The Swamp

The reeds of the swamp tower over my head. I can’t see very far ahead. I wade waist deep in water, but the sounds I hear tell me more or less what is happening around me. The feeling I get is that everything is waiting and it will only be a matter of time before something lashes out and strikes me, possibly killing me. But I won’t know until the last minute how this will happen. It may be an animal but it might be a person. And they will not be friendly. It will be a hostile encounter and I will not come out of it unscarred: perhaps cut and bleeding. The pain will slowly fade away or it will get worse. If it gets worse, then I am done for, for in this place an injury cannot be cured or else is slow to heal.

How long have I been in the swamp? It’s impossible to tell. I sleep at nights on a makeshift platform whose location is marked by the call of a bird who lives in the tree in which the platform is built. Sometimes if the wind is high it’s hard to hear the bird calling and often the bird is asleep or has flown off somewhere so does not call at all. At these times the platform is almost impossible to find and I don’t sleep. I have to drift off against a bundle of reeds, wedging my body between the stalks so I won’t fall into the water. Now and then I sense the faint swish against my ankles of a water snake. Or a wader bird. The stars peep through the black silhouetted blades of the waving reeds. But there is no safety or any chance of real sleep. Dreams slide in and out at these times and seem to have the same reality as the atmosphere of the night time swamp. The wind inside the reeds sounds like a metallic swishing, like tiny blades being sharpened. It’s a frightening sound- as are the cries of the night birds, which are not melodious but gutteral and booming. I have no way of knowing whether there is anyone else in the swamp and if so where they are. It’s better to stay quiet so as not to attract attention. If a signal was made, it would not come in the form of a cry or speech. It would be a subtly coded signal, designed to protect the secret of the whereabouts of the sender while also giving information about the reason for the communique.

It took me weeks to find the tree and I found it by accident. It suddenly loomed up before me like a welcome friend: fixed, solid, reassuring. The lower branches of the tree were plentiful and it was easy to climb up higher so it was possible to see out across the tops of the reeds. From above, the swamp looked like a dark green carpet streaked now and then by the gusts of wind which caused the reeds to part in a slight depression, giving a momentary shape to the green plate of the swamp and made it seem like the surface of an ocean: a vast, undulating mass.

I do not know exactly what I fear but since I am afraid I’m certain this innate uncertainty speaks of some definite threat hidden in the body of the swamp. Fear is a troubling emotion although it is useful to me. I am accustomed to its presence and I know its absence marks danger. So I try to remain alert, cautious and self-aware. I check and triple check any action I must perform.

I fish at night with insects as bait using a line cast into the water. I am nearly always hungry and have no way of cooking the fish. In any case a fire would bring predators at once to where I am. I offer part of my meal when I have it to the bird who nests in the branches of the tree and who by now has gotten used to me. I consider this a payment to the bird who most evenings guides me to safety.