At first glance, the swamp looks useless. You can't plow it, fence it, or build on it, and it's likely to breed mosquitoes and other pests--in fact, early settlers unaware of the mosquito's role in the spread of malaria believed the swamp air alone caused disease. This fear of the "miasma" caused settlers to either avoid swamps altogether or drain them dry.
Some years ago we lived in the middle of what was once northwest Ohio's Great Black Swamp, long drained to make room for corn, wheat, and soybeans--and roads, houses, schools, and factories. You could live there a long time without ever thinking about the swamp, but every once in a while the land remembers its origins. In wet seasons, crawdads colonized the low spots on our lawn and waterfowl dabbled in the ditch. Once I found one of our foster children throwing stones at a heron. "It's just a bird," he said.
We saw many "just a birds" today on a visit to Killbuck Marsh, Ohio's largest inland marsh and a popular stopping-over point for migrating waterfowl. We were chasing rumors of sandhill cranes but saw instead great blue herons, Canada geese, some ducks too distant to be reliably identified, and red-winged blackbirds by the thousands. At one point we were looking through a dense tangle of waterlogged undergrowth when a mass of brilliant white floated into view: a pair of swans.
We saw signs warning hunters not to shoot the swans, but the most
interesting sign we saw was being eaten by a tree. We mark our
territory, post our signs, and build our fences, but sometimes nature
has the last word.