Geology and basements in Framingham

This blog was never intended to focus exclusively on birds, but to explore the natural environment of Framingham, Massachusetts. Its time to get down to business!

The images in this post are from a PowerPoint project my daughter created for her geology class at BU. She used our experience of house hunting in Framingham (which was frustrating, to say the least) to illustrate the impact of geography, history, geology, etc. on the community. I think the presentation is a good introduction into what factors affect nature in Framingham.

My husband had worked in Framingham for four years, but all I knew about the town was Route 9 and Downtown. I was NOT excited about moving here. I thought I was being noble and gracious to move to a town I hated just so my husband could have a short commute. I kind of owed it to him, since he had been driving 90 miles a day for so long.

It should have been REAL easy to find a house, since we were downsizing and basically empty-nesters. We weren't concerned about access to schools or avoiding busy streets or other factors that had always been important before. All we needed was a small house, and we weren't even committed to a particular style of house. All we wanted was a normal house. We both considered a basement to be normal, so that was a requirement.

In our price range, there were TONS of slab houses. In our price range, all the houses with basements had DAMP or MUSTY SMELLING basements. We looked for almost a year, but had no luck. Eventually, we sold our house in Sharon and had to move out. Since we had no house to move into, we rented an apartment. Luckily, we found an awesome, quiet, clean, and well maintained apartment. (If you are ever looking for a Framingham apartment, make sure you check out one of the buildings owned by the Brossi Brothers. You'll be glad you did, believe me.)

When we moved into the apartment, I started doing a LOT of research about the area. (I also started to fall in love with my new town - and I love it more with every passing day!)

I have answers to most of the above questions now, and it is pretty fascinating stuff. More to come tomorrow . . .


A River Runs Through It!

If you think of Framingham as an exit on the Mass Pike, you may not realize that Framingham is first and foremost a river town. If you live here, on the other hand, you know you are never far from the water.

The river, streams, ponds, brooks, and reservoirs are potential flood risks, and they contribute to the high water table in Framingham. The water table measures how much of the ground is completely saturated with water. The water table may be far below the ground surface or very close to the ground surface. Here in Framingham, the water table is very close to the surface of the ground. This is common in New England in areas near surface bodies of water.

The water table fluctuates seasonally, and it is lower during periods of drought and higher during periods of above average precipitation. According to the USGS (U.S. Geological Survey), the water table in Massachusetts was higher than average as of September 2008.

As you can imagine, when the groundwater is completely saturated around your basement, it is very difficult (if not impossible!)to keep the basement dry.

HYDROLOGY is the scientific study of the properties, distribution, and effects of water on the earth's surface, in the soil and underlying rocks, and in the atmosphere. Understanding a little bit about the hydrology of Framingham helped to explain why we were having trouble finding a house with a dry basement in town.

Framingham Topography and Glaciers

Hydrology isn't the only factor that determines whether your house and basement is dry. How much SOIL(and the kind of soil)under and around your hose is important. The TOPOGRAPHY of the area (or how many hills are around you and how steep the hills are) is very important, too. Soil and Slope determine whether you are affected by runoff of water; either seasonally or after heavy precipitation.

In Massachusetts, the soil is usually made up of glacial and post glacial deposits over bedrock.

Framingham soil is typically made up of sand and gravel deposits left behind from retreating glaciers.

The glacial history of Framingham is easy to see because of the glacial landforms present in the town. Framingham had a lot of DRUMLINS, for instance.

Drumlins are oval or elongated hills composed of dense till believed to have been formed by the streamlined movement of glacial ice. The most famous drumlins in Massachusetts are Bunker Hill and Beacon Hill. The Harbor Islands in Boston Harbor are drumlins, as well. When I personally imagine a drumlin, I always picture World's End in Hingham, a Trustees of Reservations property where I spend a lot of time as a child. It turns out that World's End is one of the 30 islands of the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreational Area.

