Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

For Peat’s Sake: A Spooky Swampy Halloween

For Peats Sake LogoBy Marla J. Stelk, Policy Analyst, ASWM

I have to admit, I never thought I’d end up working in the field of wetlands. Like many others, the word “swamp” was the word I typically used to describe any kind of wetland – and I really had no idea there were so many different types. And swamps frankly terrified me. I’ve never had much of a spine for scary horror movies or thrillers. As someone with a very hyperactive imagination, scary movies and stories would keep me awake at night for weeks after seeing or hearing them. And too many scary stories happened in swamps.

werewolfFor example, after watching “An American Werewolf in London” as a young child – I think I was 11 years old when it was released – I wouldn’t go anywhere near anything that looked like the moors of England. In fact, I wouldn’t even use the bathroom at the back of our house at night because I was certain that the werewolf would creep up to the window from the woods behind our house and snatch me.

And in one of my all-time favorite books, “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” Gollum leads Frodo and Sam through the Dead Marshes of Middle-earth. Also known as “The Mere of Dead Faces,” they are described as “dreary and wearisome. Cold, clammy winter still held sway in this forsaken country. The only green was the scum of livid weed on the dark greasy milky surfaces of the sullen waters. Dead grasses and rotting reeds loomed up in the mists like ragged shadows of long forgotten summer.” Poor Frodo was grabbed and pulled down into the fetid water by a corpse – the thought of which was almost too much for my young impressionable mind to take.

Wetlands really have gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to visions of beautiful, peaceful places to visit. As an adult, I know them to be magical places – cradles of life, teeming with myriad species of flora and fauna. I know them to be places of purification which provide clean water and sustenance. But this time of year, I have to admit, I still find them a wee bit scary.

Perhaps the fear factor in some ways is a good thing. The fewer people that trample through the swamps, the better chance of them staying preserved. Perhaps we need to create new scary spooky swamp stories that discourage people from draining them and turning them into shopping centers, hotels and subdivisions. Something like “The Swamp That Ate Casino Royale”…. Or “The Insatiable Pavement Eating Swamp Thing”….

Of course that plan could totally backfire and create resistance to wetland restoration and creation…so perhaps I’ll have to come up with a different angle. Until then, I thought folks with a stronger spine than I have might enjoy some spooky swampy stories to get in the Halloween Spirit. In an online search I identified some good resources:

  • The Dismal Swamp in Virginia has a rich history of ghost sightings and stories – here are a couple of links:
    • dismalswampDismal Swamp (Scary for Kids website)
    • Swamp Children (a Virginia ghost story about two kids exploring an eerie swamp at night) by James Colton
    • And here is a great YouTube video with ghost stories at the Great Dismal Swamp by reporter Gary Harki and Deloras Freeman of the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.
  • Of course Louisiana has plenty of spooky swamp stories – here is a great webpage on “Voodoo, Ghosts, and Werewolves at Louisiana’s Cursed Swamp
  • And who could forget “Swamp Thing” when a research scientist is turned into a swamp plant monster? Classic.

But if you’re like me and prefer a story with a happy ending, I found this fun rhyming tale entitled “The Wizard Man – A Frightening Rhyme” by Shelby Brown:

Four Hole Swamp is big and dark and wide.
With alligators, snakes, frogs and gnats it is well supplied.
Only the people who have lived there all their lives,
Know where to be and not to be, at night, when the swamp cries.

Most folks think sight is the thing that helps keep danger away,
But in a swamp it is hearing that may keep you alive to see another day.
In the daylight the swamp is a quiet place with beauty and wildlife all around.
It is in the nighttime that the swamp comes alive with movement and with sound.

This is the time to listen carefully to every little noise you hear.
A frog chorus often fills the air, but this is not a sound to fear.
It is the soft ones that your ears have to strain to hear at all,
That cause your breath to stop and your stomach seem to fall.

A movement on the mud bank about twenty feet away,
Followed by the little splash of water…now that makes you pray.
The tiny twig that broke just above your head,
A possum or a snake, the difference could mean you’re dead.

These were the sounds that people could hear on most any night.
Then they heard something that almost stopped their hearts with fright.
So low and quiet it was, that people were not sure they heard it at all.
Folks sat outside and listened every night for the new swamp call.

They talked every day about what this sound could be.
Did it come from outside, or up from swamp water, too black to see.
Some said the new sound had a rhythm and a beat.
Others said for sure it was a voice coming up from the deep.

These frightened folks decided this had to stop—and soon.
So the plan was made to go in at the next full moon.
They said good by to their families, those forty two brave men.
With lights and guns, they met at the water’s edge…ready to begin.

Tsunsethe sounds they heard now were known to them since childhood.
As they went deeper and deeper into the black- water wood.
Hours passed as they went deeper into the swamp than most had ever been.
Then, they heard it, and hair stood up on their skin.

All lights flashed to the big cypress tree where they heard someone call.
When out came this strange little man, smiling with joy at the sight of them all.
He whirled and ran to the nearest canoe,
And plopped himself between its two-man crew.

I’m a wizard man from the land up around Ochonee,
And only came down to fetch me a bald cypress knee.
It is needed, you see, for my conjuring recipes.
But, I’ve been lost for weeks under these swamp loving trees.

Indeed, my bag of tricks and ruby stick refuse to work to any degree.
So please, give me a ride away from here, for I’m in a fix as you can see.
So it was that these kind souls rescued him from Four Hole Swamp that night.
And deposited him on firm land just as the morning began to light.

The wizard man was happy to be on his way,
But turned and cast a magic spell he wanted to say.
“To Bald Cypress trees with strange knees, and all wild things that live herein.
Shall all remain for thousands of years, just as you’ve always been.”

So For Peat’s Sake, Happy Spooky Swampy Halloween!

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