Wetlands are ecological marvels. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s definition, wetlands are lands where saturation with water is the dominant factor determining the nature of soil development and the types of plant and animal communities living in the soil and on its surface. They serve many purposes: as filters for water, as recreational areas, and as places to conduct wildlife observation.
In the past, wetlands were mostly considered to be wastelands. As the United States was settled and people moved west, swamps and marshes were obstructions along the way. Many were drained to be replaced by farmland, railroads, and road construction.
In past decades, farmers have tried in vain to drain, plow, and plant wetlands, yet the wetlands ultimately won. For years, as I drove Highway 14 from Fort Wayne to South Whitley and back again, I watched in fascination as a wetland just east of South Whitley fought back. In early years – in the 1960s and 1970s – the area was drained and planted with crops. But, in wet springs, the water slowly crept back. Each season, depending on the weather, either the wetland won or the farmer won.
Wetland east of South Whitley once farmland
Eventually, over the years, the farmer gave up, and the wetland slowly rose to reclaim the area which had been taken from it. I always feel a sense of joy when I drive along Highway 14 and look to the north, and I see a large, shallow “lake” where once farmland had been. The wetland is home to many animals and aquatic life, but one of my favorite inhabitants is not a living creature – it is a dead tree with branches stripped of leaves and life.
It stands in stark contrast to the skyline and to the water surrounding its trunk. It is a reminder of the faraway past when the land was farmed and trees dotted the landscape. But just as the farmer lost his battle to work the land, the tree lost its struggle to survive in the soggy waters of the wetland.
Wetland east of South Whitley on Highway 14