Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Dark Country and Hattiesburg

To truly understand the Dark Country you have to see the clouds passing over the full moon above the longleaf pines in South Mississippi.  It would also help if that same moon was illuminating the still waters of the marsh the water company accidentally created just off of Hatcher Rd. when they failed to recognize and fix a leak that lasted over several months.  You would also need to see the yellow lights of my parents house peeking through the trees, strangely contrasting the silvery-blue of the moonlight.

Hattiesburg and its accompanying satellite towns, of which my home town of Purvis is one, were founded shortly after the Civil War as timber towns.  They are all firmly in the Pine Belt, and I have it on good authority that the peculiar manner in which the native flora creates a canopy over the roads is a bit creepy to outsiders.  If you're driving from Meridian to Hattiesburg you will pass through about two hours of empty forest before little towns start appearing like lights in Mirkwood.

Despite the fact that much of those woods are actually pine tree farms, there is a certain wildness to the area that is hard to describe.  What it lacks in mountains, which both my current home and the Dark Country possess, it makes up with a sloppy wetness that creates all manner of streams, swamps, and bogs.  I can't help but think that this is the reason that the Dark Country and so many of my other settings are riddled with swampland.  Swamps are dangerous and they look dangerous.  Those in South Mississippi, and therefore I would wager those in the Dark Country, are a thick mass of brambles that lie below a strange mixture of pines and cypresses.

It is in this context that I used to take my "nightly constitutionals."  On cooler nights -- which are rare outside of the winter -- when I couldn't think or needed inspiration, I would grab a walking stick my father made for me and pace up and down the little stretch of road the led to what was once the family farm.  I only started doing this in college, and by that time the part which formerly constituted the farm had been taken by the forest.

The farmhouse, where I spent the early phases of my boyhood, is little more than a ruin and the only stable structure on the whole property is the barn that houses my parents last two animals: a feral sow that wondered onto our property and wooed my mother with silly pig antics, and an old mare who my mother could never bring herself to break.  My typical route took me to the edge of the old farm, where the marsh mentioned above almost came up to the road, to the "Dead End" sing that stood outside of our neighbor's pasture.  Sometimes I could hear the pig crashing through the woods, walking beside me for whatever inscrutable reasons pigs have for doing such things.

The pasture too had a strange sense of benighted mystery.  Whenever it would rain, which was quite often, the section closest to the road would become more of a pond than a pasture.  This caused the pasture, even in drier times, to become fog-shrouded during the cooler hours of the evening.

Purvis itself is an odd town.  Their high school, which I did not attend, had a rather peculiar mascot that I think illustrates some of the town's macabre oddity.  They are the Tornadoes.  The story goes that when Hattiesburg was first founded, Purvis served as a den of sin that the loggers would go to when they weren't on the job.  It was filled with all manner of brothels and gambling parlors.  That is until the day the tornado came. Supposedly it caused the clock tower to stop at the very time the town was destroyed.  The citizens of Purvis rebuilt, but they left the clock in it's broken state to remind everyone what God does to punish the sinful.

The tower is gone now, and I've only heard the story from my parents and another couple of locals so I can't speak to its veracity.  Still, this combination of Baptist mysticism and fog-bound forests fires up my overly imaginative synapses.  I am the sort of person who sees supernatural and sinister designs in everything, even if I know they're not real.  I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but rather a day dreamer.  It is this quality that has most affected my presentation of the Dark Country.  If it seems like I'm uncannily capable of describing a superstition-riddled patch of swamp and woods, it's because I come from a superstition-riddled patch of swamp and woods.

Inspired by this post at Hill Cantons.


  1. Enjoyed the post, nice and evocative. It made me start thinking all over again about the broader question about where people are from and where they go mentally when envisioning the fantastic in their games.

    I have very wetlands in my settings, which is a little odd come to think of since my mother grew up on the Bayou Teche in the middle of Cajun country. Not sure why my mind hasn't reached there for inspiration. Perhaps when the HC players start exploring the blank spaces to the South...