Mississippi welcomed with storm clouds dragging like cypress trees and heat resembling sweet sticky rice. Driving late evening into the Sam D. Hamilton Noxubee and Choctaw National Wildlife Refuge, fireflies lit the sky gently while frogs politely crossed the road. The fog at night was mysterious and haunting like its history. I felt the Native Americans, Civil War, and its ghosts. A thunderclap represented the drumbeat of this humanity. This world was new, strange, and fascinating. The uneasiness in the air was magical and intoxicating.
Oh what did I get myself into? Everything!
For two weeks, I will be the artist in residency creating abstract pen and ink drawings inspired by its marvel. Noxubee County Historical Trail, Mississippi’s American Indians, The Red-cockaded Woodpecker at Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge, and the History of the Choctaw, Chickasaw and Natchez Indians books were my inflight required reading.
Steve Reagan, Project Leader, took me on a tour of the facilities and park. A three toed turtle and flying squirrels said hello. A stop at Morgan Hill Overlook and Prairie Trail was breathtaking. I was on inspiration overload.
On the way back, we turned down a gravel road. At the end was an old and small cemetery. It was divided between white and black lines. The “white” side was clean and neat. The “black” side was overgrown and unrecognizable. Creating black and white drawings seemed uncanny.
At 6:45 am the next morning, I went with biologists to observe the habitat of the red-cockaded woodpecker. The group drove deep into the Refuge in a petite all terrain vehicle that took in water and chugged over logs. The nests are located up to 50 feet off the ground. A specialized pole with a camera at the top is used to peer into the cavity. This is to protect the babies and monitor predator invasions.
In the afternoon, visited the Cypress Cove Recreational Boardwalk. Observed the tall trees in the water and listened to unfamiliar noises. Alligators played hide and seek. I was present and engaged in the moment. Then a sign from the late artist Susan O’Malley: “ALWAYS ALWAYS Remember, you. yes. you. are BEAUTIFUL.”
This was the first 48 hours into the residency…
*The above writing is part of a series of four chronicling a journey of living outside one’s comfort zone and trying to discover a new path. An artist in residency at the Sam D. Hamilton Noxubee and Choctaw National Wildlife Refuge in Mississippi confronted and educated while teaching acceptance.