State by State

Apparently there is an entire country between Boston and San Francisco.

trace

by Natalia

We travel along Natchez Trace Parkway built roughly along the old trail used by boatmen to return home after floating down Mississippi river. It's a strange road maintained by National Park Service. Driving it is like driving through 400 miles of park. You are easily fooled thinking you are in the middle of nowhere, but most of the time you are in the narrow green strip of trees isolating the parkway from farmland and subdivisions. Better this than nothing.

It's hot and humid and we are exhausted after covering not much over 100 miles a day in an air-conditioned car. Sure we make stops to hike short trails and detours like a somewhat disappointing side trip to Oxford. But it doesn't even start to compare to traveling on foot, horseback or with a wagon. We stay in chain motels off the parkway, which is modern day equivalent of sleeping on the ground, or on the porch of a stand found here and there on the trace.

Much has changed since the trace was in active non-recreational use: place to sleep costs now a bit more than 25 cents. There are nearly no real forests outside the immediate vicinity of the parkway: the side trips lead us through fields and suburban sprawl with requisite chain stores. There are no wild animals, a bird seldom flies by.

Along the trace we find areas of rare and unspoiled beauty: cypress and tupelo swamps, pine stands, waterfalls, beaver habitats complete with impressive dams. There is no shortage of displays, exhibits and self-guiding trails, but I am disappointed. They seem to provide more questions then answers. Sure this is a step up from Alabama state park presentations in which State governor and his wife invite you to admire god's creation, but I hoped to learn more about rural south traveling the trace.

Instead, what I see is a strange lack of deeper explanation: land erosion somehow happens, natives somehow sign the treaties giving up their lands. There are quite a few flowery descriptions, but little information on efforts to restore habitats, few references to original inhabitants of the area - Indians - reviling and romanticizing them at the same time. When we do veer off the parkway I am taken aback by unapologetic attitude about slavery, omnipresent glorification of confederacy and overwhelming influence of religion. At one or two rest stop we collect and throw away blue and pink stickers with a Hell is real. Repent! reminder. Based on what I see, population seems to be inward facing, at odds with the outside world that constantly forces them to change their ways, offering solutions before they even see the problem. Practicing slavery and segregation under the banners of equality and democracy. Not preserving forests when states around them try to save wild animals from extinction. Treating evolution as unproven theory, when the rest of the world has moved on. May be I did learned enough after all.

nawlins

Bourbon Street swarms with green backpacks. Marked with a cross sign and a slogan we believe. Must be some cult. Yes, Lutheran teenagers are in town for National Youth Gathering - event held in New Orleans every three years and according to the press release bringing 25 thousand people. Looks like more than that from where we are standing. It is a bit surprising though. We just drove through a collection of Alabama and Mississipi towns that seem much better suited for prayer and thoughts of a better life. It's easy to stay chaste in Thomasville, AL. It's even easier to stay sober in Oxford, MS. There is nothing to envy in Kosciusko, MS. But New Orleans is a different matter altogether. Here young Lutherans descent on French Quater familiarizing themselves in depth with all cardinal sins. Lust, gluttony, sloth reign supreme in Vieux Carré. Hustlers invite people to barely legal gentleman's clubs to see men/women acts. It's impossible not to overeat. Drinks are not just accessible: they are practically required. Navigating all this is probably some kind of a boot camp. If 16 years old with their elevated hormone level survives Big Easy, you can send them to evangelize the hell out of the rest of the world.

sunday

Note to self: don't visit Oxford, Mississippi on Sunday. The city looks dead. Bars and restaurants are closed. No sign of the lauded nightlife. It is the direct result of the ban on alcohol sales on Sunday: one of the many dry laws in the state. It may be different during the week, but we have absolutely no desire to stay and check. We owe special thanks (and the fact we didn't go to bed hungry) to Joel Miller, chef and proprietor of ravine and his staff, for keeping it open on Sundays. And for serving such excellent local food. Especially fresh ripe tomatoes from their own garden.