Of Water, Turtles and Literature

Following the Water: A Hydromancer’s Notebook by David Carroll

Reviewed by Regina Raboin, Science Librarian, Tisch Library

The water’s not too distant from where I live in North Central Massachusetts and though considered just a “swamp” by many; David Carroll’s wetland mosaic is an example of beautiful ecosystems being destroyed by the deleterious changes in Earth’s ecology.

I discovered David M. Carroll’s (Tufts Alum, SMFA65) book, Following the Water: A Hydromancer’s Notebook (Houghton Mifflin 2009) in Tufts Magazine (Winter 2010) and thought it would be a wonderful title to review for TIE’s (Tufts Institute of the Environment) newsletter.

Mr. Carroll immediately drew me into his world with his illustrations. I was entranced by his detailed drawings of the wetlands near his home in Warner, NH where for over thirty years he eagerly anticipates the inaugural signs of spring, documenting first turtle sightings and changes to this wetlands brought upon by natural and human intervention. He tells the tale of our ecology through the turtles inhabiting these wetlands lovingly, yet precisely documenting and explaining their behavior and how their ecological niche is disappearing. His writing is affecting, poetic, drawing the reader into his world of naturalist and field biologist. These turtle documentations are windows into how our environment is changing through un-checked development, poor land stewardship and environmental ignorance.

I was moved by Mr. Carroll’s descriptions of the wetland’s seasons, his sighting of the first turtle, and how the wind and water moved through this glacial leftover. In describing a turtle’s first breath since winter, he equates it to all creatures, “For the moment I think of all the living breaths that have been taken in the world”. He laments an otter’s presence in this ecosystem, yet understands that this is the natural order, “I am familiar with reports by others who study turtles of heavy losses on colonies…by otters preying upon them during their hibernation.”

Threads of Thoreau, Carson and Burroughs echo through the book and Carroll makes clear that our species is responsible for the loss of natural landscape, “The species that came to invent wealth created poverty, for its own kind as well as for the natural landscape.” He advocates “…moving beyond stewardship and conservation to preservation…”, recognizing that his isn’t always the most popular view. Although he understands the call for “…getting out of the house and away from electronic pastimes…” he clearly states that open spaces and multi-use conservation lands are not “true preserves” in providing sanctuary for ecologies, and the landscape loses more natural space and thus, its meaning.

Mr. Carroll “follows the water” describing its flow, how it molds the species and land around it – reminding us that through our neglect and unwillingness to “know at least the place where one lives” we are stripping the Earth of “all original meaning”. This book isn’t just for TIE – this is a book for the entire Tufts Community.
Tisch Library Call Number QH105.N4 C267 2009