Convergence: Where Streams & Stories Connect

Eighteen years ago, my brother and I eloped with our mother to Kaua’i. I say “eloped” because the trip was a romantic surprise after my step-dad proposed over the phone. He was already there—on Kaua’i. It was February, 1995, my senior year of high school, and the end of February school vacation. I turned 18 during the 23 hour plane ride to the Big Island of Hawai’i. My parents—my mother and step-dad, married at the point of convergence, where two streams met before emptying into the Pacific. Waterfalls peeled like tropical fruit through the rainforest. Two fed these streams. Neither my brother nor I had ever experienced swimming in the Pacific Ocean, let alone kayaking through a jungle. One day we hiked to a massive 40-foot waterfall, which we learned had been featured in one of the King Kong movies. I slipped behind the falls into a cave, sprayed by its awesome force. Those streams created our new family.

Flash forward to 2013:  A small perennial stream meanders through my black ash seep, past a vernal pool and flows into the pond. It’s not dramatic. It’s barely audible. The nor’easter that took everyone on the East coast by surprise yesterday dropped over a foot of snow. It’s that light fluffy stuff perfect for a snowshoe hike. Everything’s quiet, cold and white. Yet the stream trickles, melting the snow on either side. It persists. This stream is one of many, many streams in Maine that flow either perennially, intermittently or ephemerally—that is, after storms. Streams criss-cross and converge, form major tributaries like Panther Run, feed creeks and rivers, such as the Crooked River, emptying into lakes, picturesque waters such as Panther Pond, and wetlands throughout the Sebago Lakes Region of southern Maine. Most of the residents in this region depend on the groundwater for their drinking water. Those residents in the Portland Water District get their drinking water from Sebago Lake. Either way, the streams that flow and converge throughout the state—even beyond this watershed—play an integral part of life as we know it.

In thinking about the importance of headwater streams, it’s useful to see streams in a larger watershed context. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has launched a great online tool with a headwater stream index for the entire United States. Maps showing stream data are available for 48 states (Alaska and Hawai’i are not available at the time of this post). EPA has published the summaries of findings from a 2009 study on intermittent, ephemeral and headwater streams. There’s information about public drinking water systems in the U.S., too. Local drinking waterinformation is also available by state.

What I found interesting in looking at stream data for the State of Maine is that I live in an area where 94-100% of stream miles are contained in Source Protection Areas (SPAs). An SPA is an area “upstream from a drinking water source or intake that contributes surface water flow to the drinking water intake within a 24-hour period.” (EPA, Office of Water) That means that most of, if not all of, the intermittent, headwater and ephemeral streams in those areas support public drinking water systems.

It makes sense. I live in a town that’s home to the “landlocked salmon” in Sebago Lake. The lake is one of the few lakes in the country that receives a Filtration Avoidance Waiver from the EPA. This waiver saves the communities in the region $125 million in construction and operation costs—since there is no need for a water treatment facility. I recently learned that if the Portland Water District had to invest in such a water treatment system, it would cost over $100 million. Currently, the cost-savings come from the convergence of headwater, intermittent and ephemeral streams throughout the Sebago Lakes Region watershed.  We also know that area wetlands are equally valuable for their ecological services, including flood attenuation and protecting water quality in those very streams. It is my hope as a local conservation official, and through volunteering with small watershed groups, like the Healthy Waters Coalition in the Sebago Lakes Region, we can inform and educate municipal decision-makers on the value of protecting headwater streams.

Meanwhile, the Maine Association of Wetland Scientists is holding its annual meeting on March 25th. This year’s meeting focuses on rivers and streams.

For further reading, check out these related blogs:

Streams Take Me By Surprise, by Travis Loop, EPA blog

Rivanna streams not safe for swimming and boating? Find out more on Thurs, March 21
Rivanna River Basin Commission (Charlottesville, VA)

Managing Municipal Stormwater: Protecting Water Quality, Streams and Communities
Penn State Extension Blog

Rivers, Streams, Water Falls, Food and More, by Bill Trussell, Fishing Through Life

For further information about streams, click here.

