The greening of the marsh at Damon’s Point.

This is my favorite time of year on the North River. At least this year — it’s come earlier in the past. More specifically, it’s the three or four weeks when the marsh has begun to change color to the extent that it is noticeable from the Routes 3 and 3A Bridges.

Each spring, as the days grow longer and warmer, I begin to watch the salt marsh with a sense of expectation bordering on impatience. I want to see the inevitable lightening — the dramatic change in color from drab brown to vibrant green that occurs as air and water temperatures warm. Such changes are gradual, yet when observed from a distance, the shift can seem sudden, as if someone had stolen out one night with a brush and painted life into each blade of marsh grass.

This year the color change began late in May — late, by recent standards, by a week or two. Thus by the second week in June the marsh had transformed.

I was driving around town one morning in early June, errands completed for the day, planning the afternoon’s activities. It was a Monday, and I expected to spend the day at my desk, on the computer, as usual. But chance placed me on Route 139 in Pembroke, and as I came down the hill east of the Route 53 intersection, toward Marshfield, I noticed the North River and Robinson Creek on my left.

It was the first really warm day we’d had all spring, nearing ninety at noon, and the sun was as bright as one would expect it to be at the onset of summer. The river and the creek reflected the clear blue sky, and the marsh, in bold, vivid green, was a perfect complement. And I was going to stay indoors? No way!

With renewed gratitude for my flexible schedule, I finished my errands and headed home for lunch. Then, after a quick consultation of the tide chart, I gathered my kayaking gear, packed up the car, and headed back toward Robinson Creek.

There’s a great little launch site near the end of Brick Kiln Lane in Pembroke, perfect for small boats like mine. The tide was fairly slack, and there was only the gentlest of breezes — ideal conditions for the expedition I had in mind. I would paddle downstream to the Route 3 Bridge and back.

It’s a short distance as the crow flies, but the river is particularly winding in this section, requiring about 45 minutes paddling time each way for a novice kayaker like me. I took my time, pausing frequently to gaze out across the meadows before me.

As I settled into the rhythm of paddling, bringing my whole upper body into the steady, alternating movements, I noticed a subtle shift in my state of mind. Details of work, relationships, and responsibilities drifted away, leaving only me, my kayak, and the river. For once, my mind stopped racing, and I was able to take in the scene around me, hearing sounds I’d never noticed before, observing my surroundings as if with a new set of eyes.

First I saw a turtle, perched on the edge of the marsh. Startled by the sound of my paddle on the water’s surface, it plopped down into the river just a few feet away from my boat. Looking off into the distance a few minutes later, I saw a large grayish bird, which I later confirmed to be a great blue heron — my first official heron sighting.

I continued downstream, and as I rounded a bend, I heard a strange and yet familiar sound. A beeping noise, high pitched and fast . . . R2-D2! What bird was this whose song was so much like my favorite Star Wars character? The bobolink.

You’d think it would happen gradually, but the noise of Route 3 arises quite suddenly on the river. One minute it fairly serene, and then you round a bend and the highway is right there, thundering, like a freak storm on an otherwise perfect day. You can see the bridge for at least a mile in each direction, but most of the time its noise is only a dull roar. No matter how familiar it is, no matter how much I’ve come to expect it, it never fails to disturb my sense of calm.

I turned back, unwilling to go any closer than necessary. The tide carried me back quickly. I hardly needed to paddle. I could sit back in my boat and enjoy a snack, occasionally dipping my paddle into the water for a stroke or two to steer away from the banks. I arrived safely back at the launch site, my kayak gliding easily over the mud and rocks now covered by the rising tide.

There is such promise in the early-summer salt marsh. Such undeniable life. Everything seems green and new . . . and yet timeless. If you’ve only seen the river in summer or fall, when its colors tend more toward gold, I suggest you take some time out to explore. If you’ve never been on the river before, now is the perfect time to try it.

by Kezia Bacon,
Assistant Director, North and South Rivers Watershed Association
June 1997