On a recent whirlwind 36-hour trip to Memphis, it rained pretty solid the entire time.
Because of the nature of the trip, we didn’t leave the 4-lane. I-55 took us along the eastern Missouri border and into the flatlands of the Little Delta.
A lead-heavy sky dogged us…in the far distance, the sky and the coffee-grounds brown plowed fields met in fog. Water between the furrows flashed in steel pinstripes perpendicular to the road as we rolled by. St. John’s Bayou and other unnamed drainage ditches flowed with broken stirrer sticks in the muddy, milk-coffee water.
It was a great weekend if you were a rice plant.
What stood out this trip were trees. Trees in the Bootheel always seem somehow out of place, though this shouldn’t be so. Back when the land was bottomland wet marsh, before it was logged, trees ruled the place. One might even say trees were king back then, long before cotton, and way before soybeans.
Now, only a few remain on the open, agricultural plain. A handful, twisted in the wind, stand sentinel around most houses. Fencerows and swales hold others; and some stand like guard soldiers along the wet ditches.
What made these trees, whose slight shade barely dents the August fury of the Missouri sun, especially pitiful was damage most sustained during the late January ice storm.
The oaks, the cypresses, the cottonwoods, the sycamores—hardly a tree stood without a blasted crown or hanging dead limbs. Some roadside trees had been pruned into little more than trunk and branch. A chartreuse cloud enveloped at least part of those still standing – and plenty whose grip on the ground was more tenuous.
The gnarly trees, blasted branches, and deadwood still upright mixed with brown and gray water everywhere in the intermittent fog raised the ghost of the vanished swamps. Then the sharp cry of a pileated woodpecker split the air above the road noise– and the shivers which went to stars at the base of my brain weren’t entirely from the chilly day.