The banner is a low-tech simulation of my place through time: the first photograph is intended to invoke the tundra of the PaleoIndian period, 12,500-10,000 BCE; the second, the swamps and woodlands of c. 1630, of the contact period between the Massachusett and the first European settlers. The third photograph is of my front yard when I moved in (the yard was used as a doggie playground), c. 2007; the fourth, a photograph of my garden, c. 2010.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Hills not like white elephants, by Caitlin Ó Cadhain Ó Ceallaigh

Medb (Old Irish spelling; sometimes Anglicized Maeve, Maev or Maive) queen of Connacht, a major figure in the great twelfth-century Irish epic, the Táin Bó Cúailnge (The Cattle Raid of Cooley), wields her power in a number of ways—perhaps most astonishingly through her ability to shape the land itself: she prevents Cú Chulainn from following her and her army by strategically urinating (or menstruating—fúla fola, “bloody urine”), creating three impassable rivers or lakes (there is more than one version of the episode, and certainly more than one interpretation). Her story, as well as the Táin itself, is worth pursuing; see Sarah Connell and Shannon Garner’s The Torque.

Medb has been interpreted as a river goddess and/or fertility goddess: blood, urine, amniotic fluid = rain, water. She is one of several figures across a number of cultures, both male and female, associated with natural features and elements.

The earth (terra) itself is often gendered female: as much as rivers might be imagined as issuing from the goddess and insuring fertility, other topographical features like hills, valleys, and caves are compared to the curves and dips and hidden places of a woman’s body. (The earth is our mother; we answer to Mother Nature—and to Father Time.) Such anthropomorphizing of geographic features arises out of looking at the natural world (like cloud-gazing) and making associations that may have personal, fanciful importance as well as larger cultural significance. (Google “breast-shaped hill.” And read about the “breast-shaped illumination” in Wiltshire.)

So, what does it look like when humans deliberately terra-form the earth to create the human body? Well, it looks like Rushmore. But my favorite example is the Mud Maid at the Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall, UK. Here—it is hard not to say “she”—is:

However, my least favorite is the new Northumberlandia, a kind of Swiftian female figure subsided into turf and made a permanent tourist site, now constantly tramped upon by Lilliputians. It certainly is an experience in scale. While I find it ugly—it’s an it—it is somewhat redeemed by the kind of enterprising repurposing that created it. But only somewhat: the Shotton coal mine is nearby, and they had to figure out what to with 1.5 million tons of earth and rock, quite expensive to put back or to haul away. Land lost to a coal mine and then invented as a tourist trap. Unhappy locals call the sculpture “Slag Alice.” 

Milton’s Mammon comes to mind:
Mammon, the least erected Spirit that fell
From heav’n, for ev’n in heav’n his looks and thoughts
Were always downward bent, admiring more
The riches of Heav’ns pavement, trod’n Gold,
Then aught divine or holy else enjoy’d
In vision beatific: by him first
Men also, and by his suggestion taught,
Ransack’d the Center, and with impious hands
Rifl’d the bowels of thir mother Earth
For Treasures better hid. Soon had his crew
Op’nd into the Hill a spacious wound
And dig’d out ribs of Gold. . . . (I. 679-90)

I’m not quite sure what the occupants of passing spaceships will think when they look down and see the Lady of the North, as she is called, sprawled out at her full 1300 feet long and 112 feet high. I would hope that they see and admire the Cerne Abbas Giant and the Uffington Chalk Horse instead.

guest blogger, Jackie Peszynski, on Tolkien's Rivendell

Ecocriticism is the study of the relationship between literature and the physical environment.” –Cheryll Glotfelty

            Straight from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings comes a completely invented world called Middle Earth, meticulously detailed and mapped out by its creator. Within Middle Earth in the North is a place called Rivendell, an elven city that is visited by the members of the Fellowship of the Ring on Frodo Baggins’ quest.  The elves also play a significant role in Rivendell’s natural setting and connection to the Earth. This home of the elves lies on the foothills of the Misty Mountains to the east with Hobbiton to the west, as shown in the map below, Figure 1.

Figure 1: Red Book’s Map of Rivendell

Though invented, Tolkien supposedly based Rivendell on the Lauterbrunnen in Switzerland, which he visited in 1911 (Rivendell in Switzerland). In these two images below (Figure 2 and Figure 3), one of the Lauterbrunnen and one that Tolkein drew of Rivendell, there are definite similarities in the terrain and layout of the area.

