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Designing an Info-graphic

My latest wetland wordle

I like that it makes an accidental poem:

Blue poet teaching
Bog ecology, natural
Rivers written, surface
Fish, fens–emergent:
I guide the swamp,
Swim the freshwater life
Write mucky wetland poems
Birth marsh animals–
Heron, eels, fish
Water lilies, plants
The nature of lakes
Aquatic biology
Human streams.

Raymond PondIs it a lake or a pond or a wetland?

My mother recently asked me about the difference between a lake and pond. She had just watched a neat presentation on Maine PBS about the Belgrade Lakes (See “Saving Our Lakes” on MPBN) – a program about the Belgrade Lakes Watershed Sustainability Project. Prior to that conversation, friends have asked me about the body of water beyond my backyard—if it was a lake or a pond and what’s the difference? My first answer was that it is a pond by name. A pond or lake may be named as such the way “street,” “lane,” or “road” are often interchangeable. Secondly, a lake and a pond have differences at the ecological level—in terms of aquatic life, and in terms of limnology.  I also explained that the differences had to do with acreage and depth of the water body. Sometimes a “pond” can be bigger and deeper by comparison to a nearby lake, as in the case of Long Pond (113’ deep) and Echo Lake (66’ deep) in Acadia National Park. In that case, Echo Lake is technically considered a “great pond” under Maine state law because it’s a natural pond greater than 10 acres.  But usually lakes are bigger and deeper than ponds. By state definitions, both lakes and ponds fall under similar regulations for “waters of the state” and related water quality and other environmental protection laws in Maine, and in many other states. Under the Cowardin classification system, ponds are wetlands.

What I did not explain very well was the natural grade of lakes into ponds into wetlands, and their evolution as waters.  What made sense to me as an ecologist, that one type would naturally grade into another water type, was harder to explain to my friend. What’s even harder to illustrate is the concept of an ecotone—the transition area between two ecological communities adjacent to one another. As usual, I thought of movies.

The phenomenon of distinct communities existing side by side can be observed in film.  For example, the liminal space between cultures—a cultural transition area—can be viewed as bordercrossings, illustrated effectively in films like “Night on Earth” (1991). Jim Jarmusch’s film took place entirely in taxi cabs in five different time zones throughout the world. The concept is that no matter where you go, at one point in time, there are eerily similar transactions and interactions taking place in taxi cabs—a kind of cultural habitat, if you will—for humans migrating from one place to another. Some water bodies, like taxi cabs, are mobile; some are stationary, like an ‘off-duty’ cab.  And that’s where the changes from lake to pond to wetland, or the line between adjacent ecological communities, can get a little fuzzy to someone standing on the curb, er, the edge of the water.

Over what period of time do lakes become ponds? How long does it take for ponds to become wetlands? For wetlands to become meadows? The short answer is several thousand years, if nothing has interrupted (or accelerated) the natural evolution of these waters. This is called succession. Biology students learning about wetland succession in a classroom can experiment with an aquarium—starting with a mini pond or wetland habitat. For a biology teaching guide written by BioMedia (Russell) that outlines the key ingredients to such an experiment for a year-long study, click here.  Limnologists say, “lakes are destined to die,” whereas ponds are the “death of a lake” and the “birth of a marsh.” For an explanation on pond succession, click here.

So how does a pond become a wetland? The first stage, called the ‘pioneer’ stage of wetland succession, starts with the pond without plant life at the bottom. Plankton, which inhabit the pond, and carry miniscule plant and animal life, arrive on the winds or wings of insects.  Over time, plankton die on the pond bottom and create a mucky layer, which is rich enough for water emergent plants to grow, such as water lilies, ancient wetland plants. As water lilies form a blanket over the surface of the water, they cut off the sunlight to the bottom, killing off the submergent plants. These processes can take a variety of timeframes from a matter of years to a matter of millennia. Trees, shrubs and grasses move into the space that was once the pond and a wetland takes shape. This is a dynamic process with many variables. Some wetland ecologists have argued against the idea of wetland succession because of these variables.

Succession is not a sure thing. It does not occur with all lakes in the U.S.. (For instance, there is no scientific concern that the Great Lakes will eventually turn into ponds, or meadows.) There are many factors that can interrupt a “natural” succession process such as a changing climate, soils, drainage, land development, introduction of invasive plants or other aquatic species, phosphorus run-off (causing dissolved oxygen) or other factors.

In addition to the possible succession pattern of pond to wetland, some wetlands can be turned into ponds. In the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Status & Trends of Wetlands in the Conterminous United States 2004-2009, ponds are recognized as a type of freshwater wetland. The report indicates a net increase of 207,200 acres of freshwater ponds between 2004-2009, an increase of 3.2% in freshwater ponds nationally (FWS). The trouble with ponds, for example, farm ponds, being created in place of another type of freshwater wetland, is that there is a difference between constructed ponds and freshwater (or natural) ponds in their ecological functions. According to the Status & Trends Report, the majority of ponds in the U.S. are constructed farm ponds with only 31% being natural ponds.

In a way, it’s an uncertain destiny for our lakes, ponds, streams, rivers and wetlands. For those working to protect wetlands, and to harness the power of wetlands to sequester carbon and provide unique and solvent ways to fight climate change’s impact on our planet, that may be part of wetlands’ destiny, too. Save wetlands? Save ourselves.  That’s next in line.

Pondcloseup

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.

Woodpecker in the V branch of a birch

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.  We lived on top of Tucker’s Hill, beside the famed Castle Tucker, overlooking the Sheepscot River estuary. I loved to sneak down there in the moonlight and pad over the two footbridges to my family’s little one-acre island, named after my grandmother’s family – White’s Island. A circle of seven trees, which I thought of as a coven of witches, stood around a sunken hole, where the tree roots of one tree flipped backward underground, causing an abnormally large rounded dent. There was something spooky about it. Upon approaching it from afar, a person couldn’t tell there was a hole, since tall grass grew all around it. The result was a sort of concave grassy knoll that tripped runners and captured them like an island-sized Venus flytrap. As far as I knew, the island was haunted only by the family’s dogs, buried on the island. Gramma’s dogs, Brownie and Freda, loved the island, so we always pictured their spirited tails wagging in the eel grass as they hunted for things that moved in the rockweed. I like to think that they continue to guard the end of the second footbridge. I can never go back there, this much is true.

Islands and wetlands, especially bogs, moors, swamps, meadows and seashores, set the scene for a good ghost story. In classic literature, 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 famed Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris, set in a rural swampy Louisiana parish with quirky stories of the undead.

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 more wetland “ghost stories,” see my other post. 

Leah

Poet. Artist. Ecoheroine. Human ecologist. Spiritual mermaid and Mystic. I write about literary ecology, wetlands, water, Romantic ecology, and quirky adventures with my dog.

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