Water Closet for February 27, 2015
[pullquote]”Try hiking the loop on fair days; you won’t be alone. Friendly people, some with dogs, will greet you.”[/pullquote] A fair weather wind blew across the snow covered fields of the once Coolidge Estate, in Topsfield north of the Ipswich River. Wind chill below zero, so common of late, livened up the cheeks of the old Closeteer leaning into it. He, friends and many others love this valley bisected by the river where fields, once common, slope down to its floodplain. The three mile hike on five back roads around this pastoral scene always reminds him of the days when much of New England was pastured, grazed, and cultivated. Sheep, horses, and chickens are still seen on this loop.
Farmers are not; they come and go in machines as they now do for most of America’s agriculture. A couple generations ago the famous Ayrshire cows of Meredith Farm graced the fields south of the river with their maroon-white brindle coats, and impressive horns. The well maintained farm buildings have been added to in recent years as if someone has big plans; some of us hope for the return of animals. The large fields are still mowed for hay; one is pasture for several horses who the other day wore blankets as they stood forlornly in deep snow, hindquarters to the wind.
There is nothing forlorn about the white winter scene spanning the valley one end to the other, from the swimming hole down river at the foot of Wheatons Hill, just west of noisy Route 1, to Masconomet Regional School west of Rowley Bridge Road within the sound of Route I-95. This quiet valley, so like those in farming days of yore, is unknown to millions passing by on the great car arteries linking Washington County, Maine, and the Florida Keys. Despite the traffic’s drone, easily cut from conscious thought, all is peaceful. Probably not more than a score of houses are in the square mile that flanks the river between Topsfield Fair Grounds and Masconomet. While walking the loop the old Closeteer sometimes imagines dirt roads and hears the sounds of wagons pulled by horses or oxen passing. The low stone walls on both sides convey the feeling of former times from the early 17th century to the demise of agriculture in much of New England in the early 1900s. Venerable trees, hickory, larch, and sugar maples planted for shade stand sentinel above walls and hikers. The hickory nuts here in productive years are large and choice, but the finest feature is the ancient river that formed and so beautifully defines the valley. Its now clean water flows by from as far away as Burlington and probably has since the glacier melted over ten millennia ago.
Try hiking the loop on fair days; you won’t be alone. Friendly people, some with dogs, will greet you. Wildlife will be sighted, especially near the river. Coyotes and deer have crossed our paths. Otters have been seen eating fish on river ice. One time a large flock of cedar wax wings was admired perching on a huge dead ash. No farm children will be seen en route to chores, school or swimming holes, but you can easily imagine them. Also be prepared to ascend and descend sixty feet on the lovely long hills on the north and south sides of the river. Grades are as gentle as the views. On summer rounds when you are hot and sweaty take the short path along the river just north of the Salem Street bridge to the swimming hole. Swing out into the channel from one of the ropes hanging from riverside trees.
Summer will come; however, there are no signs yet this winter except for the sun being a bit higher each day. Back home after his stimulating hour in skin tingling wind, the old Closeteer looked for geologist John Sear’s tome Geology of Essex County, Massachusetts. In it he found a favorite photo of the Topsfield countryside probably taken in summer around 1900. The Ipswich River and its wetlands can be seen among rolling hills of pleasant fields in shades of gray. Fields make up most of the land to the distant horizon. Similar photographs now show much more forested land. Contrary to popular belief, development, while laying down more asphalt, hasn’t resulted in less woodland. Around New England the forests have increased as managed lands, except for lawns, have greatly decreased. This open valley gives us a view into the past. ________________________________________________________________________
WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD`
|Precipitation Data* for Month of:||Nov||Dec||Jan||Feb|
|30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches||4.55||4.12||3.40||3.25|
|2014 – 2015 Central Watershed Actual||4.60||8.45||3.67||7.2 as of 2/23**|
Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For Feb 23, 2015 Normal . . . 77 CFS Current Rate . . . Unavailable
Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Jan.
**Middleton Stream Team is source of actual precipitation data for Feb.
Normals data is from the National Climatic Data Center.