When I’d rented the Kia for six weeks, I’d had no idea where I was going, but had the rough idea to visit as many Indian reservations as I could. By now the scope of my journey had expanded. I was on my way to Memphis, the birthplace of the blues and rock and roll. I’d been there a few times before, to Sun Studios, where Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, and Johnny Cash had all gotten their starts, also to Beale Street and Graceland. For some reason I hadn’t visited Stax Records yet, however, and vowed to rectify that.
I took the 160 through Gainesville to West Plains, then the 63 south. There were many rolling hills, and it was slow going. Sometimes eight or nine cars would get all bunched up, looking for a straight section of road where we could all pass. When I reached the 55, I caught up with the Mississippi River again, all grown up now and going to school. I crossed the Hernando do Soto Bridge and got off at the Mississippi River Park, across from Mud Island.
Inside the visitor center was a statue of Elvis and one of B.B. King. It was time to look for a place to sleep, but I was spent, driving around downtown for twenty minutes, before finally looking for a campsite on Google. Karen began directing me to a place called Dogwood Ridge that was almost twenty miles north of town.
It wasn’t easy to find the campground. I’d almost given up and was at a gas station, filling up the tank and buying chicken strips, when I decided to try again, passing expensive homes and horse stables on my way back. This time I found it and there were a few sites open. My spot was on bare earth and even before the sun had set it was swarming with mosquitoes. It was going to be one of those survival nights. As soon as the sun set, I climbed in the tent and waited for it to come back up.
There were a few Chickasaw Indian monuments I hoped to find the next morning. The first was just a plaque on Mud Island, but by now it had started to rain, only the second time on the whole trip, and didn’t seem as if it would let up anytime soon. It was raining too hard to look for it on foot, so I set off to find the Chickasaw Heritage Park.
Here I discovered two earthen mounds, the first in a series of mounds I would encounter, built by paleolithic tribes, perhaps as a foundation for their temples. These mounds had been hollowed out and used for storage during the Civil War. There was also a statue of an Indian women, with other figures above the hem of her dress, a woman and child, a man with a guitar, a Spanish explorer on horseback.
It had continued to rain off and on. Walking back to the car, it started pouring. It was too early to visit the Stax Museum. I decided to try to do my meditating, or measured breathing, right there. Rain was pounding on the roof of the car. Above the sound of that, I could hear the squawking of a bird. A man with an umbrella was out walking a dog. Behind him came another man, with no umbrella, but a COVID mask. They entered the park together.
Two cars passed with their headlights on. Then a gas truck came by. The rain kept drumming on the roof. My mind was jumping all around. The two dogs with the dog came out of the park. Rain started falling even harder. By now, I had to piss.
I thought about revisiting Graceland, but saw a sign when I got on the freeway, pointing in the direction of an archaeological site and museum called the Chucalissa Indian Village. There was a mosaic of two serpents on the outside of the building. Although they only accepted credit cards to get in, they let me in for free once I stood stalling long enough, holding out the cash in my hand. The mound in the back is over a thousand years old. The stratigraphy suggests that it was built in three phases. It also suggests that there may have been a fire on the top at some point.
Walking back to the car, I saw something moving in the grass. It was a turtle, plowing ahead, its shell wet and glistening in the rain. It was time for me to do the same.