Tuesday, December 29, 2020

No Soup for You

Ingredients - 1
In this pandemic time of no gathering, hope can be sustained by thinking of celebrations that will be restored once enough people have either survived infection with COVID-19 or been vaccinated. Think birthdays, graduations, holidays. Even funerals (there will still be funerals) will become, once again, time when people can congregate, reminisce, remember.  

New Year’s Eve celebrations will be missed this year. While there may be celebratory fireworks, First Night Boston and New York City’s famous illuminated ball drop, these events will be broadcast for viewing in the safety of home rather than being seen in person by tens of thousands of people. Think “Next year, next year, next year!”

New Year’s Day has its own celebratory traditions – things to do so as to bring good luck for the coming year. In Spain, one is supposed to eat twelve grapes at midnight of New Year’s Eve – one at each toll of the clock’s bell. In Japanese households, families eat long noodles at midnight, specifically “Toshikoshi Soba,” or “year-crossing noodle,” being careful to suck in the noodles intact versus biting them into pieces.  Elsewhere in Asia, ‘forward-moving’ foods such as fish are good luck on New Year’s Day, whereas backward moving (lobster, crayfish) and backward foot scratching (chicken, turkey) are to be avoided. Sauerkraut brings good luck in central Europe, lentils in Italy, herring in Scandinavia.

In the southeastern United States, people dine on black-eyed peas, collard greens and cornbread on New Year’s Day. Symbolically, there are ‘money’ foods, representing respectively coins, folding money and gold. Another southern New Year’s Day classic is red beans and rice with sausage. The thinking here is these are “poor people’s foods,” so by doing so you are destined to eat better the rest of the year.

From fall 1978 to fall 1980, we lived in Mobile, Alabama. Besides all-the-time hot and humid weather, and living through Hurricane Frederic, we were introduced to some deep south customs. One we brought north with us (New York City, then Oak Park, a Chicago suburb, now Maynard) was to start the New Year with friends, dining on beans and rice. In time, this evolved into a lot of friends, a lot of beans, and a lot of rice. And collard greens with black-eyed peas and salt pork. And ham. The beans became black bean soup, either with ham or vegetarian. The rice became New Orleans-style ‘dirty’ rice, with sausage or vegetarian. The ham became hams. “With friends” became inviting everyone we knew. Our event evolved into a New Year’s Day afternoon open house that sees 100+ people stopping by.

Daniel Mark, helping with New Year's Day cooking, Dec. 2005.
Three simple rules help make the event work: 1) Keep your shoes on; 2) Wear a name tag (helps us know who you are); and 3) Talk to people you don’t know. When we moved to Maynard, September 2000, there was some question as to whether the tradition was portable. The answer? Yes. Confirmed when mid-afternoon of our first Maynard open house, I asked Jeanne “How do we already know 50 people?” The tradition continued, so that January 1, 2020, was our 33rd annual New Year’s Day open house.

Sadly, New Year’s Day, 2021, we will do without. “No Soup for You.” [For those who lack the frame of reference, that was the catchphrase of a character who appeared in a 1995 episode of Seinfeld (a TV comedy).] There was some consideration toward making the soup, dividing it into quart containers, and inviting everyone to stop by to take some home, perhaps from a no-social-contact table by the front steps, but this grew logistically complex. Instead, Next year, next year, next year!!!

Mark thinks that any soup recipe that starts with a quart of olive oil, five pounds of onions, two heads of garlic, four large cans of diced tomatoes, eight pounds of dried black beans and a nine-pound ham cannot go wrong. Or the vegetarian version, with parsnips, celery, mushrooms, etc.  

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Time Capsules from Centennial (1971)

The 100th anniversary of the creation of Maynard was marked by many celebratory events, including the creation of a wooden box – a “time capsule” – kept at Town Hall, in recent years on display in the glass-fronted case in the upstairs hallway. This one was intended to have been opened with great fanfare on April 19, 2020. The COVID pandemic cancelled the planned celebration. To be rescheduled.

Time capsule box a Town Hall.
Centennial Belles and Brothers
of the Brush put stuff inside.
As to the history of the box and what is inside, a newspaper article in a scrap book created by the Maynard Historical Society provides all the details. The box was constructed by Worsley Fardy, Manual Arts teacher at the high school. On November 29, 1972, records and histories and memorabilia of the Centennial Belles and Brothers of the Brush were placed in the box, as were cards filled out be more than 300 children, writing their names and which school they attended. The Belles and Brothers were groups that had organized many of the centennial’s celebratory events, including an all-you-can-drink beer bash (tickets, $2.50), and an inner tube race on the Assabet River.    

That was not Maynard’s only time capsule. Fowler Junior High School decided to create its own memory- and memorabilia-capturing reliquary by asking students to contribute items they thought would be representative of their time, fifty years later. The event was organized by Social Studies teacher Doug Miller. Ellen Duggan, life-long Maynard resident, active with the Maynard Historical Commission and the Sesquicentennial Steering Committee, located a fragment of a newspaper article from 1971 with a description. It has the last part of the list of what 75 students brought: “…72. Watch band, 73. Paint brushes, 74. Tooth paste. 75. Camera.”

The newspaper item ended with: “The above articles were placed in a plastic time capsule and sealed air tight. It was buried on June 22, 1971, in front of the Jr. High School next to the flag pole. The capsule is to be dug up fifty (50) years from the above date.”

In an event exemplifying the spirit of ONLY IN MAYNARD (see column about that topic at maynardlifeoutdoors.com, February 2020), a decision was made to dig up the capsule on Friday, December 11, 2020, i.e., six months and 11 days before the scheduled date. A modest gathering of observers met on the ArtSpace lawn. The man with the shovel was Bill Goddard, who as he put it, “I’m the one who dug the hole back in 1971.” Also present and assisting were Rick Lalli and Ron Melanson, classmates from 1971.

The effort to unearth the time capsule came to naught. Bill remembered it has having been buried about a foot below the surface, in front of the flagpole, meaning the side away from the building. The hole, enlarged and enlarged, did confirm one thing – that the present-day flagpole is not on the exact location of the original flagpole, but rather about 18 inches closer to the building. The dig did find the base of the original flagpole but nothing else.

Doug Miller (left) with Rick Lalli, Bill Goddard
and Ron Melanson (time capsule seekers)
The next step was to ask if anyone else had a different idea as to the location of the buried treasure. Doug Miller – THE TEACHER – was called, arrived, and was of the opinion that the site was halfway between the flagpole (the original) and the sidewalk to the east entrance to the building. A smaller hole dug there failed to unearth the capsule. Doug was, however, able to provide a more detailed description of what was buried, to wit, a plastic garbage can with a lid, painted white and black to resemble a space rocket, and sealed ‘air tight’ by having it inside a plastic bag. Given plastic container and depth, no value it trying to find it with a metal detector.

There was some thought that either the Town or the school administration had a record about the exact site of the 1971 interment. Queries sent. Meanwhile, Bob Cutaia, another student at the time, who had not been able to be present for Friday’s event, voiced a strong opinion that the capsule had been buried BEHIND the flag pole, as in between the flag pole and the building. If close behind, that would put it under the concrete slab that anchors the present-day flagpole. If more toward the building, then perhaps this will all end with a successful recovery of the collection of items the student donated back in 1971.

