Just south of Nashville lies one of the most splendid stretches of road in the United States. The Old Natchez Trace is 440 miles of unspoiled countryside running through Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi. Traveling down the trace is like stepping back in time and catching a glimpse of pre-industrial America. There are no billboards, no gas stations, no big rigs, no hotels, no strip malls, and no towns. The speed limit is 50 miles per hour the entire length. Driving the trace is something like a spiritual saunter through the Upper and Deep South. It’s the perfect panacea for those poor souls among us who were raised on concrete. The trace is replete with hiking trails, scenic overlooks, picnic areas, waterfalls, historical sites, and nature areas. The extraordinary charm of this place must be experienced first hand. Words can do it no justice. The trace invites you to slow down and experience life for what it actually is.
This was a highly orchestrated day. I wanted everything to be perfect but I worried that it may not go according to plan. When we continued south from the hotel in Bowling Green I anxiously eyed the morning clouds. And later as we ate breakfast in the car, I rehearsed everything in my mind. Repeatedly.
We entered the Natchez Trace Parkway at mile marker 444 and the countdown began. At mile 442 you and I were already taken aback by the natural beauty of this place. At mile 438 we crossed Birdsong Hollow on the double-arched bridge. Though the view was great, it was little more than a preview of things to come. By mile 435 the gray gave way to blue skies and my heart began to soar. At mile 428 you were too spellbound by the trees to notice the tear welling in my eye when I said, “Today is a perfect day.” At mile 420 I silently asked that this moment would last forever. At mile marker 405 we pulled off the road and my life changed forever under a tree atop Baker Bluff Overlook.
Before we met I was searching for you Kylie, through smoke and ash. I glanced upward and asked for someone considerate and compassionate; someone spiritual and moral; a loyal and healthy person; someone with a loving and supportive family. And then there you were. You have waited patiently as I have healed, as I have gradually let my guard down, as I have come to understand all that is wonderful about you. In truth, you had me at hello. I was just too dumb to realize it.
“Today is a perfect day. I want a lifetime of perfect days with you Kylie. Will you marry me?” I don’t know much about marriage. But I doubt every day is perfect. What I do know is that after a lifetime of shared experiences with someone, at the end of the day you are still separate people. And if you aren’t careful you may become strangers along the way. So I will not take you for granted. I don’t deserve you. I am just going to have to earn it each and every day. I promise you Kylie that I will honor and love you to the fullest. I will do my best to challenge and nurture you every step of the way. I will be honest and keep an open heart. And I will do these things for a lifetime.
If memory serves, I believe I promised you a nice country club dinner in Vicksburg at the end of that perfect day. Regrettably, it was late when we finally left the trace. Maybe we lingered under that tree with our popcorn and wine just a little too long. Maybe I drove a little too slowly, trying to see every square inch of scenery. Maybe I don’t regret lingering at all. It’s okay. We’ll probably get around to that dinner soon enough. How many more miles can we travel together in a lifetime Kylie? Who can say? All I know is we have mile 405. We are forever atop that bluff, you and I. Do you understand? The whole world can go to hell and there we will be, under that tree, for all eternity. Traces remain.
Friend, if you ever find yourself driving between Natchez Mississippi and Nashville Tennessee, do yourself a favor. Slow down. Get off the interstate and head out onto the Natchez Trace. And if you pass mile marker 405, pull off the road. It’s the best damn view this side of the Mason-Dixon line. Take a load off under the tree. Stay a while. Breathe it in and soak it up. Know life for what it really is. The trace is a straight shot but you can get lost in all that beauty—if you let yourself. I did.