Road Trip VI, Days 20-23, Monroe, Louisiana to Cumberland Island National Seashore: Whose Woods These Are I Think I Know

Piney hills. Black-water cypress swamps. Real, deciduous oaks that understand they’re supposed to grow new leaves every year. Maples starting their spring blush. Redbuds already blushing hard. Spanish moss. Magnolias.

We headin’ HOME. Or I am, anyway. But this journey was the idea of my Californian Mate, so he can hardly complain.

But the scenery is already leading to some arguments interesting discussions. I’m a western chauvinist with a deep strain of southeastern nostalgia–an uncomfortable combination. Makes me tetchy. I can claim–and do–that northwestern forests are more dramatic, beautiful, and walkable than those in, say, my home state of North Carolina…but you can’t. The Mate walks into this trap constantly.

Him: “Those pines are a such a weird shade of green.”
Me: “Well, at least they have more individuality than our firs.”
Him: “These wintertime hardwoods make the forest look dead!”
Me: “But at least you can see through it this time of year! And look at the size of that hickory!”

I’ve come to think of these southeastern forests as the ultimate glass-half-full-vs.-empty scenario. I can choose to see a scrubby, scratchy, inhospitable tangle of poison ivy, smilax and honeysuckle…or I can see heritage: my daily walk to school; summer blackberrying; finding a safe spot to pee in the woods during a run. Or, in literary daydreams, Scout Finch and Zora Neale Hurston’s Janie.

 

I know my bipolar attitude is the result of too much history. I can’t see cotton fields without thinking about James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men; can’t see big magnolias without thinking of Billie Holliday’s “Strange Fruit.” The South is soaked in more misery per acre than any other region in our country.

Usually, I’ll admit, I see those scruffy, history-laden woods and and think how lucky I am to live diagonally across the continent from here, in forests where nothing wants to bite me or make me itchy, or make me think of slavery, share cropping and the KKK.

These woods aren't dead--they're just getting their beauty sleep.

These woods aren’t dead–they’re just getting their beauty sleep.

But if anyone else says that to me? Nuh-uh, honey.

BTW: I’ll write about our discovery of Cumberland Island in my next post. Right now I just have to give a little shout-out to our friends Raven and Chickadee (a.k.a. Eric and Laurel) for steering us to Oak Mountain State Park via their travel blog, Ravenandchickadee.com. This largest of Alabama’s state parks offers miles of steep, winding trails in wild-feeling woods an astonishing ten miles south of its largest city, Birmingham. We didn’t get enough time there and look forward to staying longer some day. In Alabama!

Oak Mountain, Alabama? This western scary snob says, "Pretty pretty!"

Oak Mountain, Alabama? This western scenery snob says, “Pretty pretty!”

Memories of Martin–and Coretta Too

One of my earliest memories is holding hands and swaying with a bunch of strangers, singing “We Shall Overcome.” I was probably five, and, from later figuring, that was probably at a 1967 demonstration by Duke University faculty (which my Dad was) and students and local activists in support of the Duke maintenance workers.

From that age on, I knew Dr. King as a man to listen to. When he was murdered (I remember my mother crying), I knew he was a man to revere. Only more recently have I started thinking more about the woman beside the man–Coretta Scott King.

Coretta in 1964 (Courtesy Wikimedia)

Coretta in 1964 (Courtesy Wikimedia)

I haven’t yet seen the movie “Selma,” but I will, and I’m grateful to its makers for reminding a new generation that The Movement was–and is–a long, long, LONG series of struggles. And it wasn’t only about one man.

In honor of the Martin Luther King holiday, I’d like to share this song I wrote about his wife, two years ago. I haven’t gotten around to recording it yet, so you’ll just have to imagine the tune…but I hope the lyrics speak for themselves. 

Coretta

 

Every city in this land got a street named for your man;

We celebrate his birthday, we sing and hold hands.

But sometimes I wonder if we’d ever be here

If you hadn’t stood beside him for all of those years.

All of those years…imagine the tears.

Coretta Scott King, your name hardly appears.

 

Lovely young soprano, Alabama to Ohio:

Your music could’ve carried you even further, you know.

But Martin sweeps you off your feet, or you sweep him,

And you’re swept into the movement, sink or swim.

Sink or swim…opposition is grim.

Montgomery Bus Boycott is the first big win.

 

Martin’s filling up the jails, says that love will never fail

And you’re right there with him, center of the gale.

But your four little children can’t be left alone

And Martin says their mama needs to stay at home.

Stay at home, keep the children calm.

Thank the Lord you are out when your house gets bombed.

 

Klan don’t need to wait for dark; Selma’s like their personal park.

Cross the Pettus Bridge to face Sheriff Clark.

On that Bloody Sunday you can hear the cries

With your hands in the laundry and your eyes on the prize.

Eyes on the prize…when a martyr dies

Best step aside, feel the power rise.

 

Martin goes to Memphis town; hand of hate cuts him down.

Now they’re looking to you to lead ’em to high ground.

You’re still in shock, you don’t know what to feel

But just like Martin, you’re made of steel.

Made of steel…Lord, this is real:

41 year-old widow of a slain ideal.

 

So you take up Martin’s cross, learn to be a movement boss

And you march and you rally and you pay the cost.

You tell your fellow women to embrace their role:

“If you want to save the nation, you must become its soul.”

Become its soul…it took its toll.

But Coretta, look around, we’re approaching the goal.

 

 For over thirteen thousand days, you walked those weary ways

Speaking out against the war, supporting the gays.

For the poor and persecuted you carried the flame

And never got a monument. Ain’t it a shame?

Ain’t it a shame? No one’s to blame.

But Coretta Scott King, we remember your name.

Ain’t it a shame? No one’s to blame.

But Coretta Scott King, we remember your name.

G. Wing, March 2013

The Selma March (Courtesy Wikimedia)

The Selma March (Courtesy Wikimedia)

Have you seen “Selma”? Care to share your impressions? Or your own memories of Martin, or Coretta? Let’s take time to remember.