I have been careful, and I have been patient

“My master! and who made him my master? That’s what I think of - what right has he to me? I’m a man as much as he is. I’m a better man than he is. I know more about business than he does; I am a better manager than he is; I can read better than he can; I can write a better hand, - and I’ve learned it all myself, and no thanks to him, - I’ve learned it in spite of him; and now what right has he to make a dray-horse of me? - to take me from things I can do, and do better than he can, and put me to work that any horse can do? He tries to do it; he says he’ll bring me down and humble me, and he puts me to just the hardest, meanest, and dirtiest work, on purpose!”

“O, George! George! you frighten me! Why I never heard you talk so; I’m afraid you’ll do something dreadful. I don’t wonder at your feelings, at all; but oh, do be careful - do, do - for my sake - for Harry’s! “

“I have been careful, and I have been patient, but it’s growing worse and worse; flesh and blood can’t bear it any longer; - every chance he can get to insult and torment me, he takes. I thought I could do my work well, and keep on quiet, and have some time to read and learn out of work hours; but the more he sees I can do, the more he loads on. He says that though I don’t say anything, he sees I’ve got the devil in me, and he means to bring it out; and one of these days it will come out in a way that he won’t like, or I’m mistaken!”

“O dear! what shall we do?” said Eliza, mournfully.

“It was only yesterday,” said George, “as I was busy loading stones into a cart, that young Mas’r Tom stood there, slashing his whip so near the horse that the creature was frightened. I asked him to stop, as pleasant as I could, - he just kept right on. I begged him again, and then he turned on me, and began striking me. I held his hand, and then he screamed and kicked and ran to his father, and told him that I was fighting him. He came in a rage, and said he’d teach me who was my master, and he tied me to a tree, and cut switches for young master, and told him that he might whip me till he was tired; - and he did do it! If I don’t make him remember it, some time!” and the brow of the young man grew dark , and his eyes burned with an expression that made his young wife tremble. “Who made this man my master? That’s what I want to know!” he said.

- Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 1852

(Red Country Reading List)

It was beautiful and more inspiring than anything I’d seen in my own place of worship

“I could only nod. Nell began a new verse, and several people moved forward to line up before Brother James, where they spoke and prayed with him one at a time, some openly weeping. Others knelt where they were, heads bowed toward the rustic benches, issuing unspoken requests directly to God, without a human intercessor. It was beautiful and more inspiring than anything I’d seen in my own place of worship, where we sang the same hymns over and over, and our minister, who’d been there more years than I’d been alive, delivered the same fire-and-brimstone messages Sunday after Sunday, so monotone, nobody shook with fear unless called out publicly by Reverend Creech for dozing during his sermon…

When the last one reached Brother James, and no others stood to follow, Nell began humming the song’s chorus quietly, and the choir joined her in a soothing, almost lullaby. James raised his hands high again, beckoning his congregation once more, and when no one else responded, he lowered them and clasped them behind his back. He offered a spoken prayer to end the service.

After his benediction, the choir sang again to send out the members, this time in a fast and rhythmic chorus. Some sang and clapped along; others gathered up sleepy children or embraced one another. I’d never seen such a joyful group. The state of their clothing, threadbare and outdated in most cases, indicated they struggled with poverty, barely hanging on even as American finally emerged from terrible times, yet they seemed thankful regardless.”

- Julie Kibler, Calling Me Home, 2013

(Red Country Reading List)

North Carolina, July 2017

pink = where I went


One of my dearest humans lives in North Carolina; she has been my reason to travel there a handful of times in the past twelve years. At this particular time it was a bonus that she lives in a red state. I stayed with my friend Kim and her partner Gaby at their house in Asheville for several days. Kim has lived in North Carolina her whole life and Gaby moved there from Los Angeles several years ago.

I flew into Atlanta and then drove north through Georgia and into North Carolina through the Smoky Mountains.


