MARSHES: Beauty through the eyes of a Paleontologist

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The Salt Marsh is an Ellipsis

FIRST POSTED SEPTEMBER 28, 2009, Used by permission © Graham Young, 2009

More here: http://ancientshore.com/2009/09/28/saltmarsh/

Every marine shoreline constitutes a transition, a zone of change from dry land where most organisms breathe air, to water where the creatures are incorporated into their saline environment. But shorelines vary immensely in shape: some are abrupt and peremptory, while others can be so gradual that they are almost imperceptible. This shape affects the nature of the transition.

In a way, shorelines can be considered as the punctuation between sea and land. A steep sea cliff is an exclamation mark. The transition is exaggerated and absolute!

View from the Whistle, Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick

View from The Whistle, Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick

A narrow cobble beach is a period. The transition is definite, but it is not overstated. A broad beach is a semicolon; it leads us gently from one environment to another.

Beach near The Anchorage, Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick

Beach near The Anchorage, Grand Manan Island

Sometimes a beach could also be a colon, since it can sponsor other environments such as dunes, lagoons, or ponds:

Ponds above the shore, Island of Colonsay, Scotland

Ponds above the shore, Island of Colonsay, Scotland

Beach pea above Whale Cove, Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick

Beach pea between the shore and the pond, Whale Cove, Grand Manan Island

But what is the salt marsh? Following this logic, the salt marsh must be an ellipsis … it is not so much an unfinished thought, as a trailing off. It is a place of poorly-defined changes, of transitions so gradational that to really recognize them one must stand in one place and observe the minutiae as they vary through the day, or through the year.

The salt marsh’s shape and features are transformed as the tides pump water in and out through its reedy channels. Within the marsh is a mesh of interwoven microenvironments: some saltier, some much less salty, some wet, some mostly dry. But these change through the day, as the marsh alternates between soaking by saline tides, drying by sun and wind, and  wetting by fresh rain and stream water. This variation makes the salt marsh a place of immense richness and dizzying complexity, even within an area the size of a suburban yard.

On a slightly larger scale the salt marsh is itself often part of a series of interconnected environments. Beach, dune, barachois (lagoon), marsh, channel, and meadow can blend almost seamlessly, one into the next.

Read more here: http://ancientshore.com/2009/09/28/saltmarsh/

© Graham Young, 2009


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