I recently completed the trip of a lifetime; one that I have planned and considered for 40 of my 58 years. I went to Mississippi. Whispers brought me there, and whispers came home with me.
Listening to life means attending to whispers, silence and shouts.
My dad was born not far from the toe tip of the Appalachians just over 101 years ago. Since about 1974, I have considered a trip to see, write about and photograph the area from where dad came, and the conditions from which he came. I met some kin in 1971, and grew up on stories, and took a Southern literature to better understand that part of my roots through dad’s life. As time passed, the curiosity became a yearning. The pull to go, to see, to meet and to record in words and images comes from a place deep within. It comes from what I am made of, not just from where my dad started life. Very little from then is like it is now, but I found a quote attributed to William Faulkner: “To understand the world, you must first understand a place like Mississippi.”
I had the benefit of seeing my family tree differently. There is no way to see all the details of my heritage, just like it is impossible to see every leave, twig, branch, root, tap root and every inch of bark on a tree; it is quite possible to stand from a distance and see the tree, causing one to think, “That is a noble tree.” I saw more of the McInnis tree; it is a noble one.
Dad’s gravestone reads, “He left for us a most noble pattern.” His example was not perfect; welcome to the human race. He comes from a long line of noble, imperfect, hard-working, never-quit, heroic people who are both saints and sinners. My McInnis tree-just like the other trees that comprise the forest of my lineage-is full of adventure, broken branches, marvelous canopies, tree houses, imaginative play…and rings indicating the trying times as well as the good ones. Trees keep the indicators largely hidden, as do people.
The trip provided me the chance to see the trees more clearly and sufficiently to better appreciate them. I have no intention of trying to learn every detail; I learned enough to appreciate the nobility of the efforts put into never surrendering, and into living life fully, heroically and genuinely.
I saw by listening. To stories shared in bits and pieces. To stories shared in cemeteries and porches. To laughter. And to whispers. I will bring it all home, including the whispers.
For decades, I heard whispers from my past, and from a distance, beckoning to come, to see, to listen and to pay attention. I don’t know if I understand the world better because I am trying to understand Mississippi, but I do understand me better. I bet you have a place like that, too.
Enjoy a sampling of photos, too.