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An Unsteady Tread: Musings on the Marsh

Updated: Dec 31, 2020

by Hannah Grinnell

As the days grow shorter I rise with the sun. Summer has begun to roll into autumn, and the early morning sun makes my drive to work something to marvel at. Each day more leaves turn to golden, crimson, and tangerine hues, and with luck the morning starts out crisp and cool, a refreshing reprieve from the often oppressive humidity of summer. My days are typically unpredictable. I arrive at the marsh around the same time but my time is spent a little differently each day. In July we were picking pepperweed through the blazing heat of mid-summer. I got sunburned probably one too many times. As summer dwindles to an end the pepperweed seeds begin to fall in response, and luckily we finished our pulling for the season. Since then I have taken on more miscellaneous tasks. Weeding the Refuge garden, sending out new pepperweed permissions, going out on the marsh to do sets, mapping vegetation and pepperweed are the primary jobs I have been involved with.

 I have to say that the best times are when I'm out on the Refuge, earlier in the day when it's still quiet, a gentle breeze to keep cool against the sun. I've been able to explore parts of the Refuge and marsh I'd never seen before. As a visitor, I'd only ever really been to the beach or occasionally some of the trails. As an intern, I've realized the vastness that the Refuge really is, the varying terrain and many nooks.

A marsh is an interesting kind of ecosystem, much more diverse than one might expect. What I love about the marsh is it’s constant fluctuations. It’s state is always temporal, in perpetual flux with nature. The greenheads arrive (mercilessly) and depart, the swallows appear in plumes in the sky and soon they will leave as well. The tides roll in and out of the marsh, causing the water to rise or fall. The creatures of the marsh must adapt to its ever-changing condition, much like us humans have had to adapt to the uncertainty of a pandemic. Yet each thrive in their own way, accepting the ebb and flow of marsh life. 

Physically the marsh can be unpredictable. I have frequently found myself sunken into marsh mud of a dry panne (thank you Lauren for retrieving my boot). Walking across the marsh can be a venture on its own, as I have mistaken marsh grass for solid ground and unexpectedly fallen through a hole or creek. A tread must be hesitant and wary out there. You learn to watch your step, to never assume that a patch of patens is for certain growing out of stable earth. You stumble at first, marsh walking is not a graceful practice, but it’s better to laugh and move on from your falls then dwell on them. It’s part of the experience.

The Refuge envelopes the coast, the woods, the dunes, but the marsh is where I have learned the most, and often from whom I have learned the most as well. As change takes hold of my life as it has all of us, the marsh reminds me that this is the nature of life. I have taken leaps I never would have thought I would, to defer college, to stay home, and to spend my days in the marsh. I took these steps warily, but even on the marsh you often have to take steps, trusting that there will be ground underneath.

My time interning for the Parker River Wildlife Refuge was an invaluable experience! Every summer the Refuge is looking for interns, so if you are interested I would recommend looking into it next year!

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