When I travel, I usually only have a vague idea of where I’m going. I fill in the specifics as I go along and leave myself open to the possibilities that I might come across some interesting places. I put out of my mind that I might miss something along the way if I don’t plan specifically or research thoroughly. This is the way I like to travel- Wandering taken to a whole new level!
This type of unplanned travel would drive the ordinary person crazy. Fellow travelers have frequently expressed anxiety about this way to travel – most people want to know exactly where they are going to be and for how long. BORING! I must admit that I’ve had some dicey situations, but overall this is an extraordinary way to be surprised every day. My choices are my own; the consequences of those choices, also my own.
With this in mind, I drove south to Mississippi, to a state that I’ve never visited, to a state rich in history; some of that history steeped in racial inequality, and some of that history rising out of the ashes of burning crosses to be reborn in a musical tradition known as the Delta Blues.
I followed the Great River Road from Dyersburg, Tennessee to Greenville, Mississippi, crossing back and forth over the Great River as I meandered south. At times I wasn’t actually able to see it, but I knew it was there and I could feels its’ power as I drove atop narrow, winding levee roads with 30 foot drop offs on either side.
Cotton is still King in Mississippi, as i discovered driving past field after field of whiteness that looked like a sea of snow despite my thermometer telling me that it was 70 degrees outside. Then, the huge bales of cotton appeared in the fields, and on trucks rumbling down the highway with white blizzards in their wakes.
I was definitely in the deep south which gave birth to world renown musicians such as B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke, Charlie Pride, Conway Twitty and Robert Johnson (the man credited with being the Father to the Blues). Also of note are the many famous writers: Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, Ida B. Wells, and of course John Grisham. Mississippi has always been an enigma to me. Mississippi’s history of some of the worst racial injustices has given way to the Mississippi Freedom Trail whose markers reveal the sites where activists spoke, rallied or died in the fight for equality.
I turned east at Greenville, away from the River and headed for Indianola and the B.B. King Museum. I arrived around 1pm and found that the museum was closed. It was the first Monday in November and the start of winter hours. RATS! I was counting on going to the museum and staying overnight in the parking lot as part of my Harvest Host membership. What to do? (Playing fast and loose with reservations became one of my dicey situations). I approached an employee entering the museum and told her my predicament. Then, I sat on a bench outside and started searching on my phone for options.
Within a few minutes, a man came out the front door and said that if I waited a few minutes he would let me inside. I didn’t understand what he was talking about (mostly because of his mask and a little because of the deep southern accent). As it turned out, he opened the museum for me and allowed me to take the self-guided tour all by myself. AWESOME!!
I spent the next 2 hours immersed in the music and life of B.B. King and others who were part of the birth of the Delta Blues. As the sun was setting, I took Gemini for a walk around the lovely little town of Indianola and stopped at the corner where BB first played his guitar as a boy. Riley B. King (B.B.) died in 2015 after a long life as a singer-songwriter (winning 12 grammy awards). He was a legend on the guitar creating new styles by bending the strings. He was also a world traveler and philanthropist. He is buried on the grounds of the museum.
My next stop was in Glendora, a more sobering experience- The Emmett Till Historic Intrepid Center. I stayed overnight under two large trees between the empty lot where the house of one of Emmett’s murderers once lived and the old cotton gin that now houses the museum (which is likely where young Emmett was tortured before his death by lynching). The museum is small but well done. The horror and heartbreak I felt walking through the story of this young man’s short life is indescribable. Laid out on timelines, the faces of our Black brothers and sisters who fought for basic human rights and dignity made me profoundly sad that human beings could treat other human beings with such cruelty.
Mississippi is definitely an enigma. It is a beautiful state with a wide variety of state and National parks beside rivers, in forests, and along 62 miles of coastline on the Gulf of Mexico. The people are genuinely nice, very polite, and welcoming to strangers. It is steeped in history that is both good and bad and is currently in a period of reconciliation- in last November’s election, the people voted to remove the confederate stars and bars from their state flag and replace it with a magnolia flower.
Mississippi is also the birthplace of Kermit the Frog (Jim Henson); does an icon of a more gentle creature exist?
As I turned south again driving on the Natchez Trace and into the Capital River Region, I was treated to some of the most astonishing and mysterious natural features that I have encountered. The backwaters of the Pearl River near Jackson create small lakes and swamps around the LeFleur’s Bluff State Park. Dense Cypress trees standing in shallow water covered with duckweed and water lentils make the water surface look solid until something like an alligator moves through it.
A Great Egret is in her usual place this morning standing on stick legs, stretching her neck in response to prey only she can see; now tucking and darting swiftly, diving her long yellow beak into the water – Nothing. Resume standing. An Anhinga is flapping her wings for almost 10 minutes on a half-submerged log nearby. Anhingas are related to cormorants and pelicans. They have a large wing span and fly like hawks, but most notably, they dive into the water and swim with their long necks above water earning the nickname, “Snake Bird”. They lack oil gland so they have to flap their wings to dry their feathers (and put on quite a show).
The swamp holds many things of beauty as well as things that can kill you, as I found out several days after my arrival and several hiking trips over the trails. I met another hiker who ask me if I had seen the alligator in the pond I had just come from.
What? Alligators in the park?
Just yesterday I had let Gemini cool off in the Pearl River and I had been on my knees close to the water taking a picture of the Cypress knobs. Yikes!
As I said before the swamp holds many creatures that can kill you……..
I got an up close and personal view of some alligators when I stayed overnight at the Gulf Coast Gator Ranch and Sanctuary in Moss Point, Ms. When I was checking in for my air boat ride, Carol, the front desk clerk advised me to be cautious when going out at night to walk my dog.
“The gators like to move from one pond to the other at night and they cross the parking lot where you are staying,” she said in a way too casual tone. She continued to freak me out with, “Just make sure you take a flashlight and check out the area.” YIKES!
Still alive, I headed for the coast and that’s when I started seeing a lot of damage and clean up efforts from the recent hurricane, Zeta that made a direct hit to the Mississippi shoreline. Most impressive was the sailboat that got tossed up on the railing at the Marina in Gulfport.
I stayed along the Gulf Coast for about 3 weeks first at Davis Bayou which is part of the Gulf Island National Seashore, and then at Shepard State Park, both of which had extensive tree damage and trail closures from the hurricane. Both parks were just reopening after clean up efforts.
Hurricane Zeta damage to boardwalk in Davis Bayou and to a fishing pier on the Gulf nearby
Even though I am hundreds of miles from Indiana and feel like a stranger to all I meet, I am amazed at how small the world is. The couple, Ed and Paula, who were camped next to me in Davis Bayou were wearing Notre Dame sweatshirts, and I asked if they were from Indiana. They said that they were from South Bend and Paula had just retired from Notre Dame. I told them that my niece had graduated from Notre Dame and was just featured in a publication from the IDEA center because she started her own company in the middle of the pandemic- 5280 Coffee Co. When they asked me her last name, I was surprised that they knew her father’s family. In fact, they went to church with my niece’s aunt and uncle. A small world indeed!
I now have a choice to make- turn west and go to Louisiana and Texas or turn east to Florida and Georgia? As I was pondering the decision, a fellow camper told me about the Manatees that winter over in Crystal Springs, Florida. Decision made. I”m going to swim with the Manatees in Florida!
Sunsets are spectacular if I pause long enough to really see them
BE SAFE, WEAR A MASK, GO WITH THE FLO!