Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Poplarville and Lafitte Mini Vacation Oct 2007

Vacation Journal: Poplarville, MS and Lafitte, LA ~ Oct 2007

Mini-Vacation of Prometheus Inspiration, Birthday Wishes, Spence’s Yearlings, Victorian Gardens, Alligator Swamps and Aerial Display

Our vacation started with a visit to my Mom’s school. I needed to drop off the keys to my home, so she could take care of Tigger while Greg and I were gone, as well as give the car keys to Dad in case the electrician came by.

Last year, the teachers at Mom’s school were tested to see which would qualify for advanced technology in their classrooms. It was not something that was given to their school, but rather, something earned by means of scores from the teachers, which made the technology all the more precious. I’m proud to say that my Mom scored amongst the highest at her school! For a while now, I’ve wanted to see the new board and was tickled to go to her classroom.

Named after Prometheus, a Greek mythological God who is known for his intelligence, the Promethean board looks like a huge white screen. There is a pen tool that writes across the screen and can be erased like a computer monitor. The children were eager to partake in the math activities. Greg later commented, “You can tell that your Mom is a good teacher. I’ve never seen a classroom where the majority of the kids had their hands raised to answer questions. They really wanted to participate!” In the classroom, Greg said, “I wish they had this when I was growing up!” Me too. It makes learning fun, like a game.

After we left the school, we drove across the lake, heading towards Mississippi. On the way, Greg asked if I wanted to stop at the Bayou Country Village in Slidell. I never shopped there before and was curious. Once inside, I could smell the Cajun spices and homemade brownies. I was tickled with the art section from alligator centerpieces to pelican paperweights, but mostly, I loved the Fleur de Lis.

Greg brought me to one side of the store and showed me some wall art. I fell for one particular (and rather large) design, but when he asked me what I’d like for my birthday, because he wanted to get me something from the store, I didn’t answer. I knew the wall art was expensive, though I didn’t see the price, so I didn’t want him to think I wanted it. After a little bit, Greg asked me to get his wallet from his vehicle, which I did and he met me at the front door and said to go back and have a seat.

When I saw the box he carried out, I had to bite my lip from smiling! I just knew it was the piece I really liked and sure enough, it was! It has 13 panels of copper and each has a Fleur de Lis on it. Greg said the artist only makes two of a kind and was planning to give the other one to her grandmother. He had researched into this gift for me for a couple of months and hoped I would say something about that particular artwork. *smiling*

Before we left the store, we also found a little something to thank Cindy and Matthew for offering for us to stay at their camp home, which is where we were headed ~ Poplarville, Mississippi. It’s only about an hour and a half or so away from home, so it was a comfortable drive without any stress of having a timeframe.

It wasn’t what I expected; it was much more. The land is very well kept with nice open spaces and cut grass to lovely pathways to walk and then the dense forest around them. It’s a perfect combination of open area and thick forage. The road going to the camp is off of a main street and then the “driveway” to their home is grass. I didn’t even realize it was a driveway or street, with a sign “Gawain.” (This was the street that Matthew grew up on, I thought that was sweet!)

Just as we got out of the car, Greg turned around to me and said, “Don’t move. Shhh.” He put his finger to his lips and whispered, “Do you see the deer?” At first I didn’t, and then I saw the antlers! I said, “Do you think I can have time to get the camera?” Greg laughingly replied, “I guess so, considering it’s a fake deer! It’s used for target shooting.” Argghh! I felt like an idiot. But it was funny.

He showed me around the camp, which consisted of a family room, dining nook, an adorable kitchen (the refrigerator and oven were half the size of normal appliances, it felt like cooking as children, which made it fun), two bedrooms and a bathroom. It was perfect for a getaway.

We unpacked and I was eager to go on a walk. I could see one path to the right where the trees formed a soft, rolling walkway that called, “Come see where I lead. We grow toward the light and will shade your walk; will shade your spirit.” As we entered, a bird overhead announced our presence, as if to cry, “Alert! Intruders! Beware!”

Within steps, I saw something in the distance. I thought, “Is that a deer? If I ask Greg, will he tell me it’s another fake?” I decided to ask and sure enough, they were real! They moved ~ two yearlings with spots on their chocolate fur. They were a mixture of grace and child like springy steps. I don’t think I stopped smiling the entire time we saw them and even then for a while after. Our first trek into the woods and already nature welcomed us.

