The Council of Critters: An All Species Play

by Amy Hannon

Ridge and Valley Bioregion

This piece was originally published in Perspectives in Bioregional Education, edited by Frank Traina and Susan Darley-Hill, North American Association for Environmental Education, copyright 1995.

This chapter includes the complete script for a play developed for an All-Species Project in Greenville, North Carolina. It exemplifies how community pageantry, so important to the spirit of the All-Species Project, can be successfully tailored for a particular bioregion. The author provides a list of questions which guide the interdisciplinary study necessary to flesh out the characters. This background study constitutes an important share of the preparation for the play. It allows participants with a wide range of learning styles and skills to develop their roles while absorbing a great deal of knowledge of and empathy for the creatures they have chosen to play.

The All Species Project was developed by Chris Wells in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He shared his vision, music, maskmaking and stilt skills with teachers at the North American Bioregional Congresses I, II and III and before long different versions of All Species Day were being celebrated all over the continent.

The following playscript for The Council of Critters evolved from five years’ production of Coastal Carolina All Species Project in Greenville, North Carolina from 1986-1991. While the basic theme of the play can be transposed to the context of the whole planet or to a different bioregion, this version focuses on the southeast coast and coastal plain bioregion of Turtle Island called Croatan.

The play is written for five main characters, four representing different habitats or ecotomes in the bioregion (Sea Turtle for Ocean and Sea Shore, Heron for the Salt Marshes, Otter for Wetlands and Streams, Owl for Forests) and Mother Nature. In different bioregions other habitat types can be substituted and adapted to the play accordingly. Mother Nature represents a global and even cosmic awareness. She directs the action within the play and should be acted by the teacher or other strong and knowledgeable person as she will have to fill in many gaps, especially with a cast of young children. The play may contain as many as 25 or 30 secondary characters divided among the different habitats and an indefinite number of other characters to represent all the species of the bioregion and form a kind of Greek chorus.

This playscript is offered as an example of the form a Council of Critters can take in a particular bioregion. A certain amount of improvisation should always be allowed for the voices of whatever creatures are represented in any given enactment of the drama. Flexibility allows the drama to be adapted to different settings and conditions as they change over time.

The Council of Critters was developed as part of an interdisciplinary environmental education program that includes ecology, social studies, story telling, poetry, music, movement, crafts and drama. The following questions form the framework for weaving the disciplines together and create the foundation for each participant’s role.

All Species Workshop

Choose one non-human creature who lives in your bioregion and answer the following questions as if you were speaking for that creature:

  1. What is your name—common name and scientific name? To what kingdom do you belong? (Plant, Animal, Fungi, etc.) What is your classification? (Mammal, Bird, Reptile, Amphibian, Fish, Arachnid, Deciduous, Cone-bearing, Moss, Bacteria, etc.)
  2. Describe your physical appearance: size, shape, color, outstanding features. Make a picture. Make a mask. Describe and perform your movements, growth, and vocalization.
  3. Identify your habitat; describe the place or places where you live, the geographical location and characteristics.
  4. Identify your place in the food web. What do you eat and what eats you? What adaptations or body features assist you in acquiring food? How do you protect yourself from predators?
  5. Describe your activities as the seasons change. Describe your life cycle.
  6. Tell your evolutionary story. How long have you lived on Earth, how long in this bioregion? Is your species threatened or in danger of extinction now? How?
  7. Describe your interactions with the human species. What gifts have you given them, how have they affected you? If you could speak to the humans, what would you say?
The Council of Critters

(All the species represented in the All Species program, dressed in costumes and masks, march in parade to a large area where they gather to form a theater in the round. They form a large circle with critters grouped in four quadrants according to their different habitats: Ocean, Salt Marsh, Wetlands/Streams, and Forests. Mother Nature, wearing symbols of her cosmic and earthly manifestations, stands in the center.)

Mother Nature: I am Mother Nature. I exist throughout the universe—in the fireball at the heart of time and in the stars just being born, in quasars and in black holes. I exist in galaxies billions of light years apart and in the smallest particles of matter. I love all the vast expanse of my domain with a great and ancient love. I love especially the blue-green planet that dances in the galaxy called the Milky Way, a water-bearing planet, a living planet called Earth.

I love many things about this planet—the beauty of its changing seasons, the power of its winds, its gleaming oceans and its rugged mountain ranges. But most of all I love the diversity of interrelated forms that have evolved during four billion years of Earth life. This diversity is my delight and joy. You, my children, you are my delight. I greet you. (She looks around at all the creatures and bows to them in the four directions.)

