Looking into the Sluiceway

As I See It

 Bill Sargent, The Daily News of Newburyport, Edition 2/16/2018

“My stated reason for going to the beach every week was to measure the changes wrought by erosion, but my real reason was to be moved by the power of nature in this incredible universe we inhabit.”

“Sometimes these experiences were illustrative of larger forces. Sometimes they are just plain amusing. A few days after the “bomb cyclone” storm a friend of mine was taking photographs of the deep hole the storm had created in the sand above the jetty on Plum Island. As she was shooting a panorama of the scene she heard a sharp quack at her feet.”

“Now how the hell did you get there, Ralph?”

“The duck, equally nonplussed, ruffled his feathers, plunged down through the hole, swam through the jetty and popped up in the Merrimack River 20 feet downstream.”

“Three weeks later the hole was excavated a few feet deeper with the aid of a once in a lifetime display of celestial exuberance. As if to celebrate the end of 31 days of freezing cold, bomb genesis storms, broken down cars, flu and unrelenting erosion, the damnable month of January finally rewarded us.”

“The January 31 full moon was so large it looked like we were on another planet. This was not an illusion. The moon really was 30,000 miles closer to the earth than usual. It was also a blue moon, the second full moon in the month, a rare occurrence that gives rise to the expression once in a blue moon.”

“Then the shadow of the earth crossed over the face of the moon, turning it blood red from the reflected light of the earth’s recent sunrise. At this moment, priests in ancient Mexico would have happily ripped out the beating hearts of a thousand warriors to bring back the sun. The Bible predicted the sun will turn black, a solar eclipse, and then the moon would turn blood red, a lunar eclipse, before the end of times.”

“Of course, we now live in a more civilized era and know that the blood-red lunar eclipse just altered the universe enough to make the Patriots lose the Super Bowl.”

“It was in this dismal frame of mind that I decided to return to the jetty to seek solace from nature. Feb. 7 seemed like the first feasible day to do so. Five inches of snow followed by two inches of rain were due to fall, but the snow wasn’t supposed to start until 11 a.m. and dead low tide was at 10:51. I figured I had just enough time to make my measurements before it started snowing in earnest.”

“Even though it was an overcast day with the taste of snow in the air, it was calm and the temperature was in the comfortable 30s. So it was a pleasant walk.”

“Several of the holes above the jetty had partially filled, in leaving steep-sided pits lined with sliding sand. I walked gingerly around the pits hoping the claw of a giant ant lion wouldn’t shoot out and drag me under, like in the movie “Dune”.

“I finally decided to stop such ruminations and measure the depth of one of the holes that was still open. It reached down five vertical feet before it tunneled 15 feet through the jetty to the river. This was significant because it meant the sluiceway was as deep, if not deeper than the original jetty, so sand could flow freely through the jetty at high tide.

“It also meant the holes presented some danger. A child, small pet or even an adult could tumble into one of the holes filled with swiftly flowing water. During storms water would even explode up through the sand creating new holes.”

“It would make sense for the city to send someone out with a Bobcat to fill in the cavities. While they were at it they might even push a little extra sand into the holes since they were another source of local sand that could be used to grow the beach in front of Northern Reservation Terrace.”

“On the lower beach, several five-foot long chunks of the old Coast Guard station’s parking lot had tumbled onto the sand and several more would probably do so on the next high tide.

“Waves were also tearing away clumps of dune grass from off the second sacrificial dune and the wrackline was now only 50 feet from the nearest home. And there had still been no action taken to repair the sacrificial dunes.”

“Finally I reached what I had been calling the high dunes at the end of North Point but they were no longer so high. Only a month before, the highest dune towered 40 feet above the beach.”

“Now the highest dune was less than 12 feet and the wellhead for the plant that the state used to cleanse shellfish and for research was in a low spot only 12 feet from the rapidly encroaching ocean.”

“When the ocean reached the wellhead, managers would have to start pumping water out of the Merrimack River, which had already experienced several discharges of raw sewage in the past few months.”

“But by 11:30 it had started to snow heavily, so I jumped into my car, just in time to get stuck behind in a milelong traffic jam of hundreds of students who had been let out early because of the storm. It was pretty impressive; the weather forecasters had predicted the timing of the snow right on the nose.”

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