April 15, 2006 to 19 - Monticello and area.
Trip Start Mar 14, 2006
241Trip End Mar 15, 2007
Across the rest of Oklahoma (means the "Red People" in the Choctaw language), this time staying on the main road, I 40 past turn-offs for places like Seminole, Henryetta, Dripping Springs State Park, Checotah, Muskogee (I'm proud to be an Okie from ...), Salishaw and over the wide Arkansas River through to the Arkansas State Line. Lovely rural scenery despite being on the interstate.
Crossed the Arkansas state line about noon
After a bit of a "dipsy doodle" around Little Rock, I was heading further south to Pine Bluff and Monticello. Along the sides of the highway were lovely patches of red clover in bloom. The road would be hilly and treed for a while and then flat as a pancake with planted and furrowed fields for a while. There were some little towns which looked like they were doing well and others looked as thought they had been dead for years. Passed over a number of bayous (the only one I can recall is Bartholomew) and something called "Cut-Off Creek" which I believe help to drain the land of during periods of high water. I noticed that Bayou Bartholomew winds its' way all the way back from the Mississippi to Pine Bluff. In places there were also lovely pinkish flowers on the side of the roadway. I got down to Monticello a bit late; however, my online friends Ann and her husband, Ernie welcomed me with wonderful Southern Hospitality as did their 4 dogs (Phalo, Sparkle, Shadow and Ditzy - an older mother, her two pups, one other) and two cats (Silk and Charlie)
Ann showed me round her indoor and backyard garden. She has a marvelous collection of orchids growing about the house and all are doing wonderfully well. Outdoors there are a number of (to me) exotic trees including pecan, oak and crepe myrtle. Other trees which grow in Arkansas include pine (maybe loblolly, which I don't think I have seen before), flowering dogwood (just over when I got there), sycamore, sweetgum, hickory and some type of maple. She also has lovely clematis, roses, lavender, a lovely collection or potted herbs with, I think, 20 or 21 different herbs available. However, watch the poison ivy next to the clematis.
Their home is, I believe, over 100 years old. She decorates it according to the seasons so it is currently marked at various places by Easter bunnies, flowers and Happy Easter signs. For St. Patrick's Day it was decorated in shamrock green. There is a fan in the attic (necessary because of the heat and humidity) and a couple of fans in each of their studies or computer rooms. Ann also has a parlour off her study in which she has a regular greenhouse. In addition to the plants and comfortable chairs and sofas they have small fridges and a microwave.
The house is sort of split level at the bottom of the stairs with one turn to the right leading into a lovely and comfortable living room with many collections of things like wonderful music boxes, tea pots, metal soldiers, and tea things. I believe all the needlework displays around the house Ann did herself. The kitchen is clearly a gathering room to chat, help and watch as delicious ingredients become delicious meals
From there one enters the dining room: and such a dining room. Table set with a white cloth and blue candles, salmon coloured Indian woven rug with floral trim and patterns throughout set on the wooden floor, silverware and tea/coffee service on one sideboard, huge soup tureen on a small set of drawers, cake server on another sideboard with another set of candles, lovely wooden chairs and plush seats pushed back against the windows. The next door takes you full circle and back to the kitchen.
The downstairs bedroom was added on about 70 years ago, I think. In the room is a lovely old day bed as well as a big ceiling fan in the centre of the room and a number of cupboards, tables and drawers. The collections in that room are a wonderful sight to behold: quilted bedspread, needlework pillows, photographs, books (everything from dictionaries to mysteries to histories of various parts of the world to travel), ceramic collections of Santas, penguins (stuffed and ceramic) angels large and small, plates, music boxes, tin boxes, carousel horses, little toy trains, butterflies, photographs of family and friends. And behind every single item there is a story to be lovingly told about son, husband, mother, father or other dear person. This is a home where each and every item is truly loved and cared for. Lucky house - lucky Ann and Ernie.
