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Low water

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Same beaver dam as above, four years plus a very dry summer later. –More than one, in fact: as mentioned in this post, the current drought has accumulated for well (?) over a year, taxing the reserve capacity of even well-developed root systems. Old trees and shrubs are dying, and will be missed; likewise native wildflowers blighted before setting seed. The world will look different next spring. –As it does every spring.

The main surface feeders for Farrar Pond—Halfway Brook, above, and Beaver Brook, draining the St. Anne’s/Lindentree Farm area, are down to a trickledscf7074fp

 

when flowing at all. But this pond collects from a substantial area of swamp and wetland, and the banks rising high above most of its periphery release slow-migrating subsurface water in seeps and upwellings all about.

The weather spirits are capricious. As confirmed by both radar and rain gauge, numerous  storms have blown through just north or south of Farrar Pond, in some cases flooding basements only a couple of miles away while leaving the ground here dusty-dry. As a particularly insulting example, this precipitous front rolled across the northeast in a 440-mile line from Fredericksburg to Lewiston,

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with exactly one gap about 5% of that length that slid right over Nashawtuc.

With nothing to contain, and no urging from the sound of rushing water, the beavers have set aside structural maintenance of natural dams and circumvention of human contrivances

to focus on filling the larder for chilly times ahead:

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For their sake, and so many others’, we may hope that stick lodges and mucky warrens remain safely submerged. Meanwhile, the slope between land and lair has become long and slippery for amphibious mammals:

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With more weight on pointier feet, some who come to the edge are put off by the unpleasantness of muddy fur and the risk of La Brea-like entrapment, and make uncommonly close approach to human habitation to drink

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before retiring

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to a shady siesta.

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In the well-drained uplands, exposed trees are not happy; the assault of heat, low humidity, wind and sun leads to shock desiccation, with no time to extract recyclable nutrients before loss of vasculature, foliage and branches:

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Where rooting is not deep enough, the whole plant enters a different kind of recycling program. And in a banner year for caterpillars, weakened trees and shrubs become even more vulnerable:

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Good news for some arthropods is bad for others. Deer ticks—killed or driven into the duff layer—are down. And the parched soil is easy to scratch up for parasite-killing dust baths,

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appreciated by avian and mammal alike:

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A different tangle in the natural order, trees and shrubs that lost bud and bloom in the spring flash-freeze become too enthusiastic in their attempts to ensure propagation, like this magnolia flowering (but not setting seed) eight months early:

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By comparison, swamp maples rooted close to the water table may—even if many weeks prematurely—at least enjoy an orderly transition:

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And in in deeper shade, especially where heavy mulch (here a half-meter of oak chips) maintains coolth and moisture, some species thrive:

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Sun or shade, even a sprinkle that brings no joy to thirsting plants may trigger other upwellings on rotting stump and root:

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And yet, while these fungi and myxomycophytes may safely graze, even a symbiote with post-nuclear potential cannot always survive unrelenting heat and drought:

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Animals are not only thirsty, but also hungry, right up the food chain. Where a relatively domestic red squirrel raids feeders,

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its cousins instead strip unripe conifers a whole season ahead of usual:

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Raccoons will always find a way

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for themselves

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and their families:

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Hunger and thirst stress animals as much as plants; often more: estivation or temporary mud burial is an option for few. Where this squirrel seems contented and at home,

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this one is afflicted with “squirrel pox

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and is unlikely to have survived.

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Oddly enough, it kept returning to the exact same spot on the pavement. Hoping for a quick quietus, perhaps, or seeking healing from some ancient energy vortex? By contrast, though clearly in considerable discomfort,

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this fox, with sarcoptic mange,

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may—given the low probability of hypothermia, a few (currently superabundant) fat voles and enough to drink—

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heal and live to salute our fields with tail aloft come winter.

All gotta eat, which for most eventually entails being eaten. Having hoovered up most of the local tadpoles and crickets, snakes that are equally comfortable dry

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or wet

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scare likewise amphibious frogs into any safe moist shade, like these potted ground covers, stored near a house in anticipation of reasonable plant-out weather:

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Perhaps safer aloft, hummingbirds and bumblebees sip respectively from trumpetvine

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(a process of deep immersion)

and ever-reliable native asters

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and goldenrod

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in the company of other hymenopterids;

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much-appreciated honeybees at a silk tree;

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while for a chitinous predator, “if it comes to slaughter, you will do your work on water“:

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Back down below, the temporarily declining wet area gives a preview of its ineluctable (barring a major dredging project) return to swamp, wetland, meadow, forest. Receding water reveals the persistent foundations of trees cleared when the pond was created: the shallowest, most often exposed, serving as nurse logs;

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the deeper, as bistros for muskrats;

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the deepest, largely untouched by time, as neat perches.

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At the shallow end of the pool, each inch lost in depth adds a foot’s width to the mudflats,

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opening what are usually water-bound hummocks

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to all sorts of predators:

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From each spring’s last melt-off, these little islands protect dozens of waterfowl nests from four-footed assault. Fortunately for the birds, this de-insulation occurred after most or all chicks had attained at least the ability to paddle,

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while a rich stew of invertebrates sustains light-footed waders like a lone wandering sandpiper:

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And no relief yet in sight

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9 August

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16 August

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23 August

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30 August

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6 September

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13 September

“You think this is bad? This ain’t bad.”

–K. Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

Will this area attain “Exceptional Drought” status? It could be worse. And has been, revealing the former path of Halfway Brook:

Droughts of 1929-32, 1939-44, and 1980-83 were widespread but not as severe as the 1961-69 drought, which was the severest on record.

–USGS Water-Supply Paper 2375, National Water Summary 1988-89

(Orthophoto above from 9 April 1969, just a year after a record, road- and school-closing 1968 deluge.)

In those days, brush-fires were rampant, and one could stroll dry-shod across most of the Cambridge Reservoir without further divine (or infernal) intervention. Now, from Winter Street, it’s only halfway toward moonscape status:

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But… It is not over, and reprieve (much less full relief, a couple of dozen inches’-worth) has yet to be forecast.

The severest drought on record in the Northeastern United States was during 1961-69. Water supplies and agriculture were affected because of the severity and long duration of the drought. Precipitation was less than average … beginning in 1962 in eastern Massachusetts. Streamflow had the greatest negative departure during … 1966 in the east. In 1965, the Massachusetts Water Resources Commission reported that emergency water supplies were being used by 23 communities. Water-supply emergencies were declared by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health for 37 communities, and 3 water districts invoked water-use restrictions. Voluntary water-use restrictions were adopted by about 30 communities. Ten communities had water supplies that were in a critical condition, that had less than 90 days of surface-water supply, or that required a decrease in ground-water pumpage.

Ibid.

So while Lincoln and some surrounding towns are fortunate in water, we do not drink alone from (or spill gasoline, lawn chemicals, other toxins into) our ponds and creeks, visible and subterranean. So as good lateral and upstream neighbors to people, plants, animals, and all water-dependent life-forms (which is, so far as is known at present, all of them), we throttle back, allow lawns to brown into dormancy, “live simply, that others may simply live” (E. Seton?). And hope that we do not set any new records in the drought department.

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