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The $130 Photo

Natchez Trace is a beautiful parkway that goes down the center of Mississippi (and beyond) along beautiful waterways and historical areas. Making a small detour to see some of its sites on my way down to the coast seemed like a good idea, and I had my heart set on the Cypress Swamp. 

It was a little bit out of my way on the 1,000 mile journey from West Virginia, so when I got there and saw it taped off, I decided to explore anyway. The walkway is less than a mile long and it's right along the parkway, so it's not as if anything would happen that would require a dangerous rescue mission. 

I ducked under the tape, went down the stairs, wandered around for about ten minutes, and snapped one photo before I heard a booming voice announce "Get out of there, NOW." To make a long story short, United States Parks Police gave me a ticket "for my own safety." The area was closed due to storm damage earlier in the year, and there were a lot of downed tree limbs. I had been wondering if there were alligators or large snakes, but a few scattered branches are not something I worry about, even though I'm fully aware of the dangers of falling trees. It's a risk I accept constantly. And how exactly would this $100 fine plus $30 administrative fee make me more safe as I stood in the turnout with the officer? Unclear. But welcome to Mississippi! 

I can pay $130 fine easily. It sucks, but I can pay it. Imagine, though, if you make minimum wage. That's over 17 hours of work! I hear your counterargument already. "No one has to go under the tape. That's a choice you made to break the law," you say to me. But that response is intellectual laziness. You're assuming the regulation or law is just and necessary, which it isn't always, instead of taking the time to consider whether it should exist. I believe that laws meant to protect you only from yourself shouldn't exist. I only believe we should have laws that are for the safety of others (DUI, child protection laws, theft, murder, etc.). Laws that are only to protect the perpetrator from himself (adult seat belts, motorcycle helmets) are nonsense, paternalistic, and just a way for the government to make money. And if you don't think it's a money grab by the government, explain to me why the fee is $100. The punishment should fit the crime. $100 is an absurd fee for doing something that hurts literally no one and nothing at all. $100 is a lot of food on the table for a poor Mississippi family.

Mississippi, besides being the poorest state in the country, is one of the worst for excess regulation and exploiting, infantilizing, and generally not doing right by its citizens. Many government actions here should be questioned and not simply accepted. For example:

My little run-in with a fine-happy ranger was not as serious as any of these, obviously. Further, it was federal, not Mississippi specific, but I can't discount the idea that the culture here might influence how much these park regulations are enforced. I paid the fine because I'm too old to deal with the game of seeing what happens if you don't pay a ticket, especially one that appears to be issued from a US district court. I hope the money goes to fix the area, though I have my doubts. Anyway, here is the photo. 

cypress trees in a swamp

So if it's all so bad, why am I here? Because Mississippi is part of our country, part of who we collectively are and that makes it worth experiencing. I'm also here because of the seafood. Because of the incredible white sand beaches that stretch all down the coastline. Because of the balmy weather. Because I can support the local economy. Because there are plenty of decent, progressive, and compassionate people here. Because we can't expect everyone to move forward at the same rate we have, but Mississippi has made some good progress lately:

I'm also here for the unique ecology and landscape of the beautiful swamps. Yes, there are tons of other areas like the Cypress Swamp that I can explore without getting a ticket. If only I had known.

kayaking in swamp

egret in swamp

bayou in Mississippi

gum trees in swamp