How can you be against muskrat love?

“Wetlands.” Huh?

When I was growing up in the Chicago megalopolis, we never used such a phrase. You were either on pavement or in Lake Michigan. Or, depending on your criminal connections, under Lake Michigan. Sure, Chicago has parks, and some of them have fountains, but recycled municipal water splashing on concrete couldn’t possibly qualify as wetlands, could it?

Then I spent nearly a quarter century in the Arizona desert. The idea of putting “wet” and “lands” together in a single word was not in the realm of reality. Something called the Salt River runs through Phoenix, but perhaps the name is intended as a joke, since there’s no actual salt, and usually no water either.

So when I moved to Ipswich, Massachusetts, it was disorienting to hear about wetlands, and to learn that they’re protected. If I understand correctly, these are places continuously or frequently flooded, and according to the Environmental Protection Agency, there’s a lot of flora and fauna that depend on this. Muskrats can’t live anywhere else, for example. Put a muskrat in a posh penthouse apartment and he won’t last much past the housewarming party. Those cattails you buy from the florist to accent your décor? They can only come from wetlands; cattails won’t grow anywhere else. Otters, peregrine falcons, and other animals totally depend on wetlands for food, water, or shelter. Sure, there are other places you can get food, water, or shelter, but you’re not an otter. Except maybe emotionally.

Many birds need wetlands for, uh, unmentionable activities. (To explain why in any sort of detail would be inappropriate for a family newspaper.) And for those who don’t use proper protection, the resulting offspring can only be reared in wetlands. Snicker at them if you will for their lax morals, but some migratory birds would become extinct without those sexy wetlands. I would boldly say that losing even one degenerate species would be one degenerate species too many.

A beaver is so urgently dependent on wetlands that it may actually create its own. He’s not building those dams to generate hydroelectricity; he’s instinctively wired with a hopeless wetlands fixation. If there’s no wetlands, he shudders and mutters “Geez, this is too much like Chicago” and starts gnawing on trees. It’s the beaver version of a psychotic episode.

Ipswich has wetlands, and they are indeed protected; so when you build on a property, you have to work around the wetlands. When Mr. Bruni proposed a massive apartment megaplex for Essex Road, for example, he was obligated to order a “wetlands delineation” — which reportedly showed wetlands along an area abutting Gordon Greenhouses.

But here’s another fun fact about wetlands that I never understood before: Wetlands morph. They come and go. They change shape. And the Bruni World approval process has taken so long, the authorities are going to need a new, up-to-date wetlands map before they can greenlight the project.

I overheard some cynical wag suggesting that the simplest way to deny construction of the Bruni abomination would be for concerned citizens to lay extra lengths of garden hose to the edge of the property and enlarge the wetlands so dramatically that there’s no room left for building 191 soulless apartments. At 59¢ a foot for the bestselling garden hose, this is a civic project just about anybody could afford to participate in — although it would of course qualify as vandalism. Plus, it would be a violation of the watering ban now in place as Ipswich battles the current drought. So this outrageous idea absolutely cannot be recommended. A committed environmentalist vandal would instead need to use buckets of leftover “gray water,” wastewater harvested from sinks, showers, etc. Harder work, but certainly more satisfying.

Among those who care about the environment, the EPA says, gray water is increasingly popular, especially as a way to flush toilets. Which may be another way of thinking about stopping the Bruni project.

(Doug Brendel lives lawfully on outer Linebrook Road, where his property is gradually turning brown. Follow him at

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