I loved the pine needles, as they dangled afternoon raindrops. It’s so quiet, we could hear the small leaves rustle, even after the day’s shower had made the ground soft under our footsteps. It made me aware of just how noisy my routine life is.

We continued along, breathing in the earthy scent of the forest floor, tracking deer prints and finding the two feeding plots in the open field. Matthew and Cindy have two devices that feed corn in different areas. They are also growing plants (such as cloves) that deer like to eat.

Another day, Greg and I ventured into the deer stand, or as I like to coin it, “the outhouse on stilts.” In total, we saw deer three different times, once on our first arrival and then two other times we were in the deer stand.

I have to mention the wasp nest. It was huge and on the ground, where Matthew destroyed it. (Thank you, Matthew!) While Greg and I were in the stand the first time, I saw this large wasp with it’s wings outspread. I watched it for a few minutes, but it didn’t move. I asked Greg, “Is it alive?” He said, “It’s either hibernating or it’s dead.” I didn’t want to touch it to find out.

I spotted a deer far in the distance and Greg said, “You have a good eye to spot that!” After the deer grazed daintily for a while, Greg yelled out “Boo” to startle the deer (such a funny look that it made, like “HUH?! Wha – what was that?” The fawn’s head and ears perked and angled towards the sound as if a homing device; it made for a great Kodak moment.) After a couple more “Boo’s” and odd sounds from Greg, the yearling flipped a white tail of warning and hopped out of sight.

As I was climbing down the stand ladder, I heard Greg say, “Oh, Crap!” I asked what was wrong and he replied, “The wasp was alive. As we turned to leave, it moved to watch us!” YIKES! I don’t like bugs and especially ones that sting. It’s worse for Greg as he is allergic to bees and wasps. Good thing he didn’t get stung and the next time we stayed up in the stand, he assured me the wasp was dead.

I loved walking through the woods. It reminded me of when I was in Maryland on a poetry retreat. The paths here are much easier to walk and the loops are created to lead back to the house, which made you feel comfortable in being adventurous, knowing you’d always make it back to a familiar place.

When we saw the fawns again, I felt like a sponge, soaking up their rejuvenating tonic ~ feeling the calm, the cool, the serenity of their youthful frolic. It’s something that has to seep into you. It takes time. It doesn’t click on and off like a light switch, but rather flows through you slowly.

As we waited for our four-legged companions to appear, Greg told me, “Close your eyes and listen to the sounds of the forest.” He could hear the deer moving and I listened to the breeze.

Shadowed in the forest floor
Eyes closed against the whispered wind
Blanketed with the pines, once more to greet
our yearlings, no longer a separate entity
For nature embraces and folds me
Into a leaf that I may return here
When my spirit needs to rest

And then I giggled, recalling a walk in the forest when I said to Greg, “Be very, very quiet, I’m hunting wabbit!” Greg says I have a sense of humor that catches him by surprise.

I enjoyed Greg’s knowledge of deer, from how he says they smell like “wet dog” ~ something I would never associate with those doe-eyed brown, graceful creatures. He also explained that deer don’t see in color, which is way a lot of hunters wear bright orange ~ the deer won’t see it, but other humans will see them.

One morning, Greg woke up at 5:30am. I was sound asleep, so he walked to the side of the house outside and just as the field opened up, he saw two silhouettes of large deer, about 200 pounds each. He said the deer turned to look at him and they stared at each other for about 20 seconds. Greg wanted to take a video, but when he opened the camcorder, the blue light flashed against his shirt and the deer thundered off in a flash! I remember the look on Greg’s face when he told me about it. He said it’s not something he’ll forget. I’m sure it must have been beautiful, almost a magical moment.

The second day that we were at the camp, Greg called Matthew to see if he thought the neighbor would mind us stopping over. Kelly, Matthew and Cindy’s neighbor in MS, is a friendly guy. He is retired and enjoying his land. The first to greet us was his dog, Lulu, with her light blue eyes and Eskimo sled dog markings. She was sweet and playful and loved attention. Kelly also introduced us to his other two dogs, one was a horse, umm, I mean Great Dane and the other, I don’t recall the type of dog, has a natural tendency of rounding up other animals and has the stamina of the energizer bunny. This comes in very handy for the 9 horses on Kelly’s property, as the dog will herd them together.

