Wednesday, December 27, 2017 and Corporate Volunteering blimp visits Maynard. From the collection of the
Maynard Historical Society. Click on photos to enlarge
Third in a multi-part series AT THE MILL.

Back in the spring of 2014,, at one time a famous technology disruptor in the jobs search industry, moved away from Maynard, giving up on its lease of 300,000 square feet at the mill and moving 625 jobs to a smaller space in Weston. Monster had arrived for the birth of Clock Tower Place in 1998. Its growth, shrinkage and finally, abandonment contributed mightily to the arc of Clock Tower, which came to an inglorious end a year later. For such a large company, Monster was a lightly visible presence in town, sponsoring blood drives and an annual road race to benefit the Boys and Girls Club. At its peak a thousand employees showed up every day, but the company did not work as hard as it might have to be an actively participating citizen. hot air balloon
For Monster, the arc of the company's presence in Maynard roughly paralleled the company's course from a technology innovator to a technology can-it-catch-up-again. When men stand on a corner near a Home Depot, and other men drive up in pick-up trucks looking for day labor, that's a job exchange. Ditto a bulletin board covered with business cards next to the door of a diner. Put the jobs offered on paper and disseminate copies, and it's a newspaper's jobs section. Now suppose the match-ups are computerized. Potential employers post and search. Potential employees search and post. Inclusion and exclusion criteria filter the searches. Voila, Monster!

Initially, Monster owned the niche. It was the first public job search on the Internet, first public resume database in the world, and the first to have job search and job alerts. The company went public, i.e., sold shares on a stock exchange, in December 1996. Valuation peaked in 2000 at $8.5 billion.

Much was written about Monster’s decline. What went wrong? From Woody Allen, in the movie Annie Hall: "A relationship, I think, is like a shark. You know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark." Monster was a dead shark. It was too late to social media, to apps, to niches, to better search engines. These days, CareerBuilder. Indeed, Glassdoor and LinkedIn dominate the generalist jobs market, while DICE, TheLadders, USAJobs and LookSharp service niches. In 2016, what remained of Monster was purchased for only $426 million. The company continues to downsize. This fall the monster itself was re-imaged as large, purple and hairy, with glowing eyes, but it is in no way clear that this will reverse the trend.  

The new (2017) Monster is large, furry and purple. Interestingly, this monster,
the old Monster and Gossamer (below) have  a thumb and three fingers on
each hand. It's an American animation thing dating back to the 1920s.

Much like Monster, most of the companies in the mill, and for that matter, the owners and operators of Mill and Main, are near-invisible to the inhabitants of the town. One exception is Battle Road Brew House, which has involved itself in Octoberfest, the veterans-support pub crawl and a 5K road race. The other tenants, the ones whose employees step out for meals and shopping in Maynard’s stores, are the economic engine helping this town prosper. Can they do more than just shop? Yes!

Monster's monster has more than a
passing resemblance to Gossamer,
from the Bugs Bunny years.
Corporate volunteer programs are a means of committing to a cause or a community. Especially in a small town, a company can become a useful, visible presence that improves quality of life. And, as these days, more people are looking to live near where they work, contributing to the community benefits the company, as a vibrant community makes it easier to recruit and keep employees. Research clearly shows that a well-organized company volunteer program lowers employee turnover, more than paying for any outlay the company makes.    

How to make this work? Corporate leadership needs to ask employees what they believe or are already involved in as volunteer activities. From this, companies may decide to officially sponsor specific activities, or else have an action plan that acts as a clearing house for company approval of ideas that employees want to pursue. Paid time off and matching funding are useful ways to commit. Lastly, companies need to close the loop – get reports on what employees are volunteering for, and share those stories within the company. And it won’t hurt to coordinate public relations publicity with the town and the local media.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Maynard in Boston Globe 1909

Second in a multi-part series AT THE MILL

Edmin J. Park, reporter for The Boston Daily Globe, must have been a phenomenally fast typist, because his May 13, 1909 opus titled “Maynard’s Fate Hangs on Tariff” clocked in at 2,900 words, with a finishing note that the next day’s column in this series will be from Canton. I have a hard time with 700 words once a week, and this guy was doing four times that, daily.