Ann and I chatted about everything from families to Southern manners, to collectables, animals, flowers, history, books, pictures, church and any manner of other things, then delightful drinks were served and we all went out to dinner at a private home of some friends of theirs
On the way home again, they showed me around town a bit. It used to be known as "Rough and Ready" in early days and was on a local hill; however, I gather that once the ladies moved in, they wanted a bit more civility so the name was changed to Monticello. Monticello has a school of forestry attached to the University of Arkansas. As one of the travel brochures says "Here the spirit of Southeast Arkansas is manifested in the pursuit of learning and in the careful preservation of historic buildings, which include the entire downtown district of the city." There are many old homes (both restored and falling into disarray) in what I believe is known as the antebellum style which I will go back and take pictures of over the next few days. This part of Arkansas is, I believe, known as "Arkansas South" and its' motto appears to be "Naturally Charming" (it's not in our nature to boast but we really do have it all) and it is, definitely it is.
I slept like a log in my lovely day bed with the fan swirling cooler air about me
Sunday, April 16 - Up fairly early to go off to Trinity Episcopal Church in Pine Bluff. Ernie pointed out as we made our way across the various hills and valleys towards Pine Bluff that at one point as we went down rather suddenly to flatlands that this part of the road is part of the Old Mississippi bottom land before the river changed its' course a few thousand years ago. It is known as part of the Mississippi Delta land. It is really excellent growing land and the crops planted here include cotton, rice and soy beans. I'm not sure how one can tell the difference between the cotton and the soy; however, the rice fields are laid out in a semi-circular way so the fields can be flooded at appropriate times. Ann pointed out a residence on the bottom land and said that she remembered when the area was a cotton field as far as the eye could see.
The church is a red brick building founded in 1859 and started in about 1866. The altar is of Carrera marble. The stained glass windows bear the names of early communicants and a founder is entombed beneath the sanctuary (a sad story as she died in childbirth, I believe shortly after her husband was killed during the Civil War). The lovely and stately trees and stone border with hitching posts date from 1870
you don't know well "Ma'am" (sometimes once every sentence) and Miss (Jane, Ann, etc) or Missy if you do. Many of the folks I met will be part of the EFM (Education for Ministry) group Ann mentors on Wednesdays.
The service was absolutely lovely. The organist is very accomplished as is the choir. The brass quartet, flute and tympani (in addition to the organ and choir) offered deeply inspiring introits and service music. There is something quite marvelous about singing accompanied by a timpani from time to time. The music was definitely singable and traditional Easter hymns. The priest, Van Windsor is a very forceful personality who is clearly well liked by his parish of, I'd say about 250 today. The children, who had been well scrubbed and dressed in their new Sunday best, decorated a cross with flowers at the beginning of the service. Only one woman wore a new chapeaux (interestingly a broad brimmed black hat and sleeveless black dress)
Ann and her friend the church historian, gave me a copy of a wonderful publication she wrote called "Jewels for the Glory of God": The History of the Stained Glass Windows of Trinity Episcopal Church, Pine Bluff, Arkansas". After the service I took some photos of the lovely altar area and brief walk in the churchyard and Memorial garden. They are in full spring splendor--masses of white azaleas and yellow veils of Carolina Jessamine.
As we were heading home they drove me past an area of Pine Bluff where a member of the congregation has bought up a street of period homes and is restoring them. She, I believe, lives in one and rents the rest out. She also decorates them according to the seasons.
I learned a little bit about this part of the country on the ride home. Ann calls this area the "swamps of Arkansas". It is not what I envisioned as swamp land (eg, I am not lost in boggy mangroves with alligators about); however, it is certainly is very humid and close to Delta land. The Delta brought the state its first significant wealth from early crops of cotton - called the white gold of the Old South
As one of the travel brochures says, "the transition from dense wet woodlands and wild prairies to a modern agricultural area has given the Delta a special beauty all its' own". In the 50's railways ran not only produce and other agricultural goods to markets to the North but also passengers going to larger cities to shop or go to school. Ann told me that when she went to school, she would get on the train in Pine Bluff and all along the railway young men and women she knew from school would join her and the gathering of youngsters would grow and grow until they reached the school which was also on the railway. I gather now that, as in BC, there is no passenger service. As in other areas, what commerce there is, is more often moved by truck transport although there is a train that runs through about twice a day
From this, and the sometimes wealthy, sometimes poor towns in the area, I gather that as world agricultural and transportation demands have waxed and waned, so has the area's economic prosperity. It seems in a lot of cases the people who are doing the re-building have moved away to work and then come home to help restore the area with money earned from away. In this way it is something like Newfoundland.