Update: A second attempt to unearth the time capsule before the big snowstorm failed.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Draining the Mill Pond

People walking across the drained frozen mill pond 1916-17.
Trestle and flume visible, left; St. Bridget's spire, right.
One wonders what is on the bottom of the mill pond. No one is allowed to swim in it, or boat on it, so people who own a diver’s face mask, or have the ability to look over the side of a boat on a calm day, cannot fathom what lies on the bottom.

What we do know is that the mill pond is not a ‘kettle pond.’ The most famous kettle pond in Massachusetts is Walden Pond, 65 acres in area and more than 100 feet deep at its deepest. Kettle ponds closer to Maynard, not famous and not as deep, include White Pond (Concord), Crystal Lake, Sudbury (old name “Bottomless Pond”), and possibly White Pond (Hudson), for which Maynard owns water rights, and until 1999, sourced some of its tap water from there.

Toward the end of the last ice age, when the glaciers of ice as much as two miles thick were melting in place there were many instances in which large (LARGE!) blocks of ice remained as a remnant while the ice surrounding it melted, leaving an ice ‘island’ separate from the face of the glacier. As the glacier melted, meltwater would carry sand- and gravel-sized particles to settle around the ice blocks. On occasion, meltwater lakes were contained behind an ice dam, the sudden failure of which would release a vigorous flood of water that would move sizeable rocks.  When the remnant ice blocks finally melted, what remained were open depressions surrounded by deep layers of sand and gravel and rocks. Wherever the groundwater table is high enough, these kettles become permanent ponds, replenished by rain falling on the surrounding sandy plain. Walden Pond has no surface streams flowing into it, nor an exit stream leaving it, yet it persists, with a surface level that averages 158 feet above sea level. It rises or drops several feet above or below that based on previous years’ rainfall and snowmelt.

Maynard’s mill pond and its water level are artifacts of the mill’s construction and management. When Amory Maynard and William Knight came looking for a site for a woolen mill in 1846, they each had mill ownership in the past. They deeply understood water power. Key to the attractiveness of Assabet Village as a potential mill site was the fact that at Rockbottom (not yet renamed Gleasondale), the site of the nearest existing dam upstream, was more than four miles away, so that if they could figure a means to dam the Assabet River to their advantage, they could back up a large enough volume of water for year-round operation without interfering with the operation of the Rockbottom dam.

Where the mill pond is now was originally a swamp; by building a large dam upstream from where there had been a modest dam at Mill Street, and also constructing a canal to where the first mill building was built, they were able to flood the swamp. Lost to unrecorded history (?) is whether a dike or other construction was needed to prevent the newly elevated body of water from finding a route to the river that was not through the mill’s waterwheel. The net result was getting the equivalent of 50 horsepower of ‘free’ power, six days a week, 52 weeks a year. This was enough initially, but by 1862, coal-fired steam engines began to augment, and then finally replace, water power.

Wait, wait, where were we? Considering draining the pond. Which is exactly what was done in 1916-17, when what is now numbered as building #3 was being built. A temporary dam was erected near the Sudbury Road bridge. A wooden pipe, a “flume,” resting on a wooden trestle, conveyed water to the mill for washing the raw wool, providing water for the steam engines, and washing wool again after it was dyed. There are photographs in the collection of the Maynard Historical Society showing the pond drained. In winter, people walked across the ice- and snow-covered bottom. From the photos, an estimate can be made that the refilled pond is no more than 30 feet deep at its deepest.

Trestle visible in 1977 when the mill pond was
partially drained for building repair (photos
courtesy of Maynard Historical Society) 
When construction was completed in 1918 the temporary dam and flume were removed, but the trestle was left in place, partially submerged, in case there was a future need to drain the pond again. In 1977, the pond was partially drained to allow for building repairs. The trestle top was visible and still looking in good shape. At present, the tops of a few remaining wooden piles can be seen breaking the water’s surface when viewed from between buildings #3 and #5. Without knowledge of the original intent, many people assume that these are the remnants of a railroad trestle. Most of the time, the pond’s water level is maintained within a small range.

Could, should, the pond be drained again? There is no real reason to. There is little sediment build-up, because most of the silt carried by the Assabet Rive to the body of water retained by the Ben Smith Dam settles miles upstream from the canal. One hundred years ago, people swam in the pond or skated on the ice. According to town records, some died doing so, but the bottom of the pond is not strewn with bodies. There are rumors that desktop computers and other equipment were defenestrated when Digital Equipment Corporation abandoned the buildings. This has not been confirmed. Unlike the river, the pond was never a dumping place for old tires. Draining it would surely reveal bottles and cans, but nothing that is impacting the quality of the water.

Remnants of trestle (2001)
The pond does not stagnate because it is managed; during times of high river flow, fresh water is allowed in through the canal gatehouse (visible from the Route 117 bridge) and let out via the old mill works tail race, visible from Walnut Street. The water level can drop during summer droughts because no water is allowed to be diverted into the pond when the river flow drops below 39 cubic feet per second. There was a problem the summer of 2017 when the pond would repeatedly fill to almost overflowing into the Main Street parking lot even though the canal gate was closed. Turns out a sunken log had prevented the gate from being completely closed. Scuba divers were hired to remedy the problem.   

Mark envisions an annual kayak day sponsored by Mill & Main, perhaps with a launch fee going to a local charity.  

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Irish Emigration Driven by Famine

The first wave of Irish immigrants to the New England colonies were Ulster-area Presbyterians fleeing religious discrimination during 1715 to 1750, many of them Scottish-Irish who had previously relocated from Scotland to Northern Ireland for the same reason. Modest emigration was also sparked by the Irish Famine of 1740-41, which, combining severe cold and drought, killed an estimated 13-20 percent of the population. It was referred to as “Bliain an Air,” meaning the Year of Slaughter. During this era and until around 1790, strict Anti-Catholic Laws actually prevented the immigration of Catholics to America. A later famine, 1816, “The Year Without a Summer” (consequence of a super-volcano eruption in the Pacific), again spiked emigration from Ireland, this time both Protestant and Catholic.

Throughout the first half of the 1800s, the population of Ireland was increasing rapidly, from an estimated five million in 1800 to over eight million by 1845. This, despite a constant emigration to England and North America. The latter was more to Canada than the U.S., initially as seasonal labor for the cod fishing industry, but as time went on, permanent.  Even today, Newfoundland is oft-described as “the most Irish place outside of Ireland.”   

And then, the Potato Famine of 1845-1849. Over decades, good land in Ireland had become dedicated to raising cattle for shipment to beef-eating England. Tenant farmers ended up on small acreage, poor-soil farms on which the only crop that could have yields large enough to support families was potatoes. When the fungal blight hit, Ireland starved. A million people, died from starvation and diseases such as cholera, dysentery, scurvy and typhus, even though throughout the interval, beef, ham, mutton, butter and other foodstuffs continued to be shipped to England. In fact, some of the corn and wheat shipped to Ireland was being fed to livestock rather than the relief of human starvation. Earlier famines had been alleviated by banning the export of any foodstuffs, but not this time. Bitterness among the Irish, toward the English, lasted for generations.

