The Honey Dance of Moccasin Wallow
In the mornings, the giggle of the swamp lark rises up over Spirit Pond and settles into wisps of dawn mist, each scale nesting itself inside a white puff of condensation. These are the moisture clouds of leftover souls. They are always wet with tears and heavy with sighs so close to sunrise. Sometimes Gran scoops them out with a butterfly net and hangs them on the line to dry next to her flowered house coats. Sometimes we watch them burn off into the clear mornings, or tangle in the curling moss of the cypress trees, forming agonized faces with lost lives and faded stories in their eyes. I never see these faces. I can only imagine their eyes. I have to listen close to what the others tell me.
“This one here lived a good life,” Gran says, humming a bit as she runs her gnarled hand over a scoop of lake mist. Her fingers are scarred with old bee stings. “See how it is tinged with a clear blue, Tupelo?”
But I don’t see a thing. She pets the cloud as if it were one of the wild cats of Moccasin Wallow. We have tons. They are well fed and looked after, beloved by us all, but they won’t domesticate. They prefer to roam the swamps, battle rattlesnakes and raccoons, and shriek and scream at the moon.
“We have a guest coming to stay,” says Gran, giving the mist tuft a last little pat and setting it loose on a breeze. “He’s from the Blue Mountains.”
Gran traveled a lot when she was younger. She is in her eighties now and many of her former acquaintances have crossed over. When she tells me about the mountain man, I assume she means a dead one.
“Ezekiel is his name,” she says looking delighted. “He is the last of the great mountain dancers. He can dance the cicadas straight out of the trees.”
Her eyes get a little frosted over as she talks. I think she is remembering things. We often have old ghost friends stop by for a visit. Gran usually introduces us politely while I train my eyes at blank spots of air and murmur embarrassed hello’s. I wonder what they must think that someone as strong-sighted as my Gran has such an ordinary descendant as me.
The fact that I cannot sense anything paranormal is a subject of quite a lot of personal shame. I am the only one in Moccasin Wallow Camp with no intuition at all. Those of us who are born here are expected to know things. Those who move here have to prove that they are something like us. The Reverend runs a school for mediums out of Lochloosa Hall that involves all kinds of tests of faith and indicators of paranormal sight. This discourages any old traveling sideshow trick-gypsy from trying to join our camp and learn our ways. We follow a sincere path. It has been this way for the past hundred and fifty years.
I leave Gran humming to herself on the porch and go to collect honey from the bees. The tupelos that I am named for grow all over in our swamps and they are in bloom now. Their creamy blossoms lace the air with the promise of sweet, clear honey. We keep our hives on floating river platforms that can only be reached by canoe. The platforms stop the bears from plundering the hives, while the alligators deter most human honey bandits. Gran has been a beekeeper all her life. On each one of her travels, she says it was her sweet tooth that called her back. There is nothing quite like our honey.
Moccasin Wallow sits in the middle of the swamps, under a canopy of massive oak trees, knotted with bald cypress and sinkholes, on a grid of dirt roads that trail off into the spongy growth of the Apalachicola River basin. The houses are old, gingerbread and cracker style, most of them fallen down and built back up in places. All of them boast rickety screened-in porches and unkempt herb gardens. The wind creaks and hoots through the streets when there is a breeze. The crickets and swamp larks compete with the low croak of alligators in terms of nighttime harmony. Sometimes they are so loud the sunflowers wrap their petals around themselves and the trees try to shake them out of their leaves. This is the most we get in the way of music around here.
“Morning, Tupelo,” Flossie calls out, as I pass her sitting in the middle of a tangled field of black-eyed susans. She has peacock feathers stuck all over her face and sunflowers wound through her blond curls. No doubt she is doing something important. Flossie is my age, but in terms of the gift we are nowhere near each other. She was recently featured on a local television show where she delivered messages to the families of men who were lost in the war. She is what the Reverend calls an ingénue. I try not to harbor any negative feelings towards her but she makes it hard. She is all sunshine and psychic energy and laughter.
“Morning back,” I answer. It comes out sounding slow and sullen.
A kind of social stratification system exists in Moccasin Wallow, built upon levels of para-communication ability. Flossie sits right at the top. She knows all the camp ghosts and spirit guides by name. She can hear their thoughts and see their faces. Her best friend is a dead slave girl named Eulalie, who tells knee slapping jokes during the message services that only she can hear. Most days, when she walks down the street the birds stop singing and unseen winds rustle through the tops of the trees making the spanish moss ribbon out like graceful streamers. She has to dress in layers because the temperature around her rises and falls so often. The other psychics follow her with jealous eyes and deep yearning.
Everyone is not as gifted as that. My cousin Baron only gets feelings that translate into something like happy or sad, and sometimes the first letters of a person’s living name. Gran is better at understanding animal spirits than human ghosts. That’s why she is such a great beekeeper. She knows in advance when the hives are ready for harvest, and she usually can tell when there is flood weather coming just from the thoughts of the animal spirits in the swamps. The Reverend has a powerful sight, but he sees all energies in its raw form and sometimes he has a real difficulty telling the difference between spirits and living things. He often calls out to us by colors and images instead of names.