According to our advent activity chain, today was going to include a parade and those costumes we've been assembling over the past week.
According to our advent activity chain, today was going to include a parade and those costumes we've been assembling over the past week.
Mrs. Gandy told Patrick this would be the last year of the Gandy Tree Farm. Five years ago, she and the mister decided that they would retire from the holiday tree growing business.
So we picked a tree from the last fir crop to ever grow on our favorite tree farm with extra care and a little reservation. Many trees were already tagged with a yellow ribbon, waiting to be picked up by their new owners.
The kids wandered and scampered through the rows of perfectly-shaped trees- "This one is perfect!" was the refrain. Meanwhile, Mr. Gandy watched and waited for us to settle on a friend to take home.
I think we disappointed him because we lingered so long that he drove away on his tractor. Max and Micah felt it was critical to see "all" the trees before we made a final choice.
And so we marveled over the Carolina firs- the loops and ribbons of green, the whorls and circles, the secret hiding places for little birds and creatures.
After the tree had been cut, Max tailed the Gandy-men to a section of the farm where the tree would be "prepped" for our 30-minute drive home. I felt sure nothing could go askance with our avid Max hot on the tree trail.
Our tree was placed in a small shaking machine which shook all the loose branches and firs from it. It looked like a loofah sponge for trees- or rather, it had the same rejuvenating effect. Then we moved on to the next station where the tree was placed in a bag.
Finally, our handsome tree was lined up along a painted ruler plank and measured. It stands at 7.5 feet- for forty-one dollars, the price seems too small or perhaps we feel too fortunate.
As the gentleman loaded the tree atop our space ship, the kids and I played in the grass. Micah tried a few cartwheels, and I took the opportunity to impress the munchkins with a few cartwheels of my own. Is it bad that it still makes me happy to hear, "Wow Mom, you really CAN do cartwheels...."?
Life doesn't offer us moments like this whenever we press "play". Instead, we must learn to collect them with a sense of awe and appreciation when we happen upon them. Moments like wildflowers grown haphazard and between the cracks- never in the spaces we have planned for our "garden".
If a big blue sky is your background, what will you do with it? Assume that it doesn't stop for your schedule. Assume that the elephant circus in the clouds passes by in the moment you stop to play on your iPhone. Assume that reverence is the proper position for life and love- and every single animal in the clouds is worth seeing, every tiny star is worth counting, every wildflower is an opportunity to learn something new from a creature abiding by different rules than you.
The harvest party at the community garden.
Thanks to Laurie and Mike, the neighborhood celebrated a harvest party at the community garden. We feasted upon pumpkin soup with blue cheese, hot cider, piping macaroni and cheese, pumpkin-cream cheese loaf, a winter veggie casserole, and salad. The fading sun drew away every last drop of warmth from the ground and we realized that winter is not far away.
The kids collected "treasures" from the area behind the woodpile.
Their stash included an old license plate and the myth of a former "carriage-maker" who inhabited the area. The myth, of course, was Maxer's contribution to the findings. A good story begins with a horseshoe.
The old woodshed keeps its secrets.
The "Master" key discovered by the young detectives.
Moms and bundled babies.
Lichen, fungi, perfect curves and proxy shoulder pads.
Max observed that a raccoon might "borrow" that big nest in the tree.
Ripples of lichen with green.
A habitat is a home.
A home is a place where hearts meet and mingle.
Sometimes the Sharpie speaks the truth in a rainworn, highlighter-heavy sort of way.
And sometimes the treehouses are so big that it hurts the neck to keep looking up up up....
Milla watches the ants as they scurry to and fro bearing meals.
Little shelves and ladders line the trees just in case a critter or fairy needs assistance.
The Alabama croton, a marker of botanical inquiry and history in Tuscaloosa.
Our lovely friends, Stephen and Susan Norris, are working to raise money for the adoption of two orphan children. As many know, adopting a child is a painstaking and expensive process which is as trying (if not much more) than those 9.85 months of pregnancy.
