I do believe in ghosts.
I have seen them. I have been amongst them. I have heard them. I still hear them. I am
haunted by them.
We walked in silence through the maze of twists and
turns of water and reeds. We were going a-fishing and both of us were lost in our own
The river has a way of doing that to a person. We were
heading for the mound, where we would start actually fishing, where the little water was.
The big water of the river is too deep to cross on foot. So many channels, so many
branches, so many hidden waters... so many hiding places for a ghost
The mound loomed high above us. In Florida, high is
relative. It is such a flat expanse of land, the marsh through which we walk. There are
places where you can stand and look around for miles and not see a thing that would lead
you to believe humans had been here. Reeds that are head high and cypress trees and
cattails make up the predominant flora. There are snakes and alligators, otters, bobcats,
panthers, wild dogs, wild boars and several other animals. There is plenty for someone to
live off of right there on the river. There is enough to sustain a whole tribe of people.
We walk on. Years of knowing, of exploring, of walking
these waters allows us to know the best way there. We know where the shallow waters are,
where the best places to cross are, where the muck is too deep to walk through, how to get
to our destination. Each turn takes us deeper and deeper into another world, another time.
When finally we reach the mound, we are so far lost in
our own thoughts, that we hardly hear the chattering of the old Indian tribe that called
this river home hundreds of years ago.It comes in the wind that blows near the mound. It
is a wind like no other wind anywhere else on the river, or anywhere else on the earth. It
has been called the Seminole wind, but these were not the Seminoles. The wind is warm even
on cold days, and cuts through a person's skin and gets right down to their soul. It is
not a burial mound, but a living ground. The wind catches me by surprise as it always
does, and I look up sharply to see where the voices are coming from. There is nobody
I am always taken aback when I arrive at the mound. I
can never remember getting there, and yet know that I remember something, because I always
remember the way. It is disorienting to say the least. My eyes turn immediately to the
ground at the edge of the mound. They are searching for pieces of the past. There, lying
in the dirt, I find one. I reach down and pick up the piece of broken clay pottery and
hold it in my hands. I wipe the dirt from it and rub it and like magic, hear the voices
again, only louder. I quickly turn my head to the small woods on the mound, and catch a
glimpse of them, if only for a second.
They are primitive people. They are simple. They wear no
clothing and know nothing wrong with that. Their dark skin is beautiful to behold.
Children run around laughing and playing while two women work hard cleaning fish. Another
woman over there is making pottery. Perhaps it is the same piece I am holding in my hand.
The men are harvesting fish from the river around the mound. Then the vision is gone, as
quickly as it came. I shake it off. We are here. This is where we fish. I lay the piece of
pottery down where I found it. I take nothing from this place.
There is a place along the water's edge near the mound
that I see the Old One. It is always when I am fishing. I cast my fly to a place here or
there that looks as if it would hold a fish and as my fly lands upon the water, it
distorts the reflection of the Old One. I look up to see him, but he is never there. He is
but a reflection... perhaps a reflection of times past. I wonder more about him than any
of the other ghosts I see on the river.
The water around the mound is fished and then we go on
around the corner some more. Again my mind is lost to the river. As I round the next
corner, a white man in an old wooden canoe is paddling swiftly by. I catch him out of the
corner of my eye. I look up to see him better, but he is already gone. I wonder how long
he has been gone. We fish and we walk. Each corner we round takes us to another place,
another time, another world. There are no words passed between us and I wonder what ghosts
my friend is seeing.
We get to the corner with the big wooden cross on it. I
never fail to tense up before we round the bend to see it. I know that at first glance, I
will see them there, burying her. I am thankful that I only see it for a second. It is a
sad scene that I can hardly bear. I wonder who she was, how she died, and why they buried
her on this particular bend of the river. The river only holds clues, it does not give up
The abandoned shack another mile or two upriver is a bit
happier. There I see only children... and they are happy and laughing. The shack is not
much to look at now, but when you are able to see it as it was when the kids built it many
years ago, it is a piece of glorious construction. I occasionally hear the banging of
hammers, the laughter of the boys. I wonder if any of them are still alive. Somehow I
think so. There are not yet enough voices to go with all of the ghosts I see. I glance at
my friend. I am greeted not with the vision of the old man he is today, but with his own
ghost, the ghost that I see in him every time we are on that river together, the ghost of
how he was when he was just a kid... and wonder if some of those kids are not his friends,
and if they are waiting for him. I wonder if my friend sees the ghosts. Surely he does.
His eyes say that he does. It is not something that we have ever spoken about. I wonder if
they call to him.
Sometimes we ride in the boat through the channels and
around the many corners through the reeds at breakneck speed, trying to catch glimpses of
the River People before they know they are being seen and disappear. We ride and I throw
my head back as the wind blows through my hair and I laugh loudly and from deep within. I
can do that there. It is where I feel free enough. We round a corner and there is another
boat. This one does not disappear. It is really there. The men in it look at me with my
wild eyes and their faces show curiosity, fear, and arousal. Perhaps they wonder if I am
really there, too. Around the next corner though, is a hardened man who is pulling in his
lines of buttercats. He sees us and disappears into thin air. I envy him those buttercats.
The water we ride through in his boat is deep and black.
The fish we pull from its waters are also black. The bass that would normally be bright
and colorful in other waters is as black as night when pulled from the River of Ghosts.
The bluegill, though bigger than any others I have ever seen, are as black as death. The
deep dark waters of the river hold more than the fish. They hold secrets. An alligator
slides silently into the water... a creature out of time itself.
We race on. Through the reeds and cypress trees and
around the corners we go, led only by memory and instinct and the powers of the river that
draw us in. We go onward. There is the old abandoned fish house, only it is not abandoned
at first sight. The docks are still there and new and there is smoke coming from the
woodstove in the kitchen where dinner is being prepared. There are several boats pulled up
to the docks and tied off, a few which have actual motors. As we finish the turn towards
the place, it changes. It is now just an old abandoned wooden structure with several
sunken docks out front.
We ride and we stop and we fish and we see and we hear.
We wonder. What do they think of our shiny boat and graphite flyrods? Do they hear my
laugh carry across the boundaries of time and space? Why do they stay? In a hundred years,
will someone come walking through and see a woman in a big yellow boat riding through, her
head back and the wind blowing through her hair? Will they hear her laugh? Will they
wonder? Will it haunt their souls as it does mine?