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Marshes: The Disappearing Edens

William Burt
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Drawn since boyhood to the beauty and allure of marshes, naturalist William Burt has prowled them by day and night, in every season, from one edge of North America to the other. For thirty years he has hauled his large-format camera with him, seeking to capture on film the elusive birds, the wildflowers and grasses, and the unique wild beauty of the marshes. In this breathtakingly lovely book, he selects ninety of his most striking photographs. He also offers his reflections on the marshes he has visited, inviting his readers to come with him and become acquainted with this hidden world, its richness, and its vulnerability.Burt explores marshes near and far, from Connecticut to Manitoba, the Gulf of Mexico, California's Central Valley, the Northern Plains, and elsewhere. His photographs explore all aspects and seasons of marsh life but focus especially on such shy inhabitants as rails, bitterns, grebes, and gallinules. While the photographs tell stories of their own, Burt's narrative invokes the marshes of the past and compares them to today's, with prose as picture-sharp as the photography.No book has ever evoked the mystery and beauty of the marshes so compellingly as this by William Burt. And no reader, having accompanied the author to this secret world, will fail to appreciate the rare privilege of having been there.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14502-1
    Subjects: General Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Color Plates
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    How could a personnotbe intrigued by marshes? I’ll never know. I’ve always been intrigued by them, first as a young boy lured by their hidden treasures, then later as a bigger boy—well, lured by other hidden treasures.

    It’s true, the marshes are invaluable resources, as the biologists remind us: they filter and clean water, contain floods, provide a nursery for fish and shellfish, waterfowl, and countless other kinds of wildlife, including nearly one-third of all threatened and endangered plants and animals. So yes, the marshes are invaluable: to us, never mind the creatures that actually live in...

  6. ONE Connecticut Home Marsh
    (pp. 17-40)

    Uncharted wilderness, a vestige of the Wild Frontier: that’s what Grandfather’s kingdom-by-the-river was to a young boy of the tended Boston suburbs. There was no end of wildness to explore: streams, green tangles, hemlock groves and open beech woods, and sheer granite cliffs with promontories sloping down into the river. Along the banks you could find arrowheads and sunning black snakes, ospreys rowing overhead, and sometimes even big bald eagles. But it was another, less accessible frontier that really stirred my teenage curiosity, out in the channel, just a few hundred feet beyond the dock yet somehow distant as the...

  7. TWO To Maryland and a Big-league Meadow
    (pp. 41-60)

    Heading southward from Vienna, Maryland, you come into flat, wide-open farming country. You pass neat plats with bounding lines of trees, abandoned houses, collapsed sheds and fields lain fallow, logged-over lots with bone-bare standing snags, and vultures perched in stark still-lifes. Bleak, unfriendly country. You pass unfriendly signs, with rusted bullet holes:No Trespassing. Beware of Dog. No Hunting. You recall stories: locals confront visitors, at gunpoint.

    The country closes in with loblolly pines, dark and forbidding. Some marshy openings appear, and some drowned trees, bone-white and bleak; and more unfriendly signs, with bullet holes.

    Then at last you break...

  8. THREE Manitoba Sedges
    (pp. 61-78)

    After zigzagging through the little town of Douglas, Manitoba, Route 340 beelines south across a marshy basin, which sprawls soft and green for a long ways to either side. To the west, this sea of sedge extends about two miles, then merges into solid grassland specked with cattle; and to the east it extends farther still, and not to any such pastoral destination but reaches ever more wild, more vague, and inaccessible. For five miles there is nothing but the waving sedges, huddled willow shrubs, and the odd slow stream or pool.

    Then meadow merges with the deeper, darker green...

  9. FOUR South and Along Coasts
    (pp. 79-100)

    “The Atlantic salt marshes,” wrote the southern naturalist Brooke Meanley, “are the last frontier of the Eastern United States.”

    It’s true, and for the marshes on the Gulf as well. All other coastal lands have long been used and reused, shaped and reshaped by the hand of man, but not the coastal marshes, by and large; they are much the same today as they were when they first emerged, centuries and tens of centuries ago. And they are vast. The most extensive marshes anywhere in North America, by far, are the coastal marshes of the Gulf and south Atlantic states....

  10. FIVE West and Water
    (pp. 101-116)

    One cozy Christmas morning when I was a boy I received a hulking book, calledBirds of North America. It was a reissued work, originally published in 1917, and it was something of a hodgepodge, with a mix of classic color paintings by Louis Agassiz Fuertes, old photographs, and text accounts by long-departed naturalists such as T. Gilbert Pearson, Edward Howe Forbush, and the old nature sage himself, John Burroughs.

    The writings were not only quaint, but hopelessly outdated, as even a fourteen-year-old could see; and the old photographs of birds, all antique black-and-whites … well, they were evocative, at...

  11. SIX Mountain West and Water
    (pp. 117-132)

    I set out on a zigzag expedition southward from Alberta, Canada, stopping first at Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge, on the arid plains near Great Falls, Montana.

    I took the designated Wildlife Drive, and saw about what I’d expected to: dribs and drabs of ducks, grebes, coots, a few black terns and yellow-headed blackbirds, and a minor colony of Franklin’s gulls in jutting tule marsh. Modest populations, all. The refuge is itself a modest one, a small shallow lake with a small marsh set on a cultivated plain; and alas this refuge, too, like others in the west, had water...

  12. SEVEN Saskatchewan Plains, Sloughs, and a Certain Eden
    (pp. 133-162)

    At last I was on my way, high in the cab of a jouncing pickup, eyes on the horizon. I’d waited a long time to see what lay out there along the prairie trail, beyond the rain pools; it had been a year since I’d made the drive in my ungainly Oldsmobile, only to be stopped short by those pools. Now, in my rented 4 × 4, there would be no stopping me.

    I bumped and splashed on through the pools, chin forward in anticipation. Every eyeful now was new, every stretch of plain and rolling hill and marshy hollow,...

  13. Afterword
    (pp. 163-164)

    What have I learned, for all these travels and investigations? How do our marshes fare one hundred years and more since the early naturalists first ventured into them and reveled in their teeming birds?

    I saw many blighted marshes, to be sure: blighted by the bully plant,Phragmites;by landfill; by drainage schemes for “reclamation”; and by almost every other human means imaginable, from ad hoc dumping here and there to wholesale agricultural conversion, as in most of Iowa, and California’s Central Valley.

    But that’s only half the story. I saw disappeared and disappearing marshes but I saw some nearly...

  14. About Photography
    (pp. 165-168)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 169-172)
  16. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 173-174)
  17. Index
    (pp. 175-179)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 180-180)