Leaving Oxford today. I would say I’ve been here too long, but it’s allowed me to see much and meet some great people. I’m at Bottletree penning this: a twenty-one year old bakery that produces the most delectable pastries and breads. It’s a beautiful specimen.
Sitting at the low bar and looking around I have the sensation that the food here is hardly the focal point, though it is absolutely delicious and quite obviously is the focal point. Yet, on this low, square stool I find myself gazing down the length of this long bar. It runs from the cash register near to me at the front, to the back wall, with a break in the center for employees to enter and exit. Its surface is a faded brown-black all over but for the gouged up nickel trim and at each place in front of each stool where the surface has been worn down to the bare metal beneath that shines with the glow of an old, old, beaten mirror. Surrounding these shining patches of metal, and between those and the brown-black of the surface of the bar, is an area of transition, a fading-to that looks like rust but can’t be.
All these spots at the bar look like Rorshach blots. They look a bit like whole galaxies seen through a telescope. There are specks of red rust scattered like seed around these nebulae, like stardust flung off in their myriad convulsions. This mirrored surface, too, when I look into it and see only a vague, grey shape that is my head, I think about the countless thousands of people who may have sat here over its tweny-one years of existence, and been part of this slow wearing away of a once brightly lacquered blackness into this shimmering, silvery surface.
There is a near-clutter of stuff scattered around the space—bric-a-brac collected over years—hanging on walls, leaning against walls, sitting on shelves. She, the owner, could open an art gallery-cum-antique store with all the collected here. An ancient, naked filing cabinet stands against a wall; enormous quilt yellowed with age hangs on another; painting of a watermelon by Mose Tolliver (perhaps) on the wall, over a toaster oven, directly in front of me; a large bowl of icing on the counter, for cinnamon rolls, also opposite me; a Christmas tree in a small cask, vaguely in the shape of a tall ship, lights on; photographs of the space prior to opening… I ponder over the collection of all these things, and I look at the Faulkner book in front of me, and so think about him and his stories, and I think about the South and the Mississippi Delta and all that has sifted through this region in its long, storied history, and I wonder whether that has stopped today, or if it has just changed, or if anyone cares anymore…
There is so much more here than the food, but it’s the loaves of bread on the shelves, and the pastries, brownies, cookies, etc. behind the glass counter and on top of it that the people come for, but I wonder if they’re missing everything else that gives this place its charm, its story, its own personality of a sort. I wonder if people pay much attention to anything these days that isn’t their intended focus of attention….
A very hilly introduction to Oxford, but I’m here. I’m also still waiting to hear back from several CS’ers, so I have not yet a place to stay. But!, I may be saved as a woman at a local cafe has offered me a couch, so long as her girlfriend OK’s it. Swell. And very generous of her.
The battery compartment door to my camera was found mysteriously open when I arrived here. Perhaps I inadvertently slid the catch while repositioning it on my back. I must be more mindful from now on.
However, on to what matters, like this morning. This morning was glorious, or, perhaps not glorious, but very much fine. I awoke early, around 6:30. Startled a woman as I opened my tent—she hadn’t notice it! Though she did see the bicycle. This is what she tells me, anyhow.
A soft sunrise behind some trees. Pastels obscured by a vague, cloudy, glaucous sheen, like I was staring through an infinite number of powder-white dandelion heads floating somewhere a ways away up in the ether. Dewey grass, dewey tent interior, every bloody dog in the neighborhood barking, the single Mockingbird unable to sing a single song but alternating from one obnoxious noise to the next… All the people so friendly, so friendly though.
I remove my gear from the damp tent leaving it to dry, and transport my bicycle and everything over to the covered area with picnic tables, by the bathrooms, and begin to make a cup of coffee, then some oatmeal, musing all the while on this bike trail. This miraculous bike trail! that runs from Houston clear up to New Albany—43 miles. How wonderful it is. How it is necessary that there be more of these spread all over the nation in one interconnected spider’s web so that pedalers near and far can make their way safely from anywhere to anywhere. Anyway, on this trail, in the town of Algoma is a small shop of food and sundries. The man there tells me he gets visitors from all over the continent—from as far north as Canada, and even Alaska once, criss-crossing the United States. He even gets group rides of twenty strong coming out of Memphis some weekends. “Must be good for business,” I remark. He agrees. Though I guess that doesn’t mean more quality product. Can’t fault the man’s amiableness though.
Stopping at a gas station just outside of Macon, MS the sun begins to reveal itself, or, shall I say, the clouds begin to thin out, to depart, one or two at a time like a multitude of veils gradually being lifted from a face. And as the sun—the stunning, single eye in a face without imperfection—in the multitude of moments beat down upon me, and seemed to increase the level of humidity by several percentage points, I could only think that things might get very uncomfortable today, and that I’d likely be very wet when setting up camp tonight. But, later—not long later, either—pedaling along the highway 45, on the little wedge of shoulder left me between the rumble strip and soft, shifting, gravel bed I thought how wonderful it is that at last, after four days, the sun is finally made visible and all the world shining under its radiant light, and how miraculous it is that I am in Mississippi even though it is entirely meaningless because, what are these lines that draw boundaries around the masses of land that are really only one mass of land, but which we have felt the need to separate and call them states, anyway…
I’m camping tonight at a cemetery about a mile and a half outside of Starkville. According to Google it is a park, well, it is named Memorial Garden Park, so it’s not Google’s fault. A bit misleading I think, however, it provided a quiet place for me to set up my tent undisturbed, and the adjacent property is a smallish farm—mainly brilliant green, hilly pasture with a smattering of trees, and cows grazing contentedly. In the center of the cemetery stands a statue of Christ, his hands broken off. I’m uncertain how that might have happened, whether it was intentional or unintentional, but there he stands sort of gazing off, down the hill, across the road, into nothing. It is perhaps not the most inspiring statue I’ve seen, hands or no hands. Hell, I’ve seen more inspiring statues without heads or arms, just a torso, or a fragment of a face. What’s important is the feeling and talent of the sculptor. This just reminds me of some dumb knick-knack one might pick up at a souvenir shop. No matter. When God, or the Tao, or whatever is within you and all around you, whether any particular statue or sculpture is good or bad makes no significant difference. It just provides material for thought and speculation, for having opinions and writing about them….