The Man of the Marsh Chapter 3: “He Learns”
Lyell Buttermore, a second year MCRS student, seeks to gain experience using his skills in environmental mitigation strategies and environmental assessment. Lyell’s pull to nature started at a young age while surrounded by dense forest in the Appalachians, and it has grown into a need to protect that source of life that he has always appreciated.
“It started with hard work. It was not until 1970 that this land was truly purchased as a reserve. It took another twenty years to build a team and develop a plan to protect our borders and corridors from the encroaching human development all around us. You see, restoration should be a habitat extender that connects existing natural areas or expands extant natural stands. Everything is connected.” Peat began.
“And then we realized that just like a healthy ecosystem, we had to have healthy community interactions to really bring this special place back to life. After all, we need others, don’t we? I could not do any of this without a helpful team to support this mission. We created an open space committee in 1996 and have been working with community conservation teams and reserves around the region ever since.”
“So, you moved on to community interactions. I remember this from school. But what species did you start with?” Now I was really interested, I needed to learn more about the system.
“For us, life started with the plants. I knew that to bring back the birds and the rabbits and the butterflies we would need to bring back our vegetation. And so, we began by planting all the coastal sage scrub you see just off the shore: Artemisia, buckwheat, golden bush, you name it. Slowly we rebuilt homes within the plants and the system cycles started turning again. Once these took off, all of the wildlife was able to get food and make shelter, and the system began to build around us.
And this wetland that we stand in today? We restored that as well. Our mitigation project brought 6 acres of freshwater wetland back to life. Our marsh enhancement project created 11 ponds that now foster life for all sorts of fish, frogs, and turtles. We even built the vernal pools that have become so rare and so precious in these ecosystems.”
“You used the word mitigation” I said. “What is that?”
“Mitigation is merely the reclamation, rehabilitation, and creation of habitat to compensate for losses created by adverse environmental impacts. We acknowledge our spell-bound condition. We know that people will still build on land and at times hurt the land, but mitigation is a way of easing those pains, and trying to heal other parts of nature whenever we can.”
“But what if this doesn’t work? How do you know that your system is healing?”
“Well you see…” Peat went on, “Success is measured much in the same way that you might measure your own personal well-being. Earlier today, you had said you felt you could not continue in this same way, that you felt society was invading into you and you were tired, unproductive and isolated. Well an unhealthy system looks just like that. Instead, we measure our successful, happy systems through sustainability, resistance to invasion, nutrient retention, biotic interactions, and productivity.
And we need to monitor these species to keep track of that. That’s what happened to me. I became the quiet observer, caring for each leaf and branch of this place until they formed around me. They enveloped me until I truly returned to my place in the system. I am now just as much a part of the marsh as any other species. We assess the intrinsic and extrinsic variables in our restoration projects, because we have both our internal and external world, right?”
Everything started to make a bit more sense. My internal and external world started to blend into one. But I had one last reservation with all of this. Did this mean that all of this was just from anthropogenic manipulation? Was this really even true wilderness?
“But…so all this is fake? Man-made?”
“Oh no it is very much real. Peat responded. “We are not the manufactures, but merely the doctors to heal this land’s wounds. And in the process, you’ll find we heal ourselves. We heal the system and do our role for the system.
We still continue to bring back our wetlands with these projects. We’ve already brought back 55 acres of freshwater wetlands here at the marsh, with 10 acres of coastal sage scrub, 8 vernal pools, and 2 acres of riparian woodland.
And it has made all the difference. The California gnatcatcher has returned, and cactus wren are soon to come. Snowy egret and even little plovers have taken this place as refuge from the expanding urban landscape. Why, there’s over 200 bird species here now. We have continuous seed sources, plant recruitment, and now mature canopy has even begun to form. All of these producers support our insects and herbivores and carnivores.”
“I already feel better.” I sighed. I was at a loss for words to express my gratitude. I thought, perhaps actions would speak louder.
“Can I come back to help on these projects?”
“Oh, I get the impression that you’ll come back every day!” Peat joked. “You see, restoration and ecological participation makes you feel better. It has been proven to improve your sense of health and well-being. I believe action is the only way to really help yourself with that eco-guilt of yours.
You see I think the Lorax should have spent less time preaching and more time getting his hands dirty. He should’ve been digging up some earth and planting real Truffula trees himself. Think of all he could have done if he planted even five trees a day!”
We both shared a laugh. The leafy veins started to pull all around him, and I could tell that it was time to go. Peat had important things to attend to in the marsh. And I felt that I had already received everything that I needed for the time being. There were sure to be many more lessons to come.
“Well thank you Peat.” I said, looking at the smiling willows. And with that he was gone. I shook my head and found myself sitting by the tree, a bit dazed and confused.
“Was any of that real? Or should I go see a doctor?” I thought to myself.
I took a minute to breathe in the fresh air and observe the change that bubbled inside of me. The sun was setting; I was not sure how much time I had spent in the marsh. As I got up to leave, I noticed a small burlap bag of native seeds. Inside there was a note:
“From your Lorax friend” is all it read. I smiled. I now understood the power of restoration. We as people can acknowledge where we have failed, and from that we can rebuild something truly beautiful. Before I exited the gate, I looked back at the marsh and the pond glimmered for a moment, almost as if it was winking back.