The Wide Net and Other Stories by Eudora Welty

Harcourt, Brace & Co. 1943.

While Eudora Welty composed “A Still Moment,” one of eight stories in The Wide Net, the noise of World War II surrounded her. In 1941, the Royal Netherlands Military Flying School was located at Hawkins Field in Jackson. As a further reminder of the time, the 1943 first edition of The Wide Net and Other Stories bears an advertisement for war bonds:

“This book, like all books, is a symbol of liberty and the freedom for which we fight. You, as a reader of books, can do your share in the desperate battle to protect those liberties. Buy War Bonds.”

Three real-life characters converge on the Natchez Trace in “A Still Moment.” Itinerant preacher Lorenzo Dow in search of souls, James Murrell, a storied outlaw of the Trace, whose mission through murder and crime was to “destroy the present,” and John James Audubon, the great recorder of American birds in their natural habitats, meet beside "a great forked tree" and are transfixed by a snow-white heron.

As Dow, Murrell, and Audubon were in awe of the bird, so Eudora Welty must have been captivated by Audubon's descriptions of travel and painting up and down the Trace and the Mississippi River during the early 1800s. While recording the birds of the deep South, Audubon visited Natchez where he painted $5 charcoal portraits to support his travels. Further south in Louisiana, he rested in the long-gone Bayou Sara—one of the largest shipping ports between New Orleans and Natchez before 1860--where his wife set up a profitable teaching practice for a short time. Audubon even stopped in Jackson on May 1, 1823 when the capital was only a year old. He described the village in the wilderness as “a mean place, a rendezvous for gamblers and vagabonds” in Life of Audubon.

First editions of The Wide Net and Other Stories are scarce in good condition and dust jackets are usually marred, in a somewhat charming way, by faded pink print on the spine.

Written by Lisa Newman