We arrived in Waveland, MS to check into Buccaneer State Park last Thursday. Although only a couple of hours from where we left, this landscape was completely different from the previous swamp. The park is directly across the street from the Gulf Shore, so there was no more mud! Instead we were walking on sand and the trees were not blocking the sky anymore – there was blue up there! I was already falling in love with The Magnolia State.
The State Park has marsh lands around the edges, the Gulf of Mexico at the entrance, and large moss-draped oaks scattered throughout. Use of this land was first recorded in history in the late 1700’s when Jean Lafitte and his followers were active in smuggling and pirating along the coast. The French Buccaneer, Lafitte, inhabited the old Pirate House located a short distance from what is now the park. If you fast forward through history a bit, the park site is also known as Jackson’s Ridge. It was used as a military base operated by Andrew Jackson during the Battle of New Orleans. Jackson later returned to this area and built a house on land that now encompasses the park boundaries.
This entire region was very interesting to me. It has been 8 years since Hurricane Katrina hit in August of 2005. The citizens are vigorously rebuilding on private property and the Public Works Departments are staying busy reopening newly constructed sidewalks, streets, bridges, piers… even beaches are being rebuilt as they truck in tons of sand to dump and spread where the water meets the sidewalk. Things are either sparkling new or still completely devastated – there is no middle ground. Right next to beautiful new gleaming beach houses and freshly renovated commercial buildings are empty foundations, stilts leading up to only air, lone fireplaces sticking out of dirt, and overgrown lots peppered with FOR SALE signs. The park itself was completely wiped out in the storm and is virtually brand new – except for the giant water park and other buildings that are still under construction at this moment.
This terrain is still as vulnerable as ever, and who is to say that the next storm won’t also completely wipe out this latest round of construction and improvements… but there is an overwhelming sense of optimism and community around these parts. Things just felt “lighter” to me as we explored the area.
Of course, each time we get to a new spot we have a few standard chores to tackle as we situate ourselves. On our first full day in town, we went over to Pass Christian and discovered happy hour at a little spot called Shaggy’s in Pass Harbor. Our goal was to ask the bartender if he knew where we could find some firewood. We got the number of a local guy, called him and went over to his house to load up the back of our Honda with about $20 worth of oak scraps.
On Friday evening we drove over to Gulf Port to have dinner at St. James Catholic Church’s Friday Fish Fry. Our friends B.J. and Neva help organize the fish fry for 5 Fridays during lent, so we went to have some good grub and catch up with them. We came back through Bay St. Louis that evening and stopped into a couple of local spots for after dinner drinks before we headed home. Our last stop at the Ugly Pirate was charming and fun. The clock inside the tiny joint is stuck at 5:00 and the smells of delicious pizza encircled us as we sat down to examine all the pirate paraphernalia. The father/son owners gave us a great education on the town’s history and what the community has been through to rebuild after the storm. They even gave me some excellent brochures and maps to use while planning other activities during our stay.
Saturday was cold and blustery, so Mike stayed at home and watched golf while I bundled up and went into Bay St. Louis to explore their Historic Walking and Biking Tour. I walked to look at the wonderful architecture, historic cemeteries, and public wood sculptures from dead trees. I also ducked into every store I could find along the way to get out of the miserable weather. More friendly merchants, more civic pride. I bought a bar of soap and flagged a few things I would come back to purchase the next day after I had Mike’s wallet in hand. That was the night we were preparing dinner when our Cajun neighbors stopped over to see if we would like to taste a dozen of the fresh grilled oysters they had just spent much of the afternoon shucking. Wow, yes, and YUM!
Our last day, Sunday, was my favorite on this stop. We had talked about going back to Gulfport on Sunday morning to attend church with Neva and BJ. However, Neva suggested we go to a church in Bay St. Louis instead. Thank you Neva. Here is what the tourist brochure says about St. Rose de Lima Catholic Church, “The ‘Christ in the Oak’ mural behind the altar of this 1926 church is a nationally recognized work of art”. Here is what I can tell you about this small conservative white building at 301 S. Necaise Ave: There were only two white people in the whole choir! Lots of Amen’s and Hallelujah’s during the prayers and homily. The church’s motto is “you are never too bad to come in… you are never too good to stay out”. The music was extraordinary in every way. It was the most un-catholic-ish mass I have ever attended. I was crying one verse into the Prelude and all my mascara was completely gone by the time we got to the Gloria. It was a great experience. We left there and stopped, as promised, to pick up a loaf of fresh baked sourdough bread and a Mississippi Pickle Fork on our way to the local fish market for some fresh shrimp. That afternoon I made shrimp and corn chowder because we were hosting Neva and BJ for dinner. I love dinner guests! It is so much fun to talk to other people besides just ourselves once in a while. Mike agrees.
Now we are leaving the gulf coast and heading north up the state to Lake Lincoln. Back to a rural setting with bright stars and less noise (which translates to less shopping and weaker wifi).