Across the Bridge - January 2017
Back To Nature With a New Generation
Award-winning author and syndicated columnist Rheta Grimsley Johnson discovers a magical trail in the Pass.
Find out more about Rheta's books and read her latest syndicated columns at RhetasBooks.com. Rheta's new gallery/shop, Faraway Places, is located at 102 West Front Street, Iuka, Mississippi.
My Pass friend Gale Laird, hosting two girls of the same generation, came to the rescue. She’s the kind of woman who makes the most difficult things look easy, and that includes grandmothering. Gale suggested something novel: the Great Outdoors.
So one morning six of us loaded up in Gale’s own family fun wagon and, despite a few complaints of being “squished” on the short ride, made it quickly to the new Enchanted Nature Trail off of Fort Henry Street at the foot of the Bay Bridge on the Pass Christian side.
What happened next was amazing. A quiet, simple place that requires no batteries and whose moving parts are supplied by nature was a hit. A huge hit.
The Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain has taken seven acres donated by Martha Murphy and designed by Bay architect Allison Anderson and managed to widen a lot of young eyes.
It’s a theme park that has nature as its theme. No roller coasters, no hotdogs, no gophers to bop or souvenirs to disintegrate in a few hours’ time. But it’s amazing what a purposeful look along a short trail can produce.
The trio of girls we’d brought along were, well, enchanted by simple things like mushrooms and fungi and pine beetle pocks and fern beds. Not to say they arrived as Valley Girls and left aspiring to live like Thoreau. But for a few long and quiet moments there was no boredom or electronic haze or discontent.
It was a miracle.
A small fairy tale shed with clear, corrugated, light-allowing sides held paper and chalk so the girls could make rubbings of tree rings. The results were amazingly artistic, and each hiker signed her work proudly. I thought of the already-forgotten art kits from Christmas that came in slick boxes from China and cost a small fortune. This, somehow, was infinitely better.
There were insect hotels, a marsh overlook, a vine tunnel and — my personal favorite — signposts with arrows pointing to locations from literature, like Hundred Acre Wood, Neverland, and Narnia. Our girls studied on that signpost until someone came up with the source of each enchanted place.
The girls looped us adults several times, doing the limbo under low-hanging limbs, making acrobatic feats look easy. Nature’s statuary — a felled pine, for instance, that resembled a dinosaur or a praying mantis, depending on your perspective — kept imaginations racing as hard as our hearts.
I remembered several things as we walked in the buffer of pines and palmettos. Less is more. Nature is unbeatable entertainment. Children follow our example. Exercise clears the mind and heals the heart.
The trail is a work in progress. Everyone from Coast Episcopal students to WalMart employees has been involved in its creation and upkeep.
I think of it as a secret that needs telling. Next time you’re tempted to throttle a youth who says she is bored, suggest a walk in the woods instead.
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