These stories and songs are seeds. Please plant them, and share them.
On the pages below you’ll find song lyrics, background information, and additional resource links for each topic. Check them out!
I wrote most of these stories and songs myself. The other copyright holders graciously gave me permission to record their material. We invite you to sing the songs and tell the stories, but please contact us if you want to reprint or record our work.
"Over and over again, . . . nothing is ever lost." When old stories are told anew, it's the perfect recycling. Fran Stallings' new CD, Stories and Songs for a Green Earth, shares the message of caring for the planet that nurtures us all. From the colorful rain forest beetles to the beavers that help make our rivers good habitation, to Asian Vultures, "everybody has a Place to Be." Stories from many cultures remind us that everywhere is someone's backyard, and from King Midas' gold to the Japanese "Melting Herb," every choice has consequences. --Mary Garrett, Gateway Grapevine
I thoroughly enjoyed your CD. Your CD is a unique combination of "Fact-tales" and folktales that works very well. I loved listening to each tale to discover what new tidbit of information I could glean from it. Your research on discreet issues of which others may be unaware is truly enlightening and you’ve encapsulated it so well with fun and well told folktales. I would imagine that any elementary teacher desiring to add to a study of the environment would be delighted share to share Stories and Songs for a Green Earth with her class. It makes for entertaining and informative drive time too! --Shelby Smith, environmental educator TipiTellers
Nice diversity of approaches to environmental storytelling! --Monty Harper, singer/songwriter/mathematician
CREDITS, ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS, THANKS
Many thanks to the folks who helped me make this CD, including my audiences and family members!
Produced by Ken Oguss, (317) 938-8743.
Recorded by Doug Simpson, LTD Productions, Bartlesville OK. (918) 213-4123.
All songs and story retellings © Fran Stallings 2009, except as noted (used with permission--see individual items).
Music: Fran's chromatic 21-bar autoharp was handmade by George Orthey.
Cover photo: "Wildflowers" by Keith Naylor, © 2009, Bartlesville OK. The red & yellow ones are Indian Blanket, Oklahoma's state wildflower.
FOLKTALES, FACT-TALES, AND SONGS
- Brazilian Beetles -- Brazilian folktale
- Over and Over Again
- Birds & Beavers -- fact-tale
- Turkey Vulture -- U.S. folktale
- Asian Vultures -- fact-tale
- Place to Be (© Malvina Reynolds)
- Too Much Help -- Amazonian folktale
- Not in MY Back Yard
- Melting Herb --Japanese folktale
- Good? Bad? Midas -- Greek myth
- Good? Bad? -- fact-tale
- Sandals-- India
- Buy Fresh Buy Local (title ® FoodRoutes)
- Pecos Bill & the Prairie-Size Rainbow (© Judy Nichols)
- Closing Note
1. Brazilian Beetles -- Brazilian folktale
SCIENCE NOTES: Scientists call the beetle group Coleoptera, which means "hidden wings." Like all true insects, they have two pairs of wings. In beetles, the front pair serve as hard covers for the filmy pair used in flying. American listeners may be familiar with ladybugs (Lady Bird Beetles) and June bugs/May beetles (which now emerge in April or earlier!). You can mention these examples of beetles at the beginning of the story, to be sure everyone is picturing the right kind of insect.
The original story said that Beetle chose a coat of green and gold, the colors of the Parrot who suggested the race. Indeed there is a species of rainforest beetle with jewel-like green and gold wing covers, so big and beautiful that people have made them into jewelry and embroidered them onto cloth. However, that color scheme applies to only one species and leaves us wondering about the mind-boggling array of rainforest beetles. To emphasize species diversity, I often begin this story by describing the rain forest's great variety of butterflies, lizards and snakes, trees, vines, etc. and lamenting that, according to this old story, there was once only one kind of beetle. Now there are so many that scientists haven't yet catalogued them all!
We must preserve the rainforest so that some young listeners can become biologists who study its amazing plants and animals.
