The Long Flood

RiverRushingInAsTheFloodRises2019marThe nearby Mississippi River rose before winter’s end, and the water rushed into Nahant Marsh before the ice melted out. Flooding is a frequent occurrence in the wetlands, indeed, the fluctuating water levels are a big factor in making wetlands very diverse and productive environments. Unlike past floods, this one was of astonishing duration.

FloodIce&SnowAtNahanatMarsh2019marThe long flood rolled in before the long, cold, and very snowy winter moved out. The great river swelled with melting snow. As winter snows gave way to spring rains the river stayed high. The river crested, then crested again and again, never once falling out of flood stage. During the highest of the crests—which set a new record, 99% of Nahant Marsh was under water.

FloodedPathToBirdblind2019aprWhile record setting floods made the national news, and record setting rains kept farmers out of muddy fields, Nahant Marsh managed the deep water just as nature intended. The flooding river spread out over the meadows and through the river-bottom forest instead of being channeled downstream right away. The water pooled and stilled instead of rushing on even deeper and much swifter.

RainOverNahantMarsh2019maySuch a long flood and so rainy a spring changed many peoples’ plans. Saturated fields delayed planting crops. Overburdened hesco barriers gave way, inundating businesses and homes in the flood plain. The Education Center at Nahant Marsh was inaccessible to the public for a large part of the spring. Events had to be canceled and education programs relocated.

NahantMarshEduCenterAcrossTheFlood2019may1The wild things went about their business as best they could. The plants grew and bloomed as the water level allowed. Birds nested and hatched babies. The eagle pair nesting at Nahant Marsh this year have an eaglet high in a cottonwood tree. The sandhill crane pair, whose nest was barely above the level of the water, probably had their nest overwhelmed by one of the many rising crests. The flood favors some, destroys others, and the wetland goes on.

Just five short years ago, in 2012, a profound drought nearly dried the marsh completely out, and this year—deep water for three long months. Always there is change. As summer solstice arrived the river finally dropped below flood stage. The brown “bathtub ring” left behind, space empty of foliage and draped with debris, illustrated clearly the enormous area once occupied by water. A huge amount of water. But the high water line already is softened by growing green—always there is change. Whether the next flood is years away or days away—the rainy pattern does not seem to have ended yet—there certainly will be another. And the wetland will accommodate it.

High Water Mark After the Flood at Nahant Marsh


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A Winter to Remember

TwoSwansDeepWinter2019janNothing stops time from ticking relentlessly by, and the winter has finally given way to spring. At Nahant Marsh, it was a long, hard, cold one this time around. The bitterest cold did not arrive early on in the season, indeed, it appeared that a relatively warm winter might be in store. But by mid-January, temperatures had plunged and snow had piled up, and it became a winter to remember.

ColdMorningDownByTheRiver2019janThe subzero cold, once here, stayed day after day, week upon week. Snowstorms blew through every few days, adding more snow to the thick layer that blanketed the area. Windchill warnings were issued, records were set, and people bundled up—or did not go out at all if they could avoid it. The wild things, however, went about their business as best they could. Only the humans did not leave barefoot prints in the snow.

ThreeSwans&Eagle2019febAnd wild things there were, too. As in winters past, birds could be frequently seen around the deep frozen marsh. There were, as ever, bald eagles wintering in the area. Many common goldeneyes and mergansers dived for food on the dwindling open-water areas of the river, and rested on the ice expanding on its surface. To my delight, I spotted trumpeter swans more often than I ever have any winter season before.

ThreeSwans2019febWinter seems to be the season that I see  swans if I am lucky enough to see them at all. Is it the harshness of the winter that nudges them to a location that I might have a chance to see them? I can’t really be sure, but there are not many trumpeter swans, and it is a treat to spot them. Perhaps, like the bald eagles, trumpeter swans will make a resilient comeback after having once been extirpated from this area.

SundogSunrise280Bridge2019janThis memorable winter was full of surprising beauty, too. Sundogs appeared frequently. Big, brilliant arcs of light requiring bitter cold air aloft to appear at all. The patches of open water on the river smoked in the super-cold and coated nearby surfaces in thick frost. Diamond dust glittered weightless in the air—only present because it was so profoundly cold. It was worth bundling up and venturing out.

People said the winter seemed never-ending. Perhaps it did seem so at the time. But, that of course was not the case. The flood waters of springtime began to rise even before the winter moved on, and continued to rise as rains came to melt the snow and ice. The water remains high even now. Spring snowstorms came, and the snowpack upriver continues to melt and feed the flood. The flood will eventually pass, as nothing ever stays the same. Some times though, like this winter to remember, do linger in the mind long after they are gone.

SunriseShines IntoSnowyFloodedForest2019mar

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