Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

For Peats Sake: Winter Wetlands

By Marla J. Stelk, Policy Analyst, ASWM

Winter is a time of contemplation for many people, including myself. As much as I pine for the warmth of summer and to be unencumbered with multiple layers of clothes, I still love the winter season – mostly because it keeps me grounded. It forces me to acknowledge the cyclical nature of life. It reminds me that we are not meant for unfettered linear growth. And it reminds me that the earth has limits and that it requires down time to heal and rejuvenate just as we do.

And so every winter, I force myself to get outside and enjoy the snow – which at least for now, happens to occur every winter in Maine. And although I do enjoy the adrenaline rush from hurling down a mountain on my snowboard, I find that as I grow older, I am much more interested in simply hiking or snowshoeing in the great outdoors. Besides, snowboarding in New England at my age is far more dangerous than snowboarding in Colorado where I first fell in love with the sport. (In this part of the world we have more ice and less powder – ice has historically been unkind to me.)

When I moved to Maine in 2006, I rented a cottage on Prouts Neck in the town of Scarborough. Prouts Neck is a little nubbins that pokes out into the Atlantic just a bit south of Portland. It is surrounded on three sides by rocky cliffs and sandy beaches. The road into Prouts Neck cuts through Scarborough Marsh which is the largest salt marsh in Maine, composed of tidal marsh, salt creeks, freshwater marsh and uplands. When I moved there I had no idea how beautiful the marsh would be in the winter.

From our cottage I could walk through parts of the marsh on my way to the beach where I would keep a look out for winter wetland critters, marine life and birds. Once I reached the beach, the landscape would appear as a strange kaleidoscope of snow, sand, foam and ice with the ocean water creating a frozen mist in the air. The rawness of the elements was always breathtaking and with every breath of icy fresh air I would imagine every cell in my body emptying out the trash and recharging its batteries.

I believe that we are all children of nature in the sense that our bodies follow the cycles of the seasons. We are not so unlike the wetland plants that we study:

Wetland plants begin to get ready for winter long before the leaves have dropped. The hormone abscissic acid is formed in the leaves and transported to other parts of the plant. One of its functions is as an inhibitor of growth. Cessation of growth is essential in order to survive the winter.[1]

Winter is nature’s gift to us. It is an opportunity to slow down, hunker down and reconnect with family and friends. It’s an opportunity to just be – without being concerned about constant growth. It is also a season of hope – because without hope no one could ever survive the cold, dark days. It offers us the opportunity to reflect, heal, let go of negativities, recharge ourselves, and plan for a brighter future. Hope for the future is important in the work that we do to protect wetlands. Relish the gift of winter and recharge your stocks of hope – the new year is right around the corner and promises to bring us plenty of challenges and opportunities in 2014.

So treat yourself to a quiet walk through your favorite winter wetlands while meditating on Robert Frost’s epic poem:

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

And for Peat’s Sake – please enjoy a joyful, restful, and hopeful winter season!

[1] Cox, Donald D. (2002). A Naturalist’s Guide to Wetland Plants. Syracuse University Press.

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