Kim works for the University of North Carolina at Asheville, training UNCA undergrads to be tutors/mentors for local middle and high school students. UNCA is a predominantly white campus. Asheville Middle School, Asheville High School and SILSA High School are multi-racial; the middle and high school students participating in the program at UNCA are primarily students of color. Kim explained that an important part of her work is helping the white UNCA students understand what their identity is, what their place is, and what they bring to every interaction they have.


For the summer program Kim leads, called AVID Summer Bridge, a group of students from Asheville Middle School, Asheville High School and SILSA High School come and spend two weeks on the UNCA campus, where they engage in meaningful discussions and work that relates to their life experience. Students work collaboratively and independently on projects with such themes as clean water access, media literacy, gentrification, immigration, the criminal justice system, and activism. The guiding principle of AVID is systemic change. Students that are members of underrepresented groups [which includes students of color as well as, this year, a white student who grew up in rural Appalachia] are selected for the program based on their GPA, a desire to go to college, and an interview. Most will be the first in their families to go to college.  

In line for lunch at 12 Bones

In line for lunch at 12 Bones

Lunch with Kim at 12 Bones

Lunch with Kim at 12 Bones

The AVID students are often surprised and taken off guard by the way they are treated on the college campus. They don't have to ask to use the bathroom! They are gently told before sensitive discussions that if difficult emotional material comes up, they can step outside if they need to. Their final project is something they present in front of their families; there is accountability, yet no grades. 

Walking through the River Arts District (RAD) toward Livingston Apartments

Walking through the River Arts District (RAD) toward Livingston Apartments

A few months before my trip to North Carolina, Kim and I decided to invite her AVID students to participate in my project. Kim told them she had an artist friend visiting from Seattle and then relayed messages between us. My message to them was, “Where do you think I should go in your state? It can be a place that you feel is important personally, or culturally, or historically. It can be a beautiful place or an ugly place. It can just be a place you go a lot.” If they wanted a more specific prompt, I offered these as options:

1. choose a place that changed you in some way

2. choose a place where you feel like you are in nature

3. choose a place that makes you feel proud of your state

4. choose a place where something shameful happened

The Good Vibes tank is a popular place for teens after school

The Good Vibes tank is a popular place for teens after school

Kim passed out paper and thirteen students wrote down where they thought I should go; some sharing personal details, some drawing maps. When I arrived in North Carolina, Kim gave me these notes, and they became the basis for our itinerary.

Walking over the freeway on the fence-enclosed bridge to Hillcrest

Walking over the freeway on the fence-enclosed bridge to Hillcrest

Places they suggested included Vance Elementary School (“The garden is a peaceful environment”); Black Mountain; the Chocolate Lounge; the Good Vibes tank; the housing projects where some of the students live: Hillcrest (“It’s where I live and where most of the accidents happen”) and Livingston (“It’s a place that makes me feel ashamed of my community. Not the people inside it but the people that come and go starting drama”); the Grove Park Inn (“because I go there a lot)”; the mountains; waterfalls; downtown; Biltmore Park; the park near Charlotte Street with the mural; Depot Street (“because you have the River Arts District [RAD] then it goes right to the projects. The RAD is super artsy and beautiful and the hood is where you’ll see regular people just living their lives”) and West Asheville.

Crossing the street from the River Arts District to the stairs up to Livingston Apartments

Crossing the street from the River Arts District to the stairs up to Livingston Apartments

When I told my Pacific Northwestern [liberal] friends that my visit to North Carolina would be based in Asheville, they unanimously responded with variations of "Asheville doesn't count!" [as "red" state material] because it is considered a little liberal haven in the South by liberals in the rest of the country. Compared to surrounding towns, it is. There are a lot of wealthy white people moving to Asheville. But there are a lot of other people who were there before, are still there now. Kim said she felt like her students, in their responses to my prompt, and in their eagerness to be included, were saying to me and anyone who will listen, "WE are here too!"

Livingston Apartments

Livingston Apartments

If you do google image searches for Hillcrest and Livingston (the two housing projects mentioned by Kim’s students), you will get collages of tragic photos of fires, shootings, and cop cars.