One million Catholic Irish left for the United States and Canada. Many died in transit. Sailing ships departing Ireland were overcrowded, food was in short supply, and many of those boarding ship were already weak from starvation and ill from disease. These sail-powered crossings took 40-80 days. The term “coffin ships” became a common pejorative, as an estimated 30 percent died on board – bodies tossed overboard – or died soon after making shore. This was a higher percentage than were dying on slave-carrying ships traveling from Africa to the Americas (slaves had sale value, Irish, none).

For those who survived the crossing, much of the migration was of young women heading toward jobs in factories or as house servants, and of young men heading toward factories or construction jobs, the latter primarily building canals and railroads. One account estimated that between 1820 and 1860 the Irish accounted for one-third of all immigrants to the United States. Once situated, these women and men sent money home to bring over relatives, ensuring a flow of immigration well past the end of the century. Roughly one in five people living in Massachusetts claims Irish ancestry. Worldwide, the Irish Diaspora means that more than ten times as many people claim Irish ancestry as the five million who live in Ireland today.

Locally, with the creation of the woolen mill operation in 1846 by Willian Knight and Amory Maynard, there were new jobs for English, Scottish and Irish immigrants. By 1850, the population of Irish Catholics had surpassed 50; a priest travelled from Saxonville (Framingham) or Marlborough twice a year to conduct Mass. By 1857 the Irish Catholic population was large enough that it was necessary to rent a hall for monthly-held Mass. In 1865, St. Bridget’s Church was built at the site now occupied by Maynard’s police station. The Assabet Manufacturing Company (the woolen mill) donated the land and $500 toward construction. The cemetery was dedicated in 1869. Rev. M. O’Reilly became the first resident pastor in 1871. The cornerstone was laid for a new, larger church on Sudbury street in 1881, construction completed and the present-day St. Bridget’s Church dedicated in 1884 by Archbishop Williams.

Maynard's Ladies Auxiliary of the Ancient Order of Hibernians
In some places – apparently not so much Maynard – the Irish faced prejudice because of their Catholic faith. The political American Party, members called “Know-Nothings,” stood by a slogan “Americans must rule America!” Their belief that the United States was a Protestant country under threat by the influx of a Roman Catholic population loyal to the Pope and incompatible with American values, has echoes in today’s anti-Muslim prejudice. Newspaper advertisements read “Help wanted – No Irish Need Apply.” The American Party dominated Massachusetts politics throughout the 1850s. Naturalized citizens were barred from voting unless they had spent 21 years in the United States, and the King James Bible was mandatory daily reading in public schools.

Prejudice faded slowly. Not until John Kennedy’ election in 1960 did a Catholic become President, and even he, in a pre-election speech, felt obligated to say “I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party's candidate for president, who happens also to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me.” 

Thursday, December 3, 2020

This Old Knife (and Fork)

Back in September 2011, a column was titled “This Old Spoon.” It started as a riff on looking as brandmarks on some family keepsake spoons in the kitchen odds and ends drawer, then segued to not particularly valuable collectables, such as Indian clubs or ice tongs. The column has been reposted to www.maynardlifeoutdoors.com.

The spark for this week’s column was Thanksgiving, a bird to carve (Cornish game hen for two rather than the traditional turkey for ten), and a close look at a carving knife and fork that have been in the family’s possession since 1961. And not new then, but rather a kitchen drawer find in a purchased Pennsylvania summer cottage. Viewed through a magnifying glass, the knife’s brandmark reads “LAMSON Stainless Steel, Made in USA.” The mark includes an oval with the company’s symbol – a ship’s anchor entwined in rope.   

Silas Lamson, holding scythe handle
The company’s origin dates to 1834, when Silas Lamson (1778-1855) devised a way to mass-produce curved snaths [wooden handles] that greatly improved the ergonomic efficiency of scythes used to harvest hay and wheat. Three years later he partnered with two of his sons, Nathanial and Ebenezer, and his wife’s nephew, Abel Goodnow, to start the manufacturing firm of Lamson and Goodnow, in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts. They hired skilled metalworkers from cutlery centers in Sheffield, England and Solingen, Germany, and began manufacturing high quality agricultural implements, general-purpose knives and kitchenware, later adding fine tableware to their offerings. Silas died in 1855. Ebenezer had succeeded him as president of the company years earlier.

By the time of the Civil War the company had become one of the largest cutlery manufacturers in the country, employing more than 500 workers to meet demand for its products. The company’s annual purchases exceeded 200 tons of steel. Its catalogs depicted a vast variety of items with ivory, horn, bone or exotic wood handles. In 1869, a dinner set of 62 pieces was gifted to President Ulysses S. Grant, with half of the pieces set in mother-of-pearl handles and half in ivory.

During the post-war westward expansion, L&G knives went to fur trappers, buffalo hide skinners, sheep farmers, cattle ranchers, cowboys and the U.S. Calvary. The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs bought thousands and thousands of blades for treaty reparations to western tribes. If someone were to ask what the most common knife found in the hands of a Plains Indian warrior would have been, odds were very high that it was from Lamson & Goodnow.

Lamson logo, 2020
Good times did not last forever. Historical records suggest that by 1890 the Lamson and Goodnow families were no longer involved in the management of the company. No information could be found as to their continuation of ownership. Toward the middle to end of the twentieth century, manufacturing jobs of all sorts fled New England. Competition for high-end kitchen knife manufacture continued to come from Germany and then also from Japan, tableware competition from Korea and China. Lamson filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2014. A year later, the firm was bought by Longmeadow Capital. The original 18-acre factory complex on the Deerfield River was sold. Production of kitchenware was moved to Westfield, MA. The company (www.lamson.com) retains a factory outlet store in Shelburne Falls.

Lamson antler-handle carving set. Click to enlarge
Our carving set remains undated. An email query to Lamson yielded a quick but not-helpful reply. The company could not even identify when the brandmark changed from Lamson & Goodnow to just Lamson. Perhaps, what with the bankruptcy and relocation much in the way of historical archives were lost. Similar – but not identical – antler-handled sets can be found on Ebay for under $60, so our piece of history does not have a high monetary value. However, its nostalgic value insures it will be passed to the next generation.

There is history, and there is history. Researching “Lamson” as a business unearthed the information incorporated into the text above. But researching “Silas Lamson” as a person yielded an entirely different take on the backstory. Silas “became known as an eccentric for his religious beliefs and personal appearance.” That is an understatement. He was an avid abolitionist and anti-Adventist. He cultivated a long white beard, took to wearing only white clothes, at times white robes, and was passionate to communicate his "firmness of purpose to unveil and ridicule all that he deemed ridiculous in law, custom and religion," preaching his beliefs wherever he could. He often brought a scythe with him when he spoke, causing concern amongst those charged with escorting him away from the podium so that others could speak.  

Silas did not approve of government oversight. He was routinely placed in jail for failing to pay his tithes, and finally, due to his constant preaching, was condemned to the Worchester Lunatic Asylum for several years, until a court decision proclaimed his incarceration as a lunatic was illegal. Released (he said “The angels let him out.”), Silas continued sharing his beliefs with others at every opportunity. Meanwhile, his son Ebenezer, who was only 23 years old when the knife company was founded in 1837, charted its course to its phenomenal success. 

