Friday, April 9, 2010

Hearts and Highways

It’s quite remarkable that we can travel through so many diverse ecosystems and still be in the southern half of the United States; and that we can travel all this in less than half of a twenty-four hour day. On our way to Louisiana, we passed through Mississippi. We traveled several interstate highways, and rode from rolling hills to swamp land. The trip from our mountains to these flatlands is like that last hill on the way home on a roller coaster -- a rather thrilling ride, but glad to be still for a while when you get to the bottom.

Richard and I share driving when we’re both on these six- hundred-mile excursions. I spend most of my passenger time looking for items of interest for my blog. The interstates are generally not great places to find excitement of the local color kind, so I was busy recording the differences in wildflowers and their blooming seasons as we headed south-west from South East Tennessee.

There’s still a great deal of uninhabited earth between our two homes. While I suspect that the Central section of Mississippi and points south have much biodiversity, much of it is not in evidence from the interstates.

It seemed that most of the trees were pines planted after the forests had been clear cut for their timber. The lack of difficulty getting to the timber in land so flat must have made it very tempting to the land owners to sell every tree in sight – and you can see a long, long way in southern Mississippi.

Redbuds and dogwoods followed us almost all the way down, as did dandelions. Red clover and thistle, which we won’t see in bloom for several more weeks in the holler, are already glorious down south. Since we are in Mississippi, it’s not surprising that the trees that will soon bear the state’s flowers, the majestic magnolias, grow wild interspersed among the pines.

Something that let’s me know we’re getting close to my childhood home is the appearance of the yellow Carolina jasmine and the purple clusters of wisteria flowers, all growing up the pines and peeking out of hedgerows. It’s certainly a more welcome sight than the kudzu that is choking so many interstate byways.

However, my all-time favorite gift of the trees in the southern springtime would be the Tung tree bouquets. What extravagance! Every twig is adorned with a full bouquet of bold blooms of the palest ivory with deep, delicate throats of blushing peach.

The Tung oil that comes from the baseball-sized seeds pods was a major Mississippi cash crop from the nineteen thirties until the nineteen sixties. The orchards were wiped out in Hurricane Camille, but some trees have sprung up, especially against the fence lines.

We had a Tung tree in the yard of our New Orleans home. Just as the redbud signals spring in the mountains, our Tung tree blossoming said southern spring to me. It is only fitting that the blooms are followed by the heart-shaped leaves for which the tree is named; Tung is Chinese for heart.

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