Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Berries, Red; Birds, Red!

A robin’s red breast is an “honest signal” of mate attractiveness. In males, an indication of good health. In females, that she will product healthy eggs. While their black and brown feathers are colored by melanin, the same pigment that colors our skin and hair, the red is recycled from red berries. Late December is a great time to woods-walk in search of berries, obvious against winter’s white and dark tints. The species we see locally are winterberry, Japanese barberry, multiflora rose, burning bush and Oriental bittersweet.

Winterberry berries stay until robins or cedar waxwings
show up. Click on photos to enlarge.
Winterberry is a native, deciduous (leaf-shedding) relative of holly. Berries are round, clustering at branch tips. Cultivars are available from nurseries. Like holly, there are male and female plants, so at least one male is needed in a planting if the female plants are to have berries. Cardinals and other non-migrating birds don’t eat winterberries. In past times, when robins migrated south, these shrubs would retain the berries throughout the winter – hence the name. Now that flocks of robins stay the winter the berries rarely make it through January.

Japanese barberry is an invasive, naturalized from ornamental plantings. Sales now banned in Massachusetts. In wooded areas, barberry is a low, thorny shrub festooned with oval, red berries. It displaces native shrubs. Deer avoid eating it because of the thorns. Burning bush, also an escaped ornamental, is also banned in MA. It forms dense thickets three to nine feet tall, with small, rust-hued berries. Multiflora rose has modest white flowers in spring, branch-ending clusters of small, dark-red berries in fall. Together, these three can dominate a forest understory.

Winterberries covered with ice
Last/worst is Oriental bittersweet, a woody-stemmed, vining invasive that can blanket treetops with a haze of red/orange berries. It is a tree-killer. If there is any on your property, cut the stems as close to the ground as possible. While many bird species will consume multiflora rose and burning bush berries, winterberry and bittersweet are left for the robins (and the occasional flock of cedar waxwings). Examples of all five can be seen along the Assabet River Walk trail, which has signed entrances at Colbert Avenue and Concord Street. As a bonus, there is a decorated spruce tree 1/3 mile in from the Colbert Avenue end.

Back to birds. The addition of these invasive plants provides enough forage that some robins choose to not migrate south. Males especially, will remain here, to be closer to territory they intend to claim in the spring. These are not the plump and placid birds of summer. Rather, they move about in jittery flocks of 15 to 30 birds descending on winterberry like raucous starlings. Cardinals do not migrate and do not winter-flock, but they do eat other types of red berries and incorporate the color compounds into feathers (males more than females).

Robins do not always migrate, instead staying north as long as
there is food. This photo taken in 2011, winterberry bush.
From the plants’ perspective, birds eating berries is a means to making more plants. This explains why fruits and berries undergo veraison (turning color) when they do. Once the seeds are ready, the pulp becomes sweeter and the skin colorful, as a ‘please eat me’ signal. It is the reds, yellows and oranges of these skins – courtesy of compounds called carotenoids – that robins, cardinals, orioles, basically any bird of reddish feather, incorporate into feather color. Goldfinches get their yellow the same way. Insectivores such as red-headed woodpeckers get their share from plant compounds those insects ate.

Color matters only if an animal (or its predator) can see color. Insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles and birds see color, perhaps better than we do, including ultraviolet hues we cannot see at all. Birds are caught in a dilemma – be a brightly colored male to secure a mate, but then be at more risk of being seen by a predating bird or snake. Females, meanwhile, evolved more toward camouflage colorations that allow them to stay on the nest without being detected. Some species, such as mallard ducks, molt twice a year, the males brightening up for mating season, then going drab for the rest of the year.

Male Mallard duck in courting/mating colors.  
Most mammals have poor color vision or none at all (marine mammals), a theory being that during millions of years of early evolution mammals were mostly nocturnal, eyesight giving up color-detecting cone cells in favor of dim-light functioning rod cells. The old-world primates from whom hominids descended in effect re-invented color vision about 35 million years ago, the better to see ripened fruits and berries. Color blindness is far more common in men than women. One theory was that in the hunter-gatherer era, men needed to see movement while women were looking for ripe fruit, but the reality is that the genes coding for color vision are on the X chromosome, so that women who inherit one mutated X chromosome and one normal will not be afflicted, whereas men, who have only one X chromosome, are.  

Oh, and yes, a “dishonest signal” is lying, to either dissuade predators or fool potential mates. The tasty butterfly that has evolved a wing pattern and coloration similar to a different species that is distasteful is an example of Batesian mimicry. People who color their grey hair are just hoping for the best.

The genesis of this column was a 2009 observation that robins were no longer migrating south for the winter, to then become harbingers of spring

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Norway Maple - Invasive Species

Norway maple as an urban and suburban tree is so well established that it feels counter-productive to proclaim that it is an invasive species. It is. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts prohibits the import, sale, trade or propagation of Norway maple trees. The ban dates to 2005, when the Massachusetts Invasive Plants Advisory Group proposed an initial list, last updated February 2017. From “The Massachusetts Prohibited Plant List prohibits the importation, sale, and trade of plants determined to be invasive in Massachusetts. This ban also covers the purchase and distribution of these plants and related activities, and includes all cultivars, varieties and hybrids of the species listed.” The rules do not affect existing Norway maples already within the landscape, only bringing in or creating (from seed) new trees.

Norway maple cultivars offered by garden supply businesses
include varieties that have 'copper' or purple leaves. In this
photograph, the dark leaf came from a sun-exposed part of
the tree while the green leaf was from deep shade.
Worldwide, there are more than 100 species of maple trees (genus: Acer). Most are native to Asia. Here in New England the native species we see are red silver and sugar maple. In leaf, there is a nice mnemonic to remember which is which: each leaf has three lobes if r-e-d or five lobes if s-u-g-a-r. Leaves on silver maples – also known as swamp or water maples - have five lobes, but this species thrive best near or in wetlands, and so differentiates from sugar maple. Norway maple leaves also have five lobes, but differences in the leaf stem and bark help us tell the difference. For sugar maple, a snapped stem seeps clear, whereas for Norway maple, white. Sugar maples also have a more shaggy bark. In the fall, the native species color up in the orange to red spectrum, while Norway maple leaves lean toward yellow/orange.   

