Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Assabet River Rail Trail - October 2017

Think 4.6 miles. That is the round trip distance for Maynard's portion of the nearly complete Assabet River Rail Trail. Round trip in this instance means go to any part of the the Trail, walk either north or south to Maynard's border, reverse directions, go to the other border, then return to your starting place. Voila! 4.6 miles.

The Maynard footbridge over the Assabet River, being lowered into place
by a crane, February 2017. Open for traffic in late May 2017.
And here is a word tour of what you will see, using the west end of the bridge over the Assabet as a starting and ending place. Next to the west end is a stone post carved with "MILE 1.25 MAYNARD"  These stones appear every quarter mile. Heading west, you are starting from Tobin Park. The boarded up white building you soon pass on the left was the site of Maynard's train station. Passenger service stopped in 1958 and the station was torn down in 1960. 

The Trail parallels Main Street to Sudbury Street, where it does a left/right jog to continue on High Street, behind the gas station. At the corner before the left turn there are benches and a stand that will soon display on of the two historic plaques about Maynard, in this instance the mill's history.

The stretch next to High Street is the site of Maynard's major train accident - a derailment of passenger cars on Easter Sunday, 1911. There were a few injuries, but none serous, and no deaths. The trail emerges from a wood-bordered stretch to cross Route 117. Look both ways! Once across, it parallels the canal that conveys water from the Assabet River to the mill pond. By creating the canal, the original, water-powered mill could be at a distance from the dam, providing for a larger vertical drop as water passed through the waterwheel (later, a turbine), and thus more power.
At the Maynard/Stow border
This section before Ice House Landing provides a glimpse on the right to remnants of a concrete foundation of what was once the J.R. Bent Ice House, burned to the ground in 1922. Ice was brought in from the river and shipped out via train. Ice House Landing has a parking lot and a kayak launch dock.

The paved trail continues to the Maynard:Stow border, at White Pond Road, which provides access to the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge. Be aware that the forested Refuge had been farm and pasture up to when the land was taken from the owners during World War II for munitions storage. The entire forest is less than 80 years old.

Back at the starting point of this tour – the bridge – and now going north toward Acton, there are unfinished stretches. The bit before Summer Street should be completed this fall. At Concord Road the trail is at a complete stop. The plan is for it to continue behind the auto shop/motorcycle shop building, but there is a fenced section with a soil pollution problem that needs to be remediated before construction can begin. Current status is that the Environmental Protection Agency has not yet completed its assessment and recommendation. Until that is done the Massachusetts Department of Transportation cannot provide the construction company with a plan. All this will take into next spring, perhaps summer. What trail users can do now is proceed north on Acton Street, taking that to where it crosses the trail just before ending at Route 27. There had been a shorter connection, by sidewalking around Artisan Automotive and Duncan’s Beemers, but this involved cutting across private property to rejoin the trail. The property owner has recently posted NO TRESPASSING signs.
Signs of a work in progress.

North of the Acton Street hook-up, look for mileage markers. The last Maynard marker is 2.25 miles. About 100 yards past that is the first Acton marker: 0.00 miles. This one is at the Maynard:Acton border. Turning around here and returning to your starting point makes Maynard’s round-trip distance 4.6 miles. Trail users can also continue into Acton, with a great view of wetlands to the west. The Acton trail is still under construction, but when completed, it will cross a boardwalk over wetlands, cross a bridge over Fort Pond Brook, and terminate at Maple Street, Acton, near the train station.

Landscaping is also a work in progress. Tree and shrub planting has been completed, but in the spring there may be a need to replace some of the plantings that did not survive. The Town of Maynard will have to decide what level of maintenance is needed, and also whether to install amenities such as benches and trash receptacles that were not part of the original project.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Carbone Park

Site of bridge-to-be
Click on photos to enlarge
On September 23rd, Boy Scout Troop #130 – 23 strong – showed up at Carbone Park, Maynard, to give it a makeover. Troop members removed trash, repainted the sign, cleared the woodland trail and replaced one of the bridges that cross the modest, muddy stream which transverses the park.

Completed  ten foot long bridge
The day-long (pizza interrupted) event was organized and managed by Evan Jacobson as his Eagle Scout project. To earn the Eagle Scout rank, the highest advancement rank in Scouting, a Boy Scout must fulfill requirements in the areas of leadership, service, and outdoor skills. Although many options are available to demonstrate proficiency in these areas, a number of specific skills are required to advance through the ranks of Tenderfoot, Second Class, First Class, Star, Life, and Eagle. The top three ranks require community service projects. Approximately five percent of Boy Scouts reach Eagle Scout.

This was just the latest of several Eagle Scout projects that have benefited Maynard’s trails and conservation land. In 2015, Scouts constructed a sixteen foot long bridge for the Assabet River Trail, accessible from Concord Road and Colbert Avenue. Other past efforts improved ability to walk on the future route of the Assabet River Rail Trail, and also clearing the historic Marble Farm site on the north side of Maynard.

Carbone Park is very much a “pocket park.” Located at the corner of Summer and Florida Streets, it is approximately 70 x 100 yards. The front third facing Florida Street is a grassy area with five benches. The back two-thirds are wooded and hilly, with a dirt trail that crosses two short bridges over a muddy stream.  The woodland is dominated by maple trees plus a sprinkling of beeches, oaks, and a few dying elm trees. The stream is a remnant of a longer creek that once started farther to the north and bisected the land where the ArtSpace building now stands.

Carbone Park: Art installation by Catherine Evans (2015). 
Trees at the entrance to the trail sport colorful plastic fringes. This is an art installation “Thistle” by ArtSpace-based artist Catherine Evans. This example of public art is supported by the Maynard Cultural Council. In early spring the park is a good place to spy emerging skunk cabbage – first the alien-looking spathes, followed by the unfurling of green leaves. Farther up the trail there are examples of glacial erratics – rounded boulders left behind by glaciers. One large boulder is spotted with lichen. The park has a bit of an invasive species problem. The Scouts cut a goodly amount of burning bush, which was dominating the undergrowth. The woodland closest to the grassed area has some Japanese barberry, Oriental bittersweet and multiflora rose. Toward the northeast border there is some poison ivy, but this is a native hazard, not a foreign one. 

