Mrs. Henderson’s native honeysuckle thrives in the front yard.
Sometimes the greatest adventures begin with an informal chat at the Geological Survey of Alabama. This one began when I stopped to talk to Lewis Dean while scouring the shelves for publications about Hurricane Creek- I owe him a cupcake for encouraging me to talk to a marvelous lady whose every word leads to another story, delicately woven into the fabric of local life. That little chat led us on this little journey.
The spectacular Mrs. Aileen Henderon as photographed by Tiffany Stanton.
Yesterday, Tiffany, Max, Ellie, and I drove down some dirt roads in Brookwood until we arrived at the beautiful home of Mrs. Aileen Kilgore Henderson, author of every type of book you can imagine as well as a fascinating storyteller. Mrs. Henderson published her first book at 75 years of age, and she shows no signs of slowing down. On her birthday, April 10th, you can listen to the first Creek Conversation, a podcast series devoted to capturing oral history about Hurricane Creek. Mrs. Henderson’s lifelong devotion to the creek made her a perfect first conversation.
After our conversation, Mrs. Henderson’s daughter, Anne, led us down to the creek and whispered all kinds of enchanting facts about the turkeys and bobcats and wagon trails on their property.
The unidentified flower in Mrs. Henderson’s yard. Photo by Tiffany Stanton.
Anne describes why the trees trunks remained curled after a tornado long ago.
Anne is an author of children’s books, and I couldn’t help purchasing a copy of My Brother Needs A Boa, a book inspired by her time in Costa Rican jungles and dedicated to all the future herpetologists of the world. Anne left a lovely birthday dedication for Micah inside the cover, and I can’t wait to see what she thinks when she opens it later tonight. Educators will he happy to know that a free Lesson Plan and Curriculum Guide is availble online from Starbright Books.
Anne Weston leads us down to Hurricane Creek.
The creekside mountain laurel.
Ellie samples the water.
Alina asking Anne about creek critters. Photographed by Tiffany Stanton.
It’s hard not to just dive in- clothes and all. Photographed by Tiffany Stanton.
I couldn’t leave without purchasing a copy of Mrs. Henderson’s latest book, Eugene Allen Smith’s Alabama: How A Geologist Shaped A State, and then spent much of the night awake and reading delicious descriptions of local rock formations, ancient ferns, and the even the possible solution to a natural mystery. In October of 1880, Eugene Allen Smith sent a copy of a strange new plant he had discovered at Pratt’s Ferry to a state botanist. Smith was convinced he had discovered a new species which he described:
“It makes almost impenetrable ‘privy thickets’ as they are called, and the peculiar aroma of the leaves as you feel your way through, is exceedingly characteristic…. Some of the bushes are ten feet high and the stems 2-3 inches thick. It grows low and spreading… The seed pod is something like that of a castor oil plant”. (Henderson, 42)
The plant was acknowledged as a new species whose nearest relative was native to South America. It was named Croton alabamensis. The Alabama croton, as it is now known, is a native plant which currently exists in only a few Alabama counties, including our own. So Mrs. Henderson inadvertently set me on a mission to find an Alabama croton plant. If you know where one might be discovered, please let me know so I can get a photo. In the meantime, find this book at your library (or purchase a gift copy) and then try not to stay up as late as yours truly devouring eveyr page.