Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Maynard Farmers' Market 2015

The Maynard Farmer's Market starts its 20th year on June 27, 2015. Location is in the Clock Tower parking lot between Main Street and the Mill Pond. Visible from Main Street (Route 62). Hours are 9:00 to 1:00. 

“You people come into the market – the Greenmarket, in the open air under the downpouring sun…” So begins Giving Good Weight, first published in the New Yorker magazine in 1978 – a story of farmers selling their produce in the Greenmarkets of New York City as told by famed journalist John McPhee. McPhee can be wordy (30 books and counting), but he nailed the economics and personal dynamics of small farms and face-to-face selling years before “locavore” became part of the green movement vocabulary.

The origin of the Maynard Community Farmers’ Market falls somewhere in the middle of then and now. The summer of 1996 saw Anita Clemens and Daniel McCarthy push for the start of a Farmers’ Market in Maynard. The concept started small, but grew over the years. Sellers pay a weekly fee for booth space. Location is the parking lot between Main Street and the mill pond. Summer Saturdays find 15 to 20 displays selling everything from arugula to zucchini.

The ORGs (ORG for non-profit organizations having website addresses ending in “.org”) are regulars, also. Here you will find Friends of the Assabet River Wildlife Refuge, MayDog, Maynard Community Gardeners, and so on. For the newly-moved to Maynard, this is a good means of learning what organizations exist and what they offer.

Balance Rock Farm, Berlin, MA
In addition to food and the non-profit organizations, the Market is also open to local crafts such as artisanal baked goods, soaps, candles, and whatnot – and most Saturdays include live music and child-friendly arts and play. Being next to the mill pond provides a chance to feed the ducks and geese. The Market is dog-friendly to the point of feeling dog-required. Dog owners are wise to keep their animals on a short leash. (Or at home if they do not play well with others.)

According to McPhee, “Giving good weight” is the opposite of the thumb on the scale. It embodies good will in concrete form – not only are we not cheating you, we are throwing in a bit extra. Back in the days of mechanical scales this practice was easier: You asked for a pound, the vendor threw a bit more than a pound on the scale, you paid the pound price. Today, with the electronic scale automatically calculating price, the “good weight” is less tangible, but still there. It’s the concept of the buyer supporting local farms in return for promise of fresher produce. Every successful merchant understands that the path to repeat business is delivering a bit more than you charge for.
Click on any photo to enlarge

Per the Maynard Farmers’ Market website: “The Market's mission is to provide area residents the opportunity to buy Massachusetts grown and produced products and support local farmers and specialty vendors. The Market also offers educational and cultural events, information about local nonprofit groups, and place to visit with friends and neighbors.”

To find out what musicians are playing each Saturday visit maynardmarketmusic.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Public Access to Assabet River

Automated river depth and flow gauge,
Assabet River, Maynard, MA (2010 flood)
Addresses public access to the Assabet River in Maynard, MA. Includes a kayaker's description.

For all that the Assabet River runs through the center of Maynard, crossed by seven bridges, public access points - meaning places where it is possible to sit or stand by the riverbank, and if so desired, do some fishing, wade into the river or launch a canoe or kayak - are scarce.

Passage through Maynard starts at the White Pond Road Bridge on the Maynard:Stow border and ends at Ripple Pond, which is the name of the body of water backed up by the dam next to Route 62, in Acton. This portion, some 2.5 miles long, offers a mix of flat and flowing water ranging from placid to exciting and potentially dangerous.

Upstream of the Ben Smith Dam provides five miles of flat water. Boaters' access in Maynard is at Ice House Landing and at White Pond Bridge. The former is near the Department of Public Works, on Winter Street, and offers a few parking places and a short portage to the shore, where it is possible to put in a canoe or kayak. The latter has space to put in a small boat off a trailer, but parking is problematic. Between, there are good views of the water from Track Road, on the south side, but the shoreline is steep and brushy. Farther upstream but still part of the same flat water is a put-in in Stow, at Sudbury Road.

Downstream from the Ben Smith Dam there are views from the bridges and along Walnut Street, but no accessible shoreline on town property other than a short stretch in Tobin Park, by the footbridge, and then much farther east, from a trail that descends from Concord Street.

Kayaker working the rapids upriver from Main Street, Maynard, MA
Maynard owns or is about to own or can consider owning land that could provide much more river access. Construction of the Assabet River Rail Trail will include a larger parking lot at Ice House Landing. The town could improve the put-in.