Livingston Apartments

Livingston Apartments

It was quiet as Kim and I walked through Livingston in the heat. I was telling myself that it was ok that I was there because the students told me to go. The premise of this entire project is that I have essentially been given permission to go to a place if someone who can claim that place tells me to go there. But in this place, the reasoning suddenly seemed flimsy and I was keenly aware that if it collapsed I would just be a privileged, trespassing outsider.

Hillcrest Apartments, Asheville

Hillcrest Apartments, Asheville

Kim and I talked about the physical safety afforded by our whiteness, along with the imaginary cultural Green Card granted by my artist-ness, as we walked through these communities. If these residents walked through many white neighborhoods across town they certainly wouldn’t be as safe.

The father of one of Kim’s students (the one who told me to go to Hillcrest) was killed by police the previous year.


At Hillcrest there were more people out and we were greeted warmly by a few people on their porches. We were admiring this thoughtfully laid out garden that spells L O V E, and its creator, a man named Charles, came down from the porch to talk.

Hillcrest Apartments, Asheville

Hillcrest Apartments, Asheville

Charles said people always ask him, “Why are you doing this?” or say “You need permission to do that!” He tells them, “I was raised to make my home beautiful! Why would I need to ask permission to plant flowers in my yard? I was raised to think of the place I live as mine.” He told us about how he goes to his construction job for ten every day, then comes home and works in the garden for four hours with a headlamp on after it gets dark. It’s his meditation. I feel the same way about my garden.

Charles and his garden

Charles and his garden

On another block we met Mary Jo Johnson and talked with her on her porch about gardening and President Obama.

Mary Jo’s roses

Mary Jo’s roses

Mary Jo told us about the part of Asheville that has been important in her life - a neighborhood, a block, that was the center of black-owned businesses and community. Due to gentrification, all that’s left now is the church and the cultural center. A new mural commemorates the community that once thrived there. Kim and I visited the mural, which was a site one of her students had said I should go.

Triangle Park Mural, Asheville

Triangle Park Mural, Asheville

Triangle Park Mural, Asheville

Triangle Park Mural, Asheville

We walked around the beautiful campus of Warren Wilson College. Once a farm school for boys and now a liberal arts institution, the college’s mission has sustainability as its guiding principle. Kim said that a few of her former AVID students have gone on to go to college at Warren Wilson and have had wonderful experiences there.

Warren Wilson College, Swannanoa, NC

Warren Wilson College, Swannanoa, NC

When we were there students were selling fresh produce from the campus garden in a mini farmers market. Some vocal neighbors of Warren Wilson insult it as being “the most liberal place in North Carolina.”

Warren Wilson College, Swannanoa, NC

Warren Wilson College, Swannanoa, NC

West Asheville is one of Asheville’s more recently gentrified neighborhoods. One AVID student (the one who said I should go to West Asheville) lived there as a child. Her parents both immigrated from Mexico undocumented. She said they live in fear of being rounded up.

West Asheville

West Asheville

Kim talked about Asheville in comparison to other cities in the South, like Charleston and Atlanta. By erasing nearly all traces of its unsavory history, Asheville allows a myth to be perpetuated that there wasn’t slavery there. While Charleston has maintained sites that stand as witness to its history (like the slave market), Asheville has erased them. Meanwhile, monuments to the wealthy slave owners remain.

Vance Monument, Asheville

Vance Monument, Asheville

Since several of Kim’s students recommended that I visit waterfalls, we decided to go to one that Kim and Gaby hadn’t been to yet.

Kim, Birdy, Gaby

Kim, Birdy, Gaby

The one we found was in Rosman, and though it was listed as a waterfall open to the public, it was on private property. We arrived at a nondescript family home and handmade signs directed us where to park. With Birdy the dog we enjoyed the  short hike to a beautiful waterfall.


We wondered about the people who live in the house, who have this wonder in their backyard, and who were willing to turn their front yard into a parking lot in order to share it.


