Category Archives: Fun & Humor

Romantic Ecology: Fairy Tale or Serious Thing?

If you’re like me, you can’t resist a good fairy tale. I’ve been hooked on the new CBS series, “Grimm,” based on the Brothers Grimm fairy tales. One of the theories in analysis of fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen is that the characters in fairy tales represent problems in nature that humans must face. Sometimes a fairy tale depicts a “lost Eden,” a lost paradise, but in more cases, a fairy tale presents an environmental problem and the characters symbolize various solutions. Often the hero of the fairy tale makes a choice based on something equivalent to “best professional judgment” and the morals to the story deal with making the “right choice.” Many of Andersen and Grimm fairy tales were set in a natural environment—a marsh—as in “The Marsh King’s Daughter,” the woods, a riverbank, even—in the case of Thumbelina, upon the water lily pads in a stream. This has been called “nature romanticism,” or “Romantic Ecology.” 

            Thumbelina – a wetland fairy tale

Far out in the stream grew a number of water-lilies, with broad green leaves, which seemed to float on the top of the water. The largest of these leaves appeared farther off than the rest, and the old toad swam out to it with the walnut-shell, in which little Thumbelina lay still asleep. The tiny little creature woke very early in the morning, and began to cry bitterly when she found where she was, for she could see nothing but water on every side of the large green leaf, and no way of reaching the land. Meanwhile the old toad was very busy under the marsh, decking her room with rushes and wild yellow flowers, to make it look pretty for her new daughter-in-law. Then she swam out with her ugly son to the leaf on which she had placed poor little Thumbelina. The old toad bowed low to her in the water, and said, “Here is my son, he will be your husband, and you will live happily in the marsh by the stream.” For the full fairy tale, click here.

Readers may recognize the imagery associated with “romantic ecology” in fairy tales like Andersen’s “Thumbelina.” This romanticism is present in some classic poetry and other literature, too. Romantic ecology is a phrase first coined by Jonathan Bates in his book, Romantic Ecology: Wordsworth and the Environmental Tradition (1991) but the term is later used by a number of environmental writers. Romantic ecology in literature is believed to have shaped environmental consciousness and action, influencing readers of poetry and literature—spanning a wide spectrum of people with varied beliefs and values—and appealing to their sense of the natural world. For some, the idea of a “paradise lost,” a beloved homeland or wild place, which has since been developed for urban or suburban use, is most persuasive. For others, it’s simply the beauty of nature—a romanticized version, seeing the naturalenvironment through rose-colored lenses, as depicted in love poems or nature writing from the era of The Romantics that inspires readers to fall in love with the environmental cause. I must admit I fell under their spell, long ago as a teen-ager. My high school classmates weren’t assigned to read The Romantics—but a favorite aunt encouraged me to read Wordsworth and Blake, for starters, and I’m sure that their words affected my budding interest in ecology. I carried thick biology books along with slim volumes of poetry as if they were a combined discipline.

But is it just a fairy tale, or does “romantic ecology” give roots to something more important? The writings of early American “nature writers” persuaded us to shift our perception of the environment—in essence, to care about it. In the early part of the 20thcentury, critics of the Nature-Study Movement wrestled with whether it was a romanticized version of ecology, or if it should be taken seriously. Given the success of that movement, and how The Romantics are required reading for any student of environmental studies in colleges today, it is clear that “Romantic Ecology” is beyond the blush of fairy tales. It’s gotten serious.

Advertisements

How to Make a Swampthing Halloween Costume

Admit it: You’ve always wanted to go to a Halloween costume ball dressed as Hydrilla the Invasive Aquatic Witch.  No? What about Swampthing? Designing original—and often, obscure—Halloween costumes is a specialty of mine. Growing up in haunted houses with a childhood phobia of rubber masks has made it a big deal for me to venture out to any Halloween event. But I have over-compensated by turning the fear factor into a challenge:  the fun of coming up with an original costume that will surely win points in a costume contest.  Readers may remember my Ode to Swampthing in which it was revealed that the original Swampthing’s costume was made of heavy thick rubber. That’s not very realistic for the average Trick-or-Treater, or costume party-attendee. Here’s a Strange Wetlands take on the Swampy costume, or if you prefer,Creature of the Black Lagoon, or Black Lagoon Lady. Images are from others’ take on it.