STORY NOTES: I grew up hearing this story. When I started telling stories outside the family, this was one of the first to enter my repertory. My family knew it as “How the Brazilian Beetles got their Gorgeous Coats” in our set of My Book House books (Vol III p 172-175, Olive Beaupré Miller, ed. Chicago: The Book House for Children publishers, 1920). Miller doesn't cite any sources. She may have adapted it from Elsie Spicer Ellis' Fairytales from Brazil (Dodd, Mead & Co, 1917).
The Book House version of the story ended with the moral, "If you meet someone new, and you are not impressed, don't judge too soon. You never can tell when a plain, dull coat may hide a pair of wings."
Traditional people often told entertaining "How So" stories pretending to explain how a plant or animal came to have its unusual trait. Folklorists doubt that adults or older children actually believed these wry explanations. Rather, the tales illustrated a point about HUMAN values or behavior, which a child might be reminded of every time she saw that animal or plant. But for those of us who don't usually live among those creatures, the story can inspire us to Pay Attention to them.
2. Over and Over Again
WORDS are from a poem written by 3rd grade Unitarian Universalist Sunday School children. I found it in the religious education materials of The UU Church of the Larger Fellowship. Beacon Press granted me permission to set the poem to music. MUSIC: Fran Stallings ©1989
The seed makes the plant, and the Plant bears the fruit, the Fruit drops the seed, and the Seed makes the plant -- Over and over a-gain… Over and over again… CHORUS: It never begins, and it never ends, Nothing is old, and nothing is new, and Nothing is ever lost. Over and over again… The clouds drop the rain, and the Air takes it back, / it Forms into clouds, and the clouds drop rain -- Over and over again … Over and Over Again… CHORUS The soil feeds the tree, and the Tree drops its leaves, / the Leaves make soil, and the Soil feeds the tree -- Over and over again… Over and over again… CHORUS
3. Birds & Beavers -- fact-tale
SCIENCE NOTES: I first heard about beavers and Western Willow Flycatchers from a Nature Conservancy guide at the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area in southeast Arizona. I found confirming information in science journal reports.
MORE FACTS than fit in an orally told story: In the early 1800s when white trappers first saw the San Pedro River in southeast Arizona, it had so many beavers that they called it "Beaver River." By 1900, all had been trapped.
Ranchers thought the grassy flats of the San Pedro’s floodplain would make excellent pasture for their cattle. Unfortunately the native bunch grasses weren’t like prairie grass: they couldn't stand the pounding of cattle hooves. Broken down, they left the land bare. Farmers tried to grow crops, plowing the exposed land. Miners cut the hillside trees for fuel to smelt their ore. During the rainy season, runoff eroded the bare earth, carrying sand and gravel into the San Pedro.
Soldiers from Fort Huachuca dynamited the remnants of the beaver dams, thinking the impounded water bred mosquitoes that might carry malaria. Without beaver dams to hold the water and slow the river's flow, the sand and gravel scoured out the river’s channel 6-12 feet deeper than it had been before. The water table dropped.
People decided the San Pedro valley was no good for cattle or farming. Biologists noticed, though, that it was an important "fly way" for songbirds and butterflies migrating between the tropics and northern states. So in 1988 the Bureau of Land Management established the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area. All ranching and farming stopped. Bird lovers came to see the migrating songbirds in spring and fall.
But the San Pedro’s ecosystem did not rebound. In 1999, American Rivers, a national conservation group, listed the San Pedro as the fourth most endangered waterway in the United States. Yet in the year 2000, one year later, it wasn't on American Rivers' list at all. The difference was--beavers.
Beavers were humanely trapped in Arizona agricultural canals, cattle ponds, and the Phoenix water treatment plant. Checked by vets, fitted with radio collars, and released in the San Pedro starting in 1999, the first beaver pair got to work. Now there are over 80 beavers along its 140 mile path.
The San Pedro River is still at risk from developments along its headwaters in Mexico, and from the water-hungry city of Sierra Vista, Arizona. But the Beavers have shown how quickly they can improve ecosystem health and diversity by resuming their ancient relationship with the willows and the Western Willow Flycatchers.
4. Turkey Vulture -- U.S. folktale
STORY NOTES: Folktales about vultures are found worldwide. Some provide an explanation for vultures' useful but repulsive diet. Some explain their featherless heads or appreciate how they can soar on their wide wings.
