Our story since saying farewell to the schoolhouse
The next stop of note was Ocean Springs. Mississippi. After several hurricanes, many houses have been rebuilt on stilts. We saw a lot more like this when we came to Waveland.
If you visit Ocean Springs, be sure to make time for the Walter Anderson museum. This is one of the murals that adorn the walls of the adjoining community center which the town nearly demolished before realizing that the wall art was worth 100 times the value of the building.
Sandhill cranes are a dime a dozen in Florida and the Gulf Coast, but these are a subspecies called Mississippi Sandhill Cranes, and what marks them out is that they don't migrate. They were almost wiped out by development, but the protected refuge has increased their numbers to about 140 pairs.
They are mostly wary, and keep to the long grasses, but a few are much more used to people.
A little drive north brought us to the home of our friend, Lynne, and her husband Bill, on their farm in Poplarville. They made us very welcome and we were glad of a few days out of the myPod.
We knew a bit about Lynne's art and her letterform studies, so we asked about Bill. In answer Lynne mentioned a couple of his murals we in nearby Hattisburg, and said she would take us to see the city... (Oh, and the gecko! It spent about three days hanging out in the kitchen while we were there.)
This is the atrium of the beautiful Hattiesburg library, and way up in the roof is Bill Baggett's amazing circular work of art. I couldn't capture all of it, but I've zoomed in on a couple of details:
The "Spirit That Builds" mural depicts aspects of the city's history.
It really is a masterpiece. 10' high, 165' long, painted on sandblasted stainless steel. It took Bill three years to paint!
Here is another William Baggett Mural, a triptych that hangs high above the stairway in the Cochran Student Center at the university of Southern Mississippi. Click on the image to open some archive photos of Bill when he was painting these.
There was no way we could travel the Gulf Coast without visiting the Big Easy, NOLA, New Orleans, Louisiana. A former student, Mia, now lives in Metairie, just a few minutes from downtown. Here is Lorna with Lori, Lily, and Mia - it was so good to see you, and thank you again for the amazing tour!
We started in style, as Lori treated us to fresh caught crawfish, at The Blue Crab restaurant.
NOLA is a non-stop party, even on January 25th.
Jackson Square is surrounded by artists, entertainers, and street sellers.
It is always fun watching artists at work on the streets.
This needs no caption.
A store entirely for Tabasco!
One of several street bands.
The French Market is fascinating. Photos are discouraged, but I couldn't resist.
We crossed the Mississippi at Natchez, and the water was high! This part of Mississippi and Louisiana is crisscrossed with levies and amazing water diversion systems.
These great barge trains are hard to capture in a photo. They moved so slowly, with the pusher (rather than a tug) engine roaring away.
Natchez is an interesting old town, though a lot was closed in January.
The campground was actually very nice, with free coffee and donuts in the morning. Many of the sites we stayed at along the Gulf Coast had flooding problems. This should have been the cheapest sites, but they wouldn't rent one to us. I'm sure the myPod would float!
I need to move along or Christmas will be over before I finish! We stopped at Lafayette, LA, before driving west as far as Houston, TX, where we stayed with Julie and Carlos, and had a meal with Ashley who runs the Dyslexia Initiative. This is a Ruby Crowned Kinglet, at the Lafayette city park campground.
Eastward bound from Tx, we camped for 2 weeks at the Buccaneer Campground on the outskits of Waveland, MS. Waveland was where the eye of Hurricane Katrina made landfall, back in August, 2005. Most buildings south of the rail line were completely destroyed.
This is the Waveland School building, one of the few buildings to survive with some of its walls intact. Now it houses the Ground Zero Hurricane Museum. Click on the photo to learn more about the museum and its exhibits.
We took many walks along the shore - this is the city pier.
Even 15 years on, much remains to be rebuilt,...or not.
The next city to the east, is Bay St Louis. We walked to here from the campsite, but as it is about 8 miles each way, we only did that once. This is the rail line to Pass Christian, across the bay.
This was the train depot at Bay St. Louis - now the tourist information center and museum, with a display of Mardi Gras costumes by the artist, John Augustus Walker, of Mobile, AL.
Just two of about 20 amazing costumes.
This tree, washed away in the hurricane, is credited with saving the lives of three residents who clung to it as their home broke apart. Though the tree died, they had it carved and set it in concrete as a memorial.
From The Depot, we could see this interesting mural and set out to investigate. On one of the back streets we came across the 100 Men Hall, originally an African American benevolent society in the days of segregation. Click the image for more info
The murals are a reminder that it became a venue played by all of the jazz and blues legends. We had a tour from the owner, author and journalist Rachel Dangermond, who now runs writing workshops from the hall.
Bay St Louis, like Waveland, is clean and fresh after the rebuilding from Katrina, with many interesting little stores.
Ascalapha odorata, aka the Black Witch moth. Lorna found it outside the bathroom block at Buccaneer State Park in Waveland, Mississippi.
When we met Rachel she said that once a month they gave back to the community in the form of a blues concert. We we still at Waveland so immediately put our money down for tickets. This is Missippi Blues Man, Tommy T-Bone Pruitt, Click on the image for a snippet of T-Bone's music.
On the road again, we headed north into Alabama to see the Peace and Justice Memorial in Montgomery, AL. The state campground at Peace Creek was practically empty, so we got a creekside spot.
In Montgomery we visited the Equal Justice Initiative's profoundly moving museum and then National Memorial for Peace And Justice, which remembers every lynching uncovered by researchers around the US. Click on the image for information on the memorial.
The rainy day was somehow appropriate. Each of the hanging boxes is inscribed with the names of those murdered in each state. We watched the Just Mercy docudrama about the founder, Brian Stevenson. We highly recommend it.
This flock of white pelicans kept their distance until dark, when in the middle of the night we woke to what sounded like someone pouring buckets of water into the creek. We were greeted by ghostly white shapes floating almost noiselessly , but scooping up water in their huge beaks, then filtering it back out with a splosh.
Heading back across the Florida Panhandle again, we stopped at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park - which we highly recommend for its secluded campsites and hiking trails. They even have a herd of wild bison.
And we finally, finally, got to see an armadillo. It was deep dusk and this little fellow was quite unconcerned about us - but refused to cooperate for the photo!
Seeing the wildlife and successfully photographing it are quite different things. We will have to go back.
As ever, south of Georgia, be careful where you swim!
Heading north out of Florida, we stopped off at Blue Sprig State Park where the Manatees gather to stay warm when the ocean is cold. Many had already started back to the sea, but there were a few still around.
We returned to Tybee Island, GA. The plan was to spend 2 weeks there exploring Savannah, and then meander back along the Virginia Blue Mountains to see the spring ephemeral flowers. However, the COVID 19 lockdown meant we had to make one long drive back to NJ for the next chapter of our journey.