Figure 2: Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland

    Figure 3: Tolkien’s drawing of Rivendell

The most important aspect of Rivendell’s location is that the mountains surround and protect it from enemies. Upon further inspection of the ecology, the Misty Mountains border Rivendell and a river runs through it. It is called Loudwater (see Figure 1) in English and Bruinen in Elvish, noticeably similar to the name Lauterbrunnen, the location that inspired him (Rivendell in Switzerland). The buildings themselves are built into the ledges and side of the mountain, hidden in a valley between tall mountain cliffs.
Throughout the story, Frodo and the Fellowship use Rivendell as a place of refuge because the city is protected by a kind of elven magic that makes it almost impossible to find. The book speaks of a “power in Rivendell to withstand the might of Mordor, for a while.” (Chapter 5: A Conspiracy Unmasked) However, Frodo eventually decides that they cannot stay there and risk enemies finding the elven retreat.  Gandalf says: “To go back is to admit defeat and face worse defeat to come  . . . sooner or later Rivendell will be besieged, and after a brief and bitter time it will be destroyed” (Chapter 5).
Tolkien describes the departure from Rivendell as the Fellowship begins their journey:
Their purpose was to hold this course west of the Mountains for many miles and days. The country was much rougher and more barren than in the green vale of the Great River in Wilderland on the other side of the range, and their going would be slow... The spies of Sauron had hitherto seldom been seen in this empty country, and the paths were little known except to the people of Rivendell . . . Yet steadily the mountains were drawing nearer. South of Rivendell they rose ever higher, and bent westwards; and about the feet of the main range there was tumbled an ever wider land of bleak hills, and deep valleys filled with turbulent waters. Paths were few and winding, and led them often only to the edge of some sheer fall, or down into treacherous swamps. (Chapter 5)

Elves: Connected to Nature

All ecological criticism shares the fundamental premise that human culture is connected to the physical world, affecting it and affected by it.” –Cheryll Glotfelty

In The Lord of the Rings, not only do the elves live in the contours of the land and in the forests, they have a unique relationship with the nature surrounding them. They were even credited with teaching the Ents—huge old trees that move—to talk. (“Elves”)
During one passage of The Fellowship of the Ring when Arwen is trying to save Frodo from nine riders on horseback (the Ringwraiths, servants of Sauron), she speaks to a river and prevents the wraiths from crossing. The river roars by and washes over the enemy, leaving her and Frodo safe and allowing them to escape to Rivendell.
Elves have a magical presence in the eyes of men who don’t understand their relationship to nature quite as well. This connection stems from the fact that elves are immortal beings who must live in peace with nature.  Instead of living in conflict with nature, they live in harmony with it and grow upon its own beauty (“Elves”). This idea is directly shared with ecological thinking: all creatures are connected to the earth in occasionally inexplicable ways; Tolkien suggests that this connection should be embraced.
Allison B. Wallace says that ecoliterature is “writing that examines and invites intimate human experience of place’s myriad ingredients: weather, climate, flora, fauna, soil, air, water, rocks, minerals, fire and ice, as well as all the marks there of human history.” Tolkien’s work is certainly ecoliterature because of his imaginative and vivid descriptions of Middle Earth.

Works Cited

"Elves." Lord of the Rings Wiki. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2012. <>.
Glotfelty, Cheryll. "What Is Ecocriticism?" What Is Ecocriticism? N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2012. <>.
"Rivendell in Swizterland." Rivendell in Switzerland. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2012.
Tolkien, J. R. R. The Lord of the Rings. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1967. Print.

guest blogger Daniel Meyers, A Song of Ice and Fire

In her introduction to an essay on ecocritical studies, Karen Raber describes Ecocriticism as “the study of the relationship between literary and cultural artifacts and the natural environment” wherein “the author’s attention to the physical natural world or its conceptual influence on literature and culture is a significant component of the argument.” A Song of Ice and Fire—a book series by author George R.R. Martin and new HBO series (called Game of Thrones after the first book in the series)—is a prime example of a literary artifact that, when closer analyzed in terms of ecocriticism, can reveal much about the author’s view of the environment, his purpose behind writing the series, and, perhaps, even project the outline of where the final two books of the series will take us. 
From early on in the series, Martin portrays the environment as an important part of his story’s fantasy world. All the families he introduces are very much products of their environments. The harsh land and cold climate that surround the Starks—the main family in the series—shape the family’s personality and culture, making them as harsh and enduring as the lands they inhabit. This is most visible in the family’s slogan: Winter is Coming. No fluff about honor or glory like the other families of Westeros, Winter is Coming is a reminder of the all-powerful environment and the destruction it brings—and for good reason. Winter in A Song of Ice and Fire is no typical four-month winter, but rather one that can last for years, claiming many lives in its wake. In a world where environmental hazards are greatly exaggerated, the Starks are keen to remember the omniscient power of their habitat.
The rest of Westeros—the fantasy landmass where the Starks and thousands of other families have formed their kingdom—keep themselves busy fighting wars amongst themselves in a selfish attempt to claim the throne, seemingly ignorant of the nearness of the deadly winter. The battles and fatalities for the  power of the throne are seemingly never ending, but Martin seems to hint towards the struggle’s futility in the face of the oncoming winter—if winter is truly as deadly the Starks recall, it doesn’t matter who sits on the throne. The snow covers everyone. This transcendent power of winter in Westeros’s fate could be viewed as an ecological theme in Martin’s series. The prominent families may waste their time killing one another over the power of the throne, but in the end, in the broken Westeros, all will be helpless against the power of winter .Eddard Stark knew it all along—Winter is coming
But Westeros can be seen as more than a fantasy. It’s no coincidence Martin draws several parallels between his world and ours. As one example, Westeros resembles Britain reflected over a y-axis. (See below: Westeros first, Britain second.) 

