Unnatural long-distance migrants by Boyce Upholt

If ‘where’ is both subjective and physical, what do you need to know, precisely, to figure out where you are? From the moment our nomad ancestors wandered out of Africa until a few decades ago, locating yourself required interacting in some way with the environment: following the stars or a migrating herd of wildebeests, even reading a compass or a street sign. Then, in the time it took to transition from rotary phones to smartphones, we became the first unnatural long-distance migrants, followers of step-by-step instructions that obviated the need to look around at all.

Kim Tingley, “The Secrets of Wave Pilots

Home #002: Cameron by Boyce Upholt

Glen Allen,  Mississippi

Glen Allen,  Mississippi

Cameron, 46, Land developer & manager

I had to grow up a little bit to know what [home] meant. The whole Delta is like a small town—there’s always a connection. People want to foster that.

When Cameron was a boy, he was eager to get out of the Delta. But while he was in college his mother moved back into his family's old plantation, and as an adult he would find visiting that land provided a sense of peace and quiet amid the stresses of the working world.

He credits his "momma" with teaching himself the meaning of home. But then he cuts himself off. "It's just hard to think about all she meant in my life without tearing up a little over the fact that she's gone now," he says.

Home has always meant sanctuary, that would be my first word. Especially this place. When I’ve been away from here—this was always home, no matter where I was. And it was always a sanctuary.

Now he lives in that plantation home, built by his great-grandfather on the first homesite in Washington County, Cameron leases his row crop land to a big farming operation, but runs the smaller scale farming on the land: beekeeping, sunflower plots, and other plants intended to attract birds and wildlife. He offers luxury hunting tours to clients from around the country, and is always considering new ways to show off the home he loves.

Waking up, it’s so great to hear the birds outside. That’s a luxury—it’s a gift even folks who come here don’t always realize. It’s a gift.

You can read more about Cameron in the next issue of Delta Magazine, or check out the website for Esperanza Outdoors.

Home #001: Marisela by Boyce Upholt

Greenville, Mississippi Photo credit: Rory Doyle

Greenville, Mississippi

Photo credit: Rory Doyle

Marisela, 50, Restauranteur

Home is where you go when you’re tired. I’m glad I’m home.

In 1992, Marisela immigrated to Texas from Mexico; her then-husband, father of her three children, was already working in the States. Ten years later, she came to Mississippi to be near her sister.

It was a change and a challenge, she told me, speaking through a translator. Back then, Marisela would rarely see anyone else of Mexican descentmaybe once every three weeks at Walmart. But now in rural Mississippi the Hispanic population is large enough that many medical offices employ translators.

In December, Marisela and her current "esposo" opened a restaurant, La Sierrita, thatunlike most Mexican restaurants in the areaserves traditional Mexican tacos. It's a hit. Despite no advertising and a highway storefront that is hard to spot even when you know right where to look, La Sierrita is already packed for dinner every nightwith diners of every race.

She's proud of what she's built, clearly. But she also has fond memories of spending holidays at her grandparents' house in Mexico.

Here it’s not the same—we don’t get together as often. Just Christmas, New Years. The first years were different. When I first came [to the U.S.] all my kids were all together. Now my oldest is in Texas.

Wild #003: John by Boyce Upholt

Friars Point, Mississippi

Friars Point, Mississippi

John, 52, River Guide

When you walk through a city park, it’s pretty. You hear birds. But when you walk across a sandbar in the Mississippi, you’re dwarfed by the scale of things. For me it’s a humbling experience, a painful experience. Sometimes it’s a frightening experience.
— On the wildness of the Mississippi River

John Ruskey has almost certainly spent more hours paddling on the Mississippi River than any other human alive. More than thirty years ago, Ruskey and a friend sent out on an ill-fated float down the river that ended in a near-drowning -- but rather than being terrified by the wild landscape, Ruskey fell in love. Based out of Clarksdale, Miss., Ruskey is now on a mission to help other Southerners find what he calls "the wilderness within" -- within the degraded Southern landscape and within our souls.

This spring, I spent three days paddling and camping with Ruskey on an expedition. Check out my profile of Ruskey at The Bitter Southerner.

We are so good at creating our environment. That’s been the secret to our success, being able to manipulate any environment to make it hospitable. We’ve forgotten that it’s important to not be in control... That’s very good for the ego because it stays deflated.


Wild #002: Jacob by Boyce Upholt

Tishimingo State Park, Mississippi

Tishimingo State Park, Mississippi

Jacob, 28, teacher coach

That I’m likely to survive. A weak, skinny ass dude? [Laughs.] But also, intellectually—right? My mind is not just on survival. It’s on survival plus.
— On the virtues of not being a caveman

Jacob struggles when he's asked about home: He was raised in Italy, attended college in Philadelphia, taught in Arkansas, went to a grad program in London. He now lives in Mississippi (and is a good friend). We spent a weekend camping this spring in Tishimingo State Park, and I took the occasion to ask him about his experiences with wildness. I'm taking the liberty of paraphrasing, but he sees wildness as the nonhuman elements in the world. Sometimes they're overwhelming: as a boy, Jacob once stumbled upon a dead snake, or maybe a snake eating something dead. "It just freaked me out," he said. But it can be freeing, too, when humanity seems to recede into the background.

Me and my ten buddies took this ten-day trip of the national parks. We got to the Grand Tetons and it’s gorgeous. We realized we are alone there—and that’s nuts in the middle of summer. We just got naked and jumped in the water. I don’t remember us being like, ‘Hey, are we going to jump in the water?’ It wasn’t a said thing. We just… I forget who did it first, even.

Food #002: Chris by Boyce Upholt

Clarksdale, Mississippi

Clarksdale, Mississippi

Chris, 19, ice cream maker

Food means everything. Food does the body good. Food makes you happy. I don’t know what else does, if that doesn’t make you happy.

For three years, Chris has been working for Sweet Magnolia Ice Cream, a small-scale operation that specializes in Italian-style gelato with a Southern twist. Every pint of ice cream is hand labeled, almost always by Chris ("I have the best hand-writing," he says).

Hugh Balthorp, the owner of the company, loves concocting wild flavors, using as many local foods as possible. His gelatos have incorporated basil, bacon, and sweet potatoes (though not all at once). Chris credits Balthorp as the person who's taught him the most about food.

Ice cream doesn’t come to mind when you think of these flavors... He might make some chicken ice cream!

Wild #001: A Boy and His Snake by Boyce Upholt

Lake Washington, Washington County, Mississippi

Lake Washington, Washington County, Mississippi

This is the coolest thing I’ve ever done.

I didn't get a name or age, but this young man was a participant in this year's snake grab rodeo, held annually on Lake Washington. Teams compete to see who can grab the most snakes over the course of a morning, and who can grab the largest snake. This snake, an entrant in the latter category, failed to win the prize.

Canadians fascinated with this strange American past time can watch snake grabbers at work on reality TV.