1. Sturtevant, Pamela RN


Finding perspective on current events in an ancient and fabled landscape.


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After living for 37 years in Massachusetts on the fringe of the great Hockomock Swamp, part of "the Bridgewater Triangle," we finally found an entrance that didn't require machetes, dugouts, or hydroxychloroquine. "Hockomock," named by the Wampanoag Tribe, means "place where spirits dwell."

Figure. Illustration... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. Illustration by Janet Hamlin.

The Hockomock Swamp has long been associated with legends and sightings of wonderfully scary things. In our desire to escape from 2020's real-life pandemic horrors, we thought we would search for folklore frights instead. On our list of once-witnessed phenomena were pterodactyls; balls of glowing fairy lights; UFOs; giant, red-eyed dogs that eat ponies; unnatural electromagnetic humming and goings-on; little gnome men with sharp teeth; paranormal window vortexes . . . and of course, Bigfoot.


The deeper into the swamp we walked, the greater the stillness. Negativity and angst dissolved. Silence seeped into our spines, relaxing our amplified neural conversations and untying cranky muscles. We were just two insignificant human specks surrounded by a massive, glacier-carved swamp; its deep bowl filled with the layering detritus of millennia. Antiquity. Foreverness. Unhurried footsteps. Quiet breathing.


No more suffocating COVID-19 virus; no asphyxiating knees on throats; no strangulating governmental webs of incompetence. We were alone within the history of the Wampanoags and the English settlers, of glaciers and dinosaurs. Even our contemporary birds, with all their colorful songs, had hung back at the swampy entrance where sunlight and noise and contagion lived.


The Hockomock was all black water, adorned with emerald moss brooches soft as mice, thorny bushes, and the fitful, squeaky-hinged moans of tree branches scratching the sky. They were arboreal ghost sounds carried on infectious winds. We walked along a forgotten road, straight as a splinter, that sliced through a portion of the swamp, like a knife through a pie. There were rocks of many colors and patterns, minerals combined in a Jurassic pudding and then fused during their pressurized glacial journey. We, too, felt pressurized by the constancy of the pandemic, so novel and yet so repetitive.


Quarantined within our homes for months, the same news stories assaulted our ears; the same sad ache hung around, like an unwanted guest, in our unclotted, still thriving hearts. It was all fear and dismay and impotence. We saw long, white, refrigerated trailer-morgues crouching behind hospitals, and zippered rows of rectangular graves in Brazil, dark and final. We saw hands pressed to hands against glass windows, trying to touch by proxy.


We listened to governors and physicians begging for ventilators, and masks, and tests, and help. We knew, without hearing the words, about the difficult ethical decisions: who would get mechanical chances, who would not. There were buzzwords: "triage," "resource allocation," "extreme scarcity." The living, the dying-everyone stretched so thin, so isolated, within cocoons of protective gowns or protective shrouds, within kitchens or coffins.


"They died alone," the nurses said, with tears in their voices, exhaustion and dread etched around the edges of their masks. "That's the worst part. They all die alone."


"Please wear masks," they said. "Please."


"It will help us."


"It will help everyone."




Many who listened to the pleas did not wear masks. Or social distance. Or seem to care. They were so lighthearted and disbelieving and aggressive. It was painful to see. We were taken aback by the lack of empathy and togetherness. This pandemic belonged to everyone and not to just an unfortunate few.


As each footstep inched us further away from our new reality and into the uncompromised Hockomock sanctuary, each breath became easier. At times we murmured together in a quiet, swampy way, muffled and enclosed, but mostly we lived within our separate thoughts. Some trees had fallen and lay stoically in the water. There were a few mute turtles sitting darkly on them, stretching long, thumblike necks toward a warm and distant star. Ferns grew in green, paisley curlicues on rotted stumps. West Nile and EEE-infected mosquitos, biding time until their own summery epidemic, were still larval in the stagnant pools.


If there were hidden eyes watching us, they were quiet eyes. There were no monsters here.


As afternoon slowly ripened, we dreaded returning to the pandemic, with all its caustic complexities. But the shadows were becoming long and blue, and we weren't about to second-guess the wisdom of the Wampanoags. If they said that spirits dwelled here, then that was good enough for us. We turned back and started retracing our steps before the night awoke.


In the end, the Hockomock divulged only one small watery vortex and so, on a lark, we created a large footprint on the path's muddy edge, although it looked more like Fred Flintstone's than Bigfoot's. But we weren't disappointed in the lack of scary sightings as we plodded contentedly along, like two old horses, on the road not taken-free from masking bridles and a gasping, feverish world. The peace and solitude and awayness from the madding crowd was everything.


In the Hockomock we could breathe. Just breathe.