The Carpet Bagger's Journal — moving from NYC to Mississippi

March 11, 2015

The Catastrophic, Horrible, Atrocious Blizzard of Lafayette County of 2015 — or How the South Really Freaks Out When It Snows

When tornadoes happen in the South, my students remain stoic throughout.  One day, there were five tornado warning sirens at the University of Mississippi, and each time, I cowered in fear, but my Southern students asked to work through class even though I wanted to hide under the desk.  Southerners are brave where I see the finger of God in the form of a funnel cloud squashing us all like sinful bugs.  I respect them in such moments.

But God forbid a half an inch of ice forms anywhere.  The Confederacy loses its mind.

Yankee progressives like me shake their heads when Southern politicians deny global warming by bringing a snowball into the Capitol Building, as one man did earlier this year.  However, this is not the only form of political climate denial going on down South. While this winter was harder for every part of the country than usual, every year in Mississippi and Alabama, there are some days where ice covers the roads.  This is an annual phenomenon, almost without exception.  But the Southerners, who hate taxes, refuse to pay for municipal salt trucks and snow plows because they are in denial about their annual necessity if businesses and schools are to stay open.  I won’t insult Southerners by suggesting that they deliberately do this to get more days off. I don’t think Southerners are lazy, even though I have never seen a New York minute down here.  It’s perhaps that snow is too scary, like the volcanic ash of Pompeii, to contemplate ahead of time.

And maybe my ice skating lessons as a child pay off annually, but it’s like Southerners have never learned to balance on their feet on a slippery surface, even though pageant hopefuls teeter on vertiginous heels, and boys who attend football camp learn to weave between defensive linemen while cradling a ball.  They fall down easily. They don’t know how to steer cars in snow, either.  It’s too scary to correct when the surface is even a little slick.

So this year, the South canceled a week of school and shut businesses, too, for ice that could have been salted away, for snow that might have been plowed. Everybody built a snowman. One guy in my neighborhood got arrested because he knocked down a bunch of snowmen with his truck.  It might have also have had something to do with his level of intoxication, but I prefer to consider this an ineffectual application of antifreeze to the circumstances, a well-intentioned but flawed plan to find a practical solution to the frigid times.  At least he wasn’t cowering in a corner.

I find the Southerners are able to laugh at their comparative ineptitude in this climate. There are cute videos online about the excessive panic that ensues when it freezes over, but the South isn’t Hell freezing over.  It’s not even a form of purgatory. There isn’t anything to fear but fear itself, I say, but the South seems to reason, knowing I am quoting that New Dealer FDR, that such a remark must be untrustworthy. There are no salt trucks planned for next year. That would be socialism.

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February 21, 2010

Mud

Gorgeous now -- but wait until it melts!

“Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the Earth” — Matthew 5:5 (KJV)

This is what Jesus says.  He fails to mention anything specifically about mud.

As a city dweller, allow me to add this proverb from my own heart — he who inherits the earth inherits the  mud.

One of my favorite high-calorie drinks used to be called a Mississippi mudslide.  I know now why they call it a Mississippi mudslide, as opposed to, say, a Connecticut mud slide.

Mississippi has a lot of mud.  New York City, thanks to a whole lot of concrete, has only limited amounts of mud.  The only time I ever had to consider wiping my shoes off from a walk through the city was when I was in Central Park.  I remember one subway ride in Queens in the early 1990s — I saw a girl with tattoos on her arms, a nose ring, and a pair of doc martin knee-high boots absolutely covered with mud, and I knew instantly where she had just been.

I leaned across the car and asked her, “How was Woodstock?”

She leaned back smiling, glad I understood, and said, “Green Day was awesome!”

No other imaginable occasion would have created such a mess on her shoes.

Today, my Ugg boots are covered with mud.  the bottoms of my jeans are muddy.  There are little muddy paw prints on the loveseat in my living room.

I scrub, but mud returns.  There seems to be no end to mud.

I have tried to embrace the ethos of mud – – it is, after all, where life happens.  No mud — no agriculture — no agriculture — no salad — no salad — no chi-chi brunches.  Heaven forefend.

I saw a picture in the New York Times of Michele Obama on her knees in mud digging to make an organic garden.  She was wearing a cute navy cardigan, as I recall.  I told myself that this was going to be part of our lifestyle here in Mississippi, the growing of at least a few herbs and tomatoes.  Nothing could be more wholesome than that, I thought.  Fortunately, my husband is not as squeamish about mud than I am.  I have discovered, to my city girl horror, that mud ruins a manicure.   I need gloves.  I need knee pads.  I admit it.  When it comes to mud, I’m a wimp.

I thought to myself, post mud-phobia discovery, that I was going to create an outdoor room.  When I met my husband, he was living in our house with a male roommate, and the two of them had some beat-up old plastic chairs and a charcoal grill.  Otherwise, it was mostly mosquitoes and last night’s beer cans.  I would be like those intrepid folks on HGTV and create a true outdoor space.  I bought a gazebo with matching chairs and a table.  The gazebo is basically a canvas tent with mosquito netting.  I bought a propane grill.  Now we were getting someplace, I thought.  I even negotiated free delivery of my purchases.

The next day the store came with a forklift.  When they drove the forklift all over my new back yard, bringing gazebos and grills, they got stuck in the mud and tore up the turf.  I was left with some unassembled items and a bunch of tire tracks on the ground.

Martha Stewart says to get a metal rake, some grass seed, and plant to patch up such disasters.  I trust Martha Stewart, insider trading and obsessive-compulsive disorder notwithstanding.  I like the  image of myself looking like her in garden gloves, garden clogs, coordinated pastels and khakis, holding a  metal rake with a hopeful smile. I thought I would give it a try.

Then, it snowed the largest snowstorm the South has seen in years.  The photo above is from my back yard — the quaint little barn covered with white icing — that’s mine.  Even the tire tracks left by the forklift look lovely under the frothy white.

Then, in a day or so, the snow melted, leaving more mud.

Now I am thinking that gravel is my best hope, gravel and flagstones.  Maybe a little fire pit.

My step-daughter and her fiance inform me that the region has a leisure that embraces the savagery of  what I consider a problem to be tamed.  It’s called “mudding.”  Those SUV commercials we in the urban North have seen, where SUVs are off-road and brave their way through gallons of muck, well, that’s considered a fun thing to do.  The point, I am told, is to get as muddy as possible without getting stuck.

Mudding increases one’s carbon footprint, I am sure.  However, now saving the Earth, the mud, doesn’t seem like a purely good idea.  Green or not, it may be that the mud had mudding coming, with all it does to provoke us to wrath.

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