The Love Lives of Horseshoe Crabs, Not Cannibals

Amidst the studies on Hurricane Sandy’s impacts on coastal communities—which affected the lives of people, most notably—some recent studies have examined the impacts on the lives of a strange ancient creature: horseshoe crabs. Distant relatives of scorpions and spiders, horseshoe crabs are not true crabs, or crustaceans. They’ve been around for over 1 billion years and lived alongside dinosaurs. See “The Life and Times of the Earliest Horseshoe Crabs,” (Rudkin, Royal Ontario Museum). Unlike a scorpion, crab or spider, horseshoe crabs don’t bite, sting or pinch. And unlike cannibalistic crustaceans, adult horseshoe crabs do not congregate (except to spawn seasonally), which is possibly a way to avoid large crabs attacking smaller horseshoe crabs—thus, avoiding cannibalistic behavior as a species. (Sekiguchi, Shuster, Jr., 1999) Their anatomy is interesting, as illustrated below.

Each spring, horseshoe crabs spawn along creek-mouth beaches and shoals. They like sandy beaches. Naturally, these coastal areas, rich in wetlands, peat bogs and saltwater marsh, were hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. What’s more, sea level rise has eroded certain coastal beaches where horseshoe crabs used to spawn, decreasing the habitat suitable for spawning. See Sea Level Rise and the Significance of Marginal Beaches for Horseshoe Crab Spawning (Botton and Loveland, 2011).

In the Delaware Bay, for example, the American Littoral Society, along with the Wetlands Institute, the New Jersey Department of Environment Protection and New Jersey Audubon, have assessed the impacts of Hurricane Sandy on horseshoe crab populations in the Bay. Watch this video of horseshoe crab spawning in Delaware. Read Hurricane Sandy Race To Restore Horseshoe Crab Spawning Grounds (March 2013). Videos depict horseshoe crabs spawning, swimming upside down and righting themselves.

In a joint report by the Wetlands Institute, NJ Audubon Society and NJ Division of Fish & Wildlife (“Damage from Superstorm Sandy to Horseshoe Crab Breeding and Shorebird Stopover Habitat on Delaware Bay,” December 2012), wetlands did well overall, despite some “wash over” during storm surges of Hurricane Sandy, according to Lenore Tedesco, Ph.D. Director of Research at the Wetlands Institute. Yet a major finding was a 70% decrease in suitable breeding habitat for horseshoe crabs. In addition, there was about the same amount of increase in unsuitable habitat for horseshoe crab spawning. Specifically, the scientists classified the types of habitat into five categories:

  1. Optimal: undisturbed sand beach;
  2. Suitable: sand beach with only small areas of peat and/or backed by development
  3. Less Suitable: exposed peat in lower/middle intertidal zone;
    sand present in upper intertidal;
  4. Avoided habitat:  exposed peat or active salt marsh fringing the shoreline;
    no sand present
  5. Disturbed due to beach fill, riprap or bulkheading.
    (Niles, Tedesco, Sellers, et. al. 2012)

In areas where the habitat is less suitable, with exposed peat, there is less sand for the horseshoe crabs to lay their eggs. The full report includes recommendations for habitat restoration. For more information about post-Sandy restoration recommendations, visit the Wetlands Institute’s website here.

Many years ago, I learned that horseshoe crabs (Limulus polyphemus) lay at the heart of some medical advances in immunology research. Apparently, horseshoe crab blood and immunology can serve scientists with a model to develop treatments for patients with HIV, AIDS or other immune deficiency disorders. Its “blue blood” contains Limulus Amebocyte Lysate, which allows medical researchers to detect bacterial toxins. In ecological projects, the spawning and genetic diversity of horseshoe crabs is the focus, or the relationship between horseshoe crabs and fisheries. For an overview of various research projects on horseshoe crabs happening in 18 states and two countries, see these project summaries. There’s some fascinating research underway.

The Wetland Institute has a number of publications on its website related to horseshoe crab research and conservation. There’s also an “Adopt a Horseshoe Crab” program and horseshoe crab census data available from 1999-2009. In May, the Institute holds festival activities, including teaching tank/aquarium talks on saltmarsh ecology, shorebirds and horseshoe crabs. For more information about the Horseshoe Crab Festival in May,click here.

More videos:

See horseshoe crab counting (Washington Post video, June 2012)
NATURE program on horseshoe crabs (PBS, 2008)
Horseshoe crab documentary (Nick Baker, Science Channel)

For more on horseshoe crab biology and ecology, see this National Park Service webpage and materials developed by the Mid-Atlantic Sea Grant and NOAA joint programs on horseshoe crab research. Finally, check outhttp://horseshoecrab.org/ which houses an online warehouse of information on the biology, conservation and research of horseshoe crabs.