Three differences make Norway maple a yard bane compared to red or sugar maple. Seed production is more prolific, meaning that all summer one will be pulling seedlings out of garden beds. Branches are more likely to break in storms – due to weaker wood – and so more time playing pick-up-sticks. Roots are very close to the surface, to the point of stunting or stopping any grass, weed or groundcover plants underneath. As roots extend sideways roughly as wide as the crown of the tree above ground, this can create a large area of bare earth under the tree.     

The winged seeds are called ‘samaras’. Why? I don’t know.  The term describes all tree seeds that are incorporated into a flattened, papery casing so that they are easily windblown. Much like oaks and beech trees, heavy maple seed production occurs every two to three years. Interestingly, for sugar maples good sap yield in early spring presages a strong seed year, but then sap production is reduced for the spring following that strong seed year, suggesting that the trees have only so much carbohydrate reserves to either create seeds or promote growth. Samaras tend to detach from their stems on windy days, which promotes better dispersal.   

Norway maples have a long history in North America. Credible reports date the introduction to the mid-1700s for New England, perhaps a century later for the west coast.  During the mid-twentieth century urban and suburban plantings of Norway maple trees were common, especially as a replacement for the loss of American elms from Dutch elm disease. With adequate sunlight, adult trees can be 40-50 feet tall and equally wide. The species is tolerant of poor soil and a range of water conditions from drought to wet soil, but fares poorly as a sidewalk installation tree as it prefers to establish a wide, shallow root bed. Lifespan is short compared to native species. Yard, park and cemetery plantings done 50-70 years ago show their age in increased loss of large branches from storms followed by slow replacement growth.

As to why designated invasive in Massachusetts, seeds from suburban plantings are wind-blown into bordering forests. There, due to its shade-tolerant nature as a seedling and sapling, Norway maples out-compete native species. The dense canopy it creates combined with its shallow root system means that forest diversity declines. The loss of understory plants cascades into a less hospitable environment for insects and the animal species that prey on them.

Conservation agents for Massachusetts cities and towns may consider establishing an anti-invasive plants program, but the reality is that killing mature Norway maple trees – the most effective way to stop seed production – is lower on the list than addressing faster-growing/spreading invasive species such as Oriental bittersweet and Japanese knotweed.

Previous plant winners of this column's "Invasive Species of the Year" are in a September 2012 item at Future candidates include Japanese barberry, purple loosestrife…

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Eastern Coyotes have Wolf Genes

One hundred years ago Massachusetts had no wolves - they had been hunted to local extinction. Coyotes were not here yet. Their natural territory was mostly west of the Mississippi River. During the middle of the last century coyotes started appearing in upstate New York, and as time went on spread to the New England states. Today, most town woods, parks and golf courses have coyotes in residence. Sightings are common within Boston city limits. Estimates are that there are 5,000 to 10,000 coyotes in Massachusetts. But are these western coyotes migrating east, or something else entirely?

Eastern coyote, Mt. Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, MA (internet download)
The answer – something else. Anyone who has visited the southwest knows the coyote as a 25-35 pound predator and scavenger more comfortable in open country than woodlands. What we have locally are coyotes, more on the order of 35-55 pounds. Their coats are thicker. Their jaws are wider and stronger. Typical coat color is a grizzled gray but can vary from creamy blonde to red or nearly solid black – the same color range seen in wolves. In the vacuum left by the absence of wolves, they are the apex predator. Although much of what they eat is still small game and fresh roadkill, they are successful hunters of deer.

Grey wolf, average adult weight 90 pounds (internet download)
As it turns out, our local coyotes are coyote-wolf hybrids. DNA analysis confirms that coyotes migrated from the mid-west northward into Ontario and Quebec 80-100 years ago, where they mated with remnant populations of red wolves. Small numbers of these coy-wolves crossed the St. Lawrence Seaway to New York, either during winter ice-over, or perhaps on bridges. This fast-spreading, east-spreading population has been referred to as a “hybrid swarm.” Purebred “western” coyotes also moved east across Ohio and western Pennsylvania, but more slowly, and without the size change. Earlier arguments that what we see in the east are coyote-dog hybrids does not stand up to examination. Genetically, the animals are about 30 percent wolf, perhaps with a trace of dog genes. Coyotes and wolves mate in late winter for spring litters, plus males actively partake in feeding and caring of pups – two traits not seen in dogs.

Western coyote, average weight 25-35 pounds (internet download)
What does it mean that wolves, in the form of these coy-wolves, are in New England?  Hunting pressure by coy-wolves is beginning to slow the runaway deer population. Ditto the Canada geese population, although purebred coyotes manage that just as well in the midwest. Pressure is also increased on the feral cat population, and probably wild turkey, rabbits, opossums, woodchucks, etc. In suburban and urban areas the culprit tipping over garbage cans is more likely to be coyotes than raccoons.

Being a good neighbor to your local coy-wolf means not putting food outside for your pets. Or for that matter, your pets. Letting a cat out for the night is bad odds for getting that cat back in the morning. Walk your dog on a leash, especially in the woods. At home, a five-foot fenced yard should be enough to protect your pets, chickens, and other animals. Coyotes and coy-wolves are less adverse to living near human habitat than pure wolves, but they still tend to be shy. Although preferred hunting time is late evening and early morning, a coyote hanging out in broad daylight is not necessarily a sick or rabid animal. Still, peace of mind recommends reporting to the police, who will forward the information to an animal control officer. A recent item in the Stow police blotter had an officer reporting to a daytime coyote sighting, and chasing it away by throwing snowballs.

Grey fox, average weight ~ 10 pounds
Note long tail relative to body size
Click on photos to enlarge
Winter coyote sightings will usually be of individual animals. In spring, coyotes pair up for mating, and then raising the pups. From mid-summer into fall sightings can include one or both parents with the pups along for hunting lessons. By fall the family unit can resemble a wolfpack, as the youngsters are nearly adult size. Dispersal occurs in late fall, with the now-adult animals wandering many miles to find a territory not already claimed by a mated pair, and then find a mate. More people hear the yipping of coyotes than ever see one.   

Jonathan G. Way has spent years studying coyotes in eastern Massachusetts and elsewhere. His book, Surburban Howls, is a great read. He is trying to establish a no-hunting, coy-wolf wildlife refuge on Cape Cod. He also operates as a very informative website. 

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Maynard Tear-Downs: History Lost or Good Riddance?

