Wednesday, July 18, 2018

300th column

David Mark: Newspaper columnist for the
Beacon-Villager, serving Maynard and Stow.
Photo shows your columnist, wearing his collector's item "ONLY IN MAYNARD" shirt. I admit to being tall, but not taller than a doorway - only because of the height of the camera does it look that way.

Tempus fugit. 300 columns and almost nine years into this adventure of exploring local history and nature, let's revisit a few of the popular columns published since the 200th. These and many others still exist at Additional photos at Instagram #maynardlifeoutdoors.

Wildlife Acoustics: A February 2018 column, from a ten-part series on businesses at the Mill, introduced readers to Wildlife Acoustics, Inc., a company that moved from Concord to Maynard in 2013. Wildlife is an expert provider of devices that detects and analyzes all sorts of animal noises. When asked how all this got started, Ian Agranat replied that by 2002 he had completed his sale of a software company and was at loose ends. His brother-in-law, an avid outdoorsman and birder, casually wondered “Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a device that could identify a bird by its song?” 

Wildlife Acoustics, Maynard staff, Ian Agranat, front-center
A million dollars or so later, Ian had a device that worked – sort of – but was far too expensive for bird-watching hobbyists. What he did have, however, was a device that was almost good enough to meet the professional research needs of environmental consulting firms, governments and academic researchers. A bit more R&D, and voila, devices to record and interpret animal noises in the air, on land and under water, ranging from bats and birds, to whales. Recently, Wildlife Acoustics launched Song Sleuth, a smartphone app developed in a collaboration with bird expert David Sibley. After recording birdsong, names and images of the three most likely species appear on the screen.

Shrinking Stow: February 2017 saw the publication of a three-part series about how the original Stow shrank more than half in size, giving up land to the towns of Harvard, Shirley, Boxborough, Hudson and Maynard between the years 1732 and 1871. Maynard – the last – was the only town that paid Stow for the privilege.

Thoreau’s “The Old Marlborough Road”: A March 2017 column annotated a poem by that title, first appearing in Thoreau’s private journal in 1850, published in changed form in his famous essay “Walking,” in 1862, shortly after his death. The theme of the poem is that by stepping out on disused/abandoned roads – as was already true of the old road to Marlborough in his day – you are in effect traveling on any road and every road. “If with fancy unfurled/You leave your abode/You may go round the world/By the Old Marlborough Road.”

Old Marlboro Road, Maynard, MA
The road still exists, parts in Maynard named “Old Marlboro Road.” It continues through the Wildlife Refuge as a trail named Winterberry Way; then out the Stow side, named Bruen Road, White Pond Road and finally Concord Road to Marlborough. All the people named in the poem existed in Thoreau’s time. The opening couplet “Where they once dug for money/But never found any” referred to people of Concord digging here and there in search of buried pirates’ treasure. The poem is grounded in reality, yet asks readers to exercise their imagination.

Mueller (left) and THE COREY (right) keeping company
Click on any photo to enlarge
Fire Hydrants: May 2016 featured two columns about fire hydrants. A highlight was the discovery of a hydrant dating to the 1890s. On an unpaved portion of White Avenue, buried under uncounted layers of white paint, a hydrant sports an emblem of a "C" entwined with a "V" which stands for Chapman Valve, A raised circle surrounds the emblem with the faintly legible words CHAPMAN VALVE on the top and BOSTON on the bottom. Outside this ring is a stylized snowflake design. All this detail dates the hydrant's manufacture to 1890-1900. Winter Avenue itself and neighboring streets were created in 1921. It is possible that this is one of Maynard's first hydrants, installed at the same time as the beginnings of the town's water system, in 1890, later relocated.   

Elsewhere, through paint, and sometimes through rust, most of the fire hydrants in Maynard read MUELLER, plus a year for when the hydrant was made. There are a few hydrants about town with "THE COREY" across the top, named after the inventor, William W. Corey. Stow does not have a public water supply system, and thus no centralized system of hydrants. New housing developments are required to have underground water storage tanks. For everything else, the fire department is equipped to pump water from streams, ponds and lakes. First responder trucks carry 500-1000 gallons of water, which is often all it takes to knock down a fire.

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