It’s only 10:30 a.m. (when I started this post) and I’ve already learned a bunch of things!
11 October 2022 – Today I learned:
That Annie Proulx has a new book out (non-fiction), Fen, Bog & Swamp: A Short History of Peatland Destruction and Its Role in the Climate Crisis, called both “a history of wetland destruction” and “a love letter to ecosystems that are rapidly disappearing.” I heard the 7-minute Morning Edition (NPR) interview with Proulx , who is 87, this morning. She said that what led her to write the book instead of her usual Pulitzer-Prize-winning fiction, was that she “could not concentrate on writing fiction, which is what I am usually writing. I was too concerned with what was happening to the natural world, and I felt I knew very little about wetlands. The way I learn about something is to write about it. So I began reading and taking notes and scribbling, asking questions ….”
If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you’ll know that I’ve got a lot of wetland love, particularly for bogs and fens (also saltwater and freshwater marshlands). It pains me, as it does Proulx, that so many see them only as obstructions, as “candidates for drainage” for better agricultural land, a highway, or a housing development, instead of noticing and acknowledging that we’re all part of the same interwoven system and that wetlands are valuable for all beings, not only because they’ve sequestered carbon dioxide and methane gas (which is released into the atmosphere when they’re destroyed) but because they support a diverse ecosystem. And they’re beautiful.
Again, if you’ve been here awhile, you’ve seen these excerpts from Barbara Hurd’s Stirring the Mud: On Swamps, Bogs, and Human Imagination; they speak to me of the magic, metaphor, primordial lab, and heterotopia that is a wetland.
“In a swamp, as in meditation, you begin to glimpse how elusive, how inherently insubstantial, how fleeting our thoughts are, our identities. There is magic in this moist world, in how the mind lets go, slips into sleepy water, circles and nuzzles the banks of palmetto and wild iris, how it seeps across dreams, smears them into the upright world, rots the wood of treasure chests, welcomes the body home.” …
“To love a swamp, however, is to love what is muted and marginal, what exists in the shadows, what shoulders its way out of mud and scurries along the damp edges of what is most commonly praised. And sometimes its invisibility is a blessing. Swamps and bogs are places of transition and wild growth, breeding grounds, experimental labs where organisms and ideas have the luxury of being out of the spotlight, where the imagination can mutate and mate, send tendrils into and out of the water.” … Things in the margins, including humans who wander there, are often on the brink of becoming something else, or someone else.”
And of course poet Linda Hogan’s take (from her memoir, I believe):
“Once when I was younger I went out and sat under the sky and looked up and asked it to take me back. What I should have done was gone to the swamp and bog and ask them to bring me back because, if anything is, mud and marsh are the origins of life. Now I think of the storm that made chaos, that the storm opened a door. It tried to make over a world the way it wanted it to be. At school I learned that storms create life, that lightning, with its nitrogen, is a beginning; bacteria and enzymes grow new life from decay out of darkness and water. It’s into this that I want to fall, into swamp and mud and sludge and it seems like falling is the natural way of things; gravity needs no fuel, no wings. It needs only stillness and waiting and time.”
I’m looking forward to reading Proulx’s book.
Such a funny thing — most of the time I was typing this, a swamp sparrow was calling outside. Merlin (the birdsong app from Cornell) says that it’s rare here now. But its name kept lighting up over and over again in a 40-minute period. I think it was in the little cherry tree near the house but I couldn’t see it.
Featured image: bog nearby, Sept. 2020