Natchez Trace

Days 8-11: Lake Bisteneau, Louisiana, 2233 miles, 12 states

Even more so because it the Choctaw way of thinking, west is the direction of death. That’s the direction that people travel after they have died and left this world, so having to move towards the west in particular made it even more traumatic for Choctaws because it was moving toward the land of the dead. 

Ian Thompson, “The Choctaw Spirit”, speaking of the forced removal of Choctaw people through the Trail of Tears

The Natchez Trace is a National treasure. I hesitate to say much about it for fear that hordes of people will come and overwhelm its natural beauty.

Rather than embarking on a lengthy book project, which the Trace deserves, let me just list some things it does not have and some things it does.

The Natchez Trace does not have:

  • Large trucks
  • Buses
  • Heavy traffic of any kind
  • Billboards
  • Trash

Only a few of the many things the Natchez Trace does have:

  • At least three crossings of branches of the Trail of Tears, including the water trail on the Tennessee River
  • Two thousand year old burial mounds from the Hopewell culture
  • Jackson Falls, a stunning waterfall descending in several cascades over limestone shelves covered with moss and lichen
  • Rock Spring, a short walk along Colbert Creek with beaver dams, secluded pools, wildflowers, birds, amphibians, and carved stone steps across the Creek
  • The award-winning Double Arch Bridge over Birdsong Hollow
  • Trails of all kinds–wheelchair accessible, challenging climbs, horse trails
  • 444 miles of a winding, two-lane highway lined with trees and occasional meadows, marshes, and ponds
  • Stopping points every two or three miles with nature walks, historical sites, and attractive picnic spots
  • Free camping in wooded sites
On the horse, and dog, trail
Vanagain in Natchez Trace campsite
Fire ants, after I disturbed their mound with my finger
Rock Springs
Colbert Creek
Old growth
Lake Bistineau in flood
Jackson Falls

Highlander Center

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In the midst of a long car trip, we stopped to visit the Highlander Research and Education Center near New Market, Tennessee. It was just a short visit, since we had many miles to go. Also, the workshop and conference areas were in use, so our options were limited.

In spite of all that, I was very happy that we could make the time to see it. I’d known about the Highlander Folk School for many years, through Myles Horton’s books and other writing. But I also knew that the state of Tennessee had revoked Highlander’s charter and confiscated the school’s land and property.(in 1961) and that Horton had died in 1990. I hadn’t kept up with all the good work that the Center continued to do.

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After two major moves, the Highlander Center came to its present site in 1971. It sits atop Bay’s Mountain in the Tennessee River Valley, looking across to the Great Smoky Mountains.

The Workshop Center is home to organizing and leadership development, workshops on civil rights, immigrant communities, and economic justice. Projects have ranged from connecting communities around the world affected by industrial chemical pollution to LGBTQ rights.

In the early years (1930s-40s) the focus was on building a unified Labor movement. Later (1950s-60s) Highlander helped incubate the SNCC and Mississippi Freedom Summer. Ralph Abernathy, Rosa Parks, Pete Seeger, and Martin Luther King were among the participants.

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Moving into the1970s-90s there was an increasing focus on land issues, environment, and global economics. This meant more international connections and collaborations. In the present century there has been even more emphasis on developing tools and connecting people and organizations. Highlander has also expanded work with immigrant communities.

The Resource Center is home to archives, book shop, and library. Within a small wooden building is a rich history of progressive movements over eight decades in Appalachia, the US, and worldwide.

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The activities of the Highlander Center are diverse. But they’re well symbolized through the metaphor of a conversation with neighbors, all sitting in rocking chairs, arranged in a circle.

Those chairs and that circle are real. The open dialogue across different backgrounds and experiences that they imply is the first step in enacting positive change.

We stayed that night in Fall Creek Falls State Park, not too far to the west of the Center. The Park is named for the highest plunge waterfall east of the Mississippi. The nearby Piney Creek Falls are even more beautiful.

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