Brices Cross Roads and Tupelo National Battlefields (such as they were)

A hurricane three weeks ago blew a bunch of American Flamingos far north into the eastern United States where they’d never been seen before. The closest to me were in central Alabama, seven hours away. After debating with myself for a couple weeks, I decided to go for it. I left home at 7:00, arrived at the farm pond where they’d been hanging out every single day since they were first seen on September 2, and apparently missed them by no more than four hours. The very nice and apologetic couple, the McKemies, who owned the pond let me drive onto their property and even drove around to the other side of the pond in their golf course “in case the flamingos are hidden in the grass.”

I’ve made long drives and missed birds before, but not this long. Not nearly this long. I was discouraged. Janet McKemie took my number and offered to call me if the birds showed up the next morning, but I had a sense that I’d missed my window. I decided to head toward home, chopping three hours off Tuesday’s trip by staying in Tupelo. It turned out the be the right decision—the flamingos weren’t seen in the area again.

I settled into my hotel in Tupelo—a Comfort Suites I settled on by coaxing the clerk to find me all the discounts she could (which amounted to about $30—down to $117). Soon I was feeling a bit more chipper and decided to spend the next morning seeing what there was to see in the area before driving the four hours home.

I’ve long been aware of the two Civil War Battlefields in the area, and that neither one was worth a concentrated effort. But since I was right there … Samuel Johnson once wrote about a famous scenic area in Scotland that “it was worth seeing, but it wasn’t worth going to see.” I’d put Brices Cross Roads into that category. Tupelo wasn’t even worth driving past.

I drove 14 miles north of town to Brices Cross Roads first.

In June 1964, while Sherman was attempting to take Atlanta, Nathan Forrest and his cavalry were causing chaos on his supply lines. Sherman ordered Samuel Sturgis to take a force into Mississippi and defeat Forrest. They met at Brices Cross Roads on June 10. Forrest, with a smaller force, attacked Sturgis, whose army was strung out and not prepared. After an all-day fight, Forrest had managed to crumple the Union lines and drive Sturgis’ army back, capturing his supply train in the process. Sturgis fled in defeat, but the action did keep Forrest out of Sherman’s hair.

The National Park area was behind me as I took this photo. Forrest’s troops advanced across this field towards where I stood. This part of the battlefield is preserved by a local association and isn’t interpreted in any way apart from this sign.

The National Park Service only has one acre of the battlefield preserved, although a local association has been formed which has purchased another 1,390 acres, which is nice. Development is creeping into the area, but the immediate land around the cross roads still looks rural. I spend three minutes in the National Park area and another 30 or so wandering around the rest of the battlefield—mostly looking for birds.

The cemetery next to the battlefield belongs to the Bethany Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. The church was at the cross roads at the time of the battle, but the building there now isn’t the same one. The cemetery was established in 1853 and now contains many Confederate graves.

Later in the morning, after touring Elvis’ birthplace and eating lunch, I drove to the Tupelo National Battlefield. There is so little here that it’s rather a farce to even bother preserving it. All that’s left is a lot in the middle of town with a sign, a interpretive board, and a duplicate of the Brice Cross Roads monument. I stayed about four minutes.

I drove to the visitor center on the Natchez Trace Parkway to see if they had more info on the battles, but there was very little to see. I headed for home. Every truck in North America was traveling from Memphis to Little Rock on I-40 this afternoon, and they were all taking turns passing each other. One truck-caused jam lasted for at least 30 miles. I made it home somehow, but it wasn’t a rewarding trip.

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Elvis Presley Birthplace

Elvis was born in Tupelo on January 8, 1935 in the front room a 300-square-foot, two-room house built by his father. When he got rich, he bought the house and preserved it, and it opened for tours while he was still alive. It’s still on its original location, although the surrounding buildings have disappeared.

I arrived on Tuesday morning shortly after the park opened, and there weren’t very many visitors. I paid $15 for the whole experience. I first went to the house. A guide inside pointed out the three things that are original—the fireplace in the front room, the stove in the kitchen, and the icebox, which the family took to Memphis with them.

The church Elvis attended with his family, and where he first sang in front of people, has been moved to the site. It was a Pentecostal Assembly of God church.

After a woman gave a talk, screens lowered and a 15-minute presentation of a typical church service with snippets of songs and a short section of a message. A young boy (as Elvis) came forward and sang “Jesus Loves Me.” The songs were ones I knew from my childhood, and the sermon included the gospel message. The woman talked about the healing and tongues that went on there, but they weren’t included in the video.

Elvis insisted that a chapel be built on the grounds. It’s near the church and included a stained-glass window.