Framingham also has Kettle Holes, or Kettle Lakes, which are formed by chunks of ice left behind by glaciers that melt into lakes.

Lake Cochituate is also a kettle lake, as is Walden Pond in Concord, MA.

There are areas in Framingham that are not buildable because they are designated wetlands, or because they are under water, or because the slope of the hills is too steep (>15 degrees.) You also can't build on sites where there isn't enough soil over the bedrock to excavate for sewage systems or septic systems.


Framingham in Quarters!

The amount and quality of the soil where you live is important, too. Soil determines which types of trees and plants will grow in an area, and the types of trees and plants growing will affect runoff and water flow to your home. (Specific types of vegetation also attract different kinds of wildlife, which is ultimately very important to me. When I first investigated the subject, however, I was looking for the best place in Framingham to call home.)

Most of Framingham's soil is a course mixture of sand and gravel left behind by retreating glaciers. The gravel deposits were actually quite profitable for the town, especially since the land is not terribly well suited for agriculture.

After studying the surface geology map, I realized it would be easier to keep the geological data straight in my head if I divided the town into four quarters.

Initially, I was infatuated with the Southwest quarter. That's where my apartment was located, and I loved everything in my neighborhood. I lived on Salem End Road; the "Best Street in Framingham" according to Boston Magazine. I was practically on the grounds of Framingham State, which has a lovely campus, and I loved being near the beautiful reservoirs with all the gorgeous shorebirds close by.

We walked up and down all the streets abutting the reservoir and through the area behind the college. I fell in love with about five houses in the southwest quarter, but either they were too expensive or too small or in a flood zone or something. Still, everything was beautiful around there. I saw Great Blue Herons flying overhead, and once even glimpsed a bittern taking a shower in the waterfall of Reservoir #2! There were swans and ducks and red winged blackbirds, and I often saw a red tailed hawk from the balcony of my apartment! Of course, things might have been different if we hadn't found such a nice apartment building. It was called Salem House. The apartment in this link is exactly like ours (I don't know long the link will be there. Probably not long.)

The Southeast quarter wasn't so attractive to us. For one thing, my husband refused to be south of the railroad tracks, because he couldn't deal with waiting for trains during every commute. We didn't like the crowded conditions or the older houses much, either. My husband was especially against getting a house that needed work. (Looking back, that statement seems more than a bit ironic!)

We looked at DOZENS of houses in the Northeast section of town. There were three houses we almost made an offer on, but I'm glad now that we didn't. Strangely enough, all three had a HUGE hill in the backyard, but that was not what bothered us. One was too expensive, one had a wet basement, and one had a huge foyer but no usable storage space. A couple others looked really nice to me, but they were in a flood zone. Considering how many homes are in this area, it is hard to believe we couldn't agree on any one of them. But in the end we fell in love with a house in Northwest Framingham.

Our new house is just one mile from our apartment, but with a backyard that could pass for a full blown wilderness. It is a cute little neighborhood of small ranch homes, but there are some McMansions on nearby streets. Everything my daughter said in her presentation about Northwest Framingham is 100% true. Steep terrain and a lack of till and vegetation makes for heavy runoff situations whenever it rains or during the spring thaws. But our house is built on a slab, so we figured we would never have to worry about a wet basement. We love the house and the neighborhood and especially the yard. But all our research didn't begin to prepare us for what was soon to come!


Broadmoor Sanctuary Natick 3/20/09

My first Ring Necked Ducks ever!

Sorry that the pictures aren't great. I'm getting a new telephoto lens soon, which may help a little.

Anyway, it was a great day at Broadmoor, a Mass Audubon Sanctuary in Natick. I also saw my first bluebird (which makes me sound like even more of an amateur than I am, I know). My son works there, and we hoped to see a woodcock, but didn't. Of course, the next evening he and a friend saw one taking off and landing not ten feet away from their picnic spot, and twice displaying in the air over their heads!! Pretty cool!