Leaving North Carolina, driving back to Atlanta on the freeway, I passed a bad car accident, cars and people strewn in the median before any help arrived. I saw a man in a baseball cap frantically doing CPR on a man on the ground. The stricken man's big white belly shone in the sun as it heaved up and down violently with each thrust. My mind replayed this scene for a few days afterward. I googled the date, time, and location of the accident to see if I could find out if the man survived but there were so many pages of accidents to sift through I eventually gave up.


Days of healing, ease and real-talk

“Sethe had had twenty-eight days - the travel of one whole moon - of unslaved life. From the pure clear stream of spit that the little girl dribbled into her face to her oily blood was twenty-eight days. Days of healing, ease and real-talk. Days of company: knowing the names of forty, fifty other Negroes, their views, habits; where they had been and what done; of feeling their fun and sorrow along with her own, which made it better. One taught her the alphabet; another a stitch. All taught her how it felt to wake up at dawn and decide what to do with the day.”

- Tony Morrison, Beloved, 1987

(Red Country Reading List)

The longer you are here, the more you start to get it

“Understanding America for the Non-American Black: American Tribalism

In America, tribalism is alive and well. There are four kinds - class, ideology, region, and race. First, class. Pretty easy. Rich folk and poor folk.

Second, ideology. Liberals and conservatives. They don’t merely disagree on political issues, each side believes the other is evil. Intermarriage is discouraged and on the rare occasion that it happens, is considered remarkable. Third, region. The North and the South. The two sides fought a civil war and tough stains from that war remain. The North looks down on the South while the South resents the North. Finally, race. There’s a ladder of racial hierarchy in America. White is always on top, specifically White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, otherwise known as WASP, and American Black is always on the bottom, and what’s in the middle depends on time and place. (Or as that marvelous rhyme goes: if you’re white, you’re all right; if you’re brown, stick around; if you’re black, get back!) Americans assume that everyone will get their tribalism. But it takes a while to figure it all out. So in undergrad, we had a visiting speaker and a classmate whispers to another, “Oh my God, he looks so Jewish,” with a shudder, an actual shudder. Like Jewish was a bad thing. I didn’t get it. As far as I could see, the man was white, not much different from the classmate herself. Jewish to me was something vague, something biblical. But I learned quickly. You see, in America’s ladder of races, Jewish is white but also some rungs below white. A bit confusing, because I knew this straw-haired, freckled girl who said she was Jewish. How can Americans tell who is Jewish? How did the classmate know the guy was Jewish? I read somewhere how American colleges used to ask applicants for their mother’s surnames, to make sure they weren’t Jewish because they wouldn’t admit Jewish people. So maybe that’s how to tell? From people’s names? The longer you are here, the more you start to get it.”

- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah, 2013

(Red Country Reading List)

a well-loved colored woman whose lover was the horizon in any direction

"The South in her, the land and salt-winds, moved her through Charleston's streets as if she were a mobile sapling, with the gait of a well-loved colored woman whose lover was the horizon in any direction. Indigo imagined tough winding branches growing from her braids, deep green leaves rustling by her ears, doves and macaws flirting above the nests they'd fashioned in the secret, protected niches way high up in her headdress. When she wore this Carolinian costume, she knew the cobblestone streets were really polished oyster shells, covered with pine needles and cotton flowers. She made herself, her world, from all that she came from. She looked around her at the wharf. If there was nobody there but white folks, she made them black folks. In the grocery, if the white folks were buying up all the fresh collards and okra, she made them disappear and put the produce on the vegetable wagons that went round to the Colored. There wasn't enough for Indigo in the world she'd been born to, so she made up what she needed. What she thought the black people needed." 

- Ntozake Shange, Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo, 1982

(Red Country Reading List)

these laws were essential to the security of my body

"To survive the neighborhoods and shield my body, I learned another language consisting of a basic complement of head nods and handshakes. I memorized a list of prohibited blocks. I learned the smell and feel of fighting weather. And I learned that "Shorty, can I see your bike?" was never a sincere question, and "Yo, you was messing with my cousin" was neither an earnest accusation nor a misunderstanding of the facts. These were the summonses that you answered with your left foot forward, your right foot back, your hands guarding your face, one slightly lower than the other, cocked like a hammer. Or they were answered by breaking out, ducking through alleys, cutting through backyards, then bounding through the door past your kid brother into your bedroom, pulling the tool out of your lambskin or from under your mattress or out of your Adidas shoebox, then calling up your own cousins (who really aren't) and returning to that same block, on that same day, and to that same crew, hollering out, "Yeah nigger, what's up now?" I recall learning these laws clearer than I recall learning my colors and shapes, because these laws were essential to the security of my body."  

- Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me, 2015

(Red Country reading list)

Mississippi & Louisiana, February 2017

pink = where we went

I had never been to Mississippi or Louisiana before. I think I wanted Mississippi to be my first state for this project because of Nina Simone's "Mississippi Goddam." My imagination had latched onto Mississippi as the heart of a protest song. Anna and I cashed in our frequent flyer miles, with a special uncle to stay at home with our boy. This started out as a single-state trip but at the last minute turned into two states when I realized how much there was to see in Louisiana just over the state line, and that it would be smart for me to visit two states for the price of one plane ticket when possible. But doing both states in four days was rather harried and I'm going to try not to do that again.  

We flew into Baton Rouge and spent the night in this little Airbnb cabin in the woods in St. Francisville, LA.


The next day we drove on bridges across vast swamps to Breaux Bridge, LA. We went to the visitors center, and I asked the woman working there where she thought I should go if I wanted to get a sense of this part of the state. She told me about Lake Martin, and wanted to show me pictures on her computer of what it looks like in the spring; she seemed disappointed that I was going to see it in winter, and not at its best. She said, "It's so serene out there. So beautiful." She's lived in Breaux Bridge her whole life. 

We had a picnic lunch and then went on a ride in boat through Lake Martin with a man named Shawn. Shawn and his dad Butch have a business giving swamp tours. 


I asked Shawn if he grew up around here and he said yes, and that this lake (not technically a swamp, he told us) was his classroom. His dad studied Zoology and Botany and taught him everything he knows. 

He told us about the biology of the lake, about the animals that live there, and about the history and culture of the area: about duck hunters and Cajuns and swimming habits of local youth (not afraid of alligators); about the birders who come faithfully every winter and sit in lawn chairs in hopes of seeing the bird we just saw, but rarely do - a vermillion flycatcher. I didn't even try to take a picture, and instead just watched this quick small flying flash of pure bright red darting through the blue sky.

Alligators aren't active hunters. They just wait for their food to come to them, while lounging and soaking up sun through these crazy bumps on their back. Shawn knows which mama alligator with her kids live in which part of the lake. (Males don't stick around.)


Duck hunters build structures to hide behind. Shawn tells us that people eat what they kill, and that the ecosystem depends on the hunters to stay balanced. But he is not pleased with what gets left behind. 

Near the end of the tour, we were admiring a bird that Shawn was saying makes many trips back and forth to Mexico. Then he said, "Don't tell Trump! He'll build a wall for the birds!" We laughed, and I wondered if he had different jokes for people from different places. 

I was so gobsmacked by this place that I completely forgot about my project. I did not take notes. I had this man alone on a boat for two hours and did not ask him about any other place I should go, not even where we should go for dinner. I later realized that as silly as this was, it was good. I had been in the place and not thinking about a different place. 


After the boat ride we drove to Lafayette, had dinner and headed over to our Airbnb. The map lady in my phone led us astray into the wrong neighborhood, and thank heavens she did, otherwise we would have missed this marvel.

This (3D, moving) thing is in the middle of a neighborhood (?), and in better shape than most of the houses around it. As you can see, it is at ground level (!), so apparently meant to be experienced on foot!

So far we have struck gold with our Airbnbs! Why stay in a hotel again? This one had a little goldfish pond in back. 


In the morning we chatted with our friendly host on the porch. When I told him about my project and asked him to tell me which places we should go, he talked about the land itself; how the Mississippi River has shaped the region by making the soil near it rich and fertile. I thought about the landscape in a new way after that conversation. We said we were thinking of going to St. Martinville, and he said if we did we should go to St. Martin de Tours church, the town's historic Catholic church. 


