Posts Tagged ‘Indian trail’

“A truly happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery on a detour.” What wise man or woman said this? No one seems to know. It was probably only a cynical quip, but then, the Cynics were philosophers. Anyway, I guess that makes me a truly happy person. My life has been full of detours, both figurative and literal.
One of my most memorable was when I got off the Interstate and discovered the Natchez Trace. It was the summer of ’99. We were on our way home from a family reunion in Arkansas. I still traveled the Interstates in those days, always anxious to get to a destination as quickly and directly as possible. That year, I-20 seemed to be under construction everywhere and we were tired of sitting in traffic in the hot sun. After we crossed the Mississippi River and made it through Vicksburg, there was another construction zone. We crept forward. An exit with a brown sign indicated the Natchez Trace. I had seen those signs before on my trips to and from Arkansas but I had only a vague idea of what the Natchez Trace was. At least it wasn’t a construction zone.
“Let’s check this out,” I said. My life hasn’t been the same since.
Originally an Indian trail, the Trace was used by “Kaintucks” returning home from Natchez after floating their produce down the Mississippi to market. There they would also sell their rafts and make their way back home on foot. As more white settlers invaded this part of the country, traffic increased and the Trace became a rough wagon road between Nashville and Natchez. It reached its heyday in the 1800’s only to be virtually abandoned after steamboats took over the river traffic and other roads were built.
In the 1930’s, during the Great Depression, a Mississippi congressman, Thomas Jefferson Busby, saved the Trace and its history for future generations. He proposed construction of the parkway as a public works project to benefit his unemployed constituents. Of course it took an Act of Congress, much money, and many years to accomplish, but it was well worth the trouble.
The 500 mile long Trace is a leisurely drive through some lovely country, with picnic areas, restrooms, and campgrounds. The speed limit is only fifty and commercial vehicles are prohibited. With no stop signs or traffic lights to impede your progress, you stop only when you want to. I stop often. Every few miles there are historical and geological sites. I have spent days on the Trace, steeped in History. Even when I lack sufficient time, I never drive through Mississippi or Tennessee without visiting some part of the Trace.
I became so enamored by the Trace that I began to study it. One family’s story has so gripped my imagination that I am researching them with a historical novel in mind. It has been quite a detour.
I seldom take major highways anymore. I can read a road map and, if the roads are properly marked, I can follow a planned route. I said, “If.” For the most part, Florida roads are well marked, but that is not the case every where. I often find myself on unplanned detours. To be honest, I get lost. No matter, the scenery can be enjoyable and eventually I stumble across a town or roadway that I can locate on my map and steer myself back in the right direction.
One time I passed a mound of kudzu in the shape of a house. It was so remarkable that I had to turn around and check it out. Indeed, it was an abandoned house, chimney and all, that had become totally engulfed with vines. I have encountered many such interesting things on my “detours” but I haven’t been able to find the vine covered cottage again.
In 2006, heading south through Pennsylvania, I ran out of road signs. I had little idea where I was or, the way the roads wind among the mountains, no idea in what direction I was going. Oh, well, the scenery was beautiful, so I kept on. Whenever I came to an intersection, I’d take the road that felt right. Before I knew it, I had descended into Pennsylvania Dutch farmland and was not far from a highway which would take me home.
Our detour philosopher was probably referring to life, not roads, but isn’t it the same thing? I’ve always marveled at the people who can boast with confidence, “In five years (or ten or twenty), I will be at (a certain job, income level, or other goal).” Wouldn’t it be boring to have your life play out in an orderly succession with no surprises? I will never know. In high school my goal was to go to college and that was probably the last thing that worked out the way I’d planned. Another philosopher has said, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” How true!
In college, I majored in Literature. I wanted to write, but journalism did not appeal to me. By my senior year I realized that I would have to make a living somehow, so I went into teaching. When I had children I wanted to be a stay at home mother and write in my spare time. How unrealistic. I did not plan to be a single parent who had to work. Since I had become disillusioned with teaching, I tried social work. This required a lot of writing and that helped me hone my craft. Quite a detour, wasn’t it? This career also exposed me to a lot of things I would not have encountered in a boring, well planned life. I learned a lot about people – good material for fiction. Now, with my state pension, I don’t have worry about where my next meal will come from, even though it is more likely to be hamburger than steak. I have the leisure to write without worrying about how soon it will sell. I don’t aspire to live in a mansion in a gated community. I’m happy with my little house in the woods.
And when I travel, if I end up somewhere unexpected, it’s not a detour, it’s an adventure.

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