DURING THE FIRST year after Mimi and I got married Mimi was teaching English literature and coaching cross country at Madison Ridgeland Academy. During that time we finished building the green houses and had begun to grow bedding plants for Garden Works and 60 other customers. Mimi was coming in to help me plant before school and after coaching, that meant getting there at 5:30 a.m. and leaving well after dark. We knew we couldn’t keep that schedule going forever so after a year of it she decided more gratification was coming from the growing business than was coming from teaching.
We were excited to be working together all day every day. Working with your spouse can be a bad thing for some marriages. In our case it was a great thing. We enjoyed the challenges together and brainstormed together. It seemed as if the sky was the limit as far as which direction to take this business. At first we made our plants available on a wholesale level. We had delivery trucks delivering our plants to three states and all over Mississippi. We were delivering bedding plants to landscape jobs, garden centers and produce stands. We were growing perennials, herbs, annuals and hanging baskets. We were loading trucks as fast as we could. We were growing 11,000 one gallon mums for the market and 2,000 of our famous, giant three gallon mums that we still grow to this day.
After the third year of all that we decided it was time for a break. We decided not to grow any one gallon mums for that fall. We built a drip irrigation system with a timer on it so the 2,000 three gallon mums would get water every day. We gave the baby mums their first pinch and skedaddled off to Morocco for a month. A pretty risky move but it was high time for a big trip, come what may.
We had saved and pinched pennies enough for airfare to this north African country. It doesn’t take much money to visit Morocco the way we used to travel. A place to stay was something like one dollar per night. Meals and transportation are priced relative to that so we didn’t need much. I knew my way around Morocco so it would be easy. We were headed to the Sahara desert in August which happens to be Mimi’s birthday month. It’s also a very hot month to be in the Sahara desert.
Our journey started in Casablanca where all the buildings are white against the shimmering Mediterranean sea. We didn’t stay long because we were booked on the famous train called the Marrakesh Express, the same one that Crosby Stills and Nash made famous with their song. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones and countless hippies and bands had ridden and written songs about this trippy ride to Marrakesh in the 70s. We wanted to stay in Marrakesh some but we wanted that to be our starting point for heading farther south into the desert so I could show Mimi some of the beautiful places I had fallen in love with while I was there before.
THE TRAIN RIDE WAS AN overnighter with wooden bench seats. Everybody was on the train -- business people, nomads, chicken traders, goat swappers and everything in between. From the window we could see the scenery was getting more and more desolate the farther south we chugged. We were beginning to see the walls and villages made of dry clay bricks. We began to see wild camels and shepherds with their flocks. We were closing in on Marrakesh which is the wildest city I’ve ever been to. The minute we climbed our sore bones off the train we were immersed into what seemed like a circus that had been going on for 2,000 years. (It had).
In the middle of town there were acrobats, jugglers, storytellers, snake charmers with giant cobras, performing monkeys and street boxing. I looked back at Mimi and saw those giant blue eyes. I held out my hand and hollered over the noise “hang on!” We held tight until we found our one dollar hotel room, shut the door behind us and exhaled. We made it to Marrakesh! We slept hard in spite of the heat and the sounds and smells that were unfamiliar to us.
We were awoken by the loudspeaker attached to the minaret that was next-door to the place where we were staying. That probably explains the one dollar hotel room. The loudspeaker crackled, then a beautiful song, a call to prayer, began to take over the air. That’s when we really knew we weren’t in Kansas anymore. The call to prayer happens five times a day. Anyone who could would drop what they were doing to have a spiritual moment then right back to whatever they were doing. Even though the cities and villages came alive with the wonderful prayers at all hours of the night we looked forward to hearing them. If we weren’t sleeping on the rooftop where the air was cool we would go to the rooftop to listen. The songs are ancient and hauntingly raw and beautiful, something we will never forget.
We were slowly heading for the Grand Atlas mountains which are the tallest mountains in north Africa. We planned to climb to the top of the snowcapped mountains just to remember what it felt like to be chilly for a few hours.
OUR TRIPS ARE MADE by the people we meet along the way. This trip would be made by a young man from Wales who had gone to school in Scotland. Glen is an expert mountain climber and zoologist. We climbed with him and made a great connection. When we departed company we traded addresses, vowing to try to link back together on another trip.
As usual I figured that was the last we’d see of him. That was until he called us out of the blue a few years later from New Orleans. He was at a conference there so we hightailed it to down to hang with him and gave him a ride to our house where we took him through the Mississippi Delta and on to some canoeing and camping at Tishomingo State Park in North Mississippi. The three of us slept in a tent in August in Mississippi and oh, did I mention that Mimi was nine months pregnant?
We have since seen his photography in National Geographic and some zoological papers he has written while becoming a wild game manager in Africa. You can see some of this guy’s work on Facebook by going to Glen Cousquer Photography. His work is stunning and we feel honored to know him and we hope to reconnect somewhere when the world allows. You never know who you’ll meet while traveling in these crazy places. We make it a point to spend dinner time or more with people we meet along the way which are always the highlight of our memories.
The best of this trip is yet to come in next week’s article. Until then take care of yourself and each other. It looks like this ride is just beginning to get interesting.