Have you ever been to paradise? No? I am an artist, and I am going to take you with me to Paradise, which is not far from home. Let’s go. On Oct. 24, 2000, I found a heavenly spot leaving my home at 501 Louisville Street in Starkville just as the sun was rising. My fully-packed car was carrying all my art supplies, easel, tall red director’s chair, a huge umbrella, and a sack lunch. I promise to share my lunch with you. I was on a mission to find the most beautiful, perfect spot in the whole world to capture the autumn. If you are a native Mississippian, you know that we have two perfect very pleasant months, May and June, which give us gorgeous, comfortable , and pleasant weather. The other ten months are either too hot or too cold. My daddy, John Andrew McReynolds II, a 1930 Mississippi State University graduate who worked for 35 years at MSU in student affairs, and on the side line was a licensed real estate broker/ appraiser said, “I can always sell any house or land in Mississippi during May or October. This would be the beginning of summer and ending of autumn.
I am taking you to Little Mountain. We are headed to Highway 82. We turn left going west to Mathiston. We just went through Mathiston and for about one-fourth of a mile, we will turn left getting on the Natchez Trace, and the speed limit is 50 miles per hour. This makes the driver slowly drive to see, taste, drink, and enjoy all of the beauty surrounding him by traveling at a slower pace to take time to actually see the exquisite beauty of this world. We just stopped at the stop sign and turned left again, and we are now on the Natchez Trace. We will continue driving about ten or fifteen more miles, and finally we have arrived at our destination, Little Mountain.
The Natchez Trace is a famous road which goes all the way from Natchez to Nashville, Tenn. It is the old pathway later made into a real road of an old Indian trail. It is a national road of exquisite beauty both in the spring and autumn times of each year. This trail was used by both the American Indians and our early American settlers as they floated down the Mississippi River carrying their goods which would be sold and traded with our Mississippi Choctaw Indians. They walked and rode horses back and forth down path which became a trail both to down south to the southerners and back up north to the northerners. French Camp, about fifteen miles from Little Mountain, would become an important trading post for the travelers using the Natchez Trace.
Little Mountain is at our Jeff Busby National Park, and it is next to the highest point in our state, which is at Tishomingo State Park at Tishomingo. When you drive up to the tip top of Little Mountain, you can almost see Sturgis, Starkville and MSU. Jeff Busby is about thirty miles from Starkville. We just traveled about fifteen miles to Mathiston and kept going another fifteen more miles to our final destination, Little Mountain. We really don’t have tall mountains in Mississippi, but we have Little Mountain not very far away at all from our front doors.
As we turn off to head to the top of Little Mountain, we begin to see on our left side of the road a camp site for our Yankee snowbirds heading toward Florida to their winter homes until spring arrives. All their tags on their cars that are tagging along their campers tell us that they are from our northern states of New York, Maryland, Ohio, and many other visitors stopping over for a good night’s rest heading to warm Florida for the winter. We wave our hands offering our warm southern hospitality and roll down our car windows yelling, “Glad to have y’all in Mississippi. Welcome down south.” Our car keeps pulling upwards and climbing to the top of Little Mountain. We just had an autumn rain last night, and everything looked and smelled so fresh and clean. We just smelled bacon frying, scrambled eggs with cheese cooking as well as a fried egg or two, toast toasting, and coffee perking to be poured into those tin blue cups near by as the campers were preparing their early morning breakfast over a warm red glowing fire. They were preparing to go further south to escape their brutal winters. We waved goodbye and began to make our own twists and turns heading up higher and higher to the top of the mountain.
We kept passing waving friendly campers who had taken an early morning walk up to the top, and they were headed back down the mountain. I was envious and wished I could tag along with them in their campers and experience camping. It would be a freeing experience and getting away from the mundane life of all or our conveniences that we have at our fingertips at home. You have to completely rely on yourself. I am going to get a tent and try real camping one day. Wonder if I could last even a night? I desire all my stuff around me all the time. My art supplies, all my hats and wild clothes are needed daily by me. This fits my personality. I don’t travel lightly but carry along all my junk too. Oh, well. I love all my conveniences, and it’s hard for me to rough it.
The rain the night before made everything sparkle, and the whole landscape looked pristine. You could feel fresh joy within your heart of this beginning of an early morning. It smelled and felt so fresh and new. You knew deep within that this October 24, 2000, was going to be without a doubt an extra special day ahead. I just happened to glance over to the left side of the window, and there was my scene calling out to me, “Paint me, Carole, spend time getting to know and love me today. Paint me.” The perfect landscape was close to the road side so it would be easy for me to unpack all my art supplies and set up my outside art studio with little effort. I pack so many supplies to tote to the sight that I choose to sketch and paint all day long. I was so excited as I stopped, parked my car off to the side of the road, and began unpacking everything I would possibly need to spend the next few hours away from the reality of the world I had just left behind. I go into my own bubble world, becoming completely lost and creative.
I did not even make it to the top of Little Mountain that day. I was almost there, but I was inspired to stop as if a red sign said, “Stop!” This spot became a she and she belonged to me. We all share and enjoy nature, but today I claimed her beauty. I was becoming possessive with my discovery. I felt quiet tranquility. I felt a calmness and a feeling of great serenity within my soul. There was a peacefulness that traveled all over my body. I was free to be me and to sketch and paint for the hours that lay ahead.