To raise this money, Stephen is making custom hand-scraped farm house style tables and benches. Susan writes:
Choose your dimensions and choose your finish. It is gorgeous, very heavy and sturdy (and thankfully for us, indestructible!). If you are looking to buy a table/benches just call or email. If anyone you know is looking to purchase a table and benches, would you forward our contact info to them. If you know any decorators who help people find furniture, would you forward this to them? You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 205-554-0063. We are aiming for a Christmas delivery, but if someone contacted us very soon, we could probably make Thanksgiving! This would make an excellent heirloom quality gift. Stephen is an amazing craftsman and artist in this way.
Pricing is $85 per square foot for the table and $50 per linear foot for the benches. This is comparable with prices for similar tables at furniture stores (although their tables are generally veneer, Stephen's are actual hand scraped wood), but far less than other custom prices. Plus, we have free local delivery, but would certainly try and figure out a way for more distant delivery at a reasonable price. Our benches are not finished yet and are not pictured. If anyone would like to see it in person, just let me know. I'd love to show it off!
It's not everyday that you can get a fantastic table and benches and give two orphans a family at the same time. Imagine that every piece of bread broken over this table would be a reminder of how you helped bring together a family.... I can't think of anything more beautiful.
Yes, sometimes we walk around our neighborhood in search of a new place to picnic.
No, it doesn't seem unusual to us to want to walk to a picnic location.
Yes, it makes me sad that our city officials and our city councilman do not serve our community by building traffic circles near our neighborhood but instead choose to widen and speed up the roads nearby- because goodness knows life just isn't fast enough these days. I'd rather my tax money not be spent to serve commuter traffic but rather to serve me, my family, and our neighbors in creating a safe space to live, grow, and bloom.
Yes, we love tomato and mayonnaise sandwiches on whole wheat bread.
No, we aren't worried about stereotypes.
No, we don't think 250 years of government in which blacks and women only recently gained the rights accorded to white males entitles us to arrogance. Or churlishness.
Yes, we are grateful for beautiful autumn sunsets, ripe tomatoes, Romanian Bunicas, and all the kindness we discover among our fellow human beings just when we need it most.
Ever since Max decided that he wanted to have a Cherokee birthday party, we've been exploring all things Native American. Fortunately, the Moundville Native American Festival takes place in Moundville this weekend, and everything, including the acorns and the seasons, are falling together to make this a perfect theme for the month. So why not share it?
Almost every space and place on this continent has its own specific Native history, so we started with the local. The name "Tuscaloosa" comes from the Choctaw language and means "Black Warrior". Coincidentally, the Black Warrior River runs through Tuscaloosa and provided our city's initial impetus for existence back in the days when all trade and commerce used rivers for transportation.
The Dreams Of A Young Chief: Chief Tuskaloosa by Maggie Geist with illustrations by Cliff Ballard is out of print, but provides a beautiful introduction to Chief Tuskaloosa, the namesake of our town and a local history worth exploring. According to an archived article in the Tuscaloosa News which surveys local Native history, the famous Chief Tuskaloosa probably never actually lived here but his legend is alive and well.
Maggie tells the story of a young Choctaw boy who always knew he would one day be a chief. She describes his experience with the Black Drink Ceremony and the Green Corn Ceremony, tribal events which ritualized harvest practices and shaped individual identities and roles within the tribal structure. In her words:
When the braves returned home, it was time for the Green Corn Ceremony- an exciting time. This ceremony took place only when the last corn crop became ready for harvest. It was a time to purify the village. Before the feasting began, four to eight days were spent in fasting.
The men repaired items that needed repairing. The fasted and they drank the black drink. The women cleaned their homes and discarded all their broken pots.
The lighting of the new sacred fire was the main event. The High Priest rubbed two pieces of wood together until there was smoke, then he fanned the small flame with the wing of a white bird. Only the men could watch this ceremony. This was Tuskaloosa's first time to witness the event. Only the men who took park in the Black Drink Ceremony could watch.