Wetland Ferns Webinar

February is one of my favorite months. Some may dislike “dreary February” but I am biased; it’s my birthday month. As a special treat, I participated in an afternoon “Swamp Seminar” to learn how to identify northeastern wetland ferns. The webinar is part of an online training series offered by Swamp School. After the training, I earned a certificate.  Since I’ve written about ferns a few times for this blog, I thought I better brush up on fern morphology, before I made a fern faux pas. And as it happens, I was wrong about one plant: sweet fern (Comptonia peregrina) is a member of the heath family, not a true fern.

The “Swamp Seminar” on wetland ferns started with the parts of a fern. Prior to this class, I knew to refer to the frond, which is the whole fern leaf, and I understood that rhizomes are the roots, but the rest of a fern’s morphology was new information. It was fascinating to learn that a fern might be identified based on whether it is once, twice or thrice pinnate–meaning, the number of cuts on the pinna, or leaflet. Lady Fern, a common fern that grows throughout the northeast, is three-times pinnate with a rough-edged leaflet, making it look lacy. Several ferns have similarly feminine names like Venus Hair Fern (Adiantum capillus‐veneris) and Northern Maiden-Hair Fern (Adiantum pedatum), or Maiden-Hair Spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes), which grows near waterfalls and is said to be “good for the spleen.”

For wetland professionals, the training addressed whether each fern is an Obligate Wetland species, meaning that it always occurs in a wetland, also known as a hydrophyte (loves water); a Facultative Wetland species, which means that the fern usually shows up in a wetland, but can also be found in upland areas; or, thirdly, it may be a Facultative species, commonly occurring in both wetland and upland areas. Ferns that fit this last category–facultative, are still important to know because they may help someone identify the edge of a wetland.

Identifying wetland plants is fairly complex. See this USDA page on wetland indicator information, for a more specific explanation. Last fall, the National Wetland Plant List was updated and published by the Army Corps of Engineers. ASWM offered a training session on how to use the NWP List website (see this recorded presentation).  Several publications are also available that aid in using this plant list, including A Field Guide to the National Wetland Plant List: Wetland Ratings for Plants of the United States by Steve Chadde, 2012.

Among the many types of ferns covered in the Swamp Seminar, participants learned how to identify Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis), Fragile fern (Cystopteris fragilis) and Interrupted fern (Osmunda claytoniana), which has a distinctive shape. The Swamp School webinar included access to an online tool kit, which allows participants to reference handouts. The website and webinar training are well-organized and condensed to relay a great deal of knowledge. It’s suitable for intermediate and advanced levels—and ideal for wetlandkeepers. Swamp School also offers classes on wetland delineation–in both classroom, field and webinar formats with live, interactive training.  For more information, visit SwampSchool.org.

Update: Hydric Soil Indicators Webinar March 20, 2013. For more information, visitSwampSchool.org

Lutes & Lily Ponds ~ Classical Music Inspired by Wetlands

On my way to work this morning, I listened to a piece on National Public Radio (NPR) from the “Wuthering Heights” opera composed by Bernard Herrmann. Today is Anne Brontë’s birthday, so it is fitting for Strange Wetlands to have a post on classical music inspired by wetlands. I am the grand-daughter of a composer of classical music—mainly for orchestra, jazz and big band swing in the 1940s:  my grandfather led the “Bob Chaplin Orchestra” on lead clarinet, and years later, composed chamber music. He advocated strongly for wetlands protection, serving on his town’s planning board from the 1960s-1990s. Incidentally, my grandfather’s family farmland is now, much transformed, the same location as the ASWM headquarters—where I write this blog and advocate for wetlands protection.

One piece of classical music I heard recently on NPR &Maine Public Radio with Suzanne Nance was “The Fairy Queen,” a Baroque semi-opera composed by Henry Purcell, known for his nature-inspired music. I’ve noticed a number of classical pieces have titles that take inspiration from nature, and in particular, wetlands, rivers, lakes and forests.  Even those who aren’t fans of classical music may be familiar with the Grand Canyon Suite, composed by Ferde Grofe, with songs that sound like they were composed for a great western, such as “Sunset,” and “On the Trail”—a humorous melody about a ride on mules along the waters of the Colorado River. Other famous works composed for film scores and orchestras were inspired by life on the Mississippi River, such as the contemporary film score composed by William Perry in 1980 and Ferde Grofe’s Mississippi: A Journey in Tones (Mississippi Suite), with dark flowing chords that suggested a scene along the Mississippi River, with a nod to Mark Twain. American composers were drawn to large natural landscapes in the 1920s and ’30s, when national parks were newly established. This music echoed into the subconscious minds of listeners for generations.

