22 January 2015

At Play in the Mud

Going back rarely takes us forward except at the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge in Washington state.

I first went to the refuge in 1994. A lot has happened there since then, but one thing that hadn't happened until recently was my return. Seeing the product of the recent restoration work at the refuge made the wait worth it though.

In 2009, work began to remove a dike that had kept Puget Sound away from the land for more than 100 years. When the restoration was announced, I became excited. The dike had turned the area from an estuary to farmland. Its removal invited the sound back to continue the natural processes that had been blocked for so long.

Because the refuge is visible from Interstate 5, the sound's progress over the last five years continued to interest me. Whenever I drove by, I would sneak a look at the expanding mud flats. The sight of them (or the high tide over them) always made me smile. All that estuary mud represented a return to a time before human intervention and a return of nature.

Two weeks ago, I decided it was time I returned as well. My mom and I visited the refuge and spent several hours walking the trails. We saw bald eagles, great blue herons, a seal, and, because of the low tide, lots and lots of mud. It was awesome. Through the teamwork of people and nature, the refuge had seen an amazing transformation from what it had been on my first trip there. This was no stick-in-the-mud story; it was progress toward a better relationship between the human managers of the land and the refuge itself.

One of the signs along the walking path talked about all that was going on in the estuary's mud, including the lives of creatures that call it home. I'd say that's just the beginning of the story.

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