Thursday, October 16, 2008

American Idyll 2: Days in Dixie

George Washington National Forest in Virginia provided sanctuary from Interstate 81. We had out-of-the-way Elizabeth Furnace campground almost to ourselves and went to bed with only a chorus of crickets to let us know we weren’t alone in the world. In the morning we ambled through a forest of soaring unfamiliar hardwoods – hickories, ashes, walnuts – and got reacquainted with some of the birds of Dixie: red-bellied woodpecker, Carolina wren, eastern towhee, tufted titmouse to name a few.

Having spent time in the White Mountains, then the Green, we moved on to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Shenandoah National Park. Jan impressed me no end singing every word of John Denver’s ‘Country Roads’. No wonder he so adored Shenandoah. After two vista-filled days there we decided we’d lingered long enough and needed to make up some ground before falling hopelessly behind schedule. Back to Interstate 81 we went. How gratifying it was to find that the Virginia’s segment of 81 is vastly calmer and more scenic than Pennsylvania’s. On the road our favourite music sounds even better. Who better to accompany us through Tennessee than the incomparable Jesse Winchester. Mississippi, You’re on My Mind, Yankee Lady, Biloxi and of course, The Brand New Tennessee Waltz never sounded better.

Jan demonstrated yet again why she is the woman for me. Cruising past another vast field of ripe cotton she commenced to recite Robert Service from memory: Now Sam McGee was from Tennessee, where the cotton blooms and blows...

Tennessee delivered two out-of-the-way state park campgrounds on the US long weekend, Panther Creek and Meeman-Shelby. On our late-in-afternoon walk in the former we found six woodpecker species. A rule of thumb we abide by: if woodpeckers like it, so will we. At Meeman-Shelby at the edge of the Mississippi we camped in a tall forest of oak, cypress and tupelo and, at night, listened to barred owls outshouting each other. In the morning we went down to the high cottonwoods at the edge of the Mississippi and got lost in a reverie of Huck Finn and his pal Jim rafting down the great river.

In Memphis we visited the national war cemetery which dwarfs even the biggest of the Great War cemeteries we saw in Flanders only a month ago. Nearly 14,000 Civil War soldiers are buried here, more than 8,800 of them unknown.


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