My first trip to the camp at Tupelo Brake, or “The Tupe” as it was known by the men who hunted it’s vast cypress and tupelo swamps and low, oak covered ridges, came as soon as the flood waters receded and the brutal heat of our southern summer, which starts in spring, finally baked the gumbo mud roads into a passable quagmire.
The route from our home took us down from the hills of Vicksburg and along the eastern edge of the delta. From Ballground Plantation the road hugged the Loess hills on my right while the flat, fertile, farms stretched out to the horizon through the window that silhouetted my father as he drove me along a road I would come to know by heart.
The trip was narrated by my father as he pointed out scenes of flood damage, old hunting spots and the homes and farms of men I would soon come to know. At Satartia we turned west, crossed the Yazoo River and left the high hills behind.
Farms lined the road on both sides, save for scattered sloughs and brakes and the occasional patch of woods. Farmers had been hard at work and dad remarked at the varying conditions of crops. Soybeans and cotton laid claim to almost every tillable acre as we closed the distance to the camp.
When the numbing flatness of the delta was broken by the rise of the levee where I knew we would turn to make the last leg of our journey I remember trying to picture what it had all looked like just those few months ago, covered in the brown swirling waters of the flood. It hardly seemed the same place.
Though the trees were lush and green, the understory was nearly devoid of vegetation. A heavy layer of silt and debris covered the forest floor. What had been giant lakes were once again fields and the only standing water was in the barrow pits, bayous and sloughs, all still murky brown and filled to the brim from the floodwaters.
When the woods along the levee gave way again to a large patch of farm ground I knew we were nearing the camp. It had been here we had sat watching the waters rise. What look like flood debris spanned the canal that ran along the levee, but its order told me it was man-made.
The bridge across the canal was low, even with the flat ground of the delta, made of broad planks only slightly wider than my father’s four wheel drive, and could best be described not so much as a bridge as perhaps termites holding hands. As we rattled across it I could see the slow-moving waters beneath us through the gaps and missing boards. I could hear the timbers groan and the loose boards rattle. Dad, sensing my unease, assured me the bridge was sound.
“Thomas and them use it to get their tractors in here to the fields.” He said as his way of easing my nerves. It had little effect in that cause. But we clattered across and turned back south, back toward the towering trees of The Tupe and the little tan trailer I knew waited for me on the banks of Deep Bayou.