Tate, the son of a shrimper who lost his mother and sister when he was very young, knows the pain of grief and loss, and in some ways, this helps him to understand Kya. Tate is kind, patient, loving, and attentive to Kya most of her life. From a very young age, he seeks to protect her and teach her. Tate enters into Kya’s world on her terms, much like one would approach a wild animal, rather than trying to force her to act according to the conventions of a society that is foreign to her. For example, rather than wooing her in a traditional manner, he notices her tendency to collect natural items and leaves her shells and feathers. This early, wordless connection fascinates and pleases Kya, who struggles to connect with others because of her time alone in the marsh. In teaching Kya to read, Tate unlocks a world of wonder and understanding for Kya and changes the trajectory of her life. In this way, he also invites her into his world, and they share a love of the natural sciences for the rest of their lives.  

Tate also has a tendency as a young man just starting out on his own in the world to be cowardly. He abandons Kya, though he knows that he is one of the only people she has in her life and that the abandonment parallels her family leaving. Tate succumbs to the narratives of society, placing their prejudice on her, too, believing she could never exist in the “real” world. Though this turns out to be true, in a sense, and Kya never desires to live in town or adapt to society, Tate eventually learns to fully inhabit Kya’s world with her. He moves back and forth between society and Kya’s natural home in the marsh.