Wetland professionals probably have most of the necessary materials for a Swampthingcostume. If not, it would be easy enough to assemble some of these things to augment what you don’t already own. Pull together the following things:

  1. An old wet suit (already torn, or one that can be cut)—or, waders/rubber boots
  2. Old rubber gloves, preferably green – as many pairs (up to 10 pairs) as possible
  3. Netting – e.g. fishnet stockings, fishing net that can be altered and stained green or black
  4. Dark green wig, or dye a light-colored wig dark green, or buytemporary green hair spray
  5. Green plastic bath loofa sponge (or a couple of them)
  6. Real or fake vegetation (houseplant cuttings, weeds from the garden, wrack, or artificial green vines, plastic flowers) Or, cut strips of green cords, or gift wrapping ribbon
  7. Elmer’s glue and green body paint, green, black and brown Halloween make-up, or real mud—to create scales; optionally, colored glitter
  8. Green bathing suit/tank top/tights/short dress (for women) or green shorts/pants and tee shirt/tank top (men) Last resort, green sweat/work pants will suffice.
  9. Small clean sponges for applying green body paint or make-up (to create scale effect)
  10. Paper plates (preferably green, at least 10 paper plates)

While there are many variations on how to create the underlying “Swampthing” costume, which ranges from wearing parts of an old wet suit to green clothing and rubber boots—to a full-bodied foam suit spray-painted with two shades of green, the main challenge is to create an aquatic look, without dripping all over the dance floor.  The degree of difficulty varies from costume to costume.

Step 1. To make gills, cut paper plates into pie-shaped triangles with the scalloped edges included.  Layer three pieces of paper plate, fan out the shape and glue the points together.  Fasten twosets of “gills” on either side of a hair band, or pin them into the wig/hair to hide your real ears.

Step 2. To create webbed fingers, use glue and green body paint to add a thin layer between fingers, or stretch an old pair of green tights over your hands, cutting the nylon to make fingerless gloves.  As an alternative, wear green rubber gloves and glue fake green fingernails onto the fingertips of the gloves to create monster claws. (See also, Martha Stewart photo). Alternatively, use an old pair of gardening gloves and add strips of green tissue paper to the fingers to create a scraggly look.

Step 3. Create a scales effect. Stretch fishnet stockings (or fishing net) over arms, parts of the neck and face, and apply green body paint or make-up over the netting to create a patterned effect that looks like scales; remove the fish netting to reveal the pattern. 

Optionally, apply body glitter here and there to create a wet, sparkling—fresh from the swamp look! A little goes a long way.

Step 4. Fake a supernatural aquatic look. Create the look of water bubbles sticking to skin or fake “scales” by squeezing a soapy sponge or plastic bath loofa in a few places, leaving suds behind to dry. Apply green/yellow/brown costume make-up to face and neck in clumpy dabs to create the appearance of bumpy, scaly skin. Or, if you want a more appealing version, use green make-up, eye shadows and lipstick.  For full supernatural effect, make an aquatic-looking Swampthing nose and ears with fimo polymer clay or soft nose putty, fastened to an altered animal nose worn around the head on an elastic string, or simply apply make-up artistically to distort facial features. Alternatively, glue bits of moss or fake moss (as found with model train sets) onto face, neck and arms.  A Google search can show several ideas for costume make-up.

Step 5 (optional). Make it scary. Use toilet paper and glue, applied to the face with a papier mâché method, to create a scary aquatic look. See this video for a quick how-to (an alternative to wearing a store-bought rubber mask—warning, this look is frightful): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iemwLymV0uk

Step 6. Assume a “vegetated” state.Assemble what you plan to use for weeds, vines and leaves—and it’s up to you whether to use a combination of real and fake vegetation.  Keep in mind:  don’t trail invasive weeds to someone’s Halloween party. Garden supply stores, craft stores and flower shops carry silk flowers and plastic plants, often with vines, cattails and weedy choices. Alternatively, use strips of green cloth.

