Category Archives: Pop Culture

Strange Wetlands: Sci-Fi TV Review: “Swamp Thing” (DC Universe, 2019) Series (Coming Soon to the CW, Fall 2020)

“The swamp. It’s been damaged. It’s been abused.” –Swamp Thing

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Swamp Thing (DC Universe photo, 2019)

Bugs. Angry trees. Flesh-eating bacteria.

These are typical relationship problems between a scientist working in “epidemic intelligence” for the CDC, and a giant green monster, whose entire body is not only covered, but comprised of plant-material: vines, leaves, stems and tendrils. She’s petite, brilliant, fearless (sort of), and tenacious.

Swamp Thing has red eyes; his voice is a roar in the swamp. He is/was a biologist, researching a bio-restorative formula that might (have) advance(d) science and medicine—but something goes awry in the swamp during a reconnaissance mission. (Don’t you hate when your standard, run-of-the-millpond data collection sampling task transforms you accidentally into the data itself? It’s transformative. Wetland research, that is. But this TV series is a science-fiction series with very little reference to wetland ecology, which is one of the few things I found disappointing about it. (There are some references to cypress trees. I don’t think other plant species are named.)

When I started writing this blog series, I was fascinated with the original “Swamp Thing” comic series, and penned an “Ode to Swampthing” years ago. Later, I posted my take on “How to Design a Swampthing Costume.”

This is my review of the 2019 sci-fi TV series, “Swamp Thing,” (DC Universe, 2019) and why I feel it’s eerily timely (and binge-worthy) for wetland devotees. It’s going to appear on the CW this fall; it’s currently available on Amazon Prime and the DC channel. Len Wiseman is one of the directors and executive producers. Wiseman directed and produced the cool, dark “Underworld” series of vampire and werewolf flicks (which I loved), so I am drawn to other projects of Wiseman’s. This version of “Swamp Thing” has a good balance of light and dark, or I should say, a balance between the “green and the darkness,” the tension in the story, the threat facing the swamp’s ecology. The “darkness” is depicted as rotting vegetation, decay, vegetation overtaken by some kind of fungi, and rot as a metaphor for death. Unlike most swamp-horror on the screen, there are no suspenseful scenes with gators, crocodiles, or cottonmouths, or pythons. (There is a scary snake scene, but it’s not in the swamp.)

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The TV series was “cancelled” on other channels; I suspect that the producers and television managers didn’t think viewers at home would be interested in watching a series about a mysterious disease that’s nearly impossible to treat, spreads easily, causes tragic death and mayhem. In my opinion, I have had zero interest in watching “Tiger King” or some of the other shows that have popular almost to a cult following in 2020. Maybe I have strange taste? I am intrigued by the premise of this “Swamp Thing” revival and its chief conflict: Nature v. Man. So, without spoiling any fun for those who have yet to see “Swamp Thing,” you can probably guess a few things. Yes, the swamp is both the setting and a “character,” if that makes any sense. I appreciate the balance of creepy, supernatural effects with the “realness” of the swamp–the vegetation part of it anyway. There are few signs of wildlife in the series, which is odd, aside from insects. Lots and lots of insects! The heroine, Dr. Abby Arcane, is a practical woman. She wears practical outfits, although, I am surprised that she doesn’t wear rubber boots or hip-waders. She’s level-headed. She’s a logical thinker, but she has a vulnerable side, too–so she’s got the makings for a wetland-heroine. She cares about people–but she’s at home in the swamp.

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There are environmental violators who dump substances, illegally, into the swamp. And the swamp “fights back.” In a totally science-fiction way, at times, with horrific, gory special effects that emphasize the fecundity of insects in the swamp, the vegetation in the swamp begins to defend itself against the attacks of the environmental violators. For anyone who ventures into the swamp, no matter their intentions, the swamp seems to trigger traumatic memories. The trees remember. The plants have “memories” and they remember all of the violations (illegal dumping, bulldozers, axes, toxins, crimes, etc.)

No Spoiler alerts: I won’t give away any of the plot, although it draws from the original comic series, and involves many of the original characters. This series takes place in a small fictional, coastal town of Marais, Louisiana. (The show is filmed in North Carolina.) French for swamp, “Marais” was also the setting for the 1982 film, “Swamp Thing,” starring Adrienne Barbeau, Ray Wise, and Dick Durock (as Swamp Thing). I’m not able to review the 1982 film, but I gather that the 2019 series draws some parallels, and even takes directly from their film posters to promote the 2019 series. Adrienne Barbeau reprises her role as the CDC’s Dr. Palomar, a director who supervises the work of Dr. Abby Arcane, the heroine of the 2019 Swamp Thing. See the two photos below.

