The Campbell’s Swamp Symphony|Home, sweet home gave Ida Perkins her 15 minutes of fame

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 19, 2009

Ida Perkins introduced herself to Mississippi’s public radio audience and then read her essay about the beauty of the sounds and sights of nature, seasoned with a bit of whimsical nostalgia about her home turf, Campbell’s Swamp.

This is the transcript.


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Hi, I’m Ida Perkins, a homemaker in Warren County.

The Campbell’s Swamp Symphony

Along about daybreak, Campbell’s Swamp comes alive with a symphony of sound. Birds sing, a rooster crows, the donkey brays and an old coon hound barks out the melody. A big buck snorts, warning other critters not to invade his space. He’s unafraid as I sit so close to him, enjoying the peaceful swamp serenade. Surely these are sounds my family heard long ago.

I like to think longings of the heart drew me to Campbell’s Swamp. I had no idea when I bought this land along the Big Black River that my grandparents once called it home. In the 1930s, Granddaddy Monk cut cross ties for the railroad here, which helped expand civilization and improve living conditions all across America. Evidence of an old sawmill can still be seen.

As the sun rises over the swamp, reddish-orange brilliance peeks through branches of sweet gum and oak trees. Feelings of wonderment stir deep inside, as I imagine these trees grew from seedlings of those my family cut down with axes and crosscut saws. Now I wish I’d paid more attention to the tales they told back then.


It was Monday morning, March 2, time for Ida Perkins to enjoy her allotted 15 minutes of fame as thousands of listeners across Mississippi heard her soft, clear Southern voice tell about what she knew best — the sounds in her own backyard.

It started when she was having coffee on her back porch, visiting with her cousin Linda Monk, who now lives in Virginia, drinking in the serenity of her surroundings.

“Campbell’s Swamp comes alive every morning with a symphony of sound,” Ida commented about the noises of nature.

Linda, who grew up on the fringes of the area, is a writer, and she knows a good subject when she hears one. Ida should write her thoughts, Linda insisted, and submit it to Rural Voices Radio, a division of the Mississippi Writing/Thinking Institute, a division of the College of Education at Mississippi State University.

When Ida put her pen to paper, her comment to Linda became her opening statement, comparing the sounds of her backyard to a symphony.

Ida is a 60-year-old housewife who takes care of a 16-month-old granddaughter, Bella, during the day. The child’s mother is on active duty in Iraq. Ida, whose maiden name was Trim, grew up on Rodney Road outside Port Gibson.

Ida and her husband, James, moved from Claiborne County to Campbell’s Swamp in the south end of Warren County, along the Big Black River, 31 years ago. James had just gotten out of the Navy, and he and Ida were looking for a place to raise four boys. They heard about some land for sale, saw it, and bought it. Two of Ida’s brothers bought adjacent land.

Ida will tell you emphatically that she wouldn’t live anywhere else. She’s sure she wouldn’t like the sounds to be heard in town, in a subdivision or in an apartment complex.

There’s only one sound of the swamp Ida didn’t mention in her essay, however — that of an alligator — but the sight of one is not uncommon.

“I’ve seen them in the road, over 6 feet long, up to 12 feet. They hiss — and bellow like a huge bullfrog. I don’t like to hear it,” she said.

And there’s one sound she misses, that of the donkey who brayed every time she went outside. The donkey is gone, but she commented that he brayed not just at sunrise “but whenever he wanted to. He did kick up his heels and bray.”

Though Ida enjoys the sounds and beauty of nature, she has never tried taking pictures of wildlife “because I’m not much of a photographer. If you want a head on something, I don’t do it. You’d get part of a foot — or anything except what you want to see.”

She’d rather write about things, and that interest in writing was evident when she was 8 years old. A sister married and moved to Key West, so she started writing letters to her, “just pouring out my heart,” and the other sisters felt that she was expressing exactly how they felt. She said her writing is basically poems, cards, family history and “the memories I have, a little something about everything.” She’s penned a lot of family history and personal thoughts. Though her cousin Linda encourages her, Ida said she is self-taught, and “I can’t be anything but what I am.”

Also enjoying the beauty of Campbell’s Swamp are three of Ida’s sons who, with their families, live nearby, and she joked that the other son “deserted us for Perry County.” She always wanted six girls, and she got them as daughters-in-law and granddaughters.

When Ida and James bought their land, she had no idea that her grandparents, Lige and Myrtle Monk, had lived there. Once there was a well-worn logging road that wound its way to the Big Black, she said, and “we plowed it up and planted purple-hull peas, not realizing its rich heritage.”

Still, there is a mystique about Campbell’s Swamp, which is only about 300 yards from the Perkins’ home. There used to be a big tree nearby, and Ida said its branches “were like arms welcoming me home,” and when the sun begins to go down in the late afternoon “the trees light up like a forest fire.”

It was the sounds and sights of the beauty around her that provided Ida Perkins with what she said was “probably my 15 minutes of fame.”

But it was only a little over a minute.

And she was busy — didn’t have the radio on.

So she missed it.

Gordon Cotton is an author and historian who lives in Vicksburg.