Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Brown-tail Moths (History, Science, and a Poem)

Brown-tail moth caterpillar winter communal nests, made from oak tree
branch-tip leaves. In the spring, the caterpillars emerge, about 1/2 inch long,
eating everything as they descend. On breezy days they will let go, to drift
away on the wind, hoping to land on another tree. In effect, in late May
it will be raining poisonous caterpillars. This is annoying.
HISTORY: A bit more than one hundred years ago Maynard and Stow, in eastern Massachusetts, had a moth problem. Two moth problems, actually. Gypsy moths had been deliberately brought to Medford, MA in 1869 in an attempt to create a hybrid with silkworm moths that would be the basis of a winter-hardy silkworm industry. This failed. Accidental releases created a wild population that rapidly spread across New England, and continues to expand south and west. Less well known now was the Brown-tail moth. This species was accidentally introduced from Europe to Somerville, MA in 1897 and rapidly expanded its territory south to Long Island and north into Canada. (WHAT IS IT WITH MASSACHUSETTS AND INVASIVE SPECIES?!! Water caltrop (an aquatic plant) was brought from China to Cambridge in 1874, deliberately spread, and now plagues our local rivers and ponds. Winter moths were Canada first, but ground zero for the U.S. infestation was in or near Boston, expanding slowly west.)

Early spring Brown-tail moth
caterpillar, 3/4 inches long.
Gypsy moths caused the most severe foliage damage, but Brown-tail moths were the most dangerous to people. The problem was that barbed hairs (bristles, actually), of the caterpillars contain and deliver chemical compounds with hydrolase, esterase and hemolytic activity, the net result being a poison ivy like rash when in contact with skin, and respiratory problems if inhaled, especially for people with asthma. The hairs are shed, and remain toxic for years, so activities as simple as lying on the grass, mowing the lawn, sweeping a deck or raking leaves caused exposure. Rashes can be present from just hours, to weeks. There are no antidotes for the toxins, so symptoms are treated with anti-itch products. In severe cases, oral corticosteroids (inflammation response suppressors) can be prescribed.

Brown-tail moth caterpillar. Two red spots on back, near tail,
differentiate if from other hairy caterpillars (Internet download)
The Brown-tail moth life cycle is hatch in August, grow during summer and fall, over-winter as caterpillars in communal webs created at branch tips, resume feeding in April or May, pupate in July, emerge as winged adults in August, then quickly mate, lay eggs and die. In addition to toxic bristles on the caterpillars, the adult female sheds brown bristles from her tail (hence name) to protect the egg cases, and the molt prior to pupating protects the pupae. The caterpillars can be identified by presence of two red spots on the back, toward the tail end. This differentiates from other fuzzy caterpillars such as Eastern tent and Gypsy moth caterpillars.

Brown-tail larvae have been reported as feeding on more than a score of tree and shrub species. This generalist behavior is considered unusual. Combined with its tendency to reach extreme outbreak densities, this species is a major pest of fruit orchards, ornamental trees and hardwood forests. Partial list of plant species: apple, cherry, beech, elm, grape, hops, oak, pear, raspberry, rose and willow. In a mixed maple/oak forest, there is a strong preference for oak. An early description of the introduction to the United States in the 1890s identified pear and apple trees as most greatly afflicted, but mentioned that once trees were entirely bare of leaves, the larvae would descend to the ground in great numbers and move toward any leafy plant, including garden vegetables.

Maynard's Moth Department crew and wagon, circa 1910. Ladders were used
to get to higher parts of trees. Toxic chemicals were sprayed from the end of a
long pipe. Click on photos to enlarge (Maynard Historical Society).
In Maynard, the moth plague was so severe that the town had a Moth Department, with staff and equipment, to spray trees, remove Gypsy moth egg cases and in winter, clip branches that had Brown-tail moth communal nests. The annual budget was less than that for roads & sidewalks or the fire department, but larger than the police department allotment.