A private parking lot at the back of Millpond Square provides access below the dam. The town could look into purchasing part of the lot. There is an easy 80 yard portage to a put-in place. The same concept would hold true for buying part of the parking lot at the Elks Lodge, as either a takeout for river runners or a put in for Ripple Pond. Between, the town already owns land behind the Town Building and is in the process of buying riverside land at the end of a small parking lot on River Street. These two sites have a steep bank from shore to river, so not ideal for boating or fishing access, but could become attractive viewing areas.

Lastly, the river border from Main Street to the footbridge (adjacent to the Gruber Bros. Furniture building, currently an overgrown mess of poison ivy and bittersweet) could be improved to include a boardwalk, benches, small tables, plantings, bicycle rack, informational kiosk, water fountain, a cart selling Italian ices, live music…
All this harping on access, access, access begs the question – is it really possible to boat through the center of Maynard on the Assabet River? Safe? Legal? As noted, upstream of the Ben Smith Dam is flat water, so boating is possible, safe and legal. Through town, the criteria are deep enough to float a boat but no so high as to risk hitting the undersides of bridges. A gauge located behind Tedeschi Food Shops provides on-line information on depth and flow rate, findable via internet search on the terms USGS ASSABET followed by selection of the one that has “Current Conditions” in the description.
Pipe under Mill Street Bridge reduces clearance (flood, March 2010)
From talking to experienced boaters, a depth at the gauge between 3.0 and 4.0 feet floats a boat through Maynard and provides for stretches of Class I-II rapids. Approaching 5.0 feet the bridges become dangerous. The river gets faster. At 2.0 feet the flow is 100 cubic feet per second, increasing to 600 cfs at 4.0 feet and 1200 cfs at 5.0 feet.
As for legal, the Massachusetts River Protection Act extends state control to “Any river or stream that is a naturally flowing body of water that empties into any ocean, lake, or other river and that flows throughout the year.” Recreational activities are allowed, keeping in mind that all the scrap metal and broken glass make barefoot wading unadvisable. 

One experienced kayaker's description of running the center of town when water was 4' deep: 
  • Great Road Bridge – ran to the right through a 2’ drop
  • Mill Street Bridge – ran through the center, but the right arch is also an option
  • Florida Road Bridge – flatwater under the bridge, but there are some nice waves just downstream
  • Main Street Bridge – some easy waves leading up to it, but it can be run anywhere
  • Walnut Street Bridge – fast moving current under the bridges pushes right, some nice wave below the bridge
  • Waltham Street Bridge – ran in the middle since the left and right arches were blocked by construction steel [note: this was the old bridge; the new bridge is a single span]

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Maynard's Pocket-Sized Parks

Once upon a time some care was taken to create a small green space behind Maynard's town building. And then neglected. And recently undergoing some rehabilitation.

Firstly, having a town building appears to have been an afterthought for Maynard. For a town founded in 1871, one wonders how not having a permanent home until some 90 years later was managed. A plan to build a town building and adjoining space for Maynard's library (now the police station) was finally approved in 1960, dedicated July 29, 1962.

What landscaping was done adjacent to the river is a mystery. The Maynard Historic Society collection has an informal note in a PARKS folder that reads in its entirely "5/12/88: The little park in the rear of Maynard Bld has been grassed down, and when the fountain is set in motion it will make a refreshing spot to gaze upon." There is no evidence of a fountain.

In addition to any grass, what is there now is a row of scraggly pine trees across the back and half a score of dead trees. Until the Department of Public Works recently undertook to clear this space the overgrowth close to the river (bittersweet vines, poison ivy, burning bush, maple saplings, whatever) was so thick as to block any view of the river. One wrist-thick bittersweet vine had close to 30 growth rings, suggesting that the park's reversion to a wild state started immediately after it was finished.       

What to see now is a work in progress. The Conservation Commission is involved because the space borders the river. Here's hoping DPW and CC can reach an accord. With enough of the river bank cleared, this could become a shaded place to sit at a picnic table or bench and contemplate the river. Maynard does not have many riverside public spaces, so this would be a welcome addition.    

Other pocket parks do exist. Land across from ArtSpace, at the corner of Summer and Florida streets, was cleared as a park in 1972. It was named Carbone Park in 1987 to honor Walter Carbone, past member of the town's Planning Board and Conservation Commission. A sign to this effect was erected circa 2005. This park is not much more than a grassy space with a few benches, backed by wooded wetlands with a rough trail, but every public green space is welcome in the densely developed core of this town.

