Getting off the bus this morning I was greeted by fierce wind and pelting rain. Huddling under the hood of my down jacket I tried to find some measure of warmth while rushing down the hill and across the river in the city. Soon my earlier effort of drying my hair before leaving the house was completely undone and it whipped in drenched cords across my face. I am sure the bogs were delighted with a new thick layer of moisture soaking into their spongy layers but I was not. Ireland can really be a wet land. In the city all the moisture just follows gravity down the streets and into the drains or canals but outside of it, the wetlands flourish.
When I was growing up the wetlands never seemed like exotic ecosystems. Who would want to visit to a marsh, a bog or a swamp when there were oceans, forests and mountains to explore? This was probably the reason a friend and I chose them as one of our high school biology projects one year – they were the unexpected place, the useless ground, the visually abhorrent in our part of the world. As I learned about how wetlands purify our water, ward off flooding and provide habitat for so much life, my opinion began to change. I began to explore areas saturated in water as if they were the hosts of some of the most intricate and delicate forms of life, vital to our world.
Over Christmas while visiting my family in Canada, I was able to travel through parts of Oregon and Washington. On our way home we stopped at the Mount St. Helen’s Visitor Centre. The top is blown off the volcanic mountain from its eruption in 1980. My parents remember the moment their tent walls sucked in and an the explosion filled the air from where they were staying near Vancouver, 400km away. This winter it sat as a silent white novelty to the landscape, framed by the trees and the glassy ice surfaces of the wetlands. My attention was drawn to the plants softly floating beneath the layers of intricately designed ice. This was the area where people thrived before modern conveniences allowed us to choose a home with the best view. Life came from these waters. Safety came from these waters. Sustainability came from these waters. The mountain peak wasn’t the place to go if you wanted to thrive.
I don’t know about you, but I find it really easy to see the very few people who fit on top of the mountain peek of success and hear the message we’ve convinced ourselves of: this could be you if only you … (worked hard enough, didn’t eat, didn’t sleep, prayed to all gods at once, prayed to no god at all). But then I look around me at the real heroes I admire. They move about their days with a passionate focus of giving someone a lift who doesn’t have a car, making lunch for people who others don’t think are important, cultivating the plot of land that belongs to them and making preserves from the fruit of their labour. They live in the wetlands, the places teaming with life, seemingly a little less adventurous and yet sustainable for far more people than the mountain top.
For as much as we all long for the beach, the forest and the mountain top, if only for just a holiday, perhaps it is time to intentionally make our home in the wetlands.