Brief-Form #30: Dormant Marshland at Marbut Bend Trail along Alabama’s Elk River!

On January 4, 2024, Judy and I explored the trails at TVA’s Marbut Bend along the Elk River upstream from its juncture with the Tennessee River (Lake Wheeler). This Brief-Form Post highlights the grey winter delights across the marshes that Marbut Bend Trail transits. No winter sunshine brightened the bleak winter morning. The temperature hovered near freezing, a consistent breeze sharpened the damp chill. I regretted not layering a hooded sweatshirt. Although we resided for four years in the brutal cold of Fairbanks, Alaska, we left that domicile 16 years ago. Yet I stubbornly, if not foolishly, cling to the fantasy that I remain cold weather hardened. At the ripe old age of 72 years, my blood and its tolerance to cold have thinned consistent with my current residential latitude of 34.71 degrees North, a far cry from Fairbanks’ 64.84 North!


Grey winter delights? Surely I jest. The day is drab. Only a hint of green punctuates the meadows. Even the loblolly pine appears more black than green on this colorless, heavily clouded morn. I recorded this 360 degree 45-second video across the seeming barren landscape. Seeming barren, yes, but life abounds. The video captures a few plaintive bird whisperings, as though the sources were reluctant to express their joy of life so distant from the spring equinox.


The weathered boardwalk reached behind me (below left) to a near-vanishing point at the roadside trailhead, invisible beyond the copse of loblolly pine trees. A deciduous forest rises with the hillside beyond the pine and across the hidden highway. The grey planks extend beyond me to another stand of pine (below right), where the trail veers to the left before continuing to yet another boardwalk that crosses an extensive mudflat to the Elk River.


I feigned physical comfort in my pose below left. My teeth chattered and my left hand clutched the trekking pole longing for the gloves I left in the car! Mostly out of sight, small birds skittered among the cattails surviving on seeds. I wondered what other small creatures foraged beneath the radar on this crisp sunless morning.


Marsh-water ice corroborated the chill, and accented the mood. I’ve observed often in my essays that nothing in Nature is static. Return to Marbut Bend a dozen times…she will show a dozen faces, each one distinct and worth the trip. The most favorable mood would not be nearly as precious absent the contrasting memory of such a morning as January 4, 2024!

What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness. (John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America)


I accept the challenge of distilling these Brief-Form Posts into a single distinct reflection, a task far more elusive than assembling a dozen pithy statements. Today, I borrow a relevant reflection from Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009), a modern day realist painter, who I believe would have appreciated and amplified the stark winter magic of Marbut Bend:

  • I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape. Something waits beneath it; the whole story doesn’t show.


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