I have a big day today. Electrical work on the power grid that has taken months on the campus of The University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) will get its final energization today, after some testing and verification. Part of the overhead system will be retired in favor of new underground power lines, further beautifying the already beautiful campus. Ole Miss has just about the most beautiful campus anywhere. Several national publications agree.
Mississippi is blessed with everything from tremendous beauty to absolute squalor. Some folks get to pick and choose which type of place they spend their time in. Others aren’t so fortunate. If one looks carefully enough, there is beauty mixed in with the squalor. It may be hard for the superficial viewer to find, but if one persists in looking, beauty can be found everywhere. Sometimes the viewer has a lot to do with this. I pity the unfortunate who can’t find beauty in anything that does not look identical to themselves. They are a poor lot, if you ask me.
I look around the vastly underdeveloped region I live in in Kemper County, Mississippi, home to coniferous and deciduous trees, lots of wildlife, steep ridges of hills with a creek in every hollow, swamps, snakes, and people who are either retired, on public assistance, or who travel more than thirty miles to get to their place of work. Some say this is an awful place. Those who say so are free to live somewhere else, and I invite them to do so. It feels like home for me.
I got to thinking about why it feels so much like home. Of course, having grown up there is a big help, but there is something deeper than that, much deeper. It’s not just the home I live in that makes it feel that way, nor is it the property on which the homeplace sits, though that certainly has a personal feel to it. Something about the entire area, even those places upon which I have never set foot just feels like home.
Perhaps it is because of what follows.
Ramona Juzan (b. 1814) was my great-great-great grandmother. She was the daughter of a half-french/half-Choctaw warrior/trader named Charles Juzan, the son of French trader Pierre Juzan, who took up with the Choctaws in the late 1700s, and the Choctaw Phoebe Juzan. Ramona was the indian princess my great-grandfather, John C. McElroy always referred to as his grandmother. Ramona was the granddaughter of Pushmataha, the great Choctaw chief who was buried with full military honors at the National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
If the great Pushmataha, the warrior and foremost Choctaw chief, is my great-great-great-great-great grandfather, the same Pushmataha that legend says sprang forth fully grown and warrior-armed from a lightning-struck tree, then his unknown ancestors are my grandfathers, back through the woodland period, all the way back to the archaic period. My connection to this land is tens of thousands of years old. Is it any wonder that something in my spirit offers me, nay demands of me, a profound connection to this place, to this land, to its air and its waters?
We Caucasian Southerners always think of our European ancestors and seem preoccupied with the lost-cause romance of the civil war. Some of us, however, are fortunate enough to have ancestors who predate European settlement, to predate the civil war, predate the American revolution, and even predate DeSoto, LaSalle, DeLeon, Columbus, and even Viking interlopers. I wonder what my ancient grandfathers might have thought when they caught their first glimpse of DeSoto and his men crossing their homeland.
As I sit beside a spring that has flowed freely for ages, nearby an old Choctaw campsite on the Pawticfaw Creek that is strewn with pottery fragments and other artifacts, I think of my uncles, aunts, and grandfathers and how they might have felt as they spent their time in this peaceful place, this mesmerizing, water-songed place, feeling their spirit as I dreamily drift off, heavy-lidded eyes, into a narcotic-like sleep that is as akin to death as any man not yet dead can discern, and reclining beneath a beautiful black walnut tree reaching towards the blue sky I fall fast asleep. I dream of ancient times, village life, children playing, fish baskets hauled from the creek full of sturgeon, catfish, gar, grinnel, and spotted bass, and awaken, startled, suddenly aroused from my sleep by an army of redbugs (chiggers) that have invaded my socks with all the malevolent intentions of Genghis Khan and his mounted hordes thundering westward across the steppes towards those who thought they were the only civilization, and start itching like crazy, only to realize as I scratch maddeningly that nothing much has changed in the course of mankind. It makes me feel very small and very large all at the same time: puzzling.
The grandchildren of the redbugs that bit Pushmataha now recklessly bite his grandson, and we scratch in similar places, no doubt thinking similar thoughts, though in different languages.
The land, even with redbugs, offers a connection with the Earth, since it is the Earth, that transcends generations and ages; though I could use a lot less of the redbugs.
Imagine, if you can, how odd it is that I find some comfort in that.
©2015 Mississippi Chris Sharp