James “H.D.” Taylor, left, and Larry Priest ready their kayaks for a fishing expedition on the Luxapalila River near the Highway 12 Bridge on Sunday, Dec. 10. The two men have been neighbors for about 35 years, but only recently discovered their mutual interest in kayaking. Photo by: Birney Imes/Dispatch Staff
December 16, 2017 11:33:06 PM
Early Sunday afternoon, on the day Mississippi observed its 200th birthday, Larry Priest and James "H.D." Taylor unloaded two fishing kayaks from the back of a battered GMC pickup and dragged them to the river's edge.
Looking like superheroes in their matching wetsuits, the two men joked with each other, sharing the easy camaraderie of friends about to spend a carefree afternoon surrounded by the glories of nature.
"When you are down here on that river, your heart is beating at the right speed," Taylor said. "I come down here by myself and it's like being in heaven."
Taylor has spent all of his 58 years in this heaven here on the banks of the Luxapalila. He lives nearby in a clearing surrounded by densely wooded land at the edge of a neighborhood known as Black Creek. He and Priest have been neighbors with a passing acquaintance for 35 years.
That changed on July 4th two years ago when Priest rode by Taylor's house on his horse and saw a kayak. Priest, 65, who grew up on the West Coast, had paddled kayaks since his youth. The boats became the catalyst for a friendship.
While he has spent his life on the river, Taylor is a relative newcomer to kayaking.
"I seen people going by on 'em," he said, "and I decided to get me one. I wish I'd had one in my younger days.
Taylor got the kayak four years ago, not long after his wife, Shirley, died. When they first married, Shirley did not share her husband's enthusiasm for the river. The conversion came quickly.
"We'd go camping every weekend," Taylor said. "We'd fish. I miss that."
It is seldom, if ever, you meet someone who names a 12-foot plastic kayak. Taylor is the exception. He calls his kayak Shirley.
Priest offers me a cappuccino from his thermos while Taylor wades out into the river extolling the virtues of his wetsuit. The day is clear and cold. The sun bounces off the water, making it sparkle like thousands of diamonds.
The men got the matching wetsuits about two months ago.
"We used them surfing in Southern California when the Pacific gets cold," Priest said. "It was H.D.'s idea to get them."
The idea was rooted in Taylor's wish to spend more time on the river.
"The best catfishing on the river is in the wintertime when everybody is deer hunting," said Taylor.
Avid is too mild a word to describe Taylor's enthusiasm for the river cat.
"I use about $150 to $200 a year of chicken livers (for catfish bait)," he said. "At Sunflower those people accuse me of having a store."
Priest, a musician who has played with bands in the area for about 35 years, has a reverential respect for his fishing partner's knowledge of the river.
"H.D. is like one of those cypress trees down there. He's part of the river."
As the men ready their kayaks, one of them comments on the solitude, how they rarely see anyone else.
"If this was California," says Priest, sweeping his hand toward the river, "this would be polka-dotted with people."
The men decide they will go downstream first. They drag their boats into the water.
"I really like that kayaking," Taylor says, stating the obvious. "My daddy told me you got to do what you want to do in life; when they're putting dirt on you, it's too late."
The men paddle their kayaks to the middle of the stream where they enter the river's embrace. As they move downstream into the blinding sunlight, the kayakers begin to fade from view. Soon they are gone, swept up into the mystery of the river.
Birney Imes is the publisher of The Dispatch. Email him at [email protected]
Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.
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