Natchez to Strawberry Plains

Day 12 – March 29

Natchez, MS to Holly Springs and Strawberry Plains Audubon Center, MS

The air had a haze of humidity this morning, but the temperature was a pleasant 70F.  I suggested to Mike that we walk down to the Natchez Under the Hill area before we started driving.  We really haven’t gotten much exercise on this trip and I wanted to see a little more of the area. 

Our hotel was on a busy street and before we crossed, I spotted a small, brown brindled dog walking towards us.  As we crossed the street with the light he turned and followed us, with us calling to him to hurry up.  He seemed friendly enough, as he trotted next to and ahead of us.  I got him to stop once and when I went to pet him, he rolled over onto his back in submission and I rubbed his belly as he blissfully licked his licks.  After we started walking again, I thought, “Oh boy, I probably own him now.” He was such a happy go lucky fellow I decided that if he had a name it would be Happy Jack Brindle. 

We walked down a sidewalk past some abandoned houses perched higher up on a slope.  Cement steps and railings still led up to empty lots.  It seemed like prime real estate, since they are up on the bluff looking down on the river.  On the corner there was a very old and rotting log house.  Happy Jack strayed behind us, sniffing at interesting spots, then trotted ahead.  He crossed the street before us as we all walked down the steep hill towards the river. Stopping occasionally he would look back at and wait for us to catch up. 

It was early enough in the morning that none of the establishments were open on the waterfront, but the tree swallows were noisily flying in squadrons above the water.  The day before when we drove past the Paddlewheel, we could see them swooping under the gangplank that was hoisted out over the river.  I suspect it’s either a good place to build nests or there are lots of insects underneath it.  The other birds we heard this morning were cardinals, mockingbirds and tufted titmice. 

We made a loop, climbing back up to the bluff on a sidewalk matching the grade of the one we came down.  Sirens in the distance caused Happy Jack to stop and peer over his shoulder, with his ears cocked upward.  This happened several times and I wondered what experiences he’d had with emergency vehicles.  At the top of the bluff where there was a park of sorts, he ran ahead and we took a turn to the right, thinking maybe he would forget about us, but soon I could hear the telltale click of nails on the sidewalk behind us and then he was passing us with a doggy grin spread across his muzzle. 

As we got back to the busy street I really worried about him crossing it.  At an intersection where there was a stop light, he started to go out and we yelled at him to get back on the curb, which he did.  A woman bus driver crossed the street and asked, “Is that your dog?” We said, No.  And she replied, “I saw him earlier, he must be a stray.”

When we crossed the street, he turned the corner back towards the river, but up on the bluff where there was an old as mansion open to the public.  We could see people going into it and it was where the woman we’d spoken to was headed.  I saw him glance back over his shoulder once, but apparently he decided we were not going where he wanted to go (thankfully), and so we left our little Natchez guide behind, hoping he would somehow manage to survive the busy streets around him.

Driving out of Natchez, I found the old downtown section to be classy and sedate looking; worth exploring on another visit.

We drove north through a winding, deep forest filled with birdsong and no shoulders at all, heading for the Natchez Trace Parkway.  It was along this stretch of road that I heard my first blue jay since we’d entered the true south.  A red-bellied woodpecker also called out.  The Parkway is a perfectly smooth, fairly quiet roadway that will be a pleasure to ride upon, with forest on either side.  Wild turkeys skipped across the road and twice we stopped to rescue Three Toed Box Turtles slowly trying to get across.  These were plainer looking than the Ornate Box Turtle we had moved on our trip south. 

The Trace angles northeast and the bike route angles northwest, but I wanted to revisit a place we found a few years ago along this route.  It’s called the Mississippi Arts and Crafts Center and it has the most magnificent, diverse collection of hand made arts and crafts of the region.  Last time I found a ruby colored gourd and could only afford one at the time, but hoped they might still have some to add to my collection.  The Center is located near Jackson, not in the direction we really needed to go, but Mike was willing to humor me.  Naturally, they no longer carry those gourds.  They said the people stopped making them, but I did find one similar to the originals.  It is shaped like an apple (and called that) and was a deep, red mahogany.  I told the sales people to please let the artists know there is a customer who would love to buy the gourds they used to make.

The temperature had reached 82F and clouds were moving in by mid-afternoon. We were thrilled to see that our Prius had achieved 59.9 mpg on this day of driving.  Whooo Hooo. 

Around 4:30 p.m. we pulled into the town of Holly Springs, described by one publication as an Antebellum Encyclopedia.  It is the home to the Finley family who donated the home and land that is now the Strawberry Plains Audubon Center, just outside of town.

The Town Square is surrounded by a business district that has seen better times.  I was able to picture it in my mind in those days as a bustling, thriving community, but one that would have been segregated and beset by more problems than poverty. 

The magnificent Plantation House, which was restored in the 1970s, would be our lodging for the night.  Many of the furnishings are antiques which belonged to the original owners who built the house in 1850.  We were the only people in the house that night and I had to wonder about ghosts in a place with such a long and tumultuous history. 

It was a cotton plantation and during the Civil War the Mistress of the house shot and killed a Yankee soldier on the steps leading to the 2nd floor.  The soldiers burned the house in retaliation. The brick shell remained and members of the family still managed to live there afterwards repairing what they could.  This was actually the ‘farm’ for the Finley’s who had an equally grand house in town.   

The environmental center is one Mike consulted on when it was first accepted by Audubon and now we were here to coordinate an event on our bike trek.


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