I went up a spell in the dark red water of the creek out beyond my property, even if it was way too cold to be out in the water. Time was, before white people came here hundreds of years ago, folk lived here without heat or houses or fear of the weather very much, or they wouldn’t have been here at all. I walk barefoot muchly, and my feet don’t hurt me like the aliments some people I know with office jobs and nice lawns. I can walk a couple of miles north, cross over the timber company’s land, and catch the South branch of the creek I call the Long Run. Creeks are made up of a lot of smaller braches of water running along the same line of drain, and most of them head for other lines of water, much like people seem to head towards other people. When it gets too much, when the things in my head can’t be still I walk the Long Run and even though it takes me under two bridges that are too near people I walk it anyway, but always at night.
Starlight is powerful thing when it’s the only thing, and I can see it glinting off the water. There’s roots and snags and rocks and things but my feet are like the fingers of those people who can type in the dark or without looking down at the typewriter. I know this sounds to you a bit odd, like the accent of someone who speaks the same language from a faraway place, but my feet feel the notched path the water has made for me. There’s a deep spot I don’t want to wade into about a mile into the walk, and it’s marked by an old tree stump just before I get there. It’s a stump from a Cypress long since cut from above and undercut from below, both saw and water taking away from it, yet there it sits like a toad without legs catching what it can. My feet know this stump in the black of night, and I know to skirt right of it, closer to the edge of the creek than I like to be, but I don’t want to get any wetter tonight. It’s hard to walk on nights like these but it is harder not to. I miss a turn here or there, get into deeper water or bramble, but the stars don’t like to me, even when my feet might.
Did this back in July and a thick snake slipped into the water with me. Didn’t mean any harm, and most of them don’t anyway. But this one stayed at my heel that night and followed me a bit. It stayed back away from me, didn’t crowd me or stalk me like one or two I’ve seen do, but it might have wanted to know what a human was doing out in the water and the dark. I scared up a frog that might have gone away unnoticed or unseen but the snake grabbed it and it cried out in the night and then the sound was gone. I listened to the frog’s body twitching in the water, and then I hear the sound of the snake eating the frog headfirst. There was a sliver of a moon up high, and in the shadows I could see the snake, thick and black like, and it was bigger than I had thought when I heard it, or it was bigger because I saw it, one of the two. I waited until the snake was done swallowing the frog and waited to see where it would go. We were there together for a while, me and the snake, and finally it glided over to the edge of the creek and I listened to the sound of it crawling up the black and into the dark. Snake that big has some heat to it, and I know if I get bit this far out it isn’t going to be a good night. But then maybe it will, if you get the meaning.
There was a Yankee come down and bought up some timber land to make a hunting plantation but he picked the wrong year to do it and the stock market sank its fangs into his operation but deep. He lost money on the land before he pushed over the first stump and he went from looking for a place to play to having to find a way to make it work. He dug him a good sized lake, and I found out when the water from the Long Run ran dry. I walked through the mud and dying creek critters until I found where he had dammed the creek up and turned it into his lake to fill it. No man butts head with money less’n he had more money, and I knew I wouldn’t call the law to him and get it done at all. Creek dried and died so he could have a place to raise catfish, but a year later a tropical storm brewed in from the Atlantic and I went to visit him that night. No snakes or coons or anything else walks in a storm, and I ought not to have, but I had to set some things right again. He had turned the creek back, but he built a gate so as to steal water from the creek as he had a mind to, and I turned that gate open, and gave him all the water he ever thought about having that night. I went over to where his spillway was and I closed that, too. His land filled up, flooded out, and when his spillway went it took out a quarter of a mile of that state road with it, and washed out around the bridge down a bit. The State people came in with some Federal bridge people, and I heard all this, I didn’t actually see it, but they say they made him pay for the damage to the road and the bridge and slapped on him pretty hard with a fine, too. The Yankee lasted another few months and then he just started stopping coming down to take care of the place. I put a fish trap in his lake and I ate well for a while, and so did the snake.
You sit there in a car wondering about work or you talk on the phone and just a couple feet away someone doing the same thing comes at you as fast as you go at them, and you pass, and never think about it. Kill you deader than snake biting you, it will, but you don’t think that other person might try to kill you, do you? That’s me and these snakes. We pass each other in our own road and we don’t try to kill each other. I fished my trap out of the lake and I wondered of the fish that got imported here miss where they are from, but I have to get home before light.