BEAR CREEK – It was a jigsaw puzzle of a day, the blue sky pieces brushed with pine treetops and hickory leaves beginning to turn yellow.
Nothing is prettier than the North Mississippi woods in fall, unless it is the Louisiana swamp in the spring. I never can decide which is lovelier.
But then, as my car climbed a serious hill, I looked down to see puzzle pieces that didn’t fit: a toilet – no, two – thrown into a ravine next to a sofa with wilted cushions and a treadless tire and a plastic chair with a leg missing. There was a grill with the bottom rusted out, and a paint can and three perfectly healthy house plants.
Who in his right mind could ride through these woods and dump trash on somebody else’s land? Who could back his truck into a carpet of fall leaves and brilliant moss, climb into the bed and push refuse into that pretty picture?
You might as well take a serrated knife and rip the face of the “Mona Lisa.”
I have a serious environmentalist friend, Greg Guirard, who lives near Catahoula, La. A crawfisherman and photographer, an actor and author of five amazing books, Greg has, by hand, planted 40,000 trees in the past 20 years on his farm near the Atchafalaya. He is a steward of the land, and the land and swamp are what are most important to him.
I have seen his place, and it’s not so much a park as a planned wilderness.
Greg once planned to visit here, and I was almost relieved when that didn’t work out. He had heard me rhapsodize about the natural beauty of Tishomingo County and its lakeshore. He would have wanted to walk in the Mississippi woods, and then he would have seen the careless disregard we have for our own backyard.
It would have made Greg sad. But he probably would not have been surprised.
“I’m wondering whether this place will last,” he has written of his beloved Atchafalaya Swamp. “When my youngest son is my age, will he be able to find beauty and solitude here? Will he want to? Will the Atchafalaya Basin become a waste dump, with waters too polluted to produce edible seafood? Will it become so crowded that seekers of wilderness solitude have to look elsewhere?”
The juxtaposition of fancy lake subdivisions and illegal dumpsites around here would be funny if it weren’t so sad. A sign outside a nearby gate says “The Oasis,” and you have to assume that only the fence will keep the name apt. The rest of us, those outside the gates, will walk and wander through our own leavings and trash.
County officials recently have tried to work on the problem. But it is an overwhelming task to solve what amounts to a drive-by crime. Cleanups don’t last, and soon enough the ravine is filled with a new complement of sofas and window screens, toilets and cracked fish tanks. There’s not enough money to investigate, prosecute and make examples of the offenders. Without funds to prosecute and educate, Mississippi will never look like pristine Idaho or Colorado.
In a country where some make profitable careers of ridiculing environmentalists and tree-huggers, where’s the hope? The puzzle is scrambled, soiled and sad.
Rheta Grimsley Johnson is a syndicated columnist. She lives in the Iuka vicinity. Contact her at Iuka, MS 38852.
Rheta Grimsley Johnson