Let’s look at the 20X30 piece of canvas, which started out as a completely white without a mark on it. I first bowed my head and ask God,” to help me show others and especially you, my viewers, His beauty of this early morning on the road side of Little Mountain. I got out my pencil to make a detailed sketch of what was in front of my eyes. I started sketching left to right as we all read sentences by sentences. I was about to express just how I felt, and I thought of the wonderful hymn and the words of “This Is My Father’s World.” I whispered to God, “Let me be your instrument through my artist’s instruments of a pencils, brushes, and paints to in a small manner capture on my canvas exactly what I see and feel before me. With your guidance, help me create with my right hand, and let me see what you have created for us to enjoy. May I never forget that my purpose of living is to honor the chief end of man, which is to enjoy God forever.”
The early morning mist and the rain from last night gave the dark brown, tree truck an almost black shimmering glow about it. I had discovered and made my choice of this spot for the vibrant colors against the almost black huge tree truck. The dark colors were becoming the background for all the autumn leaves to shine and pop out shouting, “Look at me.” We shall read this scene and finished painting from left to right at the top going down like reading a page in a book.
Find the touches of silver and gold within the loose bark of the left side of the top of the tree trunk. Find the dark purples, browns, navys, golds, and grays within the bark of the big old tree trunk. Now begin to see all the shapes and colors of greens, both dark and light greens, peach, oranges, reds, wines, maroons, grays, blues, purples of each large, medium, and tiny leaves. Look at all the twists and turns of the tiny leaves as they fall gently and silently to the ground below. Find only one tall slim tree trunk in the middle of my canvas. Find several bright yellow leaves and look at their shapes. Now find the most detailed leaf of all. It is the white leaf again, almost in the middle of the canvas hanging on for her dear life until she she falls to her destiny. I think this white leaf is a she because she looks dainty and prissy with her pink-n-sheared scissored edges. Don’t you think so, too? She looks very feminine.
All of a sudden a gush of a slight breeze blows in the air, and a few of the smaller leaves began to gracefully, quietly, silently drift to their final resting place on top of the already brown dead leaves. These newly dropping leaves add vivid colors to the dead floor of the woods as the leaves are beginning to decay. There is almost a quaint, quiet feeling of life still hanging on, but soon to be blending in with the dull brown dead leaves below this big old trunk of a tree above them.
I hear music. Can you hear it, too? The song is an autumn song and the words, “The falling leaves begin to fall...” Look at the leaves to the right side of my canvas. They are doing the “Twist Dance” of the 1950s and the jitterbug of the 1940s. Some of the leaves are dancing the waltz and the old, slow cheek to cheek dance. I keep hearing the sounds of music. Don’t you hear it, too? Now see all the dancing leaves as they swirl downward. Look at all the movement within this painting. Have you ever seen a dance step called dipping the girl. Her partner dips her gently to the floor in his arms not quite hitting the floor or dropping his dance partner, but with such gracefulness he flirts with maybe dropping her to the floor. These leaves are dipping to the forest floor with gracefulness too, but they do drop on down to the forest floor itself.
See the woods behind the leaves and the hint or two of a blue sky above. Do you not feel that we are looking into the autumn world itself along a road side knowing that we have yet to climb before the day is over to the top of Little Mountain to reach our heights in life? Suddenly a chilly feeling of October blows gently in the air. I pull down our long sleeves, add a sweater to keep me cozy. A shiver comes over my body. Autumn is here, and we know that the cold winter season is on its way just around the corner. Glancing back at all of the leaves splashing downward almost hitting our cheeks from time to time adds the perfect zippy-do-da feeling into now a cooler middle of the morning.
So here we are on the side of a mountain living this day to its fullest. It is filled with excitement, love, and hope. My palette is covered with many colors. I am so happy to be outside painting quickly as each and every leaf might fall soon. Every second, minute, and hour counts in the sketching and painting of the leaves and the one big tree trunk. I don’t have a second to spare. I am catching the fleeting moment on my canvas. Life should be lived with this same excitement, love, and hope every day as it scurries by. Autumn is a sad time of year as well as happy. We too live and die. How will you live your life today? Will you do something great or small? Will you do something ordinary or unusual? Will you refuse the opportunity to help others, or will you in your own way stop along the roadsides of life, wave, smile, and help someone? Will you be a fine, humble, caring, giving person to help others? You answer these questions all by yourself. We are just like these leaves. We are beautiful both inside and outside of our bodies. We all fall to the ground sometimes, but we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and keep trucking on. Live life to its fullest. Make a contribution to life, however small or large it might be. Treasure a beautiful painting as you suddenly love and view an artist’s finished landscape. Treasure a good book as you love to read all the delightful words written by a writer. Treasure the fabulous steps of a ballet danced by a ballerina. Treasure listening to the words of a song. Painting, writing, dancing, and singing all are adding that extra special dash of the spice of life and this makes living worthwhile. A million dollars can not buy happiness. We make our own happiness each day by the outlook and the way we live it. Happiness is 100% up to with God holding our hands and helping us along the old American Indian and settler’s pathway of life, The Natchez Trace. We’ll find our own pathway, too.
Find out who you really are, get to truly know yourself and see, feel, and love all of living life each day. Yes, together we just went and experienced paradise because we just saw a splash of color.
Carole Elizabeth McReynolds Davis is a local artist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org .