Park’s title referred to the fact that Congress was in the process of changing tariff law. Twelve years earlier, a loosening of tariffs on imported woolen cloth and clothing has contributed to the bankruptcy of Maynard’s mill, and also Damon family owned mill on the road toward Concord. The American Woolen Company ended up owning both, and prospered greatly when the tariffs were reinstalled. What Park was referring to in his title was the fact that Congress had just passed the Payne-Aldrich Tariff Act, which softened some tariffs, but left the protective tariff on woolen goods unaffected. President Taft was expected to sign the bill into law.

New Village houses, 1902. Click on photos to enlarge. Photo
courtesy of Maynard Historical Society.
The article described in detail the addition of mill-owned housing called New Village – about 300 residences built on streets named after Presidents. Park lauded the factory owners for eschewing row housing in favor of individual buildings, each with its own greenspace. New Village was also called out for having a sewer system – something the rest of Maynard would not begin to have until 1929.

Maynard was described as very much a one industry town, with more than half the men plus many of the women and children working in the woolen mill. Park added that the mill was also generating electricity, both for its own use, and selling to Maynard and South Acton to power street lights. Not mentioned in the article, but it is likely that power – and lights – stopped at a specified hour, as people were expected to be home already. Back in Amory Maynard’s day, the mill rang a curfew bell at 9:00 p.m. Mill workers were warned they would lose their jobs if they were found on the streets after the bell tolled.

Park noted that a large number of immigrants from Finland were employed at the mill, and that Finns made up fully one third of the population of the town. He described the Finns as “somewhat clannish,” but also as good citizens, active in town affairs, having their own church, and and a brass band that performed concerts.

Park added that the Town of Maynard had just voted itself “no-license” (no sale of alcohol) by a vote of 487 to 408. Prior to national Prohibition (1919-1932), individual towns were voting themselves wet or dry. Earlier that year Marlborough and then Hudson had voted themselves dry, so there was a concern that out-of-towners would be descending on Maynard’s bars and pool halls en masse. No-license did not stick. Maynard voted itself wet the next year and the four years after that. Maynard voted dry in 1915, but by then Marlborough had gone back to wet.

Riverside Cooperative Building, corner of Nason and Summer Streets.
Major fire, January 30, 1936. Photo courtesy Maynard Historical Society.
Several paragraphs describe the rise of the cooperative store movement in Maynard. Way back in 1875 a group of employees at the mill called themselves the Sovereigns of Industry. They decided to start buying groceries and provisions wholesale, in Boston, rather from the local stores. Buying trips evolved into having their own store. In time, this cooperative effort was incorporated as the Riverside Cooperative Association, with its own building open to the general public who could become members for an annual fee, and become stockholders for a higher fee. The building was at the corner of Summer and Nason Streets. The Co-op burned in January 1936. The site now hosts a brick building that had been erected for the Knights of Columbus.

The newspaper concludes with a mention that a man did not have to be from a family of wealth or long-time residence to be elected to office. By example, he named one William Jones, Chairman of the Board of Selectmen, who in his day job was a motorman on the Maynard-based trolley that served Maynard and neighboring towns.

Banner of the newspaper in 1877. Typeface similar to present-day Boston Globe.

The Boston Daily Globe (1872-1960) was the earlier name of The Boston Globe. After troubling early years, the paper firmed up to become one of Boston’s larger newspapers. Competitors were The Boston Post (1831-1956) and the Boston Herald (1846-present). The Globe went public in 1973, was bought by The New York Times in 1993 for $1.1 billion dollars, was sold to John Henry by the Times in 2013 for $70 million dollars. He also owns other stuff. 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Incredible Shrinking Millpond

First in a multi-part series AT THE MILL. According to one account the millpond was 18.2 acres and the Ben Smith impoundment between the dam and White Pond Road bridge was 18.8 acres. 

Then genius of Amory Maynard was to separate the mill from the dam. By doing so, a large dam could be constructed upstream from where a small dam was, at Mill Street, and the new woolen mill located downstream. This separation created a larger vertical drop. And as water power is created by a combination of volume and vertical drop, more power. By creating the Ben Smith Dam, connecting canal, mill pond, and securing water rights upriver, including to Boone Pond and Fort Meadow Pond, the mill was able to operate year-round with a volume of 100 cubic feet per second, equivalent to 50,000 gallons per minute, and a vertical drop of close to twenty feet.

