Cult Illustration #39, ball point pen on paper, 11" x 8.5"


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.







Ms. X was fond of taking a day off between her subbing assignments to recharge, as it were, by going on walks in the wilderness. If she had calculated it correctly, she would have known that the days she spent on her blissful adventures were more numerous than those in the classroom. She would set off just at sunrise, after slathering her body with her homemade insect repellents which were mixtures of concentrated oils, like neem and citronella, tea tree, cedarwood, eucalyptus, peppermint, and lemon. She would don tall rubber boots and carry her hand made walking stick, a cloth bag containing wildflower books, water, and a small leather pouch holding her sacred dried herbs for offerings. Near her cabin, was the Black Branch Lagoon, a conservation area that appeared to be off limits to the public. At the dead end of a gravel road, a mashed-grass entryway could be seen, if you looked properly. It was  made by the traversing of Department of Wildlife trucks. It would seem to Ms. X that the workers were hiding out, pretending to do something in the lagoon. Signs on tall pines were posted, saying keep out by order of the Sheriff and “no hunting”. Ms. X would slide through this corridor always undetected, as if slipping through another dimension. She would give an offering of fragrant Spotted Bee Balm (Monarda punctata), Rosemary, and Lavender to the Ancestors and she would ask for their protection while in the wood. A popular plant of the Seminoles, Timucua,  and Cherokee tribes, Monarda punctata leaves are brewed to make a savory tea, while the Rosemary and Lavender are European favorites. All three grew well in Ms. X's garden.






The sandy pathway was the only clearing in the lagoon. It was wide and sunken and twisted through the reserve, like a stream bed, sometimes crossing another trough like path. All around was a glorified mound of green unless you looked at it the way Ms. X looked at it, in parcels and patches and then again in minutia. There were the Slash Pine groves, grown in perfect rows. They were a remnant of the turpentine industry. Palmetto, Holly, ferns, grasses, and wildflowers filled in the spaces, the raw ingredients that made medicines and baskets, and thatch, and even food for the people who lived here so many years ago. Further on, stands of Live Oak grew thick and made the area dark and cool, their branches craggy and cumbersome, twisting overhead. Further still, Cabbage Palms on long smooth tubular trunks gave the illusion of giant primordial flowers. Loblolly Bay with its fragrant white flowers dotted the spaces that opened into meadows of Hypericum, commonly known as St. John’s Wort.  Ms. X mused about these plants, their brief faddish use in the supplement industry as antidepressants. Ms. X also knew that if the vexed person were to walk through this corridor, on a regular basis, they would be cured naturally.




Ms. X could remember where the wild Blueberry bushes thrived, and the Deerberry with its little white bell like flowers that become purple tinted berries in Fall. Depending on the season, she could snack on blackberries or ground cherries or the tiny magenta pink drops of Beauty Berry. She could recall, by sight, where the rare Scarlet Hibiscus might make an appearance, its flowers 8 inches across! Like giant blood-red stars, they shine for only a day and then wither in the night. Its leaves resemble those of Marijuana, spindly and toothed at the edges but the drug is conveyed through sight only, a tingly high all the same.





Spring and summer rains would fill the pathways, creating long sinuous ephemeral ponds fringed with water plants like Arrow Head, its large deftly pointed leaves shooting from stalks in the mud. Its spindles of pretty white flowers looked out at the world, sideways from their post. She could also find stands of Wild Yellow Canna, queenly and tall and joyfully gold and green, or Pickerel with its purple jeweled panicles. Ms. X perceived in these places, altars to fresh water deities, so exquisite were their reflections, and so vivid were their colors. She would give offerings by crumbling the herbs between her finger tips, letting them fall to the surface of the water. Bringing her fingers to her nose, she would breathe in the fragrance of her gift to the goddesses. Then she would traverse at the edges while holding unto Sea Myrtle saplings, alternately tapping the shores and waters with her stick to scare off any poisonous water loving snakes. Some ponds were too deep and too long, and Ms. X would retrace her steps back to a cross path and take another route to explore a new area.













