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FALL FOLIAGE SHOW IS LATE THIS YEAR

Water Closet for October 27, 2017

     Just northwest up the road from Middleton in North Andover are Boston Hill and Holt Hill.  These glacially deposited and sculpted drumlins at 380 and 420 feet are the highest hills in Essex County. 

“The land in the last century has gone from grass, to bushes, to trees, which now in mid-October are surprisingly almost all still green”

From these highlands surface runoff of rain and snow-melt plus seeping groundwater flow northeast to Boston Brook and south to Skug Brook, then on to the Ipswich River where they converge with it eleven miles apart.  A century ago waters ran off treeless pastures.  Now trees cover much of New England.  In early- nineteenth century 80 % of Massachusetts was open gardens and pastures.  Farmers migrated west where soils are deep.  From the hills in any direction one looks, the roads and buildings of the suburbs are largely hidden by trees all the way down to the Boston skyline.  Blue Hill, which could be seen south of the city, is also heavily forested.  Like the other green hills at a distance it appears blue.

     Last Friday, October 13th, a group of seventeen Middleton Council on Aging/Conservation Commission walkers climbed up Boston Hill’s southeast slope and then in a round about way over to Ward Reservation’s unpaved Chestnut Street, now a north-south woodland trail.  Beneath magnificent oaks, yellow birches, dying ashes, and a few old white pines they walked in the shade.  Sprouts from a few long-gone American chestnuts still alive underground were seen along the path.  Their parents lain low a century ago by blight probably once dominated the street.  Many of the old oaks were “pasture trees” that without competition spread widely thus providing shade for travelers on this lovely wide street and for livestock just over the walls in the abutting pastures.  The old Closeteer, while trying to read the history of the land by its trees, imagined carriages and early 20th century cars on family and courting outings, folks out viewing scenery or picnicking from nearby Lawrence and Andover.  In winter there were horse drawn sleighs and children sledding in the high pasture land.  All the drumlins’ slopes are pleasantly shaded now by mature trees, mostly oaks.  There are no cows, horses, or sheep.  The land in the last century has gone from grass, to bushes, to trees, which now in mid-October are surprisingly almost all still green.  The two to three rod-wide Chestnut Street is flanked by lichen covered stone walls.  Their crevices are the habitats of chipmunks, squirrels, and many other animals largely unseen by groups of happily chatting hikers. Bird songs came up to the hikers from the heavily vegetated brook to the east and from uphill to the west in the pines and oaks.  In the fine cool October air all seemed right with the world.  No cell phone conversations were heard and the drone of traffic on Routes 114 and 125 became background noise, easily shut out and forgotten.  Many thanks must be given to The Trustees of Reservations who keep 700 acre Ward Reservation and its 15 miles of paths free of litter and fallen trees.  In three miles the Closeteer on a practice hike found only a baby’s pacifier and a sock to carry out.  

Young hardwoods on the lower south slope of Boston Hill, Ward Reservation. Mid-last century this was pasture. The road now blocked by trees was used by farmers and their cattle. – Pamela Hartman photo

     The walkers spread out as they leisurely hiked north on Chestnut Street for a mile.  They saw no horses, oxen, carts, carriages, bicycles or other people.  The large reservation hides other hikers well on its well marked narrow paths.  Swales and brooks have sturdy unobtrusive plank walkways over them.  The group turned east off Chestnut Street and slowly descended to Boston Brook’s damp stepping stones.  The brook was without running water due to a drought with half average monthly rainfall since the end of July.  The dark leaves of water-loving spice bushes flanked the rough path in the damp flood plain of the brook.  After the brook they slowly ascended Boston Hill southeasterly toward the summit.  Several stops were made en route to the handsome 14 acre “barrens” near the top  kept free of trees by people with saws and periodic fires in an attempt to reproduce the once common high hill habitat cleared for grazing in colonial times.  Before that annual Indian fires kept sun flooded areas open in savannah like wild gardens where certain plants and animal species thrive. 

