from the woods near Natchez, Mississippi, USA
January 20, 2002
Walking in the big bayou between my trailer and the plantation center this week I found two pottery shards. "Shard" is a word referring to a fragment broken from something brittle, such as pottery. Both of the shards had been decorated with scratches and small triangular indentations, or"punctations." You can see these at my Loess Hills Web site at http://www.earthfoot.org/loess/ind_miss.htm
It isn't surprising that such artifacts should turn up. Just a mile west there is an "Indian mound" next to Second Creek, a few hundred feet west of US 61. Right before World War II someone planned to create a tourist attraction at the site and a museum building was built, but then the War intervened and the project ended. Today the museum building is collapsing and intermittently parts of the mound tumble into Second Creek.
These shards got me to thinking about am amazing event in local history. In 1729 the French occupied a fort among the Natchez Indians atop the bluff over the Mississippi River where today the town of Natchez stands. The fort was commanded by an unstable, tyrannical French commandant by the name of Chepart. Chepart arbitrarily ordered the Natchez to abandon the settlement known to historians as White Apple Village.
Though until this time the Natchez had welcomed the white settlers, now they decided to get rid of them. On November 28, 1729 the Natchez entered the fort, killed 138 men, 35 women and 56 children. Many captives were taken, many slaves were released, and the fort was burned to the ground. When news of the massacre reached New Orleans, soldiers were sent north. The army killed many of the Natchez, but many escaped to go live with other tribes, into which they were absorbed. The entire Natchez culture was thus extinguished.
Many believe that the mound just to our east is all that remains of White Apple Village, the village Chepart wanted abandoned. Some old maps plainly show White Apple Village at our mound but others place it closer to town. Monette's "History of the Valley of the Mississippi" (Vol. 1 p. 258) insists that the village was at our mound. In fact, the country road leading from the plantation to US 61 today is officially named White Apple Road.
When I found these pottery shards in the bayou's sand and gravel where recent rains had washed them, I held them in my hands wondering what they have seen and experienced. Had they once resided in huts in White Apple Village? Had the pottery of which they had once been part been shattered that fateful day people fled the approaching French soldiers, the day the proud nation of the Natchez Indians ceased to exist?
You can read more about the downfall of the Natchez at http://homepages.rootsweb.com/~cmamcrk4/pkt11.html
DEER DAMAGED TREES
This week I visited fields where last year I planted trees, to see what needed to be replanted. I was amazed at how much damage the deer had done. I'd planted Southern Red Oak, known locally as Cherrybark Oak, and hundreds of these saplings had had their tops nibbled off. In one area Black Locusts, which bear spines on their stems, were badly damaged, and I even saw Honeylocusts with spines that can puncture a tractor tire completely girdled, with trunks stripped white.
This means that our deer population is so dense that the deer are having a hard time finding decent food. A page on the Web lists both Blacklocust and Red Oak as only occasionally eaten by deer, while Honeylocust is listed as seldom eaten.
The hunters who rent hunting rights at the plantation hunt according to "big buck" rules. They are less interested in killing large numbers of deer than in shooting a few bucks with big antlers. Probably this explains why the deer here are starting to eat marginal food. It is a mess.
I would be glad to trade these hunters and their theories for a nice family of wolves.
GIANT BARK APHIDS
For the last couple of weeks large, black aphids about 1/4-inch long (6mm) have been drowning by the dozens in my buckets of rainwater, catching in the fuzz of my sweater, and it seems that at least one is always clambering up through the hair-forest of my legs, tickling as it climbs. They trek along the rims of my buckets and pots in endless circles, until they drop. On some trees they mass in huge numbers. Of course I scanned one for my nature site and you can see it at http://www.backyardnature.net/aphid_lc.htm#a
To confirm my guess that these were Giant Bark Aphids, LONGISTIGMA CARYAE, I sent the scanned image to the Entomology Department at the University of Mississippi and Evan Nebeker there wrote back, "We have received several reports of the giant bark aphid in your area and surrounding counties." A Web site of the Florida Department of Agriculture says of the aphid that "Severe infestations may result in shoot or branch dieback. Honeydew will damage cars parked under infested trees. Sooty mold prevalent."
It's funny, but even though last week I had been studying aphids and wrote about Turnip Aphids in this Newsletter, when I saw these giant aphids I had no idea what they were. I recall thinking "It's shaped like an aphid, it walks like an aphid, its wing venation is just like an aphid's... I wonder what it is?" It just seemed too large to be an aphid.
Therefore, my preconception about what aphids had to be like -- that they were all tiny -- blinded me to all other evidence. I even ignored the perfectly matching wing venation, which to an entomologist is nearly as important as fingerprints to a criminologist.
So, just what else is there in this life to which I am blind simply because of preconceptions and prejudices? How much richer would my life be and how much more effective as a human would I be if I could bend my mind away from all wrong-headed beliefs I have inherited or accepted through my own intellectual laziness?
As I sit typing this, that question haunts me more than I am bothered by the perpetual tickle of a Giant Bark Aphid climbing upward through my leg hairs.
Saturday morning at dawn I awakened sweating in my sleeping bag, for during the night the air had turned unseasonably warm and humid. I jogged wearing only shorts and shoes, and before long I was good and sweaty, feeling as if I were a detached awareness with my body on auto-pilot running below me. That is a good feeling, when the body is working well and the fresh air rushing into the lungs feels like high-octane fuel, and the trail below invites you on and on.
Suddenly there came a roar into the trees and heavy rain could be heard coming through the forest at a distance. In a second the gloomy warm air all around was sliced through by a fist of cold air exactly as if it were a blast off of ice. Double-speeding back to the trailer, the wind roared and the trees bent, and my lungs and heart revved to a fast-paced cadence.
Beautiful it was to run in the wind, to be hard and fast in a grand theater of gentle rage.
When a deer is frightened it reflexively alerts other deer by issuing a kind of loud blow-sound and by stamping the ground. Similarly it is a natural function of a good hermit to fart whenever the need be. At dusk once this week I was standing as silently and quietly as I could next to a field of blackberry brambles, hoping to spot a rare species of sparrow that sometimes sings at dusk. Without thinking much about it, I let a fart rip. Unbeknownst to me, a deer had walked up right behind me, probably not seeing me because of the darkness and because I was so still. My detonation occasioned the deer's sharp blow and this in turn scared me out of my wits. There must have been a moment when both deer and I were airborne with our wheels spinning.