Leland Mississippi is one of the most inspiring places on earth.
It looks like so many other small towns, with a cute if worn Main Street tucked between farms, a welcoming water tower, and a creek running through it. But this creek was the birthplace of Kermit the Frog.
It's where Jim Henson grew up.
He was born in nearby Greenville before the Hensons moved to Stoneville, where his dad was an agronomist researching soybeans with the USDA. Jim and his boyhood friend Kermit Scott often played along Deer Creek here, which is still dotted by tall cypress trees and at some water levels, it sure does look like Kermit the Frog's swamp.
Think back to the opening scene of the Muppet Movie. It begins with Kermit strumming his banjo, along muddy waters beneath the cypress, under what turns out to be a vast expanse of rainbow, reaching to the blue sky beyond. He sings:
"Why are there so many songs about rainbows,
And what's on the other side?
Rainbows are visions, but only illusions, and rainbows have nothing to hide.
So we've been told, and some choose to believe it.
I know they're wrong -- wait and see..."
This is the Rainbow Connection. It's a song of wistful longing that may feel familiar to anyone who's grown up in a small town. Who's dreamed about leaving that small town. Or been a dreamer quieting the doubters, longing for connection with others who see big, colorful visions.
Come to Leland and you can still close your eyes and hear Kermit, or peer down Deer Creek and imagine a little Jim Henson, dreaming big visions somewhere beyond.
Soon Kermit and Jim Henson did leave their small cypress groves. They found other visionaries and believers, and yes Hollywood -- and the "something that I'm supposed to be."
And they made a really, really big impact. From this vision born in a really small town.
Is there anyone who's had a greater impact on millions of children than this man who dreamed up the Muppets and so much of Sesame Street?
After Jim Henson died, his wife Jane gifted a Kermit to the community of Leland. You can now visit him in a lovingly curated two-room "Birthplace of the Frog: The Jim Henson Delta Boyhood Exhibit" museum beside the creek in Leland. It just reopened in time for this weekend's FrogFest celebrating the town and its most famous legacy. And across the creek is what's now been renamed the Rainbow Connection Bridge.
Leland is a town of 4,000 people. It's in Washington County, which is one of 30 Washington counties across America.
Visiting Leland, and driving home through miles of soybean fields now, makes you think about how the whole world has been changed by what began as a small child playing with small frogs in this small town.
In a Washington County somewhere now, there's a little boy or girl playing in a creek. She's got big talent, big heart, maybe even big dreams.
Go find that kid, help her catch those frogs, and tell her about how Kermit was born in a small town called Leland, Mississippi...
And someday she'll find it, the Rainbow Connection -- "the lovers, the dreamers, and me."
Birthplace of Kermit the Frog museum ("an exhibit of Jim Henson's Delta boyhood") beside the creek in Leland, Mississippi (c) Shared Experiences USA