Last January Betsy and I drove to Arizona in the hopes of finding a place to escape the dreary Morgantown winters to come.
We were successful and this winter we will begin our trial run as official Snow Birds in Green Valley (GV), Arizona.
Acting as advance guard I am driving out to GV first. Betsy will then fly out to GV and spend a week with me during the second week of December, then fly home, then drive to Fort Wayne to then fly back out - this time with Art, her dad.
Betsy and Art will arrive Jan 3rd and stay through February at which time they will then fly to Florida for some Beach Time.
Then, they will both fly back to Fort Wayne and Betsy will drive back home to Morgantown. This will put her there in late March.
WHEW!! It's a lotta work having all that fun...
In the meantime, I will depart GV the day after Betsy and Art leave for Florida. Where I go to after that is still up in the air. But, since I will be driving, the options are many.
So, on with the show...
My first stop on this 2 week trip to GV is just down the road - Charleston, WV
Here I will stay with long time friend
Julian Martin and his partner Mae Ellen.
I arrived at Julian and Mae Ellen's at 12:30 as planned and after a nice lunch of home made soup and crusty bread from a local bakery Julian and I set off for a walk in a nearby woods.
Near the middle of our stroll Julian and I walked up an old road bed to a ridge top. At this point Julian remembered something he wanted to show me.
Click on the photos below for a larger image.
The Old Man of the Woods.
This was a real treat for me! I cannot recall the details of who carved this but it was a fellow who lived in the area for quite a while - long before it had reached it's current state of development with McMansions and gas wells.
This carving brought to mind the chain saw art of one John Fichtner whose efforts mirror those shown here.
When we returned to the house it was dinner time so after a quick clean-up and change of clothes the three of us headed to downtown Charleston to the Quarrier Diner for dinner.
I love this picture! And, I am glad to have gotten it.
A word of warning: the Quarrier Diner got the "thumbs down" award. Although I found my house salad of larger than average size and my order of pasta primavera tasty, Julian and Mae Ellen did not fair so well.
The Quarrier Diner attempts to replicate the look and feel of the old diners. The booths, tables and architecture come close, but miss the mark.
Julian had the salmon on a bed of "rice" with a green bean "medley".
The "rice" was pathetic. After some discussion it was decided it was reconstituted minute rice or instant rice. And the green bean "medley"? It consisted of 12 green beans and that's it. So what happened to the "medley" part? Not what you would expect for 18 bucks!
Mae Ellen had the scallops which were large and plump, but served on the same dismal bed of so called rice. Oh well...
After dinner we returned to the house where Julian and I caught up on the news for family and friends. We gabbed more the next morning until my departure time of 9:30.
Now it was time to move on. Next stop: Nashville, the home of my buddy Bob/Robert/Boobie/Roberto whom I have known since he was a kid and I was a Camp Counselor.
My first visit with Bob in Nashville was in 2005. It was quite and eye opener for me and a very memorable visit. You might find the links below worth a look-see.
I arrived at Bob's place in Belle Meade at 3:30 on Friday as planned. I unloaded a pile of stuff and then got settled in.
Where did we have dinner? I am clueless. My memory banks are getting rapidly depleted. Scary.
Breakfast a la Boobie!
Saturday morning we were up at 6:00 and Bob made us tasty grilled ham, egg and cheese sandwiches for breakfast. Carol, Bob's girl friend who was to join us for the day decided on a meatless one. I am glad I did not.
Bob had a special morning planned for Carol and I - several hours of 4-wheeling at a Land Rover/Cruiser Rally. Oh boy.
Well, we did get to see some nice countryside but the sight of all those Big Toys driving in single file through a quiet and beautiful woods seemed rather absurd and pointless. Sorry, Bob.
But, any time I am with Bob I have fun. And getting to see Carol again was a bonus.
This is one of the hill descents. Bob put the Cruiser in "Descent Mode" and it crawled - unaided, down the hill. Bob did not touch the accelerator or brakes once. Pretty amazing, I must admit.
After the ride we had a hot roast beef sandwich with potato soup which was provided by the sponsors. Then we headed back into Nashville where we stopped at REI so Carol could pick out a back pack. Then it was on to Las Americas for pupusas and ceviche!