One of Maynard's two mill chimneys being removed in 1956.
At base, a hole on other side allowed workers to remove the
fallen bricks and mortar. Click on photo to enlarge.
Courtesy Maynard Historical Society.
Let’s start with a historic tear-down from October 1956. Prior to then, the mill complex had two tall chimneys of near-equal height, neither functional any more, one of yellow brick, on the north side of the windowless Building 9. Both chimneys dated to when coal-fueled steam engines powered the entire mill. Men climbed an iron-rung ladder affixed to the outside of the chimney. A ring of scaffolding was created at the top. The men used sledge hammers to knock bricks inward. At the bottom, a large hole had been made in one side, so the rubble could be wheel-barrow away and into trucks. The scaffolding was progressively lowered until the chimney was gone. The rubble was dumped into the mill pond to help create the parking lot used for the farmers’ market. At a later time the other chimney was shortened, capped, and had cell phone antennae added to the outside.

In 2016 Mill & Main removed Buildings 10 and 2A as part of a plan to open up the complex to Main Street, with intention to add retail and restaurant businesses. Extensive landscaping was completed in 2018, but for now, no retail. What was lost? Both buildings were of brick and timber construction, two stories tall, size roughly 15x40 yards, exterior walls incorporating roughly 100,000 bricks. Maynard Historical Society records tentatively date both ex-buildings to 1887, but the well-known aerial view image from 1879 shows what looks like Building 2A already in place. Taking the entire mill into account, the existing buildings range from 1859 to 1918 (clocktower 1892).

Brick wall from Building 2A.
Elsewhere in Manyard, there has been a series of commercial building tear-downs catalyzed by Jimmy MacDonald’s desire to meet rental demands by constructing brick three- or four-story apartment buildings. His efforts began at 60 Summer Street in 2004, continued at the corner of Waltham and Parker Streets, then to 10-12 Main Street. In all of these instances, empty or marginal wood-frame buildings were torn down. Were they historic? Perhaps. Salvageable? Unlikely.

MacDonald’s current plans involve the Gruber Bros Furniture building on Main Street and 42 Summer Street. Parts of Gruber Bros date to the late 1800s, but a major fire in 1934 and multiple remodelings since left little that could be considered historic. The yellow building at 42 Summer Street, originally a private dwelling, then the W.A. Twombly Funeral Home, most recently a consignment shop, is also heading for a resurrection as a brick box of apartments. On the other hand, MacDonald bought the run-down apartment building at 145 Main Street, originally the home of Amory Maynard in the 1860s, and did a make-over rather than a tear-down. He also did rehabs of several old but less historically significant woodframe buildings on Florida Street.

Nason Street parking garage (1964-2014), demolished because
pieces of concrete were falling on cars parked underneath.
The previous Maynard High School (1964-2013) is a memory, as is Memorial Gym, once upon a time adjacent to ArtSpace, gone in 2012. The school was replaced, the gym not. The two-level parking garage off Nason Street vanished in 2014 leaving behind a structure to hold the electric car charging apparatus. Removing any evidence of a railroad was a years long process. Passenger service from Maynard ended in 1958. The train station was demolished in 1960. Twenty years later the elevated berm behind The Outdoor Store was removed to create a parking lot, also removed at that time the railroad bridges over the Assabet River and Florida Street. The last vestiges of railroad track were removed for scrap steel in 2014, making way for the Assabet River Rail Trail.  

While Maynard’s business buildings at times disappeared with barely a whimper, private house tear-downs are a rarity. The main reason for this is small lots. Neighboring towns with higher value real estate often have modest, older houses, on sizable lots. Zoning may allow destruction of the existing house, to be replaced by a much larger house – possibly even to the maximum size zoning for that lot allows. Even if there are zoning restrictions to keeping the ‘footprint’ of the new house to the foundation of the old house, zoning boards can be lenient in granting exceptions. The reasoning behind this is that replacement with larger single-family dwelling is unlikely to add to the town’s infrastructure or school budgets, whereas an increase in property tax will apply.

Mansard-roof house next to ArtSpace, torn down 2018. The
sign at the corner of Summer and Concord Streets honors one
of the eight Maynard men who died in World War I.
There are exceptions. Earlier this year a mansard-roofed house in a state of disrepair, but dating to the 1870s, was torn down and replaced by a nondescript two-story house. The building in question was at 71 Summer Street, just west of ArtSpace. It was one of fewer than ten mansard-roofed homes in Maynard (a trio of which grace the south end of Maple Street).

Towns can establish historic districts in an effort to retain a commonality of ‘feel’ to neighborhoods and business districts, or else identify individual buildings as having historic value. The Maynard Historical Commission (MHC) has established a list of some 50 or so historically significant properties in Maynard. The list (available on the town’s website) includes a handful of houses that pre-date 1800 and many of the commercial buildings flanking Main, Nason and Summer Streets. Sometimes the original function is gone but the exterior remains, examples being St. George’s Episcopal Church on Summer Street, now condominium apartments, and Roosevelt School, now the Maynard Public Library.

From the MHC: “Maynard Historical Commission’s mission is to preserve, protect and develop the historic and archaeological assets of the community; ensure that the goals of historic preservation are considered in the planning and future development of the community. and future development of the community. The Commission also reviews and enforces the town’s Demolition Delay Bylaw in concert with the Building Inspector.”

The by-law was approved at a Town Meeting in January 2017. The bylaw’s purpose is to preserve and protect significant buildings or other structures within the Town of Maynard which constitute or reflect distinctive features of the architectural, cultural, economic, political or social history of the Town. Owners of what have been identified as buildings that should be preserved are encouraged to consider rehabilitation and restoration of the exteriors of buildings. Demolitions can be delayed for a period of time. Specifically, if a demolition permit is requested and the building is on the significant properties list, an addendum must be filed and then reviewed by the Historical Commission to determine if the building is still considered significant. Next, goes to a public hearing. If that favors preservation there is a delay of up to twelve months while MHC works with the applicant to see if there is an alternative to demolition. If yes, saved. If not, not, and demolition can proceed. Lastly, if a building owner ignores the demolition delay process and tears down the building, a two-year delay will be imposed on getting a building permit to build on that site.   

Maynard Historical Marker - Fine Arts Theater.
Prior to that, car dealership and service station, 
and before that horse livery (all same family).
The Commission also created a Historical Marker Program in 2012 to highlight important buildings and landmarks with permanent historical markers. Examples can be seen on the exterior of the Fine Arts Theater and The Outdoor Store. Residents throughout the town can also contact the MHC to have a thorough history review done on their own private property and celebrate their home with a plaque. The closest Maynard has to a historic district is Presidental Village, so-named due to the streets being named after presidents. The neighborhood has its own Wikipedia entry, but no official designation from the town.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

2018: A Wet, Warm Year

MAYNARD, MA: As 2018 draws to a close, there is a sense that this has been a rainy year, with a delayed start to winter weather. True or not? Trend or not?

