Water Closet for May 20, 2016
[pullquote]”Our eyes kept going back to the beautiful blueberry bushes not yet blue but with thousands of little white to pinkish bells ringing silently.”[/pullquote] A tiny fleet of two canoes and four kayaks manned by six men and two women put in at North Reading’s fine “Ipswich River Park” mid-day on Saturday, May 7th. A cool, damp, east wind around all that week was still upon us as we waited for paddle activated muscles and faster moving blood to warm us up. It didn’t take long, and we were soon enjoying our escape from civilization nearby and traffic sounds dampened and soon out of mind in a curvy corridor of red maples and swamp dogwoods. The spring high water carried us swiftly along on a calm surface in the lee of the banks and greening trees, their leaves still small. Yearly we marvel at the muted colors of May. The floors of much of the flanking floodplain were hidden by an already lush crop of knee-high reed-canary grass, many blades clipped by browsing geese and ducks and who knows what else, maybe even wading deer. All along much of the upper river this handsome “invasive” grass has taken over from once dominant “invasive” purple loosestrife. Some of us wonder about the loose use of the word “invasive.” The newcomers have produced rich new habitats.
Every so often on rounding meanders we’d come upon a high bush blueberry, Vaccinium corymbosom, in bloom; a few, up to thirteen feet tall were mistaken from a distance for shad bushes also flowering. In late May-April, these lovely small trees with cream colored blossoms have long hailed the arrival of the shad. While many people have forgotten this fish in the Ipswich River, the faithful bushes offering greetings of flowers are still waiting for what were once spectacular and important-to-people spring runs. They famously came up the Schuylkill River and saved Washington’s starving army at Valley Forge.
If occasional shad still spawn here in the Ipswich as in the Merrimack, we didn’t see them. Our eyes kept going back to the beautiful blueberry bushes not yet blue but with thousands of little white to pinkish bells ringing silently. The tiny bell shaped corollas hang down; their inner reproductive parts appear as clappers. One old Closeteer did as he has done since a small boy eight decades ago. On passing he picked a branch with some guilt and ate clusters of petals. They have a good spring tart taste, unlike, but with some of hint of that of the berry. Folks encouraged to follow suit rarely comment on the touted good taste, so maybe it is due to childhood memories more than the old timer’s taste buds. Bumble bees extract sweet nectar in the base of each bell shaped flower. Strange, they don’t reach into the opening but pierce the petal’s base. Other memories the Closeteer enjoys are those of picking blueberries with grandparents who rarely took time off from unending farm chores. His Swedish grandmother considered picking a great break in mid summer. She and Yankee grandfather would happily pick gallons in a few hours from high bush blueberries around their pastures. She made many pies for a Salisbury Beach hotel and canned scores of jars for winter’s fruit. Her grandson always felt a little guilty for putting more in his belly than in his bucket when it came time to contribute to the morning’s harvest. Before picking age, while still very young and small, he discovered he could crawl between the clumps of old bushes in shady mysterious, cool-damp tunnels. There was no poison ivy in the pastures and little growth of any kind in the acid soils under clumps of blueberry bush trunks. The cows ate the ivy but not the precious bushes.
All these fond memories came back as the old man paused in paddling and munched on blossoms. Blueberries are truly a valuable plant for many of us animals. Go to any market and see what they charge for a half-pint of blueberries even in season. They, from both high and low bush berries, are touted for their antioxidants. We like them for their taste and beauty ranging from pale blue to almost shiny blue-black depending on the bush. They readily hybridize producing a variety of colors among bushes, not among berries on the same bush which are similar to each other. The stems too are attractive and distinctive. The zigzag twigs turn red above in winter and stay green on their undersides. The base trunks of old bushes reach arm diameter and are covered with thin strips of reddish-brown shedding bark.
So in the spring we enjoy the flowers that precede the shiny leaves. In mid summer the lovely fruits so important to us animals are with us sometimes into early fall after which the leaves turn a brilliant scarlet. Even in the winter the curvy, numerous stems, of each bush provide some color against the snow. Many twigs host blueberry stem galls, the nurseries a dozen or so larvae of a small wasp, Hemadas nubilipennis, yet another side story of blueberries.
But for now let’s look forward to beating the birds to the fruit this coming July. In the meantime get out to areas with damp soils to see the flowers. Pick a few clusters of blossoms and taste.
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||2.0** as of May 17|
Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For May 17, 2016 Normal . . . 65 CFS Current Rate . . . 22 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