Tears and Laughter: Down by the river

A Millers Ferry sunset on the Alabama River. (Photo by Amanda Walker)

A Millers Ferry sunset on the Alabama River. (Photos by Amanda Walker)

It was after dark, with just a sliver of an October moon glowing. The water was black, except for the reflection of a distant boat light shimmering.

There is power in a river. Its strong, continual current seems to have a healing property to it. Something restorative. It carries away thoughts, leaving behind a melancholy that has been written about since the South began.

The river used to be the main road. It was the highway. It made us and marred us I always say. It brought people to the fertile Black Belt soil, and it carried cotton away to the rest of the country.

Everything else it seems – roads, old homes that were built, each community that developed – came out from the river.

That is how Camden became the county seat. The first courthouse in Canton Bend kept flooding because it was too close to the river. It was the same reason neighboring Prairie Bluff became a watery grave of a ghost town.

That was a long time ago though, before the turn of the last century. Long before so much of the county’s economy became propped-up by grants from the government and too many of its residents became dependent upon federal assistance.

Now only remnants remain of what used to be. There were a couple of columns left from the old courthouse in Canton Bend. I don’t know if they are even still standing. But Prairie Ridge still haunts, from beneath the shallow waters.

Some people claim the river is magic, that it draws them in. It calls to them they say. Just to be near it the sparkling Alabamamakes them feel like they are on the edge of something extraordinary happening. They believe it is a portal to some other time. Another dimension they can escape into. They say there are different universes entirely between the fog rising at the first tranquil light of morning and the black reflecting quiet of night.

Other places may have their charms, their beauty. But Wilcox County is seductive. It will trick outsiders into thinking it is something it is not. Then quickly it reveals itself to be too untamed for them to stay, yet too real for them to easily leave.

After they are gone, it stays with them in glimpses and pieces. In voices that echo and repeat in their minds. Its spirit clings to them, like it holds to the land.

That is true all across the South I guess. Here it is just still untouched enough you can feel it riding with you while driving down roads that turn from pavement to dirt and lead back to the river.

Almost every single aspect of life here – from the way we talk, and the way we cook, to our deeply held religious beliefs – stems from two races evolving up from the banks of the Alabama River.

It is what we hold in common.

We are left keepers of a place those who loved it before us seem to want to return to and visit, if only in a memory. Or maybe they never leave at all…at least in hints and shimmers.

Amanda Walker is a columnist with The West Alabama Watchman, Al.com, The Thomasville Times, and The Wilcox Progressive Era. For more information, visit her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AmandaWalker.Columnist.