Carbone Park sign. Size ~ 1.4 acres.
Carbone Park was named after Walter E. Carbone, a life-long resident of Maynard, and according to the Maynard High School yearbook from 1927, “Boy who has done most for the class.” The town’s Conservation Commission was founded in 1967. Walter, who had served on the Planning Board 1951-1959, was one of the original appointees to ConsCom and remained a member until his death in 1993. The park was so-named in 1987 to honor Walter’s twenty years service. However, the town did not get around to erecting a sign until 2005. Twelve years later the sign was showing its age, so the Scouts included repainting the sign as part of their makeover.

Walter is not the only Carbone who triggers memories in long-time residents. Edith, his wife, served Maynard as librarian from 1953 to 1972. She was in this position in 1962 when the library got its own building (now the police station). For many, many years, Uncle Pete Carbone’s Twin Tree Café prospered on Powder Mill Road. It was well known regionally for Italian-American food, with seafood a specialty. Pete was actually Vito A. ‘Pete’ Carbone. He and Walter were not related. Anyway, in 1965 the business was sold to Pete’s chef, John Alphonse, Sr., in time going to John Alphonse, Jr., always named Alphonse’s Powder Mill Restaurant. Today, the building is home to the Maynard Elks, Lodge #1568. 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Maynard, Stow and Instagram

Posted at #maynardelifeoutdoors and #assabetriverrailtrail 
To cut to the chase, there are Instagram postings for #maynardlifeoutdoors (created by yours truly), #maynardma, #assabetriver, #stow ma #assabetriverrailtrail, and #lakeboon (and #lakeboone). For those not deeply into social media – a.k.a. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and so on, Instagram in its most basic form allows people to share pictures and videos to computers and mobile phones. The business with hashtags (#) means that if a person searches Instagram on that term, they can see all postings that people have posted with that term. This can be futile. A photo of a dog, with the hashtag #dog, becomes part of a list of 155 million dog photos. Hashtag #parrot yields more than two million photos. But hashtag #deadparrot yields only a thousand or so photos, some relating to the dead parrot sketch from the Monty Python television show.

Garter snake, posted to #maynardlifeoutdoors
Hashtag #maynardlifeoutdoors (again, me) currently has about 25 images and 10 followers. Hint: you can follow. Photos hashtagged there are also hashtagged to #assabetriver or #assabetriverrailtrail if appropriate.   

Followers: If you, as an Instagram user, decide to ‘Follow’ someone, that means anytime you go to Instagram you can check on the people you are following to see their most recent postings, then optionally ‘Like’ those postings, and/or leave a comment. (The creator of the account has the power to delete comments.) Current estimates are that Instagram has about 700 million registered users, with perhaps half that number visiting the site frequently. More than 50 billion images have been uploaded.  

Instagram especially appeals to people in the images business, examples including painting, drawing, costumes, tattoos, photography… It becomes an aspect of marketing their businesses, much as company websites complement brochures. Facebook acquired Instagram in 2012 (making the founders very rich), so people are able to post content to both sites simultaneously.

Here are two sides of a small stone, painted, and left in a public place as part of the Maynard Rocks public display. Hundreds of children - and artists - have placed these about town for others to find, photograph, move to new locations, perhaps even to keep (discouraged). Maynard Rocks has a Facebook page, and also, as of mid-September, an Instagram address: #maynardrocks

Locally, there are hundreds of images posted to #maynardma, #assabetriver and #lakeboon. One of the problems is that people tend to be liberal with their attachment of hashtags to their photos, so a search on #maynardma will yield not only images of things in Maynard, but scores upon scores of photos of people you do not know, who either live in Maynard, or just happened to be visiting Maynard when a photo was taken, or post photos of women’s hair (styled in Maynard?), or are of a performer name Conrad Maynard.

For reasons unclear to my neophyte understanding of Instagram, a search on #stow ma with a space between "stow" and "ma" is needed to get to the collection of 1,257 postings at #stowma. The order of appearance appears to be a handful of the most popular postings, followed by recent postings. For Stow, whoever has been posting is a big fan of photographs of flowers, and of tomatoes (!?).

Instagram has a downside. For teens especially, social media platforms are a measure of popularity. There is pressure to post really good photos of oneself, to the point that some people resort to professional make-up and hair preparation. A dearth of followers, and/or negative comments, can be disheartening. A survey conducted in England in 2017 reported that Instagram rated highest among social media platforms for teen problems with bullying, body image, anxiety, depression and loneliness.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Historic Hurricanes Massachusetts

Hurricane Irma, east of Puerto Rico, Sept 5, 2017
If any remnants of Hurricane Irma reach eastern Massachusetts, all we are likely to see are rainy days. But there are historical records of much, much stronger storms having a direct, catastrophic impact locally.

1635: The Great Colonial Hurricane made landfall at Narragansett Bay in late August as a fast-moving Category 3 hurricane. It crossed directly over the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Historians consider this "… probably the most intense hurricane in New England history.”

1938: The practice of naming Atlantic hurricanes with women’s names did not begin until 1947; or retiring names of major storms after 1955, or having men’s names rather than only women’s starting in 1979. Thus, the storm of 1938 came be known as the Great New England Hurricane, also the Long Island Express. Mistakes in interpreting weather data had led to a prediction that this storm would dissipate to gale force before making landfall. Instead, on September 21, 1938, it reached Long Island with hurricane force winds and a significant storm surge. More than 600 people died – mostly in Rhode Island. The oldest residents of Maynard and Stow remember vast numbers of trees being blown down, blocking streets and damaging buildings.   

