Summary: Chapters 3–5

Chapter 3 (1969)

Two boys, Benji and Steve, who discover Chase Andrews’ body, ride their bikes to get the sheriff. Usually Sheriff Ed Jackson of Barkley Cove doesn’t bother with crimes in the marsh or swamp, but Chase Andrews is a well-known local man and a former high school star quarterback. Ed, the town doctor Vern Murphy, and the boys return to the scene. There are no footprints at the scene and the men can’t figure out whether Chase fell accidentally or was pushed to his death. 

Chapter 4 (1952)

Mrs. Culpepper, the local truant officer, comes to take Kya to school, calling her by her real name, Catherine Danielle Clark. Kya wants to learn and get the free lunch. At school, Kya is assigned to second grade, but the school secretary says that “swamp children” never attend school for long. In class, Kya is humiliated when she spells “dog” “G-O-D.” At lunch, she is too nervous to eat. She makes it through the day despite constant teasing, but Kya never returns to school. One day, Kya steps on a rusty nail and is afraid she will get lockjaw. She treats her foot as Ma would, soaking it in salty marsh water and encasing it in mud. Kya begins to see the marsh as her mother, comforting and healing her.

Chapter 5 (1969)

Sheriff Ed and his deputy Joe Perdue explore the scene of Chase Andrews’s death. They see Chase fell or was pushed through an open gate at the top of the tower. Chase, though married, is known to have had affairs, and Ed and Joe speculate he might have been murdered by a jealous husband or someone to whom Chase owed money. 

Analysis: Chapters 3–5 

The fire tower is introduced as an important symbol. Situated in the marsh, but also sitting high above it and abandoned, the tower serves as a crucial spot for the relationship between Kya and Chase. It will serve as the setting for an important emotional moment in the pair's relationship along with the scene of Chase's death. That it stands abandoned and is considered dangerous by those in town is an important symbolic concern, related to both the coming together as well as the necessary separateness of the marsh's avatar Kya and the town's avatar Chase. Like the two characters, the fire tower represents the two worlds of the town and the marsh and an attempt to wrest some control over nature, even as it seems as though any effort to do so will ultimately fail.

Chase is a character that symbolizes the split between nature and culture, as well as the bifurcated construction of the book. The sheriff and his deputy, Joe, demonstrate this split in their conversation. Ed believes in the story of Chase as golden-boy and favorite son of the town. Joe points out Chase's ongoing interest in other people's wives and girlfriends, even after his marriage. This split will echo the way Kya perceives Chase as they age, leading to happiness and then disillusionment. Chase's missing footprints after his death suggests that his presence in the marsh has been erased. This absence of footprints causes confusion on the part of the investigating officers, but the text suggests that their lack is not only literal, but symbolic.

Kya's dedicates herself to building a life in the marsh. Her decision not to return to school cements her split with the town; she will never again voluntarily spend time in Barkley Cove. On her own, she is intent on learning what nature can teach her. Even after injuring herself, she does not avail herself of medical treatment. Rather, she remembers her mother once used what could be found in the marsh to treat injuries and ailments. After Kya heals, there is a small thrill of triumph, but this victory is offset by her father's months-long absence. Kya settles into the solitary life she will embrace going forward, compartmentalizing loneliness and allowing nature to nurture her.