Aerial view drawing of the center of Maynard, MA (1879), showing the
mill pond much larger then compared to today. Click on photos to enlarge.
Canal enters pond from left. Water exits under mill to river on right.
Power production was on the order of 50 horsepower. Not much, which is why not too long after the railroad reached Assabet Village the mill was adding coal-fired steam engines. By 1879, the year the aerial view image of the center of Maynard was published, the mill complex had grown to six major buildings and two smokestacks. Water was still essential for the steam engines, and to wash the raw wool and the finished cloth after the dyeing process.

The aerial view shows a much larger mill pond than we have now. Size was not essential to maintain an adequate water reserve, as the canal connected the mill pond to the much larger body of water held back by the Ben Smith Dam. Through the years, various projects nibbled away at the pond. The three large mill buildings fronting the pond are partially over the water, and actually required draining the pond in 1916-18 during construction of the last one. When this was taking place a trestle and flume (large wooden pipe) crossed the drained pond from the west side. This was to provide water necessary to wash and process the wool. The trestle had still been relatively intact during a partial pond draining back in 1977. Remnants of the trestle can be seen protruding above the water’s surface when the pond level drops in summer.

Trestle across the millpond, 1977. The trestle was built in 1916 when the
pond was drained for construction of Building 1. It had held a flume that
conveyed water to the mill. Courtesy Maynard Historical Society.
West of Sudbury Road, land was filled in for construction of the school that was associated with Saint Bridget Parish. A large part of the south side of the pond was filled in to create the parking lot that extends to Building 5 (Stratus Technologies and Battle Road Brewery). Land was created on the north side for the parking lot that serves as the site for the Maynard Farmers’ Market. Before the 2008 recession, Wellesley Management, the past owner/operator of the mill complex, had proposed to build an office building on the south side, and either a multi-level parking garage for more than 1,000 cars, or else fill in much more of the pond for parking. This did not come to pass, but clarified that the owners of the mill own the pond. One restriction on the pond owners is that water cannot be diverted from the river to the millpond when volume in the river drops below 39 cubic feet per second.

Mill pond partially iced over, circa 1930. Note that the pond is much larger
than it is today, and there are no parking lots. Estimated date from fact that
Riverside CO-OP building (burned Jan 1936) is in photo.
The amount of water in the pond is controlled at both ends, a gatehouse on the canal for flow in, and a similar gate near the end of Building 3 for flow out. This past summer, Mill & Main had some problems with the pond mysteriously filling to overflowing despite the summer drought and despite periodically letting water out. Problem solved when water was observed entering at the gatehouse, with an estimated round-the-clock inflow of 10,000 gallons per minute. Scuba divers were hired. Turns out that a tree stump had become wedged in the opening, preventing the gate from closing completely.

Back in the day of looser regulations and liabilities, the mill pond provided recreational opportunities for residents of Maynard. People fished, boated and swam. The pond, fed by water from the river, was far cleaner than the river downstream of the mill’s discharges. But not entirely clean, as upriver, Hudson, Stow and other towns were discharging their own mill wastes. Even so, an ice house was filled with ice every winter. Ice skating took place, with the occasional fall-through, and either rescue or fatality.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Clematis, Fall-Blooming

Fall-blooming Clematis across top of fence
Sweet Autumn Clematis (Clematis terniflora) differs from most of the species in this family in that it is a fall bloomer of small flowers rather than a spring bloomer of conspicuously large flowers. It is also an aggressively fast climber of arbors, fences and other plants to a height of 10 to 25 feet in a single season. In late August and early September it displays a mass of white flowers suggesting, if anything, a covering of snow.

A couple of months later the plant is visually transformed. The flowers are gone. In their place are the maturing seed clusters. Against a background of green leaves, the seeds appear in starfish-like arrangements of five or six reddish seeds, each attached at one end to a central node, and with a white filament/tail extending from the outer end. En masse, this display could be taken for some under water coral- or anemone-like growth. For whatever reasons, the maturing seeds do not appear to be attractive to birds or other seed eaters, as the display remains intact as time proceeds into fall.

Clematis seed clusters in October.
Click on photos to enlarge
In fact, it is possible that the red coloration is protective. When berries, grapes and fruit first appear on plants the coloration is green. And the sugar content is low. As these seed delivery systems mature, carbohydrates are replaced by sugars and the surface skin takes on a distinct color - think blueberries, cranberries, blackberries. Most of the color is due to the creation of a family of chemical compounds called anthocyanins. These are a fraction of a larger family of compounds called polyphenols - all known to have anti-fungal and anti-bacterial activity. In effect, the dark coloration taken on by maturing fruits and berries (and clematis seeds) is a natural protection against rot.

