Water Closet for April 11, 2014

Last week a Closeteer received an old fashioned letter via snail mail from a farmer friend for two-thirds of a century.  They went to school together in the “Pioneer Valley”, more appropriately called the Connecticut Valley.  Both were brought up on farms, around farmers for whom they worked.  We’ll share David “Red” Parson’s, a semi-retired dairy farmer, letter with you.  It is one of perhaps a 100 between the two friends over 60 years.  Red’s letter gives us a taste of what people who work close to the land think about and observe on their daily rounds.  Our country was long a nation of such people; now less than 2% are engaged in agriculture.  Water is the master key to agriculture’s successes and failures.  In the following letter Red refers to water directly or indirectly half-a-dozen times.  For you young people, who know about tweets, texts, emails and frequent cell phone calls, the following is called a letter and it is the way folks used to communicate from afar.  Letters were written on paper.  When paper was scarce and expensive, writing was small and often filled the margins on both sides.  Ask your grandparents about letters.  [pullquote]”You can see this honest farmer is one with the weather, the economy, and area wildlife”[/pullquote]

Note: Words in parentheses are those of the Closeteer, recipient of the letter.


April 1, 2014, Southampton, MA

Hey OC,

March has been a cold month.  Not much snow here just a coating now and then.  My electric bill says it was 10 degrees colder than March last year.  I measured 2.75” of rain the last 2 days.  (We got 3.0” here.)  Total for month 4.10”, raining 5 days, however, there were many dark days. (5.0” here for March)  Hard to sell global warming with this type of weather.  Pussy willow bush just now showing signs of blossoms, six weeks late.  Sap not running a lot.  I’m just now seeing icicles from broken branches of the maples.  Still seeing robins and a few bluebirds.  (also fairly often seen here all winter)  Blackbirds are here about a month late. The snow is mostly gone and the geese are in fields looking for open water.  Fisherman report 15” ice on Norwich Lake, elevation, about 1000’. (Thickness was the same in places here near sea level.)

Mice chewed my flowering crab due to my neglect to protect it.  They didn’t bother it for two years.  I haven’t seen any signs of them coming in the house this year.  I wonder it they are the same kind.

Sorry the snow plow guy got you.  As a farmer I’ve been had a few times like that.  You have to have your guard up all the time.  (This is in response to the closeteer’s complaint about a snow plowing bill.  The last such bill, he has had the shovel out again.  Farmers are very conscious of costs.)

Did you ever look any further into solar panels?   I went to a meeting over a year ago.  Solar panels seemed like maybe a reasonable idea. Looks like the payback would take about 10 years.  A minus is when the grid loses power you do too.  Don’t know what happens when you need a new roof.  Does the snow slide off of them?  And there were other questions that I thought of after the meeting in the following days.  (Here and in the preceding paragraph we hear a practical farmer speaking, one who like others in his business is often living on the edge even after working 80-hour weeks.)

I ordered two grafted tomato plants.  Hope the ground is ready for them when they get here.  I opted for the later shipping date.  I have the feeling summer will be here next week.  Here is what I notice about seasons.  Not necessarily a longer growing season, but there doesn’t seem to be much spring and fall.

Have you been stopped for weaving around potholes?  They ran out of cold-patch here in western Massachusetts.  Asphalt plants should be open now and I’m seeing more activity.  I can’t see how the stuff will stick where it’s a dry surface like it might be today.  (Red was a good physics student in college. For a career he chose raising healthy animals and productive plants over working with machines and electronic devices.)

There is a lot of water in the Westfield River.  They were practicing with their kayaks last weekend.  That water has got to be cold; I suspect the kayakers have all sorts of equipment to protect them from the elements. Hope you do too.  (Ipswich River water temperature was 37 degrees F last week and running almost three times average flow rate for the date at crest after over two days of rain.  The ice is out and so will we be with canoes and kayaks soon.)

Peace, Red

(Alas, farmers and letter writers are largely gone. You can see this honest farmer is one with the weather, the economy, and area wildlife.  He is acutely aware of his surroundings. His very interesting and challenging livelihood depends on him being so.)




Precipitation Data* for Month of: Jan Feb March April
30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 3.40 3.25 4.65 4.53
 2013 – 14 Central Watershed Actual 3.47 4.34 5.00** ___ as of 4/8***

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

 For April 8, 2014:   Normal . . . 133 CFS         Current Rate . . . 228 CFS

*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Feb. Normals data is from the National Climatic Data Center.

**Updated March precipitation data is from MST gage.

***Updated April precipitation data is not available.

THE WATER CLOSET is provided by the Middleton Stream Team: www.middletonstreamteam.org or <MSTMiddletonMA@gmail.com> or (978) 777-4584


Featured photo credit: Striking Photography by Bo Insogna via photopin cc