What Does the Swamp Say?

The Mill Brook and its valleys and swamps are full of water, full of plants and animals, full of fish, full of life, full of decay, and full of color.


A bend in the Mill Brook.

As I’ve walked through these swamps lately, even in winter there is wonderful, evocative color.


Moss swallows rock.

There are blacks and browns and tans and grays and silvers and greens and on water, reflections. Reflections of sky, of tree, and of cloud.


Clouds seen on the surface of a pond: water reflects in water.

There are reds here and there…wintergreen shows its berries among the brown oak leaves. Here and there you can find a rose hip or alder berry. Or you might see a hawthorn fruit against the sky. Soon waxwings and robin will find these remnants and the twigs and branches will be bare.


Hawthorn berries against the sky.

There is another kind of red. It’s in the reds of of certain slates, of barns, and of bricks.


A piece of old brick in the Mill Brook.

It’s the reds of rust.

Rusts color pottery glazes.

In the sodden ground under swamps, anaerobic iron-loving bacteria thrive.

They produce rust.

Which seeps with water to the surface.


A skunk cabbage budspire lifts above rusty reds.

Here and there the orange-red deposits collect and flow into the brook.


Shades of color where rust moves into the brook.

There’s a drainage ditch that comes out from under the Old Mill.

When we were kids, that rusty water was one of the wonders of West Tisbury.


The Old Mill drainage ditch. Rusty rusty rusty.

Where does that red come from?

Rust is made from iron.


The source of that iron is the Universe beyond, where aeons of atomic furnaces have created all the elements that make our earth. In the core of stars, nucleosynthesis transmutes helium and hydrogen into heavier elements — into carbon, into oxygen, and eventually into iron. Novae burst, iron is flung, molten blobs cling and clump and spread throughout space. Such a blob of iron is our earth.

The heart of our very planet is still molten iron.

So remember what the color of the swamp says.

“We are stardust”.

Hot stuff.

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