Martin also admits that The Wall of his fantasy world was inspired by Britain’s Hadrian Wall. (See below, the Wall first, Hadrian’s second.)

           Martin is perhaps drawing a parallel to remind us that we aren’t much different from the fantasy people of Westeros. We fight and kill over petty things when in reality there is a much greater power uniting us all: our environment, the planet Earth. The people of Westeros have become disharmonious with their environment and with one another. Perhaps as a result, the mystical forest beyond their wall conjures an undead army to wipe them out: the Others. Viewing this with an ecocritical attitude, the wrath of the Others is the environment’s punishment for the people of Westeros disrupting the harmony of nature. Martin connects the Others to the environment in one scene as a storyteller tells Bran Stark that the Others bring an evil winter with them—one far fiercer and longer than any before. In this world, our greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental problems seem to be causing global warming—the never-ending summer. Unlike the people of Westeros, we have to unite if we ever hope to overcome such a force. Whether or not Martin believes humanity has the power to overcome and endure the wrath of nature will be revealed in the symbolic battle between the people of Westeros and the Others. 
Martin tells of a people that lived in perfect harmony with his fantasy world: the Children of the Forrest. The Children are a mystical group of humans who were natives to Westeros (even before the First Men, contrary to the name). They lived in harmony, not only with one another, but also with their forest environment, treating the trees they lived amongst as gods. They are called “those who sing the songs of the earth” and are told to have magic abilities and connections with the forest (A Dance With Dragons). The power and magic of the Children are all but gone in modern Westeros, as are the days of their peaceful forest. Again viewing this in an ecocritical sense, the Children’s praise and care for the environment was what gave them magical power and a heightened spiritual life. When the harmony with nature ended, so did the good magic of the Children. It was replaced with the evil magic of the Others. Each magic, however good or bad, are results of the all-powerful environment. Martin believes we must have great respect for our environment, for its power is much greater than any king. We must respect our world the way the Children of the Forest and the Starks respect their fantasy world, for the problems that face our environment are very, very real—and just as powerful.

Works Cited
Raber, Karen. "Recent Ecocritical Studies of English Renaissance Literature." Asle. N.P., N.d. Web.

Martin, George R. R. A Dance with Dragons. New York: Bantam, 2011. Print.

"Welcome to the Making of Your Favorite Movies, TV Shows, Music Videos, Computer Games, Commercials, Comic Books, Etc." N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2012.

"Hadrian's Wall Dig Unearths Roman Refugee Camp." The Archaeology News Network:. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2012.

"The Wall" N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2012.

"Great Britain." N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2012.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

guest blogger Becky Cohn, on Tolkien's Shire

[A]ll ecological criticism shares the fundamental premise that human culture is connected to the physical world, affecting it and affected by it. – Cheryl Glotfelty

The Shire is an example of an invented ecology created by JRR Tolkien for his book The Hobbit and his trilogy The Lord of the Rings. It is comprised of rolling green hills dotted with small farms, and it contains the towns and villages where the hobbits live. You might even say that the hobbits are part of this ecology, as Tolkien writes in The Fellowship of the Ring that they have “a close friendship with the earth.”
One of the most fascinating things about Tolkien’s books is that he chose the apparently weakest and most simple-minded species of his creation to have the most impact on the fate of Middle-Earth. Hobbits originally are hardly seen and little heard of, and in fact when Frodo and his companions meet men for the first time the men are astounded at their existence. However, they continue on in their travels to deliver the One Ring, the instrument of greatest evil, to destruction. The reader is left in no doubt that only a hobbit could have completed this task, which was integral in the fight against the spread of destruction and slavery from Mordor. Although Gandalf the wizard and Aragorn the King of the men of Gondor had their roles to play in defeating Mordor and its ruler Sauron, the final glory of the victory went to the hobbits that had traveled leagues alone in dangerous enemy territory to destroy the Ring.  
I believe that Tolkien chose hobbits to have such an important role because they have kept what only the elves, out of all the other inhabitants of Middle-Earth, have also retained. This is their strong connection to the earth. In The Hobbit, readers are informed that each hobbit family makes its home in a hole in the ground, “not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it [is] a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.” Regardless of how homey hobbit-holes are, they are nevertheless inextricably linked to the earth.
Furthermore, Tolkien created hobbits to have no need for shoes, as the soles of their feet are tough and leathery and can withstand the outdoors without the protection of a leather sole. This brings them into constant contact with the ground whenever they are outside, which furthers their intrinsic connection with nature. Tolkien is almost suggesting that the hobbits are another part of the Earth; hence they could be considered part of the ecology of the Shire.
When we compare the culture of the Hobbits to that of the men of Gondor, we see that the men have become too caught up in either political struggles or the battle between Gondor and Mordor. Very few men remember that their roots and their histories lie with the Earth. Tolkien suggests that because of men’s lost connection with the earth, they are unable to fix the world.
Paul Kocher argues that another reason for hobbits’ strong presence in the novels is that “Tolkien is sure that modern man’s belief that he is the only intelligent species on Earth has not been good for him.” Hobbits are everything men aren’t: peace-loving, content with their world, neither conceited nor arrogant. The hobbits’ strong connection with the ground has made them simple farmers, attached to where they grew up, and unadventurous. This means that hobbits such as Bilbo Baggins and Frodo Baggins, who each go on adventures of their own, are viewed as black sheep, shunned and looked at with a mixture of awe and disapproval by their fellows. However, these two still retain the intrinsic hobbit longing for their home of the Shire, and for peace amongst the inhabitants of Middle-Earth.
            Tolkien’s intense fondness for hobbits is clear from his affectionate descriptions of them, and also clear perhaps when we look at the origins of his inspiration for hobbits and the Shire. It is no wonder that an author would make his favorite creation central to the plot of his story. In the introduction of The Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkien wishfully muses that perhaps hobbits still live in the same region they used to: “North-West of the Old World, east of the Sea.” If you look at the figure 1, the map of Middle Earth, it is clear that this is the area where the Shire lies.

