Cheryl Kimball's Nature Talks: Merrymeeting Marsh is pleasant and peaceful

By CHERYL KIMBALL September 16. 2017 1:48AM
Hundreds of yellow specks the size of green pepper seeds are likely from purple pickerel weed flowers that had drooped into the water and gone ?to seed. (Courtesy/Cheryl Kimball)

ONE OF MY favorite kayaking spots is Merrymeeting Marsh in New Durham. A New Hampshire Fish & Game Wildlife Management Area, the put-in is easy, the trip can be short or long, and soon after you paddle from the launch area the noise of the traffic on Route 28 recedes. You do have to paddle since there isn’t much of a current, but make a couple strong strokes and then you can drift for a while, getting both some exercise and some time to take in your surroundings.

According to the Fish & Game web page, “Merrymeeting Marsh is an extensive and diverse wetland system that is maintained by two water-control structures. A dam in Alton … and one in New Durham …. Two major streams, the Merrymeeting River and Coffin Brook, provide the water.”

I love how the channel meanders through the marsh, tucking you in like a snug blanket made of the natural world. Every couple hundred yards the channel turns a corner. Around each corner a paddler can be hopeful for an incredible sighting. The day I paddled, I didn’t see any moose, deer, black bear, grouse, beaver or muskrat that the Fish & Game site indicates call the area home, but I find the smaller things fascinating enough.

Pickerel weed is abundant and hugs the shoreline. At the water’s edge, large lily pads float occasionally sporting a gorgeous water lily blossom even in September. Gathered around some lily pads and atop some clumps of mossy underwater growth were hundreds of yellow specks the size of green pepper seeds. The best I could determine, these were purple pickerel weed flowers that had drooped into the water and gone to seed. When the tip of my kayak touched a clump, they dispersed in swirls like mini galaxies on the water’s surface. Likely some clung to my kayak and were released farther upstream, a great way to perpetuate yourself.

Great blue herons were also abundant. We disturbed a couple of them (maybe the same one) rounding those corners; one flew on ahead to the curve of a channel we were not going to follow and one flew up into a tree whose limb was slight even for a bird, so he bounced up and down for a bit like a kid on a trampoline. But one stayed right where he was just off the edge of the water a few feet. He used the Elmer Fudd technique that if you are “vewy vewy kwy-et” you will remain unnoticed. The GBH’s long neck and head looked remarkably similar to the heads of the dried up pickerel weed; we drifted past pretending not to see him.

A pair of young black ducks startled out of their grassy spot along the channel. And another large black bird flew past us; this bird was almost definitely a cormorant, which is the first time I have seen one of these birds, abundant on the coast, inland. Songbirds seemed to have already left the area to begin migrating. Dragonflies, however, were everywhere, some the size of songbirds.

A beaver hut was just barely visible on the shore, towering slightly above the grassland. What a good life these beavers must have. Their work is already done for them by the aforementioned dams; all they have to do is enjoy the abundance. It is probably a little effort to get to the treeline and it is likely a long winter since the channel probably freezes for the extent of the season, but it doesn’t seem like they have to expend much energy winter or summer.

Background music on the journey through Merrymeeting Marsh is a constant chirping of cicadas or whatever grasshopper or cricket-type insect chirps. What are commonly referred to as “swamp maples” are already well underway with the fall foliage cycle.

The wind shifts slightly on our way back to the ramp. By the time we take our kayaks out we have paddled the better part of two hours, but it does not seem it. I make a note to remember to paddle here in the spring when it is likely more songbirds will be around.

If I were to be reincarnated as a wild animal, I would like to spend my days in the Merrymeeting Marsh. The habitat seems neither harsh nor cushy. Like any wild animal in any environment, you need to be crafty and wary to survive. But for the most part, the meandering waterway and lush vegetation seems a peaceful and pleasant environment to live a full life.

Cheryl Kimball is a freelance writer who lives north of Rochester. You can email her at

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