Thursday, January 2, 2014

Down on Mary Walker Bayou

When I was in high school my parents owned a little cabin at a fishing camp on the Mary Walker Bayou near the Mississippi Gulf Coast. My twin brother and I had many adventures exploring the bayou and the countless other streams that branched off from it. The area made such an indelible impression on me that it showed up as settings for scenes in three of my novels.
Here’s how I described it in Until the Dawn:
Mary Walker Bayou crawls through the mosquito beds of the Mississippi coast bending around little towns with exotic names like Escatawpa and Gautier and Pascagoula. It flows into the Pascagoula River, which is vomited out into the Mississippi Sound with the outgoing tide and is sucked back into its own gullet when the tide rushes in. Hidden among canopies of hovering pine trees are fishing camps, typically run by retired couples. It was to one of these camps that I went looking for Travis. I went alone, having first taken Jimmy back to New Orleans. He had work to do — impatient clients. And city boy that he was, he wasn’t about to go hang out with me at a fishing camp.
I drove along a narrow road paved with broken seashells and shaded by tall, scraggly, long leaf pines. The road turned out to be a cul-de-sac. A ramshackle whitewashed house sat at the end. Spaced around it, partially hidden by the trees, were seven or eight small cabins. The big house begged for a paint job. The screen porch was rusted. Behind the screen a small woman sat. She was quilting, a cascade of patchwork colors falling across her lap. I stepped out of my car onto pine straw and seashells and chalky earth. Pine cones littered the ground like spent grenades on a battlefield. I kicked one as I walked to the porch, halfway expecting it to explode, remembering games played as a child.
“Hi there,” the woman said. “You looking to do some fishing.”
“Well yes. I was thinking about it.” I didn't know what to say, but somehow that seemed right. She didn't recognize me, which was what I expected. Beautiful, earthy, dimly viewed behind the screen, dressed all in black with a fall of hair the color of storm clouds, there was an aura of mystery and sadness about her. No wonder her appearance in SoHo had caused such a stir among the rumor mongers. She had changed, but she was definitely Cassie. My heart was racing. I couldn't untie my tongue to speak.
She said, “You need to see Travis if you want to fish. He's down't the docks. Right down that path.”

And in Return to Freedom I wrote about it this way:
The little fishing camp on Mary Walker Bayou was near the legendary Pascagoula River, also known as the Singing River, where in the early years of the country the Pascagoula tribe had followed its tragic young chief and his bride on a suicide march into the river chanting a death song. Ever after the river made a humming or buzzing sound, usually at about dusk, and legend had it that the sound was the mournful voice of the tribe. The thought crossed David’s mind that the country around there would make a great location for a movie. Probably a mystery or horror film. Countless lakes, creeks and bayous meander through the marshy lands and deep pine forests in the footprint of the river, one body of water flowing into another—Lake Catch-em-all, Marsh Lake, Bayou Chemis, Gurlie and Snake Bayous, Grumpy Old Man Creek and Mossy Run—until they all eventually merge half an hour or so south by boat into the Gulf of Mexico.
I Googled Mary Walker Bayou and discovered there is a large marina there now, nothing like the rustic little camp of my memory. Luckily it remains unchanged in my books.

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