Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
— Robert Frost
The artificial intelligence in my phone urged me to take the most time-efficient route Friday after work as I was leaving for a visit to my in-laws’ house in Tupelo.
But the organic intelligence — or lack thereof — inside my head said differently. The computer-suggested route would have taken me through Hattiesburg, and I didn’t have any desire to fight the Hardy Street madness at that hour.
And the path after that — lifeless highways for some 230 miles — is a mind-numbing agent far more potent than any opioid.
So I decided to take Mr. Frost’s advice.
I drove straight up Mississippi 35 from Columbia, passing through small towns like Bassfield, Mize, Raleigh, Forest and Carthage before hitting the Natchez Trace near Kosciusko. That ancient path turned national park took me the rest of the way to my destination.
And what do you know, old Robert was right. Taking that different path proved enlightening. Highway 35 passes through some beautiful country.
I imagine it’s like what driving across America was like before the interstate highway system greatly speeded up the process, nice when you need to get somewhere fast, which is most of the time, but has robbed car travel of most of its allure. On 35 you pass by farms, town squares, shops.
It’s a beautiful path through communities where people actually know each other, businesses are owned by folks who live there and churches are the center of civic life.
I stopped for supper at a charming little roadside eatery — OK, I’m lying there; it was really a Subway. But I enjoyed my meal nonetheless and was back on my way.
And once on the Trace, that’s an experience unrivaled by any other road in America. Passing through spots where the trees have grown over the road on both sides, creating a natural canopy, and then out into an open field covered with hay bales is an inspiring sequence.
And there’s nothing that matches the swift flipping of emotions quite like zipping along at 70 mph on the Trace and suddenly seeing a park ranger — or a deer — coming toward you. Thankfully I encountered neither of them Friday. But I did see a wild turkey hen with her chicks.
And it was interesting to observe the regrowth after the tornado that moved through the Trace in April 2014. My family used to drive the route often then, and the area that got hit looked like the wastelands where the vultures sing in “The Jungle Book.” All the trees were down, and it was desolate.
Now, just five years later, so much has come back. The area is green again, and I suspect in another decade no casual observer will be able to tell where the fierce winds struck.
That’s a reminder, I suppose, about how hard times always pass.
Listen, Mississippi has its share of problems. Namely, coastal elites trying to impose their values on us (sorry, I could not resist that shot at Tate Reeves and his asinine campaign messages).
But in full seriousness, we all know the real issues facing the state. They’re legitimate and daunting and have lingered with few effective solutions devised to address them over the past 200 years.
At the same time, though, there are a lot of things that are truly good about living in Mississippi. If you’ll drive up from Columbia to Tupelo on a summer evening, via the less-traveled road, you’ll see some of what I mean.
Charlie Smith is editor and publisher of The Columbian-Progress. Reach him at (601) 736-2611 or email@example.com.