This Old Spoon

New England is rife with old stuff. Stuff was brought here. Stuff was made here. Paul Revere was an accomplished silversmith before becoming a Revolutionary War action figure.

Kitchens are a good place to start an antiques search. Sift past the Ikea merchandise to the tarnished and worn serving spoons. A magnifying glass should make it possible to read makers’ marks on the handles. Our drawer turned up a silver-plated serving spoon with a floral magnolia and daisy pattern up the handle. On the underside is “1847 ROGER BROS AL.” Did this mean the spoon was manufactured in 1847!!? As it turns out, Roger Bros was and still is a well-known manufacturer of flatware. The date in the brand is not date of manufacture, but rather the year Roger Bros invented and patented the process of electro-silverplating flatware. Further research found that the letters at the end of the logo changed from “AL” to “IS” in 1897, so the spoon in question is probably not from 1847, but is at least 114 years old. Valuable? Not so much..

Indian clubs, ranging from 1 to 7 pounds

Attics can be a virtual time machine. With any luck, you might turn up a pair of Indian clubs. To our twenty-first century eyes these all-wood items make us think of juggling clubs or stretched-out bowling pins. But Indian clubs were actually very popular exercise apparatus over one hundred years ago. Men, women and school children used these back in the late eighteen and early nineteen hundreds. Brand names included Spaulding and Wilson. A pair of clubs, weighing anywhere from one to seven pounds per club, was held one in each hand and waved about in carefully choreographed routines. Imagine a gym’s spin class, but instead of stationary bikes, the leaders and followers are vigorously swinging wooden clubs. Ouch! Ebay auctions find these selling at $30 to $100 per pair. A book, Indian Clubs, by Alice Hoffman, has great pictures.

Garages are also repositories of old. That hand saw, child’s sled, hay fork – how old? The refrigerator era did not start in earnest until after World War II. Prior to that, blocks of ice were cut, stored, shipped and delivered to homes. Ice tongs, blacksmiths’ work, ranged in size from two-handed monsters down to delicate one-handed devices. On-line prices range from $10 to $60.

Obviously, old is not always synonymous with valuable. Sometimes it is just old.  The website www.worthopedia .com is a useful resource, as is Ebay. Learning an item’s history will make it more interesting, regardless. And who knows? Maybe the Indian clubs you find will be imprinted with “S. Kehoe, Maker, New York.” Maybe the bottom of that tarnished silver cup will reveal “Revere.”

Friday, November 6, 2020

MAYNARD MASSACHUSETTS (the new history book)

Front cover of the book shows the iconic 
clock tower, built in 1892 by Lorenzo
Maynard. Top photo is of the 50 year
parade, 1921. Also shows clock tower
 MAYNARD MASSACHUSETTS: A BRIEF HISTORY is the title of the newest history book about Maynard. As we approach the 150th anniversary of the creation of the town in 1871, this book does not replace the fifty-year history book by W.H. Gutteridge, nor the centennial history “History of Maynard, Massachusetts, 1871–1971.” Rather, it sets the table with chapters summarizing the history of the first one hundred years and then plunges into in-depth content about what has happened in the following fifty years, plus a crystal ball peek at what might happen in the next fifty. Together, the 50,000 words of text and 90 images provide a frame of reference for the people of Maynard to understand where we are now and how we got here.

Maynard is different from neighboring towns in several ways—it is smaller in area, and its founding as a named town came one to two centuries later compared to Concord, Sudbury, Stow and Acton. From the beginning, it was part of the Industrial Revolution, whereas its neighbors were colonial-era farm towns. The very creation of Maynard came about because its population growth took place at the border between Sudbury and Stow and, thus, quite far from the churches and schools and businesses at the centers of those towns.

The book is divided into ten chapters: 1) Becoming Maynard, 2) Meet the Maynard Family, 3)  1871-1921: First Fifty Years, 4) A River and a Railroad, 5) 1921-1971: Second Fifty Years, 6) Downtown, 7) Maynard Booms and Busts, 8) Digital Equipment Corporation, 9) 1971-2021: Third Fifty Years, and 10) 2021- Future: Next Fifty Years. Each chapter is divided into subsections on topics as diverse as the great land eviction of World War II, to the history of Maynard’s eight co-operative societies.

The book is a production of the Sesquicentennial Steering Committee, a group established in September 2017 to plan for and manage celebrations of the 150th anniversary of the creation of Maynard, April 19, 1871. As of November 2020, committee members are: Molly Bergin, Lisa Dahill, Charles Caragianes, Paula Copley, Ellen Duggan, Dave Griffin, Donald James, David Mark, Lindsay McConchie and Jen Picorelli. In 2020, the Committee oversaw production of T-shirts and sweatshirts, mugs, anniversary flags and face masks (!) to sell as souvenirs. This book joins those efforts as means of raising money to pay for the celebration events planned for 2021. While the COVID pandemic put some of the scheduled events on hold, the hope is that as the calendar gets deep in 2021 events such as a parade, concert, etc. can be held.

The book is a perfect gift to self or gift to family members and friends who have moved away, yet may relish this description of the place they once knew as home. Available at 6 Bridges Gallery, at its temporary location at 63 Nason Street (corner of Nason and Summer).

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

A Circus of Chipmunks

A "circus of chipmunks" proposed as a venery term
To anyone spending any time outside, this has been the year of the chipmunk. Yards and gardens are punctuated by holes about the size of a silver dollar. Under bird feeders, along the Rail Trail, these striped critters are always scurrying, scurrying, scurrying. The name “chipmunk” is derived from Native American “jidmoonh,” from the Odawa tribes that lived in the Great Lakes region. The Anglicized “chip” refers to the high-pitched “chip-chip-chip” alarm call made when a possible predator (fox, cat, dog, human) is seen.  

Chipmunks are rodents, albeit cuter than rats. Within the species family Sciuridae (squirrel) there is a division between tree squirrels and ground squirrels, the latter including not just chipmunks but also prairie dogs and groundhogs. Massachusetts is host to the Eastern chipmunk. Out west there are 23 chipmunk species – all not to different visually from the Eastern – but genetically different enough to not interbreed. There is one more species, the Siberian chipmunk, in northeast Asia, which has become an invasive species in western Europe via escapees from the pet trade. There is a strong resemblance across all of the species: brown, striped, furry tail and cheek pouches in which to stash food so that it can be brought back to the nest.

Eat and be eaten: Chipmunks are omnivorous. Their diet is primarily seeds, nuts, berries, fruits and the tender plant shoots and buds, but also insects, worms and the occasional bird egg. Same for squirrels. Chipmunks can be garden pests and wreak havoc on bulb plantings. Unlike squirrels, which scatter-bury acorns for digging up later, chipmunks bring nuts and seeds back to their nests. There, along the 10-20 feet of tunneling, they will have a larder of food set aside for winter consumption. The burrows extend below the frost line.

Chipmunks utilize an intermittent hibernating state. From a body temperature close to 100F degrees and a heart rate of 200-300 beats per minute, body temperature approaches 40F degrees and heart rate to 10 bpm. Every few days the chipmunks rewarm to normal temperature, become active, eat, and then cool down again. The net effect is less food needed to survive winter, and for the females, more body fat reserves for a successful spring pregnancy.