The High Priest forgave all the braves for their wrongdoing except he had no power from the Great Spirit to forgive those who had killed others during the year. The women were then asked to come and light new fires from the sacred flame to carry to their homes for the home fires. The High Priest challenged women to behave and be good housekeepers for the coming year.
The Green Corn Ceremony took place every year and marked the change in seasonal activities from summer to fall and winter. Tuskaloosa grew into a tall young man whose height helped him excel at all the ball games and markmanship games, like chunkey. He assisted his tribe in making dugout canoes to help them get up and down the Black Warrior and smaller streams.
As a member of the Maubilian tribe of the Choctaw, Tuskaloosa learned how to hunt and protect his people from more warlike neighbors, including the Chickasaws and the Creeks. He proved himself as a warrior in battle against the Creeks. To become chief, Tuskaloosa needed more than war skills- he needed peacemaking skills.
It would be necessary to have self-control before he could control his people. Peace would be hard to keep. A peacemaker would need to have the strength to hold back th desire to control- the need to be in charge of others. Tuskaloosa knew he must lead with gentleness yet with firmness.
Tuskaloosa proved his ability to lead when he made peace with the Creeks. The Choctaw culture deserved some additional exploring, so Max used colored and used the following handouts to explore the Eagle Dance and Choctaw ball games.
In Tuscaloosa, Alabama, tattoo artists are classified alongside porn shops and payday loan centers. As a college town, Tuscaloosa boasts a number of skilled tattoo artists who specialize in creating designs that allow customers to express themselves with body art. While the ear piercing is considered common currency among the preteen set, tattoos are still associated by some concerned citizens with Armageddon, heroin use, and eminent physical danger. That's why the Tuscaloosa City Council is trying to eradicate this dangerous practice from within the confines of the city. Or something.
Todd Boling, owner of The Tattoo Experience, a tattoo parlor located in Alberta City, lost his business in the April 2011 tornado. If the Tuscaloosa City Council has its way, he won't get that business back- not in Alberta City and not anywhere nearby. Currently, a minor vehicle repair shop, a tattoo/piercing parlor, and a tobacco shop already exist in Alberta City and have been "grandfathered in". None of the three meet the current aesthetic building codes recently enacted as part of the controversial Tuscaloosa Forward plan, but the fact that they survived the tornado means they are safe to continue business.
Call it "disaster discrimination"- what happens when natural disaster is by city officials as an opportunity to remake a town to their liking. If your business was destroyed by a tornado or flood, then you'd better make sure that the reigning officials consider your line of work to be part of their "vision for the future". Disaster discrimination plays favorites with people's lives and compounds personal loss for victims of natural disasters.
The Tattoo Experience wants to relocate and build a brand-spanking new mixed-use building approximately one-half mile northwest of its current location. Todd thinks this new location will "become a panacea for the Alberta Business District" by negating the opportunity for pawn shops, loan sharking shops, and other unsavories to open nearby. In his opinion, "property values should be positively affected by the construction of a nice, new building that meets the stringent new Tuscaloosa Forward codes".
But Todd's opinion doesn't matter as much as that of Kip Tyner, our City Councilman. And Kip has his heart set on making sure that tattoo parlors leave Alberta City. Honestly, it doesn't make sense to me and I hope he wakes up one morning with a rosier look on life and community. If Tuscaloosa is grow and bloom in a way that encourages and draws creative people, then tattoo parlors like The Tattoo Experience should be welcomed.
Todd sketches an original tattoo design.
The real reason for the attack on Tuscaloosa tattoo parlors lies in unspoken stereotypes and assumptions about body art and its artists. City officials assume that tattoo parlors bring crime or drive down property values- but this assumption is applied in a patently discriminating manner. For example, people may shop at Wal-Mart, but no one in their right mind wants to live near a Wal-Mart for fear that it would diminish the value of their property. Likewise, few families want a nursing home to relocate across the street. Such establishments do not promote neighborhoods and community- they promote traffic and mass consumption (something our City Council seems to favor when vote comes to shove).
