-in-command, a more subdued individual with no flamboyant adornments.  This team spent several days discussing, sometimes quite boisterously, the merits of establishing a base in our area.  The fact that other squad leaders showed interest in the site helped convince them to stay and they made it quite clear that the other squads should establish themselves elsewhere.  The aerial warfare between the squadron leaders with their red scarfs glittering as they dove, banked and rolled was very dramatic.  After securing their base, the two set about building a barracks and preparing for the arrival of the new squadron.

     Later:  “Mon Dieu!” squeaked the commander in his gruffest voice, his ruby cravat flashing in anger, “You call that flying?  This is the worst bunch of slugs I ever saw!  Now do what I showed you – hover, back up, then attack!  Bluff with your tail.  And you, Andre, get those wings beating a lot faster.  You sound like a fat butterfly, Jacques, you hang on the refueling station one more time and it’ll be the last thing you ever do!  If you want to be an ant or a yellow jacket, there’s no room for you here!”

One of thousands of hummingbirds at sugared water feeders around the country – Fred Gralenski photo taken in Pembroke, Maine.

     The new rookie squadron had arrived and were struggling.  Their shiny green and white uniforms were slightly disheveled as they spent most of their time on maneuvers and little on preening.  The squadron commander was always driving.  He was everywhere, obviously infuriated by the rookie squadron’s sloppiness and lack of discipline.  He continually stooped down on his team and berated them severely for their many shortcomings, sometimes forcing them to make emergency landings in the petunia patch.  The second-in-command, at times, tried to intercede for the rookies but met with little success.

     Late Summer:  Eventually, the rigorous training paid off and the new squadron was able to engage in some breathtaking dogfights over, around and into the cosmos and lilies.  The rookies were getting battle-hardened and the commander was no longer completely successful in forcing them from the refueling station.  Now his sometimes tattered cravat flashed not with anger but with pride.  Again, he and his second-in-command had done their jobs well; turning out a crack squadron ready for anything.  The group has been transferred further South and the commander and assistant have already left to seek out an acceptable billet.  The rookies will remain to hone their skills for a while, and then they, too, will move South.  We hope they will return to liven up our outpost next Spring.  Until then we bid adieu to the Hummingbird Escadrille!

______________________________________________________
WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION

FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD

  Precipitation Data* for Month of:  June July Aug Sept  
  30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 3.95 3.89 3.37 3.77  
   2017 Central Watershed Actual  6.08 3.43 1.22 2.0 as of Sept 8

 Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):

 For Sept 8, 2017   Normal . . . 3.8 CFS             Current Rate  . . . 14.4 CFS

—————————————————————-

 *Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Aug.

** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for Sept..

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>

LAYERS OFF THE ATLANTIC

Water Closet for September 8, 2017

     On a fine August Sunday afternoon, 11 paddlers in four kayaks and three canoes put in on a half-tide ebb at the end of Island Road in Essex.

“Soft shelled clams, razor clams and an occasional quahog were dug by hand, studied, and soon released to watch their return to a wonderfully clean habitat”

Throughout the year when the flats are open clam diggers depart from this landing as low tide approaches.  Up until the 1600s the clammers were Indian women and girls carrying forked digging sticks and woven baskets.  But the eleven paddlers on Sunday weren’t after food; they had brought their own.  Crane Beach and Choate Island were their goals.  En route the wind and tide were with them; paddling was easy even for several novices. 

Plum Island in the background left, vegetated Crane Beach dunes, and labyrinth of salt marsh cricks at low tide as seen from the summit of Choate, also called, Hog Island. -Elaine Gauthier photo

The wide cricks they traveled cut through layers of soft brown peat, capped by green salt grasses, showed the strata formed over time.  One measurement from a mid 20th century Newbury study has had the marsh surface rising with the sea on an average four inches every 100 years in the last millennium.  Since the deepest and oldest peat is about 360 inches thick and about 3000 years old there must have been much faster periods of sedimentation and rise.  The level marshes are covered by grasses and rushes that catch sediment at high-runner-tides thus getting thicker.  If the sea rise due to global warming continues as it has been, peat formation may keep up.  If it rises faster the protective barrier beaches will be overridden and eroded, the soft marshes washed away.

