Monday 31 October 2022

Where the wet things are

I'm after finding and finishing Fen, Bog and Swamp  Annie Proulx on the Borrowbox. It's only six hours long but it ranges over fenlands, mangroves and mire across the world and time. Humans are the apotheosis of the first tetrapods who crawled from the ocean to seek a place in the sun on dry land: we've spent the last 2,000 years [at least] converting marginal dank places into solid ground. The Pontine Marshes were drained by the early Roman emperors, converting a rich source of eels and malaria for durum wheat and Frascati. That sounds like a fair exchange . . . for humanity; for the eels and biodiversity in general, not so much.

Yes, it's the same Annie Proulx who brought us [so much joy with] Accordion Crimes and The Shipping News 25 years ago, when I had time and inclination for fiction. I don't know about you, but my baggage about wetlands is rednecks, boggers, 'gators and catfish. This Proulx book is none of the above but rather A Short History of Peatland Destruction and its Role in the Climate Crisis - nevertheless wetlands are a minority interest to most people even if they are not actively repelled by the feel and smell of sucking mud and the creatures that lurk there. Proulx cites with approval an enigmatic artwork by my friend and neighbour Remco de Fouw. It is called Let Sleeping Bogs Lie and I couldn't find a representation anywhere on the internet: so I asked Remco. If you look carefully you can see a face . . . resting . . . for a while . . . to wake . . . maybe at the end of days. Oh, is that the time? It Is!

Perhaps the most concerning loss even at this [late] moment is the loss of mangroves along the salt-water littorals of the tropics and sub-tropics. Mangroves tend to the impenetrable and have no immediate commercial value: tourists? I don't think so! rice? you jest! fish-farms? the antithesis! But when they get grubbed up to serve Thomas Cook or shrimp Penaeus vannamei suddenly people realise that they are a) a buttress against the storm b) a hatchery for pelagic fish c) a serious carbon sink d) bogglingly biodiverse e) difficult to start from scratch f) sustainable if left the hell alone . . . I never did like shrimp.

But don't listen to me, listen to Annie Proulx; well read by Gabra Zackman. 'tis excellent; and only 5 hours long.

I could risk blasphemy,
Consecrate the cauldron bog
Our holy ground and pray
Him to make germinate

Seamus Heaney Tollund Man

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