Water Closet for March3, 2017

[pullquote]”These lands aren’t just for our aesthetic and psychological pleasure. They are part of essential systems that finally, after a 300 year toot called the Industrial Revolution, are catching our attention. “[/pullquote]The Trustees of Reservations have set aside a wonderful refuge for us all in the headwater hills of Boston Brook. Ward Reservation in Andover has thirteen miles of woodland trails and high open fields. Water captured on the slopes of three drumlins flows from surface duff and ground water to intermittent streams feeding Boston Brook. An old name found on deeds in Middleton is Beechy Brook. Within the reservation Holt Hill reaches 420 feet, the highest elevation in Essex County. On nearby Boston Hill, 380 feet, there was once a commercial ski slope. Between the two heights, about a mile apart, are a valley and another hill called Shrub Hill (330 ft.). On the slopes of those three hills surface runoff flows southerly to Skug River and northeasterly to Boston Brook. The Skug enters Martins Pond. Martins Brook takes it on to the Ipswich River in North Reading. Paralleling the valley floor and Shrub Hill is north-south running Old Chestnut Street, North Andover, a once handsome three rod (50-ft.) wide road flanked by stone walls and venerable trees. Except for shade trees, a century ago the whole area was open pasture. Many of the magnificent trees along the road are still there except for the conspicuous absence of the American chestnut that probably gave the road its name. Early last century, a fungus, the chestnut blight, swept away the big chestnut trees above the ground’s surface. Hidden in the roots of many of the deceased are living cells that send forth shoots that live a few years before succumbing to the blight. There are still many chestnuts at Ward Reservation. Alas most don’t get higher than fifteen feet before the lingering fungus strikes them down. Chestnut Street without pavement and horse drawn carriages, carts, sleighs or cattle drives is now a lovely, shaded woodland path.

Two decades old beaver dam across the outlet brook of Mars Swamp in Andover. Year- round water in the huge impoundment has drowned thousands of red maples. Most have fallen, many trunks still stand. The shallow lake formed has become rich wildlife habitat. The water flowing over the dam will pass southeast through several more beaver impoundments in Boston Brook before it reaches the Ipswich River. – Pamela Hartman photo

Last Friday the Middleton Conservation Commission/Council on Aging hikers walked on several of Ward’s many trails among two century old stone walls. The path chosen from the park entrance was the Bay Circuit Trail. It took them to Ward Trail and Margaret’s Trail around Rubbish Meadow, which at the turn of the millennium was a red maple swamp. A beaver dam across the swamp’s outlet to Boston Brook has turned it into an impoundment. The red maples died and almost all their trunks have fallen into the shallow water. A few white pines still standing support eleven great blue heron nests. The herons will return to this decade old rookery this month. Fewer nests are found each year as the pines, their roots finally rotted through, go down. Some beaver-drowned dead pines remain standing for twenty years or more. Most of the maples’ trunks, of the once “red maple swamps,” fall within ten years of impoundment. This has happened to thousands of acres around the county and beyond.

Mars Swamp now a “beaver meadow” as seen from the dam across its outlet. The dam is in Ward Reservation, Andover-North Andover, below Holt, Shrub and Boston hills. – Pamela Hartman

The origin of Rubbish Swamp’s name remains a mystery to us Middletonites. A call to historical society folks in Andover indicate they don’t know either. Maybe the Colonial farmers thought this wet lowland not worth draining for hay or cultivation because it had “rubbish” quality. It, probably like many swamps, was a rough place of glacial till with lots of stones. Nearby, just to the north, is Mars Swamp. It is fun to speculate about “Mars.” Life on the planet of that name is still much in doubt. Andover’s Mars, also a beaver impoundment, abounds with life as light pours in on the now treeless shallow water. In late February the old Closeteer spooked a score of black ducks from a patch of ice-free water there. Soon there will be many more passing through.

A portion of 17 miles of stone walls cris-crossing Ward Reservation’s 704 acres. Now the land is largely covered with mature forest. A century and one half ago it was almost all open pasture. These walls with cracks and crevices decorated with moss, lichen, fungi and algae are rich habitats for small animals. Most of our walls were built in the 18th and early 19th centuries. – Pamela Hartman photo

The water from Mars drops six feet over a leaky beaver dam to Rubbish Meadow where it slows and is further cleansed in an area well away from polluting development. Below the outlet brook from Rubbish, the walkers spent several minutes marveling at its beautiful clear water flowing quickly over a rocky bottom. One wag to emphasize where it was going said, “If all sixteen of us peed in the brook here we might then follow the odor for nine miles down to and through Middleton to the Ipswich River.” Another jokester responded, “You first!” The old timers moved slowly on leaving the brook as they had found it. Between Rubbish and the river there are several more water cleansing beaver impoundments and wetlands. If there were one hundred simultaneous urinators most of their waste molecules wouldn’t last a mile before microorganisms had metabolized them to CO2, HOH, and other molecules incorporated into their cells.
All hail The Trustees of Reservations, Essex County Greenbelters, the Ipswich River Watersheders, and towns striving to set aside such places for all organisms. These lands aren’t just for our aesthetic and psychological pleasure. They are part of essential systems that finally, after a 300 year toot called the Industrial Revolution, are catching our attention. The hangovers still linger but at least we now know where we went wrong. We let a bloated economy consume and waste far too much. These past few weeks, environmental regulations are being questioned. This should and must be an on-going process to make these regulations more effective and efficient without crippling their purposes of clean air, clean water and healthy habitats for us all.


Precipitation Data* for Month of: Dec Jan Feb March
30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 4.12 3.40 3.25 4.65
   2016/2017 Central Watershed Actual 4.41 4.02 3.6** 0.0**as of March 3

Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For March 3, 2017  Normal . . . 110 CFS     Current Rate . . . 111 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Jan.
** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for Feb and March..
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