By Max Wellman
I grew up in Butte, Montana, the True West. Home to cattle ranchers and dirt switchbacks winding through pristine wilderness areas toward some of the most remote parts of the country. The West has been my familial home since my ancestors got off the boat from Ireland and Italy early in the twentieth century. They didn’t stop until they reached Butte, and that’s where we’ve been ever since––well, until now.
I can still hear faint echoes of my forefathers calling “Go West, Young Man” as I sit on my porch watching the sunset over the Mississippi Delta. While my family went (and remains) West, I came South, hoping to thaw my bones and see rivers bigger and deeper than any that had graced my environment growing up.
Moving to the Delta came as a shock––to my friends, to my family, and to myself. All I knew about Mississippi was what I could glean from reading William Faulkner or listening to Robert Johnson. While I knew nothing about this part of the country, I did know that there had to be some sort of romantic magnetism that produced such masterpieces as As I Lay Dying and “Cross Road Blues.”
So I left Montana and I packed my books and ample amounts of paper to become a writer and to live with the woman that I had fallen in love with during college.
I came to the Delta for love and I’ve found love in turn––in the friendly and welcoming faces, in the thunderstorms that make me scoff at the blizzards I grew up with, in the vast expanse of land that makes me wonder if Montana should in fact be dubbed “The Big Sky State.” Still, when I call and talk to my friends and family, there’s always the same questions: “Why did you move South? When are you coming home?”
For the latter I have no answer, only time will tell, but for the former, I respond with words of wisdom given to me by a gentleman who, much like myself, moved to the Delta when he was a young man. When I asked him why he moved to Greenville, he responded: “Why did anyone move anywhere for anything? A woman.”
This turn of the phrase has stuck with me ever since that day––I find myself using it often––but the longer I live in the Delta, the more I realize that while I moved here for love, I stay for a different reason: I stay for the overpowering hum of cicadas and the rain that drums on my tin roof. I stay for the intimate conversations I have on the street with complete strangers, and for the catfish and fried chicken and blues and everything one needs to be happy, comfortable, and content. I stay for the inexplicable passion this land seems to hold.
I still miss the West, the mountains and the long winters, but I find comfort knowing that here in the Delta, I’m welcomed. My accent may be that of a Yank, but I’m treated all the same. Here, with the absence of snow and frozen ground, I’ve found a second home, a home where I fell in love with a landscape and a community that has a way of making me feel like the Delta is the exact place that I’m supposed to be.
I’ll never understand the intricacies inherent within the Delta, I don’t think any outsider truly could, but that doesn’t matter. All I need to understand is that the historic flood plains between the Mississippi and Yazoo River are beautiful, flat, and friendly. (But I guess I better check in again once I’ve survived a Delta Summer.)