The weekend was drawing to a close and Bob and Carol headed back to work. I stayed on an extra day and set about scanning some slides which Bob's father had taken during the Korean War. There were also some slides from the Oglebay Camps at Terra Alta and Junior Nature Camp which I scanned as well.
After Bob got home from work on Tuesday morning we said our good-byes and I was on my way. From here, I would head south along the Natchez Trace Parkway to points unknown.
It had been raining for four days now and there was no end in sight. I was glad to be on the lightly travelled Trace which is also free of commercial traffic.
I decided to check out this section of the Trace. But, I opted to walk the 3 miles rather than drive it.
One of several rain swollen streams I saw on my walk. The water was crystal clear.
I saw dozens of blow downs in this area of the Trace. I was to find out later the cause of all the newly downed trees.
The woods was shades of grey and brown and these rain drenched Beech leaves caught my eye.
Further south, on the Mississippi section of the Trace I saw the reason for so many downed trees.
In April (2011), a tornado came through this area.
One of the largest single-system tornado outbreaks (at the time) in United States history occurred from April 14 to 16, 2011, resulting in 178 confirmed tornadoes across 16 states and severe destruction on all three days of the outbreak.
A total of 38 people were killed from tornadoes and an additional five people were killed as a result of straight-line winds associated with the storm system. The outbreak of severe weather and tornadoes has led to 43 deaths in the Southern United States. This was the largest number of fatalities in an outbreak in the United States since the 2008 Super Tuesday tornado outbreak. This outbreak was significantly exceeded less than two weeks later by an even larger tornado outbreak, which killed at least 344 people.
The sky looked threatening enough for more severe weather. And, indeed, high winds and hail were predicted. But, I either missed them or they did not develop. Glad of that!
On Tuesday night I stayed in the small town of Winona, Mississippi which is about 300 miles from Nashville.
I did little more than check into the Magnolia Lodge ($43), call Betsy, fix myself a large salad, check my email and hit the hay.
Wednesday morning I drove west on US 82 from Winona and then picked up the much smaller and less travelled SR 17 south to SR 12 west to the town of Lexington, MS.
Once in Lexington I drove around the traffic circle and city "square" which encompasses the Holmes county courthouse. I then parked on a side street and decided to have a look around.
This forbidding looking building is the old jail house. Interesting architecture.
The side of the local hardware and furniture store.
The Holmes county courthouse is the focal point of Lexington. This courthouse was erected in 1894 and was renovated in 1976. Walter Chamberlin and Company Architects of Knoxville, Tennessee designed the courthouse in the 1890s and the firm of Godfrey, Bassett, Pitts, and Tuminello restored it.
Many towns used to have breweries and some had Cocoa Cola bottlers. This is the heart of the Bible Belt, so we get the Cola.
A nice old building and I'm glad it was spared the wrecking ball.
After departing Lexington I headed west on SR 12 towards the town of Tchula. Here I detoured north to Morgan Brake National Wildlife Refuge where I hopep to find a hiking trail. But, the only access I saw was for boaters.
I drove back to SR 12 and continued west to the town of Belzoni. This was a town I had never heard of and a part of Mississippi I had not been in before. But, so far, I liked what I saw.
I drove the 3 blocks through downtown and then turned left onto Church street and parked the van.
And, just as in Lexington, what should I park next to?
There must have been a bottling plant in every town of any size at one time. This was before the days of the mega-factories and centralized distribution. At one time your soft drink (or beer) would have come from a hometown plant or from a not to distant city. Now, these products are trucked 100's often 1000's of miles to the point of sale.
But, that will change. As fuel costs rise it will become less and less profitable to truck vast quantities of sugar water long distances. Then what will happen?
Boy, that sure looks like a cross to me! Was this intentional?
Today, I can't imagine seeing a lowly bottling plant decorated in such a manner.
I then walked up Church to Jackson Street and this is what I saw:
As it turns out I had accidentally stumbled on the Catfish Capitol of the World!
