Did you know that wetlands are not only important to ecosystems but also to American culture? While compiling information for my last blog Frogs, Bogs and Holiday Cheer, I found many amazing facts about wetlands’ influence on more than just holidays. Come to find out, the presence of wetlands also influences much of America’s music, literature, historical civilization and art.
One music outlet for wetland lovers is a genre of music called “Swamp Pop.” Swamp pop began arising in the 1950s and early ‘60s and is a mixture of Cajun folk and waltz and Cajun R&B. It is also known as “a musical genre indigenous to the Acadiana region of south Louisiana and an adjoining section of southeast Texas… [and] combines New Orleans-style rhythm and blues, country and western, and traditional French Louisiana musical influences.” Swamp Pop influenced many musicians, most notably Elvis Presley! Follow this link to hear some of this wonderful sounding music.
Furthermore, who doesn’t enjoy the sound of a little Credence Clearwater Revival (CCR) every once in a while? When that good ol’ song Born on the Bayou comes on, I find myself tapping my foot, bobbing my head and feeling as if I were right there in the bayou—even if it’s just for those few minutes. Credence Clearwater Revival incorporated many lyrics about swamps, bayous, bullfrogs and catfish in their music. Interestingly, the music of CCR and others like it are of a subgenre of music known as “Swamp Rock.” Swamp rock pulls from swamp pop as well as from a genre of music called roots rock (rock music that incorporates historical sounds of blues, folk and country) and emerged in the later part of the 60s and into the 70s. Follow this link to hear a great swamp rock song called Green River by the Credence Clearwater Revival.
In addition to music, wetlands have made an imprint on American literature too. Two writers in particular are Mark Twain and Henry David Thoreau. Mark Twain references life around swamps in his “Life on the Mississippi” writings and even his tails of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. The most notable wetland lover of the two writers, I believe, would be Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau has even been deemed a “Patron Saint of Swamps” by Dr. Rod Giblett of Edith Cowan University in Western Australia due to his extensive love of wetlands and his writings of such. Giblett writes, “if swamps could be said to have a patron saint, it would be the nineteenth-century philosopher and naturalist Henry David Thoreau, who maintained that ‘when I will die you will find swamp oak written on my heart.”
Giblett further discusses that Thoreau’s feelings about swamps were not of the popular belief that they are dreary, dismal, and full of disease, but quotes Thoreau who writes “the steam which rises from swamps and pools is as dear and domestic as that of our own kettle.” Giblett goes on to say “for Thoreau swamps and stagnant pools were not the antithesis of, nor a threat to, the homely, but of comparable value. He did not valorise the wetland over the homely but gave them equal value unlike those of his (and my) contemporaries who denigrated and feared the wetland.” In Giblett’s essay he shows admiration for Thoreau’s love of swamps and writes “For Thoreau, the swamp is ‘the strength, the marrow of Nature.’ The strength of nature, for him, lies not in the hard bones of the dry land, but in the soft marrow of the wetlands, what he also called the liquor of nature which feeds the body environmental.”
Another aspect of American culture that has been influenced by wetlands is art. While researching information for this blog, I came across some art work by a 19th century painter by the name of Joseph Rusling Meeker. Meeker is now known as “a Louisiana painter” because of his many pieces of Louisiana’s Bayous and swamps. However, Meeker was not a resident of Louisiana nor did he strictly paint swamps and wetlands. Meeker was a Union Navy Paymaster during the Civil War and spent a lot of time traveling the Mississippi River where he gained inspiration for his bayou and swamp paintings. Meeker went on to paint other types of landscapes throughout the country but, nonetheless, he became known for his work of Louisiana’s wetlands such as Louisiana Dawn and Bayou Teche.
I am amazed every day about how much wetlands impact human lives. Not only do they filter and improve water quality, retain flood water, and provide living habitats for many species of animals, but they also have a huge influence on our cultural values as well. Like it or not, wetlands are a part of our ecosystem and a part of our personal lives. And in the words of Henry David Thoreau “Yes, though you may think me perverse, if it were proposed to me to dwell in the neighbourhood of the most beautiful garden that ever human art contrived, or else of a Dismal Swamp, I should certainly decide for the swamp.”