April 10, 1892 - Day 34


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Dear Martha,

I’m supposed to be drawing pictures of Mrs. Carter for my interview report, but I can’t help myself. I’m drawing the plants and animals we saw in the swamp yesterday. It’s not that I don’t think Mrs. Carter is interesting. It’s just that I saw so many fascinating new animals, I want to sketch them before I forget a single detail. I could draw forever.

Yesterday, while Captain Walsh was telling us about ospreys, eagles, and other birds of prey, which means they are hunters, all of a sudden he stopped, right in the middle of his sentence, and pointed.

He said, “Well, would you look at that! We’ve got company.”

Two darling little brown animals were swimming and doing tricks. They had big brown eyes, whiskers, and long sleek bodies. I was just going to ask what they were when Captain Walsh said, “Otters are usually found in rivers, but this swamp is fed by a river, so they’re using it as a playground. They’re funny little creatures and about as cute an animal as you’ll ever see. But don’t let that fool you. They bite, so keep your distance.”

He pointed to the woody “knees” that jutted out of the water. “Anyone know what these are?” We studied them.

“These are cypress knees. They come from the roots of the cypress trees you see all around here.”

Cypress knees. What a strange term. They looked like the hats of strange little gnomes living under the water. They were everywhere, out in the water and along the banks of the swamp.

All of a sudden, something stung my leg. I slapped at it, but another one bit my arm and another bit me under my chin.

I was not alone. Folks started slapping themselves all around. It’s funny, thinking back on it.

Captain Walsh said, “Mosquitoes! It’s a swarm! They love the swamps. We’ll have to go back. They’re all around us.” Was he ever right! We were surrounded by clouds of mosquitoes, buzzing and biting like crazy. We were slapping and scratching like maniacs as we ran back to the wagons.

I told Mama all about our trip to the swamp because she had to stay home, so Dylan could nap in the wagon. I told her about the otters and the ospreys and the alligators and the cypress knees. Mama made me promise to draw them all for her in my sketchbook, so she can see what they looked like.

Now tonight, I can’t stop scratching. I draw a little, and then stop to scratch. I have lumpy bug bites all over my body. I hope I never see a mosquito again, as long as I live!

I’ve drawn the otters, the osprey, the alligator, and the sleeping snake that scared me. I want to draw the cloud of mosquitoes that surrounded us so suddenly. But I’ve got to stop drawing swamp critters and start my sketches of Mrs. Carter and her herbs. Vexation.

I wonder if she has a cure for itchy mosquito bites.