Poet’s Eye View of Port Susan Bay

By Jessica Gigot, PhD

Between May of 2022 and 2023, I have been paired with Port Susan Bay Preserve in Stanwood, WA (USA) as a Writing the Land poet. Writing the Land is a collaborative outreach and fundraising project for land protection organizations. Participating environmental organizations and land trusts pair a poet with one of their properties for an entire calendar year with the goal of creating work “inspired by place and preservation,” according to WTL

Artwork on-site by Claire Bronson

The Port Susan Bay Preserve was formally farmland before it was purchased by The Nature Conservancy (TNC). They report, “the Conservancy pioneered large scale estuary recovery with work at Port Susan Bay in 2012; one of the largest on the ground projects for estuary habitat in Puget Sound at that time. Over 7,000 ft of sea dike was removed and set back to successfully reconnect 150 acres of land with the sea.” Since 2012, the restored estuary has been monitored for flora, fauna, and water quality and has become important habitat for trumpeter swans.

New land purchased for restoration

My first visit to the preserve as the resident poet was in August 2022 with TNC ecologist, Dr. Emily Howe. It was low tide and we were able to canoe out to some of the stunning marsh islands as well as explore the mud flats and salmon channels. My winter visits in December and January were both at high tide. During this time, I observed large populations of snow geese, tundra swans, and trumpeter swans. My next visit will be in May 2023 and I am excited to see what I find in the spring.

Trumpeter Swans in front of the 2012 dike

For my part, I am writing three poems about the preserve that will be part of the next Writing the Land Anthology. My goal with these poems, as a scientist and a writer, is to tell the complicated story of restoration and highlight the beauty and resiliency of this estuary, including the seasonal visitors like the swans. As a restoration site, more farmland has been purchased adjacent to the preserve by the Stillaguamish Tribe and together with THC they will be moving the dike back even further in the coming years, creating more opportunity for salmon and wildfowl habitat.