Je Ne Sais Quoi of Ocean Springs and Walter Anderson

The Mississippi Gulf Coast beckons.

Chilly Billy at Mikey's on the Bayou in Ocean Springs

Chilly Billy at Mikey’s on the Bayou in Ocean Springs

INCLUDES PHOTO GALLERY

“In order to realize the beauty of man we must realize his relation to nature.” –Walter Inglis Anderson

Ocean Springs? Hell, I didn’t even know where it was until a few years ago. Now, it is my favorite place to visit. Happy as a pig in slop my wife Madge and I are living in the MS Delta, back where we started. If we had to move, our choice would be the MS Gulf Coast, and Ocean Springs specifically. The French noun Je Ne Sais Quoi aptly defines the indefinable Mississippi Gulf Coast and the idyllic town of Ocean Springs.

Je Ne Sais Quoi, a French expression, refers to an elusive, pleasing quality that is difficult to elucidate. Likely, a more enlightened raconteur and observer of milieu could explain the charm of Ocean Springs better, but describing how this fascinating socio-economic and ecological area affects me and why is difficult, but I shall try…

On the one hand, the Mississippi Gulf Coast is about as polarized politically and economically from the Mississippi Delta as is possible; on the other hand, we share a similar and relational big-space affinity for our surroundings and the disparate indigenous populations within her, as well as a vast appreciation for our visitors from afar. Basically, we appreciate breaking bread with like and dissimilar folks and we like doing it plein-air, beneath a big-ass sky, one where we can usually see the sun set.

Madge and I try to take a vacation during the season when the creative economy in the Mississippi Delta and Clarksdale slows down a bit—December through February. Visitors from all over the world still come to and pass through our area on a daily basis, but the longer winter months usually afford an opportunity to take a week or so break, and do like our guests, travel.

We have found exploring our own state and contiguous areas to be most enjoyable. The hidden and seen riches in Mississippi are remarkable and the overall bliss and joviality embodied by our residents and their unselfish desire to extend it to others is unparalleled.

Ocean Springs is a small town of just over 17,000 residents. Severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, it has rebuilt itself into a treasure of a small Gulf Coast town. The bucolic downtown area, a several block swath of eclectic retail shops, restaurants and live music venues, is a delightful visit for anyone, even the husbands of shopping wives.

Our favorite, must see every visit is the Walter Anderson Museum of Art, now curated by friend and gifted writer, Executive Director Julian Rankin. Walter Anderson, an almost lifelong Ocean Spring’s resident, had a singular ability to artistically translate his lens on the natural world surrounding him by utilizing multi-media such as painting, murals, block prints, sculpture, hand carvings and extensive writings about the flora and fauna of the Gulf Coast. Considered by many to be one of the most compelling artists of the 20th Century, Walter’s sense of wonder and alienation move me in ways few others have or do.

Anderson’s solo, multi-day rowing trips to nearby Horn Island served as a catalyst for much of his artistic expression and mood enhancement. His life was filled with isolation amongst family, with peripatetic ventures to faraway places like China, en route to Tibet.

Anderson influenced our good friend, gifted naturalist, multi-media artist and true Renaissance man, John Ruskey, founder/owner Quapaw Canoe Company headquartered in Clarksdale. Ruskey has a presence on the MS Gulf Coast as well, and has teamed up with the Anderson Museum and Rankin to offer a pop-up, month-long exhibition (April 18 – May 18) at the museum to coincide with Earth Day 2019. The exhibition exploring the relationship between people and their waterways will be guest-curated by Ruskey. For information on how to submit one’s water-thematic entries for the exhibition, please visit: www.walterandersonmuseum.org/blog/call-for-artists-water-water.

A rare treat for Madge and me on our recent trip to Ocean Springs was an informal tour of the area with native and newfound Facebook friend, Robert Payne. Robert and I connected via the web a couple of years ago, largely I think because of his interest in Union General Ulysses S. Grant’s fabled Yazoo Pass expedition commencing on the lake we live on, Moon Lake. Sharing similar worldviews and sentiments we stayed in touch and he was gracious enough to entertain two Deltans on last month’s Southern sojourn.

Robert, friends with several members of the talented Anderson family, personally gave us a tour of Shearwater Pottery, established in 1928 and still rocking. We visited the gift shop with modern and original pottery created by the three Anderson brothers, as well as the workshop where relatives still handprint the block prints and t-shirts. The highlight was a memorable visit to Walter Anderson’s cottage, where much of his original work was created, alone, amidst almost a manic drive void of a need for public recognition. I consider him a singularly gifted, intriguing, slightly troubled genius; a genius sired out of an appreciation for the natural world without fear of recrimination or need for man’s approval.

If Anderson isn’t enough, the eats and treats in Ocean Springs would make old Epicurus giggle. Mikey’s on the Bayou, situated on the marshes of the Old Fort Bayou flowing into Biloxi Bay, is a delightful, tasty, inexpensive seafood restaurant. The oysters are cold, shucked rapidly, briny, and only $7 a dozen. The service is spectacularly friendly and family-disseminated. The view is cathartic and the soft-shell crab superb.

I could scribble ad infinitum about the pastoral and culinary pleasures in and around Ocean Springs, but suffice it to mention:

“It’s worth a trip
to the Lower Mississip
But it’s also hip
To add a Delta Trip”

Cheers, and may the tides draw you! Chilly Billy

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