SOURCE: I first heard a version of this tale from the late Cajun singer/storyteller J.J.Reneaux.
5. Asian Vultures -- fact-tale
SCIENCE NOTES: The disappearance of vultures (as high as 99% by 2008) leaves an ecological niche which has been filled by rats, foxes, and wild dogs. Unfortunately, unlike vultures, these scavengers can carry the mammalian diseases which killed the livestock. Also, in India the Zoroastrian Parsi community has had to devise alternate arrangements for the disposal of their dead, whose corpses traditionally were exposed on Towers of Silence until the bones had been cleaned by vultures.
Diclofenac is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID, like ibuprofen or acetaminophen). It is good against pain, inflammation, and fevers in humans and animals. But now we know it is toxic to vultures.
All medicines must be used carefully and we must be alert to unintended consequences when they get into the environment. For instance, we are just beginning to learn about the effects of our water supply getting contaminated with second-hand medical hormones, antibiotics, and psychotropic drugs.
SOURCES: BBC radio reports first alerted me to this story. I found an article in Science News Jan 31, 2004 (Vol 165 pp 69-70).
6. Place to Be
Ev'rybody has a place to go, / Ev'rybody wants a place to be,
When birds fly they're swimming in the sky, / While fish are swimming* in the sea.
Ev'rybody has a place to go, / Ev'rybody wants to be somewhere,
Lobsters live at the bottom of the sea, / While I'm at the bottom of the air.
* I learned this word as “flying”--and the melody differed a bit from what appears in Tweedles and Foodles for Young Noodles: Children’s Songs by Malvina Reynolds ©1961, available from Schroder Music Company, 1450 Sixth St, Berkeley CA 94710.
7. Too Much Help -- Amazonian folktale
STORY NOTES: In addition to serving as a cautionary tale about taking good care of one's immediate environment, I find that this story can trigger interesting discussions about the single-purpose appliances and the disposable stuff which crowd our lives. How many salad-shooters do we need? A styrofoam cup, made from millenia-old petroleum, serves us for five minutes; then it will spend centuries in a landfill.
SOURCE: My retelling is derived from "The Tale of the Lazy People" pp 159-173 in Tales from Silver Lands by Charles J. Finger (Doubleday & Company, 1924). I have not located any parallel sources.
Finger begins by noting that "In Columbia, it seems, there were always monkeys" but he doesn't say that the man who spun him an interminable and disorganized version of this tale was Columbian, or that the tale was set there. Finger's version includes details which imply a town setting (bakers, goats, gardens, servants, letters, teachers, houses with doors & windows) although it is supposed to be in the forest. I chose to reset the story deeper in the rainforest.
For much more information about the life ways of traditional rainforest people, see Tales of a Shaman's Apprentice by ethnobotanist Mark J. Plotkin. (Penquin Books, 1993.)
8. Not In My Back Yard
WORDS AND MUSIC Fran Stallings © 2009
"Not in my back yard" is the cry of people who want to enjoy conveniences and resources without taking a share of responsibility for them. The abbreviation "NIMBY" was coined in the 1980s by British politician Nicholas Ridley. "Nimbies" oppose wind turbines, recycling centers and bike lanes as well as power plants, airports, cell phone towers, etc.
My song was triggered by folks who splattered my windshield with fast-food trash. They kept their car's interior clean, but what about the roadside?
We're driving down the highway drinking pop and eating fries Wiping greasy fingers on our elbows and our thighs We open up the window as we pass you by--Surprise! We don't want this trash--throw it away. CHORUS: Away! Throw it away! Sure don't want it here, so throw it a- Way. Where you'll put it, I don't know. Only Want to make it go far a- Way from MY back yard, throw it away! We have an all-electric house, it's quiet and it's clean All the best appliances and all the best machines We need another power plant? I understand that scene But --don't you build it here! Keep it away. CHORUS (keep) We want the things we buy untouched by human hands, pristine Sterilized and over-wrapped, safety-sealed and clean So every week we put out fifteen bags of trash. I mean! That new landfill had better be far away. CHORUS (take) We run the washer ev'ry day, the dishwasher as well. Thirty minute showers, and the swimming pool is swell. The water treatment plant must be too far away to smell, So better put the new one far far away. CHORUS (put)
9. Melting Herb --Japanese folktale
SOURCE: "Melting Grass (Torakashi kusa)" pg 18-19 in Folktales from the Japanese Countryside by Hiroko Fujita (Libraries Unlimited, 2007), which I edited. Variants of the tale have been collected throughout Japan.
