Category Archives: Pop Culture

Haunted Wetlands

“…there are deep, silent forests, plunging ravines and gorges,
tumbling waterfalls, still lakes, soaring mountains, and bird-haunted wetlands.”
~ Lincoln Barnett, The Ancient Adirondacks, 1974

Mist rolls off the pond like tumbleweed. Over Columbus Day weekend, I swam in the lake with a juvenile loon, listening to its creaky voice. A flock of geese flew in a V across a sunset hazy sky. They squawked. Alone in the water, I pushed through hydrilla and slippery reeds, coiled ‘round my wrists like odd bracelets. Back home, thumps and thuds clamor through the woods. It’s just deer and moose. A murmuration of starlings explodes suddenly from trees and even the woodpeckers pause their pecking on a rotten birch. My black ash seep, Fern Gully, smells of sweet fern and wild grapes, a strange brew of grape and goldenrod. A perennial stream trickles through the woods and flows into the pond.

A neighbor told me something eerie about the land—that’s mostly forested wetlands and uplands. We live next to a pond previously called Little Rattlesnake Lake.  It was known as a sacred place. A legend told of a healing energy and spiritual protection over all who lived there. I’ve noticed that a number of healers, and others who work in the health profession, live in the neighborhood. My neighbor retold stories about ghosts and spirits, which she had believed to have seen in the woods between our houses. She thought the land was haunted. A hydromancer came with a dowsing rod and he identified several places where water was hidden underground, matching my neighbor’s maps showing the location of pipes and springs. He also confirmed her suspicion—but clarified that the area was charged with a kind of water force and spirits, and they held positive sway over the land. I listened to all of this with great curiosity because I, too, had felt good vibes. When I first moved here, I named my new home “Nixie’s Vale,” with a nod to Tennyson and to water spirits.

Growing up in haunted houses in coastal Maine, I was no stranger to ghost hunters. My family lived in a home that was featured on the TV show, “Unsolved Mysteries,” for one thing, and tourists wandered in through the parlors when I was a teen-ager.  Wetlands of all kinds, but especially bogs, moors, swamps, meadows and seashores, set the scene for a good ghost story. In classicliterature, wetlands represented something dark and mysterious. In modern fiction, wetlands are still a preferred setting. Read a short story called, “Phantom Lovers of Dismal Swamp,” by S.E. Schlosser or the famedSookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris, set in a rural swampy Louisiana parish with quirky stories of the undead.

Skeptics and believers alike may have a strange experience, then share their story with others, like this one in Florida: Spirit in the Swamp. Others are legends retold over time, such as the story of the “swamp girl” in South Carolina. Ghost hunters or “paranormal investigators” are drawn to the places where the stories originate—and sometimes that means wetlands. Read the story of the “Floating White Mist of the Laguna Wetlands” involving a tiger salamander. Or arrange to go on an Appalachian ghost walk in the Wetlands Water Park in Tennessee (note the “Spook & Slide” vacation package.) If you’re in Maryland, visit the wetlands of the Haunted Eastern Shore, notorious for ghost sightings, along with sightings of phantom-like swans.  In Louisiana, there are many Cajun tales and other ghost stories…too many to mention here. Here’s one website that links to a number of Louisiana ghost stories, some of which are set in swamps: http://www.prairieghosts.com/hauntla.html

If you prefer to curl up with a book of wetland ghost stories, try Ghosthunting North Carolina by Kate Ambrose. Most of the book is set in coastal wetlands. For stories set in other parts of the country, there’s Ghost Hunter’s Guide to Seattle and Puget Sound andGhosts of Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak.

By contrast, some deer hunters’ tales read like ghost stories. Read “Going after Swamp Ghosts.” But that isn’t science fiction.

Strange Wetlands wants to read your ghost stories set in wetlands, fact or fiction. If you have a link to your story or blog, please send it to us for consideration.

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Climate Change Films: Sea Level Rise in the Lens

Since Strange Wetlands’ post on wetland videos anddocumentaries a few years ago, climate change adaptation and wetlands, including sea level rise and water conservation—have taken center stage in recent films. Some films address climate change adaptation, water resources, sea level rise and/or other impacts of climate change affecting wetlands. Others deal with the stressors on wildlife and natural resources, including wetland habitats. The IMAX documentary film, “To the Arctic,” about a family of polar bears and the issues facing wildlife in the Arctic, narrated by Meryl Streep, premiers this spring (2012). Another award-winning film, “The Island President,” illuminates the threat of sea level rise to the Maldives, a developing nation of 2000 islands off the coast of India.

The American Museum of Natural History posted a short video on arctic ecosystems in the face of climate change called “The Ecology of Climate Change” earlier this month. The film presents some research on boreal forests from Woods Hole Research Center and University of Florida. Like other recent films, it turns the attention to natural resources and adaptation as opposed to a focus on reducing carbon emissions, which was a more common theme in media a few years ago.

NOAA Climate Services and its Digital Coast webpages have a lot to offer for videos and visual presentations, including a short general video called “Climate Change: Impacts, Solutions and Perceptions” and a number of other climate change videos.

