Tag Archives: Mississippi

Wild Magnolias

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My friends and I were on an epic road trip to see Lou partway home.

Lou was in her car heading to Ohio to decide on her next move. Shortly before we left town, a friend of a friend said he wanted to go to the Midwest too, so Lou had agreed to take him on as a passenger.

Sheff and I and his dog Wednesday were in his car. Sheff did all the driving because I didn’t know how. I read aloud an article about glaciers to keep us both awake during the hottest part of the day.

Our first stop was in New Orleans, where we spent a few days crashing at the home of our sweet friend Kel. If she was surprised by a virtual stranger among us, she didn’t let it interfere with her hospitality.

It was the same with my former neighbor when the four of us went to her apartment for Cajun cooking. Of course, the neighbor had never met any of these friends, so she didn’t know who was close and whom I barely knew.

Our next stop was Mississippi. We spent a night at a state park. As was our habit, we didnt set up tents. Instead, we lay our sleeping bags on tarps and looked up at the stars until we fell asleep. It rained a little in the early morning, and, wanting to stay dry, I scrunched myself into the tiny back seat of Sheff’s compact car.  When I woke up again, the rain had stopped, but my muscles were kinked, and I felt grumpy and disoriented. Sheff handed me a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap and suggested I wash my face with it.

Nothing’s so bad that Dr. Bronner’s peppermint and a clean face can’t help, he told me. He was right. It’s a lesson I haven’t forgotten. Dr. Bronner and his peppermint soap have cheered me many times.

We drove for a couple more hours, then stopped for lunch at a Japanese restaurant. The interior of the restaurant was clean and cool, and the food was delicious. Still, I felt sad because I knew when the meal was over, I’d say good-bye to Lou. I had no idea when–or if–I’d see her again.

We parted ways in the parking lot amidst hugs and tears. I didn’t think even Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap could mend the hole in my heart my friend’s absence was already causing.

Sheff and I journeyed on to the De Soto National Forest for a couple days of camping. I’d never been there before. I don’t think Sheff had either.

I wasn’t much of a hiker and backcountry camper (I’m still not), but I was basically along for the ride and willing to join in on whatever Sheff wanted to do. I followed him out into the forest, even though I was wearing a tiny dress and inappropriate shoes.

During our second day of camping, Sheff went on a long hike with his dog, and I chose to stay behind with the tent. Our whole time in the forest seems like a dream now, so many years later. Brief memories of the time flash through my mind when I try to remember those days.

Flash! I’m sitting against a tree, writing in my journal when an armadillo comes crashing into our camp. While we are surprised to see each other, the critter doesn’t seem scared of me and ambles away.

Flash! I’ve taken off my clothes, and I’m stretched out in a shallow, muddy, barely flowing body of water. The cool water feels good on my sweaty skin, but I worry someone will come along and see my nakedness. I slip my dress over my head and go back to camp.

Flash! Sheff is back and making dinner. I’m impressed by the way he can cook on his tiny backpacking stove.

Flash! It’s dark, and we’re all in the tent. Sheff’s in his sleeping bag, and I’m in mine. Wednesday the dog wiggles between us at some time in the night, and I wake to find she’s pushed me until I’m up against the tent’s side wall. Her dirty paws have left sand in my sleeping bag.

What I remember most about the camping trip are the magnolia trees growing wild in the forest. Before that day, I’d only seen magnolias growing in cities and towns. I’d assumed people had planted them. It had never occurred to me that magnolias would grow wild, that magnolias could be a natural part of a forest environment.

Those magnolias are growing just to grow, I marveled. No one planted them here.

I couldn’t stop looking at thse trees, thinking about them. They weren’t there to please people. Those magnolias belonged to themselves and were growing for themselves.

After all these years, I still think of those trees out in the Mississippi forest, growing just to grow.

 

 

Katrina Tree

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When my dad died, my sibling insisted I travel to Mississippi for his memorial service.

I was house sitting in Tracy, California when he passed on Monday afternoon. My dad’s wife scheduled the memorial service for the upcoming Friday evening. By Tuesday I’d bought a $600 round-trip airline ticket. By Thursday morning, I was flying out of Oakland, on my way down South.

