EDWARD HOPPER. Adam’s House, 1928, watercolor.
ARTESIA, 55 m. (223 alt., 612 pop.), is the junction point of the main line of the Mobile & Ohio R.R. and its Columbus and Starkville branches. It takes its name from an artesian well N. of the depot. Unusually large quantities of hay are shipped from this point.
Between here and Macon the dominant features of the landscape are the HEDGES OF OSAGE ORANGE TREES planted in fence-like rows along the prairie’s edge. The highway runs like a narrow lane between their thorny, tangled branches. In winter these prickly trees are etched grayly against the sky, but in summer they burst into smooth green leaves and pale yellowish blossoms, which are replaced by orange-like inedible fruit. Many of these hedges were planted more than a century ago and constitute the pioneer planters’ mark upon the land. They confined stock and kept prying Indians out of cornfields, and they conveyed to neighbors the
idea that the land encircled by the thorny fences was private property. Sometimes called bois d’ arc (Fr., wood of the ark), these trees, according to legend, furnished the sturdy wood out of which Noah built the ark. When lumber is cut from the trees, the tough wood often breaks the teeth of the saw.
—Mississippi, A Guide To the Magnolia State (WPA, 1938)
Many of the bois d’ arc trees still line the streets and fields of Artesia, though most are too big to be considered hedges. A lot of the trees have been replaced by metal barbed wire and chain-link fencing to mark changes in ownership and usage. The rail road that runs through town now is operated by Kansas City Southern (KCS). The big junction that was there in the 1930s is little more than a switching yard with three sets of tracks. The population, too, has decreased to 435 people, and will likely continue to drop.
That doesn’t mean the people who are there aren’t happy to live in Artesia. Early in the morning people are out walking in the sun and the warm weather—enjoying the day and the quiet peace of the town. Like so many places in Mississippi, nature dominates—whether it is strolling down main street or venturing into the forest.
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David Jones is a State Guide to Mississippi. While going to school, he lived in five of the Southern states, from Virginia to Texas. Currently he can be found traveling the highways and back roads of Mississippi, helping people out when he can and exploring the hidden treasures of the state. You can find him on Tumblr at woodprof.tumblr.com.
MOSSLESS: Do you consider your work to be documentary photography?Morgan Ashcom: To me, the word documentary implies a primary concern with things as they are: concern with the social landscape, psychology, politics, history, or activism. I don’t think of my work in that way at all. I am a photographer, and that’s it. Elements of the scene at Skatopia provided some useful dramatic material, but they serve a different purpose in West of Megsico than they do at Skatopia. The resulting photographs and their sequencing came from a mixture of imagination, observation, and my experience. I work like this because I am interested in looking at photographs in a way that includes the most possibilities. That is, I like them to appear as facts, while at the same time suggesting something beyond the visible world.