Inside was a sculptural shrine that I recognized as a recreation of the grotto in France where St. Bernadette had her vision of Mary. I particularly enjoyed the pretend rocks.


Next to the church is this trophy/monument to white American stories. 



We headed up route 61 to Natchez, Mississippi. Nearly there, we got out and looked at Mammy's Cupboard, which I'd read had good biscuits but was closed.

the right side of Mammy's Cupboard

the right side of Mammy's Cupboard

Mammy's Cupboard

Mammy's Cupboard

There was a note on the door saying there had been a family emergency. (The next day we were told that it used to be called Black Mammy's, and that it really was a shame that it was closed when we were there.)

The left side of Mammy's Cupboard

The left side of Mammy's Cupboard

When we got to Natchez we wandered around a little bit. Coming from winter in Seattle, I was enamored of the flowering bushes everywhere. 


Sunset on the Mississippi! 

Our Airbnb was a pink house built in the 1800's just a few blocks from downtown Natchez, owned by a composer. There was a baby grand in the living room. While we sat on the front porch eating breakfast, people drove by waving and shouting "How y'all doin!" 

In the morning we went to the Natchez Museum of African American History and Culture. When we walked in the director, Darrell White, greeted us and asked how we wanted to structure our visit. Did we want to walk around looking at stuff and find him if we had any questions? Or did we want him to give us a private tour of the museum? I told him I am a painter doing an art project about place, and would love to hear whatever he has to tell me about Natchez. He said, "Sit." So we sat. He spent well over an hour with us. Shortly after we began our lesson, two ladies in elegantly coordinated dresses, hats and shoes came in and sat down and joined us. They are regulars.

We learned a lot in a short amount of time. I took notes furiously. Natchez was one of the most violent and active territories of KKK activity. Guns were legal as long as they weren't concealed; people had guns on them like they do cell phones now, just hanging out of their pockets. There was a group in Louisiana called the Deacons for Defense and Justice. When their kids were threatened and attacked for going to school, the Deacons told their kids to fight back. They would go to school with the kids to make sure they got in and out safely, and they intimidated the Klan with guns. It worked. This inspired people in Natchez to get guns and defend their kids and community with force, if necessary. (This was mid 1960's.) They had more guns than the KKK. It worked. The KKK leader put a 90 day moratorium on Klan activity until they could figure out what to do with the "niggers in Natchez with the guns." 

He told us about Nellie Jackson, who had the most successful, longest-standing African American business in the city's history - it thrived for over sixty years. She used to bail civil rights fighters out of jail, and to help members of the black community in need. I asked, "What kind of business was it?" Darrell White, deadpan: "A brothel." 

In the 1990's Miss Nellie turned away a white man because he was drunk; she had strict rules that she upheld to protect her girls. That night he set her house on fire. Miss Nellie died a few days later. 

I asked him if the house was still there. He said yes, but it's nothing to see. I said I really wanted to go there and he seemed perplexed. I persevered and he told us what street it's on and the cross street.

We had to hurry off (which I regret even more in retrospect than I did at the time) because that day was our only chance to see a nearby cotton plantation. Before we left, he showed me the sad state of his cotton basket that has been picked clean by museum visitors. He gave me a note to give to the owner of the plantation asking for fresh cotton. 

Frogmore Cotton Plantation was just a half hour west over the state line. Learning about slavery and the Civil War as a child, cotton took on this mythic quality for me; as though all of the human suffering that took place at that time was somehow related to the nature of cotton itself. I had never seen it growing in person and felt like I needed to, to satisfy this narrative that lingers, as nonsensical as it is. 


When I was reading about the different plantations, I was surprised to discover that few of them devoted much space or time to communicating the realities of slavery. We chose to visit this plantation because it is particularly invested in telling the story of the people that lived and worked there as slaves. We joined a tour of about ten people and walked through the grounds, the slave quarters, overseer's house, and cotton gin. At one point, the woman leading the tour was showing us a typical piece of clothing worn by the slaves. It looked like a sack and was made of lightweight cotton. The woman told us, "Now, the men had one muslim for day and one muslim for night. The women just had one muslim, period." I still don't know if we should have said something. 