     The fleet of little vessels swung around to the east under Choate Island, a drumlin left by the continental glaciers looming above the marsh.

Waves of clean sand on Essex bar at low tide – Elaine Gauthier photo

The backside of the dunes of Crane Beach came into view.  The group planned to swim from its almost white sand beach, which on Sunday was surprisingly crowded.  The paddlers gammed, hollered back and forth to one another as from passing ships of old, and decided they wanted privacy.  The opportunity arose below them.  The falling tide on the broad bar they were crossing had clear water only ankle deep and falling.  Their vessels were soon grounded on soft sand. The channel nearby provided water deep enough for swimming.  The paddlers decided to picnic on the bar.  Their newly exposed beach was 200 yards off the one with motorboats and people. 

Left to right: Amiri, Django, and Jia dig with hands in an Essex low tide sand bar for clams to study and then release. – Elaine Gauthier photo

As they ate, talked and swam, they discovered holes in the sand.  Soft shelled clams, razor clams and an occasional quahog were dug by hand, studied, and soon released to watch their return to a wonderfully clean habitat.  The razor clam quickly extended a foot and pointed it downward into the sand.  Water was pumped into the foot’s end thus making a bulbous kedge anchor.  Muscles pulled the clam upright and then down.  An old timer, patriarch of the group, said you can eat raw clams like oysters. He would have demonstrated but was voted down.  The diggers didn’t want their catches killed.  The lovely bar, no oyster bar, was a place where mercy prevailed that Sunday.  All the animals captured and studied were let go.  Later on return, on a rising tide, hermit crabs in large numbers put on quite a show.  On the channel’s flanking mud flats three serious clammers with a lively dog tried kiddingly to sell clams to the paddlers stranded by the too shallow water.  The dog befriended by the paddlers’ leader followed her and had to be returned.  There was much barking, calling and dashing around on the flat until rising water allowed the fleet to proceed.

     The swim and picnic over, the fleet turned westward toward the southeast toe of slope of Choate or Hog Island, both names are used.  The glacial drumlin rises gently from the southeast to its summit 180 feet above the sea.  The north end and its steep flanks are shaded by mature European spruces which were planted by Cornelius and Mine Crane, Choate’s new owners in the 1930s.

Paddlers are climbing Choate Island in a southeast sloping field of flowers, in patch of Queen Anne’s lace. Cape Anne is in the background beyond the Essex marshes and river. The three century old Choate house, featured in the movie The Crucible, stands alone on the right. – Elaine Gauthier photo

The visitors hiked slowly up from the handsome old Choate House, seen briefly by millions around the world in the 1996 movie The Crucible.  The slow ascent was due to frequent pauses as the climbers stopped and marveled at the Atlantic’s edges as they were revealed in all their glory.  Other drumlins including Castle Hill; the barrier beaches of Crane, Plum Island, Salisbury, Seabrook, and Hampton to the northwest and north; distant Mount Agementicus in Maine; the Isles of Shoals barely seen a little east of north; the mighty open ocean all the way east to Cape Ann and beyond; and then the uplands back around to West Gloucester and Essex, all wore the soft colors of summer.  And at low tide stretching out below the hill were the wide salt marshes.  The rich estuary’s colors of greens, browns, and whites and all shades in between swirled amongst each other in most delightful patterns.  All about the dawdling climbers, flowers filled the field, some in bloom, others passing.  A few monarch butterflies, whose diminished populations are now much worried about, flitted among patches of milkweed.  In the lovely meadow were a dozen recognized flowering plant species. A botanist could have named many more.

