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The Slow(er) Route
backroads, boudin, bridges, and bayous
December, y’all! Can you believe it?! Tis the season for hustle and bustle, and I hope this week’s edition of Release and Gather will be a good reminder to slow down and savor life. A big thanks to our newest subscribers, which puts our subscriber list at over 200:
Richard, Adam, Deb, Mellie, Meagan, Nadia, Jenny, T S, “bookish,” Andrea, Cyril, Caitlin, Sophie, Harold, “reg,” “njh,” Susan, and Angelica—I’m glad you’ve joined us!
Also, a big thanks towho writes Everything Is Amazing. I was reading his latest post when I stumbled upon a mention of last week’s edition of Release and Gather— “Longer Tables.” Mike writes some in-depth interesting stuff, but I especially loved this post. If you’ve been thinking of starting your own newsletter, I encourage you to check out his helpful tips. It could be the boost you need to just go for it!
Our granddog Levi spent 17 glorious nights at our humble abode in rural Mississippi while his parents vacationed in Europe and got engaged.But all good things must come to an end, so I chauffeured him to Houston this week, praying the whole way that it wouldn’t rain hard enough for me to need the windshield wipers because those things freak him out. Seriously. The one time I had to hit them, I thought he would knock himself out leaping onto the dashboard and attempting an attack through the glass.
Full-time remote work has spoiled me these last three years, reducing my patience with interstate traffic. Couple that with a scary encounter two weeks ago with some sketchy individuals after I had a flat on the interstate just out of Baton Rouge, and you’ve got a perfect formula for backroads driving.
As a child of the 70s and 80s, I enjoyed multiple family road trips courtesy of the U.S. Interstate Highway System (IHS)—thanks to President Dwight D. Eisenhower who signed legislation funding its construction back in the 1950s. “By the early 1990s, nearly 45,000 miles of interstate highway were complete.”The exciting new freeways were a draw, I’m sure, for my young parents, who’d grown up in rural areas and had traveled little. Their enthusiasm to hit the road each summer was contagious, seeping into me and my two brothers.
Our limited income meant we didn’t frequent hotels or restaurants on our trips, but we didn’t mind. They loaded us into our secondhand full-sized 1979 Dodge Royal Sportsman along with camping gear and a humongous blue Igloo full of sandwich meat, cheese, and condiments. Off we’d go on grand-to-us adventures.
Having been raised on nothing but country tunes coming from the radio and 8-track cassettes, we didn’t know any better than to think there could be anything better than Opryland, Silver Dollar City, or Dogpatch USA.No beaches or metropolitan areas for us—just good ol’ amusement parks, hokey music shows, and mountain scenery. But I’m genuinely thankful for those trips rolling past billboards and through cities I’d never seen. My appreciation for the journey grew from those early excursions.
For much of my 20s and 30s, I was hellbent on living fast and efficiently without impediment or interruption, cramming as much life as I could into every 24 hours. But time has given me the wisdom to slow down, notice the world around me, and appreciate the unexpected treasures along the way.
300+ miles separate me from my firstborn, but I’ll take it since it’s much closer than where they were last year—nearly 900 miles away in Chicago! This week really was not the most convenient time for a road trip. With two big events at our venue this weekend (one of which is a wedding that I’m also decorating for), I wondered how I’d get it all done.Still, I resisted the urge to drive fast and spend only one night with my son and his new fiance.
Resolved to a slower pace, I stayed off the interstate system for my drive to Houston, even if it meant adding up to an hour to the trip. The rewards were plentiful. I traversed the byways of southwest Louisiana for most of my route, something I’d not done in quite some time. I forgot how picturesque it could be and how many roadside curiosities there are.
Krotz Springs, Louisiana (yes, we make jokes about the town’s name every time we talk about it) is home to Kartchner’s Grocery and Specialty Meats as well as several other shops where you can buy boudin (pronounced BOO-dan), crawfish pies, and other Louisiana delicacies. On the trip home, I stopped for smoked boudin, meat pies, boudin balls stuffed with cream cheese and jalapenos, frozen duck breasts, and bacon-wrapped jalapenos stuffed with boudin. We’ll have a feast once we get through this busy weekend!
As I rolled through the town of DeQuincy, I was delighted by several murals and the DeQuincy Railroad Museum, which is housed in the old Kansas City Southern Depot, “one of the most outstanding examples of the Mission Revival style of architecture in the South.”Unfortunately, my travels didn't coincide with their hours of operation, but a great discovery, nonetheless! I'll add it to future excursions with the grandkids.
A number of other small-town shops and rural country stores lined the route, but I most enjoyed the ordinary scenes you would miss on the interstate. An interstate won’t reward you with the tranquil scene of the Sabine River as you enter Calcasieu Parish. Nor can you catch the sun rising over Lake Houston, marking the sky with strips of pink and orange.
Only the backroads can show you a canopy of trees over the road with bits of Fall color that we don’t see much in these parts. Have you ever driven parallel to a railroad along marshlands or peered over a bridge at a bayou as rich as chocolate milk? Or crossed the Atchafalaya Basin teeming with cypress trees and egrets? You may even catch a glimpse of a bald eagle out there. Maybe I-10’s Atchafalaya Basin Bridge gives you a decent view, but you can’t quite take it in hurtling along at 65 mph.
Canefields and crawfish ponds, combines and silos—these reveal the work going into those great loads that 18-wheelers carry across the interstates. A house stripped bare of its paint, an abandoned fire tower, and overgrown baseball fields are evidence of lives being lived far from the limelight. Ordinary places with ordinary people. Living the slow life.
Nearing home I followed the perimeter of False River, sparkling blue, an oxbow lake that was once part of the Mississippi River’s main channel—a reminder that life happens and even the course of mighty waters can be changed by events beyond our control.
I crossed the John James Audubon Bridge, the second-longest cable-stay span in the Western Hemisphere at 1,583 feet and a total length of 12,883 feet. Impressive numbers, but I mostly loved the way the yellow cable wraps become orange against the blue sky.
What do we miss by rushing through life, avoiding the slow, the unsophisticated, the mundane? Especially in the holiday season, how can you intentionally choose to be unhurried with the people around you, the roads you travel, or your daily tasks?
Join the discussion in the comments!
Here are some other in-the-moment photos I captured—definitely far from perfect, but glimpses of what caught my attention as I took the road less traveled by.
Note: these are blind shots as I went along--one hand on the wheel at all times and eyes on the road. I do not advocate composing marvelous photos while driving. Just point and shoot—you may get lucky.
One of these wonderful destinations didn’t make it and has an interesting history that is the subject of a 2018 documentary.
I recently wrote about our small business:
It was a good day to reacquaint myself with The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost. If you haven’t read it since you were forced to in middle school, check it out. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44272/the-road-not-taken