All the Creatures: Honk, Bark, Howl, Hoot, Chirp, Whistle, Hiss, Quack, etc. (to acknowledge Mother Nature’s greeting)

Mother Nature: It is always good to see you, but I come today with heavy heart to brood upon the signs I see of terrible devastation on the living planet. I see Earth’s atmosphere clouded with smoke and smog hanging over dirty crowded cities. I see vast stretches of green forest disappearing, leaving dry deserts in their place. I see minerals belonging to the soil washing into streams and sparkling rivers that have turned into streams of poison. I see species disappearing more rapidly than I have ever seen in all of Earth’s long history. I see holes in the upper reaches of the Earth’s protective skin. And all this damage comes not from my own momentous cycles of creation and destruction, not from meteors from outer space, not from trees, not from insects, not from dolphins, but from the great skills of the large-brained, tool-making, language using, two-legged species, the humans. They have become arrogant in their domination of the Earth and all the other species whom they treat as though made for them to exploit and use at will.

All the Creatures: (Sounds of Agreement.) What can be done?

Mother Nature: My children, you all enjoy a certain amount of freedom and cannot be forced. The humans need to be lured back into the balanced ways of nature. I have a plan that might work. There is a moment in the spring of each year, one moment only, when the language barriers between the species are suspended for a brief time. That moment comes today and I must enlist the help of different creatures to speak to the humans and get them to change their hearts and wills. I will begin here in Croatan, the southeast coast and coastal plain of Turtle Island seeking help in this great task.

(Mother Nature walks to the Ocean quadrant of the circle)

Mother Nature: Greetings salty sea and all creatures who live in your waters! Greetings sandy shores of the Outer Banks! Who speaks for Ocean?

Sea Turtle: (stands forward from the group) I will.

Mother Nature: Greetings, old daughter Loggerhead. How good to see you. Thank you for your willingness to speak for the Ocean and all its creatures.

Sea Turtle: I have lived in these waters over 2 million years. I have seen the ages when ice covered most of the hemisphere and sea levels were much lower. I have watched the beaches along this coast flood and emerge time and again. Although most of us living here have learned to survive for longer than any other life forms, we have all seen troubled times in the last hundred years and worse in the last 10 years. Perhaps I should let the others speak for themselves, but for me, I thought life would last as long as there was a planet with beaches and oceans with jellyfish. But lately I have trouble finding quiet beaches to lay my eggs. And when my eggs do hatch the baby turtles often get lost in the tire tracks of big-wheeled vehicles driving up and down the beach. In many places I have been hunted as food for humans or my eggs stolen and many of my kin have died from eating plastic bags they thought were jellyfish. We choke on these and die.

Mother Nature: This is terrible. You have my attention and my concern. I want to know all this and more. Are there others with stories I should hear?

Sea Turtle: Oh yes. I will call the other ocean dwellers. Oh Mammals of the Sea, and you who breathe with gills, and all other salt water dwellers as well as you who fly along the shores and live off fish! Come show yourselves and tell your names and stories.

(Here the whales and dolphins and manatees, the sharks and fish and shorebirds announce themselves. Some of them, like the Brown Pelican and the Terns, will tell that they have suffered greatly in recent years, that all their eggs were breaking and there were years when no young were born.

They will tell how lately this trend has been reversed since the ban on DDT, giving hope for positive change.

The whales have horror stories to tell, of 150 years of hunting, decimation, and extinction. The Blue Whale weeps for sorrow as he roams the sea sounding for a mate and cannot find other whales around.

Sea gulls as well as dolphins complain about styrofoam and plastic in the water that they eat and choke on.

All the ocean creatures represented tell at least their names and bow to Mother Nature, e.g. I am Horseshoe Crab, another of the ancient ones here with the earliest life forms…)

Mother Nature: Thank You, Ocean children. I need your help to appeal to the humans and to wake them up from their dream of living like they are the only species deserving of space on the planet. Now I will wander inland and seek what help I can from the Marsh and Swamp and Woods, but I ask you to contemplate your situation and do your best to help.

(Mother Nature walks to the Salt Marsh Quadrant)

Mother Nature: Greetings Salt Marsh and all creatures who nest and spawn in your waters and grasses! Who speaks for the Marsh?

Heron: I speak for the Salt Marsh.

Mother Nature: Greetings daughter Blue Heron! Can you tell me how it is with you and with the other creatures of the Salt Marsh?

