Responses to Swamp Walking Woman
[Swamp Walking Woman is] a depiction of how humans create their very own swampland on this planet, allowing the ‘gators’ amongst us to usurp our power and to control our lives through fear tactics. I like [the author’s] solution: recreate your own reality and reject the fearmongers’ agenda. Dismantle their power base one positive thought at a time. EB
SWAMP WALKING WOMAN
A Tall Woman Tale
Cold water numbed the woman’s legs. Sun burned her face. Leaves and burrs hung in her thick, unraveling braids. The pack was hot on her back. Her arms ached from carrying the child. One more time she asked herself how life could have taken such a difficult turn.
She had been out late one evening helping a neighbor with a sick grandparent, had started home down the familiar wood path. All at once her village vanished. She knew she had gone the right way, but instead of finding her home nestled among other homes in Oak Valley, she found only scrub oak forest petering into a boggy marsh. In the distance she could hear voices, but when she called out, only her echo answered. And when she turned to retrace her steps, even the scrubby oak forest was gone. All around were ponds dotted with small, wet islands, some of which were but hummocks of tufted swamp grass and a tree or two. She proceeded west by following the moon and, the next day, the path of the sun. Her village should have been in this direction. She pushed hopefully through the mud and water, subsisting on berries and sleeping that first night on a tiny island.
On the afternoon of the second day she walked across one such small island and almost stepped upon a little girl asleep on a grassy hummock. She stepped back and looked around for the child’s parents. She called out, but, as before, only her own voice came back in muffled echoes from the misty wasteland. The child yawned and moved. In the mud the woman found a single footprint with large spreading toes. A wildcat? She wished she possessed her grandfather’s knowledge of the signs of animals and the uses of plants—but no one in her modern world had thought that old stuff of value.
Waking, the child regarded the woman soberly.
The woman squatted beside the little girl. “Hello. What is your name?”
“Where are my grownups?”
“I don’t know, honey. Who left you here in the grass?”
But the little girl didn’t explain.
“Come. Let’s find your grownups.”
The girl did not protest being lifted onto the woman’s hip. She was dressed in professionally faded Gap jeans and a purple Gap shirt. In her hair was a purple bow. A child of good fortune, thought the woman. May her good fortune return.
“What is your name?” she asked again.
But the child did not answer.
“I’ll call you Futura.”
Two more days of travel brought no change in the territory. There was no firm ground anywhere. All of Earth seemed a misty, murky place where one struggled to find a solid step. A horsefly buzzed around, whispering in the woman’s ear, “Swamp life is too hard. Why not give up? You could sink into the water and sleep.”
“I can’t give up,” the woman said. “I have the child.”
“Saving the child,” he buzzed. “How noble of you to save her for swamp life. I am touched.”
The horsefly droned around her eyes and hair.
She brushed at the fly. “Dammit!”
“Dammit,” said Futura, the first word she had spoken since “the cat,” and she puckered up to cry, the first emotion she had shown.
The woman, who had been known as Song in her village, smiled at the child and straightened her back. “I am Swamp Walking Woman,” she said. “I will persevere. And I should not be teaching you to curse.” Then she shouted with all her force, “Darn it!!”
A pretty blue dragonfly lit on some rushes.
“Oooh!!!” said Futura softly. With the backs of her fists she rubbed the tears from her eyes.
Before the woman could blink, a flock of dragonflies—also called Darning Needles—thickened the air. Flying and lighting and flying and lighting, they wove the rushes together into a long mat. Back and forth they flew, up and down, in and out, carrying the tip ends of long blades of swamp grass, weaving in and out until a tight rush path stretched before the woman and the child toward an island they had not seen before.
“Put me down!” said Futura.
Swamp Walking Woman set Futura’s feet on the rush path and followed her. When the two reached the beach they ran forward and back and around each other in all directions. The woman laughed and the child shrieked with an exuberance as high as her apathy had been deep. At the edge of a sunny patch of gravel they found morning glory vines climbing tall grasses, blue blossoms sparkling with dew. A sea of flowers carpeted the area between the beach and the trees. There were big bull thistles with bulging purple buds, a bank of wild roses, and fuzzy broad-leafed plantain with spikes taller than Futura. Daisy heads danced in a pleasant breeze and buttercups shone like gold. Futura bent to examine the tiny purple flowers of a Bittersweet Nightshade, deep purple petals curling back from each long yellow center.
“Don’t touch,” the woman said gently, knowing the plant was poisonous.
Near a little stream that ran from under the alders, Futura made sand pies and sprinkled them with seeds. Digging into the bank of the stream, she discovered colors—a layer of purple sand, under that, a layer of red sand, then yellow, then green.
“Why is the sand colored?” she asked.
“Each layer was laid down at a different time. This reddish layer has iron in it. The green has copper. The others have different minerals.”
“Oh.” One sand pie, she said, was a strawberry apple pie, two were pumpkin pies, and one was a blackberry pie. She sprinkled more red and yellow sand on her cakes and left them to dry in the sun. Together the woman and the child ran into the woods looking for adventures. In a glade were fat skunk cabbages whose thick garlicky smell filled the air. Here and there a Jack-in-the-Pulpit stood, ever ready to give a swamp sermon.