Elvis recorded more gospel songs than any other genre, and his three Grammy’s were all for gospel songs. Insiders say that when he jammed in private with his friends, he frequently played gospel songs. You can’t really learn much about the man without hearing about his faith. My RA at Moody went to the church in Memphis where Elvis went when in town. My RA’s pastor knew Elvis and said he had no doubt that Elvis was saved. It could be. Obviously he was flawed. But seeing where he came from—the poverty, his father imprisoned for check fraud, the family losing even this tiny house to foreclosure—and then thinking about how suddenly he became immensely wealthy and popular, it’s easy to understand how he would have trouble. What he needed, and never had, was somebody to tell him no.

I walked around the grounds and saw the statues and other features.  It was all over-the-top, of course, but interesting. Again, worth seeing but not worth going to see.

This statue is supposed to symbolize Elvis as a lad (life-size) and as a man (larger-than-life).

The guide in the church mentioned other Elvis-related places around town. I chose not to see them except for Johnnie’s Drive-in, opened in 1945, where Elvis supposedly ate. They even have an Elvis booth. It was open when I arrived, but while I was ordering, some old guy came and sat at it. It was no different from the other books except for a small cardboard sign.

The ambiance was great. The burger and fries were mediocre.

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Highlights from Recent Reading

A [man I know] has a wonderful habit of making remarks that never seem to come out the way he planned. A friend asked if he had ever seen a certain play and if he liked it. “Oh, don’t miss it if you can,” said Dave. And once he brought an argument to an abrupt and triumphant conclusion with what, to date, is my favorite sentence: “Well, I may be wrong but I’m not far from it.”

from A Watched Proverb Butters No Parsnips, by Frank Sullivan


GROUCHO: Where are you from?

WOMAN: I’m from South Wales.

GROUCHO: Did you ever meet a fellow named Jonah? He lived in whales for a while. The middle part.

from The Essential Groucho, edited by Stefan Kanfer


MAN: I’m what you call a horse psychiatrist.

GROUCHO: You must have the biggest couch in town. I suppose you get a lot of horses whose wives are nags?

from The Essential Groucho, edited by Stefan Kanfer


When he came in U.S.A. Uncle John was speaking Russian, Turkish, Persian, Syrian, Armenian, Tartar, and Georgian. Naturally, it didn’t leave much place in his head for this language. So every time he couldn’t think of a word he needed in English, he just said, “I luff you.” He surely made a lot of new friends this way, specially lady friends.

from Anything Can Happen, by George and Helen Waite Papashvily


Phil Regan [whom I knew well] turned eighty in 2017 and was still coaching in the minors for the Mets. One morning that spring, I asked him about his well-known reputation for slick deliveries. This was a man who once dropped a Vaseline tube from his jacket pocket on the bases. Yet, at first, he demurred.

“Who told you that?” he barked, then dove into a story about a game at Wrigley Field on August 18, 1968. Pitching for the Cubs against Cincinnati, Regan was repeatedly cited for throwing illegal pitches. Twice, when the batter put the ball in play for an out, the plate umpire Chris Pelekoudas ordered him back to the plate to hit again. It was quite a scene, Regan said: his catcher was tossed from the game, but he kept pitching because the umpires found nothing on his cap or glove. The next day, league president Warren Giles flew to town for an emergency meeting and promptly undercut the umpires, holding a news conference and praising Regan as a “fine Christian gentleman.” One little problem: the umpires were right about Regan.

“They said they called 14 illegal pitches,” Regan said. “They missed three!”

from K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches, by Tyler Kepner


There is one personal name in the binomials which makes me shudder a bit. I have not been quite so keen on isabellinus, or the Anglicised form Isabelline, since discovering the story behind the word. It appears that the most likely explanation is that Queen Isabella of Spain (1451-1504) — better known as the joint sponsor, with King Ferdinand, of the voyages of Columbus — has been eternally linked to the fawn colour since vowing not to change her underwear until Spain was freed from the Moors. Somehow, I am no longer quite so anxious to see an Isabelline Shrike or an Isabelline Wheatear. The term is in evidence in French in 1595, and was used in 1600 to describe a [fawn-colored] gown in the wardrobe of Elizabeth I. It was widely used later in French to describe dun-colored horses, so there is little surprise that its currency in bird names is down to its use by … French ornithologists.

from Lapwings, Loons and Lousy Jacks: the How and Why of Bird Names, by Ray Reedman


After many years of marriage, the one piece of advice I can give is this: For some reason, women really like the towels folded in thirds.

from a meme I saw on the Internet


People need their beliefs to be consistent and compatible. Incompatible beliefs (dissonant cognitions) cause psychological tension. For instance, if your belief system tells you the world should have ended, but it didn’t, you’ll need to resolve this discrepancy. A simple way to do so would be to discard your disproven beliefs. However, if you have already deeply committed yourself to those beliefs—for instance, if you have quit your job, left your spouse, and risked getting locked away in a mental asylum on account of your convictions—accepting that you were wrong might not be so easy. In such a case, it might paradoxically be easier to try to strengthen your belief by attempting to recruit other believers—because convincing someone else to share your ideas is like getting a vote of confidence. Suddenly your being right seems possible again. … If more and more people can be persuaded that the system of belief is correct, then clearly it must, after all, be correct….