In other pieces, such as My Native Heath, suite for orchestra, composed by Arthur Wood (1875-1953) in 1924/25, the work was inspired by the composer’s childhood spent on the heath and moors of Yorkshire. This music depicts the moors and heaths—something out of a Brontë novel. His other works were inspired by life on the moors, such as Yorkshire Moors Suite but his most famous piece, “Barwick Green,” came from My Native Heath. “Barkwick Green” was chosen for a long-running BBC soap opera, “The Archers.”

Below is a list of classical pieces available online. If you search for these wetland-themed classical pieces on this website (here), you’ll notice that some of the longer works, such as symphonies, ballets and chamber music, list individual songs. Many of the songs sound as though they were inspired by wetlands, waters and natural places. For example, in River of Ponds, composed by Larry Bell, you can listen to songs called “Black Creek” and “Silver Lake.” A word of caution: “bog” is also Russian for “god,” so at first glance, it seems there are a lot of classical pieces inspired by bogs, but in fact, I only found a few pieces relevant for this list, such as The Peat-Bog Soldiers, composed anonymously (post-WWII), arranged by Hans Eisler and performed by Paul Robeson in 1997.

For those of you interested in making wetland videos, some of this music might be available or appropriate for use in video. Recordings can be found at the links below (titles are linked).

“Amidst the shades
and cool refreshing streams,
where lovers ease their panting hearts in dreams…”
-Henry Purcell, Z355, c.1680

In the Fen Country, a symphonic impression composed by Ralph V. Williams, 1935. This music has a dark romanticism flavor to it.

Marsh Lute Book, chamber music with the song, Chi passa per ‘sta strada, composed anonymously, performed by Paul O’Dette on lute (2003). Sounds like flower fairy music.

Langenhoe Marshes, contemporary classical music composed by Peter Pope for voice & piano, performed by Susan Legg (2011). Songs inspired by the marshes of England in lose connection with a project about England’s marshes.

Swan Fen, a Heathland Symphony, composed by Arthur Meulemans (1844-1966), later performed by Belgian orchestras (an album released in 1999).

The Peat-Bog Soldiers” (Moorsoldaten – Song from a German concentration camp) composed anonymously (post WWII), later arranged by Hans Eisler and performed by Paul Robeson on his album Songs of Free Men, 1997.

En lille fro i mosen sad” (A Little Frog Sat in the Bog), a Danish traditional children’s song

Dismal Swamp, a poem for orchestra with piano composed by William Grant Still in 1935, performed by the Cincinnati Philharmonic Orchestra.

On the Heath (for Two Lutes), a piece for chamber music, composed by Ronn McFarlane (b. 1953- ) with individual songs called, “Thistle,” “Honeysuckle,” and “Haeddre,” a Scottish word for heather, the plant. McFarlane is a renaissance lute player from West Virginia. He played in pop bands for a while but was more known for making the lute more popular.  His many works for the lute were inspired by nature and wetlands. See (and listen) to some here.

Beneath the Linden on the Heath, an early German love song composed by Walther von der Vogelweide in 1170. This song was written for a married lady (unavailable to the admirer, who sings for her). Interestingly enough, unrequited love in songs and poetry was considered noble, whereas requited love was regarded as “lowly love.” The music is a mix of flute, harp, lute and shawm, a type of woodwind instrument from the 12th century and Renaissance period. This particular song depicts a scene on the heath, where the two lovers meet in secret for a kiss under a linden tree.

Amidst the Shades & Cool Refreshing Streams, a Baroque semi-opera with vocals and music that mimics bird song, composed by Henry Purcell around 1680. He autographed a copy of this piece in 1683 and it’s held in the British Museum. The piece was much admired in its day.

Walden Pond, a song for cellos and harp composed by Dominick Argento (b.1927- ) in 1996, while he was a professor of theory and composition (for several decades) at the University of Minnesota. Walden Pond, featuring the vocals of Minnesota’s Dale Warland Singers, was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2003.

The Pond (Remembrance), a brief (2 minute) symphony composed by Charles E. Ives in 1906, was inspired by his father’s tune coming over the mists of a Connecticut pond. Ives studied music at Yale. He and a friend co-founded the first Mutual Life Insurance Company in Manhattan. Ives won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 1947, though many of his songs were written in the 1880s.