The 1938 hurricane downed trees and telephone poles on Maple Street,
Maynard, MA. (courtesy Maynard Historical Society)  
1954: A double-header! Hurricane Carol also crossed the east end of Long Island, reaching landfall as a Category 2 storm. In Boston, high winds destroyed the steeple of the Old North Church. Hurricane Edna crossed Cape Cod as a Category 2 storm just ten days after Carol had tracked a bit farther west. Locally, rainfall of 5 to 10 inches on ground already saturated by the passage of Carol flooded basements and rivers. Combined, the storms destroyed much of the peach and apple crops just weeks before harvest time. 

1955: Hurricane Diane waltzed ashore in the Carolinas, wandered across New Jersey and southern New York, before heading eastward across much of Massachusetts. By this time it was weak wind-wise, but very, very wet. Much of southern Massachusetts, from its border with New York to the ocean, experienced flooding. Half of Worcester was under water. Locally, an estimated 15 inches of rain fell in four days. The Assabet River crested at 8.93 feet, the highest it had been since 1927 and the highest since. (The flood of 2010 crested at 7.1 feet.) Main Street flooded, as did the first floor of the mill building closest to the river. No bridges were lost.   

1991: Hurricane Bob!!! This storm of August skirted the coast before making landfall at Newport, Rhode Island as a Category 2 hurricane. Forecasting was good, so Rhode Island and Connecticut were able to declare of emergency before the storm hit. The storm crossed eastern Massachusetts fast and relatively dry, so most of the damage was due to high winds and storm surge along the coast. Provincetown reported sustained winds exceeding 100 miles per hour. Locally, downed trees and minor damage to buildings. The name “Bob” was permanently retired, joining Diane, Edna and Carol as other New England hurricane names we will never hear anew.

An explanation of ‘storm surge’: coastal flooding can be severe during hurricanes (and also northeasters). Storms are centers of low air pressure, meaning less weight of air on the water, causing water level to rise underneath storms, which have low barometric pressure. Of much greater importance, the push of wind across long distances of water for prolonged periods of time not only generates large waves, but pushes water. When this reaches shore at times of high tide, the water can be five, ten, fifteen, even twenty feet above normal high tide. The Galveston, Texas hurricane of 1900 pushed a storm surge of 10 to 15 feet across a city that was mostly 10 feet above sea level, flattening the city and resulting in a loss of an estimated 10,000 lives, making it the deadliest natural disaster to every strike the United States. The Texas flooding from Hurricane Harvey was from rain, whereas the coastal flooding from Hurricane Irma was mostly storm surge (as when Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey and New York).

One oddity - a storm tracking north along a west coast, much as Irma tracked north along the west side of Florida, will initially push water away from the shore, as wind direction on the north side of the storm is east to west. After the eye passes, the winds on the south side of the storm blow west to east, pushing all the water back.

All Irma delivered to eastern Massachusetts was scattered showers. Jose blessed Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket and the outer Cape with gale force winds and inches of rain, but much less west of Boston. Maria is too far away to guess what it will bring to New England.  

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Consider the Muskrat

Caltech mascot is a beaver
MIT mascot is a beaver. Officially,
"Tim the Beaver"
Consider the muskrat. A muskrat can be thought of as a low-rent version of a beaver – they toil but do not build, their tails make no signature slap upon the waters when startled, trapped, their fur is worth less, and no college (and only one high school – Algonac, MI) ever selected the muskrat as its mascot; this versus the beaver mascots for MIT, Caltech, Babson College, Oregon State University, University of Maine at Farmington, and others. For more than 125 years there was a Beaver College, originally located in the town of Beaver, PA, but later relocated across the state to near Philadelphia; from 1907 to 1972 it was Beaver College for Women, then co-ed, meaning that it was also Beaver College for men, but finally undertaking a name change in 2001 to Arcadia University. (Past graduates were able to get replacement diplomas with the new name.)  

Muskrats (about three pounds) are rarely far from water. (Internet download)
Enough with run-on sentences. The muskrat is small. Adults weight about three pounds (compared to 30 or more for a beaver). The muskrat is short-lived. Average lifespan in the wild is 3-4 years. The muskrat is prolific. Females reach sexual maturity at one year, and can have 2-3 litters per year, 6-8 kits per litter. The muskrat is omnivorous. While the roots and stems of aquatic plants are a diet mainstay, muskrats will eat insects, crayfish and dead fish. In turn, the muskrat is food for many predators, falling prey to mink, coyote, fox and raccoons on land, owls descending from the air, lastly snapping turtles, otters and large fish in the water.   

Muskrat swimming.  When startled, they can
dive, and stay under water several minutes.
Muskrats are covered with short, thick fur brown or black in color, with the belly a bit lighter. The fur has two layers, which helps protect them from the cold water. The tail is hairless, rat-like in appearance, and used for swimming. The tail drags on the ground when walking on land, and so leaves a distinctive trail when walking on mud or snow.

Muskrats spend much of their time in the water, typically the shallow water of marshlands, streams and small ponds. Muskrats will reside at beaver ponds, and may even move into an abandoned beaver lodge. Otherwise, muskrats create modest-sized mounds of soft vegetation (not sticks or branches) near the shore, with a living chamber inside and an underwater entrance, or else burrow into river banks and live in these tunnels. The combination of less vegetation (eaten or for habitat) and shoreline burrowing contributes to erosion and flood risk.    

A muskrat "push-up", in this instance using stems from marsh plants,
provides some shelter from weather and predators, but is not nearly
as large or as sturdy as a beaver family's branches and mud abode.
Muskrats are indigenous to North America. Because many people in many countries thought it would be a good idea, muskrats are an invasive species across much of northern Europe, across much of Siberia, and also in parts of South America. The animals were imported either for fur farms, and then escaped, or were released to the wild with the idea that local trappers would have one more species to trap. The consequences are the same ecological impacts seen in North America – erosion and flood risk – made worse by the absence of mink, the primary predator. (Mink is also an invasive species in parts of Europe, but that is another story.)   