Have you ever gotten into an argument with someone who wouldn’t change his mind no matter what facts, evidence, or logic you presented him with? … You might as well give up the effort, because beliefs can easily survive being disproven—and can in fact become stronger as a result.

from Elephants on Acid and other Bizarre Experiments, by Alex Boese


The Linville River Railway, extending from Cranberry to Boone, was incorporated as a common carrier and operated jointly with the East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad by the Cranberry iron mine corporation, which owned them both …

Boone held a banquet to celebrate, at which Mayor Shull, of Banner Elk (which, unfortunately, was left some four miles off the line), was asked after a round of gloating speeches to extend congratulations from his town. Mr. Shull rose and remarked, “I remember when the only way a man could get into Boone was to be born there,” and sat down.

from Slow Train to Yesterday, by Archie Robertson


With air-conditioning and the female invasion, the institution of the smoking-car [on trains] disappeared in what is perhaps the most complete example of the leveling-out of manners and morals. … The habit [of story-telling] has disappeared along with the Chestnut Bell, a small bell attached to the vest, which one tinkled politely to forestall the telling of a twice-told tale. [I was unable to find out more about chestnut bells online, although I’m sure it’s tied to the definition of “chestnut” as “an old or stale joke, anecdote, etc.”].

It was a drummer who told it upon himself that he had promised the branch-line engineer a box of cigars if only once he brought his train into the junction on time. Thereafter, on hearing the train whistle around the bend just as it was due, he hurried to the cigar-stand, bought their best Havanas, and presented it to the man in the cab. Admiring onlookers cheered, but the modest engineer declined.

“I don’t guess I can rightly take it,” he explained. “This here is yesterday’s train.”

from Slow Train to Yesterday, by Archie Robertson


Don’t you remember when you used to come by the old village blacksmith shop and see me there shooing flies?

from On a Slow Train Through Arkansaw, by Thomas William Jackson


I know there are those who claim they have never been lost, but if this is so, it is only because they have never been anywhere.

from Ridge Runner, by Gerald Averill


A Word to Husbands

To keep your marriage brimming,
With love in the loving cup,
Whenever you’re wrong, admit it;
Whenever you’re right, shut up.

Selected Poetry of Ogden Nash


I Do, I Will, I Have

How wise I am to have instructed the butler to instruct the first footman to instruct the second footman to instruct the doorman to order my carriage;
I am about to volunteer a definition of marriage.
Just as I know that there are two Hagens, Walter and Copen,
I know that marriage is a legal and religious alliance entered into by a man who can’t sleep with the window shut and a woman who can’t sleep with the window open.
Moreover just as I am unsure of the difference between flora and fauna and flotsam and jetsam
I am quite sure that marriage is the alliance of two people one of whom never remembers birthdays and the other never forgetsam,
And he refused to believe there is a leak in the water pipe or the gas pipe and she is convinced she is about to asphyxiate or drown,
And she says Quick get up and get my hairbrushes off the window sill, it’s raining in, and he replies Oh they’re all right, it’s only raining straight down.
That is why marriage is so much more interesting than divorce,
Because its the only known example of the happy meeting of the immovable object and the irresistible force.
So I hope husbands and wives will continue to debate and combat over everything debatable and combatable,
Because I believe a little incompatibility is the spice of life, particularly if he has income and she is pattable.

Selected Poetry of Ogden Nash


The Sunset Years of Samuel Shy

Master I may be,
But not of my fate.
Now come the kisses, too many too late.
Tell me, O Parcae,
For fain would I know
Where were these kisses three decades ago?
Girls there were plenty,
Mint julep girls, beer girls,
Gay younger married and headstrong career girls,
The girls of my friends,
Some smugly settled and some at loose ends,
Sad girls, serene girls,
Girls breathless and turbulent,
Debs cosmopolitan, matrons suburbulent,
All of them amiable,
All of them cordial,
Innocent rousers of instincts primordial,
But even though health and wealth
Hadn’t yet missed me,
None of them,
Not even Jenny,
Once kissed me.

