READINGS | A Stroll Deep into a West Virginia Marsh


Words & Photography by Douglas John Imbrogno


1.

“Feather On the Ground.” | Hoeft Marsh, July 2020 | WestVirginiaVille.com photo

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.


2.

“The Sky Above.” | Hoeft Marsh, July 2020 | WestVirginiaVille.com photo

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.


3.

“Sort of Red Leaf, Maybe Pink.” | Hoeft Marsh, July 2020 | WestVirginiaVille.com photo

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.)


4.

Wild Blackberry Still-Life | Hoeft Marsh, July 2020 | WestVirginiaVille.com photo

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.


5.

“Writing on the Water.” | Hoeft Marsh, July 2020 | WestVirginiaVille.com photo

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.


6.

“Starburst.” | Hoeft Marsh, July 2020 | WestVirginiaVille.com photo

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.


“Cloud Hunting.” | Hoeft Marsh, July 2020 | WestVirginiaVille.com photo

“NatureGrams: A Stroll into an Appalachian Marsh,” text and photos by Douglas John Imbrogno | july 9.2020


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