As to what eats chipmunks, think hawks, feral and pet cats, weasels, foxes, coyotes, snakes… As chipmunks’ diurnal lifestyle can extend to near-dawn and -dusk hours, they can also fall prey to owls. Great blue herons have been known to stalk near bird feeders for the foraging chipmunk, oft times dipping the struggling animal into a birdbath or other water before swallowing it whole.

As to why this was the year of the chipmunk, last year was the year of the acorn. Last year’s abundance of food carried over into this year, allowing for larger litters and better survival from the spring and summer pregnancies. The young, who at birth are hairless, blind and about the size of a small bumblebee, emerge from the burrow after about six weeks and strike out on their own two weeks later. With the exception of mating, chipmunks leave solitary lives; males have no part in raising infants. In normal times, population density is roughly 1-2 per acre. In good years, this can increase five-fold.

The abundance of acorns in 2019 occurred because oaks do not produce the same yield every year. Evolution research posits that a same-sized crop every year will support stable populations of acorn eaters, which includes chipmunks, squirrels, woodchucks, skunks, turkeys and deer. By producing a large crop every other or third year, populations of seed-eaters are curtailed, and a greater portion of seeds will remain uneaten in good years. The key to this strategy is coordination—it works only if trees of the same species do it at the same time. How tree species coordinate is still somewhat of a mystery, but this synchronicity is probably aided by some combination of chemical signals passed through the air or through underground root/fungal connections. Regardless, this year’s chipmunk (and squirrel) population explosions were newsworthy across New England.

We say a “pride of lions, gaggle of geese, school of fish,” but why? As it turns out, social standing among Medieval European nobility required that men knew their venery – the proper naming of groups of animals – else be taken for crass and uneducated. Collections of these “terms of venery” culminated in a master list compiled in The Book of St. Albans, in 1486. Thus, we have a “colony of ants, a pack of wolves, a murder of crows,” and so on. A group of squirrels is a scurry. Sadly, a group of chipmunks is also a scurry, which lacks the alliterative appeal of a “scurry of squirrels.” Chipmunks are not native to Europe, which perhaps explains the lack of a better venery term.


Tuesday, October 27, 2020

White Pond as Water Supply

For more than 100 years, Maynard sourced water from White Pond, which is located on the Stow/Hudson border, south of Lake Boon. Water was chlorine-treated pond-side, then piped about three miles to a pumphouse located on Winter Street – now part of the Department of Public Works facility – from which it was pumped into an open-topped tank atop Summer Hill, the highest point in Maynard. Addition of well-sourced water to the supply started in 1963. The town switched to getting all of its water from wells in 1999 after federal water treatment standards for surface water sourcing were made more rigorous. Maynard is considering reviving White Pond as a water supply. A 2019 report estimated the cost of building a water treatment plant and installing miles of new pipe at about $30 million dollars. (A 2011 report to the town had estimated the cost as half of that.)

Two water tanks atop Summer Hill. The original,
1888 tank (left) since capped. Courtesy Maynard
Historical Society. Click to enlarge.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts approved Act Number 407 on May 25, 1888 to provide Maynard with water from White Pond. The Act included a right to construct and maintain a pipeline across the intervening land in Stow. The Act concluded with a section specifying that an 1880 Act authorizing White Pond water rights to the Town of Marlborough was by this Act repealed.

Maynard, population 2,500, approved construction of a water system in 1888. It became operative in 1889 with just over 7,500 feet of iron pipe and 57 fire hydrants. Subsequent annual reports mention pipe and hydrants being added as the town grew. The pipe from White Pond to Maynard was replaced in 1942. A multi-year drought in the 1960s forced Maynard to start adding wells to the system. Currently, Maynard has seven wells that deliver acceptable quantities and qualities of water (albeit with demineralization facilities to remove water-discoloring iron and manganese). These include clusters of deep, bedrock wells on the north side of town, operative as of 2000, and shallow, aquifer wells on the southeast side. Collectively, the wells can achieve Maynard’s allowable usage of 1.09 million gallons per day (gpd), which is well above average daily demand, or even seasonal maximal demand.

So, what’s the problem? Lack of redundancy. If a major well fails, or a water treatment plant needs more than the usual maintenance, Maynard does not have reserve capacity. Running the remaining wells at full speed would pull lower quality water into the system, thereby increasing wear-and-tear on the treatment plants. Very short-term, keeping the two water tanks atop Summer Hill full helps. The every-year, Level 1 restriction on daytime yard watering from May through September slows daytime demand while allowing the tanks to be topped at night as a buffer for the next day.

Maynard also needs to work on its leakage problem. Old pipes leak, and at times, break. Lost water is estimated by what is being produced minus what is measured (and paid for) at water meters. Over the past ten years, loss has decreased from more than 20 percent to less than 15 percent, but the state calls for municipalities to be under 10 percent. More upgrading is needed.

Why not just dig more wells? Because through the years, Maynard drilled more than 200 test wells to get to the current seven working wells. Adding new wells, even at the most promising untapped sites, may not be cost effective. As Maynard’s population and water demand gradually increase, there will be a time for serious consideration to reactivating White Pond. The pond could in theory provide 0.72 million gallons per day.       

Water in, water out? Whereas the Town of Maynard began operating a water system in 1888, efforts to create a town-wide sewer system did not reach fruition until forty years later. An exception was the construction of Presidential Village by the American Woolen Company in 1902-03, as the first part of town to be connected to a sewer system. Wastewater was pumped to a wastewater facility in an area now owned by the Rod and Gun Club. For the rest of the town, wastewater went to cesspools or septic tanks with leach fields. Inadequate and failed systems meant near-raw sewage chronically seeping into the Assabet River.

The wastewater treatment 
facility is owned by Maynard
but operated by VEOLIA.  
In 1909, the State Board of Health ordered the woolen mill to stop polluting the river, but did not address residential wastewater. In 1914-15 the town came up with a plan, approved by the state, but World War I interfered with implementation. Finally, in 1929, a wastewater treatment plant was constructed at the Maynard:Acton border. Over years, more and more of Maynard was connected. Still, ten years later, only 812 homes were hooked up, and the plant was processing an average of only 181,200 gallons per day. By 1961 the town was providing 650,000 gpd of clean water and sending 500,000 gpd of wastewater to the Maynard Wastewater Treatment Facility. Today, the facility is designed to treat an average of 1.45 million gpd, with the discharge meeting the government’s standards for clean water. Despite a large reserve treatment capacity, Maynard has in the past declined proposals from Stow and Acton to accept payment for piping their poop to its plant.

What was being processed 60 years ago was below today’s standards, so discharged phosphorus and nitrogen caused algae blooms and decaying vegetation. The stretch of river backed up by the Powder Mill Dam was described in a 1982 book as “…the river smell is nauseating, reeking like an unpumped-out campground outhouse times ten.” While discharges are much improved, phosphorus and nitrogen in the sediments impounded upstream of the dams (Ben Smith and Powder Mill) still promote algae and duckweed growth, albeit less than in the past.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

METAL-ITY = Metal Menagerie

METAL-ITY, accent on the second syllable (think mor-TAL-i-ty), is an outdoor sculpture show at Artspace (63 Summer Street, Maynard, MA) that had its debut on September 19 of this year and will run to October 21 of 2021. The exhibition encompasses close to 100 metal-themed works of art from across New England. The show has received good publicity, so viewers are coming to Maynard from the greater Boston area and MetroWest.  

