Category Archives: Art & Lit

Virtual Green Book Clubs

Have you ever been curious about a local book club but shied away because the books chosen just weren’t your cup of tea? A new trend of online book clubs provides an alternative. Avid  readers may instead get engaged in virtual discussion forums about a shared interest—yes, even wetlands, and other environmental topics.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) recently launched a new virtual book club called “America’s Wild Read,” featuring ecologist E.O. Wilson’s novel, Anthill. The virtual book club invites readers to participate over eleven weeks this spring and summer, reading different books with an ecological or environmental theme. To learn more about the books on the list and participate, visit:

One of the largest virtual book clubs is called Copia which includes an application for iPad users. Sign up and then join a group with shared interests, or browse for books under a topic, like wetlands. The Copia virtual book club returned 32,000 book titles related to wetlands. In Copia, users can build a virtual library and keep track of titles.

A similar website, Good Reads, generates lists of books based on users’ recommendations. They have lots of options for readers from book swaps to ebooks, reading groups to join, and a creative writing section with short stories and poetry grouped by topic, e.g. outdoors/nature.

In addition, some environmental book clubs have optional in-person meetings and maintain a blog, so others can participate and keep up with the recommended reading. For instance, The Echoing Green Book Club has a blog; this is a program of a nonprofit organization (Echoing Green.) If you’re on Facebook, there are a number of environmentally-themed book club discussions ongoing, like this one called Green Book Club Discussion.

For those readers who crave the emotional connection to other readers and prefer to meet in person to discuss books, check out this article on how to start a green book club: It suggests starting with classics including Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and Thoreau’s Walden.

ASWM currently has a Recommended Reading corner of the blog (lower-right), featuring a wetland-related or environmentally-themed book that has been recommended to us. ASWM is also in the process of moving the wetland book list (titles that are available on over to the new website. Once that is done, there’s a good potential list of titles for a future online discussion forum, or “virtual wetland book club” on ASWM’s website.

For now, readers may turn the page—whether it’s paper or electronic, and join a discussion of their favorite “green” books.

Lost Worlds, Lost Wetlands

Mesopotamia is argued by many historians to be one of the “cradles of civilization.” Historically, the Marsh Arabs depended on the marshlands of the region for 5,000 years, going all the way back to ancient Sumeria. These wetlands show up in epic poetry of early Mesopotamia:

‘Ever the river has risen and brought us the flood,
the mayfly floating on the water.
On the face of the sun its countenance gazes,
then all of a sudden nothing is there’.
– ‘He who saw the Deep’,
(The Epic of Gilgamesh, 1,200 B.C.)

Most of the marshes of Mesopotamia, including the delta plains of the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers in the Middle East, were destroyed by the year 2000. The marshes were lost to hydro-engineering for dams (flood control and electricity), canals and reservoirs (irrigation, farming), all of which reduced the annual floods, which used to renew the waters in the wetlands. The once-thriving marshlands have dried out due to a 20-50% decrease in the flow of water from the major rivers throughout the region. In addition, Saddam Hussein drained large wetlands to punish the tribes—Marsh Arabs—living in those areas and to expose the rebel hiding places, in the 1990s.

A number of international organizations pulled together to bring attention to the loss of wetlands there, including World Wildlife Fund, which recorded over 278 species of bird in the Mesopotamian ecoregion. Nearly half of those identified are wetland birds. A marsh restoration project through the United Nations Environment Program began in 2006. For an image of the Vanishing Marshes of Mesopotamia, go to: For a technical report,

For those who research archaeological use of wetlands for agriculture, the Mayan use of the “seasonal swamp,” known as el Bajo la justa,” in northern Guatemala is also very interesting. In the latter years of the ancient Mayan culture, archeologists surmise that the Mayans must have expanded the way they farmed the lowlands, including wetlands, in order to support a larger population. But this has been a subject of much debate: whether these “bajos” (interior wetlands) were used for agricultural purposes. A 1995 study by T. Patrick Culbert funded by the University of Arizona looked this issue:

Last fall an issue of Nature featured new findings. A study identified more evidence that wetlands were used for agriculture by the Mayans: The new “research suggests that the Maya built canals between wetlands to divert water and create new farmland,” according to Timothy Beach, a physical geographer at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.. Archaeologists often explore the question of any ancient civilization, how did they feed a large population? The answer for the Mayans was wetlands. For more background information on the history of Maya agriculture and the role of wetlands, go to:

Finally, I’ll leave you with something fun to ponder: the true whereabouts of the lost city of Atlantis. Is it buried in the marshlands of Spain after all?  According to a new film, Finding Atlantis, on National Geographic (TV channel), a documentary-maker from Hartford University in CT has proposed just that. To find out how to see the film, visit: http://channel.nationalgeographic.
 and come a little closer to understanding one of the world’s greatest mysteries. Yet again, the answer to the riddle could be wetlands.

