The egret stands motionless in the half flooded cranberry bog, white plumage brilliant against a strip of tawny marsh grass. Behind him, the bogs stretch flat to a line of pines where a few mixed -in deciduous tress are marked with the first colors of autumn. Above them, the clouds roll up, huge, white, silver tinged, like the skies in Dutch paintings. This land is flat, as Holland is flat, but landlocked and safe from the sea.
At the sandy perimeter of the bog, I kneel down to look for cranberries because it is almost harvest time. Cranberries are evergreen, their foliage like the tiny branches of fairy Christmas trees. Although most of the berries are ripe red, some are still white traced with pale green. This is the miniature landscape, the cranberries, the delicate, mauve Pine Barrens asters, a dawdling Monarch or two, nested within the greater one of sky, water and trees, as this wild space itself is nested in the heart of the most densely populated state, that state nested in the midst of the overcrowded Northeast Corridor. The Pine Barrens is, they say, the largest tract of wild land between Maine and Florida.
I stand up slowly. The egret takes a careful step among the water lilies. Beyond the dike, the roadside is a tangle of clethra, whose sweet clove smell fills the air in late summer, and stunted oaks, still green, whose leaves will turn russet purple, hanging on after the other trees have dropped theirs.
Nothing is more necessary than this wild place – or more threatened.