Tag Archives: Leah Stetson

A New Year, A New Challenge: Writing 30 Poems in 30 Days

On January 1st, I joined eight other poets from around the world to write 30 poems in 30 days of January as part of Tupelo Press’s 30/30 Challenge. The challenge is twofold: 1) it pushes the poets to write a poem each day for a month, marathon-style, and 2) it engages readers of poetry (and those newish to poetry) in a variety of styles and voices–with the goal of prompting readers to support the literary wonder, Tupelo Press, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in California. Readers can support the poets, including me, by doing one of two things: 1) donate to Tupelo Press or 2) subscribe to one of its fine publications. There is a whole catalog of poetry journals. Think of it like community-supported agriculture since poetry is organic–grown from the fruits of our labors.

I am posting my portion of the 30/30 challenge poems on my Adventures of Fen Fatale blog here. Please check out the fine work of my fellow 30/30 poets at the Tupelo Press blog here. To make a donation to the Tupelo Press, click here. Thank you for supporting me in this unique challenge. I am sure to write a number of wetland-inspired poems this month!

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Climate Change, Wetlands & Mitigation: A Workshop at Stetson University

Last week I traveled to St. Petersburg, Florida for the first time and walked along the beach in the dark. Moonlight sparkled on the waves, which I couldn’t see because it was pitch-black. The strange sound of chirping birds at my feet caught me off guard because I couldn’t see them; I spun around shining the Assistive Light app on my smartphone to light my path through the dark sand.

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Ed Thomas spoke about climate change adaptation and flood mitigation in a wetlands context

The Environmental Law Institute partnered with Stetson University College of Law to hold a workshop on the legal and scientific responses to a Supreme Court case known as Koontz. Nearly 70 people attended the workshop. For a local radio coverage of the workshop, click here.  I posted live Tweets for @ELI_Wetlands throughout the workshop, while the speakers, including renown wetlands ecologist, Dr. William Mitsch, Director of the Everglades Wetlands Research Park in Florida, and Ed Thomas, President of the National Hazard Mitigation Association, led the discussion. Royal Gardner, a professor of environmental law at Stetson and author of the book, Lawyers, Swamps and Money, framed the issues. (I’m reading his book now, thanks to Ed!) A series of panel discussions rounded out the day, ending with a pool-side reception, where the conversation about wetlands continued. It was a lively discussion enriched by student and audience participation during the small group break-out sessions. In my group, a number of participants discussed the NGO perspective of wetlands implications of the Koontz case. For more information about the Koontz case, see this SCOTUS blog post. (Supreme Court blog)

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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.

Dating Season for Toads

I am glad I don’t suffer bufonophobia, a fear of toads, because a gang of American toads (Bufo americanus) live under my deck. They come out at night and sit, fat as golfballs, one of them the size of a baseball, in the moonlight. Their posturing reminds me of the T-birds and the Pink Ladies in “Grease” at the drive-in.

Careful not to step on them when I stand in the yard, I let my dog enjoy a few minutes of midnight sounds, smells and shadows, with caution. The toads barely budge if she sniffs their bumpy bodies. She doesn’t like toads, luckily. I’m nervous about taking a step, worried I might squish one, anticipating the inevitable movement—but a toad’s test of wills (or staying power) beats mine every time.

Some toads, including the American toad, have paratoid glands that can secrete a white poison to would-be predators (if bitten or handled, for instance). The poison is toxic inside a mouth—or if after a human handles a toad, touches the eye or mouth.  It can cause nausea, inflamed mouth or throat, irregular heart beat and in very severe cases—death. They can be a danger to pets for this reason. When you think about it, batrachophobes, who fear any reptiles or amphibians, have probably had an incident that caused a symptom, or knew of someone who did. I never believed one could get “warts” from a toad, but perhaps this myth originated from the handling of toads causing undesirable symptoms. National Geographic busted that myth for kids, here.

Toads are nocturnal. During the day the amphibians hide under the deck. I’ve wondered what they do all day—eat insects, sleep, burrow underground, intimidate baby garter snakes? The child in me imagines Toad and Frog riding around in their small motorcar. The ecologist in me wants to set up candid cameras under the deck and film the toads’ daytime activities.  This is their breeding time (March-July), when they emerge from their burrows to eat at night and mate. It is more likely that the underside of my short deck is dull by day and hoppin’ at night. Along patches of my seep, nicknamed “Fern Gully,” I’ve observed toadlets, baby toads, crawling along the muddy wooded floor. They are small, about an inch long in body, not counting legs. What’s amazing to me is that toad eggs can hatch in a matter of days (3-13 days) and the toadlets grow to adulthood in about a month. In Pennsylvania, there is an organization looking for volunteers to help with a program called “Toad Detour,” that seeks to help toadlets cross roads and get to safe habitats. Their website has some great photos and a recording of toad sounds. More about their work with toads is posted on the Philly Herping Blog.

