|An Afternoon with Kurt
by Ed Lombi
"We need a new fireboard and everything around here is damp."
"OK, let's go down to the Cedar Swamp and see what we can find."
And off we went. We took the firebreak by the sacred area and headed toward the road.
It was early afternoon and hot, the sun high, competing only with the humidity, making us
glisten with sweat. Almost at the road we turned west toward the cedars and slowly browsed
our way on blueberries toward our destination. "These are great, look at the size of
them." With big purple grins and quiet reverent talk, we closed on the edge of the
My feet were suddenly cool; I looked and I was ankle-deep in soft, soothing mud.
Another step and I was giggling as my feet were caressed in a soft, thick carpet of moss.
I felt fear, excitement, confusion as though a door had slammed behind me. Or, rather a
portal to a different dimension. Everything changed, literally everything, and my senses
exploded. I am supposed to be hot but I'm not. The high green canopy which replaced the
sun made it impossible to prove that this was even afternoon, just daytime, I think. And
the chorus of birds chirping and digging through leaves was gone, and the chattering of
squirrels was suddenly replaced with the symphony of trees and branches creaking an
"What? Oh, yeah, fireboard." That's great; he's just handing it to you.
Thanks, Mr. Cedar."
It's perfect - thick and dry and just takes your thumbnail, and oh, God, save me. Fear
again and confusion as my footing gave way and I was knee deep, then thigh deep in what?
The cool was gone and my foot was hot and panic started to spread like a fire until I
looked up and saw his intense blue eyes and wide grin that said take it easy, relax. He
asked if I was OK as I settled back into the warm ooze of decay which breathed life to
this magical place.
My toes wiggled and my throat giggled as I climbed out. Why aren't I repulsed at this
brown-green slime that's caressing my leg as it heads for home?
Tinder is next, and we didn't even have to hunt. Only two trees away it was given to us
without even asking, just dripping from the trunk like a big gob of sap, not even in need
We thought we were finished, we had what we came for.
"Hey, look at this."
"Over here, scat."
I went to investigate, and we had a laugh. She was shitting purple - strange deer.
"Look here, this rabbit has the same problem."
Hopping slowly from stump to stump and meandering through warm ooze, ducking under low
branches and swinging around awkwardly situated trunks, the wonders unfolded. The beauty
of ferns, kinds I've never seen before, so small, delicate and paradoxically so majestic
at the same time. Around another cedar, and "Watch your step, a pitcher plant."
"Woooooow, it's beautiful, look at the hairs in there and the colors!"
"That's one, too, but it's in bloom." I've never seen a flower like that,
stiff and waxy and standing tall, almost defying someone to take a bite.
"Over here! Look!", and he was 20 yards away already. Had I been looking that
long? My knee sucked up from the mud with an almost sensual sound and a blue jay screamed
and dove through my line of sight like a fleeting shadow as I searched for where the voice
came from. Over and under, hopping and balancing my way deeper into this wonderland, I
found him kneeling over an oddly folded purple mound.
"I've only seen scat like this once before, in Maine. Do you know what it
I had never seen scat like that before, and said so.
"It's Otter shit. It's the same as in
Maine, except purple."
He dissected it carefully, poking it, picking at it, smelling it, until he was
satisfied, and on we went deeper in.
"This is Sundew. Those little drops that look like water are sticky, and very
fragrant to insects. They come in to check it out and become his meal. Do you think it's a
coincidence that that sunbeam should land right on that Sundew plant?" I knew he knew
much more about this place than he could say.
We were enraptured, caught here by the unfolding wonders of this peaceful scary place.
It sliced deeply into our soles like a razor sharp ax into soft pulpwood to release two
little 12-year-old boys to explore Santa's workshop. When we came to the main stream of
the swamp and he asked, "Should we?", it was all the prompting we needed to slip
in and begin our slow float, crawl through the swamp; totally forgetting the nice dry
cedar branch and the wad of tinder we had come for. Over stumps and under fallen trees, we
drifted with the softly swaying grasses tickling our bellies and caressing our legs. Our
senses again sucking it all in like a vacuum cleaner gone haywire. Sunlight beamed in,
bejeweling the ripples around us and dazzling our eyes. Eddies gently swirling around us
changing the temperature from cold to colder to a warm spot here and there. Deep breaths
would fill our noses with the sweet smell of cedar and the musk of decay which blended to
form another delightful scent. The insects and birds and creaking trees together with the
rippling water created a music, almost maddening in its beauty. And all we had to do was
duck our heads under to take a bite of the sweetest water in the world.
It was intoxicating, heady, almost sinful. Doing all the things that mothers everywhere
steer you clear of when you're really 12 years old. How preposterous it was floating
through a swamp and taking in more of everything than I had since ... when? So long ago.
When we came to the tree that protected the entrance to the pond, with its branches
piercing the sky and the sand at the bottom of the stream as though a link in a chain, we
had to get out.
We went belly down through tightly overgrown thickets until we slid into the pond on
the other side.
"Watch it," he said, "this place is full of snapping turtles. If you
feel a big round rock with your toes, get out of there fast because there aren't any big
rocks in the Pine Barrens. Watch out for deep holes, also. They hang out down at the
bottom of them."
The fear welled up in my chest, and I told him I'd take in the sights from the shore.
With his next step, he was gone, disappearing to his neck in a hole. He
came up laughing. "Wait up," I said, "I think I'll go with you."
We came out in a flood area that had since drained, leaving soft green
grasses and muddy footing. Tracks were everywhere, fox and coon and deer so that there was
hardly a spot untouched. The next thing I knew, we were just west of the sacred area and
it was over, and the sun was going down.
"Thank you, Kurt. I owe you for this. It's a day that will never
end, a day that I'll keep in my heart forever."