In Massachusetts, shooting muskrats is against the law, but a license can be obtained for trapping. The season opens on November 1st and closes at the end of February. Muskrat fur does not have the same cachet as mink, but there is some demand for muskrat pelts, especially from Korea and China. Prices at auction are about $3-4/pelt. Wild mink brings about $10-12/pelt. Farmed mink, a larger animal with a higher quality fur, brings $50-80/pelt. The official winter hat of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is made with muskrat fur.    

Monday, August 28, 2017

Now on Instagram as #maynardlifeoutdoors

Photos relating to Maynard, MA, observations on nature, and the Assabet River Rail Trail will be posted on Instagram. Follow: #maynardlifeoutdoors or #assabetriverrailtrail or #assabetriver

Polyphemus moth, resting during daytime. Click on photo to enlarge.
Woodchuck smells the flowers, then eats them.

The 2017 river cleanup, Maynard team, 25 volunteers, collected close to one
ton of trash, including a bicycle, two vacuum cleaners, and a V8 engine block.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Painted Turtles, Massachusetts

The official reptile of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is the Garter snake. Of our New England neighbors, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut have not deigned to designate an official reptile. Vermont’s is the Eastern painted turtle. New York chose the Snapping turtle (“You got a problem with that?”).

Massachusetts could have as easily gone with the painted turtle, which is common on the Assabet River upstream of the Ben Smith Dam and also other calm water sites that do not go dry in summer. Painted turtles are native to much of North America. The species is divided into four sub-species (Eastern, Southern, Midland and Western), with full fertility among the subspecies, so that hybrids are common along the regional borders.

Eastern Painted Turtles sharing a fallen tree. Dark areas on surface
are blobs of algae and duckweed.
“Painted” comes from the color patterns on skin and shell. Head, neck and limbs are dark green with yellow/white stripes. For the Eastern, the top of the top shell is uniformly dark, but the underside of the top shell – around the edges – has an alternating pattern of dark and red/orange. Southern have a red strip down the middle of the top shell. Western have a colorful bottom shell. 

Eastern painted turtles, if they survive the first year, can expect to live 20 to 30 years; 50 years is not unheard of. The adult size of roughly six inches (shell length) is reached in the initial handful of years. The daily routine is wake up, bask in the sun to warm up, swim around eating plants and water insects, bask more, eat more, go to sleep. Once the sun sets, painted turtles snuggle down underwater, in the mud, and stay there to morning. There is some absorption of oxygen through the skin, but basically, their metabolic rate is so slowed that they are able to go through the night without breathing.   

The business of reproduction has some interesting quirks. Painted turtles reach sexual maturity in four to six years. Males court females in late spring, using their longer claws to stroke her neck and face. If she is receptive she will dive to the bottom, where he will join her to mate. Females store the sperm internally, so that one clutch of eggs may have several fathers. Eggs are laid on shore, buried a few inches below the surface in sandy/soft soil. The hatchlings, smaller than a quarter, emerge from the eggs in September. Interestingly, hatchlings have two entirely different emergence behaviors depending on location. In the south, hatchlings dig there way out and head toward water, while here and farther north, they will remain underground until the spring thaw.

Eastern Painted Turtles sharing a fallen tree, with water lilies about to bloom.
We dream of turtles, but do turtles dream? All mammals appear to dream, as indicated by periods of REM (rapid eye movement) and other brain activity. Birds also have REM sleep, albeit different rhythms from mammals. The evidence for reptiles is less clear, but for now, the answer appears to be “Probably not.”   

So, there it is. Life is long and simple. Wake, bask, eat, bask more, eat more, sleep, don’t dream. Hibernate all winter and mate in the spring. Child rearing consists of heading away from the water for one evening a year to lay eggs. Otherwise, more wake, bask, eat, sleep. Repeat for 10,000 days.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Congregational Church, Maynard, MA 1852-2017

Congregational Church, Maynard, MA 1852-2017. Click on photo to enlarge.
The Union Congregational Church was Maynard’s first parish, established as a Evangelical Union Society in 1850, when eight locals decided to form a Sunday school. This predated the creation  of the  Town of Maynard by 21 years. Amory Maynard became the Sunday school’s first superintendent. The next step was to engage a preacher for Sunday services. Both school and services took place in the newly constructed train station. Prior to this, people walked or traveled by wagon the three miles to Stow’s Evangelical Church.

Within a few years these residents of Assabet Village incorporated as a church and selected a committee to find a site to build a house of worship. What came to pass is that Amory and his business partner William Knight donated land on Main Street (the same street they had petitioned Sudbury to build for access to their factory), and the building was built, financed by members. Buying in got these families reserved pews, as was a common practice of that era. The congregation dates it start to 1852, but did not move into the completed church building until spring of 1853. The cost of construction and furnishings came to $3,876. Rev George W. Frost was the first Pastor.

Stained glass window in chapel of Congregational Church, Maynard, MA.
Gift from Lorenzo Maynard in 1892, along with other windows.
A sampling of important dates: The steeple acquired a bell in 1855; the church its first organ in 1959; the church was enlarged in 1866. In the early 1890s, Deacon Lorenzo Maynard (son of Amory Maynard) contributed funds for stained glass windows in the church. Four of the windows bear the names of his daughters – Frances, Mary, Victoria and Hattie – who predeceased him. He also donated toward the addition of the building on the west side, to house a chapel and classrooms, including a glorious stained glass portrait of Jesus holding a lamb, over the words “I AM THE GOOD SHEPHERD.” A similar window graces the Lorenzo Maynard family mausoleum in Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, where Lorenzo, his wife Lucy and their five children are interred.

The building has no steeple from 1909 to 1920. The original had been blown off the building in a great storm on April 9, 1909. The church was officially renamed the Union Congregational Church in 1927. The bell was replaced by chimes in the mid-1940s.