Chestnut Street, Ward Reservation, North Andover. This wide unpaved street for cattle, horse drawn carriages, wagons, and sleighs is now a lovely shaded woodland path flanked by stone walls and old trees. The ferns are turning brown. The tree leaves above this strange fall are still green. – Pamela Hartman photo

Boston Hill’s south sloping barren where clearing was started in 2009 is a place of low plants such as blueberries and switch grass to name only two of scores of species of herbaceous plants and woody bushes partly shaded by a few pitch pines and oaks that had been spared.  The Ward Reservation ranger and volunteers installed a dozen or so bluebird houses in the sunny sprout land.  Many sprouts grew from each oak stump cut.  They’ll be periodically cut.  From this handsome wild garden, the group admired the Boston skyline and beyond in an arc spanning east to west.  The hikers had come in part for leaf peeping but the rolling land in view from Middleton to Andover was still green with just spots of warmer colors here and there. 

     For decades the Closeteer had tried to write a fall poem about the color changes.  This fall he came up with one he dared share.  However, he thought the hike was not the place for a recital.  The fall atmosphere on Boston and Holt hills was too precious for mere words.  He gave the poem to the Water Closet for inclusion is this account of an outing too early this strange year to see the show.    

                         FALL THEATRE

A million billion actors await high in the wings
Without dressing rooms will change, no shame
Soon the last performance before they fall
Among an audience that admires colors
With final bow the breezes will applaud
Take them for a ride before they reach the ground
When dry there’ll be a last encore
Played with feet, delighting ears with crunchy sounds
People who don’t like them in death’s stately browns
Will rake or noisily blow them into piles
Young children free of such odd thoughts
Will run and jump into crisp crackling arms
Old, wiser now, I leave them ‘neath the trees
Where they should be to feed the soil
To nourish waking buds at next spring’s shows
Old actors never truly die just disappear awhile
And later show their stuff in new green costumes

__________________________________________________________
WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION

FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD

  Precipitation Data* for Month of:  July Aug Sept Oct
  30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 3.89 3.37 3.77 4.40
   2017 Central Watershed Actual  3.43 1.22 2.44 0.6 as of Oct 20

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

 For Oct 20, 2017   Normal . . . 8.8 CFS             Current Rate  . . .1.46 CFS

——————————————————————–

 *Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Sept.

** 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>

THE OREGON TRAIL BY BOOK

Water Closet for October 20, 2017

     The old saw “The devils are in the details.” is carried to a high level by dreamers Rinker and Nicholas Buck.  Unlike many dreamers their dreams don’t get in the way of practicality and can-do attitudes.

“They, Olive Oyl, and the mules Jake, Bute, and Beck made a diverse and lovable team as they cross the 21st century continent in mid-19th century style on roughly the same paths as the pioneers headed for Utah, California, Idaho and Oregon did”

 Claudia Johnson, retired Middleton librarian, put the Old Closeteer and others on to Rinker’s 2015 book The Oregon Trail.  This New York Times best seller is an account of his trip over 2000 miles long in a mule drawn wagon on a route often wide with many short-cuts called the Oregon Trail.  Rinker Buck, a crackerjack writer and historian, with sharp eyes, sharper ears and a good sense of humor brings historical details easily to trail life.  He, newspaperman and freelance writer, might object to being called a historian.  Buck is certainly not one of the academic types, although he could have been had he so chosen.  As a long time reporter he seems to deeply understand how America works now and did in the past.  He might approve of Bill Clinton’s campaign slogan, “It’s the economy stupid.”  Substitute “money,” the word on the street for economy, in this sentence. 

Best selling book by Rinker Buck about his 21st century 2000 mile journey on the Oregon Trail. The Buck party was made up Rinker, brother Nicholas, dog Olive Oyle, and three mules, Jake, Bute, and Beck. – courtesy of internet

