Hundreds of years ago, pirates sailed on the waterway that gave Lynn Porter the inspiration for her first book, Discover the Pearl.
“Pirates went up and down the Pearl River,” Porter said. “They’d stay in Honey Island Swamp, and they would attack merchant ships traveling from Jackson to New Orleans.” This historical phenomenon has long been a way for Porter to grab the attention of local students, as she spent thirty years in conservation education with the Hinds County Soil and Water Conservation District.
Teaching all ages but focusing mostly on upper elementary students, Porter had long desired to write a book that would capture the imaginations of young readers while demonstrating the importance of caring for the environment. To do this, Porter created the character of Pearline the Pirate, who she was quick to point out was a “nice pirate.”
Instead of raiding passing boats, Pearline encourages care for the river that Native American tribes dubbed the “Pearl” because of its clear bottom.
“The Pearl River is greatly impaired,” Porter lamented. “If we are positive and work together, it will get better.”
Porter is deeply invested in the improvement of the river’s water quality, noting that it’s a center of life for metro area residents.
“We all have a responsibility to the river, and we all use it, whether it’s for kayaking, fishing, picnicking or bike-riding,” she said.
To further exhibit the need for locals to take that responsibility seriously, Porter said that she also emphasized the presence of wildlife in Discover the Pearl.
“There are species endemic to the Pearl River, like the ringed sawback turtle and certain species of mussels. There’s also a fish called the freckle-belly madtom. I always asked the kids how they would like to be called that,” Porter quipped.
Porter’s knowledge of the waterway and its inhabitants—both past and present—comes not only from her storied career in conservation but also from the two and a half years she spent researching and writing Discover the Pearl. She visited the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, scouring the records for information about the river. Porter was also able to draw on her four years as a student at Mississippi State University, where she studied agriculture extension education and horticulture.
After engaging with Porter’s knowledge of the Pearl River ecosystem through her book, young readers and their families can participate in tours based on the book this fall at the Reservoir Botanical Gardens. This free event will highlight pages from the book that detail the history and importance of the Pearl River.
The self-guided tours will allow for social distancing, with families able to move at their own pace through the .06 mile paved loop, which will be available October 15 through November 21 from sunrise to sunset.
“Families are looking for something to do and to be outside,” Porter commented, also remarking that she has helped plan the event and will feature as one of Pearline’s friends. Those wishing to meet the author and her cast of characters should make plans to attend the event on Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. or 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., on Fridays from 4 to 6 p.m., or on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
After families Discover the Pearl, Porter hopes that they will become more passionate about the conservation of the river.
“My whole goal is to inspire and educate students and adults,” Porter said. “[The Pearl River] is something to be treasured.”