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Water Closet for March 23, 2018

“What a wonder are the lands set aside for us all by conservation trusts such as TTOR and Greenbelt.”

     During the night of the 7th and 8th of March the second storm in a week blew in from the ocean.   At northeast-facing Crane Beach, Ipswich, it left a couple miles of wide piles of rockweed above the usual wrack line.  In some stretches the alga Ascophyllum nodosum with a mix of other sea debris is two feet thick under a thin layer of new snow.  The ocean, still restless the day after the storm, leaped high over sand bars in the entrance to the Ipswich River and Plum Island Sound.  The old Closeteer and Rings Island friend upon arrival in the slushy Trustees of Reservation (TTOR) parking lot found the wind off the sea still wet and raw.  The pair walked easterly along the largest wrack line they’d ever seen and wondered about its unseen arrival during winter storms after long trips down from the rocky coasts of Maine and Nova Scotia. 

Wind and spray off the ocean sculpted these high dunes at the east of Crane Beach. Note purple bands of agate sand. – Elaine Gauthier photo

The Closeteer as a lad had gathered seaweed after such storms at Salisbury beach with farmer Uncle Bill for use upon the land.  The Rings Islander wanted some for her tiny garden.  With a front-end loader, huge wagon drawn by a big tractor, lots of help and permission from TTOR she might have gotten enough to cover the fields of Essex County ankle deep.  For her around-the-house garden she needed but a couple bags.  The two friends talked of dragging some of the seaweed off but decided to wait for easy pickings along paved causeways, recipients of drift cord grass from the salt marshes and at times seaweed torn by great storms off distant rocks.  The Closeteer gathers cord grass or thatch, Spartina alterniflora, each year for mulch.  In the old days drifting cord grass, cut free by ice and brought to our coastal roads free-of-charge via storms, was gathered and piled against house foundations and sills for insulation.  In Colonial times it was cut from the salt marsh cricks’ and rivers’ banks in summer for roof thatch.

Crane Beach erosion, January 2017 after storm. In the winter sand is removed from upper beach and carried out to offshore bars. Here cut made by storm waves is seen in dune grass terrace above the tidal beach. – Elaine Gauthier photo

     After a somewhat gloomy mile in damp air under gray fast moving clouds the walkers, now arm in arm for companionship and warmth, turned south on a path through the dune grass above the tide and storm-washed cluttered beach.  They were on a path marked by the Trustees up through the deep-rooted grass that holds the higher beach in place.  Gradually they climbed among pitch pines, gnarled choke cherries, and patches of gray birches with openings of low dune grass and beach heather in between.  Mother Nature couldn’t have designed a more delightful mix of clearings, shallow pools, groves of trees and bushes in the troughs and crests of dunes, most on a slant.  Her night-before storm had most of the sandy ground covered with snow.  The visitors’ feet were in untouched new snow which they occasionally sampled and drank from.  Now and then snowballs were gently thrown at one another.  Crane’s several miles of paths meander round and up and down among long ago treeless dunes.  The livestock who for over two centuries had kept them so had long been removed.  During the previous night’s storm swaths of sand swept were kept clear by the fickle wind gusts among the dunes.  In most places the gale force winds had allowed snow to accumulate an inch to half a foot.  As the sky lightened a bit to the southwest the couple glimpsed the sun through veils of thinning clouds.  The greens of the pines, lichen and mosses on the black trunks of twisted cherries took on color, some glowing emerald green.  The visitors’ blood warmed while hiking in the lee of dunes and now and then direct sunlight.  This enhanced their joy and wonder as they rounded and climbed over the wind sculpted topography.  In over two hours of leisurely hiking they stopped many times to admire each new scene close up, like delicate mosses and melting snow on trees, and to gaze beyond at more distant views of salt marshes; glacial drumlins, to the south and west such as Choate Island and Castle Hill;  Plum Island north across Ipswich Sound, the turbulent entrance to the Ipswich River; and behind the  steel gray ocean without end to north and east.  They had the whole of Crane Reservation pretty much to themselves people-wise.  Only one other car had been in the huge lot back at the start.  Deer were nearby. The walkers now and then came upon their tracks crossing the designated paths which deer ignore.  On rounding one dune they spotted a distant coyote, its fine winter coat surrounded by white was glowing.  At one point the Rings Islander saw several deer scamper into a cluster of pines high upon a dune.  Her alert was too late for the Closeteer who was looking out across the marsh at Choate Island.

