A Crane Marsh

SandhillCranePairAtFirstLightNM2018marAt Nahant Marsh, another year is passing. The lingering winter gave way to spring’s rush of bird travelers and a speedy return to green. The heat of summer arrived before summer itself. The marsh is once again full of a new generation of wetland creatures. Wood duck babies are out of the nest, as are hooded mergansers, canada geese and many others. The fecundity of the marsh is very encouraging.

SandhillCrane&Reflection4NM2018marAnother very encouraging thing is that a pair of sandhill cranes have returned to Nahant Marsh each season now since at least 2011. They return reliably and can be seen regularly. And so Nahant Marsh regains its status as a crane marsh. I assume that at one time this place must have harbored cranes—they are such ancient creatures, present long before any people arrived to perturb the balance. There were no cranes here when I first came to this marsh. I don’t know how long the marsh had been bereft of cranes, but Aldo Leopold thought perhaps he was witnessing the last of them when he wrote the Marshland Elegy in 1937.

SandhillCraneWalksAcrossTheBeaverPondNM2018marNahant Marsh was empty of cranes when it opened as a nature preserve and education center in 2000. Prior to this, it was an EPA Superfund Cleanup site due to heavy lead contamination from decades as a shooting range. Dead geese were found here, but no cranes. It may be that no cranes have been in this marsh since they were nearly extirpated from this area a century ago.

SandhillCraneLiftsOffThePondNM2018marNahant Marsh is not a remote wilderness. It is a relatively small parcel surrounded by city. The shooting club that inadvertently poisoned the land also prevented the expanding city from building there, thus preserving an island of habitat. The urban environment is quite close, present, and noisy. And yet Nahant offers enough to bring and keep a pair of sandhill cranes. The resiliency this illustrates is encouraging.


Cranes have returned to take up residence, and seem not at all put off by the nearby city. It now seems likely that they will stay. As time goes on, it becomes clear that with a little care and a little leaving it alone, creatures once threatened can make it through the eye of the needle. They can come back and thrive. Sandhill cranes could not have survived the incredible sweep of millennia without being resilient and adaptable. It is wonderful that they are still here, and are going about their business, and can continue to mark the tick of that geological clock with the clangor of their annual return.

I continue to visit Nahant Marsh often, and to photograph the transient images of beauty that pass by. Occasionally I will post a few—but with a day job, extra projects, and incursions into far-off Edens as well as my close-to-home Eden, posting takes a back seat. Front and center is simply to be present on the planet, here and now, in in this place of peculiar distinction—a crane marsh.


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