Here are some other alternatives to using real vegetation:  Unravel green bath loofas and sponge dark green paint onto parts of the loofa netting and leave it to dry for a while.  After the loofas are dry, loosely wrap the long netted parts of the unraveled loofas around arms and waist to create a vegetated look. Or, curl green, black and yellow/gold ribbon and hang this from a belt, tank top strap, pin onto a tee shirt, and/or fasten into a messy looking green/black wig. Instead, if preferable, wear a hunter’s camouflage hat with the fake tree litter attached to it and wear camouflage netting. Create the look of leaves using real leaves and wax paper—the same way kids seal fall foliage in wax paper—but with green leaves. Cut out the leaves, keeping a wax paper border to prevent them from falling out, and glue to various parts of your costume.
The wax paper will make the leaves look wet.

Step 7. Walk like a swamp creature. (Optional) Decorate a pair of diving fins with washable green paint, glitter and/or molding clay. The ideal look to achieve is along the lines of webbed feet, or “Creature from the Black Lagoon” alligator feet.

Alternate articles with other ideas on designing a swamp-themed Halloween costume:

Here’s a guy who went all out for his Swampthing Halloweencostume and tested it in this video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MwSlNJIuNc

Martha Stewart’s silk leaf swamp costume—a more conservative option (for men and women):http://www.marthastewart.com/274774/no-sew-halloween-costumes/@center/276965/halloween#268517

A variation on Swampthing costume (totally covered in weeds):http://www.halloween-online.com/costumes/swamp-thing-halloween-costume.html

How to make a Swampthing or sea creature costume (intended for kids): http://www.ehow.com/how_2316666_make-swamp-thing-halloween-costume.html

Swamp Monster make-up and costume how-to video (for teens and adults):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5WXJsslkR6I

Fun Wetland TV Shows

In a past SW post, I recommended some good wetland documentaries and educational films in this previous post. But wetlands show up in other types of media. Some TV shows take a less serious approach to using wetlands to set the scene. Others are educational. It’s nothing new to feature a wetland-rich setting for a TV series. But it seems like wetlands are gaining ground in popular shows like True Blood, Swamp People and The River, which premieres Feb. 7, 2012.

Mysteries of the Amazon. A new dark mystery-drama set in the Amazon called “The River” will leave you at the edge of your seat. See a trailer and explore this thriller-mystery series here.  The River looks eerie and suspenseful, and reminds me of Peter Benchley’s1999-2000 mini-series, “Amazon,” which beat the show “Lost” to the punch! Benchley’s story took place in a remote part of the Amazon rainforest, where a community of people were so isolated, they still spoke Elizabethan English and didn’t have modern conveniences—until a plane crashed, making for an intense, weird drama. (I liked it a lot, but then I am a big fan of all of Benchley’s stories. Just to get you hooked, watch Part 1 here.)

Reality TV has been the “in” thing for over a decade now. There are two wetland-related reality shows of interest. “Swamp People,” a History channel show, features the lives of alligator hunters in Louisiana. Also, an episode of Dirty Jobs: Wetland Warrior, followed TV host Mike Rowe on his adventure in the Florida Everglades.

Public Television Programs. Iowa Public Television featured a series of programs on lakes, marshes, streams, floodplains and forested wetlands. For more information about this series, go to:http://www.iptv.org/series.cfm/15216/freshwater_wetlands/ep:104/episodes

Science Education for Kids. Dragonfly TV – a public television series based in North Carolina featuring hands-on science activities and investigations had one episode that brought young girls to coastal wetlands; this led to the creation of a children’s show called “SciGirls,” which encourages girls to get interested in science.http://pbskids.org/scigirls/ This is similar in theme to Bill Nye the Science Guy’s program, which has had several episodes on wetlands (a three-part series here).

Science fiction. In this genre, the sky’s the limit. The SyFy Channel offers a few strange choices, including “Swamp Shark,” a TV movie about invasive sharks in Louisiana’s bayous that airs Saturday June 25th.  The highly anticipated 4th season of “True Blood,” a sci-fi fantasy series about vampires, werewolves and other supernatural beings in Louisiana and Mississippi just started on HBO. The show’s colorful locals frequently hunt and hide in the familiar swamps; the lead heroine, Sookie Stackhouse, a telepathic waitress, lives beside a swamp and a cemetery. Incidentally, this show has a great swamp rock soundtrack!