Kelly offered for us to take his golf cart and feed pears to the horses. We tried, but later found out that the horses wanted grass due to the cold weather, when nature calls for them to eat such.

I noticed the gourds growing on vines along the fence. Kelly’s significant other likes to grow them and make birdhouses out of them. We also loved the woodwork made on a swing Kelly created. It was sturdy, yet decorative as well. I enjoyed the visit, meeting Kelly and giving attention to the dogs. We could tell that retirement in Poplarville gave Kelly a sense of contentment and waived a fond farewell.

A little about the downtown Poplarville section, there aren’t many places to shop. At one point we stopped at a Bakery and asked a lady were to go to and she recommend, “The Other Side” store, where we met Audrey. She was a talkative lady, filled with stories about how she was originally from Tennessee and loved it in Mississippi. Her daughter works for the Bakery and as luck would have it, her daughter was our waitress the first time we went there. When Audrey recommend the Bakery for breakfast, she said, “And tell my daughter, Megan, that her mother has a message for her.” Greg promised to give the message, so as we entered there for breakfast the next day ~ Greg asked, “Megan?”

She looked at him with a confused, “umm, do I know you” expression and said, “Yes.” Greg said, “Your Mom says…. Get To Work!!” I had to laugh at Megan’s shocked look, coupled with bewilderment. We explained how we met her Mom and relief flooded across her eyes, as if to say, “OK, these people aren’t crazy!” It’s a small town alright, what chances then do you have of the two places you go to and it’s a mother-daughter combination!

Oh! I bought a Christmas ornament and hope to figure out how to duplicate it, as it wire wraps around with beads. Greg liked it too. I thought it would be neat Christmas gifts if I can ever find the time to craft one together.

Given my love of animals and nature, it might seem strange what we did on the last day staying at the camp. However, it’s something that I asked Greg to teach me ~ how to shoot a gun. He didn’t bring anything fancy that he had, the weapons he used in competitive shooting and such, but rather he took out the pellet gun that shot .21 pellets. Ok, some would say, “what’s a pellet gun, that’s not a real gun” but Greg said a pellet gun could harm someone seriously, so to me, that’s a real enough type of gun and the first one I ever handled.

No, we didn’t shoot at live animals or even the fake deer. Greg took a paper plate and stuck it on a tree, then marked a circle on it for me to shoot. But first, he taught me how to cock the gun four times, pull back the bolt until it clicked and load the pellet gun. I learned how the aim is based on the shot ring and the sliver of metal called the front sight. I shot the gun four times and once hit the mark right on. The other three were around the spot, which I don’t figure is too bad considering it was a first time.

Greg asked me to point to various spots and he was able to make the mark. I like how he is skilled and confident in handling the gun. It is his knowledge and understanding and professional handling of the arms that I greatly admire.

It was a truly enjoyable time at the camp. As we left, I took with me the revitalization for my spirit. Yet in retrospect, no matter how much time in nature’s charm, I wonder if it can ever be long enough. But it was enough to wash away the worries and give me a release from the world.

Our second part of our mini-vacation was a trip to Lafitte, Louisiana, or as Dad says, "The End of the World." We stayed at Victorian Inn and Garden Bed and Breakfast. The landscape was lovely with winding garden paths and plenty of patio chairs to relax, both in the front and back of the home, all the way to the bayou's levee. I imagine during the spring, the area is nothing but blooms, but I was happy to see roses and other lovely flowers still gracing us with bright colors.

Our room at the B&B was on the third floor (the second floor was the main entrance with the reception desk and dining). The bedroom was large with a queen bed and sitting area. However, whoever slept on the left side of the bed (facing it) had best be short (lucky me)! Greg said, "They really should clean those head bump marks (I think he might have added one or two) hehe.

The first afternoon in Lafitte, we walked the grounds all the way up the levee and down the boardwalk where there was a pool over the bayou. Yes, a pool over water. It was neat to sit in the chairs and hear the water ripple underneath. We watched the fish jump into the air. They never jumped just once; it was like watching a skipping stone! We relaxed while a couple fished in a boat and another couple lounged in a hammock. A lone beagle came by to ask for attention but we only saw him that day. For supper, we ate at Boutte Restaurant, which was within walking distance to the B&B. Greg was disappointed with his open faced roast beef; my catfish was fresh.

