ECOLOGY | WILDLIFE | The Marsh Book

Trevor Goward, during one of his "enlichenment" walks near the marsh. Photo by Ray Grigg

Trevor Goward, during one of his “enlichenment” walks near the marsh. Photo by Ray Grigg

By Ray Grigg —

A unique kind of book is being written at Edgewood Blue in British Columbia’s Upper Clearwater Valley. Instead of using words, paragraphs, and pages, Trevor Goward has been using water, soil, and plants. His ideas are not expressed with phrases, sentences, or punctuation but in channels, islands, and stones.

Goward’s “book” is the painstaking restoration of a dying marsh, a meticulous and loving effort to return an incredibly rich ecological feature to its former biological glory. This lifetime of work is his “marsh book.”

Goward’s project has been huge, complex, and ambitious. Edgewood Blue has been blessed with a naturalist’s rare combination of exceptional knowledge and remarkable perseverance, together with a remembered ambition to transform this place, as Goward notes, into a kind of “biological storybook” where naturalists young and old can learn to read and enjoy tales from “the green living world.” Lately he has begun to invite teachers, community leaders, parents, and others to Edgewood Blue so they can encourage young people to reconnect with the land.

His marsh book, of course, will never become a published manuscript. Neither will it be completed. Changes will write themselves. Refinements will continue indefinitely. New characters will arrive and interact in surprising and innovative ways. More chapters will unfold as time passes. The plot that Goward has relinquished to nature will always be thickening and deepening in complexity and beauty, forever playing with the unfolding elements of weather, light, and seasons.

Goward is known for other things besides his marsh book. For many years he has been a naturalist with an intimate knowledge of the flora and fauna of nearby Wells Gray Provincial Park. He is an internationally known lichenologist with sophisticated knowledge, rare insights, and published scientific papers about this most amazing botanical phenomenon. But the other passion in his life is Edgewood Blue, a four-hectare property where, for nearly 30 years, he has been turning a marginal landscape into a vital and living paradise.

Open patches of the marsh immediately in front of Trevor's house. Photo: Ray Grigg

Open patches of the marsh immediately in front of Trevor’s house. Photo by Ray Grigg

His project has been audacious—a creative and bold exercise in gentle biological engineering that has been both sensitive and brave. Working always with the belief that enhancing biodiversity is preferable to lessening it, he brought in excavators to re-establish the open water as the marsh’s principal aquatic component, stacking the dredgings in heaps that would eventually become eleven islands. The pond and connecting channels had to be deep enough to prevent re-occupation by plants such as sedges and cattails, yet shallow enough for other vegetation to nourish the diverse life so characteristic of such a rich and vital place.

The heavy and monstrous excavators must have caused initial havoc. When the basic structure of the new marsh was established and the land had dried sufficiently for the excavators to return, they began their final strategic task of carefully landscaping and contouring the planned details as they retreated. Attention to the particular was remarkable. Elevations were kept low so native bushes and vegetation could flourish. A few of the islands were mounded high enough to grow trees, providing nesting habitat for such birds as warblers and vireos. An occasional flat stone was even placed carefully at the water’s edge – Goward’s attention to punctuation – so visiting ducks and geese could shuffle out for preening and sleeping.

Today, Edgewood Blue’s marsh looks as if it has always been there. Except for the occasional walkway and the boulders and benches of Story Island, nature has softened every trace of human influence. The marsh now comes alive each spring with plants and animals native to the area. The expanse of Sky Pond is a prime landing area for the approximately 20 species of waterfowl that now arrive seasonally for food, nesting, and resting. Visiting ducks and geese commonly paddle the passages. Elusive sandhill cranes breed here and can be seen strolling the levees. Muskrats busy themselves with eating and digging. Dragonflies patrol for insect prey. Frogs and toads of four species squat serenely on lily pads or wait patiently among the sedges for unsuspecting meals. The bird count at Edgewood Blue is 155 different species, making it the most biologically diverse ecology in the area, including nearby Wells Gray Provincial Park.

Aerial photo of the Edgewood Blue marsh. Photo: Fritz Schaer

Aerial photo of the Edgewood Blue marsh. Photo by Fritz Schaer

Goward’s property is also on the migration path of moose and wolves, deer, and cougar, black bear and grizzly, all travelling seasonally between the mountains to the east and the lowlands to the west—both protected within Wells Grey Provincial Park. For their passage through the wetlands and beside the marsh, he has considerately provided a trail complete with a stretch of sand that records their footprints—it’s raked every morning to become, as Goward playfully calls it, “The Daily News.”

Many people in many ways and places are attempting a version of Goward’s caring and nurturing. Organizations are restoring salmon spawning beds, rehabilitating damaged streams, and removing obstructions in rivers so fish can reach new rearing areas. Groups are protesting pollution and protecting forests from destruction. Individuals are leaving bushes and trees on their property as hiding and nesting sites for birds. Gardeners and homeowners are providing foraging crops and flowers for bees. Even apartment dwellers are filling patio containers with blooming plants to create micro-ecologies that invite and nourish wild creatures such as butterflies and hummingbirds. Even those with just a yard or a bucket are composting or growing worms to generate a tiny bit of life-giving soil in return for food. 

Edgewood Blue is exceptional. But it is also instructive. No one needs to be as ambitious as Trevor Goward. His decades of considered and caring effort to write his marsh book represents more dedication than most of us can muster. However, we can each write a page, a paragraph, a sentence or a few words—perhaps just a brief note of appreciation to a planet that needs all the love it can get.

Ray Grigg is the author of seven books on Eastern philosophy and has been publishing a weekly environmental newspaper column, Shades of Green, since 2002.

 

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