     Upper middle age, after living what to the rest of us would seem several lives, Rinker sees some of the famous wheel ruts of the Oregon Trail made by tens of thousands of wagons pulled mostly by mules.  Inspired by a family horse drawn wagon trip in Pennsylvania organized by his father for a summer vacation in 1978, he decides to repeat that trip with one a hundred times longer and rougher by retracing the 19th century Oregon Trail in a wagon pulled by mules.  His amazing brother Nicholas, contractor, mechanic, animal lover, actor and raconteur from Maine, insisted on going along bringing with him his beloved, stinky, dog Olive Oyl.  It would take Rinker a separate book to describe self educated genius Nicholas who knows everything useful and is much loved for his stories, helpfulness and enthusiasm.  Nick, Jack of all trades and master of many needed on such a journey, was accepted with delight and not a little apprehension by his more orthodox brother although the word orthodox is an oxymoron with these guys.  Nick has marched quick-step throughout life, very much his own drummer.  Tidy Rinker, while well educated and equally energetic, is more cautious.  They, Olive Oyl, and the mules Jake, Bute, and Beck made a diverse and lovable team as they cross the 21st century continent in mid-19th century style on roughly the same paths as the pioneers headed for Utah, California, Idaho and Oregon did.  Rinker engagingly in day to day detail tells of the Bucks’ journey from May to October and much more about our country. He weaves the stories of the Buck journey with those of the gutsy, many desperate pioneers who participated, probably unknowingly, in the spirit of Manifest Destiny.  The spirit of those pioneers carries over today in the “Red States” according to Rinker.  There rugged individualism is held in high esteem.  Historically, that characteristic, so much touted by westerners, is “utter bunk” in Buck’s opinion.  Our legendary movement west was, from the 1840s on, much subsidized by the Federal Government.  Wyoming, a central Oregon Trail state still receives massive amounts of Federal help relative to its sparse population and yet claims in campaign slogans not to want aid.  The rugged and friendly individuals the Buck party encountered on the trail made their trip a delight because of their interest in the wagon adventure and their natural generosity.  Many ranchers went miles out their way to help with repairs, guidance, hay, food, company, and pasture.  One ornery couple who were inhospitable became eternal villains in the print of this popular book.  Thousands that did the trail for real in the 1800s were taken advantage of by sharp traders profiting from migration.  The Bucks experienced this in a small way when they purchased their two wagons.  The “jump off” towns along the Missouri and the many “camp towns” along the trail were wild, rough places where many cheated the newcomers.  Much valued household goods left behind to lighten loads littered the trail from end to end.  Entrepreneurs recycled them.  Many people died en route under wheels or as victims of cholera.  The skeletons of cattle, horses and mules were found all along the trail.  Shallow human graves were common. Even the 21st century Bucks left a few unnecessary things behind.  A constant problem for them and the early Oregon bound pioneers was water, too much at swollen rivers and streams and too little for long stretches in the deserts west of Nebraska.  Without large parties with many animals the Bucks’ biggest challenges were steep grades on sometimes narrow rough paths.  They had no gangs of people to help them.

The Oregon Trail, the paths of tens of thousands of pioneers and animals in their difficult 19th century treks west. – courtesy of internet

     Librarian Claudia’s best pitch when putting the Closeteer and others on to this book was “I frequently laughed out loud.”  The Closeteer also laughed while learning much more than he had before about our country.  The details Rinker so loves from the pioneers’ letters, maps and journals were intertwined with what the Buck party experienced and observed along the trail.  Mule and human behavior and the harnesses and rigs connecting them are well and at times of stress dramatically described.  Rinker, Nicholas, Olive, and the mules are emotional cusses and Rinker often lets it all hang out in entertaining and at times disturbing ways.  The laughing, and almost crying parts at times, come from the relationship between the two loving but very different brothers and an occasional visit by their father’s ghost to Rinker.  Take the Oregon Trail with the Bucks; you can do so in your reading chair without fear of running out of water for the mules.  Better still after reading get your own team and wagon before it’s too late.  Don’t use an RV.  Rinker doesn’t think much of the big rigs and clueless occupants who visit historical sites.  He isn’t at all shy about expressing such opinions or exaggerating as he dramatizes the hazards of the trail encountered.  Exaggeration is perhaps unfair.  It took courage and persistence to do the trail without a large company of other wagons as most all did in the old days without roads, rail, law, or communication other than mail that took months.  Rinker should be allowed a few tall tales told in perfect sentences.

His descriptions of the spectacular trail and surrounds are terrific.  He contrasts them with those from old letters and journals. 

     Nicholas blurts out at one point on a western Wyoming desert while approaching the lovely meanders of the Green River seen below, “I don’t ever want to go back home.  I want to live in this wagon the rest of my life.”  He must have been sincere because for a change he leaves out his usual f – words.  

