Date: May 6, 2009 6:31 PM
We pulled out of Louisiana so stuffed with crawfish, oysters, beignets, and pralines that I have serious doubt of being able to get into my blue jeans now. We made it to the Natchez Trace Parkway slogging through even more rain. The Trace is over four hundred miles long, a non commercial highway with a 50 mph speed limit and no trucks or billboards.
It began as a buffalo trail, then an Indian trading path, and finally in the 1800s a road for Northerners such as Kaintucks and Tennesseans to return home after poling their crops down the Mississippi on rafts. It stretches from Natchez, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee, and its hardwood and bottomland forests were rife with robbers and murderers in the old days.
Even today the dense forest looks intimidating and it isn’t hard to imagine Daniel Boone, Andrew Jackson, even Hernando de Soto riding their horses up the Trace. It is still a raw land unencumbered with modernity. Before we had hit mile 51 we saw the most incredible sight - an great American bald eagle. I have seen eagles before in Kodiak, Alaska, and out in the southwestern canyon lands, but nothing like this one. It was enormous with a white head and feet, or claws, I guess. He was hunkered over a small carcass and swooped off majestically as we passed by gape-mouthed at the wing span.
Buzzards are prevalent as well as there is no end to the fresh supply of road kill comprised of rabbits and oppossum. Throughout the whole trace we encountered wild turkeys, blue heron, and best of all the red birds. I haven’t seen them in seven years out west. Guess they don’t get that far. My sister and I consider redbirds signs of our mother, who loved them so much. “They don’t mix with the other birds; they keep to themselves,” she always claimed.
So as reluctant as I am to return to Tennessee the little redbirds tell me, “It’s gonna be alright.” The trees, so tall, hard, and erect, remind me of the Church of Christ deacons, looking down on my 15-year-old self, judging me, criticizing. But before long the whole scene turned to a green French voile tapestry. The trees patterned until they became aristocrats with curly wigs piled high on their heads, toes extended, turned just right, pirouetting, bowing.
But I am intimidated a little bit to go home. The south did me no favors. Yes, it made me the woman I am, but I am forged from tears and pain, not joy. Forged from struggle not allowance. I honestly believe there is too much blood in the soil of the south. Too much pain has been gleaned from the backs of slaves, from downtrodden poor. Out west it is so clean, so open, so pure. Just pour your self out in the red sunset. I don’t look forward to this trip, but I will go.
We camped about 100 miles south of Tupelo, Georgia, birthplace of Elvis. The bullfrogs are deafening out in the tupelo, bald-cypress swamp. It rains and rains. We are so pleased that our new van is water tight. We sleep uptop now regardless of the weather.
Next morning we just went for it and plowed on down the highway to Nashville. Last night we slept at Joe’s brother’s home. They haven’t seen each other in seven years.