A Morning On The Marsh

The early morning air was moist and cool. A light mist lay over the Lake Erie marshes and the sun was greeting the western world with a pale shade of salmon. There were a few streaks of gray across the sky, and unlike many people, I wished it would rain again. I donned my waders and gave myself a quick covering of bug spray and set forth. The mayflies were sticking to me and my hair but I ignored them. It felt good to be in the midst of life. Even the whine of the mosquitoes was welcome when my bug spray was doing its job. As I stepped through the cattails into the water at the edge of the pool, I could smell the scent of decaying plant life released under the pressure of my boot. I thought briefly of the cycles of life and death on earth. To all things an end must come. To all things a beginning is near. A breeze carried the scent of the lake to me, with its mixture of gulls, fish and mussels. I inhaled more deeply. Thistle, milkweed and wild cucumber sweetened the breeze with their own perfumes.

To my left, along the edge of the cattails, a stately, gray-blue bird reaching almost four feet in height, stood quiet and still. I stopped to observe this fellow, one of my favorites in the bird world. His long neck was stretched forward as if in a trance, staring into shallow waters for a meal to come. Finally, a fish approached too closely and the great blue heron reacted with a swift and lethal blow of its sharp bill. Flipping its head upward, the heron snatched the fish sideways into its bill, turned it so it could be consumed head first, and swallowed the fish whole. The great blue contorted its neck a few times and I watched as the fish, bulging, was forced down its long throat. The bird moved forward a few steps with its long awkward legs and began its vigil anew.

I stood still a few more moments enjoying the morning. A bullfrog called monotonously in the distance and a leopard frog couldn't refrain from snoring occasionally. In the middle of the pool, a muskrat broke the surface of the water with its head. It saw me and turned toward the cattails on the opposite shoreline, swimming with its back barely visible and its tail working as a rudder to guide it. With a dive and a splash of its foot it was gone, probably into a hidden tunnel leading to a hut somewhere in the cattails.

I did not want to disturb the heron, so I worked my way along the marsh in the opposite direction. The cattails gave way to smart weed and a little bit of purple loosestrife. I frowned to find purple loosestrife, a noxious invader, here. I made a mental note to return to this spot with plastic bags so I could pull the plants up and prevent them from spreading more seeds. I looked around and examined other plant life in the water. Potamogeton, duck weed and water milfoil were abundant. Small snails and aquatic insects had attached themselves to the plants to gain sustenance in their own manner. Pickerel weed and water lotus were sending up blooms that would open soon to create floating bouquets.

My boots oozed and sucked through the marsh stirring up gray sediment as I moved. An eastern kingbird flew by me and I could hear the calls of tufted titmice and cardinals in the nearby woodlands. I continued moving along the edge of the marsh evaluating its condition and thinking about the foods it would supply to ducks and geese in the fall. I gathered the data I needed and prepared to leave. Notes were written in my notebook and samples collected. The sky was losing its morning hue of pink and was now a vivid blue. There wasn't any sign of rain and the light morning mist had disappeared. A great egret, in its regal, snow-white splendor flew over me. It found a spot to land and began its own hunt-vigil not far from the great-blue. Each day I visit the marsh I build new relationships with the rhythms and seasons of the land while I gain a new sense of awakening and connecting.

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