Thursday, April 22, 2010
Perfect, perfect – and all free, here in Mississippi
Tens are few and far between. When they happen, it is a moment to cherish.
By “10” I mean an event that rates a 10 on a scale of one to 10. Everything has to happen perfectly. Given the complexities of life, this is a rarity. With perseverance, life will award you an occasional 10.
For many years, a small group of my friends has engaged in a vanishing activity called “canoe camping.” We have traversed many of Mississippi’s magnificent rivers and streams, but have settled on the Black Creek south of Hattiesburg - an untouched jewel through the DeSoto National Forest.
Our crew of four has remained unchanged for many years: Northsider Kemal Sanli, credit manager at Lion Oil; Ernest Herndon, outdoor editor of the McComb Enterprise-Journal; and Jeff Steevens, an environmental toxicologist with the Army Corps of Engineers who lives in Clinton.
There is something special and unique about the camaraderie of our group. I can see us doing this until we are very old. From the minute we start planning our canoe trip, the ribbing and joking begins. It doesn’t stop until we pull out of the water on Sunday.
In between the jokes, the conversation is very spiritual. We talk a lot about God and Christ. We discuss grand scientific theories, such as reconciling evolution with Genesis. This trip’s topic: Why is there something rather than nothing?
When I checked the weather on Wednesday I had a hunch this trip would be something special. Clear blue skies. Highs around 80. Lows around 45. Perfect.
When we arrived at the boat launch Friday afternoon, we noticed that Black Creek was remarkably high and swift. Typically, the creek requires quite a bit of canoe maneuvering. Not this trip. The Black Creek seemed more like the Pearl River.
After a few hours of paddling, the sun began to set and it was time to find a sandbar on which to camp. The high river had reduced our options. We paddled up a tributary, Hickory Creek, hoping for better luck. Jeff and Ernest stopped on a meager sand bar and Jeff pulled out his rod and reel, catching a beautiful catfish on the first cast - a good sign. Kemal and I decided to paddle further upstream as they fished. Sure enough, just around the bend was a magnificent, gorgeous, gleaming white sand bar.
I will never cease to be awed by the fact that whenever we canoe, God places a perfect sand bar for us to find just at sunset. There is always a flat level area perfect for tents, ample driftwood for a fire, and a beautiful slope down to the water’s edge.
Within an hour, we had pitched our tents and begun a leisurely, delicious meal. After dinner, we watched a blazing, moonless starscape as we told stories and talked by a roaring fire, ensconced in the soft white sand.
By 10 in the evening, we were drifting off to the sounds of the babbling creek and assorted wildlife. There was not a single sound of civilization.
There are very few places in the world where you can conveniently drive and canoe camp on a moment’s notice and not fear being eaten by crocodiles or being run off by angry landowners. In the West, you would have to book a reservation and pay huge fees.
Yet here in Mississippi, it’s perfect and beautiful and free. During our entire 13-mile trip, we never saw another soul.
We commented many times during our trip about how lucky we are to have this undiscovered, beautiful creek all to ourselves. It’s a shame more people don’t enjoy Black Creek, but I cherish the feeling that it’s our own personal paradise.
In the morning, we woke at sunrise, restoked the fire and used a French press to make an awesome cup of Turkish coffee followed by hot oatmeal with pecans and cranberries.
Over the years of repeating this three-day trip, we have refined and perfected our gear and our planning. The meals are both easy and awesome. Every step has been honed to be perfectly enjoyed.
Our leader, Ernest Herndon, author of Canoeing Mississippi, will cringe when he reads that line.
He loves the spartan way and has taken weeks-long canoe trips. Jeff tends to side with Ernest’s austere philosophy.
Meanwhile, Kemal and I relish having the best food and the best creature comforts every paddle of the way. This dynamic is the source of non-stop ribbing from the two camps.
We always see unique wildlife. This time, beautiful ospreys and swallow-tailed kites. Along the banks there was an amazing variety of trees: wild magnolias, short-leaf pine, river birches, red maples, cypress, sweetgum, white oak, ti-ti, loblolly pine, water oak and many more. The wild azaleas were in bloom.
For lunch, we found a shady spot and made huge ham sandwiches, then stretched along the bank for a nap. By sunset, true to form, we rounded a bend and found yet another perfect sand bar on which to camp. It’s as though God had created his own perfect hotel for us with free check-in and no reservations required.
Kemal made a chicken and vegetable curry dish and we feasted. We all slept like babies except for the huge battle between a cornered raccoon and a pack of coyotes around 2 a.m.
Perfect blue sky, perfect temperature, perfect current, perfect breeze, perfect sand bars, perfect meals, perfect company, perfect stars, perfect campfires, perfect coffee, perfect conversation, perfect gear. It was a 10.
Perfection, for free, right here in Mississippi.
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