We went and saw the earthen remains of the Natchez Indians. There are mounds covered with nicely trimmed grass. I had a hard time looking at them without imagining the lawnmower that goes over them. 

The mounds were used for different things. One was for the home of the chief; each new chief's home was built on top of the former home and the mound got higher with each generation. Some were for burial, and some for ceremonial use. 

We drove a bit of the beginning of the Natchez Trace Parkway which starts in Natchez and runs diagonally across the entire state into Alabama. It is an old path, originally made by animals, then used by Native Americans, then eventually paved over. There is a part of the trail that is preserved called the "Sunken Trace." It was an amazing mammalian experience to walk on an intentional path of earth that has been walked on by so many beings for so long.  


We didn't eat out much and mostly got food from the grocery store to prepare at the house. That night at Natchez Market, the woman in line behind me said she liked my striped pants. I guess the way I said "thank you" communicated that I wasn't from there, because then she asked me where I was from. The cashier joined in easily, naturally, and they asked me how I liked Mississippi and Louisiana. I said I particularly liked Natchez; that I wasn't just saying that. The cashier said she wishes she could go to Seattle. She said she'd never been anywhere outside Mississippi except Georgia. 


The next morning we stopped by the river and then a cafe to get Anna a biscuit. After the young guy behind the counter gave her the biscuits, she asked where she should pay for them. He said, "Aw, I ain't gonna charge ya." Wow! They came with a little container of butter mixed with apricot jam.   


We drove around looking for Miss Nellie's house. It's a white house with red shutters in a quiet neighborhood. Next door there was a family - three generations, I think - sitting on their front steps in the sun. When I got out and went up to the house, they watched me curiously. I got the feeling that people don't ever go there looking for Miss Nellie's house, and that I was intruding. By way of explanation for our presence, I said "Is this Miss Nellie's house?" The woman got up and said, "Yes Ma'am." I looked at the house like it was something to see and took a few hasty pictures while they watched me. When we left, they waved goodbye, and we waved goodbye, and they watched us drive away.


I had the very clear feeling that I was making some kind of mistake during this interaction, but did not know what it was. I thought the mistake was my mere presence there; that I had intruded on this family enjoying their morning. Now, after having had the help of some friends processing this and other interactions on this trip, I wonder if the mistake was not staying long enough. Maybe I should have gone over and introduced myself and told them what I was doing there; offered to share my story as I was entering theirs. 


We drove south and east past Woodville. This is what residential trash cans look like in rural Mississippi. They were empty and dotted the roads lit up by the sun. They're maybe 3 feet cubed. 

Driving down country roads we came upon a makeshift cemetery on a stretch of hilly land on the side of the road. A few of the gravestones were handmade. 

We were going to Clark Creek Natural Area, where we had hoped to have time for a short walk. There were several school buses in the parking lot and as we started walking down the trail we met in dreary, exhausted succession many preteens straggling up the hill. Nearly all of them asked us how much longer it was to the parking lot. When we told them, some were visibly relieved and a few glared at us like teenagers should. "Only 3 more minutes! You're almost there!" then "Only 10 more minutes!" then "Just like 20 minutes!" then, to ourselves, "Damn this is a steep hill. Maybe we should turn around." The teachers with the kids were maybe in their twenties and were giving constant, loving encouragement. I found myself relating so much to both the kids and the teachers. I remembered feeling like that on family hikes - at the end being hungry, thirsty, tired and complaining and my mom pushing me up the hill. 

On our way back to the Baton Rouge airport we stopped at Rosedown Plantation in St. Francisville. The gardens and grounds are beautiful. Fluffy mounds of pink flowers on green bushes, trees dripping with Spanish moss, little fountains in the middle of geometrically patterned hedges, gazebos, benches in lush alcoves. I found it completely impossible to separate it all from its meaning; not that I think I should try.