___________________________________________________________

WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION

FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD

  Precipitation Data* for Month of:  July Aug Sept Oct
  30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 3.89 3.37 3.77 4.40
   2017 Central Watershed Actual  3.43 1.22 3.2 0.6 as of Oct 13

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

 For Oct 13, 2017    Normal . . . 8.8 CFS             Current Rate  . . . 2.19 CFS

—————————————————————–

 *Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Aug.

** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for Sept and 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>

GARDENS AND BIRDS ALONG THE RIVER IN THE RAIN

Water Closet for October 13, 2017

     It was raining the morning of a recent Ipswich River Water Association’s bird walk. 

” Several coopers hawks, a sharp-shinned hawk, a Merlin, a peregrine falcon, two harriers, a red tailed hawk, and a possible goshawk were seen”

Those looking forward to the Suzanne Sullivan1 led event stepped out before eight into a cold rain.  The Old Closeteer, who wore a rain jacket and carried an umbrella, decided to drive to the beautiful State-owned fields on the Middleton-Danvers line just east of the Ipswich River2 where the event was to start.  He expected to return in a few minutes because no one would be meeting on such a day.  He drove by the house of a friend who had planned to go but her car was still in the yard. It looked like she, who helped organize the bird walk, wasn’t going.  He soon crossed the river and turned southeast into the lovely open land along Gregory and Dayton streets.  The meeting place on the edge of the community gardens came into view and there to his surprise were eight cars.

     Suzanne in rain gear with large camera in a plastic bag stood smiling in a little group similarly dressed, half also under umbrellas.  The Closeteer immediately knew this was no meeting to discuss cancellation due to weather.  He, a non-serious birder since boyhood mid-last century, hadn’t realized the spunkiness and dedication of true birders.  He should have; he’d heard about them.  Judy Schneider, the friend whose car he’d passed, soon arrived with her daughter Rachel and the group now complete was greeted and briefed on how to behave.  “Move slowly, no sudden moves, be quiet,” Suzanne instructed the several obvious veteran birders and us rookies who were silently shivering and wondering how long the gathering would last in the still cold rain.  Staying close so they could hear one another, the ten or so participants moved very slowly after their leader between the wet gardens, corn fields and a couple of heavily vegetated patches of   illegal 20th century dumping from the Danvers State Hospital now over grown with trees and bushes.  Less than a century ago patients had worked the fields the birders now  walked.  When visiting this area, almost a mile square of bottom land and surrounding foothills devoted to agriculture, the Closeteer imagines ghosts of long suffering patients now at rest.  Their bodies were interred in two graveyards nearby.  Spirits finally free they may walk the lovely fields down to the river or up to the summits of the nearby drumlins.

Members and friends of the Ipswich River Watershed Association look for birds while standing ankle deep in wet grass on the lovely fields below Hathorne Hill (background right) where Danvers State Hospital patients once worked. – Rachel Schneider photo

     It soon became apparent to the rookies that they were with serious people having a good time as they scarred up small birds also silent in the rain.  No “singing in the rain” as Gene Kelly would have them and us do.  The birders in happy tones murmured quietly to one another about the location of birds sighted and bird characteristics observed.  “Indigo bunting to right of the left lower fork in that apple tree. Just moved to higher branch.”  “Yes indigo; Cool!”  Another vet, speaking softly but excitedly, answered.  We newcomers followed their pointing fingers and noted the directions that their binoculars pointed.  At first the Closeteer’s saw little.  Soon however, the cold was forgotten as the enthusiasm of his zealous companions caught him up; and some of the feelings of his teen years as an amateur birder, usually alone, returned.  After an hour with these patient companions, so obviously content and seemingly ready to go all day, he got in the mood and learned to use his too long neglected binoculars properly with one hand, while holding an umbrella with the other.  Accustomed to hiking quickly in the woods and fields he sees relatively little detail. This group, moving at a snail’s pace and pausing at each of many sightings, traveled less than a quarter mile in two hours as they discussed bird features.  The Closeteer had always thought true birders very competitive.  These showed not the slightest disappointment when wrong about identification.  There were discussions and then agreement or friendly disagreement.  When we, not-even-novices-yet, asked questions, the pros, especially Suzanne, answered patiently and well.  She would remember our questions a half hour later and add to her answers.  Soon we newcomers wanted to see more.  We finally dared to point out a few things on our own. Rookie Rachel Schneider got us all laughing when jokingly she said, “Those are Canada geese,” when a couple were heard passing over. 