Todd shows me how the blackwork lines up with the sketch design.
While the Tuscaloosa City Council cleans up the streets of riff-raff and social refuse, they might also consider closing down or re-zoning the following businesses which have been hot-beds for crimes and misdemeanors during the past year- gas stations, college football games, the Wal-Mart parking lot, Publix parking lots, and nursing homes. If the concern is crime, then football games and tailgating, a primary driver for DUIs and assault events, wouldn't even take place inside the limits of town. It's time to confront our prejudices and look at them through the lens of reality- we Southerners do best when we scrap the dated stereotypes and embrace a wide variety of art forms and fashions.
To wander over the earth in autumn is to discover life in the ruins of life, to be made conscious of the cycle. The leaves rustling underfoot are broken down, tiny cells seeping into the soil, becoming soil, enriching soil, forcing you to be aware of how many millions of years must have passed to create the soil on which you stand.
From the remains of a stump, life continues and grows. The wood is broken down by various specialized insects and decomposers into the worm-friendly dirt of the future. Nothing is left without use or purpose. The past is in our bones.
In eastern California stands Methuselah, a Great Basin Bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) believed to be between 4,844 and 4,845 years old. It is "the world's oldest known living non-clonal organism" and stands somewhere safe from prying human ambitions. Prometheus did not fare as well.
Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi is a Sacred Fig tree in Sri Lanka. It is said to be the southern branch from the historical Bodhi tree in India under which Lord Buddha attained Enlightenment. It was planted in 288 BC, and is the oldest living human-planted tree in the world with a known planting date. Today it is one of the most sacred relics of the Buddhists in Sri Lanka and respected by Buddhists all over the world.
Our stump makes no such claims. It's lack of celebrity allows it to fade as gently as it began, from sapling to stump. I love the way the rings outlast the space between them- like calcium deposits in an animal skeleton, the mind begins to invent a story that makes sense of the spaces, the blanks, those parts that do not fall in lists.
The Fortingall Yew tree (Taxus baccata), currently residing in a churchyard in Perthshire, Scotland, is one of the oldest trees in Europe. Various estimates have put its age at between 2,000 and 5,000 years.
Each nook and cranny offers a potential home for rustling creatures, musicians in the master fugue. What ended the life of this handsome tree-turned-stump? Did fire play a role? Was lightning involved? It stood alone in th center of the backyard, so it might have attracted unwanted electrical attention.
The Senator was the oldest pond cypress tree in the world, located in Longwood, Florida. At the time of its demise, it was 125 feet tall, with a trunk diameter of 17.5 feet. The tree was destroyed by a fire on January 16, 2012.
"Nothing technology creates can ever be wild, and that wilderness is likely to have an increasing value in an older and more complex civilization. At least the present should consider its responsibility to let to allow the future to experience the past. At the most basic level, wilderness preservation means keeping options open. Rather than inheriting one from us, let posterity decide if it wants to occupy a controlled, developed, and biologically impoverished planet."
Roderick Frazier Nash, Wilderness & the American Mind
Yesterday we sauntered around seeking signs of autumn. Sometimes, the best way for me to unravel the complications and stresses of ordinary modern life is to just exist as another species in the field. To roam through the grasses and encounter the extraordinaries.
Every little thing bleeds into another. Last year's lush crop of goldenrod was razed to the ground, leaving only a few only stalks to wave their torches.
Those few remaining goldenrods were almost overwhelmed by bees, darting, sniffing, dancing like wind puppets. How will the decreased goldenrod crop affect the other species of the meadow this month? Next month? Next year?
Change alone is not a tragedy but something to be observed and studied for its effects. Perhaps the sparsity of the goldenrod crop will fail to influence other species in the area.... We learn by looking, watching, and telling the stories.
Nature journals help us to record and keep track of these changes. What is different in your neck of the woods this year? How might it affect other species?
As a family, we adore our botanical haunts- those places we go to find plants, tiny seed pods, and non-human friends. Yet those haunts are increasingly being "developed" in the name of Progress and, well, development. Progress, unlike a good meal, should not be accepted at face value.
