On this spring visit to Rodney, the blooming wisteria was a constant presence, the vines tangling in profusion everywhere.
It turns out that wisteria is actually an invasive species in the United States. Originally from China, it is a trace of the domesticating urges of the French settlers in the 18th and 19th centuries.
I picture a slim, elegant, brave woman (she is French, after all!) making the long trip across the ocean to New Orleans and up the river to Rodney, holding her wisteria cuttings tidily on her lap, stroking them now and again. I picture her planting them by the side of her newly-erected house in a lumpy clearing — not backhoe-raw as the clearings new houses stand in nowadays — but still, a scarred open place carved out of the deep woods of Mississippi.
She can not quite imagine that her delicate and beautiful wisteria will survive in this remote place.
She can not imagine that her lovely wisteria will thrive to grow into wild vines that pull down walls and strangle large trees.
She can not imagine that one day the wisteria will be the last remaining trace of human settlement in the town of Rodney.
Oh, I’ve been wanting to just jump into this conversation. So much to tell you. First, I’m still on the boat – sitting in Tiger Fleet at present, and at leisure for a few hours – so whatever I write now will seem, to me at least, hurried and probably ill-considered, but I’ve been excited by the pics and narrative, and the comments. The wisteria pics are lovely. You were a bit early, I guess, for Dogwood, Redbud, and purple vetch and buttercups in the swales and low-lying wetland areas, or we would be musing about those, too, probably. It’s spring in the Valley! I just hate it that you’ve not been on the river this trip, watching the progressive greening of the river banks. It’s my favorite time of year. It sort of creeps up the river, the willows turning green, the vetch, so forth.
Now, as to Rodney. Last time I was there it seemed in danger of being overtaken by the kudzu – talk about an invasive species! Years ago, there was a narrow dirt road down the side of the bluffs from what was the Port Gibson road – where you could get on and off the ferry – to Rodney. The 1973 flood took the bridge out. I doubt much is left of the road. It wouldn’t have taken much for it to lose itself in vegatation. I do remember stopping once to watch the fog lift over the river at a clearing on that road. (Jeannie was, maybe, 5 years old, in case she’s reading this. We were going, or had been, camping on the Natchez Trace at Rocky Springs.) We got out of the car, and, I swear, there was the decidedly creepy feeling of being stalked by a plant, the kudzu, reaching out from both sides of the road. It just wasn’t quick enough to get us. When I think about the kudzu it makes me feel a certain humility regarding the interventions of memory and culture. Not that I would discount such things. In the broad, alluvial valley of the Lower Mississippi, all of our constructions, all of the interventions of culture make apparent, permanent changes, at least in the sense that we could not undo them even if we wanted, nor could we call back into being what was there before. But everything is undone, eventually, hereabouts. The uncanniness you feel in Rodney is, in part, because when you’re there you’re a ghost, too, just not dead quite yet. What is undone does not “return” to any previous state. We might think of culture as somehow unnatural, but the kudzu has no such opinion. That’s why that sense of “southerness”, the oppressive sense of history – Faulkner still being the purest expression of that –
seems so textured, so heavy you can’t seem to breath in it. Every moment seems stacked and crowded, eyes and knees, with every other moment. This is not the American way of counting time. (Hence, the Faulkners, Weltys, and so forth. We lost the War! as, I think, Flannery O’conner said when asked the why question.)
Was very interested in Richard’s comments. Bring him with you next time you come this way. I’ll make a gumbo.
David, thank you so much for this, I especially loved “when you’re there you’re a ghost, too, just not dead quite yet,” and the crowded moments… (I just had a conversation yesterday with Despina about how Americans and Greeks have different conceptions of time — “much” time vs. “long” time, for example…)
When you drive to Rodney these days, you have to go south past Alcorn College and then up again and west, the other Rodney Roads are closed or non-existent. (On google maps, all three roads are called Rodney Road, which makes me laugh.) Chris and I have agreed it would be good to go back when it’s low water and try to hike out to the river on a road that’s marked on the map but impassible when the water’s high. And then there’s Bruinsburg and the remains of the town of Grand Gulf. I guess the kudzu and the wisteria has definitely got me in its tendrils… if you’re not on the river, you should come, too…and maybe we can get Richard Steadman-Jones to join us, what a crew!~
I don’t know about that hiking stuff. Bet you guys have never heard of “seed” ticks. But we can probably get a boat and explore Rodney Cutoff lake. The outlet, or what’s left of it, would probably allow you to go out into the river from the lake while the river is up; don’t know about during lower stages. I used to fish there 40 years ago (40 years ago!). I’ll check with my retired friend, Capt. Danny Green. He might be willing to drive down from Lake Providence with his new boat – big enough, he says, for a bunch of fatass old captains.
There’s so much to see around there. Not far from Rodney is the old antebellum home once owned briefly by the actor George Hamiliton. That really had the hearts of the southern belles aflutter (even those with neatly trimmed goatees), until he sold it to the Hare krishnas. Hahaha! I’m serious. His name was Mud thereafter.
I’m getting off tomorrow somewhere…in the middle of nowhere, Deer Park, another cutoff lake, probably. (The last incarnation of the str. Robert E. Lee can be found buried somewhere in the mud of that lake.) If I don’t get eaten by crocodillians I’ll be in touch from home.
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