Am I there yet? Lessons from map reading in Louisiana (or, how will I know when I’ve arrived?)
The map is unfolded on my lap. It’s a steamy Louisiana summer morning and we’re speeding away from New Orleans for the day on a ribbon of causeway across sparkling Lake Ponchartrain. It’s my job to guide us to a ‘there’. An antebellum plantation mansion on the Mississippi.
We’re rolling along to meet the westward highway, and I catch my breath as we pass a bare-chested man lifting a laughing woman from the lake’s shallows and swinging her shapely body so that water droplets stream from her feet in perfect glittering arcs. We turn west now on route 12 towards Baton Rouge, our minds on Janis Joplin, dirty red bandanas and windscreen wipers slapping time – our elbows out the windows and wind in our hair – and we belt out “Me and Bobby McGee” at the top of our lungs!
Peeling off to the south, we meander along less-traveled roads, swooshing under the Spanish moss swaying from vast old trees, watching for alligator eyes peeping from tangled bayous. We need to turn west again at Pumpkin Center. It’s on the map, but where in heck are the signs? How could we have missed it? My navigating skills are on the line. Doubling back, we take a few more turns, and finally, lost, we pull up at a gas station and store set all by itself in tangled woods.
Ford and GM pickups are lined up outside like ants around a honey spill. We swing open the door and greet a plump smiling woman behind the counter. “We’re looking for Pumpkin Center. Is it close by?” She answers in what to my Aussie ears is a delightful Southern accent, “Yer innit”, she grins. We laugh along with her, and then, hopelessly seduced by the garlicky aroma of her boudin blanc sausage sandwiches, we buy a steaming pair to devour right there as we shoot the breeze with her.
Thinking about this story the other day, I realised it was a slightly oblique metaphor for life. We’re so intent on reaching a destination, a goal, that we don’t recognise when we might already be there, or that where we are has unexpected treasures. We so often already have what we need in the only ’there’ there is – ourselves, in this moment! The surprise is that while we’re looking all over for signposts to an ultimate holy grail of an experience or place, we’re often already “innit”! Sometimes we just need reminding.
What’s better than experiencing the magic of every luscious thing that unfolds in each moment, tuning in more attentively to the richness of what we already know and have, looking out for the sweetness of unscheduled stops and unexpected beauty?
Have fun. Roll down the windows. Sing. Talk with pleasant country women selling alluring food. Be OK about doubling back when required. Get lost and then found again. And if you find yourself in Pumpkin Center, look for seeds. Plant them.
Photo: On the way back to New Orleans (on that June day in 1990), we made an unscheduled stop at Abear‘s café, pulled back the creaking screen door and settled down to our first ever fried catfish. Heaven!
© Susie Surtees. All Rights Reserved.
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