A TRACE OF HISTORY Every now and again I get this wild notion and find myself driving off into the horizon in some random direction. It’s a beautiful thing, wanderlust. Recently I gave in to such an urge and found myself cruising the Natchez Trace Parkway on a Sunday afternoon. After heading out of Memphis via Lamar I started my little trip in Tupelo, birthplace of, yes him again, Elvis. It seemed only fitting, living in Memphis, to give in and check out the two-room shanty that witnessed the birth of our local hero. Or plague. Just depends on whether your glass o’ rock and roll is half-full or half-empty. Anyhow, for $2.50 you can “tour” this tiny little home. I’d recommend skipping the museum. In fact, you can skirt the tour fee in general if you just pop into the front of the house, take a glance, and walk out. None of the furnishings are original anyway, as the Presley family was forced to sell all of their possessions upon vacating. Poor Presleys. But as their story shows things can always get better. Then worse. Then better. As for Tupelo, it’s a quaint little town by all accounts. My mistake was neglecting to take into account the power of Sunday on a town in Mississippi. Nothing, I mean nothing, was open aside from a few gas stations and the Presley house. It was eerily quiet in God’s country, aside from my radio and the occasional car that passed by as I traversed downtown. The Bible belt is a decided fashion staple there. But, no matter, my journey was to continue northward. Finding the Natchez Trace, for me, was an accident. A gorgeous, natural, lush, green accident that left me inspired to explore our neighbor state a bit more. After my hour-long exploration of Tupelo, I just decided to continue on my tradition of choosing a random direction and going with it. When I noticed the signs for the Trace, I figured it was, um, a sign, and went with it. If city life is getting you down at some point, a drive along this road might be just what you need to clear your mind and get some perspective on things. It certainly worked for me. Almost immediately upon my entrance to the parkway, I realized that the power of chance had definitely worked in my favor. After a short time, I made my first stop, at visitor’s center just outside of Jackson. There I was instructed that I could make my way up to Highway 72, and take the long way back to Memphis, edging across the corner of Alabama and then heading West. And so I did. Roughly every 15 minutes, there’s something to stop and see. Particularly eerie and impressive are the graves of thirteen unknown Confederate soldiers, situated along a trail that was part of the old trace, which was used as a trading route some 8,000 years ago. It was odd for me to stand there, a native of the “other side,” a Yankee I guess, but thought-provoking as well. It’s difficult for me to imagine what that time must have been like for our country. Fittingly, the graves are both sad and beautiful, decorated with confederate flags and facing the trail for all to see. Or so the legend goes. In actuality the headstones are not originals, but replacements of the park service from sometime on the 1930’s. There are also quite a few sites consisting of burial mounds from the Middle Woodland period, roughly 100 BC to 200 AD. The parkway consists of monuments to the dead of many cultures. It makes a trip along the Trace somewhat like a walk-through of the human history of the South. I visited the Pharr Mounds at milepost 286.7, consisting of eight mounds and striking in how they are spread across a plain and so easy to see. No matter how often or where you stop, there are beatific sites of both natural and historical significance. As I made my way back toward Memphis, I listened to the story of the Crossroads in a spoken word piece on the radio. About Elegba and the selling of one’s soul for the sake of music. Perhaps my next exploration will take me further South.

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