Circa 1906 there was an attempt at biological control of Gypsy moths by the introduction of Compsilura concinnata, a parasitic fly. The parasite was not species-specific, so it impacted many native moth and butterfly species, and while it was not particularly effective against Gypsy moths, it was spectacularly effective against Brown-tail moths, the reason being that Brown-tails were one of a very few species that over-wintered as caterpillars, which are what the fly larvae live within. Voila! By the early 1930s the Brown-tail had become extirpated from all of the afflicted territory with the exception of a few islands off the coast of Maine, and the tip of Cape Cod. And so the status remained until around 2000, when Brown-tails reappeared in increasing large numbers in southern coastal Maine, from Portland to Bar Harbor. One possible reason for the resurgence is a parasitism of the C concinnata fly by a species of Trigonalid wasp, a situation referred to as hyperparasitism.

MORE SCIENCE: Brown-tail moths are not unique in evolving poisonous spines. The term is "urticating hairs" which are actually hollow bristles or spines that contain toxins. For certain species of caterpillars, human reactions range from mild stinging and itching to intense pain, allergic reactions, kidney failure and death. Tarantula spiders also have detachable hairs which they will scrape off their abdomen into the face of an attacking predator.

Head to tail about one inch.
Female abdomen end is
covered in brown bristles,
hence the name. Bristles are
shed to cover egg clusters.
Brown-tail moth caterpillars, like other caterpillars, will shed their skins (molt) six to eight times between hatching and reaching full size. Immediately post-molt the caterpillar has few bristles, but quickly grows more. Each molt, bristles are shed as part of the discarded skin. These break off and are distributed by wind and any actions that disturb ground surface, such as mowing lawns and raking leaves. Touching surfaces with hands and then touching skin elsewhere can transfer loose bristles. The toxins remain potent for up to three years.

As of 2019, along the coast of southern Maine - north of Portland, south of Bar Harbor, but spreading in all directions - experiments in prevention are being funded by the state of Maine and local communities. Some of the pesticides are banned because run-off into the ocean affects marine life, specifically, lobsters. Small trees, such as apples and other fruit orchard trees, can be managed by cutting the branch tips that have the winter nests. This is not feasible, however, for mature oak trees, which are the preferred sites for females to lay eggs. Instead, testing being done with injecting pesticides into the tree trunk, with the idea that in theory this will be transported upward into newly forming leaves. Multiple injections per tree are needed (every 4-6 inches of circumference), and there is harm being done to the tree. This can cost hundreds of dollars per tree. Organically certified biorational controls are being researched, as are searches in the original habitat (Europe, western Asia, northern Africa) for species-specific parasites. Spraying the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is partially effective.

After vacationing in an afflicted area all clothing should be washed in warm to hot water. Tops and bottoms of shoes should be wiped with damp paper towels. Same to inside of suitcases. Even where native, there are historical reports dating back to the 1500s of severe outbreaks in cities, with trees of all types eaten bare of leaves. Southern parts of England are reporting 2019 as a very bad year. 

And a poem:
                                    IT'S RAINING CATERPILLARS
In fall, 
we hatchlings
climb upward, 
eating as we go.

At branch tips, 
we gather, 
bind leaves about us, 
and freeze.

All winter, 
we dream not.
Night, ice and snow
are our blanket.

Come spring,
we awaken,
climb downward, 
eating as we go.

There are caterpillars,
green inchworms,
which lower themselves 
to the ground on silken threads.

To travel, 
we let go,
cradled by the wind, 
falling toward
an uncertain future.  

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

This Old House (in Maynard, MA)

Winter view, 10 Maple Street, Maynard, MA
Maynard, Brooks, Greer, Hanna, Partridge, Barlow, Marsden, Jones and D’Amico/Mark. Those are the families who owned the property at 10 Maple Street from 1870 through the present. A reproduction of an 1875 street map at the Maynard Historical Society shows a house belonging to Charles Brooks, so the house itself is at least 145 years old. As built, the house likely did not have indoor plumbing, as the town did not have a water system until the late 1880s. The closest public well was at the corner of Concord and Brooks Streets. The house may have had piped gas for gaslight fixtures. Electric lights did not begin to reach Maynard until 1902, when the Mill contracted to provide power for street lights.

Learning the names of the litany of owners (and the price at each sale) required going to Middlesex County Courthouse, Cambridge, to leaf through records of property sales. The oldest showed A&L Maynard Company selling the property to Charles Brooks in 1870 for $2,430. Mr. Brooks was 56 years old at the time of purchase. The 1870 U.S. Census described him as a widower working at a saw mill, with four teenage daughters. The saw mill was most likely the one owned by the woolen mill, near the Walnut Street bridge.