Belzoni (pronounced Bell-zone-uh) is a city in Humphreys County, Mississippi, in the Mississippi Delta region, on the Yazoo River. The population was 2,663 at the 2000 census. It is the county seat of Humphreys County. It was named for the 19th century Italian archaeologist/explorer Giovanni Battista Belzoni.
The area was named Farm-Raised Catfish Capital of the World in 1976 by then Governor Cliff Finch, since it produces more farm-raised catfish than any other U.S. county. 40,000 acres (160 km) of the county are underwater, used to grow catfish. About 60% of U.S. farm-raised catfish are grown within a 65-mile (100-km) radius of Belzoni. The title "Catfish Capital" is also claimed by Savannah, Tennessee and Des Allemands, Louisiana. Belzoni is known for the World Catfish Festival held every April.
As it turns out, I was in for a treat - there are 42 of the these fishy works of art scattered through out the town of Belzoni.
The one above is entitled: "Un chat tres beau" (A very beautiful cat)
Un chat tres beau depicts the life and death of the catfish.
"Mr. Cat gone fishin". Unfortunately someone borrowed his fishin' pole.
Tucks' has a catfish feed every Friday. Guess I will just have to go back someday!
The artists decided the barn roof was a good place to sign their work.
Wow - a live broadcast of Sonny Boy Williamson!
Willie "Sonny Boy" Williamson (possibly December 5, 1912– May 25, 1965) was an American blues harmonica player, singer and songwriter, from Mississippi. He is acknowledged as one of the most charismatic and influential blues musicians, with considerable prowess on the harmonica and highly creative songwriting skills. He recorded successfully in the 1950s and 1960s, and had a direct influence on later blues and rock performers. He should not be confused with another leading blues performer, John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson, who died in 1948.
I was first made aware of Sonny Boy in 1969 while in San Francisco. I really loved listening to Paul Butterfield and Corky Siegel play the harp.
Mike Taymor, who played various instruments also played the harp. He told me about Sonny Boy and we used to listen to some of his recordings. Sonny could real wail!.
This is one of the
Mississippi Blues Trail markers which covers 11 states. The majority of the markers are in Mississippi and a list with maps can be found
You can read the above sign text by viewing the original image.
The Mississippi Blues Trail, created by the Mississippi Blues Commission, is a project to place interpretive markers at the most notable historical sites related to the growth of the blues throughout the state of Mississippi. The trail extends from the border of Louisiana in southern Mississippi and winds its way to Memphis, Tennessee. One marker was recently erected in Chicago, Illinois, where many Mississippi-born blues musicians, like Muddy Waters, moved before becoming famous.
I consider myself very fortunate to have been exposed to the Delta Blues as a teenager. It gave me a better appreciation and understanding of where musicians like Butterfield, Siegal, Elvis, Clapton and the Beatles (to name a few) got the inspiration for some of their work.
I continued to wander up Jackson Street and spotted an elevated outdoor eating area. I found some steps around back and walked up to have a look around. This shot of downtown Belzoni was taken from there.
There were tables and two grills set up and it looked like a wonderful place to spend a lazy summer evening.
Earlier, as I was approaching Belzoni via US 49 I had seen the sign for the Museum pointing down Jackson Street and that is what led me here in the first place.
The King of the Catfish! This wire sculpture was sitting in a rectangular pond which is representative of the bigger ponds used on the catfish farms.
Only an artist would conjure up images of a flower when looking at 5 gallon catfish "nests".
Another beauty: Butterfly Fish.
The helpful gentleman at the Museum was kind enough to take this photo of me.
One of the things I found interesting was the reason given why catfish became excepted as a mainstream part of American cuisine.
The explanation goes thus: Catfish are by nature bottom feeders. This apparently produces a taste described as "muddy" or "strong".
When catfish started to be grown commercially they were fed on formula food and the food was cast in the ponds as pellets which float.
The combination of a modified diet and top feeding is the reason given for the catfish now have a much more palatable taste. Lighter and less strong.
However, and argument could be made this actually made the fish taste like any other non descript light tasting fish and thus stripped from the meat anything which made it distinct or unique.
But, until I have even catfish right out a river or non commercial farm pond I will have no way of making the comparison.
