Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Ole Swimmin Hole

In the summers of our youth, there was nothing better in the midday heat than to take a refreshing dip (skinny-dipping allowed) in the closest cool water we could get to fast. There were numerous places like that, but since most of us didn't have, or even own, a pair of real "swimming trunks", we would have to go far from prying eyes.

There were many "wash-holes" and moving water creeks to choose from. We had Okelala, Twenty Mile, and fish ponds such as Rowan's, the lake out east at the turn to Pratt (the "fish lake"), a very snaky one at Ratliff's, and many others. Someone with an automobile at the pool room only had to mention the idea that we should go, and he would have a loaded vehicle in seconds. There would even be some riders on the fenders and running boards if needed. I always tried to chip in on gas to the tune of a nickel or dime, just so the driver didn't think I was a deadbeat.

To keep up with the dozens of swimmin' holes, they were aptly named something by the users if they weren't named already. I would have to think a while to recall most of them, but I am certain that the most remembered, although not the most-used was "Blue Mars". I haven't a clue as to how that name was given to the rippling falls and deep washout, but Dr. Henry Outlaw (Bo, as he was known then) has written a short verse about the place, and I'll bet he is right-on with the origin.

One Sunday afternoon after a couple of hours of playing in the water there, a couple of adults came by and began feeling up under the bank for fish. They soon came out with a decent-sized moccasin which we hadn't known about. Well, at that time we decided it was time to get back to town, amid the laughing of the "grabblers". Maybe they just wanted to run us off. They succeeded beyond expectations.

Blue Mars

Take the cotton gin road
Past the airport
Leading down to Prather’s Bottom
A field road,
Dotted with farm houses,
Negro and white sharecroppers
Both with patches of cotton and corn,
Then to the artesian well,
Cool water spurts forth like time,
Constant as the seasons,
Quaff for families farming on shares.

Below the well a path,
Down a sandy bank
To the swimming hole
In blue clay where mules and stock mired up;
The Blue Mars
Hued out by many floods,
A hole deep and blue
As the fall sky after a rain,
Water forced deep
By a water fall,
Aerated and pure.

Blue Mars
Where only the brave and strong-willed
May touch bottom,
Where water runs deep
And cold in the summertime.
Lined with white hissing sand
Sifted over many years
From the creek bank,
Home of sun perch, bream and goggle eye,
Cottonmouths claim the waters
Edge behind logs
Where flow is silent and still.

Above the boundary of sandy beach
Giant cottonwoods stand like sentinels,
Reflected in Blue Mars,
Guardians of the river bank.
When the wind blows
The leaves clap like a thousand
People in the Tabernacle,
Like an audience’s applause at an opera.
On a calm day you can hear
The carolina wrens and white throat sparrows
Call out in the high branches.

Beyond the creek
The Indian mound
Looms over the bottom land;
Sacred burial grounds,
Some ancient culture
That peopled the land
For untold centuries;
Where Indian spirits whisper,
A voice from another time,
Resonant in the leaves of cottonwood
and babbling in the crystal
Waters of Blue Mars.
A harp of voices somewhere
In the high pines.

Where coons come to drink
And wash clams by moonlight,
Where bobcat, deer, and bear
Roam and suck the
Blue water.

What track is frozen in clay
With sharks teeth of another age?
Do the cottonwoods applaud their past?
Does the fountain
Boil over their bones?
In the depths of Blue Mars
Where is their secret?
Who will touch the bottom
And bring back that ancient clay?

Henry E. Outlaw


  1. Great post, Carl. I enjoyed your reflections as well as Henry's poem of course.

    Joe C.

  2. Thanks and hidey Joe C. Now I know who you "is"!

    Be sure and check back on Wednesday for some poop on your bro a few years ago.

  3. Oh to only be able to go back to those days and spend just one more summer!

    Did we have it made back then? Yes

    Did we realize it? No, it was the way we thought life eternal would be.

  4. we just hated to go to Tupelo and Okalona and get into that cloronated water. It just didn't taste right after the pond water.

    Then, on the other hand there were girls there and they weren't hard to get to know

  5. Blue clay = Blue
    Stock mires in mud = Mires

    Could it be the two words are transfigured to form "Blue Mars"?

    Just a thought....

  6. Another possibility; that geological layer of clay was known as "Blue Marl".
    I spent 5 Summers during the 50's living in one of those sharecropper shacks in Roy Prather's bottom and working those same fields along the old swimming hole and can attest to the keen anticipation of taking a refreshing break in the old hole. Cotton mouths be danged!
    And I still miss that cold artesian water... MC

  7. MC said:
    "And I still miss that cold artesian water"

    Me too, Milton. I remember once on a Boy Scout hike we sent Jack Province back to turn the water off at the well. He couldn't find a shutoff valve, so he rummaged around and found a stick and stuck it in the hole. Worked for a while...

    Blue Marl, eh? I'm gonna look that up. You may have hit on the answer, thanks.

  8. As a kid I never went swimming in Blue Mars, but after reading Carl's reflections and Henry's poem, now I have!

  9. Went to Blue Mars one day with Jack Nanney who had a blue mercury full of guys and some hanging on the outside. He had some big confederate flags flapping on the car and some of the guys were shouting ang yelling loud. Scared the devil out of some of the share croppers in the fields when we went by. They ducked down and hid!

  10. Wasn't Jack's mercury painted red, white and blue? I seem to remember that it was, but could be wrong.

    He did have some big rebel flags on it all the time.


  11. Milton, I believe the "blue marl" theory has some merit as to the naming of Blue Mars. Mars has a more exotic and fancy ring to it. You certainly know your geological area well.

    The Mercury that Jack drove was multi-colored in some fashion, but can't remember exactly. The large confederate battle flags were on the car the whole time I knew him.

    I think he moved to Tupelo and bought a 1957 Ford Fairlane exactly like the one I had, then I lost track of him.

  12. blue bottom, white top, and red fender skirts and wheel rims.