The deed does not specify whether there was a house on the property at the time of the sale to Brooks, but Amory Maynard and his son Lorenzo owned other lots on Maple Street at the time. It is possible they were building and selling houses in addition to owning and operating the mills. In support of this theory, most of the houses on Maple Street and Maple Court have a similar architecture, indicating they were all built at the same time.

The Owners:
   Before 1870          A&L Maynard Co.
   1870-1879             Charles G. Brooks
   1879-1896             Alexander & Elizabeth Greer
   1896-1924             Mary Hanna
   1924-1926             Charles T. Partridge
   1926-1953             William and Carrie Barlow
   1953-1987             Thomas and Blanche Marsden
   1988-2000             Craig & Tresa Jones
   2000-Present         David Mark and Jean D’Amico

At first glance that’s nine unrelated owners over 150 years, but a bicycle trip through Glendale Cemetery complemented what was learned from the deeds. Alexander and Elizabeth Greer bought the house from Brooks in 1879. The 1880 U.S. Census listed Alexander as a watchman at the woolen mill. Alexander and Elizabeth were both born in Scotland in 1827.

Summer view, 10 Maple Street, Maynard, MA
The Greers had three children: Mary, Walter and James. Walter died in 1885, aged 24 years. James died in 1879, aged 16 years. Mary married John Hanna in 1880. She took over ownership of the house. Thus, two generations of Greer/Hanna owned the house for 45 years. John was a carpenter at the woolen mill. Mary lived to 91, and in doing so, survived her parents, brothers, husband and children.  

Before she died, Mary Hanna sold the house to Charles and Esther Partridge. Upon Charles’ death it went to their daughter Carrie Barlow, and in turn to her daughter, Blanche Marsden, who had no children. This time, three generations of the family owned the house for 63 years. The Partridge/Barlow/Marsden plot is also in the Glendale Cemetery. The Marsden inheritors sold it to Craig and Tresa Jones in 1988. Jean D’Amico and David Mark bought the house from the Jones in 2000.

The house is white, with black shutters. The foundation is field stone cemented in place, topped with a few feet of brick. The scarcity of stone walls in Maynard suggests that most of the farm walls were recycled into foundations and chimneys. While the stone is likely local, it is very possible that the wood for the wide plank pine floors, framing and walls was brought in by railroad, as almost all of eastern Massachusetts was denuded of trees by the early 1800s.

Painted loon (over front door) came with house in 2000.
Houses change. The Greers were there for hook-up to town water. The Marsdens were most likely responsible for converting a front porch to a room on a concrete slab, for extending the kitchen, adding a downstairs bathroom, and for adding the current back porch with its wooden slat awnings. D’Amico/Mark removed the cramped second floor bathroom and attic space over the kitchen, and converted that into a full-size bathroom plus a laundry room and walk-in closet.

The property also includes a 25x40 foot, two-story barn, with what was a stall for one horse. Construction date unknown. A good guess would be that Brooks, Greer and/or Hanna kept a horse and wagon to haul freight to and from the railroad. As late as 1920 there were still more than 100 horses residing in Maynard.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Maynard's Native Americans

Post-apocalypse movies are a popular genre – what will people do after civilization breaks? Whatever the catalyst – atomic war, zombie viruses, aliens, the Rapture… the movies imagine what humans will do after the big, transformative event. Typically, there is starvation and death (a lot of death!), a breakdown of legalities, loss of culture from a failure to educate the next generation, a few who fight back… Now, think about how this is exactly what happened when Europeans, with European diseases, European concepts of land ownership and European weapons, arrived in the Americas.

Wherever Europeans arrived, within a generation entire cultures and populations were wiped out. The initial causes were smallpox and other diseases (plague, measles, influenza, scarlet fever, leptospirosis…) – with epidemics in 1616-19, 1631-33, 1645, 1650-52 and 1670 – capped by exclusion from traditional lands and outright war. The first spate of diseases was the worst, and was thought of by the English as divine intervention. King James I is quoted as saying “There hath, by God’s visitation, reigned a wonderful plague, the utter destruction, devastation, and depopulation of that whole territory…” Pre-contact with Europeans, the Algonquin region that extended from Long Island to Maine numbered 100,000 to 150,000 people. One hundred years later it was one-tenth that.

