Eleven years ago today I woke up to rain. I also woke up with my head no longer hurting, for which I was very grateful.
Halloween at a battlefield. “Maybe not the best planning in the world…”
I headed north out of Baton Rouge along some pretty backroads, stopping at a fruit stand just before I crossed the Mississippi state line to get more satsumas, and up to Natchez, and the beginning of the Natchez Trace. The Trace follows the old route the Kaintucks (early Midwesterners) used to use to travel back north after floating goods down the Mississippi River to sell them. Then they’d sell their barges, buy a mule if there was enough money or walk if there wasn’t, back up the Trace towards home. My trip on the Trace predates the writing of the Sharing Knife series of books by Lois McMaster Bujold, but her characters travel a path based on this part of American history. It was neat when I read the books to be able to picture it in my mind. The Trace is also the setting for several of Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon mysteries.
“The Trace — the modern version, anyway — is a lot like a flat Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s gently curved and landscaped, devoid of commercial enterprise, and very beautiful. I found myself wishing I could drive it all the way to Nashville, where it ends, especially after I found out that Meriwether Lewis’s grave is on the Tennessee part of the trace. But I had promised Mother I’d be at her house [in east Texas] day after tomorrow, and I want to stop in Bastrop tomorrow.” Bastrop is the small town in northern Louisiana where my parents both grew up, and I still have aunts and uncles and cousins there.
So I turned off the Trace at Vicksburg and went off to explore the battlefield in the rain:
“It was all very interesting. And I had a reaction similar, if more subdued in some ways (the weather was not conducive to getting out of the car much), reaction to the one I had in Gettysburg. Sounds under my hearing, things out of the corner of my eye. And something quite different. A feeling that my heart was clenched. Like a fist. Sorrow, or something. The site of a siege (and Vicksburg was a siege — Grant and his troops made his name for fighting and stubbornness here over a period of weeks) has a very different feeling than the site of a short, pitched battle. Civilians were involved. The nature of the land is changed because there’s time to build earthworks and fortifications. More time for memories to seep into the earth. Anyway. It was moving. And beautiful. And sad.”
Also, without context I’d never have known this was the same war that was also fought in Gettysburg. As my mother once said after a visit to Gettysburg, “they didn’t fight the same war we learned about.” We, in her case, being Southerners, since she grew up in Louisiana. The text and subtext couldn’t quite get their locations standardized out of them. Which is a good thing.
So was the sight of trick-or-treaters as I headed back to my motel in the rain.