     The highlights of the morning were the many hawk sightings.  Several coopers hawks, a sharp-shinned hawk, a Merlin, a peregrine falcon (“duck hawk”), two harriers (“marsh hawks”)3, a red tailed hawk, and a possible goshawk were seen.  Even the pros seemed more excited upon seeing the larger birds, the predators.  And speaking of predators the group long watched a coyote a couple hundred yards away hunting small animals in a neighboring hayfield.  The climax of the birding day was when a spread out flight of Canada geese, flying low, came over us from the north en route to the stubble in recently harvested Richardson fields of cow-corn.  There may have been 200 in a dozen little characteristic V formations making a great racket; over the fields they broke formation into many smaller groups and circled round and round checking out the ground before they finally landed to look for corn ears the harvest had left behind.

“What a glorious feeling, I’m happy again. Just birdin’, and birding in the rain.” – Rachel Schneider photo

     Finally after two and one half hours the group broke up, the pros seeming reluctant to leave.  The old Closeteer vowed to return with a friend now that he had learned to walk slowly and use his binoculars again. True birders aren’t crazy. Birds are beautiful and interesting as all those with feeders know.  We share DNA with them.  Many species are now thought to be endangered.  Habitats like those walked, where fields, woods, and water together are found will help them survive.  “North Andover Judy” a avid birder in our group had seen a once common bobolink in the diverse community garden field a few days before.

1 Suzanne Sullivan from Reading, longtime member of the Ipswich River Watershed Association, has long been a champion protecting our river.

2 The almost 600 acres of land in this geologically unusual basin below the drumlins  Bare Hill to the north and Hathorne Hill to the east, east of the Ipswich River has been in agriculture use for four centuries and perhaps 3000 thousand years before that under the Indians.  Much is a low basin with a manmade east-west swale but without a stream that flows to the river.  Much of it is now being cultivated by Richardsons’ Farm.  Four or so gently south sloping acres of good soil are devoted to lush community gardens. These are surrounded by hay fields and corn.  Visit and walk around these fields and see what much of New England was like before the farms went out and the trees returned last century. The land and nearby river has become a favorite place for birders and hikers.

3 The names in quotes were the names common in the Old Closeteer’s boyhood.  He bemoaned the loss of old names for new politically correct ones, such as, “oldsquaw” becoming “long tailed duck.”  Leader Suzanne strongly disagreed and soon straightened him out.  He’ll now use more descriptive “long tailed duck” when in company.  Oldsquaws translated means gossipy old women.  Long tail ducks in groups often melodiously chatter.  Was “oldsquaw” the Indian name for this small duck or did the English colonists come up with it?  By the way it is the male oldsquaw that makes most of the noise.

___________________________________________________________

WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION

FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD

  Precipitation Data* for Month of:  July Aug Sept Oct
  30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 3.89 3.37 3.77 4.40
   2017 Central Watershed Actual  3.43 1.22 3.2 0 as of Oct 5

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

 For Oct 5, 2017      Normal . . . 7.7 CFS             Current Rate  . . . 1.92 CFS

 
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Aug.

—————————————————————–

** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for Sept and 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>

BAPTISMAL MAIDEN VOYAGE

Water Closet for October 6, 2017

     Middleton Stream Teamer Leon Rubchinuk’s raffle ticket drawn at the Ipswich River Watershed Association 40th birthday celebration won him a new canoe.  Generous Leon offered its use to fellow members.

