07 February 2010


Estuary VI by Nicola Chatham

Estuary: Latin: aestuarium; a tidal opening at a river's mouth; aestus; boiling (of the sea)

Here are two views of the lovely worlds between the waters known as estuaries. Above, an emotionally evocative painting by my friend, the Australian artist Nicola Chatham. Below, a cerebrally evocative Landsat image of Siberia's Lena River estuary and delta.

Estuaries are the places where rivers meet the sea. Most were formed at the end of the last glaciation, about 12,000 years ago. They're super productive convergence zones. Many human civilizations have roots sunk deep into the shifting soils and waters of estuaries.

One of my favorite writings about estuaries appears in the 1969 book, LIFE AND DEATH OF THE SALT MARSH, by John and Mildred Teal. It's a love story to the ribbon of wetlands edging eastern North America from Newfoundland to Florida. I have a 40-year old paperback of this book, with yellowed pages and a cracked spine. The words are still vibrant:

"At low tide the wind blowing across Spartina grass sounds like wind on the prairie. When the tide is in, the gentle music of moving water is added to the prairie rustle. There are sounds of birds living in the marshes. The marsh wren advertises his presence with a reedy call, even at night, when most birds are still. You can hear the tiny, high-pitched rustling thunder of the herds of crabs moving through the grass as they flee before advancing feet or the more leisurely sound of movement they make on their daily migrations in search of food. At night, when the air is still and other sounds are quieted, an attentive listener can hear the bubbling of air from the sandy soil as a high tide floods the marsh."

The Lena River estuary and delta. Image courtesy the USGS EROS Data Center Satellite Systems Branch, part of the Landsat Earth as Art series.

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