Gifts express love of Mississippi’s ‘magical’ woods

Tall pines are silhouetted against a dawn sky in Amite County earlier this week.

Sometimes little gifts have a big impact. That was the case for me this past Christmas when two small presents from my wife spoke volumes to me.

One was a wooden ornament with the saying, “My heart belongs in Mississippi.”

The other was a dish towel with the lines, “Go out in the woods, the magical woods. Open your heart to the discoveries within.”

Those two sayings pretty much sum up my worldview.

The wooden ornament is maybe six inches in diameter and shaped like a cross-section from a pine tree trunk. And of course, pines are the predominant tree species in Mississippi, especially southwest Mississippi.

I wasn’t born in Mississippi, but my ancestors go back to some of the earliest settlers in Amite County. Like a lot of people in their era, my parents were raised on a farm and left here in the 1930s to seek their fortune. They settled in Memphis, which is where I was born.

My earliest memories include crawling up in bed with Dad and saying, “Tell me about when you were a little boy growing up in Amite County.”

Oh, the stories he told! If only I’d written them down.

When I was growing up, we’d drive down to my grandma’s house north of Liberty every summer. Back then, virtually all the roads in Amite County were gravel except for state highways, and traffic was scarce.

My siblings and I would play with our cousins, ride horses, swim in the Amite River and visit Homer Fenn’s country store for stage planks and RC Cola.

We’d sleep in Grandma’s big old country house with the windows open and listen to the crickets and whippoorwills.

To my young mind, Amite County was tantamount to paradise.

When I came of age and married Angelyn, we hightailed it out of the big city and settled in Grandma’s house until we got our own place — and have been here ever since. I like to say we found our retirement home at the beginning of our careers rather than the end.

We raised our son Andy here, hunting and fishing and being a country boy. He grew up and became a family doctor in Jackson, Tenn., Angelyn’s hometown.

Andy and his wife Paulette, a Gillsburg girl, bought land in Amite County,  built a camp and brought their children down here to play with cousins, swim in the creek and enjoy country life.

Now their kids are grown.

Not only does my own heart belong in Mississippi, so do my wife’s, son’s and grandkids’. I expect the pattern will continue through future generations.

Mississippi is a land of woods and fields and wildlife and friendly people. Which brings me to my second Christmas gift: the dish towel with the admonition to “go out in the woods, the magical woods.”

One of the things I love most about Mississippi is its woods. Several times I’ve gotten to fly over southwest Mississippi in small planes, and I’ve never failed to be amazed at the vastness of the forests. If you didn’t know better, you’d think you were flying over the Amazon rainforest.

From the ground, we focus on roads and buildings, but from the air you see that those human edifices are minuscule exceptions to the immensity of green.

Even growing up in Memphis I loved the woods. I was blessed to have a large tract right behind my house, and I grew up climbing trees, building forts and exploring.

In Mississippi we have a comparative infinitude of woods to play in, whether national forests, state parks, rivers, swamps or my own property.

I live in the woods and walk in them daily. I marvel at the pine trees, the towering hardwoods, the wildflowers, creeks and game trails. Periodically I run across wildlife, be it rabbits or deer, snakes or hawks. Game cameras reveal even more about what all is living in those woods.

I’ve gone on countless hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, canoeing and kayaking trips throughout Mississippi. I’d put our wildlands up against any in the world, and I say that having been to many such places in North America and other countries.

The beauty of God’s creation is only limited by our ability to see it. Too often when I walk, I am lost in my own mundane thoughts and fail to appreciate what is all around me. I’m working on that.

I usually make a New Year’s resolution each year. Most often, one just comes to me.

That’s what happened this year, in the form of a Christmas gift dish towel: “Go out in the woods, the magical woods. Open your heart to the discoveries within.”

Which I would amend to say, “the magical Mississippi woods!”

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