Environmental-Themed Drama. The newest TV show with an environmental theme—and plenty of wetlands—is called “Terra Nova,” a Fox series in which a select group of people travel back in time (because humans have depleted natural resources by the year 2149) to prehistoric Earth. It’s like “Jurassic Park” in reverse. PROs: there’s a lot of vegetation and a good water supply. CONs: Large predators abound. Yes, dinosaurs. Apparently TV writers are either being pessimistic here or not interested in putting their protagonists in real-life wetland-management situations.

Update June 2012: Great A&E detective show, “The Glades” takes place in the Florida Everglades. Features environmental crime plots, endangered species, etc. It’s available on Netflix and on the A&E channel.

Once upon a Vernal Pool

Late at night, I listen to the peepers in the vernal pool down in my woods. During a vernal pool monitoring project run by the University of Maine at Orono in 2009, I learned that most wood frogs leave a vernal pool at the northeastern point of the pool and head for uplands, where they spend the summer. But a few less successful frogs go in the wrong direction. I wondered what happens to those frogs. It seemed like a riddle that prompted answering…

Yet another challenge recently there has been a lot of discussion about proposed legislative changes to protection for significant vernal pools in Maine. Many experts testified at an April 25th hearing in Augusta on the importance of vernal pool protections. They achieved their goal and the committee voted to keep the state’s vernal pool protection laws, which have been in place since 2006. For a fact sheet on Vernal Pool Regulation in Maine, see http://www.nae.usace.army.mil/reg/VernalPoolRegulationMaineFAQ.pdf For more information about the University of Maine’s Vernal Pool Project, visit:http://www.umaine.edu/vernalpools/

The vernal pool in my woods inspired this poem about a wayward wood frog named Wren.

Once upon a Vernal Pool

Once upon a midnight clearing
April rains had ceased to fall
A lonely loon far off called dearly
Wood frogs, from a vernal pool,
Carefully crawled.

Most had spawned, left the pool
Heading northeast to uplands
Except for Wren, the little fool,
A wood frog who lived for wetlands.

Little Wren, so full of cheer,
Chirped into the late May nights
When all of her friends disappeared,
She hopped to it, setting her sights

On a stream she crossed in floods
That Big Night. Fast water trailed
Down through the thick woods
And Wren climbed aboard a stick
With trembling leaves, she sailed.

To read full poem, click here.

Assumption: Don’t Play This Over Untamed Waters

Logically speaking, an assumption is a supposition, the product of the verb—to assume—which can mean to take upon oneself; to presuppose; to take for granted; to pretend to have/be; or the archaic definition: to adopt.

Religiously speaking, assumption is the bodily progression from earth to heaven, especially with respect to the Catholic faith. For example, the “Assumption of Mary” was the undisputed account of her being taken up to heaven. The “Assumption of Moses,” however, remains controversial. Those who believed in assumption were called “Assumptionists” (a.k.a. Augustinians, named after St. Augustine) and they established twenty or so colleges around the globe, such as Assumption College in Worcester, Mass. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02104a.htm

Assumption is also the name of towns in Ohio and Illinois, as well as an island in the Seychelles (Indian Ocean), a parish in Louisiana and a river in Quebec, Canada.

In a game like CLUE, or a modern spin on it, Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) the board game, players make assumptions based on a natural process of deducing a certain set of facts and forming a guess about the crime. In real life, a detective makes assumptions that might be proven correct or false, leading to other conclusions.

