Life With Horace

poetry & essays

Horrie looking intently at something in the grass.

field notes: when is a swamp a wetland?

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The dogs and I get to our wetland walk on average once a week. I’ve been going there for the last six years, getting into the rhythms and seasonal contrasts and year-to-year changes. The first year that everything wasn’t exactly the same as the previous year I remember wondering how that could have happened?

One of many varieties of ferns there, this one in the leafy tunnel of trees at the beginning of the road.

Late summer afternoon light catching one of many varieties of ferns there, this one in the leafy tunnel of trees at the beginning of the road.

It dawned on me that a living, wild place will change (unlike a cultivated garden), certain plants will take over or disappear or diminish, the beavers won’t always be at the same spot. At that point I began to really take notice. And record its ongoing history in my mind and with photographs.

A couple of things make the place almost unique as far as wetlands go. In the first place there is a road right through it, allowing access on foot through its heart. Down the middle-ish.

The Summer Road.

A patch of “captive water” on what used to be a Summer Road.

When I first came there it was a Summer Road (don’t you love that term?) meaning go there at your peril once there is snow and ice because it won’t be plowed! Now it is a Class Six, or completely unmaintained. Farmers and townspeople in trucks, yahoos on motorbikes, and folks on bicycles use it for a passage of sorts. The rest of us simply walk.

The second is that the land is still owned privately. I have gotten to know one member of that family who also walks her dogs there (she is lucky as there is a trail down to it from her sister’s place across the road). From her I have learned that there is at least one bear skulking about in the woods at the north end, and gotten the very welcome sense that this is a family that feels strongly about preserving what is there.

Animal path through the lilies.

“Main Street” through the (yellow) waterlilies in the widewater off the earthen dam.

There are subtle signs of land management, such as placing beaver-cut tree limbs to get walkers across wide areas of wet along the road, or keeping the bittersweet trimmed back. And they do keep a path clear along one side of the road or the other.

There are beavers here, otters too on occasion. Dragonflies and damselflies. Lots of them. Mosquitos, black flies, green flies.

Birds range from year round woodpeckers and jays to seasonal hawks, crows, buzzards, ravens (rarer), red-winged blackbirds, cedar waxwings (new this year for me), all sorts of sparrows, warblers, at least one American Bittern, and Great Blue Herons.

A dragonfly resting. The big "bombers" however rarely seem to rest.

A dragonfly resting. The big “bombers” however rarely seem to rest.

I try to be observant about the birds, but my eye is drawn by the plant life and the water, so aside from large birds and clouds, my orientation is more down than up.

Fall seems to be coming early this year. Many of the Swamp Maples (small maple saplings that live for a few years and drown off) are already turning, not their usual cheery bright red, but a dusty maroon.

A pair of damselflies in an acrobatic clinch.

A pair of damselflies in an acrobatic clinch.


My daughter remarked yesterday that there are no swamps any more. They are all “wetlands”. Semantics, really. I think it all depends… There are some places that look pretty darned Swampy to me, as in the Great Dismal Swamp. The Great Dismal Wetland has much less cachet, don’t you think?

Swamp, wetland or bog it is all wonderful. And Aggie thinks so, most certainly. After all, not too many places that a dog can go that hits the Lab & Newfie trifecta: walking, lovely smelly things, and water.

Aggie loving yesterday's walk waiting for us to catch up on the way back.

Aggie on yesterday’s walk, waiting for us to catch up on the way back.

Author: Life With Horace

poetry & essays

4 thoughts on “field notes: when is a swamp a wetland?

  1. Loved going on this walk with you. Someday we’ll do it for real …

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  2. I love the smell of the swamp. Kind of rotten, kind of fresh, very green and watery.

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