 Figure 1

When compared to a modern map, this would suggest England, which includes the hamlet of Sarehole, Birmingham which inspired Tolkien to create the Shire and its hobbits. The mill in Figure 2, a picture that Tolkien drew of the Shire (including the Hill where Bilbo Baggins’s home is), is based on the Mill of Sarehole. (For photographs of the mill at Sarehole and other images of the area, follow this link:

Figure 2

            It is no secret that Tolkien cherishes his hobbits. In The Fellowship of the Rings, Tolkien tells us that Hobbits “love peace and quiet and good tilled earth: a well-ordered and well-farmed countryside was their favorite haunt. They do not and did not understand or like machines more complicated than a forge-bellows, a water-mill, or a hand-loom.”  I believe that by presenting hobbits as the saviors of Middle-Earth, Tolkien is promoting a symbiotic and appreciative relationship with the earth itself, which is what the hobbits of the Shire have.

Works Cited

Curry, Patrick. Defending Middle-earth: Tolkien, Myth and Modernity.
            New York: St. Martin’s, 1997. Print.
Tolkien, J. R. R. The Fellowship of the Ring: Being the First Part of the Lord of the Rings.
            Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993. Print.
Tolkien, J. R. R. The Hobbit, Or, There and Back Again.
            Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1966. Print.
"Middle Earth Maps LotRO Combo Blog." LotRO Combo Blog RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2012. <>.
"The Assorted Adventures of Captain Prucha." - All-the-dragons: The Shire by Tolkien "Help... N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2012. <>.

guest blogger James D'Arpa, on the Cane Toad

The ecology of Australia is one of intrigue and of individuality. The geographical isolation of the region has allowed for its inhabitants to evolve completely independently of the outside world for thousands of years. This has resulted in the creation of many beautiful, awe-inspiring species that exist nowhere else on the globe.
 I first became interested in Australia’s ecology when I was a child. My fascination was sparked when my cousin Sal announced to the family that because of his job as a civil engineer he would be temporarily living in the country. I remember at the end of every month looking forward to the pictures he would send me of exotic animals and landscapes that I had only seen on television. 
It was not until recently that I learned that this ecology of Australia that I had found so awe-inspiring as a child, is in danger. The geographical isolation that has given rise to these wonderful species has in turn made the land very much susceptible to dangers posed to it by invasive species.
One species in particular that poses an exceptionally large threat is, among other things, a species of toad known as the “Cane Toad.” I know that it seems far-fetched and even a little ridiculous to think that a mere species of toad could have any lasting effect on such a large landscape, but the fact is the toad does indeed pose a real danger.
The Cane Toad is typically of brownish-red coloration, and is particularly large compared to other species of toads, weighing around four pounds on average. In June of 1935 the Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations introduced the Cane Toad to Australia. The toad was introduced in the hope that it would reduce the amount of Cane beetles on the island, an insect that is harmful to sugar cane crops.
The belief that this tactic would be successful illustrates a point made by Thomas K. Dean: “In large part, environmental crises are a result of humanity's disconnection from the natural world, brought about not only by increasing technology but also by particularization; that is, a mentality of specialization that fails to recognize the interconnectedness of all things.”
When applied to the Cane Toad, it can be said that humanity’s failure to recognize that the introduction of a foreign species would have far-reaching consequences much deeper than the eradication of a beetle illustrates our short-sightedness and our overly simplistic view of nature.
Since 1935 the population of Cane Toads in Australia has exploded from the original 102 toads introduced to some 200 million that call Australia their home today. The distribution of the toads during the years since their introduction can be seen in the map below.