The second function of coloring up, for grapes and berries called "verison," is a signal to animals that the plants' creations are now ready to be eaten. On the face of it, this feels counterproductive - why go to a season-long effort to create packaging around seeds only to see the end product hijacked by some hungry herbivore? However, the point of being eaten is that  the seeds will pass through the animal's digestive system intact, and because defecation will likely take place distant from the starting point, help distribute seeds to new locations.

Autumn Clematis seed cluster, October
See heads are red, and tails are
beginning to change.
Autumn Clematis seed cluster, November
Seed heads have lost color and
tails have become 'feathery'
This distribution story does not apply to Autumn Clematis. Come late October to early November the clematis seed clusters undergo a gradual transformation. The red fades. The white tail of each seed develops a 'feathery' look. There is no tasty outer fruit to shout "Eat me." Instead, the individual seeds, now too dry to allow bacterial or fungal infection, will in time detach from the core and be borne away on the winds of chance.   

Autumn Clematis is native to Japan; introduced in the United States in the late 1800s. Here, it has no serious insect or disease problems, and in some southern states is being designated as a category II invasive species. Individual plants can get out of hand, for example growing up through a hedge and then completely covering the top with a blanket of white flowers.  Gardeners can control size by cutting a plant to within a couple feet from the ground; the next year it will start its rampant growth all over again. Flowering is on new growth, so there is no loss of a year's flowering after aggressively pruning in the fall.

Pronunciation: Accent on first syllable or second? KLEM-uh-tis or Klem-AH-tis? Various expert sources favor the first, but enough of them acknowledge that the second is valid, too.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Winter Moths - Act Now to Save Your Trees

December 3rd update: Male winter moths are seen flying after sunset. Our birch tree is trapping far more males than females. This indicates that after four years of tree banding our local infestation of females is lessened, but the pheromones the trapped females release are attracting males from a larger distance. In effect, we are doing the neighborhood a favor. It is not necessary to band every tree every year.

November 15, 2017: Winter moths, previously written up (Nov 2014 and May 2016) as an invasive species, will soon be starting to emerge from their pupal state, triggered by the first few frosts. If you start seeing large numbers of moths flying around in the evening, it’s time. And if you intend to protect your trees, act now. Garden supply stores, including Russell's Garden Center (Wayland), carry Tree Tanglefoot in 15-ounce containers. One container should be enough for a few trees. The product can also be ordered on line in that size or five-pound pails.

White birch tree with plastic wrap covered with Tree Tanglefoot. Females
get stuck at the bottom edge. Males, attracted to their pheromones, get
stuck higher up. Click on photo to enlarge.
The procedure for using this sticky stuff is to wrap the trunk of the tree two or three feet off the ground with clinging plastic wrap. Optionally, secure this with a band of duct tape on the top and bottom edges of the plastic wrap (not touching the tree). Then, open a container of the product and use a 1.0 to 1.5 inch wide spatula to smear the stuff on the plastic. Do not apply directly to tree. Wearing disposable plastic gloves while working with this stuff is a good idea, as it is hard to wash off bare hands. The wrap should be left on until late December.

Garden supply stores also sell a roll of a paper product that has the sticky stuff pre-applied. All you have to do is unroll it around the tree trunk. Negatives with this version of the product are that it's expensive, moths may be able to pass under the band if the tree bark has deep fissures, and the sticky band is so narrow that it can become completely filled with moths within days. This means you will have to remove it and repeat the process, else the next wave of females just climbs over the dead bodies of the early ones.    

Female winter moths climbing up a birch tree trunk.
The reason this works is that winter moths have an interesting dimorphism. Males have strong flight muscles, with an ability to pre-warm these muscles through shivering before cold weather flight. In contrast, females have only vestigial wings. Sacrificing flight capacity allows more than fifty percent of their adult body weight to be given over to eggs. Mating is achieved after the females climb up tree trunks and then release scent pheromones into the air. Males fly to them. Both sexes get stuck in the sticky stuff.  