My sibling and my sibling’s partner met me at the airport in New Orleans. They rented a car, and the partner drove us through the darkness surrounding Interstate 10, all the way to Ocean Springs. The three of us visited awkwardly with my father’s wife (who was holding up exceptionally well), then headed to Bay St. Louis where we would spend the night.

We stayed at the home of my sibling’s partner’s aunt and uncle. The aunt and uncle were out of town, but they graciously offered us the use of their empty home. It was dark when we pulled into the driveway, but my sibling managed to find the hidden spare key. It wasn’t long before we were passed out in the spare bedrooms, exhausted and probably still shocked at the unexpected death of the patriarch.

The next morning we were blessed by being able to sleep until we woke up naturally. My sibling cooked breakfast and we planned our day. I needed to stop at a thrift store before we saw my dad’s wife again so I could buy a new shirt. (I only had one shirt with me, the one I’d worn the night before. I thought my dad’s wife would only see me once before the memorial service, but it turned out she’d see me twice, and I knew she would notice if I had on the same shirt I’d been wearing the night before.) Before we went back to my dad’s house, my sibling wanted to show me the “Katrina Trees.”

My sibling and the partner and their son had visited my dad and his wife the previous summer. During the visit, my dad and his wife had taken them to see several “Katrina Trees.” The “Katrina Trees” were trees that had been killed by Hurrican Katrina in 2005 and later carved into large-scale sculptures. My sibling wanted me to see at least one of these trees that meant so much to my dad and his wife.

According to https://www.gulfcoast.org/listings/hurricane-katrina-tree-sculptures/3683/, the

tree-sculptures are located all along scenic Highway 90. There are now approximately 50 sculptures throughout the Mississippi Gulf Coast,

The website for the city of Biloxi (https://www.biloxi.ms.us/katrina-biloxi/sculptures/) says,

The trees were victims of the saltwater storm surge of Hurricane Katrina.

There was no plaque with the tree, no explanation or artist information. I did some internet research and determined this tree was carved by chainsaw artist Dayle Lewis of Indiana. My conclusion was confirmed by “Lewis 2012” carved into the bottom of the sculpture, just under the heron.

According to https://www.gulfcoast.org/listings/hurricane-katrina-carved-angels/4266/, Lewis has carved angel sculptures out of six live oaks killed by Hurricane Katrina’s 40-foot saltwater surge. The trees can be found throughout Bay St. Louis.

  • Two…“Carved Angels” stand in the Cedar Rest Cemetery on Second Street[.]
  • One [is on] Beach Blvd – In front of Our Lady of the Gulf Church[.]
  • One [is] near Century Hall[.]
  • Two are located on the first block of Demontluzin Avenue[.] The “Demontluzin Avenue Angel” was used as a life raft by three Katrina survivors and their dog.

I read an article on the Florida Times-Union website (http://jacksonville.com/sports/outdoorsoutside/2014-08-30/story/angel-tree-mississippi-gulf-coast-saved-3-lives-during) which shows a photo of the tree I visited with the story of the three Katrina survivors and the dog, but I think they used the wrong image. While both trees were carved by Dayle Lewis, the tree where the three people and the dog spent the night during the hurricane was described in an article on the WGNO web page (http://wgno.com/2016/09/14/the-unique-guardian-angels-of-bay-st-louis/) as “probably the plainest of them all.” The article goes on to say,

The most elaborate of the four angel trees looks out to sea, just like the original one — it has several angels carved into it, along with some herons, ladybugs, turtles and pelicans. One of the angels has white eyes — of all the angels that adorn the four angel trees, it’s the only one with white eyes.

The tree I visited is clearly elaborate, faces the sea, features turtles, herons, and pelicans (sorry, but I don’t remember any ladybugs), and includes an angel with white eyes.

We didn’t stay at the tree very long. I took photos, and my sibling hugged it, then we headed back to my dad’s house to prepare for his memorial service. We didn’t stay long, but it did me good to see the tree. It did me good to see such a wonderful part of the life of my father, a life that I missed for so many years.