The toads owe the majority of their success to deadly toxins that they release from the backs of their heads. Because predators in Australia have not had the hundreds of years necessary to adapt any immunity to these toxins, the toad is without a natural predator and therefore without a population regulator. In fact, many Australian predators who would normally hunt animals like the Cane Toad now find themselves in danger of accidently eating an animal that contains a deadly toxin.  Crocodiles and freshwater turtles are among the chief species that face a particularly large threat from the Cane Toad’s defense mechanism as both are capable of eating a toad large enough to kill them and both typically prey on types of toads. Smaller reptiles face a similar danger, including a species of lizard known as the Yellow Spotted Monitor whose numbers have dropped more than 90% as a result of the toad.   
  Naturally, the prey of the Cane Toads, typically various types of small rodents, reptiles, amphibians, and birds, also find themselves at risk along with a variety of other species that attempt to compete with the Cane Toad for these food sources.
The Cane Toad is a problem that must be dealt with. As its habitat expands and becomes more closely mingled with the human population in Australia, it poses a severe threat to the well-being of small children as well as that of beloved family pets.

Works Cited

Dean, Thomas K. “What is Eco-Criticism?” ALSE. The Association for the Study of
Literature and Environment, 28 Nov. 2012

guest blogger Mary Elliott, on Wonderland

Because Lewis Carroll did not provide a map, it is difficult to think of how to map out or even describe Wonderland.  However, while rereading Alice in Wonderland for the thousandth time searching for a clue, I had an epiphany: the only way to enter Wonderland is to dive head first. Carroll writes: “Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down what seemed to be a very deep well.” Just as Carroll describes Alice’s entrance into Wonderland, in a moment our imaginations enter Wonderland through the rabbit-hole. If there were just one word to describe Wonderland it would be nonsensical. Because Wonderland is so nonsensical and we have no map by Carroll, the only way to map Wonderland is by following Alice. 
            Alice tumbles down the rabbit-hole and falls into a hall full of locked doors. She is quickly filled with fear and begins to sob, creating a pool of tears. Alice must swim, along with many of Wonderland’s creatures, in the pool she created. This is a good example of the point that Cheryl Glotfelty makes, that “all ecological criticism shares the fundamental premise that human culture is connected to the physical world, affecting it and affected by it.” Alice directly affects the ecology she has stumbled into with her tears. Alice in Wonderland portrays the connection between the physical world and human culture through Alice’s interactions with the land and its creatures. Carroll seemingly places importance on human perception and interaction with the environment because the only view of Wonderland the reader has is through Alice’s eyes. Figure A is a map created by a fan which depicts all of the places mentioned in Wonderland, but the interesting part is that all of the places are connected by a line symbolizing Alice’s path.

 Figure A

It seems to me that this fan maybe even unknowingly reinforces Alice’s importance to shaping Wonderland through this winding path drawn in the map. As the map depicts, after Alice’s swim and arrival on the bank, she finds her way to the Rabbit’s house. Again, Carroll emphasizes the relationship between Alice and Wonderland through the changes Alice makes to the invented ecology. Because Alice’s foolish acts cause her to grow to an enormous size, she wreaks major havoc upon Rabbit’s house, spurring a negative response by some of Wonderland’s creatures.
Alice continues her adventures and after a few encounters with characters including the Caterpillar, the Cheshire Cat, and the Mad Hatter, Alice arrives in the Queen’s Croquet Ground. Carroll creates such images such as card soldiers literally painting the rose trees red to please their Queen, and people using flamingoes as mallets and hedgehogs as croquet balls. These creatures can be studied through ecology, which Stephanie Sarver defines as “a scientific discipline that studies the connections between organisms and their environments.” Sarver’s raises an interesting point: are maps a way we humans—organisms—connect to our environments? Humans use maps to explore and understand the land. Even when a person has never been somewhere, they know what other countries or continents look like, especially with the modern advancements like Google maps. Is this why fans and scriptwriters feel the need to map out Wonderland? Figure B shows how a scriptwriter maps out Wonderland, so that even though he will never go there, he will have an idea of what it looks like.  The desire for a   

 Figure B

relationship with the land for such needs as hunting, gathering, trading, and traveling caused humans from thousands of years ago to make maps. The human affinity for cartography is obvious and is well documented through the knowledge of maps like Figure C.  Figure C is the

Figure C

oldest known world map from the sixth century BCE.  Humans have been making maps for thousands of years, which demonstrate the importance of cartography to humans and how making maps increases the interaction between humans and the environment. 
            Wonderland is an ecology based on the nonsensical imagination of a man and his heroine, Alice, a naive young girl. As Alice dives, we must dive into Wonderland and follow her path to fully understand the ecology and the text’s message: the importance of human interaction with the environment. While Carroll’s quirky characters may create speed bumps along this path, if we follow Alice, his message will ring true. At the end of the tale when Alice’s sister wakes her for tea, Wonderland ends as Alice’s journey ends, further solidifying Carroll’s message. 