The greensward which leads to the Museum is flanked by Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum). I thought the fallen leaves were pretty and made a nice contrast to the large and leathery Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) leaves which were mixed in.
As I made my way back to the van I was lucky enough to find a couple more Catfish sculptures.
Although many moved in and out of the area, a Jewish presence persisted in Belzoni throughout most of the twentieth century. General goods establishments and clothing stores arose during the 1920s like Goldberg’s with its motto, “The Home of Good Things to Eat”, and later Goldberg’s Department Store, which still exists today. During the latter half of the twentieth century, many of the Jewish families of Belzoni traveled to Greenwood, where they worshipped at both Ahavath Rayim and Beth Israel, though the long distance made these trips relatively infrequent.
This one is a real eye-popper!
A little more fishing for information on the web showed things are not as rosy as one might think based on the PR from the producers and processors. I found the USA today article " Economy cripples catfish farms". Sobering.
Farmers are getting 80 cents a pound for fish that sell whole for $3.27 to $3.99 a pound in grocery stores, but production costs run as much as 90 cents, Wade said. One processor, Consolidated Catfish in Isola, already has laid off 50 of its 550 workers and plans more, owner Dickie Stevens said.
Moyer spent $500,000 on feed last year. He'll spend almost twice as much this year as the price of feed has gone from $225 to $400 a ton.
Well, I just could not leave Belzoni without having a taste of the local catfish. So, it was off to lunch!
The fellow at the Catfish Museum pointed me to the Varsity Restaurant which has been around for 56 years.
The entrance to the Varsity Restaurant mirrored the interior. Nothing fancy here!
Not wanting to overdo it I ordered one catfish fillet with one side - black-eye peas.
The fillet was 4 bucks and the peas 1.50. Not the cheap, blue collar eatery prices I expected.
The fish was well prepared. Not greasy and not heavy on the batter. The meat was flaky and not over cooked. It was tasty, but to me, undistinguished. Of course I ate it naked. No ketchup (which the manager told me I would need) or tatar sauce.
This photo on the wall might have been entitled "The Good Old Days - whites only."
Sure beats that "forrin" catfish!
I found this interesting little tid-bid when searching for information about the Varsity Restaurant.
The Two Belzonis
Thanks to the persistence of racial segregation in the Delta, Humphreys County High School is about 97 percent black, compared with Belzoni itself, which is only 70 percent black. White families send their kids to Humphreys Academy, a secular private school across the highway.
It's hard to say how much racism there is in Belzoni, but I would imagine this particular phenomenon is indicative: To many people in the Delta, racial segregation is simply a means of diffusing inevitable racial conflict.
No one in Belzoni, white or black, would claim to be a racist, but there are essentially two different societies in Belzoni. There is the white society, the society of the Varsity Restaurant and Guaranty Bank and the annual World Catfish Festival, and there is the black society, the society of the Humphreys County School District and Little Wimps Barbecue and Fisk Street. Individuals pass between these worlds, and yet they remain divided.
Source: © 2011 NPR
Lunch taken care of it was time to hit the road. The next stop would be Skylake Wildlife Management Area which is near Humpreys about 8 miles north of Belzoni. This was another place the gent at the Catfish Museum suggested I visit. He was loaded with good ideas and info.
On my up SR 7 north I noticed this purveyor of grave stones.
My older brother's name is "Sutton" so that is why it caught my eye. I also knew this shot would appeal to his/ours dark humor.
I thought the hearts were a nice touch.
When I arrived at Skylake Wildlife Management Area I had no problem finding the promised boardwalk into the Cypress swamp.
I have to say this was the most elaborate, and probably the most expensive boardwalk I have ever seen. Very nice.
Once upon a time the south was forested by thousands of acres of virgin Bald Cypress. Now, it is all but gone. Only remnants of old growth remain. The largest being Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Florida.
And, here is the prize. Out of the thousands of trees which once were here this is one of the few remaining old growth trees. It is estimated to be 2000 years old.
One can only image what it looked like when there were thousands upon thousands of trees this size and age. But, those remaining trees will survive and out live us all.
And, once we humans complete the process of self extermination it will start all over again.
~ FINIS ~