Canadian Goose

Beaver Lodge

My husband and I are going back to Broadmoor tonight for a lecture on Solar Heating, which we are considering as a future enhancement for our house. (We have a lot of work to do to get the interior of the house in a habitable and healthy condition first, of course!) If I leave with a good understanding of the solar heating requirements and benefits, I'll post about it tomorrow.


Squirrel Proofing

We moved to our new house in September after a year in an apartment, so I started over in terms of feeders. I ended up with have some hand-me-down feeders and some new feeders that were duplicates of ones I owned before. All of them had serious critter infestations at first.

At this point, we have a lot of homemade squirrel proofing techniques that work pretty well. My husband is an engineer, and extreme clever and creative when it comes to inventions! The Pepsi bottles took a half day to drill and string along the feeder wire, but they work well because Squirrels can't walk along the spinning bottles (unless they're frozen.)

This squirrel proof feeder is almost an exact duplicate of one I had in Sharon. It was very popular then, but hardly used now. Why? It took me months to figure out that it worked well when pole mounted, but is terrible when hung on a line. The wind blows it a little, and the glass reflection makes it appear that there is something in the feeder or something approaching the feeder - in other words, the feeder appears unsafe to birds when its swinging in the wind. As soon as the ground thaws, we are moving the feeder pole closer to the windows and farther from the trees, and we'll mount this feeder on top of the pole.

The green disc on top of the tray feeder is a weather protector made of a Christmas tree floor protector from Ace Hardware. It worked very well during the heavy snows this winter, but I'm removing it for the spring and summer seasons. This feeder is too close to the house, too, so the squirrels can jump to it from the family room roof. It will need to be moved far her away from any potential squirrel launching pads.
The baffle on the feeder pole was made by my husband from PVC pipe. Again, it is effective unless its frozen, but the pole is way too close to the trees, so squirrels jump on it every morning. This is what happens when your feeder is easily access able to other animals. First we had one big fat raccoon at night, then we had two, then three, and then four. That is when we moved the Cling-a-wings to a feeder Pole in the middle of the yard!

Top for Nature Lovers - Yes!

I was SO right! Framingham meets all the qualifications of the TOP SPOT FOR NATURE LOVERS. We beat the winning town (Carlisle) in terms of all the qualifications mentioned. We actually have everything they have and more!

(Don't get too angry at the Globe, though. They got the data from a realtor's association, and Realtors will always rave about absurdly expensive towns.)

Keeping in mind that Carlisle is no doubt a beautiful place to live, it simply can't compare to Framingham in terms of nature OR in terms of many other things. Lets compare the listed qualifications for both towns:

"Carlisle is the very definition of small-town New England, with plenty of red barns, white church steeples, and low stone walls dotting the rolling hillside."

Framingham also has "plenty of red barns, white church steeples, and low stone walls dotting the rolling hillside," but Framingham also has all the amenities of a big city! How about:

  • SHOPPING! If you live in Framingham, you are 5 -10 minutes away from just about EVERY IMAGINABLE STORE you could need. We have chain stores, unique boutiques, discount stores, and upscale mall stores!
  • RESTAURANTS! Again, Framingham residents have access to every type of dining experience and ALL THE BEST RESTAURANTS are just minutes away!
  • HIGHWAY ACCESS TO ANYWHERE! How easy is it to get in and out of Carlisle, I wonder?

"Amazingly, about a quarter of the town's land is protected -- covering everything from wetlands and white-pine forests to farmland and cranberry bogs . . .

Amazingly, almost 20% of the town's land is protected (source: MASS GIS) -- covering everything from wetlands (WAY more wetlands!)and white-pine forests (yup) to farmland (yup) and cranberry bogs (we DO have a cranberry bog! It's in the Garden-in-the-Woods! HA!)

. . . and offering miles of serene trails for dog walking, hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and cross-country skiing."

