Water Closet for October 14. 2016
[pullquote]”The Connecticut and its 148 tributaries, including 38 major rivers, receives water from 11,260 square miles from Canada to the industrial cities of Holyoke and those on south to Long Island Sound. Its headwaters descend 2670 feet.”[/pullquote]The old Closeteer as a boy was baptized in the headwaters of a mile long salt marsh crick off the Merrimack named Pettengill’s Crick. No preacher presided; just a few other little lads were present. In a small section called Little Dock he and many others learned to swim. Even at high tide the seawater in its two-yard wide channel wasn’t much over the non-swimmers heads. In a few weeks the novices dared each other to try the Middle Dock, a wider place on a deeper meander just 100 yards down stream. A four-yard dog paddle got most of them across without having to be rescued by big boys. The next qualifying move was one just across this ox-bow loop to the main crick at a wide place called the Big Dock with a diving board built on the bank by the Closeteer’s Uncle Bill. His farmer family owned the strip of salt marsh along the ever-widening-curving crick all the way to the mighty Merrimack River.
The next important stage in the Closeteer’s watery development was in a skiff found on the marsh after a storm and high runner tide had set it adrift. Following the custom for such finds he advertised in the lost and found column of the Newburyport News for three days. No one claimed the fine old boat that he and his closest friend had already dubbed Whistler. This is another name for the Golden Eye, a duck that returns in small groups, wings whistling to the sea each late afternoon in winter. A couple years later while fishing with his friend among other boats on the river an old timer anchored nearby asked without animosity, “Where did you get that boat? It is mine.” The boys explained and the stranger said they could keep it.
The next river after the Merrimack in the Closeteer’s life was the mighty Connecticut, almost four times the length of the Merrimack, which flows 400 plus miles from Quebec down to Long Island Sound where it provides an estimated 70% of the sound’s fresh water. Sixty plus years later on Saturday, October 8th, 2016 he returned for a cruise on it out of Northfield, Massachusetts, near the Vermont-New Hampshire border with a Connecticut Valley classmate, U Mass 1956. “Red” Parsons a retired dairy farmer raised good cows and the crops needed for them on the edge of the valley in Southampton for seventy years. Once on board the fine cruise boat with about 20 others they sat peacefully enjoying a couple hours on calm water motoring downriver ten miles to the Turners Falls power producing dam, one of 54 slowing the flow from Canada to the tidal waters at Saybrook, Connecticut.
What a mighty river the New England bisecting Connecticut is. The 117 mile long Merrimack collects water from 4700 square miles. Our slow flowing Ipswich River falling only 110 feet along it 35 mile length has a watershed of 155 square miles. The Connecticut and its 148 tributaries, including 38 major rivers, receives water from 11,260 square miles from Canada to the industrial cities of Holyoke and those on south to Long Island Sound. Its headwaters descend 2670 feet. The rapids at Enfield on the Connecticut-Massachusetts border stopped early explorers such as Dutch explorer Adriaen Block in 1614. Dutch colonists followed to that point. In the 1630s the English moved them out and continued on up river to the rich once lake bottom later called “Pioneer Valley” where they took the Indians’ land. God, through the words of men, said that land must be intensively cultivated thus it was their right. God’s diseases and Indian deaths seemed to strengthen that instruction. Both notions were convenient rationalizations for Manifest Destiny that continued on west for two centuries and 3000 miles. In subsequent centuries dams for water power and industry followed. The salmon were shut out, the Indians long gone. In the 20th century industry along the river waned. Agriculture dominated by tobacco as in early Virginia took over on the deep soils left by glacial Lake Hitchcock. How ironic to have an Indian crop cultivated by the descendants of colonists who took their valley.
The geologic and Indian history of the great river is much deeper and richer than the Pioneer Valley’s soils that five colleges have encircled. Many from afar like the Closeteer learned of the broad valley at Amherst, University of Massachusetts, Hampshire, Smith and Mount Holyoke colleges. Many never return but certainly remember the beauty of the river and its broad bottoms contained within the Berkshires to the west and the Pelham Hills to the East. If you only have time for a short visit drive up Sugar Loaf Mountain in Sunderland and look south across fertile fields along the river and east and west to the handsome highlands. First stop at Turners Falls and visit the Massachusetts Department of Recreation and Conservation’s fine visitors’ center below the Turners Falls Dam. In an old building where once tools were made using power from the dam are a huge 3-D map, animal and plant dioramas, and time lines on the walls showing the river’s history.
When the half-mile thick ice of the Wisconsin Glacier’s melted a great river-blocking sediment dam formed in central Connecticut. As the glacier retreated a glacial lake formed upriver behind all the way to northern Vermont. The lake was called Glacial Lake Hitchcock after the geologist who explained its formation. In time sediment from the melting glacier filled the lake. The sediment dam of rock debris to the great lake’s south gave way. The rich bottom sediment was exposed after the ice melted. At some point thereafter Indians moved into the region. Much later 16th and 17th century French moved from the St. Lawrence River valley into the Connecticut’s headwaters. The 17th century Dutch colonists in the lower river valley were followed 1632 to 1636 by even more acquisitive English. Within a century the Indians were largely gone. Eighteenth and nineteenth century dams and industry followed. Education and continuing agriculture make up the Pioneer Valley’s more recent history. To a geologist all of the above is recent compared with the history of the ancient much disturbed rock the glacial deposits lie on. These ancient formations can be seen on the cruise out of Northfield or from the handsome French King Bridge (Route 2) high above the dramatic convergence of the Connecticut and Millers rivers.
For decades the Closeteer, resident of the lovely valley for four years, day dreamed of paddling the river’s length from Quebec to Saybrook. Reminded of the many dams and portages his dreams have faded. Kayaks seen on the cruise revived them but not enough. His home river the Ipswich will have to do, or even the Merrimack below the dams from time to time.
WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD`
|Precipitation Data* for Month of:||July||Aug||Sep||Oct|
|30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches||3.89||3.37||3.77||4.40|
|2016 Central Watershed Actual||1.41||2.14||1.85||3.8**as of Oct 11|
Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For Oct 11, 2016 Normal . . . 9.5 CFS Current Rate . . .33 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Sep.
** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for Oct.
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