Journal of 100 Miles

Celebrating the communities and culture along the 100 miles of the Natchez Trace Parkway in Tennessee.

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Trace of Light – Photographer Mike Serkownek

Living a few miles off the Natchez Trace Parkway in Mt. Pleasant, TN is Mike Serkownek, businessman turned photographer. Having traveled to many parts of the country to capture beautiful landscapes through his camera, he claims, “The best places you do your best work seem to be close to home.” With the convenience of neighboring the Trace, he will often go back and find a different look to each setting depending on the time of year. Serkownek is intrigued by his discoveries and the mystery of whether he’ll find something he’s been looking for or fall upon that moment, “When it just happens to become a great picture,” the photographer says.

A lover of nature and supporter of environmental preservation, Serkownek’s photos have appeared numerous times on the cover of Tennessee Conservationist Magazine.  His keen eye for composition and play on light can turn simple elements like water, the sun, moon and leaves into a compelling work of beauty. Patience and observation allows him to find those moments that, captured on one particular day, will inevitably change with the season or simply by a rainy day.  A mere ripple in the water changes with the wind.  A winter fog reveals a river that will glow with the spring blossoms.  His work is a reminder of how nature in itself gives a photographer plenty of choices for fine details. Favorite spots for Mike to work include Fall Hollow, Water Valley and Metal Ford.

Emerging from Serkownek’s work is a heightened awareness of his surroundings.  His daughter, Rachel, points out by saying, “You see things I don’t see.” A talent also appreciated by wife Sandra and youngest daughter, Sara.

Serkownek strives for a “picture with a story in it; one that moves you somehow. “  He will attest, “There are two pictures in one:  the photographer’s and the viewer’s.”

Mike is a mostly self-taught photographer who has been featured in numerous publications, galleries and festivals.  He teaches classes and workshops in his home and on site in digital photography basics, composition, exposure and printing.  To experience nature, wildlife and rural life at it’s best among light, visit Mike Serkownek at

December 2009

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Nett’s Grocery – Southern Authenticity

Barbara Annette Beard Dodson, better known as ‘Nett,’ is the friendly face behind the counter at Nett’s Grocery in Bethel.  This quaint community is actually part of Sante Fe just off Highway 7 and the Natchez Trace Parkway and is home to a good share of Tennessee natives and city transplants, bluegrass pickers and country music videos. Her father, Grover Cleveland Beard, 82 years old, loves to ride his four-wheeler to the store for some good fried catfish.

The building is nearly 100 years old and has always stood as the local general store. As a child, Nett would go in for a cold drink bottle and potato chips.  She lived on Beard Ridge, aptly named for the large, family-owned property, and because where you were from was identified more by land than by zip code.  On the farm she claims, “We pretty much did it all.”  They had cows, grew corn, stripped tobacco, picked up hay and the kids went to the barn every morning before school to milk cows. Children’s spending money was mostly from milking cows, whether their own or someone else’s.  She rode the tractor as a young girl and recalls the worry of not running over something, “I just knew I was going to get in trouble,” she laughs.  Farming was about helping each other out, and Nett remembers, “If you needed help, there’d be twenty people lined up.”

Home was three miles down a gravel drive hidden in the woods.  They never thought much about it, and when asked about the influx of more people in the area and development, she can’t complain when it has patched the potholes and paved the roads including the one to their house.

Her father is from what they called Blackjack Ridge.  He walked to school with his sweetheart, who later became his wife, Nett’s mother.  In addition to farming, he worked in a nearby plant which gave the family a mostly comfortable life.  Nett has always been happy here and says, “I never really wanted to go anywhere.” And, she adds, “We had pretty much everything we needed.”  They had the first of many amenities like phone service which often led to visitors.  “The constables would be chasing somebody and would use our phone to call back to the station,” says Nett.  They were typically coming from one of the local country taverns which were always full, some of which still stand today.

While sitting on the bench just outside the store, the air is fresh and quiet, Mr. Beard says to me, “I went through life with everything I did, I took pride in accomplishing something.” He talks about the hardworking people here, the friendliness of the south, and when I agree with him, he humbly replies, “Well, that’s what we’re here fer.”

June 2009

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Jackson Falls

The natural marvels of the earth never cease to amaze me every time I get up close and personal with one.  Jackson Falls was just that.  An impromptu trip down the Trace this week had us stopping at the Baker Bluff Overlook to take in an incredible view of the Duck River, rolling hills and old barns.  The vast rain we’ve had over the past week has made everything lush and green, leaving the land a little drowned and the river overflowing.  We followed the trail marker indicating Jackson Falls 1/3 of a mile.  A fairly easy trail up and over a hill, which, come to find out, would lead to the next rest stop at Jackson Falls. Who needed a map to tell us that, we like adventure.   The added jaunt made a great hike for some scenery of old trees, wildflowers and vista views.

Coming upon the Jackson Falls stop, we noticed a great rest area with a covered space, picnic tables and a grill creating a perfectly peaceful scene and getaway spot, and making it a great place to go with family, a good book, your camera or to simply to find some tranquility.  A 900 foot steep, paved trail led us down to the falls.  It was breathtaking, and catching the falls after a long rain, as we learned, was the perfect time to see it.  The water was vast and flowing hard, an absolutely beautiful site. We passed an older couple making their way back up who said to us, “It’s been years since we’ve seen that much water here!”  Water was cascading down tiers of rock surrounded by bluffs, the smell of the air moist with oxygen, and just as the sight was taking our breath away, the greenery fed it right back to us.
Who says you need to travel far to take a vacation, find some peace and enjoy beauty – it’s right in our backyard.

May 2009

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Pickin’ and Grinnin’

A tradition going back as far as the annual homecoming, The Bethel Pickin’ and Grinnin’ happens every third Saturday of the month at the Community Center.  Tasty burgers and hotdogs are served by the friendliest of neighbors, and the main event features a covered pavillion complete with stage, dance floor and seating with an incredible display of bluegrass players and shoes that go tap, tap, clink, clink…a must experience event.

The area boasts some incredible musicians who created the rural area’s entertainment.  Bluegrass and gospel singing have been thriving here for many years and is a culture to appreciate.

To find Bethel – From the Natchez Trace, Exit Hwy 7 South, left on Leipers Creek Rd, 3 miles to community center on left; From Franklin, Take Hwy 46 to Leipers Fork, through center of town, stay straight on road which turns into Leipers Creek Rd, 11 miles to community center on right; From Columbia, take Hwy 7 north, right on Leipers Creek Rd, 3 miles to community center on left.