Summary: Chapters 18–21

Chapter 18 (1960)

Tate takes Kya out in his boat to a secluded bay. He wishes her a happy 15th birthday and gives her a store-made cake and presents. It is the first time someone wished her happy birthday since Ma left. The gifts are a magnifying glass, a barrette, and art supplies. Later, Tate’s dad Scupper tells him he has heard rumors about Tate and Kya and warns him not to get her pregnant. Scupper tells Tate he is proud of him for getting into college. 

Before Christmas, Tate gives Kya a dictionary with natural objects hidden in the pages by their entries. He returns the day after Christmas with a leftover turkey dinner and Kya gives him a gift of cardinal feathers. Their desire for each other grows.

Walking on an early spring day, Kya and Tate see a white bullfrog, then move into the brush where they undress and almost have sex but stop themselves. Tate tells her that he loves her and wants her forever. In May, Tate tells Kya he is going to college in the summer to work in a biology lab. He says he will come back to her. When he has to leave even earlier, Tate tells Kya he will return for a visit on the 4th of July.

Chapter 19 (1969)

Eight days after finding Chase Andrews’s body, Joe tells Ed there is a rumor that for four years Chase was having an affair with a woman in the marsh. Ed tells Joe that Chase’s mother Patti Love is coming by to tell them about a shell necklace Chase wore connected to the case. 

Chapter 20 (1961)

July 4th weekend, Kya waits but Tate never comes. She watches the fireflies and realizes that the female flickers her light in a pattern to attract a male from her species. After mating, she changes the pattern to attract a male from another species, whom she kills and eats. 

Chapter 21 (1961)

Kya doesn’t go to town or into the marsh for a month, devastated that Tate has abandoned her. A Cooper’s hawk lands on her porch and Kya reengages with the marsh. She withdraws from the human world but continues to study nature, build her collection, and paint. Her loneliness is worse than it has ever been.

Chapters 18–21

For a time, Tate embodies stability for Kya and a human connection she has never had. His gifts for her 15th birthday are all a nod to her interests. The barrette hearkens back to her mother's periodic and enjoyable dress-ups of her daughters as well as Kya's ongoing work to keep her mother's memory alive. The magnifying glass and painting supplies are a tribute to Kya's fascination with and ability to capture the myriad life forms throughout the marsh. It is an acknowledgement that her closeness to the marsh is worth capturing and communicating, both for herself and, eventually, to others. Tate’s gifts demonstrate that he sees Kya in a way no one else can. He himself acts as a bridge between the world of people and the world of the marsh. If it weren't for Tate's involvement in her life, Kya would not have the access she has to the tools by which she can forge her own path and exhibit her potential.

Tate's departure is a devastating blow to Kya's ability to both trust people close to her and engage meaningfully with society. After he leaves, Kya enters a kind of depressive hibernation. Like an injured animal, she has hidden away from everything that might take advantage of her wounded state. As always, it is nature that pulls Kya back to herself and allows her to function, even if the loneliness remains. Kya accepts the unavoidable fact that humans are necessarily removed from the natural world. It can provide safety, but nature is not nurturing. Rather, it is beautiful, hard, and often cruel; it cannot love her back. By reliving the trauma of being abandoned by her family, Kya resets to the most base, animalistic version of herself. She will continue to survive, but she will not thrive. The tug of biology and its insistence on existence will ensure she remains a functioning mammal, if not much else.