Friday, June 24, 2011

Haunted, No House


Turn up the volume

I was sitting in the rain in the kayak in the headwaters of Maryland's Chester River, right at the Delaware border, and I started thinking.  This type of thinking occurs when you are stuck in a tiny plastic boat in a thunderstorm, in the temporary and basically false shelter of an old cypress tree.  As the rain and thunder intensified - cementing my decision to remain in this shady harbor -, and the daylight began to fade into the evening, I started to think.  I considered all the people who have been in that exact place, stuck in a summer thunderstorm, or snow squall, or hurricane's eye over the last several thousand years in which the place was used - or crossed- by humans.  How many battles, or pursuits of game, or frantic searches for life-saving herbs (or doctors) were hurriedly moving across this headwater swamp, only to be stopped by nature?

Who has been to this place, and been held hostage by its soft ground, shallow water, and changing weather? The Lenape only arrived 600 years ago, finding an archaic swampland with no people at all.  But they were not the first. Downstream at the mouth of the Chester River, spear tips date to 14,000 years ago.   Those people - called the Clovis People in the western states - hunted mammoths and other giant creatures all along the river until that entire ecosystem vanished at the end of the Ice Age.  Did they make it upstream to this place? Did they suffer through ice storms and hurricanes and hail storms to conduct trade with other human outposts or were they chasing herds of mammoth to feed their families?

The English met the Lenape here in the 1680s, intent on bleeding this little swamp for its furs, timber, and soil.  They ditched the swamps and built dams to hold back the floodwaters.  They fought mosquitos...and the Lenape, for a time.  The area was largely ignored during the American Revolution, the War of 1812, and the American Civil War, despite being only 30 or so miles (as the crow flies) from Baltimore.   The end of the Civil War brought a mill dam, roadways, bridges, and a railroad here - almost eliminating the possibility of another man or woman ever being dominated by nature in this ancient place.

I will never know the names or the circumstances of the men and women who sat in this swamp and waited out the rain, or the snow, or the lightning.  How many died, and how, and whether they knew they were bound to die here. But they were here.  If you sit still for long enough in the rain, in a tiny boat, you can sense it.  I was nearly sure I could hear them, and I must admit that I am curious what their thoughts were about my odd presence, in this old forgotten place, on a rainy night in June.


biobabbler said...

=) like. Interesting....

Map Monkey said...

OMG, now I KNOW we are related! I think about this kind of stuff ALL THE TIME! Sometimes it freaks me out, but most time it just makes me feel poignant.

tugboatdude said...

This is exactly why I don't mind fishing/hunting/hiking alone.It gives me time to sit back and reflect and who was the last person here?What were they doing here?How long ago was that and so on.I love this way of thinking!

Swamp Thing said...

Thanks everyone - I wondered if I'd even get a comment on this post!