Photo of New Year’s Day Trustees of Reservation hiking group taken several years ago from the high dunes of Crane Beach Reservation in Ipswich. White sand, patches of snow, pitch pine grove, and a large of patch of beach heather fill the foreground. Ipswich Bay is seen beyond. Our barrier beaches are wondrous places largely sculped by winter storms. – Judy Schneider photo

     The clouds broke open to the southwest allowing short periods of unfiltered sunlight among the dunes.  Snow, storm-plastered on the north sides of trees making them look like birches, slid off in chunks that splashed with delightful gurgles into the pools of wooded hollows.  Those sounds broke the somber mood evoked by the background drone of surf.  The wind when met on dune crests had become dryer; its cold stimulating to warm faces.

Large drift log floated upon the dune grass shows the power of our winter storms such as the three we’ve had in early March this year. A massive amount of drift seaweed was cast upon the high beach this winter. – Elaine Gauthier photo

     What a wonder are the lands set aside for us all by conservation trusts such as TTOR and Greenbelt.  One week we might visit the high barrens on Weir, Holt, and Boston hills in the Andovers and look out over the county and distant Boston, the next hike on the beaches of Crane Reservation and Plum Island, the latter protected by Federal and State governments.  Middleton Stream Teamers with the coming of spring are talking of another paddle in salt marsh rivers to the Trustees’ Choate Island in back of the dunes of Crane Beach.  From its summit the winter ravaged coast can be admired from Boars Head, Hampton, to Rockport, Cape Ann.  Millions of tons of sand removed from beaches by the winter storms are stored in offshore bars.  The gentler summer waves and currents will bring much back to rebuild them yet again.  People in great numbers will also return.  We clammers and hikers who love the edges of the ocean even in the winter urge all to visit especially after storms. 




  Precipitation Data* for Month of:  Dec Jan Feb March  
  30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 4.12 3.40 3.25 4.65  
   2017 Central Watershed Actual  2.97 4.04 3.76 5.5

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

 For March 16, 2018          Normal . . . 131 CFS            Current Rate  . . .255 CFS


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

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

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>

2017 Nature Photo Contest Awards

Elaine Gauthier – First Place

The Middleton Stream Team 2017 Nature Photo Contest awards event was held on March 11, 2018. The venue was the Historical Museum on Pleasant St. Many photographers, family and Stream Team members attended the event in order to congratulate the artists and look over all the beautiful photographs that were submitted this year. Three judges were in attendance; Eric Roth, Lucille Wymer, and Milly Clark. The photographers talked about their favorite sites for photography in Middleton as they received their awards. Middleton Pond was the most popular site this year.

First, the students received their awards from Pamela Hartman, who had generously donated the funding for these awards.

First Place Student- Henry Thomas

Second Place Student- Grace Whitney

Judy Schneider, contest coordinator, handed out the awards for the adult contest.

First Place- Elaine Gauthier

Second Place- Donna Bambury

Third Place- Pamela Hartman

Best Wildlife- Judy Parrot-Willis

Honorable mentions went to;

Joanne MacInnis, Donna Bambury, Pamela Hartman, Kathy Diamontopoulos, and Judy Parrot-Willis

Photos can be viewed here and are also on display at the Middleton Post Office/Santander Bank lobby display case.

We encourage everyone to get outside to enjoy our beautiful town. Look for information about our 2018 photo contest that will be posting soon. Then you can send us your photos for the 2018 contest.  The Middleton Stream Team holds the contest each year in order to encourage everyone to get outside and see our beautiful section of the Ipswich River Watershed. We have many wetlands, ponds, and brooks to explore. Or you can relax at our five canoe/kayak river landings and enjoy the river view.

  • Sue_Piccole
  • Elaine_Gauthier_first Place
  • DonnaLeBel-FallenBirch
  • Alison_Colby-Campbell (3)
  • Donna_Bambury_HM (2)
  • Pam_Hartman_Third Place
  • Diamontopoulos-Solitary-Sandpiper
  • Judy_Parrot-Willis_Best Wildlife
  • Judy_Parrot-Willis
  • Donna_Bambury_HM
  • AshleyWhitney-animaloverlook
  • The judges
  • Alison_Colby-Campbell (2)
  • Guests at the awards
  • Alison_Colby-Campbell
  • Henry Thomas receiving award
  • Judy_Parrot-Willis_HM
  • Pam_Hartman_HM
  • Henry with his photo
  • Sue_Piccole (2)
  • Pam Hartman with her award
  • Judy Parrot-Willis showing her bird photos
  • HenryThomas_ItsCold
  • Grace with her photo
  • GraceWhitney-island-of-water-on-ice
  • Pam Hartman giving award to Grace Whitney
  • Pam_Hartman
  • DonnaLeBel-AutumnSunriseCreightonPond
  • GraceWhitney_Second Place Student
  • HenryThomas_Pond
  • Elaine_Gauthier (2)
  • Donna_Bambury_Second Place
  • Joanne-MacInnis_HM
  • Diamontopoulos-Solitary-Sandpiper
  • Elaine Gauthier with first place award
  • Elaine_Gauthier
  • Joanne MacInnis receiving her award
  • looking closely at the photos
  • Diamontopoulos-Solitary-Sandpipers-Pair_HM
  • DonnaLeBel-EarlyMorningReservoir
  • HenryThomas_First Place Student
  • GraceWhitney-Hare-footprint.
  • Sue_Piccole (3)


Water Closet for March 16, 2018

     The TV weather folks had warned us for a week that a storm was heading our way from the southwest with impending complications coming up the East Coast and down from the Canadian Shield.  Thursday evening, March 2, an east wind strengthened under a cloud-covered full moon pulling on the water.  With the promised nor’easter, it looked as if the beaches and marshes were in for a wild old time.  By midnight gale force winds had the ocean waves high and the trees inland roaring in excitement.  Over two inches of rain came in at a blizzard’s slant.  Despite the noise, the old Closeteer slept.  He’d go out Friday afternoon when the wind was supposed to reach a crescendo endangering trees, power lines, and barrier beaches. 

Middleton Stream Teamers and friends prepare to cross the flooded Essex-Ipswich salt marsh on astronomical high-runner-tide. This photo was on a summer day without a storm. In your imagination add a couple more feet and waves to picture a nor’easter such as that on March 2 and 3, 2018. – Elaine Gauthier photo

     Many trees and lines on the Cape went down.  Countless hundreds of tons of sand were swept out from the beaches to join the offshore bars.  Waves also carried sand into the center of Salisbury Beach.   A third of a million-people on the South Shore and Cape lost electricity.  The salt marshes and causeways to barrier beaches on the North Shore were covered for hours with seawater during the storm’s three full moon highs at midday and midnight.  On Saturday afternoon as the storm continued the old Closeteer and Rings Island friend visited Plum Island three hours after high tide.  The marshes were still covered. A sustained gale out of the northeast had shoulder high waves on the Merrimack’s mouth dancing, showing white petticoats.  Water Street along the Merrimack’s Newburyport shore was wave-wet and flanked by windrows of drift cord grass from the banks of the rivers and cricks that had been pushed off the street by city plows.  After crossing the flooded salt marshes which appeared a broad sea from the causeway the visitors arrived at the barrier beach called Plum Island.  The ominous low roar just over the dunes of the Atlantic drew them on.  The Parker River Wildlife Refuge gate was closed.  A side street east got them behind the infamous houses in jeopardy on the high dunes above the beach.  They parked their car and with a couple other curious souls climbed a dune eastward into the wind.  Upon reaching the top the nor’easter hit them hard.  The beach and usual ocean scenes were gone.   A half-mile band of roiling white caps coalescing came into view right up to the foot of the dunes.  It stretched as far as they could see both north and south.  Out beyond the noisy chaos was the leaden gray-blue sea striped with the breaking crests of in-coming swells.  There would be no real low tide in three more hours as shown on the tide chart. 

Saturday, March 3: This photograph of wide band of surf three hours after high tide at Plum Island was taken with a cell phone held in gale force gusts. The man on the beach is standing above the ocean’s usual high-runner-tide (king tide) elevation. The strong nor’easter raised the swells well above the astronomical high usually following a full moon. The beach front houses in the area are in jeopardy. Unwise past attempts to save others here have failed. – Nancy Sander photo

     The Rings Islander asked a young Plum Islander if he’d seen the surf like this before.  He, a surfer, said he had not.  Across the river at midnight and midday her Rings Island had become a true island as the wind-exacerbated tide flowed over the roads across the salt marsh to Salisbury’s once fishing village.  For a while the town blocked off the flooded roads.  Climatologists predict by the end of the century that a foot to ten feet of higher water from melting Greenland and Antarctica ice may make our coastal hills islands.  You’ll need a boat to get to Old Town Hill in Newbury and Castle Hill in Ipswich.  A good part of Boston built on past fill may be under or protected by levees.  See old maps of our Colonial capital. 

     While standing on the narrow edge of the storm ravaged beach the Closeteer thought again as he had three-quarters of a century ago as boy when he helped an old Salisbury carpenter patch up Plum Island ocean front houses after a couple nor’easters.  During one a couple cottages nearby had fallen in and gone out to sea.   Nancy Weare’s fine book, Plum Island: The Way It Was, shows maps of where the river used to be as it entered the sea before the late 19th century jetties.  Before them the river’s mouth used to wander north and south.  The Closeteer as a boy was struck by how vulnerable the cottage covered barrier beach seemed.  Last Saturday standing where houses have gone in this past decade he was surprised by folks’ folly once again.  Even if the ocean’s elevation rose a couple feet Plum Island, Salisbury Beach, Seabrook Beach, and Hampton Beach would become off shore bars and the salt marshes behind them would erode away.

Dam in Downtown Ipswich at height of storm. Dam top is usually several higher than tidal water below. The astronomical high and nor’easter winds filled the tidal side to the brim. Fish ladder, topped-off, is on the left. – Elaine Gauthier

    The vast ocean when so ruffled at its edges warns and frightens but it doesn’t keep some folks from building just above high water.  The Closeteer recommends William Sargent’s 2015 book PLUM ISLAND: 4000 Thousand Years a Barrier Beach.   Sargent in an entertaining and at times disgusted way tells the history of the barrier beach we love.  He pungently chronicles the shenanigans of the last two centuries by people and their governments’ attempts at taming Mother Nature.  The Fed’s protections came too late mid-last century.  They’ve done a good job for all including wildlife and plants on the southern two-thirds.  After future storms when the road barriers have been taken away visit to see what ever higher waves have done.  The old Closeteer bets on Mother Nature down the stretch.  She won’t allow houses for a few short-sighted people to remain on her protective barriers.




  Precipitation Data* for Month of:  Dec Jan Feb March  
  30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 4.12 3.40 3.25 4.65  
   2017 Central Watershed Actual  2.97 4.04 3.76 4.1

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

 For March 9, 2018            Normal . . . 112 CFS            Current Rate  . . .268 CFS

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

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

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>

2018 Stream Team Winter Hike

The Stream Team’s winter hike, held in partnership with Essex County Greenbelt, and led by Pike Messenger, explored areas in North Middleton. The hike started on the Bay Circuit Trail off North Liberty St and looped back via a large, ice covered beaver impoundment. Forty eight hikers joined the event, ranging in age from 1 to 80+. The trail required  crossing some small streams on planks, rocks and ice. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and most of the group ventured out onto the still thick ice to explore the wilds in a new way. Along the route we saw stone remains of old buildings, mushrooms, a few green plants, and lots of animal tracks.
  • Little Pike pointing out something interesting
  • mushrooms in January
  • walking on the thick ice
  • venturing out on the ice
  • Showing the hemlock woolly adelgid
  • Fun Mud Puddles at end of hike
  • Out into the open field led by Elaine Gauthier
  • questions?
  • Addressing the group