On an island in the middle of the reed-bound lake, lit by the glow of the setting sun stands a tree. The birds come in to roost – flocks of cormorants, gulls and egrets – from feeding grounds several miles to the south. We watch as they settle, our little kayaks bobbing up and down. After the sun has set, we resume our journey back to the little promontory where the van is parked.
Night falls by the time we reach the mangrove tunnels. Every tunnel is an act of negotiation: a little to the side, a little backward, and off we go again. From the boughs of the mangroves that line the tunnels watch millions of tree crabs, every one of them like a gnarled knot on the bark. Periodically, there are stretches of open lake, choppy from the wind that blows across them.
Illuminated by the light of a full moon, aromatic with the smell of decomposing organic matter that will be a precursor to new life, this is the water of the swamp. Mangrove roots jut sabre-like from the surface – a grim vision that resembles someone’s nightmare of a watery hell. And yet, the scene is inviting, homelike.
We are beings born of water. The opening scene of our lives is a breaking of water that heralds our arrival into the world. We spend the first nine months of our existence floating in amniotic fluid, life-giving and briny, in many ways similar to this water on which I now float. Expelled on birth, we are never truly home again. It is no wonder then that the first thing every newborn does is to cry.
My headlamp lights up a pair of shiny red eyes by the base of one of the mangroves – a prized sight. Alligator, the king of the swamp, the apex predator of this marshland.
When these reptiles first left the swamp and set foot on land, our ancestors were with them. As the thought crosses my mind, I feel a sense of kinship with this beast, and this encounter by the roots of the mangrove seems to me like a family reunion. There is no fear, only curiosity.
The ancients were animists. They prayed to the elements; the birds and the trees and the beasts were their friends and kinsmen. Every creature with a spirit of its own – all connected, sacred. Here, I understand why.
Here, I am able to leave the profanity of everyday life behind. I feel connected. This is me. These are my arms that ache a little from paddling for the last few hours. This is air I breathe. This is water (from whence I came).