So many people perished in the Soviet Union for daring to question the march of Progress. As they stood in block-long bread lines, they accepted the destruction of their communities and the natural environment. The promised Progress led to rapid industrialization which decreased the quality of life and truly alienated communities from the product of their labors. It's important to understand that Progress means nothing aside from the outcomes for individuals and the environment in which they live and learn.
Somehow, we've agreed to let wilderness remain only as a table scrap- something for the dogs or the remaining wild animals. I don't remember making a conscious decision to destroy wilderness, just as I don't recall making a decision to cruelly isolate and discourage hopeful American immigrants.
The fact that the policies expressing these decisions were made for me (not by me) offers no comfort. The value of females was not taken seriously until the last hundred years- there are many wonderful amazing things and beings we have yet to find worthy. Are you complicit in the ravages of our natural world subsumed under the name of Progress? If so, what can you do to educate others about the costs?
Journal entry: Thoughts on being just another species in the field. How does my species affect other species in a nearby meadow?
One of Tuscaloosa's best-kept secrets is a free Saturday event called Kentuck a la Carte. I suggest you promptly add this freebie of arts and crafts fun to your monthly calendar.
Ten really good reasons to visit Kentuck a la Carte with friends and family:
1. You might discover that your neighbor, Allison, has a secret watercolor talent.
2. You can learn about how to use plastic wrap with watercolors for cool resist effects.
3. Or print on watercolors with fruits.
4. You can learn how a clay artist creates a bas-relief lizard crawling out of a plate.
5. You might catch Hayes Dobbins demonstrating how to dig, refine, and prepare your own clay.
6. You might become fascinated enough to linger and learn.
The UA Dept. of Geography Colloqium Series presents:
"The Anthropogenic Amazon", a talk by William I. Woods
Department of Geography & Anthropology
University of Kansas
When: This Friday, September 21st at 12:00 PM
Where: Farrah 120 on UA Campus
A little pre-lecture background on people in the Amazon by Rhett A. Butlet.
A Few Things in Themselves
Along the bay live-oaks and magnolias
Gather massively the warm blackness
As birds dart and cry in their hard leaves.
At their base the narrow strip of beach
Is yellow and African in the late sun.
We hold off and let the boat drift....
The string of fish in the bottom
Lies in spilled oil, blood, and bay-water.
Their white underbellies gleam in the dusk.
A black watersnake is moving into
The closed, muscle-like bloom of lilies,
The darker swamp weeds along the shore.
Slowly we follow it, back to the dock.
And walk in the early night through crickets,
The low wind in the rusty screen.
For more on Alabama poet John Finlay, visit this post about his life and verse.
Thanks to his article in the Alabama Literary Review, Jeffrey Goodman brought a new Alabama author to my attention. The author is John Finlay, whose brief-by-modern-standards life begins in Ozark, Alabama, where he was born. His father had a farm in Enterprise, a small town incorporated in the 1890's as a cotton town. Lumber interests soon followed as part of the long story of how Alabama's state tree, the longleaf pine, lost its home in our landscapes.
Finlay's father, Tom, was considered "land-rich"- they owned three to four hundred acre tracts. His mother, Jean Sorrell, came from an established family in Birmingham. But economic good fortune did not protect John from life's tragedies; his family tree, while deeply rooted, was pock-marked with suicides, drug addictions, insanity, and violent death. For example, his mother's father, Martin Sorrell, was a prominent attorney who clerked for Hugo Black but ended his days at Bryce Hospital, where he "died of insanity" leaving behind a wife and three little ones in Ozark.
As a boy, he loved to read Shakespeare, and he sometimes recited passages from the plays while caring for his family's dairy cows. What John did not love, however, was the actual chores and farming life itself. He preferred to spend his weekends at his grandmother's home in Ozark, where classics spilled from the bookshelves and erudition marked the conversations on topics ranging from politics to theism to the latest trends in modern literature.