     A team of botanists, zoologists, microbiologists, geologists, and hydrologists is   needed to begin to understand the many layers of life of estuaries and their surrounds.  For other dimensions add to them the artists in us all who in awe simply wade and paddle.  Patches of wet flat and bar are dynamic paintings brushed by tides and wind.  The coming and going twice daily of clear seawater and the murky waters from cricks creates Escher patterns of rivulets and sand-mud dimples like tiny dunes that snails, green crabs and hermit crabs move about on and in.  When the water deepens, minnows, sand eels, and sea worms come forth.  The bars, flats and cricks are alive with ever-renewed levels of life. And so were the temporarily stranded paddlers as they, released by a rising tide, paddled homeward toward a setting sun.

___________________________________________________________

WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION

FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD

`

  Precipitation Data* for Month of:  May June July Aug  
  30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches  4.06 3.95 3.89 3.37  
   2017 Central Watershed Actual  4.87 6.08 3.43 1.9 as of Aug 31

——————————————————————–

 *Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru July.

** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for Aug..

THE WATER CLOSET is provided by the Middleton Stream Team: www.middletonstreamteam.org or          <MSTMiddletonMA@gmail.com>

RETURN TO CHOATE ISLAND

Water Closet for August 25, 2017

     On Saturday, August 12th, eight people, Steam Teamers and a friend, drove to beautiful Essex by the sea and put 4 kayaks and two canoes into the salt marsh crick at the end of Island Road off Route 1A.  The tide was at low ebb.  Clammers, their pickups waiting, had preceded the group.  Kayaker-photographer Elaine Gauthier had done much the same outing in October of last year.

“Twenty years ago the movie The Crucible was partially filmed in a colonial village of facades around the surviving Choate house”

 This year, she, our leader, planned to ride the tide out to the back of Crane Beach and there hike one of The Trustees of Reservations’ (TTOR) many lovely trails among the high dunes.  After hiking the tiny fleet returned on the low flood tide to Choate Island for a picnic followed by a climb to the summit of this island hill.  An early rain had departed before the paddlers start.  The sun’s rays softened by interesting clouds were with the group all day.  If you haven’t visited this wondrous area of water, flats, salt marsh, labyrinth of cricks, white sand beaches, dunes and ocean, so near, by all means do so.  For background see the Water Closet that follows about last October’s paddle. MST 

WHERE THE RIVERS MEET THE SEA (October 18, 2016)

     Ipswich Bay, in the Gulf of Maine, an 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.  Almost white sands make up the changing channels and disturbing bars at these rivers’ mouths between Plum Island and Crane Beach and between Crane and Wingaersheek Beach, Gloucester. 

Back of Crane Beach dunes, right, and the Essex-Ipswich estuary, left, at low tide. – Elaine Gauthier photo

Behind these beaches, protected by their dunes, are 10,000 acres of soft marshes of accumulated peat and sediment one to thirty feet deep 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 sea 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 an hour on some high springs, especially during easterly winds, the marshes behind the barrier beaches appear as vast bays.  As a boy in Salisbury the Closeteer and other called these highs “high-runner-tides.”  

     Fresh water from the uplands of Newbury, Rowley, Ipswich, Essex, Rockport, Gloucester and beyond joins these estuaries where salt and fresh water mix to form a thin but rich soup that ebbs to enrich the ocean. Easily worked “Merrimack sandy loam” surrounds the tidal waters to the west. The Closeteer was brought up 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 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 hill arising above the Ipswich-Essex marshes.  From Argilla Road to Crane Beach the paddlers had often 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.  Early last century after grazing ceased, spruce trees from Europe were planted.  Now 86 years old they rise up seventy feet shading half the island’s 200 acres.  The paddlers were en route to explore the hill, a glacier-deposited oval drumlin, steep on its southwest and northeast flanks and northwest end. Yearly the gentle southern slope is mown.  The drumlin’s NW-SE axis was the direction of the movement of the estimated half-mile thick ice sheet that melted over 10,000 year ago.  It is completely surrounded by wide salt marsh cricks that visitors must cross.  These barriers had once kept livestock out of mainland gardens.

