Entering Wetlands

No angler merely watches nature in a passive way. He enters into its very existenceOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJohn Bailey.

When I first read the above quote from a 2013 calender produced by Trout Unlimited, I thought, “Sure, that makes sense,” but then I reconsidered. I’ve got a hunch about the meaning there, but I know more assuredly that the angling world is a motley realm of odd personalities far too varied, passionate or indifferent to ever fit neatly into Bailey’s statement.

How does an angler appear when “entering into the existence of nature”? Would I know the entry if it came and bit me on the ass? It would be far easier, I think, to witness the way in which an angler, hunter or observer enters the presence of wetlands.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWetlands: swamps, marshes, and sloughs. More than half of the American wetlands in the lower 48 states have been lost since the 1700s, and much of what remains has been compromised. Americans are realizing, however, the importance of wetlands and the roles that these resources play in the health of our environment. In my opinion, relatively few of us know about the recreational opportunities offered by a place where lands and waters mix.

Earlier in the spring I visited Huntley Meadows, a wonderful green preserve in the heart of the Washington D.C. metropolitan complex. I connect to that wetland because much of my rivertop country drains off several hundred miles to the Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River region. Huntley Meadows forms a beautiful display of ecological complexity.

We did a family board walk over that expansive wetland, observing the earliest springOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA birds, the painted turtles sunning on logs, the fresh beaver cuttings, the chorusing frogs. Birders who were studying their subjects through binoculars made a similar entry into the marsh. But folks who power-walk through the Meadows or who try to kill an hour waiting for a business opportunity are probably just passing through.

I find that wetlands are fascinating places, whether they’re swamps punctuated by trees and shrubbery, or marshes with wide expanses of shallow water. In the 1990s I did a six-month survey of the birds inhabiting a marsh near home. Several years later I studied Keeney Swamp in Allegany County, NY, collecting bird data from the 2300 acre wild site to have it listed as a state Audubon “Important Bird Area.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe other night I was hoping to get into wetlands again before the plague of no-see-ums and mosquitoes barred my opportunities. I carried a fly rod for bass or carp. I wanted to see the watershed from a different perspective than my favored trout streams or rivers.

I walked the railroad track between a series of ponds. I made long casts into a slough while noting the smell of an unseen campfire. I listened to peepers, bullfrogs, blackbirds and Virginia rails. Finally I saw a motion on a small island out beyond– several high school fellows, probably fishing, had kayaked through the marsh and were camouflaged almost perfectly at camp.

At sunset, heading back to the car, I saw the motions of carp on the far side of a pond andOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA decided to give them a try. There the pond is a jungle of thickets, briers, and broken trees that thwarted my attempts at an approach. It was no place to be poking around with a 9-foot fly rod, hoping to drop a fly into the mouth of a mud-sucking carp.

I aborted my silent cursings and my wrestling match with multi-flora roses. Across the narrow pond, a bass fisherman was shuffling along with his brace of rottweilers, and he never even looked my way. The dogs failed to pick up my unpleasant scent. I should’ve been as obvious as the lips on a carp, but no one saw.

I felt empowered, as if I’d made a perfect entry into the marsh. It was like getting hooked up with a giant fish at dusk, and having it tow me out.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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6 Responses to Entering Wetlands

  1. Puget Keith says:

    In my NJ hometown I once heard that if you wanted to see where there were swamps you only needed to visit the mall and the public schools. It was there that the land was drained and “better” things were erected. There remains some wetlands but I presume that’s because there little need for another school or mall. Fortunately in my new hometown out in the west there are more wetlands in private and public ownership. There’s so much to see in a wetland and I hope more people get the chance to visit one of these special places.

    • Thanks for your input, Keith. Whereas eastern rivers were once good for sewage systems, the swamps and marshes were good only for paving over. Presently there are laws in place preventing such loss or, if taken, wetlands have to “replaced” somewhere else. Modified, or new, wetlands are not the same, but better than nothing.

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