Works Cited
Carroll, Lewis. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. New York: Random House, 1946. Print.
Glotfelty, Cheryl. "What Is Ecocriticism?" The Association for the Study of Literature and
Environment ASLE, n.d. Web. 24 Oct. 2012. <>.
Sarver, Stephanie. "What Is Ecocriticism?" The Association for the Study of Literature and
Environment ASLE, n.d. Web. 24 Oct. 2012. <>.

"Alice in Wonderland Map." Fanart-central. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2012.
            <>. Figure A
"Alice in Wonderland (2010) Map of Underland." Map of Underland. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Nov.
2012. <>.Figure B
"Armenia and Karabakh, History, Maps, Images, Multimedia and Info." Armenia and Karabakh, 
History, Maps, Images, Multimedia and Info. N.p., 25 Oct. 2010. Web. 24 Oct. 2012. <>. Figure C

guest blogger Joseph R. Kobara, on the Garden of Eden

Mesopotamia, the birthplace of human civilization, has long been a point of intrigue for historians, geologists, anthropologists, and anyone with a curious mind. The inception of the written word by the Sumerians occurred there. Modern day mathematics and astronomy stemmed from this mysterious place as well. Mesopotamia literally translates to “between rivers.” The rivers referenced are commonly thought to be the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers that flow from Northern Turkey to what is now Iraq. They meet just before the Persian Gulf and empty there. 
The Garden of Eden, like other elusive myths such as The Holy Grail or Atlantis, has always been sought after. Maybe these universal pursuits derive from our basic curiosity to know our origins. The Book of Genesis leaves hints as to where the Garden of Eden may have been located:
A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches.
The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold;
and the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there.

The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Cush. The name of the third river is Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. Genesis 2:10-14
We know of the Tigris and the Euphrates, but what about the other two unknown rivers? The Pison and Gihon rivers are as baffling as the location of The Garden of Eden itself. Could they be lost names that refer to the Rioni and Aras Rivers in Northern Turkey? The Tigris and Euphrates both source from the mountains of northern Turkey and some people have speculated that the Garden of Eden most likely lies in these mountains. The exact locations of their sources still remain a mystery because each river has countless estuaries. The passage from Genesis seems to point to northern Turkey as many sources of major river systems begin there. But the problem persists: the proposed locations of the Tigris and Euphrates sources are hundreds of miles away from one another. Researches have come to a new theory: where the four rivers of Genesis divide is at the Persian Gulf at the mouth of the Tigris and Euphrates rather than their sources.  Radical as it is, the idea is based on the theory that the rivers named in Genesis (Pison and Gihon) are now submerged by the Persian Gulf. Archaeologist Jeffery Rose has introduced the idea that a lost civilization of humans inhabited the fertile land below the Persian Gulf until it was swallowed by the Indian Ocean in 4000 BCE. These civilizations would have settled around these rivers. Since the first known written languages weren’t developed until around 3,000 BCE, no historical evidence has been documented and thus the mystery persists. The following map, created by Dr. Juris Zarins, depicts the potential zone for the Garden of Eden and the four named rivers:

 Dr. Zarins, a professor at Missouri State University, is a strong promoter of the theory that the Garden of Eden once existed under the waters of the Persian Gulf. And due to new confirmed projections of the flooding of the Persian Gulf, Dr. Zarin’s theories may hold water.
            Another indication that the Garden of Eden may have been located under the Persian Gulf is the references to the materials found near the Pishon river. Bdellium is an ancient gum resin found near the Persian Gulf. It was a valuable aromatic material sourced from trees surrounding the Gulf.
            Though these findings all point towards an unconventional hypothesis on the location of the biblical Garden of Eden, an answer may never be revealed. The passage in Genesis is short and limited in information. And even if geologists and anthropologists could somehow explore the sea floor of the Persian Gulf, what could they search for? Any indications of a garden would be long gone. And so, the mystery persists.
Works Cited

Albright, W. F. "The Location of the Garden of Eden." The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures 39.1 (1922): 15-31. Chicago Journals. Web. 14 Nov. 2012.
Hamblin, Dora J. "Has the Garden of Eden Been Located at Last?" Smithsonian Magazine 1 Dec. 1997: n. pag. Web. 14 Nov. 2012.
"Lost Civilization Under Persian Gulf?" N.p., 8 Dec. 2010. Web. 14 Nov. 2012. <>.
Richardson, Curtis J., and Najah A. Hussain. "Restoring the Garden of Eden: An Ecological Assessment of the Marshes of Iraq." Bioscience 56.6 (2006): n. pag. University of California Press. Web. 14 Nov. 2012.
Wall, Tim. "Ancient Desert Oasis Echoes Eden." Earth News (2010): n. pag. Discovery News. Web. 14 Nov. 2012.

guest bloggers Nicholas Gentile and Aylin Orhan, on Eragon

Magic and the Environment

For those unfamiliar with it, the plot of the Eragon series is comparable with a medieval Star Wars. For those who have read it, this description does not do the story justice but it is fairly accurate. The story takes place in the land of Alagaësia, a land permeated with magic. While magic is present throughout the land, there is one location where it is greatest in concentration and effect: Du Weldenvarden – “The Guarding Forest,” home to a highly magical race of beings called elves.

