An Undrained Swamp


We walk in a temple of green. If I was a perfumer I would describe the aroma as a blend of sawdust from mulched dead ash trees, blackened leaves dribbling at water’s edge warmed with pine needles and finished with a hint of irises and clover.

Night Crested Heron

Black Crowned Night Heron

The water birds are blase about our presence. Two common mergansers with their punk rock feathers streaming from the back of their heads sit placidly on the shore as we approach. Further in the green glow of underbrush a Black Crowned Night Heron holds his pose giving us his profile. A pair of Wood Ducks confidently ignore us as we tiptoe closer to take their photo.

Above us the birdsong is the sound of a tuning symphony. I can’t pick out a single note that I recognize.


Mud Lake – an undrained swamp in the heart of Ottawa.


An American Goldfinch undulates from tree to tree. Five dive and swoop across a small clearing as though the sun released a few rays and turned them into birds


Imagine the smell.

Cedar Waxwings leap into the air in a weird see-saw flight from branch to branch. They reach up with their beaks to catch insects and then slap their wings together, which sound like fingers snapping, and then see-saw to the opposite tree whistling as they go. I’ve never heard their call before nor have I seen them feeding on anything other than seeds in our backyard feeder.

I feel like a birdwatcher again. It makes me happy to pay attention to something else other than work and worries.


Swamp monster







34 thoughts on “An Undrained Swamp

    • I think I may have commented to someone else that it would be wonderful to stop and write while in the woods to capture all the sensory input. But the mosquitoes would have had us for lunch! That particular bit of swamp is a magnet for local birders. I’d need a really good camera or powerful binoculars to see the ones hiding in the trees.

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      • Yes, it would be good, but mosquitoes are kind of like alligators. It would be better to stop in the middle of an alligator attack and get down all those details, but probably not the smartest thing. Love that there are so many birds!

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  1. I’ve always wanted to see cedar waxwings, but I don’t think they come through here. I’ve always been so intrigued by the stories you read about them getting drunk on the fermented berries!

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  2. I seem to remember some flamboyant grifter recently saying something about draining a swamp. Still, I doubt he would how the difference between a Black Crowned Night Heron and a piece of burnt toast. And you thought something as pleasant and innocuous as bird watching would dankly obscure your worries!

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    • Ha! Yes, I thought about the title and then went with it despite what might be thought. Apparently before Colonel John By build the Rideau Canal back in the early 1800’s much of Ottawa was a swamp and thousands of men who built the canal died of malaria. There was even a cemetery at the corner of Sparks St and Elgin that was a there specifically for those who died from the disease.


  3. I ❀️ this line: “It makes me happy to pay attention to something else other than work and worries.”πŸ™πŸΎ
    When I was younger and wanting to write, I remember following the advice to pay attention to sensory details, and to record such descriptions in my notebooks. Many decades [and notebooks] later, I find myself feeling deep gratitude, relief, and joy whenever the aliveness of the natural world gets me out of my head and kidnaps me away from worldly cares.

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    • I’ve taken up birdwatching after many years of not and I’ve done this intentionally to get me outside and out of my head. Thanks for noticing that line, Leslie.

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  4. Even the American Goldfinches are moving to Canada . . . wish I could come, too! I had no idea this secret place existed in Ottawa–but what about the mosquitoes??


    • Maybe their names should be North American Goldfinches! They’ve been here for as long as I can remember. This lovely birder haven is slightly to the west of downtown but all around it is very urban. The morning was quite breezy so the mosquitos and black flies didn’t bother us too much but if we stopped in one place for too long they found us.


  5. Beautiful! Love the swamp monster! It reminds me of Robert Bly’s concept of the shadow/monster that we often drag about with us…. along with worries/cares… and how sometimes the best thing is to simply enjoy what we can. I love your enjoyments! Thanks for sharing them!


  6. Thanks, Josh. I wish I’d written in the moment. I was bombarded with sensory input but if I’d stopped the mosquitos and black flies would have had a feast.


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