My boss wants me to brief everyone. The hall is packed and it’s past time I started but I can’t find my transparencies — it’s still the era of overhead projectors. I root through my mountain of paper and find them at last in an envelope. The first one is a page of some document with a typeface too small to read. None of the foils has anything to do with my project. I’m no longer sure what it aims to deliver, anyway, much less its status, so I wake up.
I’ve had variants of that dream before. I don’t know what sets it playing. The emotional state that goes with it stayed with me in attenuated form all morning. It’s hard to wake fully from some nightmares.
No surprise. It’s almost impossible to free ourselves from waking nightmares, too, the stories that play in our mind about who we are and how things are, the stories that shape how we respond to life’s events.
We head off on Route 10, round the Gulf side of Lake Pontchartrain, bypassing New Orleans because I can’t eat or drink now so it’s best just to remember our visit years ago, and then we’re in Mississippi where we turn onto coastal Route 90.
The sand is so white. All along the coast are plantation style mansions. One is where Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy, lived. It was almost destroyed by a hurricane but it has been restored. It’s late afternoon so we keep going and camp at Shepard State Park, past Biloxi and almost to Pascagoula.
Next day – It rained last night, our first rain since Washington state. I slept deeply and long, soothed by rain on Henry’s roof and with clear nostrils because Felicity found and cleaned the BIPAP air filter. Thank you!
We head northeast toward Selma, Alabama, mostly on back roads. The first part of Alabama is wet, with some marginal farming amid scrubby woodland. We pass a church sign telling us: “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”.
When the ground is a bit higher and dryer there are a few more houses and they are not trailer homes. A church here says: “Come as you are. You can change inside”.
As we go on, the land is almost entirely forest, almost none of it managed. POTUS would say it’s badly in need of raking but the trees are so close together it would be almost impossible for even a coyote to get between them. A couple of areas have been logged but not replanted. A church here has a message from the Lord: “I’m coming soon and I’m making a list”.
Past Mobile there is more and more scraggly forest with some sections where pine trees are planted in lines. After quite a while, though, we pass a gigantic cellulose products plant so there must be a lot more managed forests away from the road where we can’t see them.
Felicity goes into a Post Office and convenience store at a crossroads to see if they sell camp firewood. The lady at the counter is primly dressed and seems suspicious. She says they don’t. I ask Felicity to go back to see if they have baby aspirin. She is answered by a different primly dressed woman who simply says: “no”.
This feels very different from where we were in Louisiana.
We drive on and arrive at Roland Cooper State Park on the Alabama River shortly before dark. Selma is only 28 miles away.
Next day – I waken to the blast of gunfire. Seems odd that hunting would be allowed in these parts on Sunday. I sleep again.
The result of a shower is very pleasant but showering itself was exhausting. I need all the breath I can get and I breathe less under the spray of water. A few minutes of slightly reduced air flow is utterly debilitating. I have to sit down for a few minutes on the short walk back to the camper.
It’s great when I’ve recovered, though. They say in Maine that any day above ground is a good day. True enough but we can acknowledge that some days’ circumstances make that easier to recognize. Today is glorious, a deep blue cloudless sky and strong sun on the yellow, gold and dark green leaves.
We drive into Selma and find everything closed, even the Visitor Center. By everything I mean all the shops on Main Street, too. A few very elegantly dressed black folks are still chatting after church.
We saw some cotton fields yesterday. We’re now in the land identified in the 1820s and 1830s as good for short-staple cotton which had become possible to process profitably after the cotton gin was patented in 1794.
Like sugar cane plantations established in Louisiana a generation earlier and cotton and tobacco grown east of here starting when the British colonists first arrived, these cotton fields, too, were worked by enslaved Africans.
Slavery was legal in all thirteen colonies in 1776. Congress prohibited importation of slaves after 1808 but smuggling continued and the domestic slave trade flourished, driven by plantation owners. There were four million slaves in the South before liberation and a third of all Southern families owned slaves.
In Selma tomorrow we will learn more.
When the campground at a nearby State Park turns out to be closed for the winter Felicity finds us a private one. It’s quite small. I hope there is wifi because cellular bandwidth has been limited or non-existent in most of Alabama so far. “No, we’re country folk. We don’t have nothing like that” the lady says. “If ya turn up the antenna on ya roof y’ll get all kind a stuff” her husband assures us.