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Shadowwater

Excerpt* from Shadowwater As it appeared in the July 18th, 2013 issue of PROVINCETOWN MAGAZINE (www.provincetownmagazine.com). Look up "THE WORD" for published excerpt and article. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.


*Abridged for magazine.


There weren’t many places to go to hide from humans. Even in the

dead of winter when many residents experienced hibernation syndrome,
some stalwart locals and adventurous tourists went exploring. However,
the Nausequoit saw the swamp as sacred. Thousands of years before, a
retreating glacier had left behind a lowland that over the centuries became
peat. Fresh water, plants, and then finally cedars covered the ground to
form the swamp. Since its formation, invading seedlings brought in pine
and oak. The refuge was nature’s work in progress.

Cal could read the history around every corner. He was never alone.Very few outsiders ventured this far off trail. Before he could begin his voyage, Cal had to portage his kayak for almost a mile, walking along a used, sandy trail strewn with pine needles, not stopping until he had reached the edge of the muskeg or swamp. Any native bird could tell you that the old forest bordered the narrowest part of Cape Cod, holding its own against occasional invaders.Sitting Crow {Cal} needed this quest.


Too many distractions were keeping him from finding his way. It had been his grandfather’s idea weeks before Achak {Cal’s grandfather and tribe’s chief} had lost himself and Cal didn’t argue. He up-righted his kayak and lowered it into the swamp. This traveler felt safe going solo, navigating the murky water that would barely reach his neck if standing. As he paddled through the intertwining trees, he breathed in the aroma of the cedars, islands to themselves, and studied the gnarled tree branches covered with green foliage filling the canopy above him. To Cal’s left stood a twisted oak, wrung like an old, gray floor mop. Ahead on the nature trail which encircled the swamp, stood a partially stripped cedar with its skin exposed, raw, rust-red, hardened flesh. Cal swallowed and steered his kayak a different direction.


 After a while, he allowed his craft to drift. Quiet. Stillness that slowed the heartbeat and released his thoughts from their everyday prison until he began to become more aware of his environment. A rustle ahead: a weasel carrying a field mouse in its mouth, looking indignant for being interrupted, scampered between the mossy hillocks which grew around the base of each tree. Like snowflakes, all trees had their own individuality. He could navigate without a compass by remembering a bent branch here or a protruding root there, though the seasons and elements reshaped or eroded them. After his parents died, his grandfather took him here on a walking trek. 


The swamp had frozen and a light mist contributed to the primordial surroundings. Achak told Sitting Crow this ancient, sacred place had remained relatively untouched.“Listen. ”In the silence Cal heard the creaking, like an old door that needed scraping. The trees were speaking, reminding him that he wasn’t the only living thing. Years later Cal learned the shifting ice caused the mysterious creaking as it rubbed against the trees, but his grandfather knew that Cal had only touched the surface. Cal resumed paddling, rhythmically stroking the water from side to side until he reached the middle of the swamp where a pair of crows circled then flew off in separate directions. Farther along he spotted a large scrub oak and tied his kayak to a protruding branch. He sat under the tree,one of many replacing the pitch pines which also dotted the area. Acorns carried by land birds had brought the oak seeds. The oak’s sturdiness had called him. Caleb began to relax. His fingers stroked the star moss and wispy ferns beside him. Then, he began his ritual. To an outsider, the young man appeared to be meditating. The secret passed down from generations was much more complex. It would take hours before the Nausequoit native would reach the ultimate state: when he would cross over to the spirit world, when he would see the truth.