Salt Marsh Diary’s Mark Seth Lender observes the brilliant white of the Snowy Egret does little to camouflage the bird, nor does it explain how the egret will survive the changing climate. (Photo: © Mark Seth Lender)
GELLERMAN: Animals can use patterns and colors as camouflage. Zebras and tigers have their stripes. Hyenas and leopards, their spots. But as writer Mark Seth Lender observes, the white Snowy Egret stands out in a crowd.
LENDER: The Snowy Egret lands, the name and color of a substance she will never see. There on the muddy bank, still as chalk her carved and ancient figure stands stilting. Like Nike, she leaps sailing into the bright, wide-winged above the shallow water where she feeds, so white sunlight seems shadow.
What could be the purpose of such brilliance, Snow in Summer? Perhaps in some prior life this most strident, most absolute of colors kept her safe in a far and frigid land, and all these amazing feathers are only an artifact of dim ice ages past. Or in the brief season between her comings and goings this is her temporary color, as polished and transparent as paper made of rice, except there is no other phase than white when Egret flies.
There is fragility in all this. The bird, the salt marsh where she lands, even the turbulent sand. From the South the assault comes by hurricane, each season earlier and more ferocious than the last. From the North it is the melting, and where there is no flood, drought. There is no reprieve. As the brackish plain is silted out or altogether gives way, where will Snowy Egret go? How will she retreat from Winter when Winter itself is in retreat?
When the sun pounds like the hammer to the anvil all life is forged to the blow. The upper latitudes break away. The equator burns. North and north and north the southern creatures go driven there by unfamiliar weathers. Life once rare becomes common. The common vanishes. Perhaps it is not camouflage but survival of a more intense and personal kind which turns the egret white, reflecting not just light, but heat. Maybe she will be all right. What about us, I wonder.
GELLERMAN: Mark Seth Lender’s new book is called “Salt Marsh Diary: A Year on the Connecticut Coast.” To see some of his photographs and find out more about his writings, go to our website, loe.org.
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