1902 photo for 50th anniversary. Shows the
original steeple, and a picket fence bordering
the sidewalk rather than the current stone wall.
(Courtesy Maynard Historical Society)
A number of the students who attended services and the Sunday school at Congregational Church went on to find a vocation in the ministry, some in the armed forces in time of war. Corinna Shattuck, orphaned as a young child, was raised by her grandparents, in Acton. She was a member of the church 1866-1871, and taught Sunday school during that time. In 1873 she began missionary work in Turkey, where she remained – with interruptions to treat her health problems – until 1910. Miss Shattuck was in the city of Oorfa (now going by Urfa or Sanliurfa) in December 1895 at the time of attacks on Armenians and other Christian sects. She personally sheltered 300 men, women and children on or near the mission grounds, sparing them the fate of thousands of others. Afterwards she created shelters and schools and employment for orphaned Armenian children. She established a school for the blind. She was known and honored as the “Heroine of Oorfa.”

The closing of one church (Congregational 2017) or two (Methodist 2014) or three (Episcopalian 2006) is not unique to Maynard. Across the United States, what are referred to as the mainline Protestant churches have been undergoing a prolonged decline in attendance, membership and number of parishes since the 1960s. Estimates are that membership has dropped by half. In contrast, membership in Catholic and Evangelical Churches has been increasing, albeit not as fast as the population increase as a whole.

The re-use of church buildings as such is problematic, characterized by problems with an aged infrastructure, and a question of what use the main nave and altar space can be put to. Two churches in Maynard were deconsecrated and converted to private residences. One in Acton became home to a theater group. The future of the historic Methodist and Congregational Churches in Maynard remains to be seen.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Assabet River Rail Trail - August 2017

As of mid-August 2017 the 3.4 mile long Assabet River Rail Trail section between Maple Street in Acton (near the South Acton train station), to the bridge on the Maynard:Stow border is nearly complete. July saw paving in the north end of Maynard, paving in Acton, and completion of the bridge over Fort Pond Creek, in Acton. Landscape plantings beside the Trail, mostly to replace the hundreds of cut down trees, progresses.

Kayak launch dock at Ice House Landing, Maynard, MA.
The user gets into the kayak, then pushes backwards to
slide into the water. The notched railing on both sides allows
for the paddle to be placed across and used to push against.
July saw the installation of a kayak launch dock at Ice House Landing, at the end of Winter Street. A new parking lot provides a place for boaters to unload and load from cars, carry to the water, and launch. From the dock it is a short distance to the orange floats that prevent people from going over the Ben Smith Dam (photo, background). Heading upriver, there are miles of navigable water to explore, the great majority of it not developed. Sights on a recent voyage included bird sightings of swans, geese, great blue herons, green herons, an osprey, red-winged blackbirds and swifts.

There are still gaps in the Trail which hopefully will be resolved this fall, or by the latest, by spring 2018. In Maynard, south of Summer Street, there is a 100 yard section held up by the need for Eversource to install a new utility pole, as the existing pole is too close to the Trail. And north of Concord Street there is a stretch behind Artisan Automotive and Duncan's Beemers (the motorcycle shop) than needs complicated work because of past pollution and also flood control problems.

Northward, paving continues in August, in Acton, along with installation of mileage markers. Once completed, access in Acton will be from Maple Street and Sylvia Street, with some Trail parking at both locations. And access at the Paper Store office complex, but without parking.

Fort Pond Brook Bridge, installed, but as of August 1, 2017, not yet open
for traffic. The bridge is 70 feet long and 16 feet wide.

Mileage markers installed every quarter
mile, counting from southwest end to
northeast. Distance restarts as 0.00 at
each town line. Click on photo to enlarge.

In Acton, south of the Paper Store building, the Trail passes through a large
wetlands. Although hard to discern, the front is dominated by cattails, while
the back has been taken over by the taller common reed (Phragmites australis)
 an invasive species from Europe. The reed out-competes native wetland plants.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Writers on Writing - 13 Quotes

I recently attended the annual conference on all things Thoreauvian. I came away with the impression that in a room of 200+ people, it would have been hard to throw a book and not hit an author. Thoreau as topic is infinitely rich, and so fertile ground for those practicing the craft of non-fiction writing. Writers of fiction think of their product as art. Thus, they are more likely than non-fiction writers to muse on the nature of their artistic toil. A selection of quotes by writers on writing, gleamed from several websites:

We do not write because we want to; we write because we have to. - Somerset Maugham

Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards.  - Robert Heinlein

Never let the truth get in the way of a good story - not Mark Twain, although frequently attributed to him.

A blank piece of paper is God's way of telling us how hard it to be God. - Sidney Sheldon

I try to leave out the parts that people skip.  - Elmore Leonard

Most editors are failed writers - but so are most writers.  - T.S. Eliot

i never think at all when i write nobody can do two things at the same time and do them both well  - Don Marquis

The first draft of anything is shit. - Ernest Hemingway

I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter. - James Michener

One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple. - Jack Kerouac

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader. - Robert Frost

Everywhere I go I'm asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them. - Flannery O'Connor

How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live. - Henry David Thoreau

When I am asked "Why do you write?" I answer "It's a disease." I have heard the same answer for people in the restaurant or acting industry. These are professions rife with rejection and failure. The people who persevere are those who cannot imagine doing anything else.

Decades ago, struggling to write a college thesis, I realized that although a voracious reader, I had difficulties with writing. And yet, planning a career in science, I knew that I would always be in the explaining business. From 1975-1980 I took up writing outside my field of nutritional biochemistry by committing to write restaurant reviews, recipe columns and health articles. From 1980 onward, science career launched, my writing was either academic or corporate, i.e., not public.

