by Joan Allison
What struck me most about my first-ever visit to Strawberry Plains Audubon Center was how quickly I was transported back in time to my grandparents’ place in the Mississippi Delta. My grandfather was a farmer, so they lived out in the boondocks amid thousands of acres of cotton and soybeans. I always found their place to be extraordinarily quiet, but in that quiet, activity was actually all around me. It belied the sense of solitude in such a grand landscape. It’s the same at Strawberry Plains. There’s a beauty and a safety in the land where a city girl’s chaotic thoughts are quickly focused on the center’s abundance of nature, a welcome relief from schedules and deadlines.
There’s a tidiness to all the plants, but also a wildness. It’s clearly been cared for by people who know when to deadhead flowers and when to let them do as they please. Everywhere you look there’s thoughtfulness towards the care of this former plantation whose main structure is the Davis House. Two of the descendants of the home’s original owner, Ebenezer Davis, bequeathed the home and property to the National Audubon Society in the early 1980s. The two were sisters named Ruth Finley and Margaret Finley Shackleford.
The young Finley sisters. Photo by Chellie Bowman.
There’s a photo that hangs on a wall of one of the outbuildings. It’s a photo of the sister that was taken when they were children. They’re both dressed in white play clothes, both with big costume moth and butterfly wings on their backs, looking as though they had been stopped in a moment of elaborate play.
What’s striking about this photo is that there is a dirt dauber nest that’s been made directly onto the photo and frame. It’s almost as if the dirt dauber wanted to reassure the girls that their place is indeed serving as a sanctuary to all animals at the Audubon Center.
In addition to simply being a lovely place to while away a few hours, the Audubon Center is very much an activity hub. From September 7-9 (always the weekend after Labor Day), they host their annual Hummingbird Migration & Nature Celebration. For the public, it’s a chance to get up close and personal with these tiny winged wonders, and to see conservation in action as certified ‘banders’ attach tracking bands to the birds’ tiny legs for the purpose of tracking their migration.
In addition to the hummingbird activities, there are guest speakers, guided nature walks, live animal shows, kids activity zone, wagon rides, nature-themed arts & crafts vendors, and native plant sale.
Photos courtesy of Strawberry Plains
Many other activities are year round. Visitors can explore the Visitor’s Center, 15 Miles of Hiking Trails, Native Gardens and Wildflowers, Restored Forest and Grasslands, Ponds and Ephemeral Pools, Native Plant Nursery, Wildlife Viewing Areas, Lectures, Field Study Classes, Conservation Education Programs, and Events for all ages.
Strawberry Plains is open to the public Monday through Saturday (8 a.m. – 4 p.m.). Pets and smoking are not permitted on site. Winter Hours: Monday-Friday, 8am – 4pm, including the Visitors Center and Campus. Trails are CLOSED to the public until March 1.
Strawberry Plains Audubon Center is located on Highway 311, just north of Holly Springs, Miss. and about a 45 minute from downtown Memphis. For your map app, enter 285 Plains Road, Holly Springs, MS 38635.
Admission is just $3 to hike the trails and visit the grounds. Davis House tours are $8 and are by appointment only by calling 662-252-1155. Annual membership prices start at $30 for individuals. Visit strawberry.audubon.org for detailed information.
Above two photos of Phillips Grocery. Photos by Chellie Bowman.
When you’ve finished your visit, we recommend heading in to the city of Holly Springs for lunch at Phillips Grocery. This happily stuck-in-the-past grill features burgers, crinkle fries, fried okra, and fried pies (all the healthy stuff!), plus a cooler full of sodas in glass bottles that will take older diners straight back to the 1960s. My Coke, burger and fries was very tasty and only about $8.00. I’d recommend it for the atmosphere alone!
Phillips Grocery, 541 E Van Dorn Ave, Holly Springs, MS 38635-2647, 662-252-4671.
The grocery sits directly across the street from the Holly Springs train depot which is a large, Civil War era train station with striking Victorian beauty. It is privately owned now, but visitors are invited to look around the outside. Walk around to the track side of the station to see all the elevations of the structure.