As a result, the Puritans who made up the “Great Migration” from England, 1620-1640, found this to be ‘empty’ land that had until recent years been cleared and farmed by the native populations. This was easily returned to productive farmland – a process of combining the native crops of corn, beans and squash, with European wheat and an assortment of edible animals (cattle, hogs, sheep, goats and chickens). With crops suitable for winter storage plus domesticated animals to eat, the colonists did not have to rely so heavily on hunting, nor move to the seashore for the summer months. Instead, they owned and farmed and prayed in place.

The native populations that had lived in our area were referred to as ‘Nipmuc’ and may have numbered as many as 10,000. Nipmuc has many alternative spellings, such as Nipmug, Neetmock and Nipnet, all generally accepted as translating to “fresh water people.” The Nipmuc were not so much a tribe as a geographical area of peoples speaking an Algonquin dialect, previously either subject to or allied with strong neighboring tribes, such as the Pequot to the south, Masachuset to the east, Wampanoag to the southeast and Pocumtuc to the west. They grew corn and other crops, hunted deer and moose, and in the spring enjoyed the bounty of herring, alewives and shad swimming upriver to spawn.  

The Puritans were firm believers in Christianity and farming. In that order. Some of the native peoples who had survived the diseases converted and gathered into what were referred to as the Praying Indian Villages. One of these was Nashobah, now Littleton. What is now Maynard and part of Stow went by the name Pompositticut, said to mean “land of many hills.” There are no artifacts or known history to suggest this was a densely settled place. In contrast, Concord was originally referred to as Musketaquid for “grassy plain.” Stow, as created in 1683 had attached to it a narrow strip of land extending west beyond the Nashua River. This came about when Lancaster and Groton were created in the 1650s. A corridor of land had been left between the two for the Native Americans of Nashobah to travel west to winter hunting regions

All this accommodation crashed to an end with King Philip’s War of 1675-76. Metacom, also known as Metacomet and by the English name Philip, was a Wampanoag chief. Attempts to maintain a truce between the Wampanoag and the English colonists were frayed by colonial expansion and scattered acts of violence on both sides. In the summer of 1675, the actions of the native Americans coalesced into concerted attacks on towns across the Plymouth, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island, New Haven and Connecticut colonies. Locally, history has it that natives met atop Pompositticut Hill to decide whether to attack Concord or Sudbury (the answer: Sudbury).    

Although the colonial militias were supplemented by volunteers from the Praying Villages, there was suspicion that Nipmuc were also collaborating with King Philip. To remove this perceived threat, many were relocated to Deer Island, in Boston Harbor, an early example of a concentration camp. Winter weather combined with inadequate housing and food led to more than half dying there. In 1676 King Philip was shot, his body drawn and quartered, his head on display in Plymouth for many years. Male prisoners of war were transported to Caribbean islands and sold as slaves. (Returning ships sometimes brought Negros from the islands to sell as slaves in New England.) Many of the native Americans who survived this catastrophe moved north or west and assimilated into other tribes.  

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Maynard Rocks

Maynard Rocks started as a pebble that turned into an avalanche. Peter Morgan, resident of Maynard and parent of two school-age daughters, had traveled to Tacoma, Washington, in 2017 on a business trip. There, out for a walk, he spied several, small painted rocks lodged in the gaps of a stone wall. He brought one home. April 2017, he and his wife Andrea Blondin Morgan, and their daughters, started Maynard Rocks, mirroring it after Tacoma Rocks. The genesis of all the “____ Rocks’ programs trace a history back to The Kindness Rocks Project, started in early 2015 by Megan Murphy on Cape Cod: “…created to spread inspiration and a moment of kindness for unsuspecting recipients through random inspirational rocks dropped along the way.”

