Norfield to Magnolia. 18.7 miles/1091.7 total
Friday, December 18, 2009
I'm on Mt. Pleasant Road off of Highway 51, a few miles south of the village of Norfield, heading down through Summit and McComb and finally to Magnolia.
It’s in the high 40s and completely overcast, with rain predicted. It’s dry at the moment. I was disappointed that they changed the earlier forecast for sunshine today. Something to do with the economy, probably. The weather people have decided that we should all be equally miserable. Actually I don’t mind if I get wet today. My shoes will have two weeks to dry in the motor home.
Today is my last full day of walking in Mississippi. The next walk will be about half in Mississippi and half in Louisiana. So it’s appropriate that this penultimate stroll in the Magnolia State should end in the town of Magnolia.
As some of you who follow have probably noticed, the Mapquest or Google mileage doesn’t exactly correlate with the mileage I’ve racked up so far. Mapquest said it was 1095 miles from Cedar Springs to New Orleans, but I will have gone almost that far after today and I’ll still have at least a hundred more miles to New Orleans. That’s because I take more twists and turns than Mapquest does. I can see now that it was unrealistic to think I might make it to New Orleans before Christmas. And this realization is liberating. I no longer care when I reach anywhere on this walk, except in the most vague and general way.
I pass a small herd of fat goats being zealously guarded by a couple of sheep dogs. One of them comes up to follow me and warn me away as I walk past the property. Just doing his job. When I briefly worked for the post office, I was issued a can of pepper spray to be used on attacking dogs. That’s because postmen have to invade dogs’ territories. It’s a simple thing, really. When I’m out here walking and a dog comes up to bark at me I usually just put my head down and keep going. Invariably (so far, at least) the dogs continue to make noise until I get to the edge of their territory, then turn back, satisfied that they’ve done their jobs, as this sheep dog does. But if I were to go down the driveway toward the goat pen, that would be a different story. I'd be asking for trouble. No doubt this shaggy guy is congratulating himself on having prevented me from killing a goat or two.
At a mile and a half I leave Lincoln County and enter Pike County, named for Zebulon Pike, the explorer, after whom Pike’s Peak was named. There’s a Pike County in Alabama, too. Hell, the country is probably full of Pike Counties.
After about an hour I go past the New Life Apostolic Church, where the motor home will sit for two weeks when I’m finished today. They have a nice large bus that says “Jesus Saves” on the back. People around here are really obsessed with Jesus’s habits of frugality.
In fairly quick succession this morning I’ve seen three dead dogs on the road. Not strays. They let their dogs run loose down here, and the results are pretty predictable.
Next is Summit, a town of about 1,400. This place started as a railroad town in the 1850s. It got its name from the fact that they thought it was the highest point on the Illinois Central between New Orleans and Jackson. But it turns out that point is really Brookhaven, where I was yesterday. So it was all a mistake.
There’s a historical marker in Summit about the Peabody School. Founded in 1868, it was the first public school in southern Mississippi. Started with money from the Peabody Fund. Wow. Shows you how benighted they were down here. No public schools until after the Civil War, and an outsider--a New England Yankee, at that--had to put up the money. For all their whining about outsiders, southerners have really benefited from the north. Education money from a Massachusetts philanthropist. Mechanization of agriculture by a guy from Connecticut. Rural electrification by a president from New York. They really did damn little for themselves before the middle of the 20th century except to oppress people and wallow in hatred and self pity.
I enter McComb, which calls itself a “certified retirement city.” I’m not sure I even want to know what that means. McComb is a city of about 13,000 that was started as a railroad town, like Summit. It’s the largest city in Pike County, but is not the county seat. That's Magnolia. It was in a swamp near McComb that two members of Lynyrd Skynyrd were killed in a plane crash, along with a couple of other people. It brings to mind the words of Warren Zevon:
Sweet Home Alabama,
Play that dead band’s song.
Turn the volume up full blast
Play it all night long.
Highway 51 takes a few twists and turns through decreasingly wealthy residential neighborhoods before it straightens out and goes down into the center of the city.
I pass the Episcopal Church of the Mediator. I saw another Church of the Mediator back up in Michigan. It makes me think of the amusing array of epithets Christians have for Jesus, all in addition to his already rather elaborate name of Jesus H. Christ Almighty. There’s the Son of God, of course, and the Redeemer and the Savior and the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. But also the Mediator, the Prince of Peace, the Redeemer, the Comforter, the Good Shepherd. And on it goes. But you know, these names lack modernity. They evoke a bygone age of absolute monarchs and sheep and all that. We need some new ones that fit better with our democratic, urban, and less formal era. I call on the Episcopalians and maybe the Methodists to come up with some new names for Jesus. Let me suggest a few: the Dog Lover, the Joke Teller, the Good Sport, the Consensus Builder, the People Person, the Good Tipper, the Dude Who Abides.
Downtown McComb is about what you’d expect. Half of the buildings are in use, but of course all the real money-making concerns are out by the expressway. Still the churches are open for business. The J.J. White Memorial Presbyterian Church is another example of what I think is Moorish revival architecture. Turreted roofs and tower, levantine pointed window arches. Nice.
I'm out of McComb, south of Highway 98. Still no rain. In fact, the clouds have dispersed and the sun is shining brightly. I visit a little antique/junk store and buy a couple of pocket knives.
The next community I come to is Magnolia--or Historic Magnolia, as it is known. Shortly after the first sign, a second one again welcomes me. It says the town was chartered in 1856. Ansel Prewitt, local cotton farmer, started Magnolia as a railroad town. I pass a water tower that says Historic Magnolia. Then another water tower that says the same thing. Then yet another sign welcoming me to Historic Magnolia. But this one says it was founded in 1821. So there was something here before Ansel Prewitt did his thing. But so far the history of Magnolia is a mystery to me. Of course just about any town could claim to be historic. Historic Clawson, Historic Cedar Springs, Historic Stillwater. A town that can’t dredge up a bit of history for itself is a poor one indeed.