It had jaws he knew were gorged with poison. This was a cottonmouth, the most dangerous snake in the swamp.
Despite Mama’s warnings, he led Isaiah through the tangy wetlands choked with marsh grasses and vines, through willows half-sunk in slow-moving black water, and past oaks laden with Spanish moss and cypress roots in ghostly morning mist. Down into the bottoms they trekked, inhaling clouds of tiny insects, feeling cold spongy mud between their toes. Among clumps of sphagnum moss and Christmas ferns, he found bay leaves and crushed them so his little brother could savor the sweet aroma.
“Have you thought about what I asked you?”
Joshua Lanier—small, slightly humpbacked, wispy white hair at his temples—tightened his grip on his cane. “I don’t know about that, young fella.” Although aware that the goateed academic in the tan corduroy sport coat and black turtleneck was tonight’s lecturer, Joshua had forgotten his name.
“Come on, Joshua. Everybody’s heard about it. They all want a good look.”
The noted African American folk artist gl…