My poem, “Romancing the Toad,” was published in a summer issue of the international literary magazine, Off the Coast. 

The American toad’s large range extends as south as Georgia, as west as Wisconsin and as north as Canada. There are other toads of concern throughout the U.S. For example, the endangered Arroyo toad in California depends on adiminishing wetland habitat. The Sheepscot Wellspring Land Alliance for Spring Amphibians kicked off its programs in Maine earlier in May, teaching people about the 9 species of frogs and toads in the state.

In other blogs, spadefoot toads have received some attention lately. Volunteers in different areas gather to help toads and frogs cross busy roads during their breeding season. A headstart program in Massachusetts visited the Cape Cod National Seashore this month to learn about vernal pools and amphibian habitat, includingspadefoot toads. According to Mass Audubon, the spadefoot is neither true toad or frog—it’s a primitive amphibian. A segment of a Hands-On Wetland Creation Workshop for Professionals, led in part by Tom Biebighauser, with the U.S. Forest Service, addressed the topic of spadefoots at the Long Pasture Sanctuary on Cape Cod. ASWM’s Executive Director, Jeanne Christie, attended.

Swan Lake, a Nutcracker and Sleeping Wetlands Poem

With the holidays upon us, I think back to childhood experiences of visiting the theater to see ballets. I played the part of “floating garbage” in an environmental ballet called “A Blue Whale.” Three of my favorites are among the most popular of classic ballets, all orchestrated by Peter Tchaikovsky —the Nutcracker (1892),Sleeping Beauty (1889) and Swan Lake (1876).

Tchaikovsky lived in Russia and died of cholera, most likely from drinking contaminated water. Several of his most cherished operas and ballets interpreted stories that took place in wetlands or around water, like the story of the riverine/lake-dwelling mermaidsUndine. In Swan Lake, the dancers crawl through a small river. The Sleeping Beauty has a love scene that takes place beside a stream in a forest. Many of his ballets premiered in St. Petersburg (Russia), a nature-lover’s paradise known for its forested shores; often new productions echo those origins.

The musical group, Voice of the Wetlands Allstars, have performed in concert with ballet productions of “The Nutcracker” throughout the U.S. in recent years. In the original story of the Nutcracker and the King of Mice by E.T.A. Hoffman, Clara dreams that her toy Nutcracker turns into a prince, who takes her into an enchanted pine forest wonderland, the “Land of Snow.”

But there is another type of nutcracker: the Clark’s Nutcracker (Nucifraga columbiana) a jay-sized corvid that lives in alpine wet meadows, rocky mountain fens and shrublands, rocky mountain forests and savannas. The little bird likes ponderosa pine, Douglas fir and white-bark pine. It’s found year-round in Montana and throughout the west. It, too, retreats to a dreamy pine forest.

Sleeping Beauty is the longest of the ballets. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan stretches along 35 miles of shoreline (Lake Michigan) and covering 3000 acres of park rich with bogs, marshes and swamps.http://www.nps.gov/slbe/naturescience/wetlands.htm I have visited “the Dunes” and explored the trails running through this national park. It is a beautiful, peaceful area. Visitors may agree it’s a true “sleeping beauty.” For those traveling to British Columbia, the Sleeping Beauty Mountain Provincial Park provides day hiking trails and opportunities to see wildlife, such as grizzly and black bears, moose, mountain goats and blue grouse. One major trail takes hikers 6 kilometers (about 3.75 miles) through hemlock/fir forest and sub-alpine meadow. The Sleeping Beauty Valley boasts the “quintessential Terrace experience” with overnight camping allowed and views of the alpine lakes and meadows. http://www.vancouverisland.com/regions/towns/?townID=3677 (This is not to be confused with Sleeping Beauty Valley in the Mojave Desert. Broadwell Lake is a dry playa at the center of this desert valley, home to 350 rare plants, including the crucifixion thorn.)http://theguzzler.blogspot.com/2009/09/sleeping-beauty-valley-heart-of-mojave.html

Swan Lake has been so popular for 200 years that women have had their wedding dresses made to resemble the costume of Odette, the enchanted swan princess, who turns into a swan by day and into her human form only at night. Throughout the ballet, Odette flees to the lake, where she is under influence of the “bad swan.” If the eternal vow of faithful love is broken, Odette will remain a swan forever. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swan_Lake (This has become a trendy theme for weddings now thanks in part by a recent film production called “The Black Swan.”)