True. Using Boston weather data, through November 7th there has already been 44 inches of precipitation for the year. That figure counts rain and melted snow. The yearly average is 43.8 inches, so the average was exceeded with nearly two months to go. Closing out the year, long-term data predicted an additional 6.8 inches of precipitation by the end of December. However, by the time you read this, Maynard may have already gotten an additional 2-3 inches of rain, and perhaps a bit of snow. And right now, the extended Thanksgiving weekend is looking to be wet. For those who cannot remember what the whole year was like, March and April were well above average, May through July was drought, then August through now have been well above average.

UPDATE: Through morning of December 30th, Boston reports 52.9 inches of precipitation. Locally, the 2018-2019 winter has had five inches of snow.

Left scale is Assabet River volume in cfs, indicated by the swooping
line. Horizontal lines are also inches of precipitation per month, amounts
indicated by rain drops or snow flakes. Summer is not a low precipitation
season, but because plants take up so much water, the river is low.
This is in stark contrast to the extended drought that had persisted from 2012 through 2017. As for long-term trends – wetter. Massachusetts records dating to before 1900 show that average annual precipitation was in range of 35 to 40 inches gradually but consistently increasing to 45 to 50 inches. There are always exceptional years. Those with long memories can tell about the severe drought of 1964-66. More recently, the flood year of 2010, with 15 inches of rain over late February into mid-March, pushed the year’s total to almost 65 inches. Going forward, it will be interesting to see if 2019 and beyond stay above the long-term average or revert to the recent drought years. Keep in mind that Maynard draws roughly 900,000 gallons per day from its well fields, discharging a similar amount into the Assabet River as processed wastewater, so is extremely important that our aquifers be recharged by adequate rainfall and snowmelt.  

Congregational Church, Maynard, MA, seen in a
snow storm. Click on photos to enlarge.
One not surprising consequence of the trend for wetter years had been more water in the Assabet River. Record keeping by the U.S. Geological Survey dates back to 1942, and shows that river water volume has increased from 160 to 225 cubic feet per second (cfs). As of this column being submitted on November 9th the river was at 709 cfs. This compared to an average of 90 cfs for mid-November. (A cubic foot equates to 7.48 gallons, so 709 cfs equals 19.1 million gallons per hour.) Rainwater and snowmelt run off far, far exceed Maynard's water needs, but the town has no reservoir to retain the surplus water.  

As for freezing temperatures and the white stuff, this year has been warmer than average. From pre-1900 to present the Massachusetts average annual temperature has gone up one degree – from 47.3 to 48.3. Even modest increases in temperature have consequences. Winter has become shorter. One indication is that peak lilac blooming time has shifted from late to early May. Warm air can hold a higher water content than cold air, so storms tend to be more intense, meaning wetter and also windier. Think back to March, when a series of tree-toppling storms crashed our area. Some of the woodland trails still have tree blockages that were too massive for volunteers to manage.  

Long-term averages are less than one inch of snow in November, and 12 inches for December. That’s for Boston. The snowier Worcester expects 18 inches in December. Us, being midway between, might expect 15 inches of snow before the end of 2018. One surprising consequence of warmer and wetter, is that while winter has been becoming shorter, it is also wetter, packing more snow into a shorter season. The winter of 2010-11 set an all-time record, and for Boston, of the ten snowiest winters dating back to 1890, five has been in the last 20 years. This is a good time to make sure the snowblower is winter-ready.  

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Rail Trail Safety

With the completion of the Assabet River Rail Trail in Maynard and Acton, many people are discovering the joys of not sharing their exercise space with cars and trucks. The downside is that trails - which exclude motor vehicles – still have their own safety concerns. The danger points are two: where the trail crosses roads, and interactions among people using the trail.

STOP sign for trail users and trail crossing signs for vehicle
drivers. Route 27 and Acton Street intersection.
Manyard, and also Hudson, differ from Acton and Marlborough – the other two places where the Assabet River Rail Trail exists – because of the many street crossings. In Acton, the 1.25 miles of trail crosses no streets. In Maynard, the 2.25 miles of trail crosses nine streets. Approaching these intersections on the trail there are large, white words “STOP AHEAD” painted on the trial itself and trail-size red-and-white STOP signs. These accomplish nothing if people on the trail do not actually stop. Often, bicyclists and runners approach the intersections, look as best they can in the direction of oncoming vehicle traffic, and then proceed without having come to a complete stop. This is especially dangerous at the Route 27 and Acton Street intersection, as the vehicles heading south on Route 27 barely slow down to make the right turn onto Acton Street. Bushes and small trees have been cleared about 40 yards back from the intersection to provide improved sight lines for trail users and drivers. Trail users are advised to come to a full stop and activate the strobe light system, which exists at this and four other locations in Maynard.     

The Assabet River Rail Trail, like many other rail trails, has posted Guidelines for Sharing the Path. Key point for all users: “KEEP TO THE RIGHT except to pass.” Key points for pedestrians: don’t walk more than two abreast, look before changing direction, and keep you dog on a leash (maximum 6 feet). Key points for bicyclists: bicyclists must yield to pedestrians, pass on the left and only when safe, maximum speed 15 MPH and give an audible warning before passing. The same guidelines should apply to any wheeled means of transportation, be it rollerblades, skateboards or scooters. Guideline signs are posted at the Acton end and Ice House Landing, in Maynard.

Trail users should understand that the most common type of accident is when pedestrians are approached from behind by people on faster moving wheeled vehicles, mostly meaning bicycles. The pedestrians – or their children, or their dogs – may veer from walking a straight line at the same time as being passed. The riders’ contribution to these accidents is not warning those about to be passed, either by ringing a bell or by loudly saying “On your left.” Even an audible may not suffice if the pedestrian is listening to music via earbuds. Or is a child. Or is a dog.

Rail Trail guidelines. Click on image to enlarge.
From one website: “Preventing these collisions can be a headache for authorities. In general, many bicycle/pedestrian accidents take place at crossings, junctions or on pavement - spots on the road or trail where things get congested. These situations can be tricky. If you are a pedestrian walking lawfully on the sidewalk and a bicyclist hit you due to their reckless nature, you can file a claim for your injuries. On the other hand, if a pedestrian is distracted and causes a law-abiding bicyclist to crash, the bicyclist could file a claim against the pedestrian.”