Use of the Artspace outdoor venue began in 2016 at the behest of then executive director Linda Spear. Artist/tenants formed a Grounds Art Committee. Each year, the committee conducted a juried selection of sculpture proposals submitted by Massachusetts artists. Entries were due in March, work installed in April and shows lasted through October. During the summer of 2019, about thirty works were on display. For 2020, Executive Director Jerry Beck, who came aboard in fall 2019, envisioned a metal-themed show that would include artists from all walks of life.

METAL-ITY sculpture
From the Artspace description of the exhibit: “METAL-ITY is intended to create a bridge between the past, present and future: from Maynard’s mill town history forged during the Industrial Revolution, to its current role as a growing cultural district, to its future as a progressive center for creative revolution, sparking a renaissance of cultural vitality and economic growth. METAL- ITY will feature the interplay between art and nature while offering bountiful opportunities for learning, while engaging in limitless art and community celebration.” Which means – I think – a lot of metal, some of it in various rust tones and some of it very shiny.

METAL-ITY sculpture. Click to enlarge
Curated mostly via word of mouth, Beck traveled throughout New England engaging with well-established sculptors, self-taught artists, high school students and Maynard residents. Names of many of the artists and descriptions of their work: https://www.artspacemaynard.com/metal-ity/ 

From the Artspace description: “One of the highlights of the exhibition is the exceptional artwork of welding-course students from Assabet Valley Vocational High School, Marlborough, MA. The students created a surrealistic gateway of steel sculptures that showcases their immensity of talents, skills, technical virtuosity, and personal imagery. Their work includes musical instruments, spider webs, vehicles of travel, medieval iconography and strange plumbing devices.”

Some of the sculptures are animal figures. Driving north on Florida Road, one comes face to face with a gigantic frog. Wandering west, among the many sculptures, there is a horse feeding, a horse rearing, and an owl with outstretched wings. Elsewhere, a spider. Out back, bee sculptures complement the Honeybee Meadow.

Signage from "Where Do We Go From Here?"
Interspersed amongst the metalworks are fanciful wooden signposts, the fruit of the “Where Do We Go From Here?” project. People were asked to take home blank planks and paint messages and locations – real and imaginary – that reflected how they were feeling about the future in this pandemic time. Over 100 people of all ages returned signage with words and/or images.

Also gracing the Artspace lawn is Maynard’s only public labyrinth. In 2007, at the direction and supervision of artist and landscape architect Lisa Bailey, volunteers cut the pattern out of the sod, laid down a layer of stone dust and then installed more than five hundred rough-hewn granite blocks to create a seven-ringed labyrinth, thirty feet across. After many years of entertaining both children and adults, many of the stones have sunk into the lawn. METAL-ITY sculptures are atop the subterranean stones. A resurrection is planned for fall of 2021. The process will involve sequentially unearthing some 500+ granite blocks that each weight 10-20 pounds, putting a couple of inches of stone dust under each stone, then returning each stone to its original location. Between one and two tons of stone dust will be required. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2020


 Nearly 20 years ago it was possible to buy ONLY IN MAYNARD bumper stickers, T-shirts and sweatshirts at local stores and at Maynard Fest. The lettering was orange against a black background - Maynard's school colors. Then, for a while, the sole remnant of this endeavor was bumper stickers for sale at Russell's convenience store, next to Town Hall.

Bumper sticker
The bumper stickers had TM superscripted above the end of ONLY IN MAYNARD, signifying that an application had been filed for a trademark in 2003. This was a Massachusetts-only trademark. It lapsed, but a new Massachusetts trademark was issued in 2017 to a new holder. As of 2020 there are ONLY IN MAYNARD bumper stickers and T-shirts, offered for sale at various venues and events, with profits channeled to non-profit organizations located in Maynard.

ONLY IN MAYNARD coffee mugs for sale at
various locations in Maynard, MA

In addition, an agreement was reached with the trademark holder that the slogan could be affixed to coffee mugs. The mugs, black exterior, orange interior, the slogan in orange on the outside, are for sale at The Outdoor Store, Serendipity, Boston Bean House, Sugar Snap and other locations. All profits are channeled to an effort to beautify the Assabet River Rail Trail with flowering spring bulbs, summer-blooming perennials and flowering shrubs and trees. This “Trail of Flowers” effort, initiated in 2018, has resulted in the planting of thousands of daffodils, plus hundreds of tulips, daylilies, irises and other plants in Maynard and Acton, with plans to extend the plantings to the south section of trail in Hudson and Marlborough. See www.trailofflowers.com for program description and photos.

A bit of history: In the original form and subsequent incarnations, the words on ONLY IN MAYNARD products were deliberately printed so that the right side was noticeably higher than the left. Best guess is the wording was askew to convey that negative, rueful pride that only in Maynard could things (town things, school things, people things...) be so humorously incompetent or fouled up.

To counter the prevailing negative impression, a group of civic-minded citizens approached the Beacon-Villager newspaper back in 2005, to see if they could take turns writing a pro-Maynard column featuring the friendly and welcoming nature of this unique small town. The column lasted only a few months. An echo of that positive intent was conveyed in a 2008 article in the Beacon-Villager that read in part "A clever slogan, coined some few years ago, continues to describe our singular uniqueness, our melting pot citizenry and our basic values for the 'good life.' That slogan, ‘Only in Maynard,’ sets up the town as a special place where very special people do distinctive and exceptional things. This is especially true in the art of song and music as developed in our town."

An informal survey of people about town yielded both the negative and positive connotations, and also a third meaning - the concept of specialness. Only in Maynard can you see Santa Claus arriving by helicopter for the Christmas parade. Only in Maynard can you still find a local movie theater. Only in Maynard are the bars close enough together to have a pub crawl that might involve actual crawling (or at least walking) rather than driving.  

So, after all this debate, what does "Only in Maynard" really mean today? Whether it is only in this small town are people so warm, friendly and welcoming, or only here are things so ruefully, headshakingly messed up, or a comment on the unique nature of life in Maynard, my own opinion is that in comparison, ONLY IN ACTON or ONLY IN SUDBURY or ONLY IN STOW would make no sense whatsoever.

A version of this was published in 2013, and again in February 2020 just before the COVID-19 pandemic closed the venues that were selling the coffee mugs. All profits to planting flowers along the rail trail.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Trees - A Plan for Maynard

Postcard of tree-lined streets (maples and elms), circa 1900
Earlier this year, Maynard contracted with Davey Resource Group Inc (DRG) to conduct an inventory of town-owned trees along streets, in parks, at the cemetery, etc., and then recommend a prioritized maintenance schedule for future tree care. The resultant report, titled Tree Resource Management Plan, dated July 2020, is available at the town’s website under Public Works (DPW), Cemetery and Parks Division. The gist of the report is that Maynard has too high a percentage of one genus of trees (maple) and is skewed toward too many mature trees and not enough young trees. Also, there are many town-owned sites suitable for trees that are empty. The DRG report included recommendations that Maynard plant approximately 400 trees a year for at least the next five years. And estimated that proper tree management will cost on the order of $250,000 per year.