 Du Weldenvarden

According to the legend, Du Weldenvarden was once a completely normal and unimpressive forest – not unlike many temperate forests in the real world. However, this changed drastically with the arrival of the elves. The elves are a humanoid race that inherently posses magical powers, and who can use this ability to shape and effect nature. When they moved into the region now known as Du Weldenvarden, they used magic to enhance the growth of the forest, causing it to spread and develop in every direction. Once the forest had grown, they placed enchantments all along its borders. The elves’ magic is conveyed through spoken word, and for that reason they sing to the forest in order to affect it. As Eragon’s elf companion Arya explains as they make their way through Du Weldenvarden en route to the capital city of Ellesméra:
“It is to keep the forest healthy and fertile. Every spring we sing for the trees, we sing for the plants, and we sing for the animals. Without us, Du Weldenvarden would be half its size.” As if to emphasize her point, birds, deer, squirrels – red and gray – striped badgers, foxes, rabbits, wolves, frogs, toads, tortoises and every other nearby animal forsook their hiding place and began to rush madly about with a cacophony of yelps and cries. “They are searching for mates,” explained Arya. “All across Du Weldenvarden, in each of our cities, elves are singing [this song]. The more who participate, the stronger the spell, and the greater Du Weldenvarden will be this year.” (Eldest, 214)


The elves are a race that will never have to contend with a major environmental disaster. They coexist perfectly with the natural world, forming a perfect symbiotic relationship. Unlike societies that evolve apart from the natural world (such as our own), utilizing technology and taking advantage of the natural world strictly with our own gains in mind, they progress in direct relation to their environment.
In large part, environmental crises are a result of humanity's disconnection from the natural world, brought about not only by increasing technology but also by particularization; that is, a mentality of specialization that fails to recognize the interconnectedness of all things. – Thomas K. Dean
There are no poor elves, none starve, and there is little conflict in general. It is the closest thing to a utopian society, yet it is entirely natural. The only problem with this approach is the possibility of stagnation. Because they have reached a type of symbiosis with the environment, neither the elves nor the environment have any reason to change at all. This could be construed as either positive or negative, as it is essentially perfect but will never change without outside intervention. Coincidentally, the only real conflict faced by the elves is intrusion by “less natural” races from outside of their forest, specifically humans.

The interconnectedness of things is the key point of elvish philosophy. This mentality is most readily comparable to the original Native Americans. The feeling of connection with nature if what drives this nature focused ecological mindset.
Oromis whispered, “Open your mind Eragon. Open your mind and listen to the world around you, to the thoughts of every being in this glade, from the ants in the trees to the worms in the ground. Listen until you can hear them all and you understand their purpose and nature. Listen, and when you hear no more, come tell me what you have learned.’” (Eldest, 290)
While not actually human, the Elves represent an ideal relationship with the earth and environment. Modern society relies on second-hand knowledge, not knowledge gained from experience or interaction with the environment. There is an inherent knowledge gained from a connectedness with the earth. Elves are a representation of ancient people in the way that their knowledge was gained from nature. They learned from the animals and the trees and the patterns of nature and through that became an essential element within the natural system of the forest. Even though they aren’t real, there are still important lessons the elves can teach us.

 "Christopher Paloilini Biography." World Biography. Advameg, Inc., n.d. Web. <>.
Dean, Thomas K. "What Is Eco-Criticism?" What Is Eco-Criticism? The Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment, n.d. Web.

Paolini, Christopher. Eldest. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005. Print.

Parkinson, Matthew. "" 2012 :. N.p., 20 Apr. 2012. Web. <>.

guest blogger Katie Cavanaugh, on Durham, NC

Durham, North Carolina

Katie Cavanaugh

            Durham, North Carolina is a medium-sized city situated in the middle of the state. As of the 2010 census, it had a population of just fewer than 230,000 people. Not only is Durham famously the home of Duke University, it is also an important vertex of the Research Triangle (which also consists of Raleigh and Chapel Hill), demonstrating the high level of academics and intellect in the city. The Durham that I knew when I was growing up has changed significantly even in just the last decade. What were tobacco factories when I was five years old have now been converted into popular restaurants and stores. Going back even further, the change from the grasslands and mountains of the Piedmont region is astronomical. We think of cities of being unchanging; maps prove this perception wrong. People tend to assume what they see is what was always there. This essay attempts to illustrate how Durham is a “lost ecology” through this change, based on “the fundamental premise that human culture is connected to the physical world, affecting it and affected by it” (Glotfelty). Moreover, in re-discovering this reformation, one “cannot do the reforming, of course, but…can help with the understanding” (Glotfelty). Looking back over time, you can get to the point to what was there before the city even existed.
            Looking back over time, we try to recover what was lost: to picture it in our minds, to understand life before us. We go back to the earliest point we can find, like this hand drawn map of Durham in 1863. The simplicity of this map alludes to the simplicity of the time and the little development of the city at the time. The amount of blank space of this map encourages the imagination. What was there? Yes, there are roads and rivers, but what about the people? The houses? The office buildings? The real part of what Durham looked like then is lost and up to the reader to decide. 

