Relocate! Relocate!

Allayne came out of the office to pet sweet Dawny who, once I had opened the door, was doing her best to barge headlong into the place.  We had arrived at this small campground in eastern Louisiana (Lake Bruin State Park) earlier in the day and came by the office after settling into our campsite to tell Allayne, who had checked us in, what a pretty park it was.

“Yes, most of the people who work here have been around at least ten years. It’s such a beautiful place.”  The peaceful look on Allayne’s face told all there was to tell.

Dawny found her beautiful place by Allayne’s knee so she could scratch behind her ears while we chatted.

Whenever we walk by any building:  shed, restroom, office, cabin, outhouse… it doesn’t matter… if it has a door, Dawny wants to go inside.  If I give her enough leash, she approaches the door, sniffs, and waits, anticipation tugging each wag of her tail.  Dawny can’t read, so all she knows is that, if it has a door, there might be someone inside who will give her love and/or cookies. Preferably both.  This day she lucked out with the lovin’.

How nice a life my girl has had that closed doors hold such sweet promise.

I asked Allayne about the local wildlife, especially the creepy-crawly kind, which I am increasingly beware of the further south we travel.

“Oh, yes, we get some action here.  We had an alligator get into the swimming area–”

“There’s a swim beach here… with alligators in the lake?” I asked, my wide eyes betraying any semblance of the cool, seasoned, old-lady traveler that I may have constructed up to that point.

“Sure.  And snakes.  I was out here on my cell phone one day and right over there,” Allayne pointed to a small gully that ran under the sidewalk leading to the campground office, “I saw something slither out.  It was slithering and squirming… totally creepy.  It must have just shed its skin and stuff was stuck to it all over.  It looked awful!  I quickly called the ranger:  ‘Relocate! Relocate!'”

My politically incorrect and fearful mind silently screamed:  Oh my God!  Relocate?  What if it came back??  Did they relocate it far enough away???  Kill it!  Just kill it!!  At least blindfold it, pick it up by the tail, spin it around until it’s good and dizzy, then toss it somewhere over there by Arizona!!!

“Relocate!  Relocate!” Allayne interrupted my neurotic thoughts, recalling her call for help.  I recognized a kindred spirit looking out from her wide eyes as she continued the story.  Help arrived.  It was a water moccasin.  They relocated it.  All was well with the world and this was once again a peaceful place.

Leaving Allayne to get back to her job, Dawny and I continued our walk around the campground, including wooden docks and platforms that stretched from safe, solid ground through the dark, moss-draped shoreline into the blue of the lake.  Absolutely beautiful.  Albeit not free of alligators, snakes, or bears…  A fellow camper reminded me that the namesake of the lake was, indeed, “Bruin” for a reason.  Bears used to be quite plentiful in the area.  Sheesh, I thought I had at least left the threat of bears behind me in the Appalachians.  Apparently not.

Unlike my dear traveling companion, closed doors signify something very different to me.  They make me nervous, hiding the unknown.  Turns out it’s mostly just local life living out its local life.  The nice part is that the more familiar it becomes–by staying a while, taking time to chat, or through repeat visits–the less scary it becomes.

So, Dawny and I pick up our tails and continue with our own version of ‘Relocate,’ in this case joining the snowbird ranks migrating south for the winter.  Our current journey will cover about 2,000 miles from northern Virginia to east Texas, with a stop to visit friends near Dallas.  By the time we reach Dallas, we will have visited nine campgrounds, all of them new to us.  Our route is a new one, too.  I am proud to say that we survived the tangle that is Atlanta for the first time.

It is a good life.  Each door opens to another beautiful place, filled with lovely views, friendly faces, and kindred hearts.  We need only to open our own hearts, to recognize and relax, to give and receive.  Dawny, for all of her simple brilliance, has that part down pat.

* * * * * *

Short review of Lake Bruin State Park’s campground:  Five out of five stars.  Please keep in mind that this is from the perspective of someone traveling in a 25 foot motor home with no tow vehicle and who does not need sewer hookups.  Although not very convenient to I-20 (the park is over 35 miles south of exit 171), it was well worth the trip.

Lake Bruin is an oxbow lake formed from an old loop of the Mississippi River that was cut off from the main river channel ages ago.  It used to be a fishery and was donated to the state park system in 1958.  Fish, turtles, and alligators were raised in basins that now cradle the park grounds and some of the camp sites.

The campground road and the sites are paved.  Most are pretty level and fairly spacious.  Each has 30-amp and water hookups and there is a decent dump station available.  There is a nice mix of sun and shade.  It is a good idea to scope out the sites before picking the one that best fits your needs.  I was able to get a good Verizon signal and several over-the-air TV stations.  The restrooms are modern and immaculate, and there is a laundry room on site.

Park staff is incredibly friendly and helpful, matching the charm of their surroundings with the best of southern hospitality.

