“To an Irishman [a Southerner] th’ land he lives on is like his mother. . . . . There’s no gettin’ away from it, this love of th’ land. Not if there’s a drop of Irish [Southern] blood in ya.”
—Gerald O’Hara to Irish/Southern daughter Scarlett
in Gone With the Wind
“I live on a river. I have taken
hundreds of photographs of the water. . . .
I will never have my fill of photographing the water.
It reminds me of my thirst for wholeness and connection.”
—Mark Bozzuti-Jones, author of the daily entry for March 10
in the Episcopal daily devotional Forward Day by Day
I had intended to publish a different “Delta Addenda, Etc., Part II” made up of accumulated items about the Delta, the South, and a few other non-related subjects.
However, I changed my schedule when I came across some items related to the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day. These items came in the form of an online article on the celebration of this Irish saint’s holiday in the South and another on Celtic “thin places.”
Of course, that term “thin places” means to me my birthplace of Selma, Arkansas, and the Mississippi River Delta of my youth and young adulthood. So I decided to compose a new “Delta Addenda, Etc., Part II” post on these subjects. The original “Part II” post will be edited to “Part III” and will be published in a couple of weeks.
Note: To magnify the photos in this post, simply click on each one as you view it.
Southern Saint Patrick’s Day Celebrations
“Dubbed the World’s Shortest Saint Patrick’s Day Parade,
the Hot Springs [Arkansas] bash spans
a spectacularly stunted
ninety-eight feet of Bridge Street.”
—CJ Lotz, “Saint Patrick’s Day, Southern-Style,”
Garden & Gun, February-March 2015
On March 6, Pat Scavo, my high school classmate known to us still as Patsy Mc, sent me a link to an online article about “five Southern locales [to] go green (in a big way) on the luckiest day of the year.” To read that piece, click on the title above.
Of course, the reason Patsy Mc sent that piece to me is twofold: 1) Because she lives in Hot Springs, Arkansas, one of the cities featured in the short article, and; 2) Because she knew I was going to feature a segment in this post about Celtic “thin places” in Arkansas, which includes Hot Springs, a unique Ouachita Mountain retreat I have loved since I first visited it as an adolescent Delta flatlander in the late 1940s and last visited for a fifty-year class reunion in 2010.
(See my earlier post featuring some curiously related Hot Springs stories titled “The Three Unwise Men: An Arkansas Christmas Memory.”)
Celtic/Southern “Thin Places”
Between Heaven and Earth
“The phrases ‘thin veil’ or ‘thin place’ pointed to
God’s Immanence in the created world
—the holy right where we are, not far away. . . .
The presence of God is palpable in these places.”
—Ann Rose, author of the daily entry for February 3
in the Episcopal daily devotional Forward Day by Day
“I discovered the Celtic saints who wrote of God’s presence
throbbing in everything in creation. . . . God speaks to us through creation.”
—Ann Rose, author of the daily entry for February 26
in the Episcopal daily devotional Forward Day by Day
In two daily entries during the month of February in the Episcopal daily devotional Forward Day by Day quoted above, Ann Rose speaks of the Celtic tradition of “thin places.” By definition, these spiritual “thin places” are where there is the closest connection between heaven and earth.
These are special places where the presence of God abides most strongly, where He is experienced most vividly, and where He speaks most intimately.
As an “Arkie of the Covenant” (of mixed English, Irish, and Scotch-Irish ancestry), who has been living for almost forty years in exile from the Holy Land (my native state of Arkansas in general and my native Southeast Arkansas in particular), I have identified and sensed these special, personal “thin places” (which I also call “then places”) in my own life and have written about them throughout this blog.
It is only natural that I should do so, especially as the years of my life and my “exile” from these precious (and now previous) places of my childhood and youth have grown longer. It is also only natural that I should do so as my advancing age and failing health have increasingly kept me from making my “semi-annual pilgrimages to the Holy Land” in which these “thin/then places” of my past are located, though unfortunately many of them have already disappeared, and others are soon to follow.
Notice how many are churches (two Baptist and two Methodist), to which I have had a special personal relationship, and how many are of the inherent twin Irish/Southern elements of land and water.
Southeast Arkansas “Thin/Then Places”
That Renew My Spirit
“Therefore we do not lose heart.
Though outwardly we are wasting away,
yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”
—2 Corinthians 4:16 NIV
Briefly, these personal “thin/then places” can be divided into two groups for which I have provided basically seven instances and photos, each with a scriptural reference to reflect their spiritual importance to me, especially as my physical existence becomes shorter and shorter.
First is my birthplace of Selma, Arkansas, including such places as:
- The farmhouse without electricity, telephone, or running water in which I was born in 1938;
- The two-room elementary school I attended as a boy;
- The general store/post office I frequented as often as possible;
- The Seven Devils Swamp from which God cast me out to become “an Exiled Arkie of the Covenant” but somehow, unlike Mary Magdalene, never saw fit to cast the Seven Devils out of me;
- The Selma Baptist Church, which my maternal grandfather co-founded and pastored in my childhood years;
- The Mt. Tabor Methodist Church and Cemetery, co-founded by my Georgia Peacock ancestors and where Mari and I will be buried alongside them;
- The Selma Methodist Church, the first church I ever attended and the icon, the visual image that comes to my mind most frequently when I think of Selma, my beloved birthplace and childhood home.