Recommendations are that for an urban or suburban community, no one species make up more than 10 percent of the tree population, and no genus more than 20 percent. Glenwood Cemetery is a special case, as after the hurricane of 1938 killed most of the original plantings circa 1870, the near-majority replacement was with sugar maple. For all of Maynard’s public spaces the inventory is 25 percent Norway maple, 43 percent for all species of maple. Note that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has deemed Norway maple an invasive species and has banned it sale or distribution. Existing trees are allowed to continue to exist.

Tree stump, Nason Street
The tree-planting recommendation of 2,000 trees over five years stems from the inventory study showing that roughly 40 percent of sites suitable for trees are either vacant, or occupied by a stump, dead tree or dying tree. The recommended total also included an estimate for trees apparently health now but will die before the five-year planting period. Appendix D lists short, medium and large trees that are suitable to plant in central New England.    

Separate from what the town can do, property owners should consider planting trees on their own property. Too often, home owners remove trees that are dead, dying, or just too big for the space they occupy, yet do not take action to add trees. Trees have economic, environmental and social value. Realtors estimate that properties with mature trees command a premium sale price. Shade trees on the south and west side can reduce energy costs. Trees and shrubs reduce stormwater water run-off and absorb pollutants from the air. Trees dampen noise, and provide habitat for wildlife. Lastly, research has shown that adequately treed neighborhoods improve mental and physical health when compared to tree-barren areas.       

Insects, both native and invasive, can be tree killers. For much of the past decade, Maynard’s birch and maple trees suffered from winter moths consuming leaves in early spring. The presence of this pest has been diminished recently via introduction of species-specific parasites. Gypsy moth caterpillars have been harsh on oaks especially, but also maple and other species. Spotted lanternfly is an invasive species that has not yet reached eastern Massachusetts.    

European copper beech on Acton Street may be
the largest tree in Maynard. (click to enlarge)
The largest tree in Maynard (not meaning the tallest) appears to be a European copper beech (also known as purple beech) on the west side of Acton Street.  Size is officially calculated as a ‘tree points’ number from girth in inches plus height in feet plus 0.25 times average spread in feet. The tree’s girth is 252 inches. Conservatively estimating height and span both at 60 feet yields a tree points number of 327. While arguably the largest tree, probably not the oldest. Copper beeches were first offered for sale in the U.S. circa 1820, and not widely available until 1850s. Although this tree and the copper beech on St. Bridget’s property are impressive, there are likely native sugar maples that are older.   

Not in the newspaper column:

1912: Maynard had a Moth Department to combat gypsy and browntail moths

1938: Hurricane knocked down hundreds of trees, including spruce trees in Glenwood Cemetery, replaced by sugar maples

1941: Elm tree designated as the state tree; plantings promoted

1960s: Dutch Elm Disease kills hundreds of elm trees

1960s: Multi-year drought contributed to death of hundreds of trees, mostly maple

1967: Conservation Commission established

1970s: DPW budget for purchasing trees less than $1,000/year

1999: Maynard qualifies to be a Tree City USA (needs annual renewal)

2018: Creation of Rail Trail included removal of >650 trees that were at least 4” diameter

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

A Phone in the River

September 9th, and an idle glance at the Assabet River from the south side of the Rail Trail bridge brought into view a cellphone on the bottom of the river, face up, in about a foot of water. Next day, still there. Next week, still there. While clearly visible from the bridge, getting to it would not be not simple. A person would have to enter the river on the north side, walk across about 60 feet of algae-slick rocky bottom, and then back. Clearly, the owner decided this was a lost cause. In all probability the phone is will still be there until the next serious high water moves it downriver.

Can a cell phone be rescued from a brief immersion in water? Yes. Newer models are water resistant. Recommendations in general are to get the phone out of the water as fast as possible. If it was on, turn it off. If it was off, do NOT turn it on. Wipe the externals dry. If possible to open it up, remove the battery and SIM card. Dry the inside. Next, there are emergency kits specific for rescuing wet phones – basically a plastic bag with packets of desiccant, to draw out the water. Takes about 24 hours. Prices are in range of $5 to 20. These work far better than burying the phone in dry rice. Don’t try drying the phone faster with a hair dryer! High temperatures can permanently damage cell phones. [And a little surprise: first generation 5G phones downgrade to 4G within minutes when the temperature gets much about 85 degrees Fahrenheit because the phones generate too much heat to safely stay in 5G mode.] Now, back to our phone-in-the-river, and let’s see if we can imagine various scenarios.

Oops. Perhaps the phone owner saw some photogenic wildlife in the river and wanted a photo. Animal sightings in or near this stretch of river have included beaver, muskrat, great blue heron, and snapping turtle, also the less photogenic fish, snakes and frogs.

Click to enlarge
“Oops.” Via use of a camera with a telephoto lens it was possible to make out the phone maker and model – a Samsung Galaxy 5 – introduced in spring 2014. This model met IP-67 water resistance standards, meaning that it should not be damaged by immersion in water up to one meter deep for less than 30 minutes.  Even at launch, the phone was criticized for clunky appearance and software, and too many unnecessary features, such as heart rate monitor. Samsung released the next model Galaxy 6 a year later. If this particular phone had become the hand-me-down to a child that was unhappy with being stuck with an outdated phone, it may have ‘accidently’ fallen into the river in a plot to get a better phone.

Distraction. Distracted walking is a thing. People have become so engrossed with what is on the small screen, or talking, or texting, that they have walked into lampposts, Honolulu passed a law making it illegal to look at a phone while crossing the street. London and other cities have experimented with padded lampposts. Vehicle/pedestrian accidents are increasing, and the pedestrians are increasingly at fault. (This is not to say that distracted driving is not contributing to more accidents, too.) Perhaps a person managed to walk into the side of the bridge and dropped their phone.

Ire: Two people walking, one intent on whatever is on the phone, while the other is trying to start an important conversation. In this scenario, the (one-sided) conversation could be along the lines of “What do you think? Hey, I’m talking to you! This is really important!! How can that phone be more important than what I am trying to tell you!” Splash.

Anger. This time, an imagined two-sided conversation. “I don’t want to date you anymore.” How can you say that when we are perfect together?” “I’m not happy with you anymore. Sometimes you say bad things about me in front of our friends.” “But you know I’m just joking.” “It doesn’t feel like joking.” “I’ll stop.” “You say that, but you don’t” “But I really, really love you.” “It’s too late for that.” “Yeah, well, remember those photos I took of you last week? On this phone? If you break up with me I’m going to put those on Facebook!” Grab. Splash.

UPDATE: After submitting this to the newspaper, a visit to the bridge discovered that someone had thrown a rock into the river that came to rest on top of the phone. The edge of the phone is still visible.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Vitamin K

How to write about a vitamin when deficiency is rare and there are apparently no benefits from taking it as a dietary supplement? Keep it short.