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“Swamp Thing” (Film, 1982)

In the 2019 revival, Crystal Reed (of “Teen Wolf”) plays Dr. Abby Arcane, a brilliant doctor with the CDC, who grew up in the town of Marais, but for mysterious and tragic reasons, left for college fourteen years prior to her return to Marais in her official capacity for the CDC, which has sent her to Marais to deal with a strange and deadly disease, locally called “the green flu,” that somehow comes from the swamp. When Dr. Arcane visits the hospital for the first time, she encounters a charming yet arrogant plant biologist, Dr. Alec Holland, (played by Andy Bean) who tells her, “You’re going to want to talk to me.” Eventually, he convinces her to visit his lab that’s in a river cabin on stilts.  Fortunately, he’s not creepy, and he has a nice dog, and they talk. Dr. Holland shows her the strange discovery he’s made about the way the plants are growing; there’s some kind of accelerant in the swamp that’s creating lightning-fast growth.

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At no point in the series does Dr. Abby Arcane dress in a white frilly nightgown and sprawl in the swamp. She wears practical jeans, shirts, hiking boots, cargo jackets. She carries a flashlight, gear to collect samples. This promo poster (at the right) seems to sell some kind of sexual promise that is never fulfilled. Frankly, I didn’t need the nightgown-in-the-swamp scene.

Swamp soulmates? Alec and Abby really click.

Alec and Abby share stories from their past; they bond. They team up to figure out what’s causing the disease, to treat the patients dying of the “green flu,” and to analyze his findings of the unusual plant growth in the swamp. Dr. Holland sets out to collect further samples in the swamp. Dr. Arcane returns to the hospital to treat her first patient, a little girl named Susie Coyle, whose father has died of the “green flu,” in grotesque, horrific ways; she’s in the hospital with green snot. This wouldn’t be so unusual to see except that she seems to hear what the plants are “saying” to her. Something bizarre happens to Dr. Holland while he’s collecting samples in the swamp. Without ruining the suspense for readers, we all know from the comics that Dr. Holland becomes Swamp Thing. While in the full green costume, Derek Mears plays the Swamp Thing. Jennifer Beals (Flashdance, The Bride, The L-Word) plays the local sheriff, Lucilla Cable, a strong character, whose son, Matt, is also on the Marais police department (portrayed by Henderson Wade); Matt is a love-interest of Abby’s and was her high school classmate.

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Henderson Wade and Jennifer Beals in “Swamp Thing,” 2019

When Dr. Abby Arcane returns to Marais, she reconnects with old friends, but is haunted by the memory of her best friend, Shauna, who died under tragic circumstances in the swamp two nights before their high school graduation. Shauna’s parents, the wealthy, prominent Sunderlands (played by Will Patten and Virginia Madsen) are also Abby’s former foster parents. There’s some toxicity there—metaphorically juxtaposed by the illegal dumping of other (mysterious) toxins and substances in the swamp. It’s clear that the Sunderlands are at the heart of everything “dark” and illegal in town—but they live in a garish mansion, and keep up appearances at town hall meetings.

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One of my favorite moments occurs in Episode 7 of the first season of “Swamp Thing,” as Abby and Alec, who she can see as his former “charming self” through a mist of hallucinogenic flower swamp fairy dust, walk together in the swamp. (See photo above of the scene.) This is their conversation:

Dr. Abby Arcane: “I’ve spent my entire child in Marais, hours in the swamp, and I don’t think I’ve seen it this lush before. Plums appear. Flowers bloom. How is any of this happening?”

Swamp Thing/Dr. Alec Holland: “It’s …uh…a little hard to explain. Only that it’s not connected to a world that has anything to do with logic.”

Abby/Dr. Arcane: “Or science.”

Swamp Thing/Alec: “Well, science is real. It’s profound. But now I know that there’s other parts of this world that are just as profound, just as natural.”

Abby: “Like the green.”

The “green” is part of the essence of the swamp. It’s the very life of the swamp—its vegetation, its ecology, its deep ecology. And there’s a darkness, too. A dark ecology. The darker elements of the series stem from the destruction of the swamp. Locals who disrespect the natural ecology—whether by poaching, dumping and doing other “bad things” in the swamp, they’ve got some pretty bad swamp karma. And once the swamp starts “fighting back,” things get scary. Some scenes contain graphic violence, gore, largely of a plant-nature, however, sensitive viewers should be aware that there are scenes that truly could be called sci-fi horror. Personally, I dislike horror. Some scenes were too gross for me, but I watched the series because I was so enthralled with the story, and the character development, primarily of the hero (Swamp Thing/Dr. Alec Holland) and heroine (Dr. Abby Arcane), who both deeply respect the nature of the swamp. Dr. Arcane continually says that she is on the “human side” of this fight. Dr. Holland, a plant biologist, and once he’s Swamp Thing, he’s tapped into the “plant side” of the conflict. Be forewarned, however, if you’ve got any sensitivity around the themes of water-related or swamp-related death, including death by drowning, or if the sight of insects bothers you, this isn’t the series for you. For wetland regulators, and those who work in the fields of wetland science, policy, or wetland conservation, it might appeal to you—as long as you bear in mind that this is science fiction (sci-fi fantasy, bordering on sci-fi horror) with a wetland-hero, who punishes the violators.

