Mississippi is humid, just like all swamps in the south. The strange thing about humidity is that when you add air conditioning to the picture, it can get cold. So naturally I wore a pair of jeans while we we drove from Tupelo to Oxford to not catch a chill in air conditioned rental car—an Impala. Oh yeah, we went all out for this road trip.
These jeans really are quite awesome. I purchased them recently and I happen to look like a million bucks when I wear them. It's been a while since I felt or looked like a million bucks, so this causes me to strut around with a confidence no one has seen on me in years.
And if I don't, in fact, look like a pile of glittering diamonds in the jeans, the important thing is that I feel like one. As I proved long ago, if you feel it, it must be true.
We arrived at Rowan Oak in Oxford and Stoker drove down a gravel driveway and parked beside a trailhead. We didn't know where we were, exactly. The area is quite forested and you can't just see where you should go (especially if you drive down the little gravel road and don't simply park on the street).
So we didn't talk to anyone after we got out of the car. Stoker looked at the little sign at the trailhead which read, "Bailey's Woods" or something and informed us that the trail was a quarter mile and it ended in the museum parking lot. Faulkner, the sign read, used to enjoy taking walks in this forest to think about his work.
If Faulkner did it, we had to do it.
"Let's take this trail. It ends in the parking lot," Stoker said. Obviously we assumed the museum parking lot meant the parking lot of Rowan Oak. Since we hadn't been up to the house (we didn't know where it was, in fact), we figured museum meant Faulkner's house. Duh. Of course. It's open to the public and is no longer a house, therefore is really a museum. Makes sense.
Still wearing my jeans and a pair of very comfortable Born wedge heel sandals (I never wear wedge heels, but this pair of jeans requires them), we headed down the trail. At that point, it was quite cool for Mississippi at the end of May. So I thought it'd be fine to wear jeans for a hike (there was a pair of shorts in the car).
What most people don't know about these parts of the South, at least I didn't until I lived here, is that there are many forests. Oh sure, you knew that, right, because you've watched lots of reenactments of the Civil War. You've seen stuff about the deep south. You know that there are towering evergreens all over and crazy vines taking over the whole place and you realize these things because you pay attention and read many books and watch countless hours of television.
Ok well, I'm constantly in awe, even as a resident of four years. I keep forgetting that the South isn't all about magnolias. These forests are thick and kind of scary and when I'm in them, I begin to understand the fear the Puritans had of them and their darknesses. I also begin to see the influence the landscape had on Faulkner and his writing. Anyway, that thing you learned as a kid, about the moss growing on the north side of the tree trunk? That's true here. Because you can't get your orientation in the forest by the sun or the mountains. So bring a compass.
The trail in the Rowan Oak forest was nice. At first. It was shady and we were there early enough that the temperature was kind of cool. We plodded along, laughing, joking, swatting at mosquitoes and leaping away from enormous spiders. Spots of sunlight filtered through the canopy of leaves and we'd stare up at the towering trees with their sculpted trunks, mouths agape. I think Stoker got tired of me pointing and saying, "Holy crap, look at the tree!"
A few minutes into the forest and I began to hear disembodied laughter, like someone nearby was having a pool party . . . or something. . . . The trail split—we took the one with fresh footprints (were those hoof-prints?). We began to feel lost. My footwear was horrible so I tripped several times.
Soon the air grew stifling and swampy. Or more swampy, anyway. Stoker laughed at my stride. Never one to be deterred at creepy laughter in the woods, he continued to take pictures and reassure me that the trail hadn't already gone a quarter of a mile.
"This is WAY longer than a quarter of a mile. I think we've gone two miles already," I said.
"No way. Our block in the city is a half-mile. We haven't gone that far yet," he said, laughing.
"Not a chance. We've gone way further than a quarter mile and we're not even to the end yet."
"Why are you walking like that? Walk normal," he said, snapping a picture of me on a bridge over a huge grotto filled with trolls.
"What's wrong with the way I'm walking?" I asked, paying the toll. The trolls demanded a fruit roll-up. Luckily I had one.
"You're waddling," Stoker answered, glaring at the toll-taking troll for taking the last fruit roll-up. Stoker loves gummy candy and fruit snacks like that.
"It's hot. I'm sweating. My jeans are shrinking." The troll loped away and joined his clan beneath the bridge, and I wiped the stream of sweat from my forehead. I'd turned into a fountain.
To prove his point, Stoker showed me a picture of myself mid-stride. I looked like I'd just ridden a hundred miles on horseback.
My jeans WERE shrinking. It was so humid and hot, it was like living inside a washing machine and a dryer at the same time.
We continued on. The disembodied laughter kept getting louder. There were red toadstools with white spots on the edge of the trail. It was hard to breathe. The floor of the forest was littered with creepy fern-like plants out of the jurassic era (or at least the movie Jurassic Park). I began to threaten the makers of the trail with lawsuits about false advertising and bad trail management. They could have at least put signs out for the proper route, AND a warning about the trolls* would have been really helpful.
Finally we came to the end of the trail. I could barely walk. My jeans had shrunk four sizes and I only managed to move by thrusting my legs backwards and lurching forward in a wind-up motion (see? using the material's natural restrictive tendency to propel myself. Clever, eh?). I was certain the leather sandals had carved blisters into my pinky toes. But the end was in sight and hopefully an air conditioned house/museum.
HOWEVER, the end of the trail was followed by a short walk through an ugly meadow to the campus of the University of Mississippi. The Museum was a real museum. Betty's museum, or someone like that.
Rage filled me, I heard a loud tearing noise and the skin of my legs was suddenly visible through the fabric of my jeans. Luckily, the campus was a ghost-town, being Sunday on Memorial Day weekend, so no one but Stoker saw my transformation into the Incredible Hulk.
Rowan Oak, Faulkner's home, was on the other side of the forest and the trail. We turned around.
*By the way, there were no trolls. I put that in to wake you up. If there had been trolls, I think we'd have gotten a much different body of work from Faulkner.