First, the name. Seventy to one hundred years ago, when vitamins were being isolated as naturally occurring chemical compounds and confirmed as being essential to health, the naming was by alphabetical lettering: A, B, C, D, E…  “B” later turned out to be several water-soluble vitamins, hence B1 through B12 (with 4, 8, 10 and 11 later losing their vitamin status, much like Pluto no longer being a planet). The current list skips from E to K because compounds tentatively assigned letters F–J were either reclassified over time as part of the B set, or not being essential. The Danish scientists who isolated the substance also wanted to use “K” because it signifies “koagulation,” (in English, “coagulation”).

What does vitamin K do? Nearly 20 enzymes (functional proteins) are designated as “Gla proteins” because they are initially synthesized with some glutamate amino acids which are then converted to gamma-carboxyglutamate (Gla) amino acids by the action of vitamin K. When the vitamin is not in sufficient quantity the amino acids in these proteins are under-carboxylated. Sufficient vitamin K means the enzymes are adequately carboxylated, and therefore able to bind calcium. Let’s cut to the chase. With vitamin K, blot clots. Without vitamin K, no clots. Gla proteins are also involved in bone health and some other stuff no one has figured out yet.

In the 1920s, animal studies with fat-free diets led to uncontrolled bleeding, reversible after fat was restored to the diet. The addition of purified fat and cholesterol to the diet did not work, suggesting there was a vital substance needed in only small amounts. Meanwhile, dairy farmers saw incidences of uncontrolled bleeding when cows were fed moldy silage made from sweet clover. The cause was a fungal fermentation metabolite of coumarin, a compound found in many plants. “Warfarin”, a coumarin metabolite, was developed as an effective and widely used rat poison – when mixed with food, the rats that eat the food die from internal bleeding.    

The histories converged. Vitamin K was confirmed as a clotting co-factor. Warfarin inhibited the process. In 1951 a person who attempted suicide with rat poison was successfully treated with intravenous vitamin K. The actual mechanism was not discovered until 1978, when it was shown that warfarin blocks an enzyme that recycles vitamin K after it had donated a carboxyl molecule.  The next step – a large step – was to see if small doses of this rat poison on a daily basis could inhibit unwanted coagulation, such as occurs in deep vein thrombosis in the legs, a condition potentially fatal if clots dislodge and travel to the heart and lungs. It worked. Warfarin became both a rat poison and a prescription drug, and remains so to this day. In this context, vitamin K – oral or injected – is a drug used to reverse accidental or deliberate overdosing with warfarin.  

The other major medical use is to prevent infant bleeding that may occur days to months after birth. Vitamin K is poorly transported across the placenta during pregnancy, so supplementing the pregnant mother-to-be is not effective. Breast milk is not a good source. Infants are given a one-time injection, or else several months of weekly oral treatment, as a precaution.

How much is needed to stay healthy? The U.S. National Institutes of Health thinks an Adequate Intake is 90 and 120 micrograms per day, respectively, for women and men. The European Union posits that 70 micrograms per day is enough for all adults. Any diet that contains sufficient amounts of leafy greens (spinach, lettuce) and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussel sprouts…) should deliver enough. Most of the dietary supplement products in the U.S. are 100 micrograms, although a few are as high as 500. In this range there is no concern for side effects for taking too much.  

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Rail Trail: Two Year Anniversary

ARRT Ribbon cutting ceremony, August 10, 2018
Recently, the north end of the Assabet River Rail Trail, encompassing Acton and Maynard, reached its two-year anniversary. A ribbon-cutting ceremony had been held on August 10, 2018, at the Acton terminus. This represented the end of two years of construction, as the ground-breaking ceremony had been in Maynard, July 2016. The south end, spanning Marlborough and part of Hudson, had been completed years earlier. The gap in the middle, Stow and part of Hudson, may be years away. In the interim it is possible to do two miles west from the Maynard/Stow border on a privately owned dirt road, to Sudbury Road in Stow, then two miles on roads – Sudbury Road and Route 62 – to reconnect with the south section of the trail, in Hudson. From there, it is 5.8 miles of paved trail to Marlborough.

A recent walk on the Acton/Maynard portion, 3.4 miles in length, found the asphalt in almost entirely excellent condition – no surprise. There is one crack developing about 50 yards west of Florida Road and a series of small cracks about 50 yards east of Ice House Landing which may in time need preventive maintenance, i.e., crack filling. Paved trails typically last for 15-20 years before repaving needs to be considered. Given that the south end was completed in 2005, those towns may be coming up on some seriously expensive maintenance.

Questionnaires sent to trail managers by the Rails-to-Trails conservancy in 1996, 2005 and again in 2015 led to reports on how trails are being maintained and what organizations are paying for that work. See https://www.railstotrails.org/resourcehandler.ashx?id=6336 for the most recent report. A salient fact: Per that report, the cost of maintaining an asphalt-paved trail averaged $1,971 per mile per year. This encompassed work done by town employees and a value put on volunteer labor; collectively, the 2015 report tallied this as about 13.5 hours of labor per trail mile per year. The Assabet River Rail Trail organization, incorporated in 1995, had provided volunteer efforts involving trail clearing to create a walkable path before the paving began. Volunteer work continues on the paved trail.

ARRT trash bin near Cumberland
Farms, maintained by volunteers
The nature of work – town-paid and volunteered – includes litter removal, repairing vandalism and removing trash dumping (old car tires, etc.), mowing plant growth bordering trails and combating invasive plant species. Trees fall on trails, or else are standing dead trees threatening to do so. Drainage ditches bordering trails need to be kept clear of plant debris or else their function is compromised. Some towns will operate leaf blowers in the fall, and snow plowing in winter. Maynard and Acton have decided to not clear snow from the trail. Towns may choose to plow trail parking lots, thus providing parking for people who want to ski, snowshoe or hike. There are also information kiosks, benches, signage and in Maynard a couple of trash receptacles, all of which also require maintenance.

The 2015 report also noted, surprisingly, that 60% of the returned questionnaires did not confirm a written maintenance plan. While personal injury lawsuits are very rare, the report went on to suggest that towns should have a process to regularly inspect trails, correct unsafe conditions, and keep records. Signage of rules and regulations and hours of operation need to be posted at trailheads and other access locations. Not everyone is aware that ARRT’s signs include “Maximum Speed: 15 mph” and “Give an audible warning before passing,” but the signs are there. Guidelines for what organized volunteer groups can and cannot do need to be established, for example using herbicides.

Part of the rail trail guidelines sign

As for what was observed during the recent walk-through, there was remarkably little litter along the trail, with the exception of downtown Maynard, and only a few instances of graffiti. Kiosks were empty or near-empty of content. Maynard’s Department of Public Works mows the trail’s shoulders; Acton’s does not. In both towns, there are dozens of standing dead trees that will in time fall on the trail. Toward the westernmost end of the trail, a fallen tree has broken a wooden railing. Several of the trees that were planted as part of the trail landscaping in 2018 have died. Consideration should be given to combating invasive plant species such as Oriental bittersweet, Japanese knotweed, garlic mustard, and purple loosestrife, the last beginning to appear in the wetter sections of drainage ditches.

When tested on August 25th, the button on the pedestrian crossing light on the east side of Florida Road did not work, and same for south side of the Main Street crosswalk. Buttons and lights on both sides of the Route 117, Summer Street and Acton Street crossings were working.