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NPR contributor and nature writer Mark Seth Lender chronicles the daily life of a salt marsh near his home
Mark Seth Lender's home is on the edge of a salt marsh. From his front porch and back yard he is witness to an astonishing array of wildlife, but nothing he sees is more beautiful and inspiring than the birds that fill the air, perch on trees and wade in shallow water. His reports on the sighting of birds like great horned owls, little blue herons and snowy egrets are featured in the segment "Salt Marsh Diary" heard on NPR's Living on Earth. For the first time, he has chronicled the marsh's life in a book penned from his perch. With the soul of a poet and the precision of a naturalist, Lender transports the reader to the edge of his salt marsh and makes us both see and hear kingfishers, terns, bluebirds, egrets and other wonders that fill the sky above us.
Lender, a Connecticut columnist and contributor to the radio show, Living on Earth, lives by a salt marsh, and to him, "salt marsh" mostly means "birds." Witnessing marsh life from spring to spring, this slender book contains short essays that verge on prose poems, so much so that some of them end, sonnetlike, in rhyming couplets: "is it a sign of satisfaction or indifference to the way things taste? I only know in Nature nothing goes to waste." Lender is equally attentive to the common and the rare: the crow and red-winged blackbird; the great blue herons beloved of salt marsh aficionados; a rare indigo bunting; osprey and downy woodpecker; a flock of robins skidding on icy spring snow, gobbling privet berries. Attempts at humorous anthropomorphizing fall a little flat, but Lender's direct observations are compelling: "Her long bill... exploits a fact of nature: Water of its own accord will rise up the sides of a narrow straw or the long phalaropean bill of Yellowlegs feeding." These miniatures convey the subtly changing flora, fauna, and waterscape of the marsh and the exultant pleasure and melancholy of an observer who appreciates its fragility.