Living at the Edge of the Swamp

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.

Ptc

 

 

 

11 comments

  1. Ptc,
    This writing about Mingo Woods is wonderfully crafted. It takes the reader into the edge of the swamp. To me it feels as if I’m stepping into your wooded area and noticing right away the small white flowers dotting the forest floor. I’m almost hearing church bells in the distance. Imagery in this is amazing. Thank you for sharing.
    J

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Ptc,

    This piece is close to my soul. It has touched me as deeply as the very best poem would.
    I understand your love of the land, and I love your understanding of communication through
    the written word. You are very talented in every area I have seen demonstrated on this site.

    BTW, I live about 10 minutes from Mingo Junction, Ohio and about an hour from MIngo Creek, Pa.

    The Mingo Indians once inhabited most all of the Ohio Valley on both sides of the river. Your
    Mingo Swamp sounds like home except that we have less swamp and more large hills and small
    mountains.

    “That is best which liest nearest; Shape from that thy work of art.”

    It is so. Thank you for sharing this piece of your soul with us. I am honored and humbled.

    Sarah

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just fyi:

      …an important stage for the English settlers and Indians occurred in 1768 when a treaty was made between six Indian nations and the British. To the dismay of the Mingo Indians, the treaty gave all territory east of the Ohio River, including present day West Virginia, to the English settlers. The Mingo Indians living at Old Mingo Bottom (Follansbee) were forced to move across the river to what is now Mingo Junction. The river became the boundary between the settlers and Indians. Yet Indian artifacts suggest that these Indians lived on both sides of the river over many generations. It was easy for them to walk across or canoe from shore to shore. Indian camps existed south of Follansbee in the bottoms at the old Boyd farm where Cross Creek empties into the Ohio River. Indian resistance continued after 1768 as British settlers pushed westward. Realizing the potential of the Ohio Valley, George Washington began inspecting the region and making claims in 1770.

      Like

    • Sarah, your response holds my heart. I was hesitant to include much identifying location information; perhaps I should re-think that decision. I am in Georgetown County, South Carolina. Mingo Creek, from which our swamp water comes, borders our property about a quarter of a mile away from our house. We don’t have a Mingo town or anything. When people say, “I’m going to Mingo,” they mean they are going down the road to Mingo Store for gas or lunch.
      The Mingo Indians ran an outpost somewhere along our creeks and rivers, especially Black River, from which the creek is a tributary. As the eldest child of seven and one usually at home helping out, I often heard my father tell fishing stories. My two brothers, mother and one sister would accompany him at different times to Mingo Creek. I do plan to write about the Mingo, Creek and Indian. I like to think the Indians roamed our piece of swamp. There is at least one published report of a skirmish with the British about a mile away from us. Part of my study over the years here has included Native American medicinal uses of the native plants.
      Thank you for the FYI information as well. Makes me want to study.
      ptc

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ptc,

        “When people say, “I’m going to Mingo,” they mean they are going down the road to Mingo Store for gas or lunch.”

        A joy!! That is the stuff of tasty flavor.

        Thanks once again for all you add to this site!!

        Sarah

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sarah, do you have a literary source you can share with me for the information you shared about the Mingo Indians and Ohio?
        Also, do you know the book THE VILLAGE by Marilyn Stevens, a documentary of the Maumee Village in Ohio. Do you live near Grand Rapids?
        ptc

        Like

  3. Hi Ptc

    This is beautiful, almost like reading an entry from Emmerson or Thoreau. I love the voice in this poetic narrative and how your soul became intermingled with the soul of the land. Your imagery is vivid and the tone of this one both witty and reverent. I can picture this place with great detail and aspects of it that appeal to all the senses. One phrase that particularly caught my attention was this —

    after thirty-six years of teaching English, I really did “re-tire.” I put on the tires of writing poetry,”. Yes, the tires of poetry, the wheels of your imagination that leave their tread marks or words on the page and in the echoes of the land. You are retired but driving into new territory, a sensitive and personal journey that poetry takes us on as writers and individuals.

    I taught high school English for a number of years in upper New York State ( Hudson River Valley) and wrote poetry as well. I grew up and lived on acreage that was beautifully green, part wild, part landscaped. The woods, the pond, the natural residents including herons, ducks, deer, squirrels, pheasants, frogs, dragonflies, swallows, finches, sparrows and hawks became part of my spirit and mind as well. I figuratively shape-shifted into their forms and behavior when they invited themselves into my poetry. !2 years ago, I moved ( to join my husband then fiancée) to the high desert of Southern California. The beauty and stark landscape of this terrain adopted me and has found its way once again into my writing. I am bounded spiritually to the field of Johsua trees beyond my yard, the road runner, the little western fence lizard, the raven and crow as well as the palo verde trees, the desert pines and mountains that overlook our valley. Like you, I live on the edge of a landscape that haunts and beckons, that offers the gift of itself to the viewer and the writer. I could deeply identify with this beautiful narrative of yours and thank you for sharing it!

    My Best
    Wendy

    Liked by 2 people

    • Wendy, your words confirm my decision to write and publish my Mingo pieces. I have given a lot of time, energy and emotion to this place; and it has taught me much and given me peace. I hope to edit and organize the work and include the right photographs to share. Thank you for sharing part of your story with me.
      ptc

      Like

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