Rare Weasels of Winter

As a child I was wary of weasels. My grandparents taught me to listen for the distinctive murderous cry of a fisher along the creeks in their woods—and to be wary of them because they killed cats. When my cat wandered curiously into the culvert near the house, it sent me into a panic over what might lurk inside waiting to gobble my tabby, Triscuit. We lived near a saltmarsh. Fishers and other weasels, more formally known as the Mustelidae family, were more common 20 years ago; nowadays if I see one, I think of it as a rare treat. In particular, there are three weasels that are rarely seen but still inhabit woods and wetlands of North America: the fisher, the wolverine and the ermine.

In the last ten years, there has been some attention on the successful reintroduction of wolverines (Gulo gulo) and fishers (Martes pennant) into areas of North America where the populations had declined significantly due to habitat loss. Both are members of the weasel family with some differences.  The fisher, found only in North America, is a medium-sized weasel with a long body, short legs and long bushy tail. Its population had been on the decline—especially in the Northwest due to logging and habitat loss, until the early 2000s, when biologists with Conservation Northwest (partnered with FWS) began the process of reintroducing native fishers in the Pacific Northwest To watch a video of the 2009 release of fishers, go to: On the west coast, especially in Oregon, the fisher has been threatened by fragmented habitat, wildfires and incidental mortality (getting hit by a car, getting caught accidentally in a trap). Currently the west coast fishers are being considered for Endangered Species Protection and they are listed as a “sensitive species” by the U.S. Forest Service. There are a lot of misconceptions about the fisher. Some that I have read or heard can be dispelled easily: 1) they do not fish, despite their name. 2) They are not part-cat, even though a nickname is the “fisher-cat.”  3) Domestic cats are not high on their list of dietary preferences. Cool fact: the fisher is one of the only specific predators of the porcupine! For a slide-show of a fisher reintroduction/release project, go to:

The wolverine is the largest member of the weasel family. Known for its voracious appetite, a “glutton” (thus its Latin name), it’s a surprisingly strong and fearless competitor for food. A 30 pound wolverine might even try to steal from a 500-pound black bear. A film by NATURE depicted the wolverine as a rare and wonderful creature (Wolverine: Chasing the Phantom):

The wolverine’s oversized paws act like snowshoes for this predator, which depends on an abundance of snow in winter for hunting. Although once driven to near extinction from over-hunting by man for its fur, wolverines are now threatened by climate change. Recently the FWS released its decision (December 13, 2010) that the wolverine warranted protection under the Endangered Species Act but was precluded from protection. Wolverine biologist Jeff Copeland’s study demonstrated that wolverines depend on deep spring snow cover, a condition threatened by a warming climate. and For more about wolverine conservation in the Northwest, visit: For an outstanding blog about wolverines describing an ecologist’s work in Wyoming, visit: For more facts about the wolverine, visit the Wolverine Foundation at:

Like the wolverine, the ermine, or short-tailed weasel, (Mustela ermine) also depends on snow for hunting, but for a slightly different reason: camouflage. Ermines’ coats turn white in winter to blend in and allow them to hunt their prey unseen. In the spring, their coats molt and they turn mottled, a blend of white and black and brown, until their dark sleek summer coats grow out completely. Many arctic mammals have the ability to change their winter coat to be camouflaged in the snow: the wolverine and fisher, the ermine is much more common, perhaps because it is smaller and has adapted to live wherever it can find prey. Ermines like to live in marshes, woodlands with bogs and even tundra. It adapts well to a harsh living environment. For my poem titled, “Ermine,” go here.