These very same girls
Who with me have grown older
Now freely relax with a head on my shoulder,
And now come the kisses,
A flood in full spate,
The meaningless kisses, too many too late.
They kiss me hello,
They kiss me goodbye,
should I offer a light, there’s a kiss for reply.
They kiss me at weddings,
They kiss me at wakes,
The drop of a hat is less than it takes.
They kiss me at cocktails,
They kiss me at bridge,
It’s all automatic, like slapping a midge.
The sound of their kisses
Is loud in my ears
Like the locust that swarm every seventeen years.

I’m arthritic, dyspeptic,
potentially ulcery,
And weary of kisses by custom compulsory.
Should my dear ones commit me
As senile demential,
It’s from kisses perfunctory, inconsequential.
Answer, O Parcae,
For fain would I know,
Where were these kisses three decades ago?

Selected Poetry of Ogden Nash


September Is Summer, Too or It’s Never Too Late to Be Uncomfortable

Well, well, well, so this is summer, isn’t that mirabile dictu,
And these are the days when whatever you sit down on you stick to.
These are the days when those who sell four ounces of synthetic lemonade concocted in a theater basement for a quarter enter into their inheritance,
And Rum Collinses soak through paper napkins onto people’s Hepplewhites and Sheratons,
And progressive-minded citizens done their most porous finery and frippery.
But it doesn’t help, because underneath they are simultaneously sticky and slippery.
And some insomniacs woo insomnia plus pajamas and others minus,
And everybody patronizes air-conditioned shops and movies to get cool and then complains that the difference in temperature gives them lumbago and sinus,
And people trapped in doorways by thunderstorms console themselves by saying, Well, anyway this will cool it off while we wait,
So during the storm the mercury plunges from ninety-four to ninety-three and afterwards climbs immediately to ninety-eight.
And marriages break up over such momentous questions as Who ran against Harding—Davis or Cox?
And when you go to strike a match the head dissolves on the box,
but the estival phenomena amaze me not,
What does amaze me is how every year people are amazed to discover that summer is hot.

Selected Poetry of Ogden Nash


The Big Five personality traits:

  1. Openness to experience — receptivity to new ideas and new experiences
  2. Conscientiousness — tendency to be responsible, organized, and hardworking; to be goal directed; and to adhere to norms and rules
  3. Extroversion — tendency to search for novel experiences and social connections that allow them to interact with other humans as much as possible
  4. Agreeableness — tendency toward anxiety, depression, self-doubt, and other negative feelings

Fortitude, by Dan Crenshaw


The SEAL teams, like many military units are relentless in the pursuit of establishing hero archetypes. … We talk about it all the time, and we beat it into our trainees:

  • You will be someone who is never late.
  • You will be someone who takes care of his men, gets to known them, and puts their needs before yours.
  • You will be someone who does not quit in the face of adversity.
  • You will be someone who takes charge and leads when no one else will.
  • You will be detailed oriented, always vigilant.
  • You will be aggressive in your actions but never lose your cool.
  • You will have a sense of humor because sometimes that is all that can get you through the darkest hours.
  • You will work hard and perform even when no one is watching.
  • You will be creative and think outside the box, even if it gets you in trouble.
  • You are a rebel, but not a mutineer.
  • You are a jack of all trades and master of none.

Fortitude, by Dan Crenshaw


You have a duty to try hard not to offend others, and try harder not to be offended.

Fortitude, by Dan Crenshaw

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Reptile/Amphibian #39 — Southern Black Racer

coluber constrictor priapus

Thursday, September 7, 2023 — 11:09 am

Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge, AR

I was birding along the levy hiking trail through the woods when I came within two feet of stepping on this snake. It was about two-feet long, maybe a little bit more. It was curled up as in the photos, and never moved the entire time I watched except for the occasional flit of its tongue.

Racers are supposed to flee when approached and get aggressive when cornered, but this one did neither as I took photos from just a few feet away.

I continued on birding, and when I came back 15 minutes later, it had disappeared.

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Reptile/Amphibian #38 — Broad-banded Watersnake

nerodia fasciata confluens

Wednesday, August 30, 2023 — 9:14 am

Bald Knob National Wildlife Refuge, Arkansas

I spotted this snake swimming in a channel along a rice field. It was perhaps two feet long. I was standing on the road about 15 feet away. It swam steadily except when I moved suddenly. It reacted by sinking down into the water with just its head above the water. When it decided I wasn’t a threat, it continued on its way, moving toward the far bank and disappearing into overhanging vegetation.

Less than five minutes after it disappeared, a Cottonmouth crossed the road in front of me and disappeared down into the same ditch.

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