    She heard the drumming of woodpeckers, the screech of the Red-tailed Hawk, the hoot of some kind of owl hidden in the trees. Once when the sandy path was just damp enough to accept perfect impressions, she made a game of identifying animal and bird tracks. Astonished, she spotted those of the rare Bobcat. They are solitary animals, highly secretive, and aware of all that goes on in their territory, none of the other animals escape their knowing gaze. But play is important to cats, even when they live alone, hence their proclivity for toying with their prey before devouring it. Understanding this deep need for play, Ms. X was inspired to take sprigs of catnip into the wood on her treks, as a gift to the beautiful predators.

    In dry spells the pond paths would completely evaporate and she was allowed to hike into the wilderness until she came to a far away place, deep in the wood. A bend in the path preceded a large damp basin, dotted with puddles. So rich and black was the mud there that it reminded her of Midwestern soil. The plants and trees were healthy, growing into giants and so thick they created a cave of green around the black basin. In this place a small grove of native Long-leaved Pines grew, majestically, towering around the perimeter. The Long-leaved Pine is a very special tree. Before Florida was settled, it covered the state, creating a unique habitat commensurate with a rain forest. Now the sacred pine is found sporadically, in huddled patches, living a protected life. Here around the dark basin, the bits and pieces of native botany mingled, making an integrated whole with Larch and Magnolia and the smaller trees, Dahoon Holly and Button Bush. It was peculiar for her to see the Magnolia growing wild, woven into the woods. In Illinois, their species were strictly ornamental, highly coveted, and invested with great power as the first trees to bloom in Spring. And woe to the owner whose buds succumbed to a freeze, destroying their celestially perfumed flowers. Likewise, the Holly plant, one version, a facsimile in plastic, is a Christmas relic for northerners. There are 11 species of wild Holly in Florida, with evergreen leaves, pointed or oval and berries from black, to orange, to typical red. They grow to be small trees or large shrubs like Gallberry, with its dainty white nectar rich flowers, which bees use to make ambrosia flavored honey. This woodland was impregnated with such beauty, Ms. X liked to call it a living, breathing network of art, a masterpiece beyond the imaginative capabilities of the human mind. If one could mimic it at all, it was through the imagination of healing, self-organized healing, the kind that most people have been trained out of completely. She liked to think that the reason people were destroying the beauty of the earth was because of their deep jealousy of its original power and immortality. It was magic. And if one thought about it long enough, and deep enough, it would be clear that people are just as much a part of this magic as the Long-leaved pine.

    Ms. X always felt a little uncomfortable in this particular womb-like place, like someone or something were watching her. It smelled sacred and dangerous, like the altar of an ancient maternal deity, the one that holds her twin babes close, but one is positioned head up on her breast and the other is head down on her back. There were always surprises in this place, like the time she came around the bend and nearly stumbled over a Giant Blue Heron that was fishing in the puddled basin. It took flight immediately, sideways through the cave, the breath of its wings on her face.The shy creatures, though giants in the bird realm, do not like people disturbing them, let alone staring at them. It detracts from their own stare at the water, hunting fish and frogs. There is no confusion for them with a gaze, they know what it portends.

    On one of her special days off, Ms. X was able to penetrate the wilderness in a rare dry spring and as she rounded the bend, tasting something deathlike in the air, she found wide black puddles writhing and squirming with life. She thought it would be tadpoles and she moved in and stooped to get a closer look. Water Skeeters, large black predatory insects with long legs were lush on the surface, propelling themselves around by creating tiny hemispherical vortices in the water.  A buzzing sound caught her attention and she turned her head slightly to see a Pygmy Rattler, small but the most aggressive of Florida’s venomous snakes. It stared at her from the edge of the puddle frozen, head up. She backed off, moving slowly while eyeing the snake. Carefully she moved along the opposite edge of the water, preferring to pass through the green cave rather than turn back to face the snake but her left foot sunk into mud hole, engulfing her calf. Instinctively, she shifted her weight releasing her foot from the boot, then balancing briefly, she gracefully folded to solid ground. The snake, not far, was still watching her. Miraculously, it stayed put, watching but ready. Ms. X crawled away, shimmying over the mud like a Skeeter over water.

