Chapters 11-12 Summary
The scene switches back to Swamplandia, where Ava is talking to "Bird Man," a so-called gypsy who dresses in feathers, makes authentic bird calls to a wide variety of different types of swamp birds, and is used by inhabitants of the area to lure away birds of prey such as the vultures that have been plaguing Swamplandia.
After befriending Bird Man, sharing her food with him, and demonstrating her skills with the alligators of Swamplandia, Ava decides to trust the strange man and tells him about Ossie. She shares the details of Ossie's connection with the ghost, Lois, and confesses that Ossie has run away with this ghost to the underworld, where they will be married. Ava then asks for advice as to what she should do to find her sister and bring her back home. She wonders if she should call her father or the park police.
Although Bird Man does not stop her from calling anyone on the mainland, he does dissuade her, telling her that if she relates the story to any normal person, they will probably not believe her and think that both she and Ossie are crazy. If they find Ossie, they will more than likely put her into an institution for people who are suffering from mental illness. Bird Man also informs Ava that if Ossie has indeed entered the underworld, the police would not find her anyway.
Ava asks Bird Man if he knows how to enter the underworld. Bird Man only says that it is a very difficult journey. Ava tells him that she could help him. She is strong from wrestling with the alligators and not afraid of anything. She adds that if he helps her find Ossie, she will find some way to pay him.
Reluctantly, Bird Man gives in. Ava packs as much food as she can carry while Bird Man collects knives, fishing line, and other materials he thinks they might need. Then they set off in his "skiff." They cannot use a motor, so Ava will have to help his row the boat.
During the first three hours of the trip, Ava has many questions. She wants to know how far Bird Man thinks Ossie has gone, whether she might have already made it to the underground, and other questions such as whether he thought Ossie was crazy, none of which Bird Man can answer; for the most part, he ignores them. Further into the journey, Bird Man starts to chant, repeating over and over the word "and." Bird Man tells Ava that this is a "transition song," suggesting that they are getting closer to the opening of the underworld. At first the chanting unnerves Ava. After a while, though, the sound of Bird Man's voice soothes her, and she is tempted to join in and start chanting, too.