Those who like to go out on snowshoes may come across tracks of animals that they never see. A weasel’s tracks have five toes on front and back feet. For other tips on identifying animal tracks in the snow, go to:  How to Identify Animal Tracks in Snow |
 and check out this blog about one woman’s quest to follow a set of fisher tracks through the woods and wetlands last winter: For an excellent guide to identifying wolverine and fisher-marten tracks, as well as other carnivores (coyote, wolf, lynx), refer to this Forest Carnivore Identification Guide:

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. 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. (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.)

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. (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. 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. 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.

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. Swan Lake Nature Study Area in Lemmon Valley, Nevada has mudflats, marshes and high desert. 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:

The Moor Metaphor for the Dark Place in our Hearts

The Lake of the Dismal Swamp

“They made her a grave too cold and damp
For a soul so warm and true;
And she’s gone to the Lake of the Dismal Swamp,
Where all night long, by a firefly lamp,
She paddles her white canoe.”
– Thomas Moore

When a friend says he cannot attend the office holiday party because he’s “swamped at work,” he means he’s very busy and has a lot to do. Idioms like, “bogged down” and “swamped” come from people’s experiences with getting physically stuck in bogs and swamps. The metaphor has carried over into urban office talk, even though some of us don’t work in the field and don’t have wet feet.

As with any great metaphor, there’s a deeper meaning associated with the images of the swamp:  slimy water, stinky undergrowth and roots slither like snakes through American literature. David Miller’sDark Eden: The Swamp in 19th Century American Culture provides a wide-sweeping study of the swamp metaphor in American literature. He writes, “swamps were symbols of female nature, of social crises, especially slavery, in the work of Stowe, Simms, Church, Heade, Strother, Tuckerman, Lanier, and others.” He gives examples of the Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia in the 1850s and the ways in which wetland areas created creepy moods in popular fiction, such as Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher,” in which the narrator must travel across swampy country and past a gloomy tarn. The tarn, a dark lake that surrounds the House of Usher, reflects his narcissism and negativity. It’s not a pretty picture.

A dark swamp at night can serve as a good metaphor for the mysteries of life, a problem or crisis that a protagonist might have to solve, or possibly, represent evil. But why? Just as the sea used to symbolize great danger and perils in art and literature, so have swamps stood for darkness, disease, destruction of the soul and the devil. A popular video game has a level called, “The Swamp of Evil,” and American television shows have often portrayed swamps as places where bad things happen, to the extent that audiences can predict the danger, usually set to ominous music. Perhaps this is why there are so many horror films that set their stories in swamps. In the same vein, Strange Wetlands’ totem hero, Swampthing, often solved environmental crimes that took place in the Florida Everglades.

By contrast, moorlands, a type of habitat in temperate grasslands, comes from the Old English word, mor, meaning low-lying wetlands, which were found throughout Southwestern England but also found in tropical parts of Africa, North Australia, Central Asia and North America. Biodiversity in moorlands is very rich. Moorland and tundra constantly shift their boundaries and the distance between them with climate change. Two of my favorite novels took place in moorlands:Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett both carried their protagonists through the moorlands they loved. Bronte and Burnett, as well as many British authors, treated the moor with affection; it was a place their protagonists loved, a retreat for secret rendezvous for lovers, a place to roam, escape and contemplate. Moorlands are misty, wild places of mystery. Dreamy and poetic. For poems and other examples of literature that take place in moors, go to:

                                                                      Speak of the North!
~by Charlotte Bronte

Speak of the North! A lonely moor
Silent and dark and tractless swells,
The waves of some wild streamlet pour
Hurriedly through its ferny dells.

Profoundly still the twilight air,
Lifeless the landscape; so we deem
Till like a phantom gliding near
A stag bends down to drink the stream.

And far away a mountain zone,
A cold, white waste of snow-drifts lies,
And one star, large and soft and lone,
Silently lights the unclouded skies.

