The Many Gifts of the Marsh

Text and photography by Linda Maria Steele

I can hear the waves crash just beyond the marsh from my house. A short walk through a wooded path leads me to the Shining Sea Bike Path overlooking the Great Sippewissett Marsh in Falmouth. A red-tailed hawk often perches on a branch in my yard, as if to invite me closer. A visit to the marsh offers many gifts. The first is being surrounded by vast and exceptional beauty. The marsh changes moment by moment: The sun and moon provide a daily powerful presence, while the weather, wind and tide patterns dramatically alter the overall tone and colors. The marsh shifts from a limitless brown or a golden glow to a luxurious green and deep cobalt blue to many hues in between, as the seasons change.

An abundance of all things living in the marsh is a gift in its own right. The arrival of the red-winged blackbirds signal the return of spring. The wild geese fly loudly and awkwardly overhead. The herons are more elusive and magical; they fly with long wings outstretched, then hunch down low by the edge of the water, far away from passersby. The herons shift color to better blend into the shades of the day and season. The snowy white egret and the taller great egret also make the marsh home. Swans and osprey build sturdy nests for their offspring. The red-tailed hawk glides gracefully by. A turtle digs a hole in the sand in order to drop her eggs, and then suns herself by the water’s edge. The subtle song of the black-capped chickadee fills the crisp air.

The marsh even offers its visitors the gift of community. Last year, a pair of swans took turns, acting as proud parents, as they conscientiously watched over their three eggs, in a large nest they built close to the path. Over at least a 35-day period, a small daily community of devoted walkers and bikers alike joined the parents in keeping a watchful eye over the protected eggs, offering an opportunity for daily connection and communication, all originating from a shared fascination of the peaceful inhabitants of the marsh.

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