Because an assumption can be proven false, there is the old adage: “When you assume, you make an ass of you and me.” This joke might be funny in a variety of “assumption” contexts: mathematical modeling, real property law (transferring the mortgage from seller to buyer), or reinsurance of policy claims. But perhaps the most unusual type of “assumption” is a fictional Poker game played with Tarot cards, as featured in the novel Last Call by Tim Powers. The stakes are high as they come with a spiritual twist on the usual pot. Players should be wary of this water caveat: “Assumption must never be played over “untamed” water like a natural lake, river, or ocean. Man-made bodies of water like Lake Mead are useful sites for play, and in fact the climactic final game takes place over that lake.” http://www.sff.net/people/lucy-snyder/brain/2005/12/playing-poker-with-tarot-cards.html

Strangely enough, that poker game is not nearly as complex to stake-holders as state assumption of the Section 404 program under the Clean Water Act is for states. In this context, assumption is the states’ option to apply to adopt the regulatory authority for the 404 program, which regulates dredge and fill activities in streams and wetlands.  Currently there are only two states, Michigan and New Jersey, which have assumed the 404 program. Other states have shown great interest and yet, few people outside of state wetland programs have heard of assumption. I know a little about it because I had to become an expert on the subject after two years of research. I developed fact sheets on assumption for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers. Everything I learned about it is posted on this webpage I put together for ASWM here. 

ASWM and the Environmental Council to the States, as well as EPA and a number of states have been working to clarify the application process for states to assume §404. The group is drafting a handbook, which will offer much needed guidelines to states.http://aswm.org/wetland-programs/s-404-assumption

And by the way, if Strange Wetlands ever takes on a swamp rock cover band, they’ll be called the Assumptionists.

The “Other” Wetland Heroes

Last year I paid homage to the fictional characters, Mark Trail and Swampthing, as unsung wetland heroes. But what of others? Let’s not forget Ranger Rick. As a kid, I looked forward to receiving my monthly issue of Ranger Rick magazine in the mail. I inhaled the stories. I treasured the magazines like they were living things. My mother kept one issue with a coiled-up snake on the cover in a basket of secrets so I would not snoop. When passing the basket, I gave it a wide berth as if the magazine snake might come alive and spring. I learned a lot about nature and wildlife from reading Ranger Rick.

Today the raccoon dressed as a park ranger, “Ranger Rick,” continues to teach kids about wildlife and the natural world. For instance, here Ranger Rick educates kids about wetlands and the Gulf oil spill: http://www.nwf.org/Kids/Ranger-Rick/People-and-Places/Ranger-Rick-on-the-Big-Oil-Spill.aspx Ranger Rick also teaches kids about the importance of wetlands: http://www.nwf.org/Kids/Ranger-Rick/People-and-Places/Whats-a-Wetland.aspx Kids today might suggest another environmental hero close to their hearts (and DVD players): Shrek, the swamp-dwelling ogre, fights development pressures from the royal kingdom and restores balance in his wetland home. http://www.imdb.com/character/ch0002004/ A different generation might think of a certain Muppet, who lived in a swamp and sang, “It’s not easy being green…”Of all the comic book heroes, it is safe to say thatCaptain Planet is a well-recognized environmental hero. His main role is to protect the planet and all its natural splendor, wetlands included. EPA’s Wetlands Program worked with the creators of theCaptain Planet cartoon series, especially an episode called “Jail House Flock,” which taught kids about the importance of wetlands.http://www.turner.com/planet/mission.html Watch the episode depicting the eco-emergency about migratory birds and destruction of wetlands here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ur-Kss-yTxwEco-geeks to the rescue!

Often comics and cartoons take an extreme slant in portraying heroes and villains to communicate an environmental message. In the Swampthing comics, a recurring anti-hero called Floronic Man, aka Jason Woodrue, feels that humans are destroying the Everglades. Unlike Swampy, who’s fairly conscientious in his noble attempts to save the wetlands, Floronic Man plots for the plants to take over to the point of killing developers with a chainsaw.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Floronic_Man Man-Thing was another large misunderstood, empathic human-plant mutant character living in the Florida Everglades. This Marvel Comic character was criticized for being too similar in origin to Swampthing,even though Man-Thing came from a 1960s comic series called “Tales of Suspense,” which means that he preceded Swampy,who first appeared in 1971. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man-Thing For Strange Wetlands’ Ode to Swampthing, see:http://aswm.org/wordpress/
strange-wetlands-ode-to-swampthing/

Science fiction sub-genres span a wide spectrum of stories that carry an obvious environmental message, from post-apocalyptic, including an obscure comic series called “The Puma Blues,” (1986-1989) featuring wildlife and nature with prose poetryhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Puma_Blues to fantasy realms of authors like Ilona Andrews (her recent book is called Bayou Moon http://www.ilona-andrews.com/) and Kim Stanley Robinson, who has been called an environmental hero for his series of books(Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars) about the terraforming and settling of Mars, after global climate change has caused wide-spread flooding on Earth.http://sciencefictionbiology.blogspot.com/2008/09/kim-stanley-robinson-hero-of.htmlThere are too many science-fiction authors to name here. If you have one you’d like to recommend, please leave a comment.