Second is the Southeast Arkansas Delta and our hometown of McGehee, including:
- The First Baptist Church of McGehee where I was converted in 1949 and married in 1962;
- The McGehee Livestock Auction where I started out life as a cowboy and where my father died on May 25, 1954, when I was fifteen, thus ending my cowboy days;
- Bayou Bartholomew, “the longest bayou in the world,” which passes between Selma and McGehee;
- The numerous cypress sloughs that dot the table-flat Delta landscape;
- The Delta plantation houses like Lakeport Plantation and their luxurious fields of cotton;
- The quickly disappearing shotgun and dogtrot tenant farmer houses;
- Perhaps most iconic, the Mississippi River itself, beside which Mari and I did much of our courting and where I went each time we returned to the Delta to dip my toe into the muddy water and renew my now seemingly impossible vow to one day “come home again.”
“Nostalgia for certain values tends to set in just as they’re disappearing. Happily, nostalgia can bring those values back, too.”
—Paul Greenberg, “It really is a wonderful life,”
Tulsa World, December 19, 2013
To me all of these “thin/then places” are not only special they are indeed sacred though some of them, like me, have changed almost beyond recognition (as shown in the “mid to late 1940’s” photo of downtown McGehee below), or been replaced (like the high school I graduated from in 1956 and the Mississippi River bridge that Mari and I crossed hundreds of times in our courtship and marriage)—or even disappeared completely (like the most popular hangout for teens in the 1950s). (Be sure to click on the photos to magnify them.)
But whether totally changed, replaced, or gone forever, these are unique places where indeed heaven and earth do come closest, where I feel the presence of God most strongly, and where God appears to me most vividly, and where He speaks to me most intimately.
It has now been five long years since my last “Bucket-List Trip” to visit the remaining vestiges of these special, sacred, “thin/then places.” (See my first two posts on this blog titled “My ‘Bucket-List’ Trip, Part I” and “Part II.”)
I miss them greatly, which is one reason I am literally failing in health: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. It is also why four years ago in May I began to compose and publish this blog: “My Oklahomian Exile Literature by an Exiled Arkie of the Covenant.”
Like Norman Maclean, who wrote at the end of A River Runs through It, “I am haunted by waters,” I am also haunted by land, especially “the Holy Land.”
Unfortunately, as I say in one of my endless self-quotes: “Since my health has become so precarious, all of my joys must now be vicarious.”
Thank you for joining me in my ceaseless attempt to experience, even vicariously, the special “thin/then places” in my rapidly diminishing life. May you identify, revisit, and reconnect with all of your sacred “thin/then places” before they—and perhaps even you—also disappear!
Additional Links and Sources
To visit other Irish/Southern posts in this blog, go to:
“St. Patrick’s Day Tributes and Trivia,” March 14, 2012: https://myokexilelit.wordpress.com/2012/03/14/st-patricks-day-tributes-and-trivia/
“Some of My Favorite Irish Quotes,” March 21, 2012: https://myokexilelit.wordpress.com/2012/03/21/some-of-my-favorite-irish-quotes/
“Some Southern Stuff VI: Love of the Land,” April 25, 2012: https://myokexilelit.wordpress.com/2012/04/25/some-southern-stuff-vi-love-of-the-land/
“Saint Patrick and Other Irish Saints and Names,” March 10, 2014: https://myokexilelit.wordpress.com/2014/03/10/st-patrick-and-other-irish-saints-and-names/
The photo of Hot Springs was taken from a travel brochure on the sightseeing tower atop one of the mountains that surround that popular resort city.
The quote from Mark Bozzuti-Jones about his love for water and for photographing it was taken from the March 10 entry of the Episcopal daily devotional Forward Day by Day. Copyright 2015 Forward Movement. All rights reserved. Used by permission. www.forwardmovement.org
The quotes from Ann Rose about Celtic “thin places” were taken from the February 3 and 26 entries of the Episcopal daily devotional Forward Day By Day. Copyright 2015 Forward Movement. All rights reserved. Used by permission. www.forwardmovement.org
The link to the online article written by C. J. Lotz titled “Saint Patrick’s Day, Southern-Style,” as featured in the Garden & Gun Web site for February-March 2015, was sent to me on March 5 by Pat Scavo and was taken from:
Most of the remaining photos were taken from my personal collection, except for the following:
The photo of the Seven Devils Swamp was taken from a November 15, 2013, article in Seark Today written by Patty Wooten and titled “Seven Devils: The Wildlife Paradise with the Ominous Name.”
The 1952 photo of my father in the ring at the McGehee Livestock Auction (no longer standing) was provided to the family by the now-defunct Arkansas Democrat.
The photo of the Arkansas cypress slough was taken from a postcard by Jenkins Enterprises at www.jenkins-enterprises.com.
The photo of Lakeport Plantation and cotton field was taken from the Lakeport Web site at http://lakeport.astate.edu/.
The photo of the Southern dogtrot house was taken from Joe Dempsey’s “Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind” on 10/12/14 at:
The photo of the Mississippi River was taken from a postcard from the Delta Cultural Center in Helena, Arkansas, at: http://www.deltaculturalcenter.com/
The photos of McGehee in “the mid to late 1940s” and the Skyway Drive-In were taken from a now unknown source.
The photo of the McGehee High School building was taken from the 1956 MHS yearbook.