Essex-Ipswich salt marsh and its labyrinth of cricks from the summit of Choate Island. The dunes of Crane Beach are seen between the salt marsh and the ocean. – Elaine Gauthier photo

     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 water.  The mile paddle out to Choate is usually an indirect one via meandering wide cricks.  These and the grassy marshes were hidden by salt water which they paddled over.  With a brisk, westerly fair weather breeze, the adventurers, backs and raised paddles acting as sails, were soon under the steep windward side of high 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 paddlers’ tiny vessels were tied at the toe of the drumlin to bushes covering an ancient stone wall.  They struggled through and over the thicket and entered a wonderful southeast facing field of 50 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. 

Choate or Hog Island, a glacial drumlin, as seen from the west.. – Elaine Gauthier photo

The handsome house built in the early 1700s and renovated by the movie maker still stands empty in the 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 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 while enjoying the lovely day as they looked out on the sea where explorers Giovanni da Verrazano, Samuel de Champlain, and John Smith had passed four centuries gone.   

__________________________________________________________

WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION

FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD

  Precipitation Data* for Month of:  May June July Aug
  30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches  4.06 3.95 3.89 3.37
   2017 Central Watershed Actual  4.87 6.08 3.43 0.9 as of Aug 18

 Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):

 For Aug 18, 2017   Normal . . . 6.6 CFS             Current Rate  . . . 1.74 CFS

 *Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru July
——————————————————————–

** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for Aug..

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>

EARLY MORNING ON THE IPSWICH RIVER

Water Closet for August 11, 2017

Seven paddlers including the Old Closeteer arose in the dark and wondered for a moment why they were doing so.  It was four-o’clock; sunrise, their target, was at five-thirty. They planned to greet the sun’s early light on the Great Wenham Swamp, a vast impoundment above the Willowdale Dam on the Ipswich River.

“The swamp may be quite like it was four centuries ago before the Indians killed beavers for the new comers from across the sea who paid iron pots and knives for their pelts”

Once on the road to their put-in spot off the Topsfield-Ipswich Road they cheered up and upon arrival joked as they lugged a canoe and five kayaks down to the river a quarter mile above the Willowdale-Foote Dam where a woolen mill once made clothing for the Union Army.  No wool was needed on this late-July sunrise-paddle day. The cool air was dry and clear; the water flowing high and fairly fast.  Almost two inches of rain had fallen two days before.  At five-thirty, at least human-wise, the seven had the lovely river to themselves.

Early morning “sea smoke” surrounds paddlers on the Ipswich River. – Judy Schneider photo

But others were there in great numbers; the fish below unseen, song birds above, and geese and ducks on the surface.  The first sights that thrilled the paddlers were patches of fog no more than head high on the water.  It is called sea smoke on the ocean.  The water vapor rising in cool air condensed and gave us quite a show. These low clouds glowed in the reflected light from the sun still beyond the high greenery of the river’s walls.  Light above in the trees plus that reflected up from the still water provoked a wondrous mood they’ll not forget.  If they do their photographers, who caught some, can pull them down from cyberspace.  All happily dawdled to allow the three photographers to take shots in the magic light.  The shutter bugs were kidded about lagging. Those without cameras just marveled at the scenes that included flowering white and yellow water lilies, button bushes, pickerel weeds, smart weeds, reed-canary grass, and now and then wild-rice to mention but a few plants flourishing in the wetlands.  Within a half-hour the patches of fog on the water were gone and new phenomena caught their eyes. Large spider’s webs between the twigs of swamp dogwood and button bushes and high up in dead maples glowed silver in the stronger light. They, full of dew, sparkled. Yet in an instant due to a change in angle they completely disappeared like sand paintings swept away upon completion by their makers.  They knew the webs were still there, but could they be sure? Or were the webs the spiders’ morning offerings to the sun god and not just lovely catchers of prey?

