“I believe that men are generally still a little afraid of the dark, though the witches are all hung…” — Henry David Thoreau
(State #5/50) It got dark 30 minutes after crossing into Mississippi. The road was shoulder-less, cutting a narrow chasm between high pines. I searched the radio and found a MPB station out of Jackson playing Grassroots, — a folk, blues and bluegrass program on Saturday nights. I kept it there, deciding banjo music needed to be playing as I entered the Deep South.
I pulled into the Janice Landing campsite around 8:30 p.m. The night was moonless and nightmare-black. Hoping out of the car, I was alone amongst the towering pines and the unseen creatures rustling through the brush. I set up my tent using the headlights of my car, making frequent checks behind me and around the empty campsite. I walked down to Black Creek with my Maglite. A long, steep corridor of sand led to the riverbank below the bridge. I found fresh footprints and a single sandal at the water’s edge. Hoping not to see a dead body, I scanned downstream with the light beam — nothing but water, trees and darkness.
I set up the stove to fry leftover crawfish from Baton Rouge (I thank you Laurie and Roger Mitchell!). They were tasty, but it was an anxious dinner. I often stopped to listen and shine light into the surrounding void of pitch black. Most things, all not real, passed through my mind that night— the Signs aliens, the Stranger Things Demogorgon, Bigfoot and zombies. I remained uneasy, but I never reached the freak out point that makes you hop in the car and peel out with your tent and belongings in the rearview. I did, however, hustle into the tent after dinner. Though the thin material provides little physical protection, it does wonders to keep out the monsters creeping out from the dark woods.
I woke up to a bright Easter morning. All the visions of the night vanished with the darkness, leaving only a Sunday full of spring and sunshine. Bees and insects buzzed, squirrels scolded and birds sang. I butchered a few church hymns as I made coffee, eggs and oatmeal. “Morning has broken like the first morrrrrinnng, blackbird has spoooken like the first biiiiiiirrd…” Well, you get the idea. I ate breakfast and thought of my family celebrating at our country place in Central Texas. I bet they’re hunting eggs about now, I thought. Yes, we have an adult Easter egg hunt. No, I don’t mean the eggs are filled with booze or cigarettes (although, note to self) — I mean we’re full grown adults that prance around with baskets looking for died hardboiled eggs. We let our 3-year-old niece participate too, but we’re not happy about it.
I put my canoe in the creek in the late morning and paddled upstream. I wanted to test my canoe and my ability to paddle against a decent current. Canoeing upstream is a practice of reading the river backwards and reversing your instincts — sticking to the slow portions, eddies and depositional banks while avoiding the fast water. In the upside-down of paddling, you aim right at the downed logs, stumps and strainers, which provide some shade from the current. Then you cut across the swift moving channel, jumping from pool to pool as you make your way, slowly, upriver. It is hard work, but quite possible. I turned around after a mile and enjoyed canoeing with the current again.
No longer fighting upstream, I took better notice of my surroundings. Five-foot Limestone banks line the river where sandbars are absent. Water trickles down from the De Soto National Forests over lush green vegetation, ferns and mosses, which overhang the exposed rock of the low cliffs. No one species dominates the riverbank. Instead there is a diversity of plant life including magnolias, bald cypress, pink blooming azaleas, pines, etc. Many of them towering and stately, closing the gap of open air, dozens of feet above the water and creating a leafy green A-frame.
Under the sun and a few gray-bottomed puffy clouds, I pulled over to a sand bank under the shade of small trees. I grabbed one of the remaining beers from the cooler, took off my shirt, took a swig, put on a life jacket and fell back into 2 feet of cold, clear water. Looking up at the trees and sky, I let the current take me.
I always thought Southern Mississippi was all swamp and alligator-filled bayous. Black Creek, on the contrary, lived up to its designation as a Wild and Scenic River. It is a true blackwater river — tannic acids stain the water, so it’s like you’re floating down a big stream of sweet tea. As the water deepens from a sand bank, the color shifts from white to tan to brown to black in the deepest spots. White sand beaches form in many of the slower bends of the river. Some rise 10 feet above the water and were blinding in pure sunshine.
I took out at Cypress Creek Landing around 4pm. A family from New Orleans offered a ride back to my car. It was a 7-mile trek, so I accepted. I returned to the campsite and walked down to the little beach along the river. There, I met a couple and their dogs. They were fishing and watching their two high-energy puppies annoy their 10-year-old bulldog, named Rebel. Joel and his girlfriend let me hang out and crash their evening. I was thankful and spent nearly two hours with them. When I said I was going back to fix pasta, Joel said, “Oh, I can do you one better! I’ve got a whole piece of BBQ chicken for you. Mississippi hospitality.” I helped them bring their chairs and poles back to their car and they wrapped the chicken and sweet corn up in foil. “You better go eat that before I change my mind.” Joel said, smiling. I did as told and it was a fine Easter dinner. The spooky evening before now felt like the distant past. There on a Mississippi river, states away from my friends and loved ones, I had about as good an Easter as possible.
River Stats and Fun Facts:
- Back Creek WSR, Mississippi 4/15-4/17/17
- Weather: Warm, 50% scattered cumulous clouds
- Miles canoed: 6
- Songs Sung on Water: Black Water (Doobie Brothers), Mississippi Queen (Mountain)
- Launch Point: Janice Landing (30.994598, -089.050353) — free camping
- Pullout Point: Cypress Landing (30.968201, -089.004214) $7 dollar camping
- Camped: A night at each landing
- Thanks to the family from New Orleans that gave me a lift back to their car. Thanks to Joel and his girl friend for the company and delicious chicken. Also, thanks to fellow traveler, Elizabeth, for the apple, travel related books and advice!
- Wildlife Spotted:
- Mammals: Armadillo (Janice Landing site, 1st night), skunk on the highway (living, not roadkill)
- Birds: Osprey, Belted Kingfisher, Cardinal, Crows, Blue Heron, duck species and a turkey on the ride back to the car.
- Reptile/Amphibians: Many turtles turtles, green gray snake I couldn’t ID and
- Noted Species: Black Bear and River Otters
- Dominant trees: Many species, but saw lots of Southern Magnolias (Mississippi State Tree) Sweetgum, Cypress, Azaleas, Red Maple, long leaf pines and Sycamores
- Ecoregion: Southeastern Plains, (65f) Southern Pine Plains and Hills
- Current Threats: “Major threats to the system include pollution from household and industrial garbage dumping, untreated sewerage run-off, increased sedimentation from roads/development, and non-native invasive species (e.g. cogongrass and feral hogs).” – USDA
- Trash collected: lots of beer cans, plastic bottles and a giant handle of rum (already empty)