A collection of Maynard Rocks at the Morgan house.
The Maynard Rocks concept is more image-driven than word driven, but can be either, or both. Participants are encouraged to place rocks in public places where they will be seen by vigilant passers-by. People are advised at Maynard Rocks Facebook to either leave found stones in place, move those to a new spot, or replace with one of their own, keeping the found one instead. Photos of finds can be added to the Facebook page. Contributors have ranged from young children taking a paint brush in hand for the first time, to experienced artists, to participants from Maynard’s Council on Aging. The Morgans host rock painting events, and some of Maynard’s businesses have held Maynard Rocks parties.

It's not complicated. The Morgans recommend either glacially- or ocean-rounded rocks smaller than fist-sized. Some people prefer flat rocks, or unusual shapes that can be incorporated into the painting. All rocks should be washed in soapy water, thoroughly rinsed, then dried. The paints of choice are acrylic. Quill and Press, on Route 27, Acton, has a vast supply of paints, also glue-on googly eyes and glitter. After painting, rocks are sealed with either matte- or glossy-finish clear acrylic sealer, available as a spray. Krylon and Mod Podge are two brands. Alternatively, spray-paint rocks one color, use oil-based paint pens (Artistro, Sharpie, Posca) to write words, then seal with clear acrylic spray. This works better for Kindness Rocks style, which is word-based rather than pictures.  

The Morgans recommend that the back side of rocks be lettered with “Maynard Rocks,” and perhaps the Facebook symbol – a lower-case letter “f” in white against a blue background. This promotes posting photos of found rocks at the Maynard Rocks Facebook site, and perhaps induces people to relocate their findings rather than becoming rock hoarders. There has been a sprinkling of photos that indicates rocks that traveled outside Maynard. Perhaps future photos will show handheld rocks with the Statute of Liberty or the Eiffel Tower in the background. The Assabet River Rail Trail has become a favorite rock placing and finding site, as it gets lots of traffic by people of all ages. Oft times, parents and grandparents are out with young children.

The Morgans continue to support the project by conducting rock-painting workshops, and by painting and placing hundreds of rocks each year. Recognition of the impact the Morgans and Maynard Rocks have had on making Maynard interesting was recognized by Maynard’s Cultural Council at the 2018 grant awards ceremony. And then, the effort was so much seen as part of Maynard’s creative fabric that for the 2019 event, the second annual “Maynard Rocks” award was given to Denise and John Fitzsimmons family for the way that their fifteen years of open-door, ‘spaghetti night’ dinners have introduced old-timers and Maynard newbies to each other, in the process providing a place to discuss how to make Maynard better. Additionally, in 2019, a sampling of rocks was on display as part of the annual “Only From Maynard” art show at ArtSpace. Because Maynard Rocks.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Trail Of Flowers Event, May 4, 2019

Flower at peak bloom, May 4, 2019. Click on photos to enlarge.
A flower-viewing trail walk took place on May 4. It started at 10 AM, on the Assabet River Rail Trail behind Maynard's CVS pharmacy, then proceeded one mile north, passing flower beds along the way, to end at the Marble Farm historic site, where ~1,000 daffodils were planted. Light refreshments were provided. There were about a dozen walkers.

BACKGROUND: The concept of making Maynard more interesting by converting the 2018-completed Assabet River Rail Trail section in Maynard and Acton into a "trail of flowers" was the brain-child of David Mark, Maynard resident since 2000, long-time volunteer on ARRT projects prior to the actual construction, and author of the column Life Outdoors in the Beacon-Villager. the weekly newspaper for Maynard and Stow. The kernel of the concept was the idea that every fall, volunteers would plant flowering bulbs (daffodils, tulips...) along Maynard's section of the trail, followed by a flower-viewing trail walk in the spring. Repeat. 
David Mark, wearing daffodil headgear, standing next to
daffodil sculpture. Where from? The national flower of  Wales
is the daffodil, traditionally worn on St. David's Day. Fans of
the Welsh rugby team wear these hats when cheering on their
team. The ONLY IN MAYNARD sweatshirt is from ~2005,
now a collector's item. David made the sculpture. 