Heron: Honnnk! Greetings Mother Nature on this beautiful spring day. I am doing well enough these days now that I am no longer hunted for my feathers to make ladies’ hats. Besides, I am quite a good hunter myself and can eat all manner of small creatures. But my friends and I are troubled by the changes to our habitat—the marshes drained for development or polluted by fresh water from the swamps that were channelled or poisoned by chemicals coming downstream.

Mother Nature: Call your friends and let me hear their stories.

Heron: Honnk! Come one, come all! All critters who dwell in the marshes, speak!

(Fiddler Crab, Terrapin, Red-winged blackbird, Mussel, Egret, Spartina grass and all the other marsh creatures represented introduce themselves and tell their story.)

Mother Nature: Thank you Heron and other creatures of the Marsh. I hope that I can count on all of you in the appeal to the humans. I go now to the creatures of the wetlands and streams.

(Mother Nature walks to the Rivers Quadrant.)

Mother Nature: Greetings children of the wetlands and the streams, greetings creatures of the pocosins and the bogs, of the rivers and the black water creeks! Who speaks for the rivers?

Otter: Hello Mother Nature. Welcome to the Pamlico and the Tar, the Roanoke, the Cape Fear and the Neuse Rivers, to all the black water creeks and to the Wetlands all around the Albemarle and Pamlico estuary. I speak for the rivers. You come none too soon. We hear terrible stories from our cousins north in the Chesapeake Bay and south of us in Florida. We hear about dead waters and poisons seeping into the streams. Here, too, the waters are troubled by runoff from the farms, and from underground seepage in septic tanks that the humans make even in unfit soil. There are metals lurking in the water from factories along the river banks and the waste of military installations and from the industrial processes involved with mining and with milling paper. Many of our creatures show symptoms of disease—crabs and fish with sores on their bodies, or bodies floating dead in the water.

I will introduce you to the river creatures and let them tell their stories. (He calls the river creatures and invites them to speak.)

(The River dwellers introduce themselves and relate stories about their habitats. Striped bass complains about the loss of eel grass in the river and the ducks chime in on the same score. Oyster, clam and snail tell of oxygen depletion in the water and of chemical stress. Blue crab claims affliction from lesions and disease. Snakes and Cypress complain about wetland drainage.)

Red Wolf: I, too, live here in the swamp lands of the Alligator River Wildlife Refuge, and I have quite a tale to tell. Like most of us, I have suffered sorely at the hands of humans. They have waged war on us wherever we have lived and driven us from our homes. Even today they hunt us nearly to extinction. My kin and I have disappeared almost entirely from the southeastern coastal plain that once was our home. But these same humans who nearly wiped us out have also raised us in captivity, fed and bred us and now returned us to live wild and free in this ancient swamp land preserved as a refuge. We wolves have never experienced the likes of this. We wonder at this creature who has caused so much devastation and loss, and yet whose foresight and care can return us to our native habitat.

Mother Nature: Yes, Wolf. These thoughts haunt us all. This human creature is as natural as a tree or fish. This human species belongs among us, has a place. This human species is as wonderful as all of you, but somewhere has gone astray and lost sight of the whole web of life. The power of the human has become awesome and immense. It is dangerous to live among humankind, but set right, the human might yet share in the great life and beauty of the planet with all the other species. To this end we must invent some means to reach them and waken them to the consequences of their actions.

Now I will go to the forests to gather more support.

(Mother Nature goes to the Forest Quadrant)

Greetings Green and Leafy children, Pines, Cedars and all you who live in the Forests. Who speaks for you?

Owl: Hooo hooo hooo hooo! I speak for the Forests. Greetings, Mother Nature and welcome. We are always happy to see you in our midst especially now when we are ripe with blossoms on the trees and new green growth. But we also suffer from the hand of humans.

Our ancient stands were removed quickly when the wave of human immigration came from across the ocean over five hundred years ago. And now even our second growth forests are under siege. The great White Pines and Atlantic White Cedars have been taken for lumber, and now men plant trees in great monotonous rows of a single species, usually Pines, to accommodate their demand by growing quickly. Or they simply cut us down to use our wood and use our land for their own purposes.

Mother Nature: Call the others from the forests so that I may listen to them.

Owl: Creatures who crawl and creep, you who fly, all you who live in the woodlands around us, please come forth.

(The chipmunks and snakes, possums and deer, the Warblers and Woodpeckers, Black Bears and Bobcats announce themselves and tell their stories, or at least their names.)