“Smart weed, pickerel weed, arrow head, arrow arum and reed canary grass, emergent soft wetland plants, grew out into the channel from both banks”

The Old Closeteer, envious of its light weight, asked if he could take it on a maiden voyage for what in the navy is called a shakedown cruise.  Permission was granted.  Two days later at Farnsworth Landing off Route 114 in Middleton the shiny new Kevlar 15-foot long vessel was launched after a fairly easy lug from the Closeteer’s pickup down Vito Mortalo’s stone steps to the Ipswich River.   Alone, the Closeteer had brought a five gallon jug for ballast to provide stability and proper trim.  The water at the river’s edge was too low to immerse the jug from the bank so he pushed off in the canoe to deeper water.  Filled, the jug was pulled over the rail.  In an instant the canoe tipped and swamped; the Closeteer was in water up to his neck.  No big deal, the water temperature was 64 F, air 80 degrees without a breeze.  However, while not feeling cold he felt incompetent and stupid.  Fortunately there were no spectators.

     Chris-Kerry, a temporary name* he has given the new canoe, was dragged to the bank and emptied.  The jug was placed far forward to balance the lone paddler sitting in the after seat.  Chris-Kerry moved slowly up river in a channel with loose rafts of  dying plants.  Her shiny hull pushed fairly easily through the rotting debris.  All else outside the channel in the river’s beaver inundated floodplain and in the forested uplands beyond was still lush green, surprisingly so for late September.  Despite Chris-Kerry’s first moments in the water and noted tenderness compared to larger canoes owned by the Stream Team, the Closeteer, still soaking wet in the warm sun, felt content and any embarrassment was fading.  The river will do that. All seemed right with the world.  A couple great blue herons ahead spotted him and separately took flight up river.  They’ll do that for a while, keeping somewhat ahead of paddlers.  Two small flocks of ducks flew past just above the water.

Lush vegetation along the edges of the river’s channel will soon turn brown. Smartweed and duckweed, still green, are seen here. – Judy Schneider photo

     It was the plant filled water near the surface which soon had the paddler’s attention. To those unfamiliar with bodies of water not flowing this time of year it looked dirty.  Potamogeton, a plant with long stems up from bottom ending in lance shaped leaves, was dead or dying near the surface.  Below it were dark clouds of soft coon tail floating up within a couple feet of the surface.  They hadn’t been noticed just a couple months before.  Covering large patches of water surface were thin layers of brown-gray scum, bacteria and fungi.  The water plants so lush all summer were undergoing eutrophication a fancy word for excessive growth and rotting.  Their dense populations in slow moving water, growth stimulated by nutrients, had crowded each other out.  Bacterial and fungal decomposers, the river’s cleanup crew, were clearing the water up.  It recurs every late summer and early fall.  In another month the surface water temperature, now 68 F, will cool to the temperature of the water on the bottom and the water column will be at equal density throughout.  Winds will cause movement and the water, surface to bottom, will mix.  Nutrients circulated up from the bottom will stimulate the growth of photosynthetic plankton and in cooler water the dissolved oxygen level will rise.  Cold water holds more dissolved gases than warmer water.  The water will soon be clear again ready for winter and another yearly cycle.  The water column turn over will occur again in the spring when winter’s colder surface water and warmer bottom water reach the same temperature.  Thoughts of these marvelous changes cycled through the Closeteer’s mind as Chris-Kerry slowly pushed on through the floating and suspended vegetation being broken down, surprisingly without unpleasant odors, just a comforting musty smell emanating from each paddle stroke.  Two hours passed in the dramatically meandering passage among walls of lush green.  Smart weed, pickerel weed, arrow head, arrow arum and reed canary grass, emergent soft wetland plants, grew out into the channel from both banks.  In some stretches the channel was only two paddle-lenths wide.  The smart weed’s  handsome two to three-feet high stems ended in spikes of off-white blossoms and dominated the near scene.  Beyond them across the wide floodplain between Danvers, Peabody, and Middleton the foliage of mature hardwoods and patches of tall pines filled the lower sky.  Still dark green they showed little color change except for a few swamp maples along the floodplain’s edges.

Ipswich River water is now cloudy over long stretches with bacteria and fungus and the vegetation they are decomposing. A very normal process in our water bodies this time of year. – Judy Schneider photo

     After being stopped by an 80-foot long, two-foot high beaver dam, the Closeteer not wanting to portage, shifted seats and ballast and headed back in his wake, this time bow first.  After all, this was a shakedown cruise for Chris-Kerry so he had to make a proper report to owner Leon.  She is tender in sailor’s parlance, tippy to landlubbers.  Then isn’t this as women are supposed to be?  Old now, hardwired with these prejudices, he knows this is nonsense.  He had just shown himself to be tippy and is often more so in other ways on land. 

