Words & Photography by Douglas John Imbrogno
When the news gets loud as two jet engines,
I head East, then North, set the cruise control and watch
for where to turn. There are three ingress roads.
Depends on my mood which I take. The one goes
to a marsh. The other to the woods. The other to an historic
site bedeviled by slave days ancestry. There, I
smoke cigars in peace some days. And meditate,
beneath a tree whose thick trunk must have seen a
hundred, maybe 200, Springs or more. Which would mean
it saw the life of chattel slavery as a sapling. But that’s
a reckoning for another day. I don’t turn in there this day,
but to the gravel lot where I am glad to see no other cars.
I park. And prep. A backpack. Water jug of
berry-kombucha (this is no vision quest). And
a smartphone, which for my aims this
day will be dumb to headlines. And those
messages that seek to snag me in the
tangled news and fuss and rage and pain.
I am no saint, just a bumbler who’s caused
his fair share of rage and pain. But today’s
a day to take the turn into the marsh.
I head off, backpack slung. Down a
rocky path. Some old couple has helped
create this enclave with their kind donation.
Makes it easy to bisect the swamp. It’s a
hot one, but I enjoy the heat. The heft of the
pack. The solo walk. There’s not a human
soul in sight. Behind, ahead. Lots of bird
souls flitting, though. Marking out their
momentary homelands with a song.
If I stop—and do—to hear what sort of sounds
prevail, I hear the distant rush of trucks
and cars. They dissipate, grow dim, with
each football field into the hay-mown
paths made by whomever keeps this marsh
in tidy order. I also hear the frogs a-burping
on the lillypads, which number in the hundreds.
As someone who hunts great clouds, I catch
some fine ones. (Though I must concede
the best remind me of the ones
my good friend, Robert, paints after
a late-in-life epiphany
to devote his craft and heart and eye
to painting clouds, the ones seen by
his inner eye.)
I keep walking, a mile or maybe two.
Back soaked, moving out of sun into an
allée of trees. Shaded from the broil of
open fields. Impressed, now, by the
curl and thrust of trees, untouched by
harvesters for far more than a century.
What secrets does a forest
tangle hide from human eye? Maybe
a salve, a food, a missed rare plant
that could lengthen life by decades.
I wonder at the life by day. And how
the life by night, deep in this marsh,
will have another set of sounds. And
creatures, cries, and predation unfeared
beneath the noonday sun.
I round a corner. Espy a broad plain of marsh,
lillies like dandelions abloom. How could this not be by design?
But—I don’t have faith in your designer God, if that’s what
you believe. Still. Why this profundity? The wild creative
expression written on the leaf. The million insect shapes,
their vibrant colors (were there an Artisanal Creator, he/she/it
loved tinkering with insects most.) And, if it’s true what
those bad-boy Buddhists say, and we are mother, father,
sister, brother, related all to all—have been the frog and
red-tailed hawk, have been the mother of the squirrel
speared by the hawk, have been the bee and been the
queen. Have through wild profusion and fathomless
time, circled round and round the wheels
of life. So, we have been all life, until we get it right
and escape the wheel. Maybe that’s one way
to comprehend and befriend the ten thousand things.
The hundreds of voices, cries, and songs rising from
this manifold marsh.
I find a platform, a deck to oversee the marsh. But first,
I peel off sweat-soaked clothes. Stripped to my long pants,
I watch my breath, leaned up against a piling beneath
the platform, in its shade. An exhaled breath of wind
begins to dry the warm sheen on my chest. I am that
kind of tired the body likes.
An hour later, ascending the stairs back into
the sun, still nobody else all this afternoon,
a blessing. I am no misanthrope, but a half-day
off the human race blows space into a
crowded head. On the deck, I notice a new
vanilla ice-cream mound of clouds.
And the wide, flat marsh. Its mad, but clean
profusion of green plant and brown water.
‘A million unutterable thoughts of frogs,’
rise out of the marsh. There’s a white egret,
there a wheeling murder of black crows. And
off in the distance, the murderous general’s
plantation home, and its untold life stories
of slaves, who must have dreamed and schemed
and pondered laws that let one be shot if
found beyond a mile from home. I am
many miles from home, the afternoon grows
long. I tighten up the laces of my boots.
“NatureGrams: A Stroll into an Appalachian Marsh,” text and photos by Douglas John Imbrogno | july 9.2020
NATUREGRAM: January Stroll Under an Azure Sky: jan14.2021: The dried out, frosty marshlands are not really absent of life and color. You just have to hang out and look and listen more closely as you stroll the woods and walkways beside the Ohio in western West Virginia.
NATUREGRAM | 10 Variations on a West Virginia Ginkgo: nov20.2020: It is an auspicious place, this former plantation and home to more than 50 slaves before West Virginia ever came to be. But on this Autumn Appalachian day, the ginkgo biloba trees recall a more illuminated present.
NATUREGRAM 1 | Sheltering-in-Nature during a Pandemic: june26.2020: Could you use Canadian geese, chuckling water and scenes of nature not trying to sell you something? A WestVirginiaVille Public Service Mental Health Pandemic Video.
Much much appreciated comparison, Kathy! Write on, yourself.
I think I hear the gentle applause of Mary Oliver, or perhaps her smile is sufficient.