Rick Bass and family
Photo: Courtesy of Rick and Elizabeth Bass
When we finally got her home and walked into our cabin and saw the sun-gold light shimmering across the ceiling, and when the geese came gliding in, gliding almost into our laps, Mary Katherine tensed with excitement, and then laughed. She had smiled the moment she was born, and now, listening to the goose music, she tensed and laughed. For some reason, some doctors will tell you newborn babies can't laugh; but if a flock of wild geese comes sailing into their life the first moment they enter their new home, they can. Maybe it was a nervous response, a kind of imitative, excited sound—but in my heart I heard it for what I believe it was, laughter.

Last year, spring was a little later in coming. In March, the marsh was still a mottled slab of snow, with just a few standing puddles of water, and the silver-green translucent hues of patches of thinning ice. The sturdier birds returned first—the incredibly powerful ducks and geese, flying across the top of the forest each night, hurrying to fill the spaces created by the snow's departure.

By mid-March, they were pouring in like bats, their unseen wing-whistling heard always at dusk. It was still cold and snowy, but somewhere there was yet another slot of open water, just ahead, just opened, and they were anxious, it seemed, to be the first to reach it. It was easy to imagine that with their fast, strong flights they were pulling back the covers of winter, revealing the black bare earth of spring, and the meadows and marshes that would one day be as brilliantly green as the jeweled feathers on the heads of the mallard drakes.

You can't see any of this, at night, nor into the future. But it's up there, and out there—close enough to hear.

With the life comes the sound. The marsh is cracking, groaning, speaking to the sun, on days when the sun returns.

I've got a tiny old-fashioned wooden sled, really a doll's sled, with little steel runners. Mary Katherine's too large for it, but not yet 13-year-old Lowry. Pulling Lowry on the sled across the crust of vanishing marsh ice, skirting the shallow puddles—each day seems to be the last day, then the last hour, I can do this. How fast it is all beginning to move now. Is this what the more experienced parents meant when they talked about how quickly childhood goes by?

Still, we are always eager for the next day, particularly after the big winter. The trail, the wake, of our fractured ice glints and glitters in the new sun like a path of diamonds, and it seems to me that it is the rasping noise of the steel runners themselves, the tympanic rumbling, that will urge the spring along, as much as the whistle of duck wings at night. So much noise: as if these rasps and rumblings, and even a daughter's delighted laugh, are what will awaken the sleeping season.

Adapted from The Wild Marsh by Rick Bass, to be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in July. Copyright © July 2009. Reprinted by permission. 


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