Click on any photo to enlarge
East on Summer Street there is Maplebrook Park, maintained by Maynard Community Gardeners since 1995, and then Memorial Park - host to summer band concerts Wednesday evenings. John J. Tobin Riverfront Park, dedicated in 1989, occupies the compact space on either side of the footbridge over the Assabet River. Big changes are pending there, as the Assabet River Rail Trail - construction to start next year - will replace the narrow wooden footbridge with a wide steel bridge. Expect far more pedestrian and bicycle traffic through Maynard, as the Trail will run from the Acton Train station to the Maynard:Stow border, where it will connect to bike and hike paths in the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge.

Not in any town plan, but rather a proposal that exists solely in my imagination: the east bank of the Assabet River between the footbridge and Main Street, basically the border of the driveway on the west side of the Gruber Bros. Furniture building, could be converted into a river overlook walkway with a waist-high railing. This would connect Main Street to the Rail Trail and replace the dilapidated chain link fence currently in place.   

Footbridge over the Assabet River, to be replaced by a
16 foot wide steel bridge (Main St bridge visible in background)
Back to the site behind the town building. Older residents of Maynard may remember stories of their parents playing in the river as children. Summertime, this part of the river was shallow and slow enough to wade and splash about, perhaps taking time out to sit on the large boulder that gave the site its name - the Rockies. Being upstream of the mill's discharges (and also upstream of the town's sewer outlet) meant that the water was relatively clean.

June 8th news: A snapping turtle left the  river to dig a hole and lay eggs in the town building site, to the amusement and amazement of town employees, who were arriving for work. Landscaping will be delayed until the eggs hatch, or else the eggs will be transferred to a safer location, perhaps in the wildlife refuge. This week's police blotter had a few items about snapping turtles on roads or peoples' property, so this appears to be that time of year. Eggs take 90-110 days to hatch into quarter-sized baby turtles that will head for the water, and then take years to reach adulthood.     

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Maynard's Oldest Resident

MAYNARD SMOKE SHOP, east corner of 100 Main Street
was owned/operated by the Duggans before selling to Sheridan
brothers. This photo from Maynard Historical Society archive.
Mildred 'Mil' Duggan, age 102, born in Maynard on September 1, 1912, is recognized as Maynard's oldest resident, and as such, holder of the Boston Post Cane. In an interview conducted on May 18th, Mildred, with her niece Ellen Duggan occasionally chiming in to add to oft recounted family stories, told about back when there was still a trolley running through Maynard, when farmers from the south side of Maynard sold fresh vegetables and eggs off horse-pulled wagons, and when the mill was running around-the-clock shifts during World War II making blankets and cloth for Army uniforms.   

Mildred's ancestors were 'two-boaters' - Irish immigrants who had first crossed the Atlantic Ocean to Newfoundland, Canada to work in the cod fish industry before they or their descendents moved on to Boston or New York. Much of the work was ashore, preparing salt cod (dried, salted fillets) from fresh-caught fish. In an era before refrigeration, salt cod was a food staple in many cultures. Newfoundland, especially the east coast around the city of St John's, was known as the most Irish place outside of Ireland.

In the 1890s, Mil's grandparents traveled by ship to Boston and then train to Maynard. Her parents, Timothy Duggan and Ellen Brothers, were teenagers at the time, but soon done with school and working in the woolen mill, she as a weaver and he as a spinner. Her mother told stories of being in fear of making an error and then being called to The Perch (the supervisor's raised platform), to be chastised or fired. Tim and Ellen married at St. Bridget Roman Catholic Church on June 2, 1909.

Mildred 'Mil' Duggan on her 99th birthday, September 1, 2011
Mildred's childhood memories include ice skating on the Mill Pond in the winter and her brother fishing there in the summer. Boys would catch sunfish, perch and catfish, then sell them to women in the neighborhood. Kids played in the river and went to movies for a dime. Back then Crowe Park had a bandstand and bleachers, so there were free concerts, ball games and other goings on.

In addition to working in Maynard's wool mill, Mildred's father worked stints at the Wayside Inn, the Smoke Shop in the Masonic Building on Main Street, Damon Mill in West Concord, and the gunpowder mill. One day an explosion shook buildings and broke windows in Maynard. Being without a telephone, Mildred's mother walked across town to Powder Mill Road to learn if her husband was dead or alive. (Alive.)

The September hurricane of 1938 - before such storms were given names - devastated much of New England. Mildred's older brother, J. (James) Edmund Duggan, was trying to drive the two of them from Boston to Maynard. Trees were falling everywhere, bringing down power lines that were sparking and smoking on the ground. They got as far as West Concord before the road became impassable, then walked the last three miles to Maynard.