As we left the restaurant, we saw a little cat playing. I leaned over to pet him and a young girl called out, "That's my cat. His name is Stripes." She had an adorable Bayou accent and when I mentioned that I wanted to get a good picture of the amazing sunset, she replied, "You can go to the bayou right behind the restaurant." Stripes followed us. I don't know who lives in the house that is in our pictures across the bayou, but I imagine they would love to get a copy, because the colors were vibrant!

The next morning, our breakfast at the B&B consisted of fruit and juevos rancheros (fried eggs on a grilled tortilla, salsa, black bean and sour cream). I thought it was tasty, but Greg's eggs were undercooked. From there, we went to the Jean Lafitte National Park, which was only a few miles down the bayou. In fact, I read somewhere that the B&B is actually inside of the national park.

We found the information center and Greg asked the lady at the desk for the parks map of walking paths. She was a bit persnickety, stating, "These are sites, not parks..." and continued a long diatribe of how there are 6 sites, including the New Orleans main center, which is where she used to work and now was transferred here. To me, she seemed a bit bitter or maybe that she missed the New Orleans hub of people. She was very informative but I later remarked, "All we wanted was the map!"

At least we did learn some interesting information, such as when Katrina came through, the way the wind blew (forcing water into New Orleans) it actually pushed the water out of the bayous and the boats sunk into the mud. The problem arose when the waters came back in, this being what damaged the boats. Whereas with Rita the winds pushed gulf waters into the bayous and flooded them. Mother Nature has her own path of destruction.

The first trail we walked was the Bayou Coquille Trail, (the lady at the information desk said it was the best place to see wild life). She advised that it might be difficult to see the alligators, because the cold weather drives them into waters. Maybe the gators didn't appreciate the brisk breeze, but I loved it and it meant we didn't have mosquitoes to contend with!

"Sleeping waters" ~ that's what "swamp" means because the early adventurers said the water never moved. It seems like stagnant pools, but with a keen eye, it does move if not by flow, than by animal endeavor.

Mysterious is the first word that comes to mind when I think of the swamp. It's one of those ancient places, an old sage with a withered, crooked walking cane, daring you to enter. Dangerous is the second word and certainly a fast runner up in thought ~ imagine waters pulling you into the muck with snakes and leeches. Greg's words sent shivers down my spine, "Can you feel the alligator eyes on you? You can't see them. But they can see you." Mystery surrounds itself in the deadly walk. You think it is solid ground, only to sink...

slumbered waters
what hides within
and moves the murky depths that
watch but aren't seen
your perfume moist
and aged, yet young
as yellow blooms
while blue feathers swoop
the silent stillness,
beckoning me to lean
closer, closer more
untold treasures sink
deep and dark
I fall

Our marshes and swamps represent over 40 percent of the wetlands in the US and is the heart of our unique Cajun culture; it is woven into the fabric of our people. Yet, as haunting as the swamp is, it's equally beautiful. Just as the land forest, this water forest must seep into your being for the full awakening to render its mystery. Life from death and vice-versa were seen in plenty, where even a fallen tree is an island of regeneration.

It was on this trail that Greg saw the first alligator. It crossed out path and was about 4 feet long. When he told me where the gator crossed, I have to admit my eyes darted over the area and I walked a little faster! (Mind you, this part of the path was NOT on a boardwalk.)

The second trail was mostly boardwalk, seeing the swamp beneath you, allowing it to swallow you up and ignore you at the same time, was an eerie feeling. It was here that we saw three alligators. Greg spotted the first one and I swear, I would never have seen it! (Which only caused more chills, to think how many did we pass unbeknownst?) I was also thrilled when a blue heron took flight and later I caught snap shots of the heron as it preened itself. There was a white egret in the swamps. Greg said, "Can it be any whiter?" As the egret walked in the murky waters, he remarked, "It's going to be alligator bait!"

At the end of the second trail was a high bridge. We waved to canoe-going ventures. I asked one lady if she had an enjoyable trip. Her reply was, "Ohhh, I... don't know...." It looked like a lot of work to meander the pathway.

I think the swamp is either something you get or you don't. You love it or you hate it. Some will only see the monster and some will be privy to the mystery. There are those who think the marshes are inhospitable places that might as well be paved into parking lots. It seems a dark place if you haven't visited one. I was surprised to find bright yellow flowers, joyous colors, abounding! (And the information lady also told us that people from around the world come to the bayou to see the iris when they are in bloom.)