It's no surprise that John decided against the farming life when he enrolled in the University of Alabama in 1959. After spending his allowance on books for his library, John cozied up to Professor Hudson Strode, and the childless Teresa Strode practically adopted John as their son. Hudson went to the lengths of securing a $1,000 scholarship for John from a wealthy banker friend and John repaid him with the flattery and outright charm which Hudson valued so highly. Later, John would also repay Hudson with considerable research for his three-volume biography of Jefferson Davis.
John's writing was also influenced by August Mason, a poet and English professor whom Goodman reckons as "one of the last of the Vanderbilt Agarians". Specifically, Mason's emphasis on the art of verse, as distinguished from the art of poetry, must be dimly heard in the background. Finlay's poems are usually written in measured verse with a focus on intense, place-based perceptions of the world. One of his most notable poems,"Audubon at Oakley," celebrates the naturalism and detail captured by artist and naturalist John James Audubon.
John's relationship with the Nashville Agrarians was to be a life-long one. He nurtured friendships with Andrew Lytle and Allen Tate, and his ability to fit the mold of a "southern gentleman" stereotype served him well in local literary circles.
After finishing his degree, John Finlay secured a teaching position at the University of Montevallo in the fall of 1966. Goodman identifies this as the point at which "Finlay revealed for the first time his eccentric lifestyle". To many Southerners, John's homosexuality was not obvious- the literary circles were filled with flaneurisms and bowties. John knew that his sexuality went best left unextolled under these circumstances. Those who knew him well, however, knew he was gay. And those who knew him briefly knew he was something fantastic- "a small mountain of cigarette butts piled up on the floor of his VW bug as he drove some 40,000 miles without changing the oil."
As a political liberal, John treaded gingerly around the politics of his day, choosing to leave behind only one poem that might be considered overtly political. This poem was about the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC, and it reflects John's anti-war position. In his view, war was what happened when passion and frenzy superseded reason and self-discipline.
Early in his writing career, John provided a list of a list of "Notes for the Perfect Poem", some of which he later revisited. These "notes" reveal his literary kinship with Edgar Bowers and Yvor Winters, one of his most transcendant mentors.
After spending some time on the island of Corfu, John lived in Paris and worked as a janitor. His Paris notebooks provide insight into his absorption of the classicist milieu. Then John returned to Tuscaloosa to work at Bryce Sanitarium, the place where his grandfather died. His Bryce notebooks reveals the danse macabre of John's fascination and repulsion with the treatment and life of the "insane"- illuminated in his poem, "The Locked Wards".
It took John Finlay ten years to finish his PHD thesis. From 1970 to 1980, he cavorted, worked, wrote, explored, and finally completed the thesis which technically allowed him to rest on his laurels. At some point during this decade, John's multiple visits to the backrooms of New Orleans' lively gay bars and baths left him with an HIV infection. The tragedy in this part of John's life lies not only in his infection, but also in his passionate conversion to Roman Catholicism. His poem, "To A Victim of AIDS", almost suggests that the man in the New Orleans bars deserved the "divine punishment" meted out by a God made angry by homosexuality. For John Finlay, his final religious conversion brought more self-loathing than peace and mercy. That breaks my heart.
John passed away from AIDS in 1991. His final resting place lies in Enterprise, Alabama in a graveyard I am still struggling to find. A John P. Finlay (1887-1935) and a John D. Finlay (1911-1952) are buried in the Enterprise City Cemetery.
More on John Finlay's life and poems can be uncovered in the following:
"In The Beginning: A Note from the Poetry Editor" by David Middleton
"On Rembrandt's Portrait of An Old Man Reading the Scriptures", a poem by John Finlay
A segue to all the John Finlays whose names ended up on a POW list
Encyclopedia of Alabama entry on John Finlay
A Garland for John Finlay by David Middleton
Mind and Blood: The Collected Poems of John Finlay by John Finlay and David Middleton
Entry in Southern Writers: A New Biographical Dictionary
dwelling #2: hurricane house
This is Hurricane House, a home originally built in the 1800's and then moved and rebuilt in 1946 by folk song collector Byron Arnold. It is located along the banks of Little Hurricane Creek, one of the five major tributaries to our beloved Hurricane Creek. With the help of the munchkins and a few other folks (including Nancy Callahan, Wayne Blackwell, the Trammells, Joy Baklanoff, and Guy Ward Hubbs), I discovered the long and winding history of this hand-hewn, square-cut log dogtrot log house made from the longleaf pine which once grew abundantly in these parts.
