Water Closet for December 2, 2016
[pullquote]”The nature of the water, undisturbed by a complete absence of any breeze, had them looking down into the seeming darkness. Sand bars on the bottom seven feet down in the channel were visible.”[/pullquote]In mid November Stream Teamers and friends took advantage of a warm, windless afternoon. In canoe and four kayaks they paddled down and up river from Mortalo Landing, Maple Street, Middleton. Fifty years ago Vito Mortalo came to us from Rome, his birthplace. Here he married and raised a family. In the past fifteen years he has built the town three fine stone landings on the river at no cost. Farnsworth’s Landing, South Main Street; Mortalo Landing off Maple Street; and Peabody Street Landing river access is now easy and safe thanks to Vito. The stonework is beautiful as we might expect from a stone artist who has seen ancient landings along the Tiber. Vito’s are no copies; they are his creations that suit their locations. The huge natural stone steps we descended at Mortalo Landing are sources of Stream Team pride. Stop by sometime to sit and watch the river flow by. If hungry buy lunch at Farmer Browns nearby and eat on the lovely table-size steps.
The November paddlers carried their vessels down the steps and launched them in the calm water. Peter and Bonnie MacPhee paddled from their new house beside the river to join them. The fleet of five turned north and rode the slow current down river toward the sea. The nature of the water, undisturbed by a complete absence of any breeze, had them looking down into the seeming darkness. Sand bars on the bottom seven feet down in the channel were visible. This past August in the same place visibility stopped near the surface. Summer heat, low flow due the prolonged drought, and dense plant, algae and bacterial growth resulted in a noxious looking soup from a process called eutrophication. Fall temperatures and increased current have the water as clean as the old Closeteer has ever seen it. Bacteria broke the debris down in the process of respiration to colorless, odorless carbon dioxide and water. It happens every year in water bodies. A foot from the surface curtains of “maidens hair” strands quivered. These sheets of algae reminded the Closeteer of aurora borealis displays. In the low late afternoon light the glowing green appeared much darker than its summer color. Many mid-level patches of long stemmed Potamogenton plants were admired; their lance shaped leaves pointing in the direction flow. The river bottom, most of the year unseen, alternated in dark and light streaks of organic sediment and clean sand very pleasing to the eye. All this light underwater surprised us because of the late afternoon angle of the sun’s rays. Our photographer Judy Schneider was ecstatic over the reflected lights coming from all directions. It somehow had a calming effect that we all felt. At times when paddling around a meander directly into the low sun, its reflection off the mirror smooth water blinded us. No problem. On the sinuous Ipswich River paddlers are usually changing course.
En route down river at a curve below Farnsworth’s horse pasture marked by the base of a very large willow that has been dying for the last 20 years, we passed Kings Pool, once a popular swimming hole. Children from the town’s center a mile away walked there when free from chores. The paddlers didn’t swim. While the air was unseasonably warm, the water at 45 F degrees was not.
Somehow the peaceful water and motionless air much affected the travelers. They, while pointing things out to one another, did so more quietly than usual or remained silent for longer periods. “Look at the line of turtles on the log at 2 o’clock.” Eight were counted, the largest on the high end, the smallest on the low near the water.
“See the abandoned, collapsed beaver lodge.” A dozen of these are along the river’s banks in Middleton in the eight miles between North Reading and Topsfield.
“Wow! Look at the store of food, all those freshly cut branches floating near that lodge. The beavers will soon anchor them to the bottom for winter use.”
“Look right, see the muskrat lodge.” A week before two of the paddlers had counted a half dozen upriver from Farnsworth Landing, off Route 114.
“ I think it is a flicker.” Some one said on spotting a swooping bird going from beaver drowned snag to snag. Several other woodpeckers were seen taking advantage of the buggy corpses.
“Look up ahead at the large bird crossing. I think it is an osprey.” Most agreed, it’s black upper parts and white underneath contrasted nicely in the light coming at that point from behind us.
“Look left at the winter berries.” The bush’s leaves were gone; it’s many bright red berries presented quite sight. Beneath the real bush from the water came a perfect virtual image. Someone asked photographer Judy how she will tell up from down in the photos she was taking.
And so the quiet late afternoon went as we paddled down river to a large beaver dam we could easily have shot safely over. We didn’t because of anticipated trouble in coming back. After resting near the soothing sound of water falling over the dam the fleet turned south and retraced its route, the slight opposing current no obstacle. We again passed what was Coco Crisp’s mansion when he played center field for the Red Sox. His house was one of the first built under the Rivers Protection Act. It is further from the river than it otherwise might be. Several other large houses affected by the 200-foot “riverfront” buffer were seen. Since the law was promulgated in 1996 foliage in the warmer months keeps most new buildings out of sight from the river.
Not all the deciduous leaves had fallen. Many of the oaks on the highlands along both banks were still putting on quite a show of browns, handsomely glowing in the waning light. The floors of all the forests are now in their fall glory. This year’s bumper crop of acorns is mixed in the purple, scarlet, and brown carpets of leaves. The white pines now with less gaudy competition will provide deep blue-green color all winter.
The fleet entered a valley flanked by highlands of pines and oaks on its way up river after passing Mortalo Landing and under the deteriorating Maple Street (Route 62) bridge. This fine stretch of river where Indians going east and west are said to have forded has a wide flood plain of reed canary grass with a sprinkling of wild rice along the edges of the channel. Gray patches of climbing hemp weed cover the grass and button bushes. A decade ago purple loosestrife filled the valley’s floodplain with color each summer. Loosestrife decreased and reed canary grass took over. This past summer some loosestrife came back. All the low floodplain plants’ leaves and stems are now shades of brown. The tall handsome rice stems still show some green.
Above the floodplain to the east a long high hill with mature oaks and pines stood between us and the fields of once Danvers State Hospital. The old Closeteer imagined supervised groups of patients on walks along the river on the then open pasture with a few shade trees. They’d have looked down on folks passing in canoes. Maybe they too had therapeutic paddles now and then. Just before the hill off Perkins Road there was a canoe rental business early last century. An outing on the river would have certainly been much more effective than the ice bath treatments of Victorian times.
After swinging east around the south slope of the hill the group reached its destination, another beaver dam across the river at the foot of Richardson Farm’s cornfield off Gregory Street. It was again time to turn. Had they been on flood waters as in 2006 and 2001 they could have returned to the east of the hill on water that then passed two-feet over Perkins Road. At flood times the hill is an island.
On a westerly course into the setting sun the paddlers mid-eighties to forties silently thanked Mother Nature for allowing them to share in another of her river’s many moods.
WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD`
|Precipitation Data* for Month of:||Aug||Sep||Oct||Nov|
|30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches||3.37||3.77||4.40||4.55|
|2016 Central Watershed Actual||2.14||1.85||6.81||2.4**as of Nov 25|
Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For Nov 25, 2016 Normal . . . 52 CFS Current Rate . . .18 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Oct.
** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for Nov.
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