Sunday, August 14, 2016

On the Road to Hattiesburg, Part I

Attending the Book Club Meeting (and finding my way)...

I left Columbus, Mississippi, at 8:30 on Saturday, August 6, for my Hattiesburg, Mississippi, adventure. It was one of those very hot and very humid days we had last week, where the "real feel" according to the smart phone weather said it felt like the triple digits...but I'll get to this in a minute.

Somewhere on I-59 approaching Meridian
When I started out, it was cool-ish and that was good enough for me. In the case of this trip, it was more about what I would see on the way to Hattiesburg, some 180 miles almost due south. It was bright and sunny as I followed my phone's directions to get onto highway 45. And the first part of the trip took me to familiar scenery as I started out going west toward Starkville. Once you leave Columbus, heading west, the land opens up just a bit and you can see down the lush, green highway, the Golden Triangle Regional Airport off to the left, the industrial park, small bodies of water, and meadows. The trees don't close in the road, and as I turned south onto Highway 45, as directed, it stayed this way for the first few miles. The highway was smooth and the countryside to my desert eyes was beautiful. A little farther down the road and small farms came into view on both sides of the highway. I immediately knew when I passed cotton fields, since I grew up on a cotton farm, and this early in August, the cotton was in the latter blooming stage, with their yellow flowers, but not in profusion, and I figured the crops were already forming the cotton bowls, as well. There were also what looked like fields of grain, and cornfields that were already beyond the ripened corn stage. I figure that, while corn takes about 90 days to grow and mature, it is possible to plant at least two crops before the weather turns too cold, if you stagger the planting. Of course, the fields were bordered by trees, and for awhile it was sunny and the sky was mostly clear. I've been delighted having only lived in Mississippi now for a little over two months that there are days and portions of days when the sky is almost cloudless, and people tell me that August is a relatively dry month.

As the miles accumulated under me, the terrain changed, and the land "undulated" rather than forming "rolling hills" as it might in other parts of the country. Of course the distinct difference between anything east of New Mexico and the western half of New Mexico is there were no mountains rising up on the horizon in any direction, but the trees of Mississippi keep it from being boring to the eye, as might be the case in the great plains (at least to me).

Fairly soon, however, the farmland diminished and the trees moved in closer to the highway, and the four-lane highway separated and, as in Louisiana on I-20 out of Shreveport, the medians grew wide and were also filled with trees, so that you couldn't see the oncoming lanes of traffic. There were signs for small towns all along the way, but they were not visible from the highway, and I was on a mission to get to Hattiesburg, anyway, in time to drive around and sight see before it was time to get to the book club meeting. But it was over a two-hour drive, and so I did have to pull off a couple of times to either gas up or take a bathroom break and have a cup of coffee.

I saw the signs for Macon, Mississippi, but I was disappointed to see that the only part of Macon that was visible from the highway were gas stations and a few outlying houses. Macon is where my partner had found a drop-dead gorgeous, 5,000 square-foot Victorian that I would have liked to see, but that part of Macon was hidden by trees, and I didn't even know whether the mass of Macon was on the west side of the highway or the east side, and so I kept on driving.

In my limited knowledge of the terrain of Mississippi, I theorize that the land is flatter and more farming is done on the Mississippi delta side of the state (along the Mississippi River and inland to about the middle of the state). I was driving down along the eastern side of the state, not far from the Alabama border, and I saw signs for towns in Alabama as I drove.

Don't ask me what kinds of trees grow along the highways, but I noticed that as I continued southward, the trees changed from leafy to piney trees. Sorry, that's the best I can do. In the part of New Mexico I'm from, there are pine forests, dotted with aspens, in the higher elevations, but in the desert, you not only know what kind each tree is, but you practically can name each one...that mulberry by the grocery store. That old pine tree that froze out in 2005 at the Papen house. There just aren't that many stands of trees in the desert. But in Mississippi and along the highway there is a large variety of trees, so thick in some places along the highways that you can't even walk through them!

I arrived in Hattiesburg, after traversing Meridian and getting onto Highway 59 south, there. Once again the terrain changed a little more and the land opened up so that I could see a little farther in each direction. And it became somewhat hotter and more humid, but I figured part of that was passing from morning into mid-morning. In all, it was still lush and green as I drifted into the outskirts of Hattiesburg, and once the gps app released me, saying I had "arrived" I found I was on Main street in Hattiesburg.

From there I just winged it as I drove around, always keeping in mind where Main street was. I was a little surprised that Hattiesburg, being a much larger town than Columbus was a bit more rough around the edges in the downtown area. In my last post, I featured a video about the Midtown Hattiesburg development, but I decided it must still be in the planning stages. No doubt there are, as in most other cities, well-developed areas and areas that need to undergo renovation, and the older homes I saw in Hattiesburg in the downtown area were ripe for renovation, but there were lots of old homes that would be stunning once they are renovated. I've always been lucky in unfamiliar cities in stumbling onto just what I was looking for, and when I arrived in Hattiesburg, I was looking for a cafe or coffee shop. I found the Depot Coffee House, right along the railroad tracks near what must have been the bustling center of Hattiesburg when the railroads were the hub of the city. On the Road to Hattiesburg, Part II will continue in the next post...

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