Currently, the house is being used as a home for tornado victims who lost their homes in the tornado. It's history has been unpublished to this day- though yours truly is working hard to find a interested party to get involved in its publication.
Inside the front entryway to Hurricane House.
As September settles into place, some of our favorite natural dyeing plants are popping up, reminding us that the time for traditional harvest is near.
This tender little shade-lover is only just coming into its bloom. It looks like a possible verbena, but we'll have to do some investating to learn more. Because it could be something else entirely- the best thing to be.
The beautyberry, or Callicarpa americana, keeps its bright purple berries for a long time. This is not a spring purple- its the warm, deep purple of autumn.
Some time after the berries turn purple, the leaves will turn a pale chartreuse before dropping to the ground. Right now, we've found the beautyberry all through our yard and the neighborhood in half-sunny spots.
The golden rod is yellow;
The corn is turning brown;
The trees in apple orchards
With fruit are bending down.
(from "September" by Helen Hunt Jackson)
When the goldenrod's bright golden blooms flood the plains, we'll head out to our favorite goldenrod-harvesting place to get a big batch for yellow dye and tea. As you can tell from the still supple curve of this new bloom, the goldenrod has a few days or even weeks before harvest time.
Look closely at the goldenrod- doesn't it remind you of an elm tree's branches? At sunset, the goldenrod lining the streets and fields resembles torches, perhaps to guide butterlies and bees back to their September elysium.
THE PURPLE THISTLE
The purple thistle lords over the land in a shady portion of our yard like a medieval king- convinced that sword-waving and tooth-gnashing is the most persuasive means of self-preservation. Watching the bees visit the thistle for dinner adds an element of mystery to our thistle friend. Why does he share such an attractive and seductive flower with the bees while scaring others with his swords?
The thistle and the bee have loved each other for as long as we know- the bees take the thistle's flower dust and spread it across the land. The swords must be for the cattle, which once grazed the fields where thistle likes to spread his kingdoms with the help of the bees.
Once the bees have gone and the thistle's flower is dried and wilted, the wind carries tiny little balloon baskets made of the finest silk to a yard across the street. The seeds in the tiny little seeds in their tiny little balloon baskets will sleep until spring, when they will suddenly grow flowers and swords of their own.
There is always something new and proximate to discover in the woods and environs. Always a secret eco-web in which to get tangled. September creeps into Tuscaloosa with purple and golden chariots. We watch in wonder as everything changes again.
Micah and Milla are learning about shapes. After finishing a Project Learning Tree Activity involving making a shape necklace, we took the learning to the streets.
The only rule for the shape hunt was the shape had to be a "natural" as opposed to man-made shape found on a "natural" as opposed to man-made object. No bricks or streets or pavements. Circles were the easiest to find.
Triangles proved trickier to spot.
Gary's nose was a triangle; Micah kept spotting leaves and vines with triangles in them, and Max noticed that the lichen on the tree stump created radiating triangles from the center.
Mary and I sat outside and chatted while the kids used chalk to draw on the fence, poked at various critters with sticks, and discovered the strangest caterpillar I have ever seen. Behold, the Gulf Fritillary caterpillar.
It seems we discovered our spiky, orange friend during the nymph phase of his life- though he gives "nymph" a less-than-graceful name. Fortunately, the black spikes are soft to the touch, though the creature himself is poisonous if ingested. Being poisonous keeps the predatory insects at bay. Milla might have gotten around to some form of ingestion if we hadn't urged the sparing of his unfinished life.
