Sunday, March 27, 2016


Destination: Clarko State Park & Vicksburg, Mississippi
We've been tearing across the US these past few weeks trying to backtrack through a few states we've already visited. ^ See that long stretch between our stop in Atlanta and our first MS destination ^? Longest haul yet! We're both a little exhausted and looking forward to our next extended stay. This is the first time in our trip we haven't had a real destination in mind. Somewhere to stop and get a adjusted for a while. Part of me is thinking 'how are we going to make it through the next 7 months at this rate?'. It's honestly very tiring spending all week working, then all weekend traveling, especially moving several times per week like we have been. You wouldn't believe how frustrating it is to get the RV level (!), get the hook-ups in place, slide-outs, and everything back to where it was after a long day driving, just to have to do it ALL OVER AGAIN a few days later! I guess these are what you would call 'first world problems'. 
-Tired traveler -->
The view from our campsite, about 20 feet from the water. Closest to waterfront we've been yet!
We're still searching for America, and Mississippi seems like a state that we can't just blow through. Full of history, culture, and scenic places to visit it is almost overwhelming as to decide where to go. I have always been a big fan of delta blues, and I know all throughout the state there are several small places in the middle of nowhere that you can't investigate too much before you go.  Since we haven't made many tourist spots our primary destination, we have sort of relied on chance as to what kind of experiences we have. You just can't plan on meeting some of the unique people that you are going to meet, nor do you know what message they will have for you. This trip we have been winging it most of the way, with some destinations planned, but I feel that we always end up where we are supposed to, even if some places don't seem like it at the time. 

Mississippi is one of those states that has small mom and pop operations in small towns in the middle of nowhere. One place we found was Long's Fish Camp in Quitman, MS. We went there on a sunday afternoon and it was crowded. Everything there is fried, so it is only a once and a while thing for me, but the highlight for me was the jalepeno hush puppies. 

  We spent quite a bit of money at a roadside stand called The Tomato Place in Vicksburg. After going in we found it was also a cafe that served some excellent food. The produce was a better quality than what you will find at the big grocery stores, and the bread was made without any extra chemicals that you would not put in your bread if you were to bake it at home. Hana had a tomato sandwich with butter beans, while I had Salmon with salad, garlic bread, and squash. 

   We also stopped at another roadside place called Cups and Cones, which was an authentic cajun boil. For ten bucks we got crawfish, potatoes, corn, spicy cabbage, a sausage, and some mushrooms. When I asked if they used their own spices, or the Louisiana brand boil mix (which is full of msg) they laughed and offered us a sample of about 4 of 5 crawfish. The owner taught be the right way to peel and eat a crawfish tail. I have to say if you are ever in Vicksburg do not pass this small, humble place up because it is worth it. I may even stop there on the way out if they are open because my daring side is curious about the pig ear sandwich. It is not something I would normally eat, as I usually give dried pig ears for my dog to chew on, but curiosity and a longing for authenticity is getting the best of me. 
 We pulled into Clarcko State Park with a sigh of relief. It's a sleepy little state park on the east side of the state just past the Alabama border. It had been a while since we had been in a state park like this, and we were getting burned out on the last two kitchy rv parks we had been to that had man-made ponds that I couldn't get interested in casting a line into.

   I sat on the picnic table and started to pick at my guitar when our neighbor, Gene from Tuscaloosa, Alabama (Originally from southern Louisiana) came over and invited us to some gumbo that he and the group he came there with were having. We talked for a minute, and when he told me the group was home schoolers it didn't quite register in my exhausted mind what he meant.

   When I walked upon the site and approached the campfire later, I was immediately welcomed by the circle of people warming up around the fire while their kids of all ages played together nearby. It was then I realized they were a co-op that all homeschooled their children. My interests were immediately sparked because Hana and I have talked about the possibility of homeschooling kids if we happened to have any, and I also suspected that they may have similar spiritual views as I have. 

    When I asked for their reasons a parent from each family took turns explaining, giving me a thorough picture of why someone would homeschool their kids. For most, religious beliefs came in to play with a strong desire to bring their children up with a sense of values. This made a lot of sense to me, especially since the parents get to spend so much more time with their children. Looking at most of America today the parents work long hours and hand over the children all day to the public school system without giving much thought to how they will be taught, or what values they really learn. Another advantage is that a parent can give much more personalized attention to a few kids, rather than a single teacher who has a classroom of thiry or so to attend to. One girl who has strong engineering skills was also able to take art lessons from two professional artists in the area. There was a story of another girl with dyslexia who the school refused to take seriously that was not only able to develop her reading skills, but acquire a love for reading as well. 

   Given a personalized education, the kids are able to pursue their strong points and subjects that they are interested in. One parent informed me that while there is a stereotype that homeschooled kids are missing out on socialization skills, the fact of the matter is the opposite. The kids actually developed better social skills, and I was fortunate to witness this first hand. They were all very outgoing and polite, and all of the different age groups hung out together. I also have to state that I can tell you firsthand that a public school did nothing for my social skills. My peers made it clear that I didn't fit in which was enough to leave me feeling insecure for a good part of my early life, and only with a strong conscious effort was I able to overcome most of it by my mid-thirties. I still have to work at overcoming this sense inside me that wants to withdraw from most people that aren't family or close friends, or that don't have fur and four legs. 

   There was one woman, Terra, who was very eager to share a lot of details of homeschooling with me. She and her husband own 70 acres of land with horses and a spring fed lake full of catfish. After spending a couple hours with the group it was clear to me the advantage and wisdom they had over most of the families in this country. I usually am easily irritated with kids, expecting them to say something rude or obnoxious, but I could see that these kids were different and enjoyed my time around them. At the end of the evening this group also was not shy to come in close and pray(led by Terra) for our safety on our travels, which I was grateful for. 

   Lastly, there was a guy named Bob camped near us in Vicksburg that was playing blues on a National Brand steel guitar. I sat out with him for a bit, and he had a great story how he had bought the guitar from David Holt, an american musician who played with Doc Watson for several years. If you haven't heard of David Holt, check him out. He plays a lot of styles of american music, including traditional Appalacian, and several instruments. Holt had just put the guitar on consignment at a shop when Bob found it, and Bob told the owner he would buy it if Holt would sign it. Not only did Bob get a sweet guitar, but he ended up becoming good friends with Holt, and even opened up a show for he and Doc.

  I am sorry to leave Mississippi and the entire eastern region of the south. After 6 months it has rubbed off on me quite a bit, but we can always return next year. There is a big road ahead full of mystery and adventure. 
- James
Can you see Maya hiding behind the log?
Stopped at the Mississippi Natural Science Museum in Jackson. Pretty good museum for free! Some of the animals looked a little bit dead inside, or actually dead, but that's to be expected from captive animals. The turtles and gators looked pretty happy!
Spent the day at the Mississippi Military Park, which has a 16 mile drive around the Vicksburg Civil War battle field, and an original salvaged iron/wood war ship - the first of it's kind. Very cool park with some the best hiking trails we've been on yet. We were climbing under logs and jumping over streams, fun!