June 13, 2017

 A Letter from the Editor, Summer 2017.

For the second year in a row, our summer issue contains a special section of Southern Journeys. In typical Oxford American fashion, these five journeys aren’t your average trip itineraries or travel guides, though we hope they’ll encourage hunger for exploration: physically, intellectually, even spiritually.

June 13, 2017

A Southern Journey from the Summer 2017 issue. 

The grass was up to my waist as I crouched down on the side of Interstate 20 a few miles outside of Van. Insects buzzed around my head, and I tried not to look for snakes or ticks. Instead, I alternated my gaze between the blue sky and the man and woman standing on the shoulder of the eastbound lane, my teammates. Darby held a sign that read simply, ATLANTA. Aaron’s sign was more elaborate; on the back, he pasted photographs that showed people sliding down waterfalls, which he’d use to explain the race when speaking with a driver. I was forty yards behind them, out of sight of the oncoming cars, guarding a pile of packs. It was 7:45 A.M. and traffic was sporadic. The 2016 Great Hitchhiking Race was underway, and we were hoping our first ride would take us well out of Texas.

June 13, 2017

A Southern Journey from the Summer 2017 issue. 

Although some Food Network stooge would surely find the One Stop eventually, for the moment it lacked any officious culinary sanction, which seemed important. Joann was cooking for her neighbors, sawdust clinging to some of them, others redolent of fish slime and beer and gasoline, excepting the ladies of course, painted up ferociously in brilliant crimsons and blues. Everybody momentarily at peace. The hottest part of the day gone. Not an ironic moustache in sight. Fried catfish like you couldn’t get anywhere else.

June 13, 2017

A Southern Journey from the Summer 2017 issue. 

These days—as the weather everywhere grows steadily stranger, storms stronger, seas higher—I worry about the Outer Banks, surrounded by water and just barely above the waves. What does it mean to be from, and of, one of the most vulnerable places on Earth? 

June 13, 2017

A Southern Journey from the Summer 2017 issue. 

Well, then, this is what I am: adopted Southerner; no longer a part of the church in which I was raised, but still Protestant, albeit an increasingly reluctant one; saddened by what the “church” has become, both the right-wing fundamentalist variety and the watered-down, meaningless palaver that will have nothing to do with Christ or orthodoxy or even the Bible itself; grieving the shuttering of historic places of worship and hoping to document their histories before they become lost.

June 13, 2017

A Southern Journey from the Summer 2017 issue. 

I was feeling alright. The highway was working its gritty, illusory magic. This is all yours, I thought: freedom, control, motion. I was also feeling the salve of a change of scenery: broken-up sidewalks for marsh grass, cramped narrow shotguns for fishing camps. Tangles of electrical and phone wires for the wide-open Gulf-reaching sky. But it didn’t take long, maybe a half hour in, before I was again ambushed by G’s death. 

June 13, 2017

Following John McPhee to Florida.

McPhee’s book about oranges in the age of concentrate production is not a screed against industrial food or agribusiness priorities. There’s no scolding chapter explaining which oranges to buy at the grocery store. For that matter, there’s no hand-holding “what will happen in this book” chapter or really even much in the way of plot or main character, aside from the regular presence of our reporter guide. In that way, it doesn’t much resemble the books published about food today.

June 13, 2017
We wore cowboy boots and Wrangler jeans hitched around our skinny waists with braided belts and rodeo belt buckles and fought with other aspiring tough boys who called themselves cholos. No doubt I was getting a reputation around town as a hellion.
June 13, 2017

In many ways, I blame rock & roll for what happened. I discovered this unholy music in boyhood, when my Uncle Mike died an untimely death at age twenty-eight. My grandmother gave all his 8-tracks to me, music I’d never heard before: Rush, Bowie, Little Feat, Eat a Peach. The eighties pop dished out by FM radio was candied and glittering and great fun, sure, but this older music was dark and gas-powered, all fire and gravel.

June 13, 2017

Freshwater bivalves evolved by sending their larvae up rivers in the gills of spawning salmon. Now, like their ocean ancestors, they live out some of the most obscure lives on the planet, clasped in a darkness of their own creation, sometimes for up to a century or more. “Under a firmament of nacre,” wrote the French poet Francis Ponge about the oyster. A firmament, yes, because, like the sky, it is vast and ancient. Because, like the sky, you can get lost in it.

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