A Winter Walk at Buttertubs

No matter the season or weather, Buttertubs Marsh has its own unique beauty. I almost prefer it in its winter nakedness. It becomes an artwork of seeming contradictions, never letting the eye or mind rest on any one shape or form.

Some days, half the sky is darkly clouded while the other half hums sunshine. A blue canvas flecked with white as though a toothbrush were dipped in paint and then a thumb run along the bristles, spraying clouds here and there. Below, the smooth water likewise transitions from gray to blue. Perfectly vitreous, marked here and there by the arches and ripples of gliding glossy-backed ducks. Its edges are accented by jutting reeds, sharp-edged grasses, and tattered fluffy cattails. A line of Garry Oak trees creates a surreal backdrop to the liquid stage. They remind me of Dahli’s artwork. Dark, bare forms with twisting, angular branches, their stark exteriors mask the pulse of life stored within.

Standing on the wooden viewing platform, I raise my binoculars to bird watch. Instead of clarity I am met by a foggy veil. Cursing softly to myself, I wipe my breath from the lenses with my fleece mitten. Then I watch in detail, a voyeur of the lives of the marsh’s inhabitants. The merganser lowers his black and white Roman helmet, diving deep. A trail of bubbles marks his underwater passage. A female bufflehead coasts alone. Suddenly she takes flight, her wings flashing white flags. A trio of grebes surface where she had been. I imagine them chuckling at the fright they caused their marsh mate. Drab and undistinguished in their winter dress, the grebes munch on slimy snacks harvested from below. And then there are the coots. They always give me pause, those peculiar swimming butterball chickens.

Shivering in the cold air, I must be on the move again. My walk reveals moss softening rough angular chunks of concrete. Round red hawthorn berries and rose hips adorn bare thorny branches. The once secret locations of summer’s birds’ nests are revealed, as the leaves have left their roost and returned to the earth. Calls from blackbirds split the stillness. Even they refuse to be defined singularly. Two simultaneous notes, one high, one low, stretch my soul up and down. My chest expands with a powerful intake of air. I close my eyes as I am breathed deep by the marsh, again and again. The cold air mixes with the blackbirds’ song to light a fire in my chest, a fierce ice flame, flickering red and blue. My body throbs with the sacred Life force. Time dissolves. Boundaries fall. Energies merge. I am a precious link of the marsh’s Being, united with all that surrounds me, all that will be, and all that ever was.

A divine peace nestles within me. As I open my eyes, I slip back into the illusion of my separateness. Yet I am radiant with the Truth that has touched me, the truth of my belonging.

This marsh, this world, is a paradox of change and continuity. Within each slumbering tree is spring’s richness. Each berry holds a promise of new life stored in every seed. Last year’s foliage will nourish the coming spring’s growth. Death is but a prelude to birth. For within every atom, every cell, and every breath burns Life’s eternal energy.