River of Ponds, for cello and piano, composed by award-winning Larry Bell (b.1952- ) in 1986 included pieces called “Black Creek,” “Wyatt Earp’s Pond” and “Silver Lake.” Bell’s music has been performed all over the world. Visit www.LarryBellmusic.com. “Wyatt Earp’s Pond” may refer to Earp’s association with Amy Pond, a Scottish woman, rather than a water body. Wyatt Earp’s wife, Urilla, died a year after they married, and the famous Tombstone gunman went off the deep end, devastated by that loss. Later he reinvented himself as a law man and became a U.S. Marshal. Dr. Who fans would know more about the association between Wyatt Earp and Amy Pond, recurring characters in the TV series. By contrast, the reference to Wyatt Earp’s Pond might be associated with the water fights in Tombstone over use and management of aquaducts in the 1880s, when Earp was a city marshal. If you know the significance of “Wyatt Earp’s Pond” referenced here, please leave a comment.

Pond Life, composed by Ann Southam (b.1927-2010) with this album posthumously released in 2012. She also composed a piece called Rivers. Most of her early works were composed in a lyrical Romantic 19th century style. Since she was one of Canada’s first women composers, there’s evidence to suggest feminist elements in her music. In the 1960s, she was recognized for composing electronic music. For a long list of her works, see this page. Pond Life, which she composed in 2008, was written for a solo piano piece to be accompanied by a ballet dancer. To see a Youtube video of a performance from Pond Life, click here.

A Lily Pond, composed by Billy Mayerl, who composed largely between the 1920s-1950s, wrote poem-like suites. It was considered British, but he was drawn to American music. His Aquarium Suite, which included the songs, “Willow Moss,” “Moorish Idol,” “Fantail,” et.al. in 1937, was very much admired.

Forest of the Amazon, by Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959), a prolific Brazilian composer, wrote this in 1958. In his later years, he was composing music in Paris and New York.

Strange Meadowlark,” a song by Dave Brubeck (b.1920- ), one of America’s most prolific jazz composers, has been associated with the West Coast Jazz revival of post-WWII. His 1960s jazz ballet, Points on Jazz, premiered with Louis Armstrong at the Monterey Jazz Festival. Listen to Strange Meadowlark on Youtube. This song is from Brubeck’s Time Out record (1959), one of the best-selling jazz albums of all time.

See related blog posts on Wuthering HeightsSwan Lake & Tchaikovsky and Swamp Music Revisited: A New Take on William Blake.

Surging Seas and Hybrid Storms

NASA officials nicknamed Hurricane Sandy “Bride of Frankenstorm.” Strange behavior patterns—hitting the northeast as a mix of nor’easter blizzard and hurricane conditions created a powerful hybrid storm that affected many communities. In Maine, we felt the storm’s most severe impacts the night of the full moon on October 29th. Footage of storm surge on the news looked like the forceful wave action in “Thunder Hole” at Acadia National Park. Throughout New England, New York and New Jersey, many people were still without power when the nor’easter hit this week. Hurricane Sandy’s unusual hybrid classification and other factors set a precedent. Coupled with the tides of the full moon, storm surge was more intense, causing more flooding to occur. Are we likely to see and experience powerful hybrid storms like this in the future? What tools are available to predict storm surge?

Forecasters called Hurricane Sandy a “perfect storm.” View photos of the storm as seen from space. Last winter Strange Wetlands reported on the Red Cross/Red Crescent’sinvolvement in the IPCC report on the link between extreme weather disasters and climate change. This week Climate Central’s Surging Seas tool demonstrated how effects of climate change, including sea level rise and storm surge, made Hurricane Sandy worsethan it might have been otherwise.

Federal agencies such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and NASA have been measuring storm surge for many decades, since the 1960s (see above)—long before most people started talking about sea level rise. According to a NASA presentation on An Analysis of Storm Surge Attenuation using USGS, FEMA and NASA data, there is historical data to support the claim that wetlands significantly reduce storm surge. Wetland scientists in the 1960s asserted that 2.7 miles of wetlands reduced storm surge by 1 foot. More recent data from Hurricane Rita was used to assess the storm impacts to wetlands (such as causing wetland loss) as well as wetlands’ role in lessening the effects of storm surge. Therefore wetland losses along the Gulf of Mexico coastline in Louisiana, for instance, and along other areas of coastline on the eastern seaboard, intensified the amount of storm surge during recent hurricanes, such as Hurricane Irene and Sandy. (Fitzpatrick, et. al. 2008) Also see Storm Surge Reduction by Wetlands.

