We walked alongside the newly-flooded field, watching a person with a work vest hunt for vantage points matching the ones in the binder of photographs he was carrying. As he took pictures, we asked what he was up to in order to satisfy our suspicions of his task. He happily confirmed, throwing in that the dike they broke allowed an area to naturally flood that had not seen briny water for over a century – 1888, I believe is what he said. Water surged in, pushed by a high tide. Birds fed in the water and hawks terrorized the flocks sending them swarming over dikes and marshgrass.
Usually I loathe areas too heavily trodden by human feet and shovels. Trails with too much use, reservoirs, perfect lawns of fescue, and concrete pathways strike chords in my heart that sound like the pounding opening phrase of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony [you know it – bom, bom-bom-bom, bwaaaaaam]. These areas remind me of how much work we have to do as humans to overcome our domination-laden tendencies toward nature.
The Arcata Marsh is one of those places that could have been an industrial wasteland, but
instead someone with forethought and ingenuity turned it into a multi-use haven for people and wildlife alike. Nature and human needs meld as waste water is processed. Runners hoof past retention ponds as birders gaze at belted kingfishers hovering overhead. As glamorous as it all sounds, there are of course the reminders of past human activities that weren’t so kind. Pylons from mills protrude out of the marsh. Artificial dikes like the one recently broken segment the area, choking water away from areas that were once marsh.
Despite the reminders of past transgressions, every stroll through the marsh quiets the eulogy for human coexistence alongside nature. It seems possible, just with a little more work and creativity on all our parts. At least, that’s what I’m hoping! We’ll all benefit in the end if we can manage the extra effort; I’d hate to think what would happen otherwise.