Figure 1. Before Durham. We cannot recover this, and it has not been documented in ways that we recognize today. Everything else is left to the imagination.

Figure 2. Lewis Blount. This Map of Durham as I Remember in 1867-1868. Drawn from Memory Entirely and No Attempt Made at Correct Angles or Measurements.
It’s amazing, frankly, at how drastic the change is from then to now. Obviously Durham has developed, but simply wrap your brain around the difference between the map in Figure 2 and Figure 3, what we have today. In the map in Figure 2, Durham seems almost like a fairy tale. No one today really knows what it was like back then. It’s based on imagination. Now, with the technology used in Figure 3, you can find your own street, your own house, and recognize that place where you walk your dog or where you went to high school. Trace it back and really understand the change. We go from this satellite picture of Durham back to European settlers, and then back to the photograph of the tree in the Piedmont. Every time there was development, some of the natural landscape was lost.

Figure 3. Google map.

Works Cited

Figure 1. Pardue, Donald L. Fields of Gold. 2009. Photograph. NCPedia, Chatham County, NC.
Figure 2. Blount, Lewis. "This Map of Durham as I Remember in 1867-1868. Drawn from Memory Entirely and No Attempt Made at Correct Angles or Measurements." 1923. Photograph. Digital Durham, Durham, NC.
Figure 3. "Google Map Maker." Google Map Maker. Google, 25 Oct. 2012. Web. 25 Oct. 2012. <,-78.865356>.
Glotfelty, Cheryll. "What Is Ecocriticism?" The Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment. The Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment, n.d. Web. 25 Oct. 2012. <>.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

First post

Compared to a lot of Americans, I have not lived in very many places. After going to college in my home town (Buffalo, NY), I left in order to go to graduate school (first Washington, DC, and then Chapel Hill, NC). I then moved to the Boston area to take my first academic job. I lived in the western suburbs of Belmont and Arlington, and then moved to Cambridge five years ago. I move in small increments: all three places, it turned out, were within three miles of each other. I was, and continue to be, very attached to Buffalo—Kenmore, really—but it wasn’t until moving to Cambridge that I discovered a deep connection to place, to a home, a nest—and to a garden. My love of my place—a condo on the first floor of a two-family condo near the Fresh Pond Reservoir, proximity to which is a major reason for my settled happiness here—has spilled over into my academic life, and my academic life has spilled over into my love of place.

One of the results of this mix is this blog, which I dedicate to discussing what I call “lost and invented ecologies.” I’ll get to the more scholarly aspects of this project in later posts, but in this initial post, I want to lay out the territory—the metaphors of place come easily to hand, I must say—and describe what I hope to accomplish.

Look at the banner that Shannon Garner-Balandrin, one of my graduate students, designed for me—and who also deserves credit for setting up this blog in the first place. The banner is a low-tech simulation of my place through time: the first photograph is intended to invoke the tundra of the PaleoIndian period, 12,500-10,000 BCE; the second, the swamps and woodlands of c. 1630, of the contact period between the Massachusett and the first European settlers. The third photograph is of my front yard when I moved in (the yard was used as a doggie playground), c. 2007; the fourth, a photograph of my garden, c. 2010. My place, then, is both a lost ecology—no more swamps and ponds and woods crisscrossed by hunting trails and paths to the water—and an ecology more recently invented by those first settlers (and later “Americans”) who shaped this land over four centuries by plotting out main roads and streets and directing where houses and driveways and trees and lawns would take their places. (The streets in my neighborhood make dead ends and take odd turns around what used to be water, then swamp, now subsidized housing. I’ll tell this story, too.)

Wherever humans have been and are, one sees double: lost because invented; invented because lost. Time itself is also responsible for lost ecologies, of course; in this instance, turning that tundra into something else, then into something else again. In this blog place, however, I will focus on human interventions into the ecosystem—and I am mindful that the word intervention suggests that humans are somehow not part of a given ecosystem, which is not true, really. This is another story that many are telling, and that I hope to add to.

Invented also includes the sense of imagined, and thus I also hope to tell stories of imagined, created places and worlds—not cities or other built spaces, but landscapes and ecosystems, sometimes described in great detail, sometimes simply gestured at: Tolkien’s Middle Earth, C.S. Lewis’s Narnia, Dr. Seuss’ landscapes of Trufula Trees, Atlantis, Avalon, the Earthly Paradise, heaven (lost?), hell, and many more invented places.

The next set of posts will be written by a group of guest bloggers: several of my undergraduate students. I am finishing a seminar in which the focus was my research on lost and invented ecologies, and I invited them to make their own brief forays into lost and invented places. Most of them were interested in imaginary places, and I learned a great deal from them.