The house we are currently inhabiting was rented site unseen.  The pictures online looked nice and we were unable to make the trek from Philly to see it, so we figured…what the hell.  It’s only three weeks, right?  Plus, the description read:  “Views of the beach and marsh.”

Nice! I thought.  Ocean views!  And what’s a marsh, again?  Is it like a tidal pool…or bog…?  All I could remember was that it was the place where the convicts hung out in Dickens’ Great Expectations.

I should know what a marsh is.  In college I filled my science requirement with a class called “Life in the Sea.”  I sucked at science but loved the beach, so I figured this was a better choice than Organic Chemistry.

Wrong.  As was consistent with my experience as an English major, the rumored “easy A” math/science courses were usually anything but.  I barely passed the final due to my issues with poor memorization and inability to identify 200 different sea birds via a timed slide show.  As I tend to do with timed tests, I panicked toward the end and just started making shit up, like “Hammer-Toed Heron” or “Snaggle-Beaked Guillemot.”

Anyway, “views of the marsh” is glossy real estate lingo at it’s finest.  This house is ON the marsh.  Like, when the tide comes in, you need to move your car.  To the street.  Or you might end up with hermit crabs in your engine.

My nature loving friend Krystin instructed me to “embrace the marsh.”  So I took the girls to the library and we did a little research.  Apparently the salt marsh is one of the most productive ecosystems on earth: it purifies the environment, provides shelter for migratory birds, and prevents beach erosion by acting as a buffer zone.  The rich marsh soil is formed by the decomposition of dead plant, tidal sediment, and animal scat.

Scat = poop.  And all this time we were blaming “that smell” on Phoebe.

The marsh at sunrise can be peaceful and beautiful.But at night -particularly a foggy, misty night – the marsh is downright spooky.

One night  we were woken up by a kind of screech-like howling coming from the marsh.  I whispered to Phil: “That must be the call of the Coyote-Songed Sparrow.”

Uh, no. According to the morning paper, it was the sound of a coyote actually EATING a sparrow.

The last strangled song of the sparrow haunted me, especially when Phil left on business for 3 days.  One night as I sat on the couch reading, I was sure I could hear whispering from the marsh.

I’m really losing it this time, I thought.

Then I heard it again.  It was kind of sing-songy and high pitched.  I ran up to bed and tried not to think of the marsh convicts sharpening their knives and eating stolen pork pie.

The next morning while taking out the trash, I discovered the Marsh Whisperer.It was Phoebe’s Talking Prayer Bunny.  Left out in the rain, it was experiencing some sort of short-circuit seizure: “Now I lay me down to sleep…now-now-now-now-na-na-na-na-now…..”

I laughed out loud. The marsh, in all it’s spooky stinkiness, is an oddly appropriate setting for our current life situation.  Not quite land but not quite water, the marsh is in a constant state of transition.  One minute you are stuck in the muck, the next you are kayaking in your own backyard.  All it takes is a change of the tide.

Rachel Carson, the author of Silent Spring, said: “If a child is to keep alive her inborn sense of wonder, she needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with her the joy, the excitement, and the mystery of the world we live in.”

Embrace the marsh.

“Girls!  Grab your boots and nets!  Let’s explore the marsh!”I’d be lying if I said I love trudging through the scat and crab carcasses in my Teva flip-flops.  But there was one moment of stillness – the girls poised above a muddy puddle – when I felt the earth hum.  It was kind of magical.

Emma felt it too.  She looked up, her face more relaxed and childlike than I had ever seen it, and exclaimed: “This is great!  I feel ALIVE!”

We’ve had some mucky moments since arriving in Massachusetts 2 weeks ago.  The enormity of the transition has been confusing to the girls, and the newness of it all disorienting.  I have spent most of my time driving around and getting lost, thanks to the f***ing  roundabouts, the girls screaming, “SHE’S TOUCHING ME!”, topped off by the exasperated cries of the GPS lady: “Recalculating!  Recalculating!”  I haven’t talked to a human over the age of 6 since Sunday, and we only get cell reception at low tide.

But in wine-soaked quieter moments, I recognize that this is all part of the process. Like the marsh, we need to go through stages of decomposition in order to grow; break down the old so the new can emerge.

Maybe the marshiest moments are the ones most ripe with possibility.


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