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Booty-butt and the pink reed

A man holding a piece of tree bark on the bank of the beach.


The marsh is my favorite place, and as winter yields to spring, I’ve got an insatiable itch to scratch. Luckily, my in-laws bought a place on the Chesapeake Bay this past fall, and I’ll have unfettered access like never before.

We visited recently and brought the kayak for the first time. The weather was nice enough to justify an outing, and that old siren song beckoned. This time, I wasn't alone in answering its summons. My 4-year-old daughter, Winnie, a spitfire with a penchant for adventure, was about to get a taste of the wild side, courtesy of her old man.

I told her mother we’d be back in 30 minutes, which at the time, I truly believed. The scent of brine and possibility hung heavy in the air as we pushed away from the dock. Winnie sat in my lap, preciously, with her little life jacket. As our journey commenced, that familiar feeling of freedom radiated out of me and into her little body.

a girl pointing at oysters in clear water.

The scene didn't disappoint. The tide was low and the water still. I could feel her mind blending real life observations with her favorite scenes from The Little Mermaid and Pocahontas. I imagine, from her perspective, shellfish clung to structures like survivors of some ancient shipwreck while schools of bait fish darted beneath the surface, their movements a silent ballet of survival.

She had seen these things before, but had never been among them like this. A bald eagle swooped overhead, and picked a perch no more than 75 yards from us. She aptly named the raptor “Booty-butt.”


It wasn't just the big-ticket items that caught our attention. Just as much, it was the little details - shells scattered like forgotten riches, snails clinging skillfully to blades of spartina, branches piercing the veil of water like cryptic channel markers from another time.

Winnie was in her element, her eyes wide with wonder as she drank in the serenity and newness of it all. In her, I saw echoes of my own hunger for adventure. Each creek we discovered revealed an opportunity to know the unknown. The skinniest of which she chose for a brief picnic. Her eyes were steadily fixed on our surroundings as she dismantled her little duck purse, fishing for the snacks inside. Questions and comments skirted out from between her smacking lips.

“Where does the water go when it’s not here?”

“Sometimes it’s stinky, but sometimes it will not be stinky.”

“Did you remember my water bottle, Daddy?”

Once refueled, and her thirst for water and knowledge both quenched, we forged on. Creek by creek, we dissected the waterway. Adrift in its veins, I tutored her as best I could on the myriad of things one might wonder about the marsh. After a brief lesson on paddling, she took control with a determination that belied her age, her tiny hands gripping the paddle like a seasoned pro.


a girl sitting in a kayak.

We sought after and found a sandy bank to beach the kayak. Here, she wasted no time in scouring the shoreline for treasures to call her own. She was enthralled to have found her “beach” and, wearing three different shades of pink, gracefully weaved through the shadows of reeds collecting her bounty.


She soon commandeered my phone and told me that she was “an artist now.” Winnie was buzzing. Capturing everything, everywhere, all at once. She had no idea, but I was lit up inside. I’ve had some good times in the marsh, but this was entirely different. More than anything, I was blown away by the simple purity of it all. It’s an incredible feeling when two things you love collide.

Two and a half hours into our excursion, my wife called. She was curious, rightly so, of our whereabouts. We had explored every nook and cranny possible, but had really only made it about 10 minutes down-river. The sun was setting, and I could tell Winnie was tiring anyway. She offered no contest when I said it was time to head home.

We said our bye-byes to the marsh, and I couldn't help but feel a swell of pride in my chest. For in the heart of that murky labyrinth, my daughter had discovered something priceless - the thrill of the unknown, the joy of the journey. I thanked her for coming with me and told her how happy I was. Our paddle back was quiet, both of us content to take in the sights and sounds of a fading day.


Back at the house I took a peek at the photos on my phone. Below is a snippet of Winnie’s gallery, raw and untouched. 


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