Living with Less and an Island Love Story

Lately there have been a lot of stories about the “new” minimalist movement. American homes are getting smaller. Couples are downsizing and getting rid of 80% of their stuff and adopting a minimalist lifestyle
 The Small Home Movement has replaced the desire for “McMansions” and come at a time when many people can’t afford a big home. Jay Shafer founded his Tumbleweed Tiny House Company on the notion that people really only need 89 square feet to accommodate a two-person household. By downsizing this dramatically, he eliminated his debt and now lives more simply. His house designs range in plans from 65-835 square feet, a lot smaller than the average American home. He’s not alone. Others are promoting the same idea. Tiny House Blog Not So Big House

The trendy minimalist movement reminds me of the back-to-landers of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s. City dwellers, driven by a desire to lead a better, simpler life, migrated to rural areas, including islands off the coast of Maine. But this wasn’t a new thing in the 1960s. It’s been a recurring phenomenon over the centuries, according to the poet Gary Snyder. Homesteading is another name for it. Urban problems such as the energy crisis, water pollution, lack of environmental protection for the natural landscape—these were the issues that prompted the “back-to-landers” of the 1960s and ‘70s to leave the city in search of a pure lifestyle and to work the land. Often this required fetching water from a stream or pond, or digging a well, and growing food.

Helen and Scott Nearing are two of the most recognized “back-to-landers.” They lived on a rural farm in Vermont until 1952, when they settled their “Forest Farm” in Maine. The couple authored a number of books on what they called, “the good life.” The Good Life Center in Harborside, Maine carries on their mission.

My favorite love story played out on a beautiful Maine island called Placentia. Arthur and Nan Kellam, an aviation engineer (who worked in Wisconsin and his wife, moved from California in 1949 and settled on the 500 acre island. They built a house in a little clearing and left love notes for one another every time they separated for the day—to explore different parts of their beloved island. Placentia Island has a number of ephemeral streams, seeps and forested wetlands, mainly Spruce fir and sphagnum moss, with wild chanterelle mushrooms and cherry trees.

Art built a great bandstand overlooking the sea, for his wife, a romantic spot. He also had another little building he called his “retreat,” which had ingenious Murphy-style furniture, when folded out one way, became a table; when adjusted, became a bookshelf or storage. The Kellams had two wells, one near the house and one near the bandstand.  They didn’t have running water, electricity or any convenience that the mainlanders enjoyed. They grew vegetables in their garden. They rowed their dory to the nearby Great Gott Island for supplies like kerosene.  Sometimes friends, including the Rockefellers, brought fresh milk and oranges, but the Kellams sustained their private life together on very little from the outside world. Fog encircled the island on most days, preventing casual visits from neighboring islanders.

This past spring author Peter Blanchard III published a book about the Kellams entitled,We Were an Island partly based on Nan’s writings and unfinished book that she started with her husband. She described in her journal that they had searched for a place, an island that would fulfill their “dream of peace.”

I visited the house in 1999, just a few years before Nan passed away. Inside the house, it is easy to picture how everything had its place; they each had their spot for sitting, a single desk, stacks of TIME magazine (so they kept up on current events!) It inspired the poem, “If I Were an Island,” which was published on the New Maine Times.  The Nature Conservancy manages the uninhabited Placentia Island. The only way to visit the island is to sign up to volunteer to work in one of TNC’s nature preserves—with Placentia Island, a nesting site for bald eagles, being on the list for September 2010:

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.

Beware:  the videos linked below are graphic.

Nature’s Perfect Predators:
Attacking a hummingbird:
Mating in the wild, eating male’s head:
Devouring a mouse:

Because they are such good predators, praying mantis are often used to control unwanted pests in gardens and 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:

Wetlands in Murals

When I came across a press release for the newly-revealed Oaks Bottom Preserve Wetlands mural in Portland, Oregon, I started to think about wetlands and murals throughout history.

Murals are among the oldest art forms, dating back to prehistoric cave paintings and ancient hieroglyphs. Ancient Egyptians depicted images of life on the Nile, which included fishing, mingling with crocodiles, harvesting papyrus, rice and waterfowl, as seen in relief murals at Mastaba of Ptahhotep. Murals of ancient Rome, Greece, India, Mesopotamia date back 30,000 years. North American native art, also called rock painting, or petroglyphs, may have recorded spiritual rites or personal experiences, such as salmon fishing. For example, see Eel River petroglyphs (California State Parks):

During the Great Depression, the federal government commissioned artists to paint murals in public places such as post offices and libraries as a way of improving morale as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA); images of working waterfronts or loggers, for example, were meant to inspire people to go back to work in the 1930s. At the post office in Kennebunkport, Maine, for example, artist Elizabeth Tracey painted a mural of nude women bathing at a beach in 1941; another Maine artist, Mildred G. Burrage, among other Maine residents, protested and had the mural removed. It was painted over replaced in 1944 with a mural of the waterfront In Wisconsin, James Watrous painted the “Lumberjack Fight on the Flambeau River” (1938) At the Grants Pass, Oregon Post Office, two murals depicted life along the Rogue River (1938)