    Trudging back without her boot was not so bad because most of the path had a sandy surface to pad along. The sand was hot and white and beautiful. Ms. X loved the sensation and the way it looked. She remembered the same sort of sand on the road out at the Foundation's Concealment. It was also less traveled, but for weekends, when ceremonies were held. When she was alone out there she used to walk the half mile out to the so-called main road which was slightly wider and filled with gravel.  It would become a slippery, gullied mess in the downpours, passable only by truck. The mailbox was located on the main road and even if it rarely held her mail, it seemed a bridge to her former life.

    Once making the trip on the sandy driveway, she spied something hopping fitfully toward her. Curious, she hastened to be near it, for what kind of wild creature wanted to run, even haphazardly, to greet a human? She found herself confronted with a large mottled toad, bouncing like a bronco, trying to throw off a huge black beetle with long black pincers, digging methodically into its neck. The soft one flopped along, clearly miserable but not yet ready to die. It didn’t care what sort of path it took or what kind of obstacles it met because the source of its terror was clinging to its back. Ms. X watched sympathetically, wondering if she should intervene in nature’s process, maybe help the toad by tearing the menace off. She hesitated with this wonder and with the amazed conclusion that Florida was a state of opposites. The toad should be swallowing the insect, she decided, but in Florida the insects swallow the toads.

    At the time, Ms. X thought about what the wife would do in this situation. The wife liked to grab at animals, especially when she had her audience of pupils. Wild creatures, caught in vulnerable states were the object of her discordant tutorials. She was often bitten by things like an injured hawk or she would try to assist something like a turtle on its way to hibernation and would be lacerated by its claw. Ms. X conjectured that she was so skilled at handling and sacrificing farm animals that she took that aura of privilege into the realm of the untamed. This did not seem to be a good idea to Ms. X, but regardless, she knew the wife was protected by the huge volume of animals she sacrificed. Most of the clients thought the wife an extraordinary priest woman with special powers that let her drive out one of the most lethal of untamed energies, death’s failures, the spirits of the unsuccessful dead who would attach themselves to certain individuals or places. But Ms. X learned from experience that it was not such a special art and that anyone could do it if they knew what they were dealing with and did not fear the energy. Driving out Witches or negative energy was another performance the wife took pleasure in showing off but Ms. X knew that this too was one of the more simple things. Living well with one’s spouse and children was far more difficult.

    The wife was an expert with the knife, and she used it more often then, than the Guru who preferred to stay at home while the killing took place. He usually arrived, with great pomp, after the food was served or just in time to perform the divination rites. Even though he had instructed his wife for years on the art of divination he would not allow her to actually do it while in the presence of his audience. This was a rite reserved for the most prestigious and wise. In like fashion the wife would not allow Ms. X to divine while in her presence. There was a time when the wife sustained a hand injury that impeded her ability to cast the paraphernalia properly but she would suck up the pain no matter how excruciating rather than turn the honor over to Ms. X.

    When there was an attractive male client among the group, especially one that was well built with a set of dark eyes, the kind the wife liked, the Guru would spend most of the day at the Concealment monitoring the ceremonies, hobbling from garden to garden or reclining in the air conditioned house. Ms. X knew that this was not necessary, for the wife was too frightened of him to ever go through with it.

    The wife’s handmade idols were another source of wildness that sometimes went awry. The statues she made for clients, with their porcupine quills and other sharp projections were tripped over, grazing the wife and she would bleed, almost like a sacrifice but still she soldiered on, limping with great enthusiasm for the betterment of her charges.

    Now Ms. X knew about animal totems and that they had messages to impart and she knew that everyone receives these messages, they just don’t have the patience, or perhaps the mental energy to ponder them and figure out their meaning. It might be revealed right away if one is open to the truth, but it might also take a year or more if one’s judgment is blurred. She remembered telling the Guru the story of the beetle riding the toad, and how he just chuckled. She never would have mentioned it in public but she thought he had the wisdom to solve the riddle. She thought he might offer her a parable, or a scientific explanation, at least, but no. Now, years after the event, Ms. X understood, there are no contradictions in nature. She was the toad.



© 2017 Lea Atiq, all rights reserved