Beauty… In a Swamp?
After writing Swamps and Soirees, readers have asked multiple times, “Why did you initially decide to write about a swamp?” Well, there are several answers to that question. Some of the obvious answers involve my proximity to swamps. I was born in a small town that is bordered by a swamp. As a child, I remember my grandparents taking me there frequently to fish or simply for visits to the peculiar wetlands. From my family’s lake house, we accessed the many cypress forests and swamps that bordered the lake upon which we played. And now, when I leave the isolation of my home to go nearly anywhere, I must pass through swampy environs. So, my exposure…my immersion—if you will—is complete, and in them, I find great beauty. But the reason I believe I get asked that question is that many people believe they are filled with great dangers—and they can be—in many ways, but there is also a pristine beauty that pervades those dangers.
If you’ve never been fortunate enough to spend time in a swamp, then you may be unaware of the enchantments they hold. Overhead, the sun gets blocked out by old oaks and tupelo trees, dripping with lacy, gray Spanish moss. Growing from watery foundations are ancient cypress trees with knees that reach up around them, seemingly gasping for breaths. Water lilies and exotic Southern flowers spring from the depths of the black waters below. Shadows and sunshine battle beneath the green canopy above in an attempt to win a war that is unnecessary because both are needed.
And if you’re a wildlife lover and you’ve never been to a swamp, well, you’ve missed the proverbial boat, then, now haven’t you? The first thing that might come to mind is that they are filled with all manner of ancient, dangerous beasts—the first on that list, of course, being the American alligator. And yes, swamps are filled with them…and snakes, and turtles, and eels, and fish, and leeches, and anything else that might find a home under the dark waters. Over the boggy lands around the waters, one can find bears, and boars, and deer, and raccoons, and squirrels, large, wild cats and foxes. With all the wildlife in the waters and on the soggy land surrounding them, we may forget to look up to see the amazing array of bird life—and it is amazing! In addition to the herons and egrets, many other species of birds—too numerous to list—find their home—their refuge—in the swamps that surround me.
Lest I forget, let me mention the history that still echoes though the old trees that emerge through the black water swamps. Our nation’s very freedom and independence was won on these watery battlegrounds. Ever hear of Francis Marion, The Swamp Fox? That whole episode is a book unto itself!
People come from lands far and near to visit our beautiful swamps—to touch their ancient, primordial beauty. Beidler Forest in Dorchester County, South Carolina, has miles of elevated trails through Cypress Swamp. Magnolia Plantation and Gardens has an entire area set aside to preserve these unique wetlands. In Moncks Corner, Cypress Gardens provide beautiful azalea gardens, filled with native species of flowers, trees and plants, interspersed among a Lowcountry swamp in Berkeley County, just outside Charleston, South Carolina. Sparkleberry Swamp, on the upper end of Lake Marion, offers a most picturesque, natural landscape of what a raw, untouched, undeveloped swamp is. Congaree National Forest has numerous canoe trails through its swamplands, and I have only begun to touch the many beautiful swamps that can be found in South Carolina. I shudder to think of the many outside my immediate area!
So, if you’re still asking why set a novel in a swamp, I would have to simply answer that swamps are filled with dark, danger and beguiling beauty, history and myth, and some of the people who live in and around them are unique in their character and appreciation of these special places. Swamps are the perfect places to set a novel about how peace and courage collide.