Wetland-dwelling protagonists are also abundant in fiction and creative nonfiction. Novels like A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter, The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean and some of Carl Hiaasen’s stories that take place in the Everglades are linked on ASWM’s Book Service On-Amazon, under the categories for fiction and nonfiction here:http://www.aswm.org/propub/bookservice/fiction.htm If after visiting the book list, you have a suggested title to add, please leave a comment.

It’s the End of the Wet World as We Know it: Post-Apocalyptic Movies with a (Lack of) Water Theme

With the release of the 2010 film, “Book of Eli,” people are talking about the post-apocalyptic genre. It begs a nod to some of the cult-classics and popular films from that genre over the decades. One common trend in many “end of the world” movie plots about a futuristic or dystopian Earth is a lack of water, or in the case of “Waterworld,” an over-abundance of it. Here is Strange Wetlands’ take on the top ten post-apocalyptic movies that make you thirsty.

#10 Solar Babies (1986) Teen-agers must endure life on a futuristic Earth, where most of the water has disappeared. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0091981/plotsummary

#9 The Road (2009) A father and son make a dark trek across a post-apocalyptic burned America and fight to keep their humanity in a world without plants, an obscured sun, and harsh climate. http://www.imdb.com/
title/tt0898367/plotsummary

#8 Mad Max (1979) Who can resist this action-packed adventure classic with Mel Gibson as the ex-cop turned-hero set in the wastelands of Australia?http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0079501/

#7 Dune (1984) A young man uses sand dune ecology to his advantage in a far-futuristic desert world. This is a cult-classic.
http://book-of-eli-movie-trailer.blogspot.com/

#6 Book of Eli (2010) Denzel Washington plays a man on a mission to guard a sacred book. Along the way, water is a coveted resource and dangerous to acquire. http://book-of-eli-movie-trailer.blogspot.com/ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1037705/

#5 Tank Girl (1995) A cool Australian flick based on the British comic strip about a group of rebels who fight the corporate Water and Power that controls all of a dystopian Earth’s water.   This is my favorite on this list. Lots of girl power! http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0114614/

#4 The Age of Stupid (2009) This is a documentary-drama-animation hybrid that asks the question, “why didn’t they stop climate change?” on a futuristic Earth.http://www.imdb.com/title/
tt1300563/

#3 Idiocracy (2006) It’s 500 years into the future, and the world is run by morons who think water is only for toilets and that crops should grow on Gatorade. Many Saturday Night Live comedians star in this cringe-inducing comedy. It gets you thinking…http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0387808/

#2 The Day After Tomorrow (2004) A climatologist discovers that a huge ice sheet has been sheared off in Antarctica. New York City is overwhelmed by the chills of a new Ice Age. Sea level rise is also a theme.http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0319262/ As with many science fiction movies, there is some good science and a whole lot of bad science in this film:http://geolor.com/The_Day_After_Tomorrow_Movie.htm

#1 Planet of the Apes (1968) One of the most-loved sci-fi post-apocalyptic stories turns the plot upside down by pitting man against beast on a planet…that turns out to be Earth all along. In the beginning, the astronauts must travel across a desert without water until they are captured by the intelligent Apes.  At the end, Heston rides across a beach searching for his destiny and finds the Statue of Liberty.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=31QUOUxqz2Mhttp://www.imdb.com/title/tt0387808/

Honorable Mention: Waterworld (1995) The polar ice caps have melted and the Earth is covered (mostly) by water. They search for a mythical place called “Dryland.” This is a sea level rise model gone into hyper drive.http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0114898/