Highway 98 led us north and west through Mississippi. It was a wide four lane highway with the two sets of lanes separated by a wide median. The road ran up and down gently rolling hills. Dark green pine forests lined the road kept at a respectful distance by broad strips of grass. This is very pretty country. It felt both exciting and exotic to be driving through the Mississippi countryside. We’re in Mississippi!
Jim had booked us into the Paul B. Johnson State Park in Hattiesburg. Paul B. Johnson (in case you are wondering) was the 46th Governor of the state. Our first glimpse of this park left us a bit dismayed. It looked like a moonscape wasteland of mud and tree stumps. We found out later that they draw down Geiger Lake in the wintertime to kill vegetation, but we learned that later.
It may not have been love at first sight, but we fell in love with this park and especially our campsite. We were perched at the edge of the lake and the view from our lounge area was all lake and trees, sky and clouds.
This park was originally created during World War II for the nearby soldiers at Camp Shelby. Originally Geiger Lake was Shelby Lake. During the war, this park provided recreation and relief for soldiers and their families. Camp Shelby is still active and this was another location where at night we could hear the sounds of ordinance used for training. We were told that in the summer this park explodes with activity.
We stayed five nights at Paul B. Johnson. For two northerners, it seemed funny to think of 70 degree temperatures as wintry, but it was winter and the park was pretty quiet.
In the mornings dense fog hung over the lake and we had no visibility out our lounge window. The fog would clear about ten once the sun had a chance to burn it off. About two days into our stay a big storm was forecast and the park emptied out. We battened down the hatches and were snug in our tin can. For the rest of our stay, the park was a ghost town and we enjoyed wandering around with the park to ourselves.
The people at the park were friendly and when we walked around, we had lots of camp conversations with our neighbors from all over. There was a concentration of people from Illinois, a few from Canada, Louisiana and, of course, Mississippi. For part of our stay, our next door neighbor was a loquacious fellow from just up the road. He and his family came to stay at the park quite often. They had their favorite site. The park was their second home. He wandered over one afternoon and we had a long talk. John was from northern Mississippi originally and managed the parts department at the John Deere dealership in Hattiesburg. He told us a lot about himself. He lived in a double wide until his grandmother died and left him her home. He drove trucks for a time, but didn’t like the life. He asked about us and where we were from and it was clear he had never been up north and had no need to go. He didn’t dislike it, it just wasn’t part of his world. When Jim told him he had taught 8th grade ELA in the South Bronx, his eyebrows arched in surprise and then he exclaimed, “why, you could be my teacher!” Periodically, he would say he should go and leave us in peace and then he would settle in for another round of talk. His son, Walt, was with him. Walt didn’t say much. He would be graduating high school this year and had an opportunity to work at the dealership with his dad in the parts department. It sounded like that was the path he would take. We were sorry when they packed up to return home. They were good people and for a time our worlds intersected.
We did make an expedition to Hattiesburg. I googled the top ten things to see and do in Hattiesburg and the list ran out at about five. There is the University of Southern Mississippi and an historic district and a bunch of big box retailers. That kind of sums it up.
Our experience at this park was the first time we felt like we were having one of those picture perfect Airstream experiences. Our silver bullet gleamed in the sunlight perched at the edge of this beautiful lake and we were part of the scene. We loved walking out and looking back at the setting. A flock of ducks swam and waddled around our trailer and crows flew overhead. They kept us company and provided a soundtrack to our days. We could see and hear fish jump in the lake. At night we watched the sun disappear behind the trees and the sky filled with stars.