Usage of recreational trails by people on electric motor assist bicycles and scooters is a special case regulated by state law. While some states allow e-bikes on protected trails, Massachusetts presently does not. The exact wording of the law “…but shall be excluded from off-street recreational bicycle paths.” Even when being operated on roads, e-bike and e-scooter operators must have a Massachusetts driver’s license or learner’s permit, wear a helmet, and not exceed speeds over 25 mph.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Trail of Flowers - Planting daffodils

Trail of Flowers volunteers digging out an area 70 feet long, four feet 
wide and six inches deep for the daffodil planting. That's a lot of dirt!
On Saturday, October 20, 2018, under a rain-threatening sky, sixteen volunteers put in a morning of digging and digging and digging at the Marble Farm historic site in order to plant an estimated 900 daffodil bulbs. This was the inaugural effort of a program to turn the Assabet River Rail Trail [] into a Trail of Flowers. In the following week hundreds more daffodils to be planted at various locations along the trail, bringing the total to 1,600 bulbs.

The idea is that each fall, thousands of flowering bulbs will be planted at locations adjacent to the trail, so that in the spring, there will be weeks of flowers. Daffodils were chosen for this site because its location at the north border of Maynard, puts it square where deer would eat any planted tulips. More central to town there will also be tulip planting, and perhaps mixes of smaller bulbs such as snowdrops and crocuses. People who's backyards border the trail will be asked to plant bulbs, flowering annuals and perennials at the back of their properties.

David Mark, founder of Trail of
Flowers, stands next to a daffodil
sculpture he created for the planting
event. It will reappear at flowering
 time. The house foundation is beyond
 the stone wall.
In time, plantings may extend to Acton (and even to the south part of the trail, in Hudson and Marlborough). The trail will become a springtime destination for trail walkers, runners and bicyclists from other towns, perhaps including a stop at one of Maynard's cafes.

A giant daffodil: To spice up the planting event, a giant daffodil sculpture was created from a Christmas tree stand, fence post, six pieces of plywood painted yellow and a plastic flower pot painted orange. The sculpture will put in appearances at future events - in time perhaps to be joined by a giant tulip.

Marble Farm: For those who are not familiar with the recently completed section of the Assabet River Rail Trail that crosses Maynard and extends north into Acton, it passes a location across Route 27 from Christmas Motors that was settled by the Marble family circa 1705. There is a plaque at the site with description and photos. Briefly, the family lived at the site, in the same house, for more than 200 years (the house burned in 1924). What remains is impressive stone walls and the stone foundation of the house. The latter is too overgrown at the moment to get more than a glimpse of, but if the entire site was cleared, made safe, and maintained, it could become an addition to Maynard's 'pocket parks,' joining Carbone and Tobin Parks as small greenspace gems.     

Group photo before the digging started. Click on photos
to enlarge. Before this project started the grassy area
where people are standing was overgrown with Oriental
bittersweet, blackberry and sumac. 
Spring Flower Walk: Flowers are expected to be blooming from late March into early May. In April there will be an organized flower-viewing rail trail walk from downtown Maynard to the site. The walk will pass by the intersection of Summer, Maple and Brooks Streets, which includes Maplebrook Park, a garden maintained by Maynard Community Gardeners dating back to 1995. 

The launch of this project was made possible by generous donations from Maynard Community Gardeners and the Assabet River Rail Trail organization. The Town of Maynard approved this use of the Marble Farm site, which is town-owned land. Thanks to all who made this possible. Think spring!

Mysterious iron ring, now painted orange

Archeological finds: While digging out the bulb bed were limited to a few glass fragments, a few colonial or post-colonial pottery shards and one half-pint, clear-glass bottle with seams down both sides (meaning machine-made rather than blown), with no brand or maker marks in the glass. Anchored into the ground in the middle of the flat area now planted with grass is this mysterious iron ring, which is about four inches across. Previous finds from the foundation include beer bottles and a horse shoe. Non-archeological finds include Bud Lite beer cans and nips bottles. Bricks from the two collapsed chimneys, remnants of the 1924 fire that destroyed the house, were used to create the base of the bricked path that now connects the Rail Trail to the historical site lawn where the daffodils were planted. (Bricks from a chimney teardown elsewhere were used for the surface of that path.)

Progress: As of 10/27, 1300 planted, 700 to go. Numbers not always in accord in this and the volunteers needed columns because original order was for 2,000 daffodils, shipper sent 1,600 in time for planting on 10/20 and the rest were cancelled. But then the shipper sent the remaining 400. Not charged for and not required to return. Hence, 2,000. More holes to dig. 

As of 11/17, about 1,950 planted, remaining 150 discarded. Turns out the supplier over-fills the bags, so '100' is often 110-120 bulbs per bag. Subtracting discards (damaged or fungus-rotted), so best estimate for received total was 2,100. Locations: Marble Farm site, behind Cumberland Farms gas station, intersection of Summer, Maple and Brooks streets, and a few surprise spots. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Gleasondale, MA, aka Rock Bottom

The definition of “rock bottom’ is of being the very lowest. The phrase is often used nowadays to describe someone deep into drug, alcohol or gambling addiction as “hitting rock bottom” before attempting a recovery. The historical origin, however, appears to be more of mining term, meaning the layer of solid rock that exists beneath soil, clay, glacial till and alluvial deposits. Thus, "rock bottom" started out as a simple synonym for "bedrock" in the mid-1800's, mostly in the context of mining. Once a miner or driller hit rock bottom, the quest for water, gold or whatever was over. Later it carried over to ‘rock bottom’ prices on items offered for sale.

Gleasondale Dam, Stow, MA. This is one of six historic dams
on the Assabet River, none of which are currently providing
any function. The Powdermill Dam in Acton may be restored
 to generate electricity. Click on any photo to enlarge.
For the years 1815-1898 the hamlet sprawled across south Stow and northeast Hudson was initially called, then named, Rock Bottom. The story goes that in 1815 – or thereabouts – the Randall family sold land, mills (saw mill and corn mill) and water rights to businessmen intent on constructing a factory on the site. When the men who were digging the foundation for the factory hit bedrock, Joel Cranston, one of the owners, called out that they had reached rock bottom. Apparently, the owners were so taken with the phrase that in 1815 they incorporated their nascent business as the Rock Bottom Cotton and Woolen Factory. In time, the name carried over to the community, to the point that it had a Rock Bottom Post Office, and on an 1888 map of Massachusetts, the Rocky Bottom train station.

