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Swamp Things

When I was a boy, we read comic books. They cost about a dime. Titles like “Avengers”, “Fantastic Four”, “Two Gun Kid”, “Ghost Rider”, “The Incredible Hulk”(of course), & Sgt. Rock.

One of my personal favorites was “Swamp Thing”. “Swamp Thing” was this mangled, disfigured, moss covered monster. Outcast by society, he took refuge in a swamp.

As I recall, his superpowers were super strength, talking to plants, and being genetically half plant, half man. He could regenerate when injured, like a plant, only faster. He got that way when some mad scientist experiment went tragically awry.

Occasionally, he would emerge from the swamp, rescue some human from peril, and then retreat to his lair.

Cancer is like that. Some mad scientist experiment gone tragically awry. Leaving victims disfigured, social outcasts, often roaming alone in a swamp.

My brother Ray and I grew up in Saranac Lake, in a stone house on the river, near the Pine Street bridge. There was a swamp out back. We played there a lot. There’s lots of cool stuff kids can find in a swamp. There’s also lost of really thick, stinky muck. And a healthy spanking from Mom at the other end when two boys traipse all that gunk through the house.

The Saranac River
As viewed from the Pine Street Bridge
Full of “Swamp Things”
Our boyhood playground

I played a trick on Ray once, when he was about seven. I was nine. I hid in my room and wrote a letter, to him, from the Swamp Monster, threatening to capture and eat him if he went back in the swamp. I put it in an envelope, took it down to the swamp, smeared it in muck, dropped it on his bed.

“Why?” I don’t know. Because I’m his big brother. That’s what big brothers do! I know one thing for sure. I had that swamp to myself for quite a while after that!

My next swamp experience was with my dad. Enter “Kelly’s Slough”. We hunted ducks on the river between Lower and Middle Saranac Lakes, jump shooting from our canoe.

The Slough is a big drainage/beaver dam swamp off the river just above the lower lake. It’s big enough to appear, named, on many area maps.

I learned an important lesson slogging that slough on those hunts:

“If you bag a duck in a swamp- you’d better find it fast, or you are gonna spend the rest of your afternoon looking for it, mired waist deep in some pretty foul muck!”

While in college, I spent two summers on the DEC trail crew working the Mount Marcy region of the Adirondack High Peaks. Our crew pretty much lived in a swamp. We used ax and bow saw to clear blow down, fell cedars, crafting water bars and bridges.

THAT was OUR superpower. Making high peaks trails navigable for others. A CREW of “Swamp Things!” We smelled like it too!

***Flash Forward***

“Ranger School, Florida Phase, those who’ve been there, know what I mean.”

I didn’t coin that phrase. I think Kris Kristofferson, singer/actor, did. I read it in an interview he did for Reader’s Digest at some point. He’s tabbed. He served.

I discovered for myself what he meant on my own Black & Gold quest. Mine was a winter class, ’89. The high-water mark stood out on Spanish moss-covered cypress trees as we learned to patrol & fight through thick swamp. All the while keeping sharp lookout for ‘gators and snakes.

It was there that my Ranger Instructors ingrained in me the life lesson that I have never forgotten:

“Beneath Flowing water, lies firm ground.”

When mired in a swamp, find the flow, beneath the flow, you will find firmer footing, and eventually- your way out of the swamp.

Works for mental swamps too. That lesson sure came in handy later on, when cancer had me surrounded, cut off, lost deep in a swamp.

When my Doc said “I’m sorry. There’s nothing more we can do. It’s time to call hospice.” Over 15 years ago now. I’m still counting.

So, for those of you feeling like Swamp Things,

facing cancer or adversity,

mired & lost deep in some swamp:

Channel your Superpower!

Find the Flow!

Keep moving!

Work your way out of the swamp.


Until our trails cross again:

“Beneath Flowing Water Lies Firm Ground”

May your feet find firm footing.