entering Mississippi

I have a confession to make: I thought Mississippi might be just a state I was passing through. I stopped at the Welcome Center at the state line, and learned that Jim Henson was from Mississippi, and saw this lunar lander

and thought, huh, okay. I kept driving. I had not expected that the Mississippi Gulf Coast would so steal my heart. Turns out I spent six hours covering what could have been a straight shot of 87 miles, so enchanted was I. I spent a good bit of that time up and down between Bay St. Louis (where I found a 10-mile running race in progress) and Gulfport-Biloxi, enjoying as well the towns of Pass Christian and Long Beach. I see now that I didn’t take enough pictures. Hops and I walked on beaches and watched birds; we stopped at a bookstore (the very nice independent Pass Christian Books, which are not, you understand, Christian books) and two college campuses, and had a fine lunch of raw oysters, assorted fried things, and Dixie beer. [I was horrified to see the enormous and celebrated grandeur of Beauvoir, the Jefferson Davis home.] The fog was so thick it was like driving or walking in a cloud. Sometimes, a cloud that smelled of seafood. I would love to spend a little more time on this part of the coast.

But there was nowhere to sleep. So we drove just a bit north into the De Soto National Forest of pine trees, where we set up for the night at a mountain bike trailhead. I owe Mississippi an apology for underestimating its loveliness.

New Iberia & James Lee Burke

Leaving Lafayette, I felt very strongly about visiting New Iberia, a little town right there in the neighborhood and one of the main locations of James Lee Burke’s life and fiction. While it has been an unreasonable number of years since I’ve read any JLB, his books figure prominently in my personal reading life, going way back. I think I was just a kid when I first discovered him, from my mother, who is also a fan. Many of his books are set in New Iberia, where fictional detective Dave Robicheaux is based. And the author has a family history rooted there as well.

So, using this handy little tool I found online, I visited a few sites. You can see more about each at that link.

And then, this.

more in Lafayette

I’ve been visiting Delaney at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette, where she’s just started her PhD program. We’ve had social time and work time and checked out the sights. She gave a reading one night and I was so glad to be there for that amazing experience.

Texas round-up

Foxy and I are preparing to leave Texas for the first time together, friends. It’s a momentous occasion. It’s been over two months since I started this little jaunt – I can scarcely believe it! – and I have several times been thrown off the track I expected to take. But it’s all good. I’ve been having the most amazing time, astonished by the freedom of total spontaneity and having no one to answer to but myself. The beauty of the world, and the joy in discovery. I’ve loved riding my bike, of course; but I’ve been equally pleased to hike with Hops, who is as crazy for trails as I am. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the generosity of people everywhere I’ve gone. I’ve overcome a few challenges along the way, and I feel ever more ready for the next.

More than two months just driving around Texas! (Well, there were interludes.) It’s a big place, of course. I estimate that I drove through 80 counties, of the 254 in the state, and I carefully counted 14 state parks/sites and 5 national parks/areas (the state and national parks passes I purchased have already paid for themselves, and then some). I have been hosted by some 13 friends & families, in one form or another (laundry! showers! toilets! warm indoor haunts!), and Ritchey’s ashes have flowed away in 7 bodies of water (I’ve been remiss, actually, and missed the Rio Grande). It all feels like a promising and auspicious start on my journey. As Foxy crosses her first state line (with me, that is), we’re hopeful about the future. And looking forward to seeing Delaney very soon!

Onward with joy and (as Jerko says) deep peace. Cheers, friends.

McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge: birds, more birds

We had the most amazing day at the McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge! And as I’ve done before, I wanted to list a few birds here.

Not a lot of pictures here, because birds are hard to photograph. But would you look at this list! My friend Barrett and I counted twenty-three species, including: European starling, osprey, mottled duck, lesser scaup, red-breasted merganser, Wilson’s snipe, tri-colored heron, American coot, northern harrier, great egret, brown pelican, tropical cormorant, double-breasted cormorant, great blue heron, turkey vulture, black vulture, blue jay, killdeer, little blue heron, great-tailed grackle, boat-tailed grackle, rock pigeon, and snow goose. We also saw four little alligators. Maybe two to three feet in length; not so little that I didn’t watch Hops carefully.

But the part I was most excited about were the roseate spoonbills, the bird I most wanted to see, and sure enough, we rounded a bend on a gravel road and there they were, six or eight of them. They are so pink, and I was so excited. I didn’t get a great picture or anything, but we can call this proof.

The next day, driving east, I added a red-winged blackbird and belted kingfisher to my list. Coming up: Louisiana.