Along the Natchez Trace (Day Two)
Along the Natchez Trace (Day Four)

Along the Natchez Trace (Day Three)

A tunnel cuts into this greenness 
Under the roof of this wild place 
Down into the heart of darkness 
Along the Natchez Trace

There is no way to fill the silence 
Measure the lateness of this age 
But for the turning of the seasons 
Along the Natchez Trace

Oh, Mississippi 
Show your hand, I'll
Read your fortune and your fate
Oh, Mississippi
I'll trace your lifeline
Along the Natchez Trace

The journey is forever lonely
Each step a slow and measured pace 
Always mindful of the bandits who wait 
Along the Natchez Trace

Oh, Mississippi
I'd like to know you
But you will not show your face 
Lost in a dream state
Some still wander
Along the Natchez Trace

There is no way to fill the silence 
Measure the lateness of this age 
But for the turning of the seasons 
Along the Natchez Trace

(“Natchez Trace,” from Chase the Buffalo, by Pierce Pettis)

About twenty miles north of Jackson, there is a turnoff for Cypress Swamp. We take it. Leaving the car, we step carefully down a hill, down to a bridge that crosses shallow water filled on both sides with ancient bald cypress, the trunks of which splay out as they near the water, trunks that seem like twisted vines, wrapped together for encouragement. Above, their canopy needles the sky. Interspersed among them are the tupelo, a hardwood, their leaves softening a sharp blue sky. I read that the Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto would have passed some that still live, and so we are hushed, listening, as if something important might be missed.

If I wore a hat, I would take it off to them. I don't, so I stretched out my hand and rested it on one cypress's sinewy bark, an acknowledgment of age, perhaps, or kinship, a help to self-forgetfulness. That this tree would stand here in silence all these centuries, see the turning of the seasons, while we come and go, renders me small, a child among elders.

Later, I put both hands on a pine tree, a soaring giant whose diameter at base must have been two to three feet. Unlike the cypress, it's bark was like armour, plate upon plate, mottled and crisp. Touching it brought me back to the pines of my backyard that real when the wind blows, awkward and gangly compared to this giant. Later, picking up a stick and swishing it in the air as I walked, I was following my grandmother again, through the woods to visit her friend, while she swishes a branch in front of her. I picked up a leaf, crumpled it in my hands, and remembered pressing leaves between wax paper during kindergarten.

I touch things as a way of knowing them and, perhaps, as a way of remembering. I don't think they have souls, but there is a way in which they speak. Creation is not silent. Even rocks cry out.

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Mississippi is dark. We prowled around Jackson last night in what seemed a room with the lights dimmed, squinting to make out details, to find Anjou, a recommended French restaurant. It was 6:00 and seemed like midnight, like everyone had gone to bed and turned out the lights. I wondered if it was just me and my failing eyes or something else. 

So I googled it. Of course. I got an earful, well, eyeful,about LED lights, low energy and dim. Most of the complaints were about Marxist, socialist city councils, at least the ones I can repeat. 

We crept back to the hotel under the cover of darkness. Had I a flashlight, I would have held it out the window to light our way in the darkness of Mississippi, along a Trace with no moon.

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We are sensual creatures, so things like ambient lighting or touch make a difference, even though we don't always know enough to articulate how they impact us. In a book I am reading called Stuff Matters, materials scientist Mark Miodownik explores the psychophysical aspects of materials, that is, why the way they feel or sound has such an effect on our experience of them. And yet, he recognizes that we can't live in such a way as to be attuned to their impact all the time. He rightly says that “Most of the time we ignore them. We have to: we would be treated as lunatics if we spent the whole time running our fingers down a concrete wall and sighing.” Or touching trees. I'll stop talking about that. I'll stop being that guy.

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From Jackson to Tupelo, the Trace unfolds on a beautiful ordinariness. Gentle curves, slight rises, hayfields newly mown, here and there a farmhouse set back off the road shyly reminding us that in most places the roads has no more than 800 feet of right of way, that what we mostly see is private land kept rural by cooperative agreements, easements, and economics. Mostly it is, after all farmland, not ripe for subdivisions.

Today was a long drive, but it was musical, like a dance through wood and meadow, serenaded by the songs of Alabaman Pierce Pettis. We listened to his Chase the Buffalo at least three times, and yet my wife said she didn't tire of it. At dinner, I said, as we often say, “What was your favorite thing today?” She said, “Driving.” Just that.  Well, maybe she added "with you."

At one point, we exited the road and walked a bit of the Old Trace, perhaps a lane wide, its surface tread by thousands upon thousands of feet and hooves. I walked until it simply vanished in a tangle of trees and scrub, indiscernible. Lost. I wished it back.

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