Culture shock usually involves going on a trip to a place where everything is different. In this case, the trip came to me.
My nephew Forest Herndon, 29, has been visiting southwest Mississippi in our guest cabin. Forest has just spent six years in Denver and is moving back home to San Marcos, Texas. Before jumping into the workforce, he wanted to chill out in the country for a while.
I’m well over twice Forest’s age and deeply ensconced in my bucolic rural lifestyle. So hosting an energetic 29-year-old from the city has given Angelyn and me a bit of culture shock.
I suspect the same can be said of Forest in reverse. I’m glad to say he seems to be enjoying it.
We put him to work replacing the boards on a dock at our pond. Otherwise, I’ve been giving him glimpses of southwest Mississippi as I see it, which involves canoeing, hiking and bluegrass music.
We started out with a couple of walks in the woods. I warned Forest to spray bug repellent from the knees down, and he did. So far he hasn’t gotten any redbugs, which love fresh flesh.
Forest marveled at the tall trees and lush vegetation, which are so different from both Denver and San Marcos. The abundant bird and animal life keeps things interesting as well.
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He specifically asked to see alligators, so at sunset one evening we launched my canoe at Percy Quin State Park. We started behind the convention center and headed north up the lake into the marsh.
Within minutes it felt like we were deep in the Amazon jungle. The marsh roared with frogs, crickets and birds coming to roost. The dusk sky painted the breeze-riffled water in turquoise and gold.
I had told Forest beforehand that we needed to remain quiet, and we hadn’t said a word above an occasional whisper.
We paddled along the edge of the marsh, working our way toward the mouth of the Tangipahoa River. Forest spotted a good-sized gator before we got there. It promptly vanished.
In the grass, red-winged blackbirds hopped and fussed as they found their resting places. Flocks of white birds ghosted by toward their roosts in the forest. Great blue herons watched us warily from the marsh, one of them reluctantly taking flight.
Night fell as the creek channel closed in around us. The air grew still and insects came out, more so when we cut on our headlights.
I had told Forest either to wear long pants or spray thoroughly with mosquito repellent, but he apparently forgot — not surprising, considering he’d just spent years in Denver.
I could see a jillion bugs swarming him in the light, so we turned around and headed back toward the lake in search of a breeze.
On the way, our lights picked up the bright red eye of a gator. We eased over to it and watched a 2-3-footer slide under.
“Wonder where Mama is,” I whispered.
As we continued out onto the lake, we spotted more red eyes and checked them out. All the gators were small, though I knew there were big ones out here. By this time Forest was being eaten alive by mosquitoes and we headed in.
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A few days later we took my canoe to Okhissa Lake, this time on a bright, sunny day. It was a weekday so there were few boats.
We glided across the placid water and poked up coves, marveling at the intricate beauties of nature — like a red-eared slider turtle floating just under the surface, a little blue heron hopping along the shore, a great blue heron spooking out of a pine tree, a wasp nest covered with ominous black wings adhering to a stump.
The Forest Service is lowering the lake, so when we stopped for a break, we wallowed in fresh mud getting out. I clambered into the shade to eat lunch while Forest swam in the clear, cool water.
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Back home, he followed me to Gullyjumpers practice. It was the second bluegrass get-together Forest had attended. Previously he accompanied me to Dogwood Cross practice at Bogue Chitto.
Both times he really seemed to enjoy talking to my fellow old-timers and listening to us play bluegrass-gospel. He showed a hankering to learn guitar, and picked up a few chords. And he sang along to “I’ll Fly Away.”
It’s always interesting to see your own area through fresh eyes. In this case it’s encouraging that those eyes found so much to appreciate. That’s worth remembering when we’re tempted to think of Mississippi in negative terms.