Dawn in Belmont, Mississippi. Pink cloud. Crescent moon. Cool and quiet.
We hit the road to beat the heat.
We had the countryside to ourselves.
We came to the famous Natchez Trace Parkway.
Smooth pavement, lightly traveled, with a useless shoulder . . .
. . . but a pleasure to pedal. Cyclists are respected.
We heard unfamiliar, beautiful, elaborate birdsong, but most of the birds were out of sight. We saw circling predators, though, ready to recycle edible Jeffrey if we were to falter. (I’d be spared. There’s no meat on a kangaroo puppet.)
The Natchez Trace started as a large-animal trail. Bison and other mammals wore a route through the woods when they traveled to salt licks at Nashville. First Nations people found the route convenient.
So did European settlers. Eventually the U.S. Army widened the Trace for wagons.
The Trace played a role in the Civil War.
Out of respect for the dead men, Jeffrey did not disturb the stones, coins, and other objects that had been left on the modern monuments (the originals disappeared long ago, and the 1930s replacements were stolen). But the rebel battle flags—symbol of hatred, racism, slavery, treason, and bloody war—in front of 12 of the 13 monuments . . . well, it was like seeing little Nazi flags on German graves.
Surely the flags were placed by private persons, not park personnel. Jeffrey thought of removing them. He couldn’t quite bring himself to do that. As a compromise, he pushed three of the flags upside down into the dirt, hoping to suggest to subsequent visitors respect for the men, but contempt for their cause.
We believe that the original Constitution; slavery; the Civil War; the Jim Crow era; and the exclusion from full community membership of women, and of racial and national and religious minorities—all now officially, but not practically, remedied—injected poison into the American system. The poison still circulates.
And yet, piloting our bike, our U.S. flag flying, our sign proclaiming Human Rights First, Jeffrey’s pale face showing, Jeffrey has received friendly waves from men driving trucks bearing rebel flags.
People, life, America, sure are complex.
We pulled into Tupelo (Lee County seat, birthplace of Elvis, population 36,000) . . .
. . . before the worst of the heat.
Then, in the worst of the heat, we explored a bit of downtown Tupelo. They play up Elvis with things like paintings in guitar shape.
. . . and genuine old signs on a side street.
. . . has a temperance tribute . . .
Tents were being erected for the 47th annual Gumtree Festival, “Mississippi’s Premier Arts Festival”. Jeffrey spoke with an artist who carves cell phone speakers from wood. He hails from cosmopolitan Atlanta, and moved to the U.S. from Cameroon twenty years ago. The gentleman declined to be photographed, could not comment on how immigrants are received in Tupelo because he (like us) never had been here before today, and was astonished to learn that the government will not provide poor asylum applicants with a lawyer.
This evening, inspired by last Sunday’s services at a Baptist church, Jeffrey visited the local Reform synagogue. He was welcomed, he listened to the seven members who came, and he talked about our mission. The congregants are proud of Tupelo’s new diversity. A nearby Toyota plant has brought Japanese executives to the area. Near the synagogue are a Sikh temple and a mosque. It’s not your grandfather’s Mississippi.
We end the day with a vision of Tupelo Honey. We’ll spare you our rendition of the Van Morrison song. Instead, we’ll share a photo of Jeffrey’s (the sap’s) Nancy, his honey whether she be in Tupelo, New York, or anywhere else.
What beautiful pictures of a gorgeous countryside. Makes me more anxious to hit the road and head up north on Monday . . . not on my bike though!!
Your Nancy is lucky to have a cycling advocate for social justice as her honey (and you hers)! Thanks for sharing!