While SLAMM—Sea Level Affecting Marsh Model—may be familiar to you, a tool used in analyzing sea level rise, especially with respect to wetlands, have you heard of SLOSH? Sea, Lake and Overland Surges from Hurricanes, (SLOSH) is a tool used to analyze storm surgeHurricane Sandy’s storm surge was mapped before it made landfall. The SLOSH model was applied to Hurricane Sandy prior to Oct. 29th and it analyzed surges of various levels (2 feet, 3 feet, 4 feet, etc.) At most locations, meteorologists predicted unprecedented levels of surgeusing this tool and other analyses. Tools like SLOSH are only as good as the available data. Future budget cuts threaten data collection tools, such as ocean bouysOther storm surge analysis tools were used to predict Sandy’s surge levels and ultimately, citizens were evacuated in areas where the path of the storm surge was predicted on the maps using those models.

Some useful fact sheets and further reading on the importance of wetlands in preventing storm surge are linked below:

Storm surge & wetlands in Louisiana (NWF fact sheet)
Mitigating Storm Surge with Vegetation & Wetlands (Army Corps of Engineers, 2007)
Analysis of Storm Surge Attenuation & Wetlands (NASA) (2008)
The potential of wetlands in reducing storm surge (Ocean Engineering, 2010)
Hurricane Sandy Geospatial Resources (NOAA Digital Coast, 2012)

Swamp Music Revisited: A New Take on William Blake

From the first chord, I knew I was going to enjoy Martha Redbone’sGarden of Love. Her vocal and musical interpretation of William Blake’s poetry is hauntingly beautiful. It’s swampy. It’s spiritual. It’s romantic ecology set to music.

My favorite aunt introduced me to Alexander Pope, William Wordsworth and William Blake when I was fifteen. I read and analyzed their poetry; I tapped my fingers to iambic pentameter. I wrote essays and sonnets. Reading their poetry probably influenced my passion for environmental science. I was born a poet but I grew to love ecology–partly born out of my love for William Blake and the Romantics.

The poetry of Blake is rich with nature imagery. Some of his poems deal with man’s relationship with nature, and specifically swamps and wetlands in a literal sense, but perhaps as metaphors for the human spirit. Like others of his time, Blake’s poetry called for action—to protect natural places, including wetlands, which he believed were vital to the human experience. Blake and his colleagues were the “eco-poetics” and they promoted the ideas of deep ecology, an interconnectivity among living things and the intrinsic value of nature. Nowadays analysts of this stage in the environmental movement refer to it as a genre of ecological criticism, or “eco-criticism,” in which the writers and thinkers of that time were motivated by environmentally-driven ethics and activism. For example, Blake’s line, “everything that lives, / Lives not alone, nor for itself ” and other verses pointed readers to the idea of economic values of nature (Hutchings, 2007). Today we call this eco-economics and talk about the functions, ecological services and value of wetlands. In Blake’s poetry, he used a very similar terminology in poems set in wetlands.

For Strange Wetlands, I surveyed a few examples of swamp rock in a previous post. But there is more to swamp music than rock and blues. Swamp-inspired music can be folksy, indie pop, gospel and acoustic. Martha Redbone, a southern songwriter, recently released a new album, Garden of Love: Songs of William Blake. She sings the poems as Blake wrote them—but set to original music. The singer explains that she “wanted people to be reminded of the beauty of [Blake’s] messages and the relevance that rings so true today — his sentiments of ‘Mercy, Pity and Peace / Is the world’s release.’” I would add that Blake’s eco-poetics are also a relevant call to action for the nation’s wetlands. Given the timing of Redbone’s album release during the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, this swamp music may be part of a soundtrack to herald in a new dawning of clean water protections for streams, rivers and wetlands. Listen to Martha Redbone’s Garden of Love: Songs of William Blake. Find her on Youtube.

I laid me down upon a bank
Where love lay sleeping
I heard among the rushes dank
Weeping Weeping

Then I went to the heath & the wild,
To the thistles & thorns of the waste
And they told me how they were beguiled
Driven out & compelled to be chaste

I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never had seen:
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.

-Garden of Love
William Blake

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.