Starting this LIFE OUTDOORS column in 2009 was a means of reentering the public writer's life. Writing non-fiction, I was told, is a matter of bricks and mortar. The bricks are the facts and the mortar the story tying the facts together. The craft is in managing the right balance of the two. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Thoreau's Thoughts on Walking

See also a March 2017 posting on poem "The Old Marlborough Road."

"If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again; if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man; then you are ready for a walk."

May 2017: U.S. Post Office issues a first class stamp honoring
the bicentennial of the birth of Henry David Thoreau.
Click on photo to enlarge.
July 12th was the 200th anniversary of the birth of Henry David Thoreau. [Actually, birth-named David Henry Thoreau after his deceased uncle, David Thoreau. Thoreau reversed the order of his names shortly after he graduated Harvard College, in 1837. Apparently, growing up, his family had called him Henry rather than David.] The Thoreau Society recently held its annual gathering of Thoreauvians, to discuss all things Thoreau, and to celebrate the bicentennial of his birth. Many newly published books, and the U.S. Post Office issued a stamp.

“Walking” was the title of one of his essays. His first public reading was at the Concord Lyceum on April 23, 1851. Between 1851 and 1860 Thoreau read from the piece a total of ten times, more than any other of his lectures. “Walking” was published in the June 1862 issue of the Atlantic Monthly, shortly after his death from tuberculosis at age 44. The essay’s length is slightly more than 12,000 words. Various internet sources have the complete essay available on line – some with researchers’ annotations. A few excerpts:

“The West of which I speak is but another name for the Wild; and what I have been preparing to say is, that in Wildness is the preservation of the world.” Thoreau felt that it was necessary for one’s soul to be able to walk in wildness every day. He was aware, however, that his Massachusetts terrain was not true wildness, but rather a post-colonial return of once-farmed land to wild meadow and forest. Thoreau's three excursions to Maine had brought him into true wildness ("grim"), so he knew the difference.   

Thoreau was not a casual walker. “It is true, we are but faint hearted crusaders, even the walkers, now-a-days, who undertake no persevering, never-ending enterprises. Our expeditions are but tours and come round again at evening to the old hearth side from which we set out. Half the walk is but retracing our steps. We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return; prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only, as relics to our desolate kingdoms. If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again; if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man; then you are ready for a walk.”

Thoreau’s opinions were not humble opinions: “I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits unless I spend four hours a day at least — and it is commonly more than that — sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields absolutely free from all worldly engagements… When sometimes I am reminded that the mechanics and shop-keepers stay in their shops not only all the forenoon, but all the afternoon too, sitting with crossed legs, so many of them — as if the legs were made to sit upon, and not to stand or walk upon — I think that they deserve some credit for not having all committed suicide long ago.”

Wooden dumbbells were a popular type of
exercise equipment in the 1800s.
Thoreau was aghast at the idea of exercise for its own sake: “But the walking of which I speak has nothing in it akin to taking exercise, as it is called, as the sick take medicine at stated hours — as the swinging of dumb-bells or chairs; but is itself the enterprise and adventure of the day. If you would get exercise go in search of the springs of life. Think of a man’s swinging dumb-bells for his health, when those springs are bubbling up in far off pastures unsought by him.”

Thoreau cherished the meditative rewards of wildness walking: “I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily, without getting there in spirit. In my afternoon walk I would fain forget all my morning occupations, and my obligations to society. But it sometimes happens that I cannot easily shake off the village. The thought of some work will run in my head, and I am not where my body is; I am out of my senses. In my walks I would fain return to my senses. What business have I in the woods, if I am thinking of something out of the woods?”

A human trial conducted at Stanford University (Bateman 2015) concluded that walking surrounded by nature reduced risk of depression more than walking an equal amount of time in an urban setting.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Boston Post Cane - Maynard and Stow

The Boston Post was a popular and influential newspaper some 100+ years ago.  In 1909, Edwin Grozier, the publisher, decided to promote the newspaper by donating ebony shaft, gold-capped canes to the Boards of Selectmen of 700 towns in Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.  Engraved on the top of the gold head of each cane were the words "Presented by The Boston Post to the OLDEST CITIZEN of __________ [name of town and state] (To be transmitted)."

The idea was that the towns would award these BOSTON POST CANES to the oldest male citizen for the remainder of his life, to be returned to the town upon his death, to be awarded to the next oldest, and so on.

Maynard's Boston Post Cane (click on photo to enlarge). This cane was
presented to Maynard in 1909, awarded to a series of men in honor for
being the oldest male resident, went missing in 1928 and was recovered
in 1981. Honoring the oldest resident (male or female) started again in 1999.
The canes were made by J.F. Fradley and Co., a New York City silversmith and cane maker. Joseph F. Fradley (1843-1914) began a silversmith business in 1866. His business had an excellent reputation. J.F. Fradley items appear for sale in  fine arts and crafts auctions. The business was managed by his son, George F. Fradley, at the time the canes were made. Although many of the newspaper articles about recipients of Boston Post Canes describe the cane heads as 14 karat gold, some of the internet photos show wear to reveal non-gold metal underneath, confirming that the cane heads were gold-plated rather than all gold. This makes sense. Gold, rather than gold plated, would have made the canes prohibitively expensive, even back in 1909.  

Women achieved the right to vote in 1920, but it took ten more years before The Boston Post approved a changing of the rules to allow women to be awardees.  

The Boston Post went out of business in 1956, but the Boston Post Cane tradition continues in many towns. As years went by some of the canes were misplaced, stolen, sold, lost or destroyed. Some went missing for years, decades even, only to surface again. In time, most towns decided to keep the original cane in a town office or at the local historical society, and either discontinue the practice entirely or else award a plaque to the oldest resident in lieu of the cane. 

The Boston Post Cane Information Center [], maintained by the Maynard Historical Society has become a clearinghouse for all things BPC. The starting point was a 1985 article written by Maynard historian Ralph Sheridan. After his death in 1996, David Griffin took up the traces, and still gathers news of canes lost, found and awarded.