A simple search for “sea level rise” on Youtube lists over 5000 videos, including this USGS video: “Sea level rise, subsidence and wetland loss.” A number of videos look at the planning and analysis that went into coastal adaptation management plans in states like Florida such as this 2012 video: Adapting Coastal Communities to Sea-Level Rise: Why Isn’t Anybody Doing Anything? And this New York City (Wall Street Journalvideo on sea level rise. Some of the Youtube sea level rise videos explore the topic in other areas of the world, such as islands, internationally. For example, a series of short videos look at climate change adaptation in Tanzania.

States working on climate change adaptation plans have presented their analyses in short films to help educate citizens. For example, a Wisconsin’s Changing Climate video was produced by the WICCI Climate Working Group, looking at climate impacts in the state of Wisconsin projected to 2055. There are a number of other similar educational videos if you look for them state-by-state, or visit state universities’ websites to search for current research projects, which often have videos or short documentaries about the work. Student-made films can be very good, too. A creative example is the Beneath the Waves Film Fest Student Film Winner: “Tropic Cascades” (2012). A Brown University student made a film on Cape Cod salt marsh ecology.

The U.S. Forest Service has compiled a good list of climate change videos and presentations that pertain to impacts to natural resources, including water and fish, forests and carbon and adaptation.  For example, a presentation on “Challenges for Conserving and Managing Headwater Aquatic Ecosystems Under a Changing Climate” is available on its website.

ASWM’s Climate Change—and specifically the Sea Level Rise Tools webpages—have a number of resources, including USGS’s video on “Effects of Sea-Level Rise on Coastal Wetlands in the Mississippi Delta” and this video, “Converging Currents in Climate: Relevant Conservation: Water, Infrastructure and Institutions” by Conservation International (2011). Communicating to the public about climate change is often difficult when the language is constantly changing. See NOAA’s video on Communication & Climate Change (2012). Other short films illustrate the dynamics of coastal wetlands protection in the climate change context such as this one on mangrove forests by Wetlands International (2011). The Sea Level Rise Tools section of ASWM’s website also points to Coastal Climate Learning Tools (includes videos, wikis, webinars, training, etc.) and a video presentation on “Sea Change: Researchers Use Computer Modeling to Understand Rising Seas and Coastal Risks.”

Earlier this winter, Strange Wetlands looked at the link between Red Cross, extreme weather events and climate change. The Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre has a webpage with a number of short films and videos presenting topics ranging from hurricanes and climate change to preparing for climate change and adaptation.

If there are other good (and recent) videos, films or documentaries that I missed on this short list, please leave a comment below with the title and link. Thank you!

Update: November 2012: Chasing Ice, a film capturing the faster-than expected melting of glaciers http://www.chasingice.com/ is a breathtaking documentary and award-winning film. Watch the trailer here: http://www.chasingice.com/

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.

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/

Eat Pray Love: What He Doesn’t Know Might Eat Him

Last week there was a praying mantis in the garden. The gardener thought, “well, this could be good or bad, depending on what she eats.” The praying mantis will eat the bad bugs but might eat the good bugs, too. Some species of praying mantids are at home in gardens, but others are found in forested wetlands, meadows, fields and vegetated areas that have mild winters.

Out of thousands of species of praying mantids, only some are the famous praying mantis(Carolina mantid) found all over the world. The praying mantis eats nesting birds, insects, soft-shelled turtles, frogs, snakes, mice. A praying mantis is extremely well-camouflaged to look like leaves, rocks, twigs or whatever environment it inhabits. Its hunting tactic of blending in is only the beginning. A head that rotates 180°, compound eyes, spiked legs, daggers for hooves and lightning-fast reflexes make the praying mantis a perfect predator. She jumps. She flies. She pounces like a cat on unsuspecting prey, piercing and pinning her victim, then devouring the creature even while it’s still alive, and sometimes, during copulation with her mate.

There is a common misconception that a female praying mantis (Carolina mantid) will always eat the head of her mate during or shortly after mating. This really only happens if she is ravenous and there is no other nearby food source, such as, another insect, a mouse, a humming bird. It is especially common when the mating mantids are observed in captivity but less common in the wild.  Maybe it was a female praying mantis who started the post-copulation decapitation rumor, or simply a misunderstanding. The phenomenon is widely referenced in pop culture; there’s even a British heavy metal band called, Praying Mantis. http://www.praying-mantis.com/

Beware:  the videos linked below are graphic.

Nature’s Perfect Predators: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6hGuallLPcM
Attacking a hummingbird: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ep6vmpcUQR8
Mating in the wild, eating male’s head:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KYp_Xi4AtAQ
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1iF3H9xJ-k
Devouring a mouse: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNcIUIULafw

Because they are such good predators, praying mantis are often used to control unwanted pests in gardens http://organic-vegetable-gardens.suite101.com/article.cfm/working-with-natures-pest-control and http://www.missmalaprop.com/2010/04/natural-methods-of-garden-pest-control/ Conservation commissions and other groups also mention the use of the praying mantis for the same purpose.

It is also not to be confused with the marine crustacean, the peacock mantis shrimp, aka the “thumb-splitter” or “prawn killer,” which is neither peacocok nor praying mantis nor shrimp but gets its name because it resembles all three:http://news.discovery.com/videos/earth-peacock-mantis-shrimp.html