“Landscape of Loss”


Sap is flowing through ice and snow

When nature awakens in late March or early April, sap starts flowing in the trees and ice changes to water marking the end of hibernation.  This is the grand opening of the wetlands and the pilgrimage to the vernal pools as David M. Carroll writes in his “Swampwalker’s Journal: a Wetlands Year.”  A vernal pool is a body of water which fills up in autumn and winter and is swollen in the spring but often dries up completely by the end of the summer.  Carroll describes vernal pools so beautifully: “It is at snowmelt and ice-out, the last sleets, first rains, and the earliest warming breaths of spring that they beckon wood frogs, salamanders, and spring peepers from surrounding upland woods, where they have passed the winter in rotted-out trees roots [a reason not to ‘clean up’ the woods], under layers of bark and litter, in small mammal tunnels and other hibernacula in the earth.”  The melting snow heralds the march of the amphibians.  “Vernal pool habitats hold a galaxy of small things that come to life the instant ice and snow turn back into water.”

Carroll walks the swamps, as the title of his book suggests, in search of mating salamanders and spotted turtles, bogs, fens and all wetland flora and fauna.   He tells us that there must be a certain collusion of events– several warm days in a row followed by a darkest of nights with temperatures ideally in the mid-50s with rain preferably two nights in a row.  And then the magical migration begins.  The salamanders begin their “annual pilgrimage” to the vernal pond to mate.

My husband and I are lucky enough to have a vernal pond on the property next door to us and when Spring comes the sound at night from that pond makes us feel as if we are camping out next to a vast wetland.  The music of the spring peepers plays through the night throughout the house, often starting overeagerly in the late afternoon.  This manic symphony thrills us every year.  It is the first sign of Spring for us.  The quality of joyousness and the affirmation of life gladdens our souls.  Going to sleep with that sound makes us remember what we so often forget, to give thanks to our Creator for His magnificent creatures.

Inspired by Carroll, one year we awaited the first dark, rainy warm night after a succession of warm days.  In our rain gear, armed with flashlights we set out around 11PM to look for the march of the salamanders.  We walked to the nearby pond.  Nothing.  We walked quite aways down a nearby dirt road that has run off but is not quite a vernal pond.  We shone the flashlight this way and that.  Nothing.  We finally headed home disappointed and dejected and my husband started towards the front door when I let out a yelp.  There in the doorway was a 6 inch spotted salamander in all its glory!  We never found the march of the salamanders but we were greeted by one of these fantastic amphibians right at our front door!

This story, however, does not have a happy ending.  In his epilogue to the “Swampwalker’s Journal,” David Carroll explains why it took him more than 7 years to complete this book.  He writes that he became involved in saving some of the wetlands in his book and says sadly nearly all of his interventions have or will become “losing battles.”  He describes the plight of the wetlands, bogs and fens as a “landscape of loss.”   And he scorns our human selfishness as he writes how it “reveals explicitly the extent to which we think of ourselves as owning all living things, along with the very earth, air, and water in which they live, as if we possessed some divinely mandated dominion over all creation.”  He warns: “As we will learn in time none of this belongs to us.”  I read these words, knowing them to be true and I think of the soon-to-be-extinct bog turtle and other creatures with the same possible fate.  I think of the spotted salamander who came to our door, as did Shelley, the snapping turtle who used to return to our drive way every year to lay her eggs.  I think of the spring peepers whose joyous song heralds spring next door every year, and I fear for the future of them all.

14 responses

  1. Genie

    Wetlands are not appreciated enough, they are vital to survival of so many species that don’t even live in the wetlands. I think a lot of people think of wetlands as being buggy and mucky so they don’t know how much life is there and the magic of the creatures and flora who survive there. Unless it’s a park that they can go to and take pictures of themselves and then go home, the masses don’t think beyond that to forests and wetlands.
    I fear for the future of all life on earth too. The saddest thing to me is the death of children and animals. The hand of man is so cruel! And it was not made that way by the Creator. We were born to love and care for all living things on this Sacred Earth.


    March 20, 2013 at 11:48 AM

    • Thank you for your comment. I totally agree and hope that people will read your comment and realize the importance of the wetlands and wilderness in general.


      March 20, 2013 at 3:35 PM

  2. I am fortunate to have a vernal stream and a sizeable protected wetlands area on my property. But right now, it’s covered with another 14 inches of yesterday’s snow. I admit I’m not exactly fond of all the crawly creatures out there, but I do enjoy the evening symphony of peepers. And I especially enjoy the ducks and geese when they come paddling through.


    March 20, 2013 at 12:12 PM

    • Yeah, the peepers are great. Ducks and geese, too. Sounds lovely there but 14 inches of snow…! Reptiles are an acquired taste– acquired from my husband, but I draw the line when it comes to snakes!


      March 20, 2013 at 1:18 PM

  3. We saw two fat female salamanders a couple of days ago waiting for the sun, nearly imobilized by the cold in our back-yard. They were hiding under some wood that I leave for them there on purpose. (They used to hybernate in our cellar but it has become much too warm there after we put 2 deepfreezers)There is a ‘vernal’ brook at the far away border of our plot. 30m further a very small nature reserve starts. A real bog and wetland, that attracts wildlife from far around.


    March 20, 2013 at 2:39 PM

    • The nature reserve, the vernal brook, the double salamander sighting– it all sounds very lovely, Bert! We, too, have a vernal stream out back. Glad you keep wood for the animals– we have left everything wild except for a little lawn for the same reason.


      March 20, 2013 at 3:23 PM

  4. Some of mankind has no appreciation for wetlands, forests or anything else, if it gets in the way of the “progress” they are striving for. In another words, more strip malls and highways. Cement earth!
    We are going to suffer a major blow and are already feeling the repercusions of that. It just sickens me. I have habitats in my yard. I can’ only do what I can with my part of the world. If everyone did, we’d have so much to give to nature, animals and ourselves. I enjoyed the poetic way you wrote this post.


    March 20, 2013 at 4:37 PM

    • I agree. It sickens me, too. We have a neighbor who cut down dozens of trees so he could have a view. And others who have done similar distressing things. The wilderneness is shrinking and, like you say, cement is taking over. The animals have no where to go. We have left our fallen down trees and wilderness wild but we are definitely in the minority. Will the children of tomorrow even know wilderness?
      Thank you for your comment and for liking the post.


      March 20, 2013 at 5:50 PM

  5. Interesting and very informative. The comments too. I never knew any of that.


    March 20, 2013 at 8:58 PM

    • Growing up in a big city, i didn’t know about this either and didn’t learn all this until we got a little barn in the country– then I learned a lot. Thank you for commenting and glad you found it interesting. From living in the country with the animals and plants, I have become passionate about preservation of the wilderness and its creatures.

      P.S. I looked for your continuation of the Maria story to read again and couldn’t find it. Did you take it down?


      March 21, 2013 at 9:28 AM

  6. Running Elk

    Reblogged this on Shamanic Paths and commented:
    Wonderful reflection on the importance of maintaining ecological diversity. We lose these niche locations to our own detriment.


    March 23, 2013 at 3:28 PM

    • In total agreement. We and our children are rapidly losing all that is beautiful. Thank you for your comment.


      March 23, 2013 at 4:23 PM

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