Winter moths, native to northern Europe, reached Canada in the 1930s. The introduction was accidental, the problem monumental.  The "winter" part of the name refers to an evolutionary strategy used to avoid predation. Most insect eaters are active during warmer months. By not emerging until after late November frosts, there perils are avoided. This plague appeared in eastern Massachusetts around 1990 and to date has slowly spread to affect land east of Interstate I-495 and down into Cape Cod, but not farther west. Yet.

Female winter moth, with vestigial wings.
The trees to protect are birch, maple, and any type of fruit trees. Winter moth eggs hatched in early April. The tiny, tiny hatchlings climb inside beginning-to-open leaf and flower buds and nibble from the inside. By early June the full-sized, green, inch-worm-like caterpillars will descend to the ground where they will transform into pupae, not to emerge as adults until next winter.

Help is on the way. Canada successfully introduced parasitic flies and wasps from Europe. Both prey specifically on winter moth caterpillars, with eggs hatching inside, and larvae consuming the caterpillars from the inside out. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been experimenting with this approach. The net result is a downgrade from traumatic damage to minor damage, with occasional bad years. However, until these bio-controls are introduced locally, best advice is to sticky-band your favorite trees in the fall as being much less expensive than spraying in early spring.

Saturday, November 11, 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 

Also at Instagram: #maynardlifeoutdoors

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, November 8, 2017

Six Mile Road Race - 1946

Kanto Athletic Club (1920) "Voittajat" = The Victors. Click on photo to enlarge
What with all the 5Ks and 10Ks and half-marathons and marathons and ironman triathlons, we might think that distance running as an amateur sport did not exist until the last years of the twentieth century. We would be wrong. The Olympics as a bastion of amateur sports was resurrected in 1896, the Boston Marathon in 1897. The Maynard Historical Society has in its collection a program dated 1946 for the 18th Annual Six Miles Road Race, to go from Memorial Park, Maynard, to the Knights of Kaleva camp ground at Fort Pond, Littleton. The event was sponsored by the Kanto Athletic Club of the Finnish-American Athletic League.

Some of the program sponsor names that still might ring a bell: Erikson’s Dairy, Fowler Funeral Service, Hawes Florist, Gruber Bros Furniture, Maydale Beverages, Parker Hardware, Russo’s Restaurant and Twin Tree Café. Others, perhaps not: Rink Alleys (bowling), Erkkinen Service Station, C. Wainio Barber Shop. Reporters from Boston Globe, Boston Post and Boston Herald were in attendance.

Program for 1946 Road Race, with
image of John A. Kelley on the cover.
Runners (all male) were from athletic clubs as far away as New York. Forty-nine were listed as starting the six mile race, with another twenty-eight for a two-mile cross country race. Jersey #1 among the longer distance runners went to John A. Kelley. The Society does not have any mention of the race results, but it is a fair guess that Kelley won. In his lifetime, John A. Kelley ran 61 Boston Marathons starting in 1928, winning twice (1935 and 1945) and coming in second seven times. He was on the U.S. Olympic team for the marathon in 1936 (Berlin) and 1948 (London). Did not medal. He completed his last Boston Marathon in 1992 at age 84, finishing in just under six hours.

There is a bit of Kelley confusion about marathons. John J. Kelley (no relation to John A.) ran his first Boston Marathon in 1953, while an undergraduate at Boston College. He went on to start that race 31 more times, winning once, coming in second five times, and like John A., was on the Olympic team twice (1956 Melbourne, 1960 Rome). Did not medal. To avoid confusion whenever both were running in the same event, John A. came be referred to as Johnny (the Elder) Kelley while John J. was Johnny (the Younger) Kelley.    

Finnish immigrants were big on athletics. Early on, temperance groups promoted sports as part of a healthy, alcohol-free lifestyle. Political groups also fostered sports – about one-fourth of Finnish Socialist Federation chapters sponsored teams. The favorites were track & field, wrestling and gymnastics.

Political schisms impacted sports. In Maynard, the Kanto Athletic Club was under the auspices of the Finnish Temperance Society, but the Socialist Society group started the Tarmo [“Energy”] Athletic Club. Socialist teams stopped competing with non-Socialist teams. Then, the Labor movement further split into Socialists and Communists. All this was so stifling that in time the groups gave up political purity and opened to wider extramural competition again.

