Twenty-seven years ago on a warm February morning, my husband Steve and I parked our car behind the car of a real estate agent and followed him on foot along an old road that led through the woods. He was showing us a tract of nine acres of God’s earth on the Georgetown County side of Highway 41, just south of Mingo Creek bridge. Walking along what was then a hunter’s road, we experienced the inside of a Southern forest of pine, hickory, oak, yellow poplar, alder, tupelo, and cypress growing a few hundred feet away from Mingo Creek on the edge of the swamp. A few weeks later, as we sat in the lawyer’s office to seal the deal, he asked us, “What are you going to do with five acres of swamp?” I remember answering, “I’m gonna love ’em!”
I couldn’t explain to him that my love for this piece of land started with a little white flower dotted across the forest floor. Along the periphery of the swamp, pushed up through layers of dead leaves, these daisy-like flowers stood with two palm-shaped leaves raised as if in prayer. I was reminded of my father, standing each spring in a new-tilled garden, his raised hands filled with fresh dirt, thanking God for the opportunity to plant and tend a garden in red-clay soil.
Mingo Woods has been an edge-of-the-swamp experience, twenty-seven years of close study of nature, human and otherwise. We’ve changed the terrain; raised a few chickens, guineas, and someone else’s twin boys. We have set up honeybee colonies and planted herbs and flowers.
Except for the incessant crowing of a teen-aged rooster who practiced day and night when he was alive, it’s been quiet here. In early spring, when nature and I are waking up from winter, I take coffee to the gazebo in the woods and listen to songbirds, hawks, even an owl. I can hear the low sound of a boat’s motor in the creek beyond the swamp. I have heard the steeple music of the church eight miles downstream; and when the local rodeo holds its fall event six miles away, we can hear the announcer from our back porch.
When I retired eleven years ago, after thirty-six years of teaching English, I really did “re-tire.” I put on the tires of writing poetry, taking photographs of emerging butterflies and baby wrens, painting images of some things I care about, planting and tending herb beds and the garden, and helping my husband in his ministry in a local country church. I’ve enjoyed time with my mom, ninety-one and still at home in Rose Hill; and I look forward to cutting and drying the herbs from which I make much of our medicine. Last week I made a new batch of Elderberry Syrup from berries collected from an organic community farm.
I called this place Mingo Woods from the beginning, and now I call it home on earth. The small daisy-like flower named “bloodroot,” still pushes its way up through winter’s forest floor on Mingo Swamp, its leaves together as if in prayer. After the bloodroot, I soon discovered marsh marigold, squawroot, witch hazel, and jack-in-the pulpit. A favorite find, with its roots in the edge of swamp water, is Stewartia, a not-so-common silky camellia that blooms for a few days in mid-May. I counted the hickory trees one fall and collected about four bushels of nuts. That year I made Hickory Syrup for family members at Christmas.
I made plans to share what I’m learning from the swamp and, occasionally, branch out from here to write about other places, people, and ideas I care about. When I saw eight white-tailed deer in the front yard, three of them nibbling the leaves and berries of a blueberry bush, I was reminded of the words of the poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: “O thou sculptor, painter, poet! Take this lesson to thy heart; That is best which liest nearest; Shape from that thy work of art.” I will try to do that.