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Mystery of the Marsh


A coming of age story, a tale of the mystery of the marsh on the family farm in Wisconsin. As the sun sank below the far horizon, the boy walked out of the long driveway lined with tall Chinese elms and walked down the winding road toward the old place.  His ancestors had settled there nearly a hundred years before. On a gentle hill sloping to the marsh, they had built their house. They and their descendents had farmed the land. On the day of his thirteenth birthday, not knowing what the future might hold, the boy began what would be a year away from his family, exploring the lessons that the marsh had to teach.

1) As the early morning sun rose over the eastern hill, the boy slowly opened his eyes. He was about to begin a journey that would take him through the changing of seasons in the marsh. He would meet strange creatures along the way, and there would be a voice coming from deep within the marsh. The boy was ready for the adventures of a lifetime.

2) Looking into the water, the boy saw his own reflection. The voice in the marsh said, “You will have experiences that will bring you face to face with what is true. To know the marsh and all that is in it you must experience the mystery of the marsh.”

3) The boy was learning to pay attention and to see the immediate and diverse things of this earth. He was learning that the meaning of life is to be found not in something far away but in what is very near. The voice in the marsh was saying, “All that exists is in constant change and is always in the process of becoming something else.” After a long silence, the boy said, “I too am changing into something else.” In the late summer afternoon, the boy rested on the hill that sloped to the marsh. He looked into the large white clouds that passed overhead and knew that he was an intimate part of the world.

4) The boy had grown to love the marsh and all its creatures and living things. In the years of travel that would follow, what he had learned here would serve him well. He would say for rest of his life, “I am a part of the mystery of the marsh.”



Richard Quinney Richard Quinney has documented the course of a life in books that combines the everyday world of experience with the transcendent dimension of human existence. Chronologically, these works include Journey to a Far Place, For the Time Being, Where Yet the Sweet Birds Sing, Once Again the Wonder, and A Lifetime Burning. His years of photographing, with similar meditative attention, are illustrated in his books Things Once Seen, Once upon an Island, A Sense Sublime, and Diary of a Camera. He is the founder of the independent press Borderland Books. His life and work are grounded in the generations of family farming in Wisconsin. He has had a career as a professor of sociology in American universities.

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Of Related Interest


A Lifetime Burning

Mystery of the Marsh
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September 2016
LC: 2016900055
36 pp. 4 ½ x 7 ¼

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Cloth $20.00
ISBN 978-0-9965052-4-6
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