Monday, June 2, 2008

FINDING FAYETTEVILLE

On Saturday, following the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which was really an Episcopal service involving the Reception of the Sisters of Charity into the Community of St. Mary and the admission of Postulant Deborah as novice of the Community, we feasted on lunch provided by the Sisters. Bishop John Bauerschmidt made his first visit to St. Mary’s Convent, and the reception feast in his honor (and in honor of those being received) equaled that of a good south Louisiana banquet. After feasting, we set out for Fayetteville, Tennessee, a 40-minute drive from Sewanee, retracing a drive through Mennonite country near Belvedere, a tour covered in an earlier blog. Along the way, I made what I call “agricultural notes.” Baled hay covered the hillsides for miles, and we passed acres of bountiful wheat, its golden color vivid against the gray background of a rainy day. Cluster after cluster of Musk Thistles (a species naturalized from Europe according to my botanist friend, Vickie) bloomed along the roadside, their purple heads towering above yellow clover. We stopped to pick one head and brought it home to decorate the dining table.

In our field trips, we always forget to allow time and gas for Being Lost – this time, we turned off at Flintville Fish Hatchery, a place where rainbow trout eggs are hatched and raised to a length of approximately 10-12 inches. As the office closes on Saturday, we didn’t find information about how to get into this hatchery, but we do know that wonderful rainbow trout are raised there and stocked in 48 streams and lakes in 48 Tennessee counties. I was interested to locate the trout because the best plate of fish I’ve tasted in my seven decades wasn’t a platter of fried catfish in southwest Louisiana – it was a plate of broiled rainbow trout in a lodge at Sequoia National Park, California – rainbow trout accompanied by crisp fresh broccoli and carrots. I’ve never found an equal to that plate of trout. Unfortunately, in the hunt for the rainbow trout at Flintville Fish Hatchery, we got lost on the narrow road bordered by dense woods of sweet gums, sugar maples, and box elders. We wound our way through the forest passing isolated homes and no cars, and feeling a bit uneasy, as if we had entered a scene from “Deliverance,” the movie about southern backwoodsmen. We huffed to a stop at 3 p.m. in Lynchburg, Tennessee with an empty gas tank, 17 miles away from our destination of Fayetteville.

Road trips usually result in serendipity – off-the-path places that offer beauty and new experiences. The serendip didn’t appear until we reached the square in Fayetteville where we found a small bookshop called Book Inn, one of the independent bookstores scattered throughout the U.S. that have survived and thrived while competing with Barnes and Noble, Books A Million, and other chain booksellers. The proprietor told us she had been in business 17 years and does a healthy business despite the fact that readers are not too far from the sites of larger bookstores in Huntsville, AL and Nashville, TN. She had a small stock of regional authors tucked away in a side display, several of which were by Howard Bahr, an author of considerable talent, who lived in Fayetteville 13 years. Previously, he had held a long time position as curator at Rowan Oak, the home of William Faulkner in Oxford, Mississippi. Since 1997, Bahr has been writing southern novels. One volume entitled THE BLACK FLOWER is based on an 1864 Battle of Franklin in Franklin, Tennessee. It was nominated for several awards and received the Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Following the success of that novel, he wrote another book about the battle of Franklin called THE JUDAS FIELD, followed by PELICAN ROAD. The proprietor told us that Bahr had taught at Motlow Community College nearby in Tullahoma, Tennessee, and she expressed regret that he had moved back to his native Mississippi where he’s teaching Creative Writing at Belhaven College in Jackson. “He brought a lot to the town, and we love his books – his prose just flows,” she said. I’m returning to Fayetteville soon to place a few copies of FLOOD ON THE RIO TECHE at the Book Inn as the interested bookshop owner related that THE CAJUN NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS sold well in Fayetteville. I’ll pick up a copy of one of Bahr’s Civil War chronicles when I return.

Real estate in this valley town, elevation 700 ft., is about $100,000 less expensive than that of homes on The Mountain. Were it not for the higher temps, I’d find it easy to live in Fayetteville. It’s a small town of 7,000 citizens who’re proud of their handsome historic houses, a charming square, the Antique Mall, a two-story 1870’s building with lots of antiques and room settings…and, of course, the Book Inn. On the way home, we passed Prichard’s Distillery in Kelso, distributor of rum made with pure water and premium molasses, but we dared not turn off the road to take a look at the distillery for fear of getting lost again. Leaving Fayetteville, we encountered road detours where earth moving machines and other heavy highway equipment clotted the landscape --clearing the way for progress and a healthy economy.
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