     Back at Farnsworth Landing where he had stepped out a hundred times from other vessels he pulled alongside the bank near Vito’s lower step and grabbed a favorite river birch to hoist himself up and out of the canoe.  He stepped out onto the bank.  The soles of rubber sandals slipped, his grip on the tree didn’t hold.  He was again intimate with his beloved river.  He started wet and would drive home wet having proven himself tippy.  What should he report to owner Leon about Chris-Kerry?    

*Chris for Christine Sandulli, president of the board of directors, and Kerry for Kerry Mackin, past executive director, of the Ipswich River Watershed Association   

____________________________________________________________

WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION

FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD

  Precipitation Data* for Month of:  June July Aug Sept
  30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 3.95 3.89 3.37 3.77
   2017 Central Watershed Actual  6.08 3.43 1.22 2.7 as of Sept 29

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

 For Sept 29, 2017  Normal . . . 8.1 CFS             Current Rate  . . . 1.68 CFS

——————————————————————–

 *Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Aug.

** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for Sept..

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>

PARKER RIVER PADDLE

Water Closet for September 29, 2017

     The Parker River flows between the Merrimack and Ipswich rivers as it meanders fifteen miles from Groveland to Plum Island Sound.

“Humans have paddled these waters for 10,000 years. They’ll no doubt continue in the estuaries of an ever changing coast”

In mid-September several Middleton Stream Teamers and friends in two canoes and seven kayaks joined the flow at Middle Road in Newbury near The Governor’s Academy.1  The paddlers put in among the cattails and leisurely rode easterly on a high ebb tide flanked by an ever saltier marsh of largely short salt marsh grasses.  The brackish water-loving narrow leaf cattails were soon left behind.  Had the paddlers tasted the water en route they’d have found it only moderately salty.  The seawater that had come in on the morning’s flood tide had mixed with the freshwater runoff and groundwater from the upriver watershed.  The total area drained by the Parker River and its tributaries is 82 square miles. A morning fog had lifted; the world between the sky and water was lush green.  Only a few distant Virginia creeper vines climbing trees on the marshes’ edges showed the bright red of fall.  Cord grass on the river’s banks and salt hay grass on the flat high marsh2 showed no signs of the caramel color they’ll soon become.  Here and there on the marsh small patches of glasswort had turned shiny green to pink-maroon.  While stopping for a picnic lunch on a knoll of granite at the convergence of the Mill River up from Rowley, the paddlers found and tasted the reddening leaves of “pickleweed,” another name for glasswort.  One paddler found that those that had turned red are saltier than those still green.  In years gone by this little succulent was pickled for use as a winter condiment.   

View of the Parker River and its salt marsh in Newbury as seen from a knoll with exposed granite ledge. The marsh is less than 3000 years old; the rock of the ledge is over 300 million. – Elaine Gauthier photo

The northeast corner of the picnic knoll has a high expanse of ledge facing northeast that provides a fine view of the river and salt marsh.  As the paddlers parked their vessels in the cord grass, a Newbury man with two young daughters passed by slowly in a motor boat.  Friendly, when questioned about the ledge where they had stopped, he volunteered.   “I was engaged on that rock.  I brought my bride-to-be out here with a ring and a bottle of champagne.  She said yes. ”  How could she have said otherwise in such a lovely place? The paddlers wondered how many others had been courted in this lovely estuary painted and photographed so many times.  Martin Johnson Heade of the Hudson School of Illuminists introduced our salt marshes to the world in the 19th century after visits here and other marshes along the east coast.  For years the Closeteer had passed along the legend that famous Heade painted with Frank Thurlo, a Newburyport artist and frame shop owner who did scores of marsh scenes.  There is no evidence of this, but examination of the men’s paintings strongly indicate a connection.  The younger Thurlo no doubt knew of Heade and may have been inspired by him.    