Flash forward to murals of today, graffiti art on buildings in urban areas has been used by artists to promote certain ideas—political, local, social, propaganda. Murals in aquariums are often used to illustrate and educate visitors about marine, estuarine and other kinds of wetland habitats. In recent years elementary, middle and high schools have begun to encourage students to participate in painting murals in order to teach kids about wetlands and the environment. For example, Tulane University art students painted a wetland mural at an elementary school in Louisiana: These kids asked for it!

The Oaks Bottom Preserve Wetlands mural, a project of the Urban Greenspaces Institute, spans 50,000 square feet of the mausoleum’s west and south facing walls, making it the largest hand painted building mural in the U. S.. It was created by father/son team Mark and Shane Bennett in collaboration with local fine artist Dan Cohen. To see a time lapse video of the mural go to the Urban Greenspaces Institue website:

Many artists throughout the world are commissioned to paint murals for private homes and art museums. Florida artist Sandra L. Priest (aka San) paints murals on many themes, with many that have an underwater, botanical and wetland motif, including Sandhill cranes:
 Sandy Litchfield’s wetland-themed wall installations can be seen here:  Massachusetts-based Barbara Harmon paints saltmarsh-themed murals and recently did work for the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve Visitor Center in Florida: The Smithsonian also has several permanent wetland exhibitions with murals.

The Birds Attack! Remembering Daphne du Maurier’s The Birds

My favorite writer, Daphne du Maurier, wrote the creepy novelette, “The Birds,” (1952) which Hitchcock made into one of his more famous films in 1963. Set against the backdrop of the Cold War, the story was an analogy of the terror that overtook the U.S. and European countries. The story presupposes the question, “what happens when birds—normally the symbol of peace—suddenly start attacking people?” While the story focuses on one farmer’s family, it’s a powerful metaphor for the tension and claustrophobia that people felt during bomb raids.

Now suppose we are living in one of du Maurier’s stories—and replace the Cold War with the underlying tension seeping out of diverse impacts from climate change, such as sea level rise and its effects on marshland in the Chesapeake Bay area
. The birds are at it again, attacking people…in wetlands. At a picnic in coastal Maine this past spring, some ballsy seagulls swooped down on our group and stole our veggie burgers right off the hot grill and out of one person’s hands. My friend, Josie, and I were once attacked by a mating pair of loons one summer while we were swimming. I took a loon in the armpit. Josie got beaked from the side. Loons aren’t the symbol of tranquility in my family; we call, “Loon torpedo!” when we see the famed black & white bird cruise into our swimming cove. People love loons. But loons don’t love people.

Meanwhile media reports have flitted in over the wires in several countries, U.S.A. included, suggesting an increase in bird-human encounters. However, bird attacks on people are so rare in numbers that often, it doesn’t make the news, and no one’s counting.

Mad mockingbirds! Crazy crows! Wrathful woodpeckers! Hawks in a huff! Black terns have been known to attack people who get too close, no matter the season. Red-winged blackbirds defend their nests aggressively when people walk into their habitat. Male red-winged blackbirds spend their mornings in February and March defending their marsh and they can get increasingly aggressive through the breeding season (June). Chicago was under redwing blackbird attack in 2008:,8599,1817833,00.html  As a means of defense, birds use scare tactics. Their aim is not to peck out someone’s eyes (as happened in du Maurier’s tale of terror!) but to scare, bluff and chase intruders away.  Gangs of grackles attacked pedestrians in Houston, leading law enforcement to close an entire street in 2005, a scene that was compared to the Hitchcock film.×3680438

What is causing birds to dive-bomb like B-52s? Experts have proposed a likely theory: Suburban sprawl has spread to woodsy and wetland areas with trees interspersed with human dwellings and community centers. Then again, it’s not just birds attacking people in wetlands—it’s also happening among the pecking order. And in some wetlands, the gulls are winning. Check out this bald eagle attacking a swan mid-flight last week in British Columbia: Don’t worry, the swan makes it. My favorite bird, the Great Blue Heron, has always fascinated me—but then I know its true power. With a forceful speed and grace, blue herons have attacked men who got too close. This description from a New York Times article about a historic heron attack in 1883 is something of a horror scene:

