Water Closet for May 13, 2016
[pullquote] “The industrial age with assembly lines, now aided by computers and robots has upped the amount of cheap stuff but maybe not our contentment and a necessary sense of accomplishment.”[/pullquote] The ghosts of Captain Timothy Perkins and son Timothy junior, here in the flesh in then northwest Salem three centuries ago, recently sensed that something was afoot at their pond which once powered their sawmill. That was so long ago we don’t have any information about the mill except from cryptic old deeds.1 Farmers didn’t spend their evenings writing and there was no face book.
Last Sunday as their ghostly feelings grew the Perkinses visited the pond and surrounding land owned last century by Albert M. Creighton, Jr.2 Unseen, they silently witnessed people of all ages gathering on the south side of their 18th century mill pond, none brought logs to saw. All came in polluting cars; none by horse or on foot despite it being the Stream Team’s annual Earth Day festival. One old man brought and raised the original Earth Day flag which meant nothing to the Perkinses or even to most modern celebrants. It was designed in 1969 by artist and cartoonist Ron Cobb. Like the US flag it has 13 stripes, only red stripes are green. The field of stars in our flag is replaced by a large green O with a horizontal bar across the middle somewhat like the Greek letter theta. Some say this is an E and O combined, E for environment, O for organisms. This handsome flag has been replaced by one with a famous early photograph of the Earth taken from space by an astronaut.
As the invisible Perkinses mingled, they heard modern English being spoken about something called Earth Day that must have mystified them. Many of the celebrants spoke into little hand held devices that they poked with fingers. Their clothing with messages and pictures on them were strange enough. We wonder if ghosts and spirits keep up with events after death. If they do they might not always be resting in peace. Sunday at noon, scores of people, not coming from Puritan churches, started arriving in gas burning vehicles while supposedly worrying about pollution. The celebrants’ motives are good. However, we wondered if they could go back to living lightly on the land in small houses or if the Perkins and other colonial farmers using horses and oxen, sailing vessels, and water powered mills could have gone back to the way of the Indians who lived so much more lightly on the Earth without livestock, ocean going ships, or mills of any kind.
Is our planet doomed from high human living standards where living is defined as more cheap stuff forever? It seems speed, convenience, comfort and entertainment, far in excess of those in Puritan times, are our main goals. Are we any happier for it? Wouldn’t you like to have a discussion with some folks from colonial New England, with men and women who made their own houses, tools, clothing and shoes? On rough land they raised animals for work, meat, and leather. On better fields, ones formerly cultivated here by the Indians, they raised plants for food and fodder. The festival participants with few exceptions do none of these essential things for a living. Many sit at flickering screens all day where they communicate electronically and then flock to country fairs and Earth Day festivals where folks seem to want to go back to a time when people raised crops and animals and made things by hand and simple machines. Those necessary activities have become popular hobbies.
The Perkinses in life probably had little time for hobbies. When not farming they sawed lumber for self and neighbors at their mill whose dam created the mill pond which is now the focal point of a summer day camp for children.3 In other parts of town blacksmiths fashioned tools for local use from steel made of bog iron at the water powered iron works on Mill Street. Housewives and daughters preserved foods from the sea and nearby gardens and made clothing from Yankee wool and flax. Each town had several small tanneries to finish leather from which shoes and harnesses were made. Such hand manufacture was labor intensive but we wonder if it wasn’t satisfying to the soul. Artists and inventors among the craftsmen abounded. Then who can separate the two? A few moderns have gone back to making useful things as art. Stream Team president Sandy Rubchinuk makes very good jellies, jams and pickles from local wild fruits and crops. Mary Jane Morrin, formerly a mover and shaker in Middleton, and Sharon Lemoine make lovely useful quilts. Stream Teamers Brie Grieco, Roger Talbot, and Tom Jacques raise a few chickens that are not confined in body-size cages as has become the new economic style where all is efficiency and profitability. Blacksmith and artist Carl Close likes to make handsome tools and even engines from scratch. Over the years Dick Clark and Red Caulfield have make fine birdhouses for the festival’s popular raffle. There must be a hundred of their rent free units around town. Each year Leon Ruchinuk makes a lusted-after granite bird bath for the raffle. For years Fran Masse provided freshly dug clams. With a little research the list would be long of people in the area going back to the basics including the making of instruments and music. The industrial age with assembly lines, now aided by computers and robots has upped the amount of cheap stuff but maybe not our contentment and a necessary sense of accomplishment. Is all this just the fussing of another old timer remembering the mythical good old days? We Closeteers think not. People of all ages and talents are looking for something tangible to do well. Many correctly argue that this can be done with high tech electronics. True, but why not combine the old and new in an effort for all to live more lightly and happily on the planet?
As the displays, booths, and concessions were being taken down after the festival, we Stream Teamers who had sensed their presence hoped the Perkinses spirits left not only in wonder of what they had seen and heard but with some optimism for our futures. They certainly must have marveled at the trees once so valuable and relatively scarce to them now covering the land. In their time much was rough pasture, often over grazed and eroding with a few shade trees for cows and horses, apple trees for cider, and small woodlots for fire wood. The long ago mill pond once with floating logs awaiting their turns at the saw has for the last century been a pleasure pond nestled in a protective watershed of woods.
1 Watkins, Lura Woodside. Middleton, Massachusetts: A Cultural History 1970. See Pages devoted to Timothy Perkins.
2 Creighton Pond Day Camp, owned by The Boys and Girls Club of Lynn, is managed by Leland Boutilier, co-leader with Sandy Rubchinuk of the Middleton Earth Day Festival.
3 Creighton, 98, has been a long time stalwart of the Essex County Greenbelt Association. He has been much honored for over a half century of preserving land for us all. ______________________________________________________________________________WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD`
|Precipitation Data* for Month of:||Feb||Mar||Apr||May|
|30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches||3.25||4.65||4.53||4.06|
|2016 Central Watershed Actual||3.71||3.80||2.65||1.8** as of May 10|
Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For May 10, 2016 Normal . . . 76 CFS Current Rate . . . 69 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