Mother Nature: I see a common problem here among you all. It is a problem of having a place of your own, a place to live, a habitat. Habitat, habitat, have to have a habitat.

(Now the entire assembly of creatures gathered sings the Habitat song (original by Bill Oliver), with each section singing its appropriate verse and all joining in the chorus:


Habitat, habitat, have to have a habitat
Habitat, habitat, have to have a habitat
Habitat, habitat, have to have a habitat
You have to have a habitat to carry on.


The forest is a habitat, a very special habitat
It’s where the tallest trees are at,
It’s where a bear can scratch her back
It keeps the ground from rolling back 
Renews the oxygen, in fact
The forest is a habitat that we depend on


The ocean is a habitat, a very special habitat
It’s where the deepest water’s at
It’s where the biggest mammal’s at
It’s where our future food is at
It keeps the atmosphere intact
The ocean is a habitat that we depend on


The river is a habitat, a very special habitat
It’s where the freshest water’s at
For people, fish and muskrat
But when the people dump their trash
The river takes the biggest rap
The river is a habitat that we depend on


People are different from foxes and rabbits
Affect the whole world with their bad habits
Better to love it while we still have it
Or ratitat-tat our habitat’s gone


Mother Nature: What lovely voices. Perhaps your voices are the key. Have you heard the legend that at certain moments there is a disturbance in the galactic fields and in the energies of the planet—a moment in the spring of every year when all the finest possibilities of communication flourish? During that moment there is a possibility that the humans can remember the language of the plants and animals, and if you appeal to them in that moment your voices will penetrate their hearts.

Otter: But we fear the humans.

Turtle: It has been a while since they have looked upon us as anything but meat or shells to sell or as oil for lamps.

Heron: Or as feathers for their hats.

Owl: They want only to cage or destroy us.

Mother Nature: There are some who will listen, some you might be able to teach. The children might listen, and some of the adults. Many of the humans are as disturbed by the ills of the Earth as you are and yearn for a lively sense of connection with the whole web of life. And even the scientists have begun to understand how all things work together. And besides, we must give it a try. Unless the Earth creatures come together, the planet may be transformed into a desert, or worse, a charred and lifeless cinder.

Otter: What do you suggest, Mother Nature?

Mother Nature: Let all the voices rise in appeal to the humans—all at once.

Heron: Let’s try it. I’ll get the Marsh folk, you organize the river people, the ocean dwellers and the forest critters.

Sea Turtle: We’re ready, now what shall we do? Shall we plead?

Otter: Shall we argue?

Wolf: Shall we threaten?

Owl: No. I think that we should sing. I think we must enthrall them with our beauty, penetrate their hearts and make them remember they are one of us.

Mother Nature: I agree, Wise Owl. Let’s see how well we can do. All at once, together, call out the song of your heart, all you creatures of coastal Carolina. Call out clear and loud to the humans who live around you.

(All the creatures call in their own distinctive ways. Once, twice, a third time.)

Mother Nature: Humans, awaken, and hear the voices of your fellow creatures, those whose lives weave with yours on the water planet, who give you wood and flesh and fur and feather and song and who long to live in peace with you wild and free, even as the true Human in you longs to live.

Turtle: Awaken, Humans. Listen to me. Learn from me to live close to the land and to think thoughts that will last through many generations.

Otter: Humans, Awaken. Listen to me. Learn from me the joy of each golden moment.

Heron: Awaken, Humans. Listen to me. Learn from me the satisfaction of well-honed skills and wasting nothing.

Owl: Awaken, Humans. Listen to me. Learn from me to see in the dark and to understand the dreams of your kind.

Wolf: Awaken, Humans. Listen to me. Learn from me the bonds of family ties.

Mother Nature: You have been kind and considerate, all you creatures. It is good. If there are others who would speak, please do so now.

(Any other creature who likes may add to the plea to the humans.)

Mother Nature: Thank you one and all. Now the light is shifting and the moment passes. Let us each return to our homes and remember this time as we remember our dreams. Let us hope that our actions and our appeal will have a real effect in keeping the beaches and the marshes and the wetlands, streams and rivers, the woods and the wildlife of Croatan rich with the music of a vast array of voices, now and for many years to come.


Amy Hannon is a ritualist, philosopher, and professor. She teaches political science, philosophy, and economics at the College of Staten Island. She develops and leads ceremonies and ritual gatherings, and has given presentations at North American Bioregional Conferences.

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