Prior to this infusion of the Industrial Revolution, early owners of the land surrounding the river were the Whitman family, with a dam and mills built by Ebenezer Graves. Whitmans and Graves are buried in the Stow Lower Village Cemetery. The river gained a bridge in 1769. The land and mills were sold to Timothy Gibson in 1770, a few years later sold by him to Abraham Randall. The area was known as Randall Mills from 1776 to 1815. Of note, these early mills were on the east side of the Assabet River, and the dam was about 80 feet downstream from the location of the currently existing dam. On Abraham’s death the property went to his sons, who in turn sold to Joel Cranston. His business partners included Silas Jewell, Silas Felton and Elijah Hale. The business failed during the Recession of 1829, ownership ending up with a Benjamin Poor, who was responsible for having a new dam circa 1830 and a factory building constructed.

Gleasondale mill, original brick building at back right, with belfrey.
Extension on right and building to left were later additions.
Hard times persisted. In 1849 the mill was purchased by Benjamin W. Gleason and Samuel Dale. They expanded operations, and replaced the waterwheel with a more efficient turbine. Then, disaster stuck! On May 9, 1852 the entire mill burned to the ground. It was replaced by a brick factory building, 125 feet long, 50 feet wide, and five stories high, completed in 1854. A description from a 2011 Massachusetts Historical Commission Inventory report: “The structure’s granite lintels, slate shingles, and gabled roof, capped by a distinct belfry at its northern end, are reminiscent of the Greek Revival style popular in the early era of mill architecture.” The dam was replaced by what is the current dam in 1883.

Ownership and management continued into a second generation of Gleasons and Dales while the name transformed from B.W. Gleason & Co., to Dale Bros & Co., to B.W. Gleason’s Sons, and finally settled down to being Gleasondale Mills in 1898, acknowledged by a name-change for the post office. With this went the end of Rock Bottom and the beginning of Gleasondale, which name persists to this day, although the hamlet no longer has a post office or a train station to call its own. As a remnant namesake, the road into the mill building shows up on Google maps as Rockbottom Road.

An anecdote: On March 31, 1911, Phineas Feather, former superintendent of the Gleasondale Mills, attempted to murder Alfred Gleason, mill owner. At the mill headquarters he confronted Gleason over money he felt due him, then drew a revolver from his pocket. Mill superintendent Charles E. Roberts was shot through the chest, and although severely wounded, disarmed Feather, and with Gleason’s help wrestled him to the floor. Robert J. Bevis and others ran into the office to help subdue Feather. During the struggle Bevis and Feather were both shot, in the hand and arm, respectively, by a second gun Feather drew from another pocket. Feather was arrested. All survived their injuries. Feather was remanded to the Bridgewater Hospital for the Criminally Insane, an institution under supervision of the wonderfully named Massachusetts State Board of Health, Charity and Lunacy. He was released in 1915.

Today, the mill buildings stand as host to small businesses that at one time or another have included printing, engraving, woodworking, furniture refinishing, product warehousing and antiques storage. The dam exists, but serves no function. Various studies to revitalize the mill complex have come to naught.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Volunteers Really Needed (Maynard, MA)

Marble Farm historic site, October 2018. Daffodil
planting will be in front of the far stone wall.
A repeat of last week’s column. Volunteer responses have been weak, so if you or anyone you know wants to be involved in these efforts to improve Maynard’s outdoor spaces, now is the time. One key change – the bulb planning weekend has been shifted to October 20-21.

So once again: Can you handle a brush saw? Know which end of a shovel goes into the ground? Not afraid of the outdoors? Then there are two – yes, two – volunteer opportunities waiting for you this fall: Trailkeepers and Trail of Flowers (TOF).

Maynard has miles of woodland trails on town land that are is need of maintenance. Without constant work, these trails are reverting to impassable woods. The town’s website Open Space and Trails Map shows a trail that has done exactly that, as a short trail into Blue Jay Woods, off the west side of Blue Jay Way, no longer exists. Miles of trail in, around and across Rockland Woods, Durant Pond, Silver Hill, Summer Hill, Assabet River Walk, Carbone Park, Ice House Landing, The School Woods and Glenwood Cemetery could suffer the same fate.

Repaired brick path leading onto the
Marble Farm historic site. Area
immediately behind cleared and
planted with grass and daffodils.
Kaitlin Young, the recently hired Conservation Agent, serving the Conservation Commission, hopes to resurrect the idea of a volunteers’ group to maintain existing trails and perhaps create new ones. The proposed name is Trailkeepers. The thinking is to recruit volunteers, have an organizational meeting in October, and plan to send out work groups in November and through winter. The idea behind the timing is that once frosts are occurring that should be the end of deer tick risk. Volunteers would be expected to clear brush that is encroaching on trails, cut-and-remove small trees that are blocking trails, repaint blaze marks on trees, and so on. Organizational meeting tentatively set for Wednesday, October 17, to be followed by trail work after frosts end the deer tick risk and before serious snow. 

As to “Trail of Flowers,” now that the Assabet River Rail Trail is paved in Acton and Maynard, a proposal has been made to embellish the trail with extensive plantings of spring-blooming bulbs. The proposer is David Mark (me). Briefly, donations have been made to pay for the purchase of bulbs. In November, volunteers will be asked to commit to showing up for day or two, tentatively mornings of October 20 and 21, to plant bulbs. It will be BYOS, as in bring-your-own-shovel. If this gets off to a good start this fall, with an impressive blooming next March and April, the project will become an annual effort.

A couple of hundred daffodils were planted at the Marble Farm site in 2009.
This is a photo of the blooming, spring 2010. Without maintenance, the area
became overgrown with Oriental bittersweet. Click on photo to enlarge.
For this kick-off year the plan is to plant 1500 daffodils at the Marble Farm historic site, which is at Maynard’s north end of the trail, across from Christmas Motors. In addition, flyers will be delivered to the homes of people who are trail abutters, suggesting they plant bulbs and other flowers on the trailsides of their own properties. Bulbs will be provided to them. For future years, other sites in Maynard (and possibly in Acton) will be mass-planted with bulbs and other perennial flowers.

Each spring there will be an organized flower-viewing trail walk, with suggestions to wear flower-themed clothing (Hawaiian shirts, anyone?). And a flower poster to promote the event and list sponsors. And a website. The 2019 walk will start at the footbridge over the Assabet River, pass by Tulip Corner (intersection of Summer, Maple and Brooks Streets), then proceed north on the Rail Trail to Marble Farm.   

