Water Closet for December 12, 2014
In 1628 English Puritans led by John Endicott arrived at Naumkeag in the good ship Abigail. He led the colonists ashore to join a small struggling group brought by Roger Conant two years earlier. Others soon followed and by the mid 1630s there were a few thousand clinging close to the coast of Massachusetts. [pullquote]”It took 10,000 years for the topsoil to slowly form after the Wisconsin continental glacier left New England looking like the gravel miners’ pits and tailings”[/pullquote]With the Indians largely gone, the colonists radiated out from Salem and other colonies to establish farms. The wet area where the Agawam River, soon called the Ipswich, turns north became pasture and sources of fodder for thriving hoofed animals brought by the newcomers. The colonists labored hard and wrote little except for short business tallies and deeds. The largely unknown native folks before them were dead, gone, or discouraged. Their histories were oral. The literate Puritans who wrote of them did so with a bias spin.
How we wish for a glimpse back in Naumkeag and Agawam times at the place where the river, fairly fast and straight in narrow floodplain between uplands down from later Reading, spread out and slowed. At flood times like this past December 10th it becomes a two mile long roughly one-half mile wide lake. Ask a naturalist what constitutes an ideal recipe for diverse wildlife habitat? She might reply, “How about flat land, wet year ‘round, flanked by upland woods with many ponds?” Add to her mix beavers whose dams slow the water down thus allowing sediment to settle further enriching the substrate. In Indian times grassy meadows, savanna-like with oaks, chestnuts and hickory trees spread well apart due to annual fires, circled swamps. These trees and low berries provided edible fruit. After the arrival of the English the wetlands and uplands became pasture, much open range; the river bottoms and low terraces were cultivated or hayed. Now the mature trees of Danvers Town Forest rise to the east above this broad floodplain; to the west in Middleton are abandoned gravel pits later used as dumps. The pits have become pocket wetlands and seasonal ponds.
The other day a dozen Middleton Friday morning walkers visited the northwest side of the north turning river bend, a place where last century much of the good gravel along the river was mined and sent on south to metropolitan Boston for fill.
Much was used in Logan’s runways. The miners, with machines and trucks that sometimes sent out 500 loads a day according to one old timer, left a pocked landscape without topsoil or underlying subsoil down 10 to 30 feet from original grades. A WWII veteran pilot in the late 1950s might have thought he was flying over a tiny area of bombed land such as he had seen in Europe or Japan. A plan for the Riverview Industrial Park built there recently on six upland acres shows a dozen pits of various sizes down to water table, all are covered now with vegetation; the largest trees are about 60 years old. All this dense growth formed in the last half century despite a lack of topsoil except for a very thin layer of duff. It took 10,000 years for the topsoil to slowly form after the Wisconsin continental glacier left New England looking like the gravel miners’ pits and tailings.
Among mature trees the old hikers walked carefully on berms between pits left by the machines. One stretch is dubbed The Knife Edge after the famous knife edge on Mt. Katahdin. On either side along the rough trail are wetlands now inundated with high winter groundwater. This land near the river in holey terrain, pun intended, is ideal habitat for wild life. Few hunters or hikers are seen. Farmers and miners no longer use or remove this now public conservation land. Here, with lots of water, animals, year ’round and passing through have almost a square mile of woods, scrub-shrub swamp, flood plain and manmade ponds. The area is no longer pasture or used as a dump. Middleton officials are planning a riverside park here to rival that of North Reading’s located five miles up river. Already well underway, soccer fields and a transfer station-recycling center are perched near the capped landfill, “dump” to us old timers. North Reading Riverside Park was easily made on what was flat vegetable land up until 35 years ago. The Middleton transfer station workers see deer, coyotes, and now and then eagles in the area. You may too, and many other creatures, if you visit quietly especially early and late in the day. All around the landfill to the south and east are numerous signs of beaver, some fallen poplars going back to 1996 when steel leg hold traps were banned by state law. We walkers found a score of recently chewed trees and several well used beaver highways from bushes, sources of food, to the river. Their half dozen dams across the river nearby keep the water in the channel and flood plain high.
When the Middleton riverside park is done, we hope there will be rough paths such as the one we hiked branching out from the fancy upland playing fields. The Stream Team wants these to be nature trails with interpretative and historical signs. The Indians once played, planted, fished, and hunted along the river. They won’t be back like the beavers. Wouldn’t it be nice if descendants of the colonists would again let children wade in the ponds, climb the trees, and play in the mud as Indian children did?
WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD
|Precipitation Data* for Month of:||Sept||Oct||Nov||Dec|
|30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches||3.77||4.40||4.55||4.12|
|2014 Central Watershed Actual||2.58||8.09||4.60||8.2 as of 12/23**|
Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For Dec 23, 2014 Normal . . . 55 CFS Current Rate . . . Unavailable
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Nov.
**Middleton Stream Team is source of actual precipitation data for Dec..
Normals data is from the National Climatic Data Center.