“The total size is approximately 3,000 acres making it Maine’s largest contiguous saltmarsh. It is fed by three major tributaries: the Scarborough, Nonesuch, and Libby Rivers.” Audubon Society website[i]
Occasionally places we walk, or bike, transcend the ordinary, expanding our awareness from the finite and ordinary to something beyond ourselves. Scarborough Marsh is such a place. In the early fall, the sun still warms our bodies while the wind cuts up the river from the North Atlantic, but when the clouds hide the sun, winter beckons quickly. Chlorophyll has begun its annual breakdown, and the yellow, crimson and scarlet always present in the leaf cells, but overwhelmed by green in the spring and summer, emerge in the deciduous trees for that splendid show before they brown, curl and spiral to the forest floor. Blue herons, great white egrets, sandpipers and plovers remain in early October prior to their long migration to Louisiana, Florida, other Southern states or even South America. Their breeding finished for the summer, a large number linger, wait for some notification the rest of us miss, and extend their time on the marshes. Herons and egrets stand motionless and wary, then dip their heads into the water to sample its riches. When they unfurl their massive wings and beat their way out of the river, it seems unbearable until they catch the air. I found myself holding my breath as they soared.
With the quiet and beauty comes contemplation: a longing, a foretaste of the eternal comes with the landscape and autumn – a promise that we are unable to sustain. The longing arrives with the passing regret that this inexpressible glimpse into the infinite will pass, and only a dreamlike memory will remain. I am struck once again with Beauty as Creator. Why is Creation so gratuitously beautiful? And why, even though we are immune to its transcendence too much of the time, are we, suddenly like a gift, in harmony and utterly transformed by it? What is it in our nature that is drawn to and awed by the beautiful, whether encountered in nature, art, music or the presence of another? The morning after Rita and I first visited the marsh, a group of about a dozen of us were up early to watch the predawn colors of the sky before the sun emerged east of Old Orchard Beach. I broke the long respectful silence and asked these questions about gratuitous beauty and the human capacity to be drawn to Beauty to a fellow inn dweller, who was wrapped in a blanket. “Pure grace,” he said in his impeccable British accent. “Just so,” I replied.
”Thus in the thrust of a trembling glance my mind arrived at That Which Is. Then indeed I saw clearly Your ‘invisible things which are understood by the things that are made;’[ii]but I lacked the strength to hold my gaze fixed, and my weakness was beaten back again so that I returned to my old habits, bearing nothing with me but a memory of delight and a desire as for something of which I had caught the fragrance but which I had not yet the strength to eat.” Confessions, Book VII, XVII, St. Augustine
[ii] Romans 1:20