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.