Mississippi’s Pearl River, so named by French explorers in typical disregard of its already given Choctaw Indian name of Nanawaya, is a 487 mile long river that has its beginnings in a lush green portion of east central Mississippi. Sieur de Bienville can perhaps be forgiven his lustrous appellation for this lovely river. It was apparently from her mouth at the Gulf of Mexico that he plucked oysters that bequeathed food for his men and jewels for his beloved’s ears and throat.
The river’s initial course is to the southwest, before turning at Jackson upon a south to southeasterly course that will take it all the way down to Bienville’s oyster bed. Not, however, without first pouring her lurid jade green waters into a 50 square mile tub of grey bath water known as the Ross Barnett Reservoir. She staggers out of her grey sleep through a spillway that magically stains her waters green once again, limps down the eastern edge of a city that has punished her for her presumptive flood waters of years past, finally regaining some vitality as she wanders free of municipal bondage, then boldly intruding for a stretch as state boundary to the Papist insinuations of Louisiana’s St. Tammany Parish.
This commemorative desecration of a bejeweled river honors a governor whose habit it was to stand in the way of all possible healing between the races of his constituent state. Stood, he did, in the way of one James Howard Meredith, a man of both African and Choctaw lineage attempting, in 1963, under the chaperone of several hundred federal troops, to integrate the University of Mississippi, a bastion of latter day confederates with several infantry brigades’ worth of beauty pageant-winning coeds, the maintenance of whose sexual purity was no doubt felt to be endangered by the ravenous presence of a solitary diminutive black scholar. Governor Barnett did not win his battle of the doorjambs at Ole Miss, but his habit of obstruction appeared headed for the ultimate victory of eternal life in the guise of his tepid namesake, ironically inserting itself into the forward progress of a river given its original name by the progenitors of the governor’s old adversary in the sacred halls of undefiled higher education.
Until, however, the summer of 2000, when, with a sense of millennial drama, the gray eminence (reservoir, not governor; no one has yet tracked the possible correlations of decline between that one aging body politic and his memorial body of water) began to recede, not by mere inches, but plunges of feet. Of a mind, it would seem, if mind can be so attributed, to abandon all semblance of political mimicry and return to life a reborn, reincarnated, unreconstructed river of dreams.
Thus were the passions engaged of a vagabond tribe of amateur archaeologists and geologists that counted Evers Jameson, the self-named Lord Spudlee Spoo, and the silently attentive Avery Redding in its numbers. Evers had been there from the beginning, as Nature in league with chastising drought (and in unholy alliance with the ACLU and NAACP, whispered the more deranged of the governor’s old cronies), slowly revealed a wonderland of underwater forests (those clearcut and those entirely unmolested), asphalt roads, entire neighborhoods’ worth of shotgun houses deemed unworthy of relocation by the Corps of Engineers, playgrounds, service stations, ice houses, schools, schoolyards, barns, farmhouses, swimming pools, and a cavernous landfill that the lead amateurs had christened Paradise. In the unlikeliest of locations, Titanic was raising herself. Evers, as scout for the notoriously reclusive Spudlee, had chronicled two thick journals’ worth of observations, statistics, sketches, newspaper clippings, and photographs taken with his mother’s commandeered old Leica. But, he was tired of the hermetic turn his life had taken as minion for Spoo, a sweethearted lad beneath his aristocratically swollen pigeon’s breast: hence, his insistence—an insistence that surprised both himself and his lordship—that Lord Spoo cast monasticism aside and venture forth before all the good stuff was taken. Not surprised by the newly brazen manners of Evers Jameson was young Avery Redding, beneath whose appearance of quiet reproof lurked, as one might guess, first love of a lass for something other than doll or pony.