Darkness seemed to have a hold on the Cypress stands this far south, no matter the time of day or position of the sun in the sky. The brush was so thick here and the undergrowth so solid over there that there was hardly a time when daylight ever filled these forests. The trails were narrow and barely uncovered, keeping the terrain deceptively unrecognizable to outsiders. The men and women of the Glades knew their way from camp to camp and how to survive in the spaces in between as needed. I could taste my sweat salty and warm, mingled with the clay and dust of the roads I had traveled. Pausing for my breath and to recall the words my great, great, grandfather said I would need one day, I collected my soul, stepped forward and spoke. “I walked through many waters to come to you, but it is here that my journey begins”, she was already looking at my path before I walked into the clearing of her chickee and knew I knew she knew me.
The old woman sat and stared at the ragged traveler as I approached her, at first unable to discern if the person before her was a man or a woman through the caked mud on baggy clothes and matted hair covering the face. She squinted tighter, looking deep into me and scared me enough to speak again, but I cannot recall what it was that I said; only that she spat the chaw of her chew across the space between us with a small bolt of lightning. Then, though it barely made a difference in her height before me, she stood up with the agility of a young child.
I had come to her to be healed; to receive the medicine she drew from the plants of the land and the powers of the waters and winds.
She was a Glades Medicine Woman with a reputation across four states and up to Kentucky and Tennessee. She was a healer from another time come to reside with these Glades people and bring the power of spirit to protect them from the invasion of their homes and souls. She held her people tight to the land and sea; screamed its secrets into their dreams, so that no one could say it had all been forgotten. Through her will, there would always be memory, even if the memories were to become nightmares.
As she stood, she reached her hands upward and placed one on either side of my head, covering my temples. She whispered things I didn’t know or understand or need to, because they knew me and moved within my body to free me from that which I had brought to her to release from me.
As though shaken by a wave, a fluid current of energy, I raised up, buckled under at the knees, and raised back up to my full height again, in one basic gesture. When I did, she let me go. I shook for several seconds, as she slowly backed away from me and resumed her seat against the wall that had been behind her all along. I had not noticed the dark red tapestry hung there with a large wheel emboldened on it, the Medicine Wheel. None of the details around her were clear, but her face shone like an angel’s and in its light I could see every detail of her being, bright as Easter morning sun.
I breathed deeply, as she passed her peace pipe to me and drew me out a cup of tea. I passed it back and sipped my tea of sassafras and mint. “These woods’ll give ya everything ya need if ya know where, how, and when to look for it. I am a mother of many generations and each of them will know these things”. She puffed a few times on her pipe and let me know it was time to move on by adding, “As you walk your path homeward, listen to the plants and let them tell their stories. Your journey is long, but you will be in good company with them.”
She offered the pipe back to me in an act of final good will. I puffed heartily knowing the journey back to the coast to be long and I could contemplate her words the entire way, having now been healed.
I gave her the cotton pouches I had made for her and several ounces of our hemp stocks from the coast with seeds.
She liked to make a tea of the leaves and the seeds would bring the men a new crop. She offered the water of her camp once again, but all of my hides had been filled, I was prepared and I was healed.
I left the clearing through the same narrow opening I came in and she watched me go. I walked for what seemed like several miles and the path began to widen, the brush to disentangle me, and daylight to be more recognizable.
Though it was late in the afternoon, the sun was still high and bright, and the heat showed up suddenly, as the garden of overgrowth cleared. I had no sooner stepped into the bright, unprotected, white light of the high sun and taken no more than three or four steps on the newly dug municipal road when I heard the distinctive crack of the shotgun and felt its heat envelop my body cavity. My heart began to beat half time, a voice that stank of stale alcohol was shouting at me, and its body was tugging and jerking at mine.
Her name was Lucille, I had come for her medicine and she had given it, but now; I was not healed. I was dead. In this wild Glade lands one needn’t fear being killed by an Indian. One need only fear being mistaken for one.
“Oh my Gawd woman! What are you doing dressed like that and coming out of there? I thought you was one of them there damn nasty ‘injuns’. Who are you woman? Woman? Woman? Woman, no. Mam’ you can’t be dead. Oh my Gawd, no!”
He pulled and tugged at her, crying and jerking himself about, finally dragging her body off of the road. In the process, more dirt fell off of her, than what clung to her anew. Lying her limp, pulseless corpse across the back seat of his Model T, he drove along the newly paved road leading through the now, nearly, drained swamp and back to the city; the beautiful, very populated, city. The road back to the city on the beach.