In the Bamboo Forest
by Morgan Gates
Today I stood in the middle of a bamboo forest and listened to the wind in these giant reeds. The sound was that of a bamboo wind chime, just like those sold in the gardening stores, you know the ones that say made in China! The sound was the same yet different, larger grander, but not really louder. The sound was around me it came from above and behind, and in front, and either side! Perhaps it even came from inside? The sound was soft and melodic and hypnotic, it soothed and caressed me, in a way no words can truly describe. Perhaps this is the reason the Orient has been such an inspired place throughout history, a place of philosophy and art, for the wind in the reeds whispered them to sleep each night.
I did not come out to visit the forest today, I was on another mission to explore an old cemetery nearby. The old cemetery is off a dead-end road. It seems there is always something interesting at the end of a dead-end road. We are such a road bound society, that we almost never venture beyond the road. A dead-end sign might as well read “Here thar be Dragons”! Indeed, where the road ends the forest begins. The Bamboo Forest is no secret, I have known about it for years, in fact I often drive right by it. I have never before taken the time to step off the pavement and walk into it. Today however, as a low winter sun hung in a bright blue sky and a cool winter wind chased a few high thin clouds across the sky, I walked past the road closed sign, past the pavements end and stepped off the edge of the world. This is not a typical southern “canebrake” as described by Faulkner, this is true Chinese Bamboo. It is not a big forest as are the vast hardwood and pine forest that cover much of my home state, it is only about an acre or two, but it is an acre or two plopped down from the other side of the world.
Of course, I know its history, that is what I do, I always know the history, and if I don’t I’ll find out! The Bamboo Forest is old at least 160 years old, the man responsible for it died before the Civil War began. The shafts are enormous compared to southern cane, more than 3 inches in diameter, I wear an extra-large glove but my fingers will not close around it. It was not deliberately planted; its origin was an accident. This land once belonged to a man named William W. Williamson –no I’m not kidding, that was really his name, perhaps his parents weren’t very imaginative. Mr. Williamson loved cock fighting – roosters, get your mind out of the gutter – and the best fighting roosters came from China. The fighting cocks arrived in bamboo cages, Mr. Williamson, just like a kid on Christmas morning ripped the cages apart to obtain his prize within and carelessly tossed the bamboo gift wrapping on the ground. The fertile soils and warm rains of the south did the rest, and today I Rediscovered a part of Historic Vicksburg.