Jewel Tones in July: Life in a Vital Marsh

Eagle Marsh, a 831-acre wetland nature preserve in my hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana, is one of the best places on the planet. It’s not up for discussion — it’s just a fact. The Little River Wetlands Project acquired the land in 2005 and undertook one of the most ambitious marsh restoration projects ever in the state of Indiana. Over 250 bird species have since been spotted at the marsh, and if you’re there on a lucky day, a leopard frog will hop over your boot as you hike or a bald eagle will swoop directly overhead. Though there’s nothing like experiencing the sights, sounds, and smells of the marsh in person, here’s a photographic look into the human-restored natural world that I love so much.

Photo One, April 2020: A red barn overlooks clusters of reeds. It’s spring here in Northeast Indiana, and that means two things: rainfall and the beginnings of new life. Late in the afternoon, the thin clouds hanging in the air make the light diffract and fall on everything like muslin. You can’t help but stand in one place for minutes at a time and stare at the reflection of the dry reeds rippling in the water.

Photo Two, May 2021: A mated pair of mallards chill on a patch of grasses in a pond. Although anthropomorphizing animals’ emotions is usually dubious at best, it’s clear from the glint in their eyes and their calmness that they are, like you, content. The cerulean sky reflects off of the pond water, as do the lime green grasses swaying in the gentle breeze. It’s too early in the season for the mallard couple to have a trail of ducklings waddling behind them, but you know it won’t be long before they introduce new life into the wonderful marsh.

Photo Three, April 2020: Power lines droop like heavy vines above the marsh. They, along with the endless swoosh of cars on a nearby highway, recall you back from the acres of vital marshland stretching in front of you to the industrial world. Aesthetically, however, they’re pretty striking. They lord above the ponds of fresh rain that will inevitably sink into the supple ground in a few days. One acre of marsh a foot deep can hold over 300,000 gallons of water, and so many creatures that rely on its pliable strength.

Photo Four, March 2020: At dusk, a red-winged blackbird perches on a cluster of wildflowers. In the yellow light of sunset, only his silhouette is visible. Red-winged blackbirds are famously territorial, and though it’s close to nighttime, his work is nowhere close to done. Until it’s time to roost, he will perch somewhere visible, puff out his feathers so that his scarlet epaulets are visible, and call out to let all intruders — you included — know that it’s HIS turf you’re on. A well-maintained marsh may be one of the best places to be a bird, but that doesn’t mean it’s all fun and games.

Photo Five, May 2021: Though for me birds are the marsh’s star attraction, they are by no means the only special thing about the marsh. Another common sight is painted turtles, the most widespread turtle in North America. Though from afar their shells look like smooth muddy green rocks, up close their streaks of bright yellow, green, and an almost-coral orange are breathtaking. This turtle, which was making its way to a pond, took a few minutes to rest in a patch of grass and clover before picking up the pace.

Though Eagle Marsh is the best marsh in the world, it’s by no means the only marsh worth visiting. If you’re in need of a little outdoor time with just yourself and maybe some critters, consider pulling on some boots and visiting a marsh near you. John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge is close to Swarthmore and is also an incredible preserve to observe the natural world, though it’s unfortunately inaccessible without a personal motor vehicle. Even closer is the Crum Woods, where you can see a world of songbirds and other animals if only you open your eyes and ears.

Photographs courtesy of the author.

Anatole Shukla

Anatole Shukla '22 is an Editor Emeritus of The Phoenix. He is from Fort Wayne, Indiana, and studied economics, linguistics, and Russian language while at Swarthmore.

1 Comment

  1. Hello, Anatole! I was looking for a photo essay to show my Journalism II class (I teach at Homestead now), and to my great delight, I found a photo essay from you, my former student. I’m glad to see that you did well in college, and I hope that life since then has brought much to you. Take care.

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