Pneumatophores spring up…

This piece was first published in Wet Ink magazine – Summer 2009 and is a reflective essay on paddling Moona Moona Creek near Huskisson. One of my favourite paddling spots with clear water, interesting scenery and an abundance of bird life.

The morning light is filtered by the clouds, dark brooding layers build over the mountains, yet here, beside the creek, there is a contemplative calm as I slide my kayak into the still waters of Moona Creek.

As I paddle upstream, rusted tin signs marking expired oyster leases hang dejectedly from the mangroves. Today, those oyster’s descendents continue to embed themselves in a muddy womb. Sharing the oyster’s pasture whelk shells resembling whipped ice-cream lay scattered throughout the shallows, like autumn leaves fallen to the grass.

In the shallows fish race to and fro, barely visible, their presence is revealed by a slash of water and after ripple, agile mullet torpedo across sandy patches and dive into shadows, a blackfish pokes its head out of a weed patch before retracting quickly. Smudges of activity flit through the waters around me, their owner’s identity remaining unknown.

Rounding a subtle bend in the creek the reflections become stronger, I realise that where the bank vegetation ends and its reflected image begins becomes a blur. Neither image moves, the landscape is bound into that moment of time. Looking into the water all I see are the canopies and upper limbs of the surrounding trees. I see, and then feel myself drawn into this place, it wraps and holds me until the darting flash of an azure kingfisher jolts me into the present.

The creek weaves and winds like a maze, the main channel is surrounded by mangroves and smaller channels send their tentacles pushing through the banks and reeds, cutting through the sandy soils. They are placid now but in times of heavy rain these channels flow with vigour. I have seen aerial photograph of the creek, its kilometres of length tightly packed into an intricate spiders web. To unwind and measure the coils of its travels would be an interesting mathematical project.

At the upper limits of my paddle the creek is still, very still. The waters turn darker and deeper, tannins from fallen leaves stain the water, I am paddling in a well brewed cup of tea. Bubbles rest on the surface, there is no wind, no movement. The bubbles and water lie frozen, as though a spell has been cast and they are locked as one, guarded by sedges and grassy banks.

From the water to the sky, smudges of cloud rain over me, the overcast day accentuates the silvers and greys of their floating form, their splodges of wet ink stain the waters.

I linger on my return where the creek narrows and a fallen casuarina tree provides shelter for many fish. Around the snag small mullet skip back and forth on the surface, while cautious bream and blackfish linger in the shadows, ebbing and flowing with the current. The barren trunk and limbs of the casuarina, now devoid of delicate comb like leaves acts as a sanctuary. A staging post for juvenile fish as they mature and grow, until, with the currents in their favour, they run out to the bay and take their place in nature’s grand adventure.

Pausing, I sense that the tide has changed and that it is running to a low; small eddies appear behind mangrove roots, the water flowing fan like around them. Below me, the surface sea grasses bend, and any loose lank pieces are tossed and turned on a graceful downstream journey.

I drift with the flow of the ebbing tide. Around me grey mangrove pneumatophores spring up like a five day growth, pushing through the sand and mud to dot the shallows. Their porcupine-like quills surround the parent tree’s structure. At low tide the pneumatophore quills absorb vital oxygen when their stubble is exposed to the air. In areas where the tide has departed, intermittent ‘pops’ echo out of the saturated mud, the last gasp of the tidal flats and their inhabitants before the waters return and flood the stippled surface. Soldier crabs march en-mass, embracing the falling tide.

Mangroves stand as abstracts sculptures, with knotted and bent arthritic woody fingers and limbs, polished to shades of silver and grey after years of exposure to the elements. Their carved, twisted forms guard the banks. I drift in and out of their shadows, sliding over voluptuously formed roots. I gently grasp the smooth overhead branches to pivot and propel myself when their growth becomes too dense to paddle.

The oldest mangroves are hollowed out at their bases, silvery canopies and legs support the trunk. I peer through these carved woody tunnels to see the delicate olive green reflection of leaves against the burnished patina of the timber.

Tiny semaphore crabs scamper animatedly back and forth, in and out of the woody canyons. The mangroves have become rotundas of nature. The crabs venture from their stage into the pock-marked mud and form a shimmering mass of movement.

Behind the grey mangroves that kiss the waters edge lie the river mangroves; smaller, bushy like plants that act in the rearguard, buffering the salt marsh and grasses from the tide’s path. Mangroves are hardy, vital plants that absorb oxygen and expel the salt through their leaves. In periods of no rain, the salt that passes through the plant collects on the upper side of the leaf in visible amounts. The mangrove environment is a haven for marine life, the twisted structures acting as fertile and protective breeding ground for fish and invertebrates.

I remember reading in the local paper of a well meaning man who had spent ten years removing old and young mangroves along a major river. He thought they were a weed that threatened to choke the river of life. As I paddle among the mangroves, the fish and the waters, I see only a wild invigorating beauty.

Location Note

Moona Moona Creek is a sanctuary zone within the Jervis Bay Marine Park on the NSW South Coast.  No fishing or collecting is allowed in the creek’s upper reaches.

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