Of course, there’s a mad scientist. Kevin Durand plays the strange mad scientist, Dr. Jason Woodrue, who is trying to find a cure for his wife’s Alzheimer’s, which is a noble cause. But his methods are atrocious, unethical, and unconventional. Think: vivisection.

The show also has some spotty plot-holes that take us out of the swamp, if temporarily. Tarot card readings (which, in my opinion, don’t include any real understanding of Tarot). Unethical research funding proposals. Infidelity. A strange, recurring guest-appearance by Ian Ziering (90210, Sharknado, Spiderman, JAG), who plays a guy who has a weird sort of “deal with the devil” that forces him to remain in Marais (not a well-developed aspect of the story, I’m afraid). Ziering’s character has a heroic moment later in the season as the “Blue Devil,” an electric fiery rescue-ranger.  The tragic loss of 18 year old Shauna Sunderland (one of the darker elements to the plot) that’s part of Abby’s back-story, adds a swamp-ghost story to the mix.

Swamp Thing: “That fight we just saw… it’s all around us. Here in the swamp. And it’s a fight to the death. Maybe I’ve turned into this thing to be a warrior in that battle.”

One thing that strikes me in this series is that Swamp Thing is a sympathetic, intelligent anti-hero, and he’s very sensitive. Despite his glowing red eyes, the costume designers and make-up artists on this production did a very good job of portraying this wetland-hero with a compelling nature. He’s not goofy-looking or just a big green monster. The actor who portrays Swamp Thing, Derek Mears, also does a very good job of delivering an authentic blend of the original comic hero with a contemporary sensitivity. I like it. I will be intrigued to see if CW decides to create a second season; as it stands, the DC Universe cancelled the show, and decided not to create a second season. There are ten episodes of Swamp Thing’s first season, and it has an “unfinished” feel to it at the end, due to the cancellation of the show mid-production.

Despite that, I liked this series.

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.

Climate Change Films: Sea Level Rise in the Lens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fun Wetland TV Shows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Assumption: Don’t Play This Over Untamed Waters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The “Other” Wetland Heroes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beware:  the videos linked below are graphic.

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

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

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

The Wetland Phobia Factor

When I first started working in the wetlands field, I was warned that it’s a controversial subject, full of drama. It would not be the right area for politicophobes, or those who suffer from liticaphobia, an irrational fear of law suits. A phobia is a persistent, irrational fear of something—an activity, a place, anything—and it compels the afflicted person to avoid certain situations. For example, as a child I wasn’t afraid of ghosts but I was absolutely terrified of rubber Halloween masks. I refused to go into drug stores because they sold masks. As an adult, I like competing in costume contests on Halloween and it’s no longer a phobia. I just don’t like masks. Phobia goes beyond extreme dislike.

I feel sorry for people who are afraid of things found in nature. I have “city friends” who freak out when a squirrel runs by because a squirrel can resemble a rat, and some people are musophobic—afraid of mice and rats. Although many people have a fear of snakes or the well-known arachnephobia, there are some lesser-known phobias that might prevent or dissuade a person from visiting a wetland. First off, limnophobes are terrified of lakes, ponds and marshes, made worse by books about haunted lakeshttp://www.panphobia.com/places/
limnophobia.htm
. Others might worry that a sea serpent or fish, especially if that person is also a bit ichthyophobic, might lurk in the dark water. Hydrophobic people are afraid of water—period. A close relative is hygrophobia, a fear of dampness. After living through several floods, one might develop a case of antlophobia (fear of floods), or become lilapsophobic, if they can’t handle hurricanes. Those afraid of rain suffer from ombrophobia. My mother is a bit gephyrophobic when crossing a bridge but she doesn’t have potamophobia, a fear of rivers.

Although there is no such term palustriphobia for a fear of swamps, there are phobias for things found in swamps. Botanophobic people are afraid of plants, and it gets more specific: pteridophobes are freaked out by ferns. Ornithophobia is a fear of birds, and no wonder when sometimes, birds attack! http://aswm.org/wordpress/661/the-birds-attackin-wetlands-better-put-eyes-on-the-back-of-your-hat/ Even though frogs are endangered, one is too many for someone with ranidaphobia. And if any reptile or amphibian bothers you, you might be batrachophobic. More specifically, a bufonophobe will run away from toads (perhaps a fear of warts?) and a batrachophobe will scurry from a newt or salamander.

