December 14, 2019 10:59:02 PM
Chances are if you ever took an art appreciation course you encountered Édouard Manet's "Le Dejeuner sur l'herbe" ("The Luncheon on the Grass"). In this large canvas -- now acknowledged as a masterpiece but considered scandalous at the time -- the French Impressionist portrayed two men and two women picnicking in an idyllic wooded setting.
What is distinctive about the painting, the feature that fueled outrage among the 19th century Parisians, is that the men are fully clothed -- with neckties and berets, even -- and the women are nude. Well, one of the women is nude, the one in the foreground of the painting; the second, in a gauzy gown of some sort, is bathing in the background.
Clothed or not, everyone looks to be having a swell time; the men are engaged in conversation, and the women -- one attending to her bathing, the other looking at the painter/viewer of the painting -- seem to be self-contained.
As so it was on a recent weekday morning this image came to me out of the ether as I stood on a makeshift bridge in the wilds of Lamar County, Alabama, eating a honey crisp apple, enjoying a bit of a picnic of my own.
Judging by the scattering of chewed acorns on the bridge left by the deer, I was not the first to pause here for refreshment.
Four of these low bridges span Yellow Creek between its intersection with County Road 9 and Hays Crossing, 13 or so winding miles downstream near where the creek enters Mississippi.
Anyone wanting to travel this stretch in a motorized boat of any size is out of luck. One of the structures is a massive logging bridge; the other three appear to be crossings for deer hunters.
Canoeists and kayakers can simply pull out and portage through.
When Eddie dropped me off at 7:30 the temperature was 30 degrees and the morning sun was just making its appearance. There is no light quite like that of a cold, clear Mississippi winter morning. The light seemed to come from within the woods, backlighting iced branches and imparting an orange, preternatural glow to the fall browns, dark reds and grays.
Sunday when we went out HD had warned about deer hunters urging us to wear orange or some other bright color. On this weekday morning the woods appeared to be inhabited only by those who live there.
As they typically are on icy mornings such as this, the deer were abundant. Watching these impossibly graceful animals in an all-out sprint through a dense forest is one of the rewards of being out at this hour.
The American holly with its deep green leaves and equally deep red berries are particularly abundant along this stretch. Their presence, even more vivid against the muted fall colors, impart a holiday cheer.
This was my fourth or fifth time on this stretch of river, so by now there are familiar landmarks: the huge pine towering at the edge of the creek; the hollow tree leaning over the water, a refuge for a family of raccoons that watched us pass one spring morning; the single, rumbling oil pump jack.
It was almost straight-up noon when I reached Hays Crossing. The litter-strewn takeout bringing to an abrupt end to a four-plus-hour reverie.
Even so, how can one not be grateful, if not awestruck, by the abundant natural world that surrounds us here. Clothed in the most beautiful raiment, inhabited by infinitely marvelous creatures, it patiently awaits, a source of wonder and inspiration.
Birney Imes ([email protected]) is the former publisher of The Dispatch.
Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.
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