STORY NOTES: "Zuru zuru, nyoro nyoro" is a traditional Japanese storytelling sound-effect which represents a snake slithering.
Soba noodles, made of buckwheat flour, are sometimes served in little "one bite" bowls with a savory broth. They taste so good that it's tempting to eat many bowls full.
SCIENCE NOTES: Of course real snakes don't swallow adults whole. But the traveler's assumption that he understood how to use the "melting herb" is even scarier.
"It seemed like a good idea at the time!" We can cause undreamed-of trouble when we apply a technology without checking its long-term consequences. The insecticide DDT seemed harmless to humans and other mammals, so we used it liberally. Only later did we see its dire effects on beneficial insects, insect-eating animals, and the animals further up the food chain such as the American Bald Eagle, which almost became extinct.
Freon and other CFCs seemed like perfect refrigerants: inert, non-toxic, efficient. They were used and released to the atmosphere for decades before we realized that they destroy the ozone layer. Since 1987, their production has been internationally banned. The ozone hole is slowly closing.
Even plants and animals that are harmless or beneficial in their native lands, can have unanticipated effects when imported elsewhere: rabbit in Australia; mongoose in Hawai'i; kidzu vine almost anywhere...
10. Good? Bad? Midas -- Greek myth
SOURCE: Bullfinch, Hamilton, and other collections of popular Greek myths.
King Midas was said to have ruled the city of Pessinus in Phrygia, (an ancient kingdom in what is now Turkey). Silenus, the sick (drunk?) old man who passed out in Midas' famous rose garden, was the tutor of Bacchus (a.k.a. Dionysus). There are several myths about Midas, illustrating the unanticipated consequences of thoughtless decisions.
STORY NOTES: Young children--and some adults--prefer to see things as either Good or Bad. In real life, things are often more complex. This short story can start discussions of how we determine whether something is Good or Bad.
11. Good? Bad? -- fact-tale
SCIENCE NOTES: Manure runoff pollutes rivers in Oklahoma and Arkansas, wetlands in San Francisco Bay and Chesapeake Bay, and other areas. Excess chemical fertilizers from farm fields and lawns also contaminate watersheds with "good" nutrients which can cause trouble in unintended places.
Amount: An old proverb says, "The dose makes the poison." Too little or too much of a "good" thing creates problems. Examples: drought/flood, killer frost/heat wave, dietary deficiency/toxicity (selenium, vitamin D, iron).
Location: Futurist Buckminster Fuller said, "Pollution is nothing but the resources we are not harvesting." Good things become pollutants when they get someplace where we don't or can't make positive use of them. Examples: chlorine gas accidentally released from a water treatment plant; rare metals leaching from computers and cell phones discarded in landfills; recyclable paper, glass, aluminum discarded along the roadside.
Progress is being made as farmers learn how much can safely be applied near watersheds, and find alternate sites for its disposal.
WORDS AND MUSIC © Fran Stallings. I wrote this when a dry, windy spring carried parts of Kansas into Oklahoma, rather like the Dust Bowl Days. Oklahoma panhandle people tell me that in recent years they've had even less rain than in the 1930's, but government land conservation easements and no-till agricultural practices now keep most of the (remaining) topsoil in place. However, deforestation and habitat destruction are still triggering loss of soil in other areas.
The buffalo grazed and the prairie grass grew Building up topsoil, a meter or two, 'til the Settlers attacked it with harrow and plow Releasing the dust that blows over us now. It's-- CHORUS: E-e-erosion Eating the fields and stealing the land E-e-erosion One of these days we'll have no place to stand. Oak leaves and pine needles cushioned the rain. The Forest absorbed it, released it again. Now the Rain is so acid it's killing the trees. The Mud rushes down and enriches the seas. That's-- CHORUS The sand settled down in the seedlings' embrace. Roots held it firmly and kept it in place, 'til Cycles and dune buggies tore up the dune. Now the Beach is as bare as the face of the moon. It was-- CHORUS
13. Sandals-- India.
STORY NOTES: This original tale was inspired by a bit of poetry from India, which was quoted in an NPR interview: don’t curse the rocks, put on sandals! Unfortunately I haven't been able to locate the original poem.