FALL 2018: Donations from the Assabet River Rail Trail organization and Maynard Community Gardeners made possible the purchase of 2,000 daffodil bulbs from K. van Bourgondien. The order was for a mix of early- mid- and late-blooming varieties so as to prolong the blooming period in the spring. Email blasts solicited potential volunteers. On October 20, 2018, sixteen volunteers showed up at the Marble Farm historic site to put in a damp Saturday morning digging out an area about seventy feet long, four feet wide, six inches deep, bordering the stone wall at the back of the level area that faces the Rail Trail. Into this were placed roughly 900 bulbs. Over the following two weeks, other volunteers planted the remaining 1100 bulbs: more at the Marble Farm site, 250 parallel to the trail near the Cumberland Farms gas station, 250 at the intersection of Summer, Maple and Brook streets, and hundreds elsewhere adjacent to the Rail Trail.

SPRING 2019: First daffodil bloom was April 2, 2019. Over weeks, green sprouting leaves broke the soil's surface in ever-enlarging numbers, followed by flower buds and yellow flowers. A four-foot wide sign was painted to identify the connection to trailofflowers.com. It was installed at the Marble Farm historic site on April 13, 2019. By the end of April the earliest flowers were beginning to fade while the laggards were still emerging. Peak impact spanned April 28 through May 11.   

TRAIL OF FLOWERS: Surprisingly, the website trailofflowers.com was available (as was trailofflowers.org). Both were registered through GoDaddy. The .com website stays current with project activities whereas .org is being held in reserve in case this project ever becomes an official not-for-profit organization. The short-term goal is to add more bulbs, flowering annuals and flowering perennials to the borders of the Assabet River Rail Trail in Maynard, with Acton, Hudson and Marlborough to follow. Coordination may be possible through each town's garden clubs. Donations will be solicited from local businesses with a natural tie-in to flowers, gardening and landscaping. Additionally, people who have property abutting the trail will be asked to add flowering plantings to the bordering parts of their property.
Steps to cellar of Marble Farm
historic site, built circa 1705.

MARBLE FARM: A plaque erected adjacent to the Rail Trail explains the nature of this historic site of one of earlier homesteads settled in what would become Maynard. Historic maps show the property as the Marble, Whitney or Parmenter homestead, but the true history was the farm staying owned by one family for 220 years. The name changes reflect Sarah Marble marrying Daniel Whitney and their daughter Mary marrying Joel Parmenter. Through the years the farm was part of three different towns. Joseph Marble and his family moved from Andover, MA to 140 acres of what was then part of Sudbury in 1704. His son and neighbors petitioned to become part of Stow in 1730. Then in 1871, with the creation of Maynard, this property became the northern border of the new town. The two family, Georgian colonial style house in the photo burned to its foundation in 1924. What you see is the 28' x 32' foundation, with stone steps to the basement and the crumbled bases of two chimneys. 

Artemas Whitney (1815-1907), seen in the second photograph, was the sixth generation to live in the house. His parents were Daniel Whitney and Sarah Marble Whitney. With him are his daughter, Lucy Jane Whitney Case, his grandson Ralph Case, and his great-grandson Frank Case. The Case family owned W.B. Case & Sons, a large clothing and dry goods store on Nason Street. Artemas was in charge of construction of the Ben Smith Dam and the canal that conveyed water to the mill pond. He was one of the signers of the 1871 petition to create the Town of Maynard. Prior to that, all land north of the Assabet River was part of Stow, and south of the river part of Sudbury. The fast-growing community, centered around the woolen mill, had been known as Assabet Village. It is likely that Artemas constructed the stone walls at this site. 

Maynard walkers posing with the daffodil sculpture.
MAY 4, 2019: The day started with steady rain early in the morning, tapering off to showers that ended around 9 a.m. The temperature was in the low 50's. Turnout was smaller than expected, probably because of iffy weather. The group walked north on the Assabet River Rail Trail, passing the clusters of daffodils and tulips at the Summer/Maple/Brooks streets intersection and by Cumberland Farms gas station. At the Marble Farm site, people posed for a photo with the daffodil sculpture that had been created for the planting event the previous fall. Everyone snacked, and had coffee or apple cider. The sculpture was left on site, to be dismantled May 11th. The Trail OF Flowers sign will be removed at the same time.

FUTURE: Tentatively, there will be summer plantings of annuals and perennials at the Marble Farm site and elsewhere. followed by another bulb planting weekend in October. Currently, the intent is to add plantings in Acton and central- and south-side of Maynard.