An Ode to Wetlands

Water gives life, and where we find water we are often presented with a bouquet of life’s finest. You can find it blossoming from wetlands, both permanent and ephemeral, that are scattered from east to west. Splattered rather, as if a godly artist flicked her freshly-dipped paint brush across the canvas that is our state. In winter, rains fall and snows melt. The water of lakes and marshes rises and with it comes the growth of aquatic vegetation and an abundance of those tiny creatures that nibble at their fronds and stems. The tiny plant nibblers are nibbled themselves by other invertebrates that dart through the water column or haunt the sediments. Dragonfly larvae capture and devour infant mosquitoes in jaws reminiscent of a Ridley Scott movie, and caddisflies spin silky driftnets to snare floating morsels.

Such things are occurring all the time, out of view, out of mind, acted out in a realm almost removed from our own. We are the giants, and these tiny creatures are indifferent to our immense existence: an existence that shapes their own with every day that passes. We destroy their worlds; we fashion them to our liking, “stream-lining” streams and changing natural flows. The flows of ecosystems. The flow of life. It is easy to change things that you are indifferent to when you are human; when you are big and brainy. Yet, one might argue that we have not the excuses of these tiny creatures in our shared indifference. They lack the wherewithal to know us, but we possess the means of knowing them. And if ever we feel disconnected we need only observe our realm – our bigger realm – to know our world is one.

The salty marshes of Westernport lack snaky silhouettes. The Black Swans have gone to the newly birthed wetlands to feed and to breed. So too do many duck species, now flocking to freshwater for mating; dabblers and divers bringing splashes of colour to shimmering lakes of blue and grey. Wading birds sift through silt and sand, while Herons and Egrets eye the shallows for invertebrate-fat fish. Life gravitates to these places. It abounds at every level. For a time - brief to some, eternal to others - wetlands shine like stars against a backdrop of farmland and suburbia. Then, when the waters run dry, life disperses outwards across our land like a star turned supernova, scattering its atoms across the universe.

Few people possess the capacity to understand the eloquence of the physical and chemical processes that make up a star. Those that do are forced to observe from a distance, through machine and glass. We can all sit quietly, intimately, surrounded by the happenings of a wetland, seeing things with our own two eyes. Hearing the quarrels of ducks, smelling rich odours of endless origin, and feeling the one world of which we are apart all around and within us. Do not take such places for granted. They underpin all that we rely on, and will continue to do so as our city expands and our climate shifts. Find them and know them. See their changes and their constants. And know that when you are there, you are seated at both the origin and destination of life.