Side view, showing ebony shaft of the cane. "Ebony"
comes from the heartwood of several species of tropical,
slow-growing trees. It is black or near-black in color, and
extremely dense (will sink in water). The tree species are
endangered, and in many countries, harvesting or selling
of ebony is illegal. Well known uses include the
black keys of pianos, and parts of stringed instruments.
A few facts plucked from the BPC website: As of last count, 517 towns continue or have resumed honoring their oldest citizens. Most have the original canes gifted them in 1909, but some are using brass-capped mahogany replicas purchased from the Town of Peterborough, NH. Some towns stipulate that to qualify, a person must be a current resident and living in the town the past 10 or 15 years. Watertown's cane went missing in 1910, and did not return until 99 years later. At the time Mary Josephine Ray of Westmorland, NH, passed away, age 114.8, she was not only the oldest ever holder of a Boston Post Cane, but also the oldest person in the United States.

Stow's Boston Post Cane is kept in the Town Vault in the Town Hall building, along with other historically important artifacts. Recipients are presented with a Boston Post Cane lapel pin. The cane had gone missing 1951 to 1971. Actually, it was in the Vault all the time, but misplaced. Since 1971 there have been 12 recipients. The most recent was Dr. Donald Freeman Brown - awarded the cane when he reached 99 years. He passed away in 2014, age 105. The honor and lapel pin have not yet been awarded to a new oldest resident.

Top of cane showing non-gold metal. This may be silver. If so,
there may have been layers of copper and nickel between the
silver and gold, to prevent tarnish bleeding through the gold.
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. The most recent five: Elizabeth Dodd, Dorothy Barlow, Arlene Cook, Mildred F. Duggan, and currently Ben Sofka. Ben, a life-long Maynard resident, received his plaque in February 2017, and is at present 101 years old.

Stow's and Maynard's neighbors do and do not continue the Boston Post Cane tradition. Hudson, Harvard and Sudbury awards plaques to their most senior citizens. Acton is considering restarting the same practice. Bolton and Boxborough apparently do not participate, either because these towns had too small a population to get a cane back in 1909, or because the original canes went astray. Starting in 1962, Concord decided to change to an annual Honored Citizen Celebration. The awardee is steward of the Boston Post Cane for a year and leads the Patriots' Day Parade.  

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Ticks: Lyme, Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis

From left to right: larvae, nymph, adult male, adult female.
Nymphs and adult females are the vectors for human infection.
Ticks get on your shoes, socks or legs when you brush against
vegetation. Ticks do not drop from above. The CDC website
recommends chemical repellants, also how to do a tick check
and how to wash and dry clothes to kill ticks.
June and July are the prime months for contracting a tick-borne disease. During these months the vector is the nymph stage, which is about the size of a poppy seed. There is a lessening incidence in August, September and further into fall and winter, as the vector becomes the more easily seen adult female tick (the size of a small apple seed), and also because people spend less time outdoors with the onset of colder weather.

An observation here: the term 'bite' is not descriptive. If not detected, a nymph will latch on for 3-4 days for a blood meal before dropping off; adult females stay attached for 7-10 days. Adult males are not on you for a meal. Rather, they are wandering around looking to find and fertilize a female. This meet-and-mate part of the tick's life cycle is the reason that deer are integral to a region harboring a serious tick disease problem. Small mammals (mice, chipmunks, etc.) are vectors for the larval and nymph stages to become infected, but a large mammal species such as deer is essential for the mating and final blood meal that allows the fertilized adult female tick to lay up to 3,000 eggs.    

Lyme, Anaplasmosis and Babesiosis are the big three for New England, but the full count for tick-borne diseases now overtops a dozen. More information on tick-vector diseases can be seen as the Centers for Disease Control website: The CDC has great information on the tick diseases, and also on practical matters such as how to avoid getting bitten by a tick, and what to do once you have been bitten.

Lyme starts subtle. If the stricken person missed the actual bite, then the first sign is often but not always the signature "bull's eye" rash. Moderate fever, chills, fatigue, muscle ache and a headache may accompany the rash. Only months after the rash and the initial set of symptoms are gone is there a possibility that really bad consequences set in: arthritis, partial facial paralysis, meningitis, limb weakness, and so forth.

Anaplasmosis is not subtle. The symptoms are more akin to being run over by a car, having it circle around to hit you again, and then one more time to park on your head. Some 7 to 10 days after the bite the symptoms arrive all at once: extreme fatigue, high fever, uncontrollable shivering alternating with profuse sweating, night sweats, headache, nausea, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, weight loss, muscle pain, cough, mental confusion, and extreme fatigue. Really extreme.

Babesiosis is not subtle. Symptoms, arriving 10-30 days after being host to a tick, are akin to those of Anaplasmosis, plus it destroys red blood cells and platelets. From the latest data published by the CDC, Massachusetts has more cases of Babesiosis than any other state.

The CDC uses the term "malaise," but this does not convey the soul-crushing lethargy of either of these full-speed infections. Not everyone exhibits all the symptoms, and many of these symptoms overlap with what people expect if they have the flu, causing many people to delay seeking a medical evaluation, or doing so, getting a misdiagnosis.

Actually, these days, diagnosis and treatment are straightforward. Do you have some or all of that litany of symptoms, especially fever and fatigue? Were you in any place a week or four ago where there might have been ticks? That's it. A blood sample will be taken, but especially early in the course of the infection the test results can be false negative (says you don't, but you do). Standard medical practice is to start antibiotic treatment immediately. Treatment should never be delayed until the lab results are back. These days, there is an assumption that more than one disease is transmitted from the same tick, so for Babesiosis, doctors may prescribe multiple antibiotics.

Neither casual contact nor intimate sexual contact will pass on any of these diseases, but receiving a blood transfusion has been a confirmed vector. There are no laboratory screening tests to verify that donated blood is not infected. 

