Tuesday, June 9, 2009


Some land is poorly drained and collects winter snow melt or allows rainwater to stand for a few days or weeks before it soaks away. Some land is low and flat and near to rivers or streams so that when the water level rises, it comes up onto the land on a fairly frequent basis. We call them floodplains, potholes, sloughs, bogs. The soil is not stable enough to support foundations or pilings. The land cannot be build on or hold a parking lot or grow a crop or even be relied upon to be safe for grazing animals. We consider these places wastelands. Of no use to us humans. But the problem lies in our perceptions being self-centered, biased toward what direct benefit they have to us. For these are the lands of reptiles and amphibians. Frogs and toads and salamanders and all the strange insects that live part of their lives in the water that are food to these strange animals. Life for many creatures flows along smoothly, with the young getting progressively larger until mature size is reached. But reptiles and amphibians and many insect go through stages of life that are very different from each other. Frogs and toads, for example, begin life as eggs laid in places like this. They hatch out and live the first part of their lives as tadpoles, polliwogs, that 'breathe' water with gills. They more resemble fish with tiny fins and huge tails and no legs. But as they mature, they grow front legs and back legs and absorb their tail into their bodies and as their lungs develop and their gills close up, the become more and more frog- or toad-like until they can live on the land.
These ephemeral spring pools and ponds are dry now, resembling green grassy meadows. A month ago, they were alive with calling amphibians who were eager to find a mate and cause this process to begin. These flat plains are still alive with life and home to the mature frogs and toads and salamanders plus countless insects and birds and animals. About a month before this, when the ice was still breaking up, eagles hunted here in the shallow water on the floodplain, catching fish who had spread out from the river bed into the spreading floodwaters. In terms of development, such places are a wasteland indeed. But in terms of life on planet earth, they are rich and beautiful ecosystems that are vital for the full functioning of our green planet.

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