The “good swan” / “bad swan” dynamic also plays out in wetlands. In some states, the dredging of wetland habitat has stressed the population of the native North American trumpeter swan. Iowa DNR developed a plan to restore its population of trumpeter swans in 1993, successfully reintroducing 50 pairs of swans to wetland sites.http://www.iowadnr.gov/wildlife/files/swanrestor.html A collaborative group between the Blackfoot Challenge, Wyoming Wetlands Society, FWS, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks have worked to restore the trumpeter swan from 2005-2010. http://www.wetlandslegacy.org/swan.html By contrast, a number of states have been regulating the invasive species, mute swans, which were introduced to states like Minnesota in the mid-1800s and early 1900s from Eurasia. Mute swans are aggressive, known to chase people or other waterfowl out of wetland habitat. Their wingspan rivals that of the majestic trumpeter swan.http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/invasives/
terrestrialanimals/muteswan/index.html

While there have been many reinterpretations of the ballet and new references to Swan Lake, so have many places shared the same name. For instance, the Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Missouri contains over 7,000 acres of wetlands.http://www.fws.gov/Midwest/planning/swanlake/ Swan Lake Nature Study Area in Lemmon Valley, Nevada has mudflats, marshes and high desert.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swan_Lake_Nature_Study_Area As snow falls and winter creeps over fens and marshes, freezes creek beds and streams to skate upon, the wetlands become sleeping beauties waiting for spring’s kiss.

For a poem by the same name that I wrote for my grandmother, see: http://aswm.org/wordpress/110-2/swan_lake_leah_stetson/

Marsh is the New Muse

“When I would recreate myself,
I would seek the darkest wood,
The thickest, most impenetrable swamp.
And I would enter them as sacred places,
As Sanctum Sanctorums.”

—Henry David Thoreau

For the past week, I’ve been on a poetry bender. I can’t stop writing poems. Recently I’ve been writing poems using a collage method:  cut up a few magazine articles, select words and short phrases at random and put them together in new ways to make a poem. Even though I didn’t intend to write poems about wetlands, they creep into my writing anyway. Maybe it has something to do with a mental landscape—wetlands are in my head for the long haul. Here’s a sample stanza from one of my recent collage poems:

But I don’t think we’ve lost
Wilderness, snow cover and stream
The pen reflects a natural cycle, stumbles
A full-body far cry minutes flipping
Too busy with their binoculars, a bizarre dream

(full poem at: http://fenfatale.wordpress.com/2009/12/07/hunted-a-mixed-media-collage-poem/)

Several environmental organizations have recognized the value of putting poetry together with wetland education. Kids are not only encouraged to explore their local marshes or bogs, but also to write about them, using poetry to describe their experience. For example, Environmental Concern offers a wetland poetry workshop to middle school students. Poems such as “How to Cook a Roasted Swamp” by Kathleen and “Dreams of a Cattail” by Zach. (Last names aren’t provided on the website.) These poems can be found here:http://www.wetland.org/education_musesamples.htm  In addition, there are national wetland-themed poetry contests, such as River of Words, an annual youth poetry contest. The 2010 River of Words Watershed Art & Poetry Contest just closed national submissions December 1, 2009. http://www.riverofwords.org/  Some states have wetland poetry contests available through their Departments of Environmental Protection.

For adults, poetry can inspire and bring attention to environmentally sensitive topics such as the effects of Katrina. Maine-based poet Jonathan Skinner’s book of poetry entitled, Wetlands includes a poem called, “A Natural History of Levees,” which can be found online (Not Enough Night)http://www.naropa.edu/notenoughnight/fall06/Skinner.html

Poetry can also be another way to discuss wetlands and their value. At the Society of Wetland Scientists joint meeting with Wisconsin Wetlands Association earlier this year (June 2009), there were a couple of poetry workshops in which participants shared their favorite wetland poems. During a similar workshop held by WWA in 2006, participants wrote wetland poems. Some of these are available here:http://www.wisconsinwetlands.org/ParticipantPoems2006.doc