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SWAMP LIFE – Day Three: My Wilderness Healthcare Plan

Peaceful sunset

A few days ago, I camped in the swamp. I was alone for five days, with minimal amenities. Was I capable of more than my comfortable norm? Could I live a more heroic life? This is Day Three of that journey.

(Click here for Day One and here for Day Two)

I was really looking forward to today. No hiking, no rainstorms… just restful reflection and productive creativity.

Things were looking brighter on Day Three.

Mourning doves cooed back and forth as I tiptoed barefooted throughout the camp. I cleansed and bandaged the wounds on my heels, toes and the bottoms of my feet. The lumber was still too saturated for a campfire, so I sipped my cold-steeped tea blend as I found my toilet-paper bookmark in Walden.

So much restlessness last night. More verses from screaming frogs, awkward crickets, clickity fiddlers and ol’ Jabba the Gator.

I stopped to ponder how cynical Thoreau tended to be. I hadn’t really noticed it before.

What was with that deer last night? That’s the second time she’s sneaked up to my site around midnight and blasted that passive-aggressive whistle-snort.

I can appreciate Thoreau’s cynicism. Without a Twitter feed to check, I could actually focus on… I could focus on the things…

Does that squirrel EVER stop foraging? Couldn’t he scurry in the straw somewhere else?

Yes, this was the kind of day that made me want to endure all the torture in the first place. Without Facebook, I’d finally have the clarity to rein in my thoughts & write like a champion.

The biting flies really weren’t so bad today. Maybe they’d finally been appeased by my blood sacrifice.

Wow! Look at that painted bunting. How has he not been eaten with that bright plumage?

Alright… Walden.

What Does One Do When the Circumstances are Right?

I really like Thoreau’s one-liners, but he really lingers on those condemnations toward society, doesn’t he? Guess he had to find something to do when he wasn’t building log cabins and strolling through the woods.

I wonder what the view looks like from the observation deck this morning. I mean, it’s just right over there and it wouldn’t take long to check it out.

I took a barefooted stroll down the 100-yard path, focusing on calming my breath as Ruben Habito had recommended in last night’s readings. My exposed foot meat was particularly vulnerable to vipers. As I studied the sandy trail, I found no tracks from my spirit raccoon.

Was he even real?

A few divits in the dirt from grub-hungry armadillos here, and a poorly-concealed acorn under disheveled straw there, but no signs of my new friend.

What gives? Aren’t we supposed to be mystically connected? How could he ditch me like that after such a sacred moment? What should I even call him?

I ambled back to my cloth chair, my knees cracking as I plopped. I sighed.

I’d better get those wet clothes out to dry now that the sun’s out.

Before I could finish Thoreau’s advice on food cellars, I was shuffling across camp and stretching discolored socks over my tent’s rainflap.

And I thought it was hard to climb out of my tent yesterday. This morning’s seized back and itch factory was even worse. If the Red Cross set up shop out here, I’d be turned away for an insufficient blood supply.

I returned to my chair to find it was no longer in the shade. Shifting it over, I sat again, and I found my place on the page.

The unmistakable thrashing of helicopter blades overhead. First, all those training planes, and now this! I probably counted five prop planes already.

Back to the book.

A flock of six white ibises soared overhead. Could’ve sworn it was a copter, though I couldn’t imagine these majestic creatures gliding along to Ride of the Valkyries.

Alright, um… Walden. Fashion’s dumb… food cellar in the shanty…

Heh. Ibises soaring to Ride of the Valkyries. Ibises surfboarding… I love the smell of ibises in the morning…

“It was a pleasant hillside where I worked, covered with pine woods, through—”

Grey bird. It’s hopping headfirst down that pine tree. What is that thing? Looks like a songbird, but man is she mad at him…

Um, “…covered with pine woods, through which I looked out on the… on the pond—”

Man, is that the grey bird making that sound? It really is a bit much. She sure is mad at him…

“covered… pine woods… looked out on the pond, and a small open field in the—”

I really should just turn on my phone to figure out what kind of bird that is. I could focus so much better if I just… huh. Looks a lot like this white-breasted nuthatch. Or maybe a it’s a tufted…

I giggle. Still, I can’t say that name without feeling naughty.

Where’s my paragraph? Let’s see…

I bet it’s a white-breasted nuthatch. Looks a lot like that nuthatch, but she’s so mad at him. I bet I could find out why if I just searched for—

Whoa! I bet that woodpecker could give a piggyback ride to an Ewok. Maybe it’s a pterodactyl. A pterodactyl in the Savage Land.

I scanned the book pages.

What keeps popping in the water? I bet it’s mussels. I could just search real quick…

Ooh. A pistol shrimp. So cool… I bet there’s a better video of it shooting that jet.

A fat-red ant scurried up my leg hair.

Such a cool shrimp. That claw’s like a laser gun. I wonder if they’ve got pistol shrimp in the marsh…

I looked down at my shin.

 I bet the red ants don’t bite. I think that’s the kind that won’t bite. Lemme— Lemme just watch him for awhile and see what he’s up to.

Huh. Barnacles pop in the marsh. I bet there’s a video of them making that popping sound… Maybe not.

Was that another squirrel? If they don’t find somewhere else to forage, I won’t ever get this chapter done.

This chapter. Was I on the left page or the right? I glanced down at my thumbs.

Another ant. Tickles. I bet they’ve got a nest over here somewhere. Maybe they’re the kind that nests in trees. I could probably just — I could figure out that really quickly if I turned my phone back on…

Yeah, they definitely don’t bite. Tickles a little, but I could still…

I opened up Walden for the 75th time, and it dawned on me: Facebook’s not the problem.

