Here’s another “sneak peak” of the autobiographical piece, The Diary of a Despairing . . . I Mean, Aspiring Author, I’m working on. Last week I posted the forward which can be read here. I’d love to hear your thoughts! Please keep in mind this is only the first draft.
My earliest memories are of the swamp. Viewed through the lens of a child the swamp is at once magical and terrifying; filled with beauty, wonder, darkness and terror. In this way, swamps are a microcosm of the universe. For our cosmos is both majestic and frightful—awe inspiring and unnerving. The swamp is beautiful in its own way, full of unexpected pleasures, yet, also leaves one with a sense of dread. Like the rest of existence, it is a paradox; an unlikely combination of darkness and light. It is in this setting, surrounded by thick mud, honeysuckle, toadstools, crawfish holes, sugar cane fields, snakes and alligators, that I formed my first coherent impressions of reality.
I remember hunting for pecans in the back yard, digging elaborate tunnels in the mud for baby frogs to navigate, and watching doodle bugs roll up into defensive positions at the touch of a finger. I can still taste the cream soda my mother purchased from the convenience store at the entrance of our neighborhood on hot summer days. I also remember countless fishing trips with my father: “Before you put your hands in the water,” he used to remind me, “Check for snakes. When you see a long streak in the water it is most likely a water moccasin . . . so, don’t put your hands in.” Instructions I was all too happy to follow.
One of our greatest adventures occurred the day we stumbled upon an eleven foot alligator. I’ll forever remember its terrible presence. It floated near the surface of the water, perfectly still, its lifeless eyes staring uncaringly at our boat. I could see its massive form beneath the haze of the muddy water and was aghast when I noticed several jagged teeth protruding from the sides of its gigantic mouth. Naturally, my father paddled us right along side the creature. “Keep quite son, don’t make a sound,” he said as he slowly picked up his fishing rod.
I watched in horror as he carefully lowered the tip of the rod above the monsters hideous head. Sweat ran down my face as my mind raced with images of the creature suddenly jumping out of the water and chomping my father’s arm off! After a moment of hesitation, he gently tapped the top of the alligators head with the rod. In a split second the motionless behemoth disappeared in a gigantic splash; diving with surprising speed and agility. The shockwaves from the creature’s sudden departure gently rocked the tiny boat. I sat gripping the edge of my seat as my heart pounded with excitement. My father looked back and our eyes locked—we could read each others mind: “Mom must never be told about this.”
I have many fond memories of the swamp but all of them are tinged with a sense of dread; and anyone who has taken time to reflect upon nature will share this feeling. The same world that shocks us with its complexity and beauty is also cold, heartless, and destructive. The same tranquil bayou, with its flowers and lily pads and calming aura, will, given the chance, destroy you. The alligator, a truly marvelous and intriguing creature, will rip you in half without giving it a second thought (or a first, if you consider the size of its brain). Most of us experience this feeling of dread, which comes from pondering nature, at an early age. At some point we look at the world and see underneath its brilliant and mysterious exterior; recognizing something sinister is at work. If only for a fleeting moment, we become acutely aware of the harshness of reality and of our fragility and this makes us apprehensive.