Un-looped

Just a quick post to let anyone who tries to contact me (email, phone, text, blog comment, nominating committee for a presidential appointment to the Bipartisan Commission on Examination of Belly-Button Lint, etc.) that I will be out of the loop for a week.  Dawny and I will be visiting a park that has little to no Verizon signal and no internet.  No over-the-air TV reception, either.  Might as well be on the dark side of the moon.  Wish us luck!

Hungry Mother

“I don’t really get along with kids,” I told the sweet young staff member who was trying to find someone to fill in for her on Campfire-and-Marshmallows night.  “I mean, I do have one of my own, and I love him a lot–heck, I would let him have the last piece of pizza–but most others really get on my nerves.”

“That’s OK,” she replied without batting an eyelash at my curmudgeonly confession.  “Most of the campers who show up are adults.”

It turned out she was heading to Florida to help with Hurricane Irma clean-up efforts.  It is one thing to be a bit of a grouch.  It is quite another to be selfish in the face of selflessness and not do your part in providing assistance on the home front.  So, I accepted the task.

Besides, the evening would have one slice of saving grace:  part of my job would be to talk about the Legend of Hungry Mother, the legend that gave this fine state park in southwest Virginia its name.  And I do love history.  And stories.  And the challenge of unraveling a strand or two of truth from the tapestry of an engaging tale.

The event turned out just fine.  Several couples came with their children.  We enjoyed s’mores over a roaring fire and had a nice informal session where I talked a little about the park and its namesake legend.

Thanks to an idea that came from Miss Joyce, campground boss-lady extraordinaire who runs the office with the efficiency of a school teacher tempered by the grace and hospitality of a true southern lady, we started the evening with a perfect ice-breaker of a game.  That afternoon, Joyce and I had been discussing variations on the legend that gave Hungry Mother State Park its name and she reminded me of the childhood game where you whisper something into one person’s ear, they pass it along to the next person, and so on and so on, until the last person announces what they heard.  It is inevitably quite different from the original.

So, that evening around the campfire, I began our chain-whisper-legend with the first listener, whispering into her ear:  “There’s a 10-point stag up on Molly’s Knob waiting for a flat-footed bear to bring him a cheese and pepperoni sandwich.”

After completing the circle of whisperers, it had morphed into:  “A four foot man is bringing us a cheese and pepperoni sandwich.”  I was surprised we didn’t get a pizza by the end.  Perhaps if the chain had been longer and the participants hungrier, we would have.

For those of you who were not around the campfire that evening, here is the park’s version of the Legend of Hungry Mother, rooted in early American folklore:

Native Americans destroyed a settlement in a valley south of where the park currently is located.  Among the survivors taken to the raiders’ base camp to the north was a woman named Molly and her small child.  Molly and her child escaped and wandered through the wilderness eating berries to survive.  Molly finally collapsed and her child wandered down the creek until he/she found other settlers.  The only words the child could utter were “hungry mother.”  When searchers reached the foot of the mountain where Molly had collapsed, they found her, dead.  The mountain became known as Molly’s Knob, and the stream, Hungry Mother Creek.

A less exciting version (Indian raiders being totally absent) has a woman and her child living alone in a cabin on one of the mountain knobs in the area.  She apparently suffered some very hard times and starved to death.  When fellow settlers discovered her body, they found her child had survived because of the food the mother had left behind.

When the state park was developed in the early-to-mid 1930s, the creek was dammed to form Hungry Mother Lake and much of the surrounding area became park land.  As completion neared, there was great controversy over what to name the park.  Several options included:  Forest Lake State Park, Walker State Park, and Southwest Virginia State Park.  Thank goodness more imaginative heads prevailed.  A local newspaper referred to it as “Hungry Mother Park,” after the creek and the old legend, and the name stuck.

Complaints poured in over the name.  Many thought it terribly ugly.  One local news editor/historian lamented the choice, saying they might as well call it “Starvation Park.”  It was built and dedicated during the height of the Great Depression, so I can see how that might be a sensitive point.

Mack Sturgill, in his 1986 book, Hungry Mother:  History and Legends, concludes that key developers and promoters of the park gave it the name and promoted the accompanying legend as an advertising ploy.  Sturgill likens the stunt to “putting an old tale in a new bottle with a provocative label.”  He points out that the legend was not even widely known locally until after the park claimed it and that there are serious doubts about the content of the tale.

Whether you want to criticize or praise the park’s name, let alone delve into history to challenge the legend itself, you have to admit that the name, Hungry Mother, is catchy.  Consuming.

The tale also goes to show one feature of historical “fact” that has not changed over the course of time…

 

. . . Capture the imagination, you create memory . . .  Craft it through repetition, you manufacture truth.     CE-9/20/17

 

 

Sources:

Virginia State Parks website, link:  www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/hungry-mother;

Sturgill, Mack H., Hungry Mother:  History and Legends, 2nd Ed. June 2001 (reissued by Friends of Hungry Mother State Park and sold at the park gift shop);

Linford, Margaret, genealogist and columnist for swva today, April 14, 2014 article, “String of Pearls:  Mystery and Controversy of Hungry Mother State Park’s Name.”  I can’t get the link to work but you can easily find it by googling key words.