The belted kingfisher’s loud long chatter as he flies from perch to perch is always a welcome wakeup call for river travelers. – Judy Schneider photo

Such whimsical wonderings were theirs as they happily chatted and pointed out things while passing. The photographers, usually astern in their wakes, captured some of what they’d seen and stored it digitally.  As the sun rose higher the shade lessened as the fleet left the tree canyons and paddled out into the open scrub-shrub swamp dominated by canary grass, cattails, button bushes, bur-reed, smart weed, and dying silver maples.  The numerous beaver dams they passed over have exacerbated the effect of manmade Willowdale Dam. Together for the past two decades these dams have been drowning the venerable old maples and swamp white oaks which like water but can’t take so much year ‘round.

 The areas of the dams’ impoundments are impressive.   The Great Wenham Swamp, originated long ago as a mill pond behind the Willowdale Dam, for two centuries it has flooded almost four square miles (about 2800 acres) of what was once wet meadow.  The addition of a dozen beaver dams since the late 1990s put several hundred more acres around its edges under water.  Dying trees are seen all along the four miles of meandering river from High Street (Route 97) to Asbury Street in Topsfield.  The fallen and leaning giants, without twigs and leaves, are unintended victims of the beavers. Passers by who think they know the history of the scene are not much saddened. The swamp may be quite like it was four centuries ago before the Indians killed beavers for the new comers from across the sea who paid iron pots and knives for their pelts. After the beavers were gone the colonists drained the rich beaver meadows so they could hay and pasture them in late summer.  Then mill builders came and damned the rivers for water power. After the Civil War the farmers gradually moved west or into area factories.  But it was not until 1996 that steel leg hold traps were banned and the beavers came back.  The Closeteer guesses from his knowledge of Middleton’s eight miles of Ipswich River that there may 30 to 40 beaver dams between the headwaters in Wilmington and tidewater in downtown Ipswich.  There are three manmade dams standing.

Canada geese quiet on calm Ipswich River water before the early morning mist is gone. – Judy Schneider photo

As the Closeteer paddled with his companions in the perfect light of another new day he thought of beaver meadows, hay fields and pastures, and mill ponds for power.  He and the others were also much impressed by other evidences of energy being captured.   As the sun rose after a cold night like so many this summer, the turtles came out in numbers and parked on emergent logs with their dark solar panels towards the sun. On the paddle back, when the sun’s altitude was at about 45 degrees turtles, hundreds of them, single or little groups were seen along the west bank on floating and leaning logs and snags their faces pointed up and out; their dark backs at near right angles to the blood warming sun’s rays.   The paddlers passed within a few feet of many, closer than they could upriver. Their hypothesis was that in the Great Wenham Swamp turtles are much more used to canoe and kayak traffic up from Foote’s Canoe and Kayak Rental at the Willowdale Dam and thus not as shy. 

     

Four painted turtles position themselves on a log to catch the early morning light. – Judy Schneider photo

  The turtles were not the only ones being recharged that morning.  Despite over five miles of paddling, sometimes against current over submerged beaver dams, the paddlers’ energy and spirits were high.  At the end, their vessels were pulled out and toted up the bank and on to vehicles with vigor and good cheer. Any muscle fatigue wasn’t acknowledged, only some regret upon leaving such a lovely scene.  Near the end the paddle the first rental canoe from Footes passed them going up river.  The veterans wished its two paddlers well knowing they too were being recharged. 

The turtles sense the energizing sun each day. The Stream Teamers and friends realize the Ipswich River is nearby and now navigable year-around thanks to beavers holding back the water.  The Indians of long ago were well aware of this.  Each year in May before the big migration-blocking industrial dams they greeted millions of anadromous fish up from the ocean to spawn.  Present paddlers’ descendants might see the fish again when the manmade dams are gone or modified.  What a renewal that would be to human spirits and more essentially to fish!

__________________________________________________________

WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION

FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD

  Precipitation Data* for Month May June July Aug.
  30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 4.06 3.95 3.89 3.37
   2017 Central Watershed Actual 4.87 6.08 3.8 .3 as of Aug. 4


 Ipswich R. Flow Rate
(S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):

 For Aug. 4, 2017   Normal . . . 18 CFS              Current Rate  . . . 17.6 CFS

*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru June.
——————————————————————-

** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for July..

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>