But beyond the beauty, the wetlands are a productive ecosystem that removes pollutants in the water, imagine your body trying to function without a kidney! The swamps nurse fish and shellfish. It's also a place that provides nesting grounds for birds, such as eagles and is home to other waterfowl and many animals, including mink and otter. At the information center, I read that wetlands may store as much as 40 percent of global carbon; forested wetlands are important carbon sinks. Even closer to home ~ they absorb floodwaters like a natural sponge.

I'm going to hop on the soapbox for a moment. Louisiana's marshes are the buffer for hurricanes and with the decline of our marshlands, we suffer the brunt of storms. Louisiana's coastline needs to be corrected on the map, instead of a foot, we're more like a stub. Each year we lose about 40 square miles of our land. Now, let's think about this ~ the wetlands prevent flooding downstream and act as speed bumps to waves and wind. The vegetation of the area plays a role in slowing down the flow of floodwaters. Wetlands reduce the need for expensive engineered structures, which after Katrina ~ need I say more?

If nothing is done to protect our land, the ultimate economic cost will be in the billions of dollars and beyond that, immeasurable damage to our culture. As we stood on one bridge in the marsh, we could see the city outline. I thought it was odd, but it makes sense given Lafitte is only 45 minutes away from home. This is it; this is what hurricane force winds only need to conquer before reaching thousands of lives. (When Katrina and Rita blasted ashore, they claimed at least 1400 lives, destroyed more than 200,000 homes and displaced about 1 million state residents ~ shivering at the memories.)

And if the rest of the folks in other states think this isn't important or that we should "just not live here" and live in ignorance thinking Mother Nature doesn’t touch everyone ~ maybe this next tidbit will change their minds about saving our wetlands: Future storms have the potential to destroy an infrastructure responsible for supplying one-third of oil and gas that is consumed in the nation, be it drilled in the Gulf of Mexico or drilled elsewhere and shipped through Louisiana's ports! Yeah, let that sink in, for the marshes of empty souls..... OK, hopping off of the soapbox now!

This was my first time to Lafitte National Park and I hope to go there again. It's amazing to think that such beauty exists so close to the busy hum of regular life. And to bring us back to such, as we were leaving the park, Greg heard jet engines, reminding us that the Thunderbirds were showing that day. Given we didn't have plans, we found our way to the Naval Air Station. It was all over the news that this might be the last aerobatics performance in Louisiana due to the cost of war. We watched F-22 Raptors and F-15 zoom overhead. A number of times we were treated to the propeller stunt planes climbing high into the air and making stall falls.

It was nice to be a part of a large, friendly crowd. We quickly learned though that two things were missing: chairs and shade. Thankfully, Greg found some chairs next to where the emergency station was and he kept me in the shade (I still sported a sunburn from the event, it was worth it though). We left early so as to miss the departing traffic. Greg opened the sunroof of his vehicle on the drive back ~ which was cool because 4 Thunderbirds flying low in a diamond formation went right over us!

When we went back to the B&B, there was a flurry of activity. We had to use the code to get through the front door, because they were preparing for a wedding. Unfortunately, as guest, we weren't given notice of the event and it was slightly annoying. The dining room (which we were planning on going to dinner there) was now converted into a reception hall with bride and groom cakes and decorations. In the front of the house, a black and white dance floor was laid out and loud music played outside our window, but only until 8pm. I'd definitely say it's a lovely place for a wedding, but as guests, a little warning would have been appreciated.

That night we went to Jan's Restaurant. A gentleman across from our table said "hello" to Greg and they struck up a conversation. He was a retired baseball and football coach from a Fort Worth, Texas high school. He taught for 35 years and the students still call him Coach Graves. It was a pleasant conversation from location to cooking, students to the bayous.

As the vacation began with Greg's birthday gift to me, it ended on that note. That morning I said, "The Saints play on my birthday! That means they have to win!" Greg asked, "What if they don't win?" I answered, "No, that's not an option. They will win! They have to, it's my birthday!" I'm tickled to say that they didn't disappoint!

Our mini-vacation brought birthday wishes from my family and enjoying chocolate dobache cake! All in all a relaxing mini-vacation filled with nature and adventures and smiles. My spirit was replenished as only quiet walks and loving arms can do....

To see more pictures of the trip, you're welcome to click here:

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