Cruel Summer

The hot, dry summer has been a tough one on the water loving creatures of Nahant Marsh. The evaporating water and day after day of hot temperatures caused a fish kill. There just wasn’t enough oxygen any more to support them, and after yet one more 100 degree day, dead fish floated in the warm muddy water and were strewn on the wide muddy shores. Although the smell was something awful, to some creatures they must have smelled like dinner, and in a week, most of them were gone.

It has been an unusual season. The water in Nahant Marsh is lower than I’ve ever seen. In the full strength of the cruel sun, shining out of a cloudless sky, rainless day after rainless day, the water no longer flows to the river. Nahant Marsh is a shallow dwindling puddle, fed by neither rain nor small streams. The beaver pools have already dried out, and stand head high in grasses.


The prairie fields never grew to head high this season. Scarcely waist deep this summer, plants that typically soar well over my head are half their usual size or less. I feel like a giant this year, looking head and shoulders above the big bluestem and cupplant.

What a difference a year makes! Photos taken different years from the same location tell the tale of the vanished water. Although the drought has ruined crops and turned lawns crunchy, dried out farm ponds and stopped river traffic, and has already secured itself a place as The Drought of 2012, still, life is resilient. One of the remarkable things about a wetland is that the water level fluctuates widely. This contributes to its great diversity of species. Just as flood years are devastating for some, beneficial for others, so too are the dry years.

When the rains return, the emergent vegetation will be drowned. Like the killed fish that fed the turtles, the birds and others, so will the drowned greens serve as food for someone. And so life perseveres. No two years are alike, but all of them are astonishing.

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