Mildred never married, but she is close to her brother's children, and their children and grandchildren, making her a cherished aunt, great-aunt and great-great-aunt. She is proud to continue to be an active parishioner of St. Bridget (and can remember when the Church had a taller steeple).  

The Boston Post Cane: In 1909 the publisher of the Boston Post newspaper decided, as a promotional stunt, to gift ebony canes to hundreds of towns in Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, to be awarded to the oldest male resident (and to be returned to the town's keeping upon his death). Best count is that canes went to 641 towns. Women became eligible to be holders of the cane after 1930. Each cane had a 14-carat gold head engraved with the inscription, "Presented by the Boston Post to the oldest citizen of _____."  

Maynard's Boston Post Cane is on permanent display at the town building. It had gone missing around 1928, not recovered until 1981. In 1999 the Maynard Historical Society decided to revive the tradition of honoring Maynard’s oldest citizen by presenting him or her with a plaque from the Maynard Board of Selectmen. Mildred F. Duggan has been symbolic holder of the cane since March 4, 2014.  

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A Murder of Crows

We know to say “pride of lions, gaggle of geese, school of fish,” but why? As it turns out, social standing among Medieval European nobility required that men should know their venery – the proper naming of groups of animals – else be taken for crass and uneducated. Collections of these terms culminated in a master list compiled in The Book of St. Albans, in 1486. The term “A murder of crows” dates back at least that far, but unfortunately without any historic explanation as to why “murder.”

Anyone delving into the history of venery should consult "An Exaltation of Larks," by Jame Lipton. Older versions of "murder of crows" were written as "mursher of crowys" and "murther of crowes." The 'murther' (or 'murthre') spelling was common into the 1600s but is now archaic. Similarly, 'crawe' was Old English and 'crowe' Middle English before evolving into 'crow.'  

From Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds."  Crows were trained to fly
to the jungle gym. Special effects crows were added to make the
number of birds larger than it actually was.
Crows do gather. One of the key scenes in Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, The Birds, cuts back and forth between the inside of a small school and the progressively larger number of crows gathering on the playground equipment outside. In real life, when crows happen upon an owl they will sound an alarm call that draws other crows from miles around. The resultant mob of crows, all cawing loudly, will harass the owl until it leaves the area. Crows will also mob hawks. It sounds very much as if the crows intend bloody murder, and perhaps that led to the historic term.

An oft-mentioned folklore on “murder” is that a group of crows can decide to turn on one of their own, pecking it to death. The truth in this is debatable. A solitary crow happening upon a crow family’s space will be set on, but driven away, not killed. These attacks can be many-against-one because families are more than just the mated pair. Offspring from the previous year or two stay near their parents and help with feeding and defending the new babies.

During the spring/summer nesting season families are scattered, but in fall and winter crows prefer to congregate, especially at night. Foraging flocks of 10 to 50 will start to cluster as evening nears, then fly to join other flocks in a preferred night roosting area, where numbers can be as high as in the thousands. In northern regions these tree roosts may be in parks and cemeteries within cities; the thinking being that the winter temperatures in cities are slightly warmer than in the surrounding countryside, and also that the ambient night light of cities discourages marauding owls.

Locally, the population of crows has been impacted by West Nile Virus (WNV). The virus is endemic and non-lethal in many species of birds in Africa and the Middle East. It was first detected in the United States in 1999, in wild crows living at the Bronx Zoo. WNV then rapidly spread across the continent. Mosquitoes are the major vector, but raptors and scavengers can become infected by eating ill or dead animals. The viral strain that reached North America was particularly lethal to crows. The crow population in Massachusetts is half of what it was fifteen years ago. There is evidence that the negative impact of WNV is stabilizing in recent years, with some states showing recovery from the lowest bird counts. 

WNV also infects people. Most will have no symptoms. About 20 percent will develop fever, headache, muscle ache, nausea or skin rash (risk of symptoms increases with age). Less than one percent will develop a severe illness. In Massachusetts there were fewer than ten cases reported each year for 2013 and 2014.

WNV is not the only bird virus troubling the U.S. Apparently, wild ducks or geese migrating overhead over chicken and turkey farms in the mid-west have caused an avian flu epidemic. Tens of millions of birds are either dead, dying or else being euthanized to prevent spread of H5N2 avian virus to other farms. The risk of human cross-infection from this strain of virus is very, very low, but do expect to be paying higher prices for eggs, chicken and turkey for months to come. And pet food, too, as laying hens, when culled for declining egg production, end up in cat and dog food.