Wetlands are often plagued with weather conditions like fog, which would be bad for a homichlophobe. Job descriptions for wetland scientists often warn that candidates, “must be able to deal with frequent insect bites,” a definite problem for anyone with cnidophobia, a fear of stings. Many people are afraid of dragonflies because of the needle-like shape of the insect’s body; in certain cultures, dragonflies are considered good luck but in other places, they are bad signs. Most insect phobias stem from a lack of interaction with insects and misinformation. http://www.insects.org/ced2/insects_psych.html

Some people are afraid of bacteria, which are important members of a balanced ecosystem. Nonetheless, pathophobia, a fear of disease, and blennophobia, a fear of slime, would probably steer the afflicted person away from some types of wetlands, even if only based on historic misconceptions that wetlands were sources of disease. In addition some people might avoid a wetland due to pneumatophobia, a fear of spirits, or bogyphobia, trouble with the Bogeyman. In a Google search, there are no found instances of a phobia related to Swampthing, but just the opposite. People who hunt Big Foot and swamp creatures will tell you a tale of heart-thumping anticipation!http://www.bigfootencounters.com/articles/bridgewater.htm

Wetland Documentary Films & Videos

Good wetland documentaries come in all shapes and sizes – from four minutes to forty minutes to feature-length films. In addition to the list below, Wetland Watchers often has links to news related to wetland films http://www.wetlandwatchers.org/ In some cases, films have been made to raise awareness about environmental challenges facing people and wildlife that live in wetland areas; in other cases, the documentary film tool has been used to teach young people about the importance of wetlands. See “Shooting wetland documentary helps urban teens go green” (Filmmaker not content to watch Orange Lake (FL) wetlands die) http://www.tampabay.com/news/environment/wetlands/filmmaker-not-content-to-watch-orange-lake-wetlands-die/1034788 (Sept. 2009)

Hurricane on the Bayou (summer 2009)
http://www.hurricaneonthebayou.com/

Iowa Wetland documentary with Ava Su (June 2009)
A Year on the Wing http://www.abc.net.au/wing/community/learningwetland.htm

Prairie Wetlands Documentary is a guided tour through the beautifully restored prairie wetlands, located just outside of Fergus Falls, MN http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7086226574538373361 (2006)

No Time to Lose – A documentary about a local heron rookery in Troy, MI, and the need for a wetlands ordinance to save it. Created by Zach Kilgore and Austin Schultz. 2008http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7086226574538373361#docid=-4754886072581651111

Great Lakes: Waterlife – at http://www.utoledo.edu/as/lec/events/Waterlife.html.Viewthe official trailer: http://campaigns.hellocoolworld.com/index.cfm?campaign_id=12Visit the official film website: http://waterlife.nfb.ca/

Houston’s disappearing wetlandshttp://blogs.discovery.com/animal_news/2009/09/shooting-wetland-documentary-helps-teens-go-green.html To watch the documentary, go to:http://www.schooltube.com/user/htv (Sept. 2009)

Cry of the Marsh – Wetlands of Minnesota documentary (1970s original and more recent re-make, Echoes of Cry of the Marsh)http://www.morris.umn.edu/cryofthemarsh/watch.html

Spike Lee’s documentary about Katrina: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0783612/

Spike Lee’s ‘Levees’ sequel for HBO covers four hours over two nights
http://www.nola.com/tv/index.ssf/2010/08/spike_lees_levees_sequel_for_h.html

The Big Uneasy – Documentary
http://www.thebiguneasy.com/

For those who are interested in making a wetland film, there are training opportunities. For example, there is an upcoming week-long workshop in Washington state (affiliated with University of Washington) called “Introduction to Scientific Filmmaking,” to be led by Jeff Morales (National Geographic Film & Television, & VONIGO Films) and Dr. Colin Bates (Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre & Department of Botany, University of British Columbia). The workshop will teach participants to communicate scientific findings, natural history information, or conservation messages by creating compelling, professional-quality videos. No prior film making experience is required. The workshop will run with a minimum of 10 participants, and a maximum of 16. Workshop will be held at Friday Harbor Marine Labs (http://depts.washington.edu/fhl/) November 16 – 22, 2009.  Cost: US$1100. Registration deadline is Sunday, November 1st.  For further information and application materials, contact Colin Bates colinba@interchange.ubc.ca or visitwww.coastalimageworks.com/filmschool/

Update May 2012: Film about Indiana Wetlands is one big, unhappy ending
http://www.suntimes.com/sports/outdoors/12460286-452/film-about-indiana-wetlands-is-one-big-unhappy-ending.html

Updated April 2013: Playas Film Screened at Texas Film Festivalhttp://www.pljv.org/news/playa-post/april-2013#story4