Yet Another Self-Diagnosis

Facebook and its social media peers don’t get off scot-free when it comes to my distraction. When I’m not feeding orphaned sand gnats in the marsh, I help clients leverage social media to grow the audience they want. I know the addictive power of its siren song.

But Facebook’s just another tool. So is Google. Or that random page with way too many bird facts for one man to know.

Out here, I could only blame myself for complete and utter distraction. I had to come to terms with it, half-naked and alone. I had nothing else but my naturally flittering brain and the way it processed my surroundings. This brain was with me long before Facebook existed, pondering mortality when I was three, kicking myself for missing the clues that led Mystery Inc. to their suspect.

Even now, at this realization, I felt my brain trailing off, anxious for another thought — ceaseless in its addiction to learning new things or staving off atrophy.

My attention problem — whether a textbook deficit or something else — was an impediment for me right now. It had been that way many times before.

I had to enlist my brain to stop my brain from wandering. Something about that didn’t sound right. That’s like asking a bank robber to watch your shift in the vault while you go grab a smoke. Not the most advisable course of action. There had to be something else I could do. If I could just think –


The squirrel had stopped scurrying. Songbird quarrels were no longer my business. I breathed. In and out. In… and out.

A flash of a rainstorm pelting a clear, steamy poncho.


Yesterday’s landmarks. Squirrel Mill… Whitetail Glen… Give-up Corner.

As my breathing slowed, I invited thoughts, one at a time, when I needed them.

Snakeroot pass.


The innocent smiles of my children.


The twinkle in my wife’s chestnut eyes.


Those chestnut eyes in middle school.


The hurts-so-good flutter upon seeing her for the first time.


The weary-determined staggering of my new raccoon friend.

For now, I’d breathe. The only thing on today’s adjusted agenda was to breathe.

The First Lesson of Life

I focused on my breath for who knows how long. More ants tickled my legs. They crawled across my arms. Not the biting kind, I noted, and I steadily breathed as the tickling sensation faded.

Thoughts dissipated, I got up and did some fishing. I noticed a geocache bin for the first time off the trail. Studying my cork in the water, I breathed. No underwater takers, so I had some no-hassle tuna instead. When the inner monologue started, I breathed and I listened to the trees.

Sitting back down, I began to write in a half-empty journal. (Or was it half-full?) I fleshed out another worksheet for my upcoming Living Heroically 5-Day Challenge, and I breathed. When anxiety crept in, I breathed. Imposter Syndrome began judging my word choice on worksheet two, and I breathed.

For hours, I allowed the anxieties & rogue synapses to surface, and then I drowned them out in the sound of my breath. I wrote nearly all of my 5-Day Challenge documents before sundown. I wondered where the sand gnats had gone. I breathed in, and I jotted down marketing strategies for Holistic Storyteller. I wrote another worksheet, and I brainstormed a few merchandise ideas.


It's funny how the first lesson of a newborn -- how to fill the lungs and cry -- remains essential to a healthy adulthood.

I felt clarity. It’s funny how the first lesson of a newborn — how to fill the lungs and cry — remains so vital, though forgotten, for healthy adults.

Though the clarity was more fleeting than constant, I had found peace when I needed it. That was something. I accepted that breathing alone wouldn’t always fix the problem, but today, it gave me the relief I needed to refocus on what mattered.

As I followed the shade to the other side of the red-ant tree, I treated myself to more library books. I was still alternating books each time I got to the end of a chapter, and the confluence of ideas was refreshing. As I breathed and read — not a deadline in sight — I appreciated Thomas Jefferson’s reverent skepticism while pondering the life of Jesus. I found refreshment in the mysticism Ruben Habito infused into his faith as a Buddhist Christian.

Skepticism & mysticism – such wonderful tools. Two conflicting mindsets, competing for space in an already distractible brain. It’s in this struggle that new thoughts are formed and revolutionary ideas are birthed. With skepticism and mysticism equipped, the human brain can still revere its assumptions while pushing them further into a meaningful & personalized ideology. Beyond any system’s self-serving mandates. Armed with skepticism & mysticism, in fact–

I breathed.

I was doing it again, but my thoughts weren’t the enemy. Simply co-dependent allies in a relationship I couldn’t — and shouldn’t — leave. I just needed to establish some healthy space with my brain.

Finding Peace in the Swamp

As I breathed, I felt gratitude for my flawed & creative brain. I was thankful for so many diverse minds of the past that faced ridicule and rejection for thinking outside of the culture.

I started a fire with the now-dry wood and enjoyed my first warm meal of the week. With less activity that day, I drank less water, and so I treated myself to a one-gallon shower from my camelpack dangling from a pole. (If any of you pilots-in-training read this, I apologize for the distractions my hypo-pigmental glare may’ve caused, and I hope you still earned your license anyway.)

As the sun lowered behind the marsh pines, I saw familiar birds migrating back to their nests. The ibises, the bunting, the nuthatches and at least three different kinds of woodpeckers. I took time to experience each one’s presence before moving on to the next. It felt right to take time.

Peaceful sunset

It was only when I faced my anxieties head-on, and I banished them individually, that I found reprieve from the endless thoughts.

I sat still and aware for longer than I had ever done before. My midnight nemesis crept up on the other side of the bank, flickering her white tail as she found my gaze. She seemed satisfied with this, and she moved along, never to snort at me again.

That night, I slept deeply and soundly. Not a single sand gnat attacked once I was nestled in. The weather that had boosted my Vitamin D and seared my feet a few hours prior was now in the 50s. I enjoyed the sweat-free slumber. Today had been a good day.

I needed this mental break, it turns out — especially since tomorrow would end up as the most gut-wrenching day of my entire time in the swamp.

Tune in tomorrow to read about Day Four: The Ominous Stench of Death


(Check out yesterday’s post here. Day One’s post can be found here.)


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About the Author Mark Ezra Stokes

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