On Saturday, October 20, volunteers planted approximately 900 daffodils at the Marble Farm site. Remaining bulbs to be planted elsewhere along the Trail. 

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Volunteers Needed (Maynard, MA)

Can you handle a brush saw? Know which end of a shovel goes into the ground? Not afraid of the outdoors? Then there are two – yes, two – volunteer opportunities waiting for you this fall: Trailkeepers and Trail of Flowers (TOF).

Trees brought down onto Assabet Riverwalk by March storms.
For scale, that is a five gallon bucket and an 18" saw.
Maynard has miles of woodland trails on town land that are is need of maintenance. Without constant work, these trails are reverting to impassable woods. The town’s website Open Space and Trails Map shows a trail that has done exactly that, as a short trail into Blue Jay Woods, off the west side of Blue Jay Way, no longer exists. Miles of trail in, around and across Rockland Woods, Durant Pond, Silver Hill, Summer Hill, Assabet River Walk, Carbone Park, Ice House Landing, The School Woods and Glenwood Cemetery could suffer the same fate.

Kaitlin Young, the recently hired Conservation Agent, serving the Conservation Commission, hopes to resurrect the idea of a volunteers’ group to maintain existing trails and perhaps create new ones. The proposed name is Trailkeepers. The thinking is to recruit volunteers, have an organizational meeting in October, and plan to send out work groups in November and through winter. The idea behind the timing is that once frosts are occurring that should be the end of deer tick risk. Volunteers would be expected to clear brush that is encroaching on trails, cut-and-remove small trees that are blocking trails, repaint blaze marks on trees, and so on. Organizational meeting tentatively set for Wednesday, October 17, to be followed by trail work after frosts end the deer tick risk and before serious snow. 

As to “Trail of Flowers,” now that the Assabet River Rail Trail is paved in Acton and Maynard, a proposal has been made to embellish the trail with extensive plantings of spring-blooming bulbs. The proposer is David Mark (me). Briefly, donations have been made to pay for the purchase of bulbs. In November, volunteers will be asked to commit to showing up for day or two, tentatively October 20 and 21, to plant bulbs. It will be BYOS, as in bring-your-own-shovel. If this gets off to a good start this fall, with an impressive blooming next April, the project will become an annual effort.

Tulips at Summer, Maple and Brooks Streets = Tulip Corner
New bulbs will be planted here. Click on photo to enlarge
For this kick-off year the plan is to plant 2,000 daffodils at the Marble Farm historic site, which is at Maynard’s north end of the trail, across from Christmas Motors. In addition, flyers will be delivered to the homes of people who are trail abutters, suggesting they plant bulbs and other flowers on the trailsides of their own properties. For future years, other sites in Maynard (and possibly in Acton) will be mass-planted with bulbs and other perennial flowers.

Each spring there will be an organized flower-viewing trail walk, with suggestions to wear flower-themed clothing (Hawaiian shirts, anyone?). And a flower poster to promote the event and list sponsors. And a website. The 2019 walk will start at the footbridge over the Assabet River, pass by Tulip Corner (intersection of Summer, Maple and Brooks Streets), then proceed north on the Rail Trail to Marble Farm, where refreshments will be served.   

The Town of Maynard approves. To wit: Will this cost the Town any money? No. Will this require the Department of Public Works to do any planting or maintenance? No. Will this interfere with DPW’s intent to mow the borders of the Trail? No. This is a great idea!

As it appeared in the newspaper, this column had email contacts for Kaitlin Young and David Mark. Responses led to the creation of a trailkeepers group, and enough volunteers to plant 1,200 daffodil bulbs at the Marble Farm site and elsewhere. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Other Towns Named Maynard

Welcome to MAYNARD (Massachusetts)
Back when immigration was mostly from England, Maynard was not an uncommon surname in the American colonies. Glenwood Cemetery has eleven Maynards not closely related to Amory Maynard. Per the very entertaining website, typing in “Maynard” as a last name yields 43,332 people in the United States with that name. Far fewer than (2.9 million) or Jones (1.7 million), but not rare. Several of them loaned their names to towns other than Maynard, Massachusetts (2010 census population 10,106; area 5.4 square miles; founded 1871; named after Amory Maynard).

Maynard, Iowa (pop 518, area 1.02 sq. mi.).  Henry Travis Maynard moved from Illinois to Iowa in 1861. Other people settled there, in a community that came to be known as Long Grove. The Burlington, Cedar Rapids and Minnesota Railroad reached the area in 1873. As there was another Long Grove elsewhere in the state, a state judge decreed that this Long Grove would be named “Maynard” mainly because Henry Maynard (1816-1903) had donated the land needed for the railroad station. Official incorporation took place in 1887, but the town celebrates its founding as 1873. Henry Maynard is buried in the Long Grove Cemetery, as are his second wife and seven of his nine children. 

Maynard, Minnesota (pop 366; area 0.65 sq. mi.). The city was platted in 1887 by John M. Spicer, a land developer and superintendent of the Great Northern Railway. A plat is a map, drawn to scale, of the divisions of an area of land. Once platted, lots can be sold. Maynard was named in honor of Spicer’s sister's husband: Grayon Gates Maynard. (Spicer also named the villages of Raymond, Russell, and Ruthton after his children, and the town of Spicer after himself.) Maynard was incorporated on January 8, 1897. A meander through genealogies traced the namee back to a John Maynard (1630-1711) – born in England, died in colonial Marlborough – the great-great-great-grandfather of our Amory Maynard.

Capt. John Maynard of Maynard, AK.
Click on photos to enlarge.
Maynard, Arkansas (pop 426; area 1.1 sq. mi.). John Maynard, formerly a captain in the Confederate Army, spent some time in Texas before moving to Arkansas in 1872, where he opened a dry goods store, and farmed 900 acres, mostly cotton. Other families and businessmen joined him in the village they called New Prospect. When they applied for a post office in 1885 that name was rejected and the office was named ‘Maynard.’ The town incorporated as Maynard in 1895. John Maynard died in 1917 and is buried in the Maynard Cemetery next to his wife Sarah “Sallie” Maynard, who was 27 years younger than her husband.

Maynard, AR, is home to Maynard High School, mascot a tiger, school colors black and gold. I mentioned this seemingly obscure trivia to a group of our high school students who were volunteering at the recent OARS-organized annual Assabet River clean-up, only to learn that it is common knowledge at our Maynard High School that it has a doppelganger elsewhere.