Framingham also has miles of serene trails for dog walking, hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and cross-country skiing. The town itself owns 6 large parcels that are "wonderful for hiking, cross-country skiing, bird watching, and other passive recreation." (source: Town of Framingham). Callahan State Park is a 820-acre day use area located in Northwest Framingham that has seven miles of marked trails and is used for activities including fishing, hiking, horseback riding and cross-country skiing. (source: Town of Framingham). The Sudbury Valley Trustees also have trails in Framingham, and many other trails pass through the town.

So far, there is no justification for picking Carlisle over Framingham that I can see. But there is one more sentence and a few assorted facts still to consider.

"Many homes sit on an acre or more, creating hundreds of private mini nature preserves."

I'm sure many people have homes that sit on an acre or more, but the main point being made here is that Carlisle is a VERY RICH TOWN and Framingham is not. That is why they won "TOP SPOT FOR NATURE LOVERS" instead of us.

Median single-family home price: $760,000$350,000
Median condo price$780,000$150,000

This post refers to a Boston Globe Magazine Article called "Top Spots to Live" dated 3/22/09)


Framingham IS a top spot to live!

Framingham isn't one of today's Boston Globe Magazine's "Top Spots to Live".

That's just wrong. Framingham deserves more than an honorable mention in the "affordable homes" catagory. It is a beautiful place to live!

I have nothing against the Town of Carlisle, but I think the Globe Magazine made a mistake choosing Carlisle for "Top For Nature Lovers".

"Carlisle is the very definition of small-town New England, with plenty of red barns, white church steeples, and low stone walls dotting the rolling hillside. Amazingly, about a quarter of the town's land is protected -- covering everything from wetlands and white-pine forests to farmland and cranberry bogs and offering miles of serene trails for dog walking, hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and cross-country skiing. Many homes sit on an acre or more, creating hundreds of private mini nature preserves."

We have all that (except maybe cranberry bogs?), and we also have much, much more! It might take me a few days, but I bet I can produce definitive proof that Framingham was robbed of the "top spot for nature lovers" award!

Read the article at: http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/magazine/articles/2009/03/22/top_spots_to_live/


Cardinal Close-up

Isn't he a beauty? The platform feeder is 2' from the family room window, making it a great spot to set up my tripod. Unfortunately, the family room is not accessible at the moment due to some ongoing moisture issues. . . but it will be a great spot to take photos someday.

I had a flock of cardinals in my yard all winter. There were never fewer than five males, and an unknown number of females. The most beautiful picture I didn't take was when all five males were regally resplendent against the snow covered cedar tree. I saw that shot five or six times this winter, but never managed to grab the camera in time. Maybe next year!

I thought my gorgeous flock of cardinals was unique to my backyard "sanctuary." I had only seen pairs of cardinals before - maybe two pairs at a time (and I've been birding for 40+ years!) But according to a plethora of reputable sources, Northern Cardinals do form flocks during the winter months. In fact, it is not unusual to see flocks of sixty or more!

Of course, I now know why I never saw so many cardinals before: its because I never lived in the wildlife mecca of FRAMINGHAM before!

Mrs. Cardinal

One hawk's fast food place

This Cooper's Hawk is sitting on the feeder pole waiting for dinner to be served. The feeders are like his personal MacDonald's.

The feeders are worth looking at if you're in the market for one. My son and his friend gave me one of these Duncraft Super Cling-a-Wing feeders right before we moved to Framingham, but since we lived in an apartment for a year, it wasn't used until last September. I love it so much I bought a second one..

These feeders claim to be starling proof & pigeon proof, but I've seen starlings, cardinals, and even blue jays manage to get some seed. It holds a lot of seed, though (6 lbs), and is easy to monitor the amount left in the feeder. Plus, the seed is protected from the elements and doesn't rot easily. It's easy to clean and the newer model has a much improved opening for adding food.

Little birds love it. It's not unusual to see three or four of them inside the globe if it is raining or snowing.