Monday, July 28, 2014

The First Road Trip

In the time since the last post I've done quite a bit of driving and seen lots of very cool things, both in Mississippi and elsewhere.

A quick arithmetic briefing before I get into details:
American Military Bases Count: nonzero
Sate Count: +1 (current total: 38, though maybe up to 40.)
State Capitals Count: +1 (current total: 15, plus maybe one or two more?)
Synagogue Count: +3 (current total: I have no idea. Probably >100)

The first few pictures are pre-trip:
Last weekend there was a neighborhood picnic in the park around the corner from my house, the park where the community garden is. Pretty much the only foods there that were vegetarian-friendly were the desserts, which was fine by me. Apple pie, brownies, cookies, raspberry tortes, watermelon...yum! Then I stayed at the park for a while reading In the Time of the Butterflies (Julia Alvarez) in my hammock. I'd seen the movie in Spanish class in high school, but missed most of it because we weren't allowed to have the subtitles on. 

I went back for more figs, I couldn't help it! They're so deliciously sweet.

The art museum has a hexagonal display of hexagonal mirrors at slightly different angles such that the above effect is achieved. Pretty cool.
The Natchez Trace runs from Natchez, MS to Nashville, TN (440 miles), including a stretch through Jackson. The trace consists both of a parkway and of a walking/biking trail, and a couple weeks ago I decided to check it out, as it's the closest thing to hiking in this part of the state. (Actually, in most of the state: Woodall "Mountain" in Tishomingo State Park--in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains--is the highest point in Mississippi and is a whopping 807 feet. But it's so far north it's practically Tennessee).
I think it could be really cool to bike the entirety of the Trace when I finish my two years here.
When I saw the sun setting I realized I should probably head back to the car, but I stayed to watch just a bit longer. One thing I've noticed in Mississippi is that there's so much sky here! There aren't really any tall buildings (the tallest in the state is 348 feet and it's in Biloxi; the tallest in Jackson is 318 feet, and it's the only one over 300 feet), so there's nothing really to break up views of long stretches of the sky.
Sunset at the Trace.
More from the Trace
On my drive back from the Trace I pulled into a parking lot to watch the end of sunset because it was just as beautiful there.
On Tuesday morning of this past week, two of my coworkers picked me up in our rental car so we could hit the road for our first community visit road trip of the summer. Summer visits are designed to take advantage of geography, so the three of us went together to hit the northeastern part of the Florida panhandle and southwestern Alabama in Dothan (my community).

We looked at our driving route and saw that I-98 bumped right up against De Soto National Forest and decided that would be a nice lunch spot on our way out of Mississippi. Only when we drove into the park and followed what looked like a sign for a trailhead, it turned out that somehow we'd entered Camp Shelby, a joint-forces military training camp in use since World War I. Oops. We're not sure why the Arabic (?) is there--maybe to help the soldiers acclimate to what they'll see when they're deployed?
This is who we were sharing the road with. Nobody told us to leave, and nobody asked us what we were doing there.
We left Camp Shelby and soon enough passed a sign for Lake Perry, where we (finally) ate our picnic lunches.
One of the stained glass windows in the chapel of Temple Emanu-El in Dothan, AL, one of the communities I'll be working in this year. Dothan is actually one of the few small-town Jewish communities the ISJL works with that I'd heard of before taking this job because last year it made the the pages of the New York Times with a story about a "Family Relocation Project" that aimed to bring 20 Jewish families to the congregation/community by 2016, and in exchanged offered $50,000 to each family.
Funny and irrelevant side note: The website, which I thought was the synagogue's website, is in Japanese.
Florida's capitol in Tallahassee! Actually, the building in the front (with the ridiculous candycane awnings) is the Old State Capitol. The tall building in the back is where state proceedings actually happen now. At our pizza parlor meeting with members of the congregation we met a Tallahassee newbie and history buff who offered to take us to see the Old Capitol Museum and the state history museum the next day, which we happily took advantage of.
Inside the (new) capitol building. I'd never been to Florida before, so this trip added me both a state and a capital to my list.
Turns out we had almost a whole day of down-time in Tallahassee, and everybody we asked said the best thing to do would be to go to Wakulla Springs State Park.  I was picturing something along the lines of Yellowstone's hot springs and geysers, but when we got there it was actually a mini-lake with a high-dive and docks. And the water was free-zing.  I made sure to dunk all the way under to make my mama proud before we headed off to find some trails. Those weird stump-y things coming up from the swampy ground are actually tree roots!
Apparently, Wakulla is the world's "largest and deepest freshwater spring"--and unlike the big body of freshwater I'm used to from home, this one has alligators in it.
Some 'shrooms.
Since our first "event" of the day on Friday was services at the synagogue, we left Tallahassee early enough to have time to play at the beach in Panama City in the Gulf! It was glorious. I've never been in a natural body of water that warm before--the water felt like it was at least air temperature, if not body temperature (which were probably not that different from each other on that day, actually).

Thanks Gideon for having an ~~~ moment and writing to me about your State Count right when I was trying to figure out mine. Though this website is intended for tracking your election predictions, it's also a really good way of marking which states you've been to (and how many total electoral votes you've hit). So here's the key: BLUE (38) means I've been there. RED (2) means I'm not sure. And TAN (10) means I haven't. [A note about qualifications: Everyone has their own rules about how to count where they've been. Some say just driving through is enough, some say airports count. My rule is that I have to use a non-airport restroom.]
Now I'm back in Jackson until I head to Shreveport, LA (and Galveston, TX) on Aug. 6.

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