Women were also members of athletic clubs.
This Tarmo Athletic Club photo is from 1926.
Internationally, Finns and Finnish-Americans became associated with long distance running. Stars of the 1920s included Ville Ritola and the brothers William and Hannes Kolehmainen. Paavo Nurmi, nicknamed the “Flying Finn,” won a total of 12 Olympic medals and set numerous world records. Endurance running matched up well with the Finnish concept described as Sisu – a stoic determination to persevere, bravely, often against odds of success. The Finns think of Sisu as uniquely theirs. The closest equivalent in English might be describing a person as having grit. To continue to strive despite repeated failures, despite the knowledge that in the end one might still fail, is Sisu.

In time the waves of immigration slowed, and the Finnish-American population assimilated. Finnish was no longer spoken at home. People became less of sports participants and more of sports fans. We have this program for the eighteenth Annual Six Miles Road Race, but no information of whether there was a nineteenth or a twentieth.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Fall Leaf Color Fail

Naming this season "fall" came about in Britain in the sixteenth century, and refers to the observation that this is the time of year that leaves fall off trees. Really. Prior to that the season was autumn, borrowed from France (automne) and stemming from the Latin, autumus. Or else just referred to as "harvest." Of the season names, summer and winter go back more than 1,000 years, whereas spring and fall date to half that.

New England is renowned for great leaf peeping – driving about on weekends to see the leaves turn colors. This year, however, is a particularly bad year for fall color for a number of reasons. Firstly, the very wet spring and early summer that led to the end of drought status across much of eastern Massachusetts also promoted tar leaf spot disease. This fungal disease affects all species of maple trees, but is most damaging to Norway maples (an invasive species) which is prominent in urban and suburban neighborhoods. 

Maple leaf showing browning and tar leaf spot fungus
Tar leaf spot infection begins in early spring. Long periods of moist to wet weather conditions promote growth. By summer, leaves are showing yellow spots that over time enlarge and turn black in the center. Severely afflicted leaves will wither and turn brown from the edges inward and then prematurely fall from the trees.

The good news is that tree health is not compromised. The following spring the trees will bud new leaves, and if weather patterns are closer to our norm, be entirely healthy. Homeowners may want to consider either having the fallen leaves hauled away, or if composting on the property, add a layer of soil over the bins or piles of leaves. This will reduce the risk of the fungus spreading next spring. 
A second reason for our poor leaf color season is unseasonably warm weather. Sunny days followed by crisp nights helps maximize color. Instead it has been so warm that in some parts of the country people were calling for renaming October as “Hotober.” Our normal late October weather for this area – ignoring for the moment any thoughts of global warming – should have been averaging highs of 61 degrees and lows of 40 degrees. Instead what we had was September temperatures – averaging highs of 72 degrees and lows of 52 degrees. With only one night of frost. Combined this warm weather with the late summer and early fall drought was the last nail in the coffin for leaf peeping season this year. It was both late and mediocre.

Two maple leaves from a better year
As to why leaves fall off, it’s a matter of winterizing and recycling. By shedding leaves, trees avoid the branch-breaking burden of heavy snow accumulation. And, as the leaves were tattered and hole-ridden by fall, combined with photosynthesis being diminished by cold temperatures and closer-to-the-horizon sunlight, no great loss. The fallen leaves create an insulating layer on the ground that protects roots from freezing. And in time, the leaves will decay, returning nutrients to the soil.

Shedding leaves is an active process. As days become shorter, the tree grows a specialized type of cell between the stem of the leaf and the twig to which it is attached. These cells weaken the connection. In time, the stems detach, leaving behind a dry leaf scar. If, instead, a branch is almost entirely broken in mid-summer, the leaves will die and turn brown, but in winter, when the leaves have fallen off the live branches, those leaves on the dead branch will still be attached.

Beech tree leaves in winter. Click on photos to enlarge.
As to the business with the color changes, chlorophyll is responsible for the green color. All spring and summer, chlorophyll is continually being metabolized and replaced. Come fall, replacement stops. Families of molecules called carotenoids and anthocyanins, which were present all summer but are less susceptible to metabolic breakdown, provide a wide range of yellows, oranges and reds once the green is gone. As to why these other molecules are there, one theory is that they protect leaf cells from ultraviolet light damage, in effect, anti-sunburn. A second is that they (not always successfully) make the leaves taste bad to insects and herbivores.  

For reasons not entirely clear, a few trees retain dead leaves until spring. These include several species of oak trees, and also American beech trees. The latter appear a very light brown in color, easily seen during a winter walk when all other trees are naked to the world. 

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, Maynard, MA

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.