Not treating infections in a timely fashion can have very serious consequences. Delayed treatment may require hospitalization and intravenous antibiotics. Especially in older or immuno-compromised people there are risks of compromised breathing, kidney failure, nerve damage and death. A practical point - your guests can contact a tick disease here, then travel to regions where doctors may not have tick disease awareness. Your parting words might include "Safe travels, and if you develop a rash or become ill, tell your doctor you were in tick territory."

Monday, July 3, 2017

Hidden History of Maynard


128 pages. 54 illustrations 
Publisher: The History Press
ISBN: 978.1.62619.541.7
Price: $19.99 (e-book $9.99)

The book is available in Maynard at The Paper Store, ordered on line, as an e-book, or directly from the author. If from the author, the author makes a $10 profit and you get a signed book. Any other venue and the author (me) gets 70 cents.

Maynard resident David A. Mark brings his years of experience as a writer to create this fact-populated collection of fifty short essays gathered into seven theme-linked chapters. The contents were originally published 2012-14 as Mark’s column in Maynard’s newspaper, the Beacon-Villager.

I continue to write for the newspaper.
My more recent columns are posted at

In this, his second book, the content is 100% history. Chapters again cover the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, plus a focus on the unusual people and unusual businesses that prospered here. So, from the question as to why there was a mink ranch in Maynard, to whether Babe Ruth came a-drinking here when he lived in Sudbury, here is David Mark with his well-researched and entertaining answers to those questions.  

Only in Maynard
Meet the Maynard Family
19th Century
20th Century
Unusual Businesses
Unusual People
21st Century
Click on photo to enlarge


MAYNARD: History and Life Outdoors (2011)
128 pages. 53 illustrations 
Publisher: The History Press
ISBN: 978.1.60949.303.5
Price: $19.99

Maynard: History and Life Outdoors mixes 2/3 local history with 1/3 observations on nature and local recreational activities as a means of exploring what Maynard, Massachusetts offers to anyone willing to get away from too much time looking at screens and not enough time spent seeing, hearing, touching and smelling the life going on outside. History starts with eighteenth century stone walls, then carries forward to twenty-first century river clean-ups and farmers’ markets. Nature spans skunks to skunk cabbage, deer to deer ticks, and birds to bird food. Recreational sports essays range from describing the slow-motion, nightmarish feel of snow shoeing to how to avoid overhydration – the potentially deadly opposite of dehydration.

Author selfie, one fine cold morning (5º F, 45% humidity)
Maynard – Why “Outdoors”
Eighteenth Century
Birds and Bugs
Nineteenth Century
Assabet River 
Twentieth Century
Marble/Whitney/Parmenter Farm
Twenty-first Century

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Mansard Roofed Houses, Maynard, MA

The image of impoverished writers, starving for their art and living in garrets, predated the era of Paris as a city of garrets tucked under mansard roofs. Garrets were attic living spaces - hot in summer, cold in winter - fit quarters only for servants or the poorer sort of tenants. The British artist William Hogarth, renowned satirist, painted The Distrest Poet in 1736 as an image of a writer awash in poverty - he sits at his garret desk, pen in hand, while his wife is darning clothes and a milkmaid stands in the doorway, demanding payment of debts. [An observation: When Hogarth published and sold engravings of the image, the black-and-white prints were a mirror image of the original oil painting, so that the distressed poet switched from being right handed to left handed.]   

As to what is and why called 'mansard,' the style originated with a French architect, Francois Mansart (1598-1666). He was an builder for the wealthy aristocracy, and even for them a tribulation, as he at times changed his plans in mid-construction and insisted the building be torn down and started over again. He fell out of favor with the royal court and others when the foundation for one of his buildings cost more than his original estimate for the entire project.

The Paris of mansard-roofed buildings (and garrets) dates to what is referred to as the "Second Empire Style" of French architecture  (1855-1885). Emperor Napoleon III ordered a reconstruction of Paris that swept away the medieval street plan of Paris, resulting in the elegant city we are familiar with today. Boulevards were lined with stone-faced, five-story buildings capped by a mansard roof. This top space was in effect a sixth floor walk-up (elevators not yet invented).

Mansard roof design calls for a nearly vertical roof that slants in on all sides. At a height similar to a floor of the building all sides of the roof continue at a very shallow upward slant. The steep part of the roof is punctuated by dormers. The net effect is a habitable living space under the roof rather than an additional floor of the building. Decorative details are ornate rather than spare.

The Lorenzo Maynard mansion on Dartmouth Street. Built 1870s.
In the U.S., Second Empire Style houses and public buildings came into vogue during the time of  post-Civil War prosperity, especially among the wealthy merchant class. Houses had two or three floors capped by a mansard roof. These houses typically had extensive porches, sometimes a tower, and a carriage house, also with a mansard roof. In Maynard, the best existing example is Lorenzo Maynard's mansion, at 7-9 Dartmouth Road. It still has the original stained glass windows. The modest house to the west was Lorenzo's carriage house. There are two more on Dartmouth - the next house over (#13) and an 1960s-built apartment complex at the site of what had been Amory Maynard's even larger mansard roofed mansion.    

Four other 1870s mansard-roofed houses grace Maynard. Three are on Maple Street. One has a similarly roofed carriage house. The largest of the three is now four apartments, but once was the dwelling of the Case family, owner of W.B. Case & Sons, Dry Goods - now the Outdoor Store. The last is a house just west of ArtSpace, on Summer Street.
Gambrel roof house (internet photo)

A mansard roof is related but not the same thing as a gambrel roof. The latter are common in Maynard. Gambrels are seen more often on rectangular buildings which have only one story below the roof. The shorter sides rise straight up from ground to peak, while the roof on the long sides starts steep, often punctuated by windowed dormers, then continues with a less slanted roof to the roof beam. The architectural style is called Dutch Colonial. Many of the homes in the part of town with streets named after Presidents have gambrel roofs.