FACT NOTES: The "Cool Biz" movement in Japan started in summer 2005, saving energy/expense/CO2 by turning air conditioners up to 28C (about 84F). Instead of the usual business suits with ties and starched white shirts, office workers were encouraged to wear light trousers and short sleeved summer shirts, tieless and untucked. In 2006, government offices estimated a 1.14 million-ton reduction in CO2 emission. By summer 2009, government and tourism offices' dress code favored colorful kariyushi shirts (an Okinawan version of Hawai'i's aloha shirt); major corporations such as Sharp and Nestle were adopting the Cool Biz look; and a delivery company permitted its drivers to wear shorts.
14. Buy Fresh Buy Local (title ® FoodRoutes)
WORDS & MUSIC © Fran Stallings. "Buy Fresh Buy Local" is a registered trademark of the Food Routes Network. They kindly allowed me to use it in this song.
Our food supply is an important environmental issue. Supermarket fruits and vegetables travel an average of 1500 miles, consuming a lot of fuel and contributing a significant amount of CO2 to the atmosphere (transportation, refrigeration). Industrial-scale production of fruits, vegetables, and meats can impact the environment through irrigation, pesticides and fertilizers, as well as fuel consumption. Smaller scale, local growers can avoid many of these problems. At a farmers' market we can talk to them and find out how our food is grown. It will be much fresher, tastier, with more vitamins. And our purchases support our local economy, preserving family farms. For more information, visit Food Routes' website.
I used to think imported food was champagne, caviar.
But Now I know some fruits and veggies travel just as far.
My Grapes have come from Chile! Chinese apple juice.
New Zealand lamb, Australian apples, Fiji water too.
They traveled farther than our family’s last vacation trip.
Re- Frigerated steaming on an international ship.
They’re Old before I get them. They’re cheap--but what’s the cost,
In Diesel fumes and CO2 and vitamins we lost.
CHORUS When your Food lives where you do, it travels fewer miles.
So BUY FRESH, BUY LOCAL, get a Farmers Market smile.
Cows in concentration camps, chickens stacked like bricks
Pigs are packed in cheek by jowl--no wonder they get sick.
But Grass-fed beef and pastured hens live the way they should.
Buy from those who raise them, you get meat that’s really good.
Green peaches and tomatoes were picked as hard as rocks. They
Traveled far without a bruise--and taste like dirty socks. But
Local farmers wait to pick them ripe on tree and vine.
Packed with care, perfume the air, they’re tasting mighty fine.
15. Pecos Bill & the Prairie-Size Rainbow
SOURCE: Author Judy Nichols kindly gave her permission for me to retell her original Pecos Bill story.
SCIENCE NOTES: Spring wildflowers in the Great Plains states really are so thick in places that they cover the prairie grass with color. When Judy lived in Texas, these flowers inspired her to write this story.
The Oklahoma Native Plant Society and the Native Plant Society of Texas confirm that the wildflowers I name in this story do indeed bloom together on the prairie, in the same regions at the same time:
- RED Indian Paintbrush (Paint Cup, Castilleja coccinea or C. indivisa).
- ORANGE Indian Blanket (Blanket Flower, Gaillardia pulchella) is Oklahoma's state wildflower. The ray petals are actually red and yellow, but when they "blanket" a hillside it looks orange. They are pictured on the CD jacket.
- YELLOW Coreopsis (Large-flowered Coreopsis, Coreopsis grandiflora).
- GREEN Spider Milkweed (Green Milkweed, Oblong-Leaved Milkweed, Asclepias viridas).
- BLUE Bluebonnet (Texas Lupine, Lupinus texensis) is Texas' state wildflower.
- VIOLET Prairie Phlox (Wooly Phlox, Downy Phlox, Sweet William, Phlox pilosa).
16. Closing Note