There is a certain amount of Civil War history near here as well though not actually in Pine Bluff or Monticello from what I can gather. Arkansas and the Delta counties were important to both North and South during the Civil War early in the conflict as the state's location and extensive river system figured prominently in strategic planning for early campaigns at Clarendon, Gillett, Helena and Lake Village. At least seven Confederate infantry regiments came mostly from the region including the Capital Guards of which a relative of mine was captain. Most of these were either closer to the Mississippi or the White River further north; however, the legacy of the War is very important to the people of the area
I spent a bit of time updating my journal, then the priest who took the service that morning (who had taken a service at Monticello that afternoon) came for late afternoon tea with two of the choir members. We had delicious cheese and crackers as well as an antipasto filled with stuffed green olives, black olives, feta cheese, olive oil, etc. We also compared Canadian and American church as well as medical insurance matters. As in Canada, differences in the church come down to politics and money and they lead to just as much anxiety.
The two choir members were very quiet. As they all left, the male choir fellow said, in very quiet and shy southern fashion that he'd "never met a Canadian before". I realized just how much an ambassador of Canada I become when I am traveling in this way and how careful I need to be in not offering my personal opinions over general comments on my experiences and the generosity and interest of those who I meet. My conversations with Ann and Ernie continue to explore our mutual histories and interests.
That night as I was going over the various tourist brochures I'd picked up, I was also excited to find that I was very close to the area where the Ivory Billed Woodpecker was relocated after decades of being thought extinct
Slept wonderfully well while there and was often visited by Silk, the tabby cat.
I took walks to the dry cleaners and also a mile or down to the end of Main Street and back again to take pictures of the old and restored houses there. There is an election in the county and there is some not so subtle politicking going on.
Over the course of the next few days, I tried to call the various Crease relatives Ann had been able to reach last week. Eventually I was able to arrange to meet up with them on Thursday and Friday. Also made arrangements to take my car in to Little Rock for servicing on Thursday.
Ann cooked a wonderfully succulent pork tenderloin, asparagus and garlic mashed potatoes, which served as lunches and dinners for a couple of days afterwards
Hugely hot and humid in the house so we sat out on the verandah in the porch swing which is in the path of the most lovely cool spring breeze. There was a thunderstorm flashing and crashing in the area but it was passing somewhat to the south of us. All three of us sat and swung and chatted and swung until late in the evening. I really enjoy getting to know these folks. They have such interesting histories and are so gently willing to share and teach from their experiences.
We had lengthy discussions about Southern behaviour including the fashions of hair length (ladies of a certain age do not wear hear down as this indicates a certain social status and possibly also behaviour which one would wish to avoid), courtesies of returning calls made, how family connections and introductions from those one knows usually dictate who is and is not "received" and how the use of the phrase "Well bless your/her/his heart" when spoken in a certain way about a certain person is most definitely NOT a compliment
Ann said that her friend has to go up to Little Rock to do family research. Ann is going to drive her car up with Jackie when I have mine serviced and then will pick me up and take me around that day. We are also going to have lunch at a delightful Indian restaurant called the Star of India. I am very much looking forward to this.
On Wednesday afternoon and early evening Ann and I went up to Pine Bluff for the EFM class. One of the women did not recall meeting me previously. I sort of wondered if this was because she had sort of looked through me when my hair was down and could now "see" me now my hair was up in good Southern fashion. The class was very considerate of me as a guest and visitor: I was invited to present prayers for the group, which I took as a special courtesy.
One night I went to bed early; however, there was a huge thunderstorm in the vicinity and the lightning was flashing very close by and the thunder shaking the house like bombs. In fact, about 2 in the morning when the flashes and the crashes were less than a second apart, I picked up all my electronic gear (phone, camera, computer), put it into my computer bag and moved it (and me) into the bathroom for an hour. I figured that as the bedroom had been added on, it might get hit or have a tree fall on it and I was not about to have a lightning bolt hit or a tree strike where I was sleeping. Primitive fear perhaps; however, fears nonetheless.