Photo: Connective Tissue

When 'Dem Bones' Need Connective Tissue

Posted on December 20, 2022 by Tom Tryon, consultant with The Patterson Foundation

Editor's Note: The Higher Waters: Suncoast Quality of Life initiative explores the realities of this phenomenon by connecting with experts and efforts underway to understand its effects. The Patterson Foundation aspires to share its findings in various ways, including the creation of a repository of science-based, easily accessible data on rising water levels in Charlotte, DeSoto, Manatee, and Sarasota counties. Access the Higher Waters newsletter archive here.


Hadn’t thought about “Dem Bones” in awhile.

If you’re over a certain age, you might have sung the song, or some variation, as a child in public school or in Sunday school.

Dem Bones is a spiritual based on the Old Testament Book of Ezekiel and his vision of the valley of dry bones. Written by James Weldon Johnson, who also wrote the lyrics to Lift Every Voice and Sing, the song was first recorded in 1928.

Also known as Dry Bones, the song gained popular appeal across cultures when the Delta Rhythm Boys performed a rendition on The Ed Sullivan Show.

The tune’s chorus, sung in harmony, was catchy – “Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones” – and its famous first verse offers a simple lesson in anatomy.

Toe bone connected to the foot bone
Foot bone connected to the heel bone
Heel bone connected to the ankle bone
Ankle bone connected to the leg bone
Leg bone connected to the knee bone …

So it goes all the way up to the “head bone.”

(And back down, from head to toe, in the second verse.)

It might seem incongruous that thoughts about dry bones surfaced while I was thinking about the Higher Waters: Suncoast Quality of Life initiative.

But among the most important things I’ve learned while working on this initiative involves connections.

For example, sea-level rise is connected to beach erosion, which is connected to losses in habitat for sea birds. Sea-level rise, which compounds the effects of storm surge, is also connected to hurricane-related damage inflicted on homes and businesses – and on infrastructure, such as sewer lift stations, storm-water treatment and disposal systems.

Overwhelmed storm-water systems, whether on the coast or inland, are connected to rising levels of nutrients in the Gulf of Mexico, which are connected to the resurgence of red tide.

Excess nutrients and red tide are connected to environmental damage – sick birds, dead fish – that is also connected to economic damages when hotel reservations are canceled and patrons skip outdoor restaurants because of the physical effects of red tide’s toxic aerosols.

The examples of connections between the challenges caused by both rising seas along Southwest Florida’s coastline and rain-induced flooding inland are many.

But for all the challenges, there are opportunities in our communities to connect and prepare for higher waters locally and throughout our region.

During the first year of our Higher Waters initiative, Kiarra Louis, Rachel Hettinger and I have learned about some of the opportunities available to make our region and its communities more resilient and less susceptible to the impacts of higher waters.

We have learned about the potential to use the measurable effects of sea-level rise and flooding in order to protect the environment, the economy, natural resources – the components of our quality of life.

Connected problems require solutions that will arise as a result of connections in our communities. So, as we continue the Higher Waters: Suncoast Quality of Life initiative, we will endeavor to fulfill one of The Patterson Foundation’s fundamental precepts – that our role is to connect with people, businesses, nonprofits, government and the media to catalyze positive change.

To put some connective tissue on Dem Bones, in other words.

Tom Tryon is a consultant working on The Patterson Foundation’s Higher Waters: Suncoast Quality of Life initiative:

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