For those venturing into wetlands during the bird breeding seasons, take care. Here are some tips for living near swooping birds’ habitat during breeding season:
How to Live with Swooping Birds during Nesting Season (Florida)

What to do in case of a potential swooping bird attack:

  1. Avoid the “swoop” area—this is an open area between stands of trees, like a marsh, a wet meadow, but could also be a recreational park area.
  2. If riding a bike, wear a helmet, and if birds begin to swoop, get off the bike and walk it to safety. Swooping birds can cause a cyclist to have an accidental injury.
  3. Warn others. If there are others who might be unaware of swooping birds, such as children, let them know to be observant or to avoid the area, especially during certain birds’ breeding seasons.
  4. Travel in a group. Most birds only swoop down onto individuals.
  5. Be confident and face a swooping bird. Like tigers, birds tend to attack prey that are facing away from them.
  6. Do not panic and run. It will only encourage a bird to continue its attack.
  7. Wear a hat in the area where there are swooping birds.
  8. Paint “eyes” on the back of your hat. Wearing sunglasses on the back of a hat has the same effect.
  9. Holding a stick or umbrella over one’s head will deter a bird attack.
  10. Do not harass, interfere or throw stones at birds. This only makes them more aggressive and defensive, especially if they have nests nearby.
  11. Do not destroy nests.
  12. Do not feed or try to befriend swooping birds.

-List adapted from the Department of Sustainability, Victoria, Australia


Eco-art is a fresh movement led by artists seeking to explore humans’ relationship with nature. It has an agenda. Some contemporary artists are working on projects that deal with timely environmental issues like climate change. Chris Drury, who is most known for his fantastic woven tree installations, is doing research to make climate change models in art form in conjunction with The Center for Analysis of Time Series in the U.K.. Learn more about his work at New Hampshire based eco-artist Tim Gaudreau shares his view that “it is the responsibility of the artist to communicate a relevant vision about our world and society.” His work includes “Lost & Found” type posters that show trash found in wildlife preserves. Gaudreau posted a good definition of eco-art on his website here:

Patricia Johanson’s eco-art is concerned with “impacted ecosystems” in large-scale projects, including some that look like restored wetlands. The Island Institute published a book dedicated to Johanson’s work called, Art and Survival in 2006. Find out more here: For a video of an interview with the artist talking about ecology and a wetlands park, go here. 

On my bulletin board, I have a postcard from a Sandy Litchfield installation called “Captive” that invokes the spirit of Swampthing. With installations titled, “Fill,” “Streamlines,” “Freshwater,” “Around the Lake,” and another called “Plenty of Particulars” that resembles the Cowardin classification system in full color, I wondered if she paid particular attention to wetlands. So I asked her. She told me that her husband is a geo-scientist who works on projects related to climate change, and although conservation issues are important to her, Litchfield is “less inclined to paint about humans as destroyers or polluters of place.” She added, “I’m more interested in how and when humans have felt or expressed intimacy, fondness and love of place. It’s this deep affection that inspires most of my work. Mostly, I want to include the human element in landscape not as an adversary, but as a lover.” See examples of her work at

My friend and fellow human ecologist, Josie Rassat, donated some of her wetland-themed art to ASWM last year. Josie says, “Cycles, balances of life, death and reproduction are central themes in my illustrations. I create art like compost: a complex mixture of old growth with organic materials becomes stimulating, earthy substance.” Her saltmarsh series is here:

Many artists have been creating art in the aftermath of Katrina events. Claire Fenton is a fiber artist working in Louisiana. Some of her pieces are called, “Katrina,” “Riverscape,” “Winter Swamp.” Find samples of her work, e.g. Edward Richards’ photographs document Katrina’s impact:

Check out this blog all about wetlands featured in art:

Meanwhile these art museums look more like alien ships that have landed in a wetland:

Or this “elevated wetland” art installation in Toronto (2006)

Wetland poster art can be found here:

Bolsa Chica Wetlands art photos by Eddie Meeks

Eco Art by Debbie Mathew (Discovery Pond: Wetland Art) based in Wyoming with illustrations by 6th graders learning about a local wetland

For more information about eco-art and to find eco-artists, visit: