Water Closet for November 20, 2015
[pullquote]”They were seemingly paddling on a wondrous carpet, dry above and only wet where lightly touching an unseen liquid surface below.”[/pullquote]Mid-morning Friday, November 6, a score of hikers paused in the oak woods flanking Pond Meadow Brook floodplain to hear their guide go on about the history of stone walls.1 Suddenly oak leaves from the canopy above dominated the scene. A gust of wind had released them to fall among the walkers who with their guide fell silent as children do when the first snow falls. The large brown flakes, gifts from red and white oaks, made gentle tic tic sounds as they collided with twigs, each other, and dry leaves on the ground. The shower lasted only a few seconds, but a week later we still remembered it’s magic. Some may have that moment forever. Chatter resumed; the hike continued. The guide, so pleasantly upstaged, remained silent for a while as feet crunched on dry carpets of leaves, gifts of food to ground insects and microorganisms and to us as beauty. Even on the ground their rich colors beat any oriental rug until darkened by time and water.
The following afternoon two Stream Teamers in a large canoe paddled three miles down the Ipswich River from just below the Bostik Dam in south Middleton to Farnsworth Landing. The first west-east mile on the Peabody-Middleton line, the channel’s center, is well shaded by mature forests. The first hundred yards, rocky below the soon-to-be removed dam,3 is at times white water. After that lively stretch the river flattens out and flows slowly due to low gradient and in part to beaver dams down river. Well shielded from the wind by trees and bushes the water was quiet. Days of leaves falling in dry air and piling on one another until two to four inches thick had resulted in a floating cover, in some places a tenth of a mile long with no water in sight. The paddlers had often seen large patches of leaves floating but never carpeting bank to bank for impressive stretches. They were seemingly paddling on a wondrous carpet, dry above and only wet where lightly touching an unseen liquid surface below. The colorful layer offered some not unpleasant resistance to their passage. To one paddler, the sound on hull was like that of tarps full of leaves being dragged through fall leaves across a lawn. When small his grandchildren rode hidden in the piles. It has rained since that trip so we know the marvelous three dimensional rugs have fragmented, collapsed, soaked and darkened. Their matter is softening thus making it more palatable for bacteria and fungi, the recyclers of nature. Insects and crustaceans when active will join the annual feast by eating the first-level feasters. Amphibians, reptiles, and fish will dine on them and so it goes and has gone for tens of millions of years.
The Stream Teamers paddled slowly through the dry floating leaves in awe. After an abrupt turn north between Danvers and Middleton the forest gives way to meanders through a bushy, grassy floodplain. The broad scrub-shrub swamp, now beaver impoundment, is open; the trees are gone. Any leaves falling from swamp dogwood, button bush, climbing hemp weed, smart weed, and reed-canary grass have been stirred by the wind and wetted. The transitory pavement of soft leaves was seen no more. This is pretty much the case for several miles from the Rail Trail in west Peabody to Maple Street in Middleton where soon after forested banks resume.
Carpets of dead leaves are not our only temporary water covers. From mid-summer through late fall large areas of still and slow flowing waters are as green and flat as billiard tables. The living fabric covering them is of tiny plants called duckweeds2. There are several species. Some people, who don’t look very closely, call these, the tiniest of flowering plants, “pond scum”.4 For ducks and many smaller creatures duckweeds are rich food high in protein. In early spring when present on the bottoms of water bodies the water surfaces are clear of reproducing duckweeds. Some of those dormant on the bottom rise to the surface in spring when the water, the same temperature and density throughout, is easily mixed by the wind top to bottom. Such turnovers spring and fall are when the plankton blooms. Sun from above and nutrients from below greatly increase the metabolisms of winter sleepers. The duckweeds while flowering plants, thus capable of sexual reproduction, rarely do. They simply reproduce asexually by budding. The buds break off and float alongside their kin. Without stems and true roots they can’t fill the spaces above and below; hence move out as emerald sheets floating on the water. Animals below must appreciate the food, oxygen, and protective shade they provide. As spring wanes and summer warms water loss through evaporation increases. It would be much greater without these plant layers. By mid summer the surface areas of quiet water bodies are at times completely covered. This includes water in the shallows either side of stream and river channels. The final gifts they provide, as all organisms do on dying, are basic compounds for their descendants’ continuance. Their decomposition products enrich soils and waters.
If that is so why expend so much time each fall raking and, worse still, noisily blowing leaves and carting them elsewhere? The following spring many truck in costly fertilizers to replace what the falling leaves provide for free. Of course all folks don’t agree on this, many don’t like a month of rotting leaves cluttering lawns before cold white layers cover them. Layers of flowers, grasses, leaves, and snow are natural whether on fields, lawns, or on our waters. Try telling that to “squeaky clean” family members most of whom even out in the country are no longer farmers.
A couple of old Stream Teamers who grew up on farms remember well when cow, horse, and chicken manures were valued and kept around for later use on the land. In earlier centuries human manure from outhouses was also used on gardens. Most think separation from our sources of life is progress; the Stream Teamers wonder at what cost.
1 We recommend Robert Thorson’s book Stone by Stone about New England’s stone walls.
2 These little flat plants range in size from pieces punched out by a paper punch to sesame seeds. They are flowering plants evolved from larger more complex plants.
3 The Bostik Dam is scheduled for removal next year. An informational meeting led by Brian Kelder, IRWA, for the public will be held at Middleton’s Flint Library Monday, November 30, 7:00 to 9:00 PM.
4 “Pond scums” are the complicated results of eutrophication. It occurs when water bodies have an excess of nutrients thus causing algae and water plants to grow until they crowd out one another. Their masses of corpses are decomposed by bacteria. Whole lakes, as large as Erie, are at times rendered very unpleasant for inhabitants and neighbors. In this essay relatively normal populations of duckweeds not algae are described. Eutrophication is complex and interesting. We recommend that you research the subject further.
WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD`
|Precipitation Data* for Month of:
|30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches
|2015 Central Watershed Actual
|0.7 as of 11/17**
Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For Nov 17, 2015 Normal . . . 43 CFS Current Rate . . . 115 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Oct..
**Middleton Stream Team is source of actual precipitation data for Nov.
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