Archive for the ‘mississippi’ category

FIRE ANTS: Getting Up Close and Personal

May 8, 2008

While driving part of the Natchez Trace Parkway in Mississippi on April 19, I spotted a box turtle crossing the road.  Since I didn’t have any photographs of this species, I drove on a few miles to find a safe place to turn around, then went back.  The turtle was still crossing the road.  So I helped out the slowpoke by lifting the turtle up and moving it to the road’s shoulder, for which the reptile thanked me with a hiss.  Then I proceeded to make a nuisance of myself by photographing the turtle up close and personal.

First I photographed the turtle from a human perspective, looking down at the creature from a high angle.  This is the way we normally see turtles, so it is a good approach for showing identification cues.  But I like to get in close and show creatures from an eye-level perspective, so I laid down on the ground and with a macro lens, began photographing the turtle’s face.

Then all hell broke loose!  I stuck my elbow into a Fire Ant nest, and within two seconds it felt like there was a strong electric current running through my elbow.  I leaped up, frantically brushing ants from my arm and dancing on the roadside.  Later, I counted 22 pustules on and around my right elbow and the spots itched for days.  Fire Ants swarm, then use pheromones (communicative scents) to tell each other when to sting, and it all comes at once.  Meanwhile, I swear the turtle was laughing at me.

On the other hand (or elbow), my close-up photograph showing the face and red eyes of the creature is a winner, and is much more engaging than the higher level shot.  This is what I mean by getting up close and personal with animals, and it usually works well in photography.  Later, I identified the turtle, using Google on my iPhone, as a Three-toed Box Turtle.

This is part of a weblog documenting my travels and photography. I am primarily a nature photographer, and you can see more of my work at http://www.leerentz.com

Click on the photographs below to see a larger version with captions.

April 23, 2008 Putting the Fun Back in Fundamentalism

April 23, 2008

This is part of a weblog documenting my travels and photography.  I am primarily a nature photographer, and you can see more of my work at http://www.leerentz.com

Sometimes a good church sign is just too funny for this photographer to pass up.  In my recent travels in the American South, I encountered four church signs that made me laugh.  One is intentionally funny; the others are based on quirky place names. 

Click on the photographs below to see a larger version with captions.

April 7, 2008 Impressions of the Mississippi Delta

April 20, 2008

This is part of a weblog documenting my travels and photography.  I am primarily a nature photographer, and you can see more of my work at http://www.leerentz.com

The Mississippi delta is a legendary part of America.  The dark nights of lynchings and burning crosses; the gothic complexity of Faulkner’s stories; the tragic legacy of plantations and slavery; the sweet smell of wisteria on a spring evening; the hazy morning sun rising over vast fields of cotton; beaten down shacks that house the poor descendants of slaves; the riverbanks where cottonmouths and fire ants threaten; the lazy brown Yazoo and Tallahatchie rivers that rage like a mean drunk when flooding; the birthplace of the blues and vital to jazz and rock-and-roll; where mockingbirds jam in endless vocal experimentation all night long; and the civil rights movement had some raw beginnings.  All these are glimpses of the delta that is part of our national mythology.

On my way to the delta (specifically the flat and low-lying agricultural region of northwest Mississippi), I was listening to the car radio and heard the old line:  “It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty delta da-a-a-ay.  I was out choppin’ cotton and my brother was bailin’ ha-a-a-ay.”  On my departure from the delta, I heard another old line:  “The Mississippi delta was shining like a national guitar.”  The former song, Bobbie Gentry’s Ode to Billie Joe, explores the mysterious suicide of a young man who jumped from the Tallahatchie Bridge.  The latter song, Paul Simon’s Graceland, is a spiritual road trip pilgrimage to the home of Elvis.  The serendipity of hearing these songs on the radio was not lost on me, and both were running through my head for days.  Great songs that I grew up with (which gives you an indication of my age!).  About the same time as Ode to Billie Joe was playing on my transistor radio in the late ’60s, I was listening to Bob Dylan’s great album, Highway 61 Revisited, on the record player.  I didn’t understand until years later that US Highway 61 leads right through the Mississippi delta. 

In the delta I was struck by the sense of decay in small towns.  There were town squares where virtually every storefront was empty and people were just hanging out, as if waiting for something else to happen.  The liveliest places in many of these towns were the convenience stores.  Curious about the economy, I read a report in a Washington Post article http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/06/19/AR2007061902193.html?referrer=email which explained that basically the white farmers in the delta are well-off and receive huge government subsidies for growing cotton and increasingly, corn (to fuel the heavily subsidized and environmentally devastating ethanol economy–but I’ll leave that story for another time). In contrast, the descendants of slaves and sharecroppers endure lives of poor education, poor health, few opportunities, and high crime.  There are those who loudly proclaim that the poor of the delta should “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps,” but such proclaimers have usually lived lives of relative privilege.  The desperate poor often don’t even have the boots … and the delta can be a trap.

The delta was significant in igniting the modern civil rights movement.  In 1955 a 14-year-old black boy named Emmett Till, visiting from Chicago, apparently whistled at a white woman while visiting Bryant’s Store in Money, Mississippi.  The shaken woman told her husband and in the deep night Emmett Till was kidnapped, tortured, murdered, and dumped in the Tallahatchie River.  Later the accused were quickly acquitted by an all-white jury.  The story brought outrage across the country and was a tragic start to the march for racial equality over the decades.  The whole story can be read here:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emmett_Till.

I camp when I’m out photographing like this, and out in the delta there aren’t many places to camp.  I headed for a state park on the Mississippi River; actually, to paraphrase Don McLean’s song American Pie, “I drove my Chevy to the levee but the levy was”–wet!  When I drove over the top of the levee and looked down to the park, the road was flooded and the entrance building was half-submerged.  So I changed my plans and headed for another state park up on Choctaw Ridge, crossing the Tallahatchie Bridge on the way.  Of course, “seems like nothin’ ever comes to no good up on Choctaw Ridge”–to quote Bobbie Gentry again–but at least I found a beautiful ridgetop campsite.  Spring leaves were just emerging on the oak trees around camp, so I photographed several leaves at this early stage in their unfolding.  An armadillo snuffed around camp sometime in the night.

Click on the photographs below to see a larger version with captions.


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