Glasswort, a small succulent marsh plant, turns red in September. Paddlers from the Parker River are tasting the soft stems of this plant once pickled for use as a winter condiment. – Elaine Gauthier photo

  The snack laden paddlers climbed to a red cedar and oak-fringed clearing on the knoll’s top.  As they ate and rested the old Closeteer’s mind drifted back to his days as a young boy in late July and early August on the salt marshes of Salisbury where his grandmother brought food and a refreshing molasses-water drink called switchel to her husband and helpers making hay.  While they ate she fished for eels and flounders in nearby Pettengill’s Crick.  On catching an eel she would scream.  Much amused one of the hay makers would run to her and take the squirming eel off the hook.  Here and all along the Parker’s tidal waters from colonial times into the early 20th century almost all the high marsh was mown for “salt meadow hay.” The miles of crick and river banks were also cut for cord grass that was used before the Revolution for thatch.  Some high marsh hay is still cut for mulch. The seeds won’t sprout in upland soils.  Winter ice cuts the tall cord grass which then drifts in on the high-runner-tides of nor’easters to pile up on the shoulders of causeways.  Some is yearly gathered by the Closeteer as free mulch. Out beyond Route 1A, in from the barrier beaches on the low tide flats, the grass cutters might have brought home baskets of clams if they caught a low tide and could spare the time.  As a boy the Closeteer dug sea worms on the same flats, which he and friends  used as flounder bait.     

Canoes such as these are now out numbered by kayaks. These paddlers are riding the high ebb tide on the Parker River in Newbury. – Elaine Gauthier photo

After lunch the paddlers returned to their vessels.  The water level had dropped two feet and the descent down the muddy bank to the floating canoes and kayaks was tricky. One spunky lady slid into the water up to her shoulders. Stream Teamer Glenn helped pull her out and into canoe.  Asked by her canoe mate if she was all right and needed a dry shirt, she said, “Feels good in this heat.”

     An easterly breeze riffled the water and replaced the hot humid air as the paddle down the beautiful, ever-widening Parker River resumed.  Soon the fleet passed under the Boston and Maine Railroad Bridge at half tide when tidal flows are at maximum velocity.  The Closeteer remembered his late mother telling how much she liked her daily commute by rail to school in Boston almost a century ago across the several salt marshes seen en route to North Station.  In too short a time the paddlers passed under the new Route 1A Bridge to a landing where they took out and returned to being landlubbers.  With the tide they could have easily paddled another four miles down to Plum Island Sound and on to the mouth of the Ipswich River and the sea, or north up the Plum Island River to the mighty Merrimack.3 

      As long as the gravities of the Moon, Earth and Sun interact the tides will keep on coming.  Humans have paddled these waters for 10,000 years. They’ll no doubt continue in the estuaries of an ever changing coast.

  1. For PR reasons the governor’s surname Dummer was dropped this millennium from the name of centuries old Governor Dummer Academy.  Many alumni disagreed with the change considering it incorrect and snooty.         
  2. The flat surfaces of the salt marshes seen when passing through our estuaries are the elevation of mean high seawater.  On spring tides, when the moon is full or new, the marsh grasses are often covered by higher water. On neap tides which correspond with the first and last quarter moons, the levels, at twice daily highs, are lower than average. On September 17, the day of the Stream Team paddle, the tide chart read:  high 9.9 ft.; low, -0.3 ft.  Three days later, the day of the new moon:  high 10.7 ft.; low  -0.7 ft.  On full and new moons the spring tides are higher and lower than average. On the neaps the ranges between highs and lows are less.  The haymakers used to cut on the neaps when the marsh was relatively dry.
  3. Comparing some of our rivers: Parker  – 20 miles long, watershed 82 sq. mi.;  Ipswich – 35 mi. long, watershed 155 sq. mi.;  Merrimack – 117 mi. long, watershed 5,010 sq. mi.;  Piscataqua (See last week’s WC.) 14 mi. long,  1,495  sq. mi.

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WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION

FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD

  Precipitation Data* for Month of:  June July Aug Sept
  30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 3.95 3.89 3.37 3.77
   2017 Central Watershed Actual  6.08 3.43 1.22 2.7 as of Sept 22

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

 For Sept 22, 2017  Normal . . . 5.5 CFS             Current Rate  . . . 3.13 CFS

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 *Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Aug.

** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for Sept..

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>