Maynardville, Tennessee (pop 2,413; area 5.4 sq. mi.). Maynardville is the county capital of Union County, TN. It began as a small community named Liberty. When Union was proposed as a county, Knox County, being called upon to give up some of its land, opposed. A lawyer named Horace Maynard (1814-1882) successfully defended the proposal, so the town was later renamed in his honor. Maynardville dates it founding to 1870. Horace went on to be a Congressman representing Tennessee, and later Postmaster General for the U.S. Postal Service. Interestingly, he and Amory Maynard were both great-great-great grandchildren of John Maynard. Amory and Horace were both born in Marlborough, MA, Amory ten years earlier, so very possible that they knew each other.

In conclusion, three of the five namesake communities (MA, MN, TN) were named after descendants of John Maynard, who crossed the Atlantic with his father when he was eight years old. All were so-named when the men in question were still alive to appreciate the honor (or in Amory Manyard’s case, to dictate the honor).

POSTSCRIPT (not in newspaper)

Maynard, Texas (population ~100). Post office named "Maynard" in 1880, but this area about 60 miles north of Houston was never incorporated. Population dipped as low as ~25 after World War II, but rebounded a bit with renewed oil well activity in the area. Two churches and three cemeteries. No information on how it got its name. Maynard, TX might have been settled by free Blacks after the Civil War.

Maynard, Ohio (population unknown). Unincorporated community in eastern Ohio, tentatively identified as named after Horace Maynard (see Maynardville, TN) when a Post Office was established in 1880. Currently has a post office and zip code.

Other: There are Maynard-named neighborhoods within towns in at least a dozen other states.   

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Influenza Epidemic of 1918 (Massachusetts)

Fort Devens Hospital, Massachusetts (Click images to enlarge)
September 1918, Fort Devens, west of Littleton, was a major staging area for U.S. Army troops preparing to ship off to Europe, we having entered into World War I in April of that year. Fort Devens was also one of the two earliest stateside sites of the “Spanish Flu” pandemic, the other being among Navy personnel stationed in Boston. At Devens, the first case was reported September 8. By September 23 the number of men ill exceeded 10,500. Deaths reached 100/day. More than half a million Americans died. Worldwide, within little over two years, the flu infected an estimated half billion people, killing between fifty and one hundred million.

Deaths were unevenly distributed by age and by region of the world. Influenza typically kills the young and the old. What was unique about this flu was that there was a high risk of death for people ages 15-35 years, the reason being that their immune systems responded too vigorously. In developed countries – those with hospitals and nursing care – deaths were on the order of two percent of the population. With poorer medical care, more like five to ten percent, and in remote reaches of the earth where people had fewer prior exposures to any strains of influenza, exceeding twenty percent.

Men, sick with flu at Fort Devens, MA. For a period
in the fall of 1918 deaths exceeded 100/day.
The fact that World War I was ongoing contributed to the speed the flu spread worldwide. Troops were constantly being moved. War-time censorship hindered knowledge of the extent of the problem. This censorship was why the popular name is the “Spanish flu,” as Spanish newspapers, in a country neutral in WWI and hence not censored, produced lots of headlines and articles about the disease. (In Spain it was referred to as the “French flu.”)

Viruses have been described as being a bit of bad news (in the form of a strand of DNA or RNA) wrapped in proteins. For this influenza virus damage was threefold: 1) the virus getting into cells, replicating and then killed those cells so as to re-enter the blood stream to find new cells, 2) the patient’s immune system reaction to the foreign proteins coating the outside of the virus, causing more damage than the actual virus, and 3) viral infection created an opportunity for bacterial pneumonia. This particular virus caused so much damage because it reached deep into the lungs rather than just the upper respiratory system, and because it triggered a massive inflammation response. In effect, people were dying of collateral damage as their immune system over-reacted while trying to neutralize the virus. At autopsy, lungs were often blueish, signifying oxygen deprivation, and filled with fluid. Those the virus-triggered reaction did not kill outright succumbed to bacterial pneumonia.

In Maynard, the first death attributed to influenza was 
Patrick D. Meagher, Curate at St. Bridget's Church.
Locally, the arrival of influenza is documented in the Town of Maynard Annual Report, which reported deaths with causes noted. Regardless of whether the contagion reached Maynard from Fort Devens or Boston, the first death identified as either influenza or “la grippe” dates to September 22, 1918, the last on July 21, 1919. In that interval there were 38 deaths identified as influenza and another 18 attributed to pneumonia. Combined, a bit under one percent of the population. Likely, ten to twenty times that number had become ill but recovered. Schools were closed for five weeks. Glenwood Cemetery has a section (7-O, old cemetery) with unmarked graves of Maynard citizens who died from cholera, smallpox and influenza epidemics. A single stone was erected in their memory by the Maynard Boy Scouts.
Deaths from influenza continued into 1919 (not shown)

The Town of Stow Annual Report listed 11 deaths from broncho or lobar pneumonia, the first occurring September 21, 1918. Population was 1,100 compared to Maynard's 7,000 so this would have also been around one percent.

Glenwood Cemetery, Maynard, MA,
monument for section with unmarked graves.
True ‘Ground Zero’ for this pandemic is disputed to this day. Influenza viruses are pan-species, moving back and forth among people, pigs and birds. Researchers propose Kansas, or a troops staging and hospital camp in France, or perhaps China (?!). To this last, military historians point out that with so many men of France and Great Britain in uniform, nearly 100,000 Chinese laborers were transported to France for purposes of behind-the-front labor. There is some evidence that a respiratory illness recorded in China was a precursor to what mutated into this extremely lethal virus.

Since the influenza pandemic of 100 years ago there have been other, smaller pandemics – the Asian flu of 1958-59 and the Hong Kong flu of 1968-69 each killing on the order of one million people. Each spring, in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identifies the three or four strains of flu likely to be prevalent in the pending fall and winter, and prepares an injectable vaccine. New vaccines are needed each year because the rapid mutation rate of influenza RNA means that the immune system virus identification ability engendered by the previous year’s vaccination will not continue to be effective.

Flu vaccines protect against the three or four viruses (depending on vaccine) that research suggests will be most common. The CDC has already determined which strains will be used for the 2018-19 flu season: A/Michigan/45/2015 (H1N1), A/Singapore/ A(H3N2), B/Colorado/06/2017 and optionally, B/Phuket/3073/2013.