Apparently, this fellow feeds only on specific species of passion flower, which explains he is also known as the passion flower caterpillar. Now it remains to be seen where passion flower can be found in our yard.
The life cycle, nipped from Wikipedia, shows the extraordinary metamorphosis. You can see the birth of the butterfly from the chrysalis in this photo.
This exhibit/contest started because the Friends of Hurricane Creek needed to clean up wood debris from the 2011 tornado. Most of the hardwoods and trees on Watson's Bend were brought down by the tornado. Let's face it- most of the wood debris in Tuscaloosa was added to landfills or burnt on-site at landfills. Neither improves our carbon footprint. How could we argue for the preservation of a local creek while adding wood to a landfill? Is recycling an esoteric or abstract concept that doesn't apply when undertaking disaster recovery?
Watson's Bend after the tornado.
What began as a clean-up operation soon evolved into a question of ethics and stewardship. John bought a sawmill and started milling wood, but the problem of wood scraps and debris remained. So we opened the door to artists to "make something good with all that wood" and something beautiful and unparalleled took place.
The front page of the Tuscaloosa News carried an article about the Creek Wood Art Exhibit today, and we are grateful to Bethany Blair and Dusty Compton for sharing the story with the community.
Go see for yourself. Spread the word about what students, teachers, and artists can do with reclaimed wood. Visit the Friends of Hurricane Creek website for more information on the Creek Wood Art Exhibit and the upcoming Creekstravaganza. Get tickets to the Creekstravaganza before we sell out. And don't think we haven't learned more lessons from this past year- that's right, this will be a "sustainable event". The extra work is worth the knowledge that we are being the change we hope to see in the world.
All our wanderings have included mushrooms over the past few weeks. Micah spots them immediately, then Max trots over to describe them and classify them in his chart-like mind right before Milla commences to crush them with her pounce or a stomp.
This fun-guy was located near Windham Springs in Northport in a wooded area down a trail.
A gargantuan fun-guy that would make a perfect saucer for fairy folk in a yard down the street. This fellow likes the sun.
Max, Micah, and Milla use a magnifying glass to get a close-up of a fun-guy hanging out in our backyard. He's a pretty typical fun-guy, common to these parts.
Patrick has to work on some Saturday mornings, and this Saturday morning was too beautiful to lollygag around the house waiting for the king to return. So we hopped into the spaceship and bobbled over to the Bobby Miller Center in Taylorville. The bright, unexplored playground (and the lack of students) across the street diverted us from our original goal.
Max walked back and forth across the balance beam at least five times, with Micah swiftly catching on and following him.
Because there is nothing that he can do which she will not try. And there is no limit to the number or shape of things Micah will try- the spirit of a mountain climber in the body of a ballerina. Grace and strength in a combination that is entirely her own.
After trying to emulate M and M, Milla finds her own way to move across the balance beam- one more in sync with her personal style. When she made a hissing sound at me, I understood she was slithering.
The kids kept getting pebbles in their shoes on the see-saw.
I walked over to the asphalt ball court with Milla, who seemed slightly bothered by all the see-sawing taking place without her. Fortunately, the asphalt was painted with a lively map of the United States.
Milla loved throwing pebbles onto various states, so we made a game of it.
West Virginia Max.
Quasi-Alabama Micah with Georgia on her mind.
Lonely little Hawaii.
We turned over the cicada friend to get a better glimpse of his stomach and legs.
On our walk with Ratpaw and Vanilla yesterday, we found a resting place for various cicada skins near a tall, slim pine tree. Rather than leave these crunchy creatures remainders behind, we decided to bring them along. I remember reading somewhere in the memoirs of an Alabama author that, as a young girl, she created necklaces for herself from cicada "cadavers" and wore them as a jewelry. The stiff hairs on the cicadas appendages help them stick to clothing, fabric, or each other quite well.
Milla was fascinated by the "ChickAYdaw fwends", and insisted on carrying one along with her as we toured the wooded neighborhood.
Since the rest of our cityfolks were concentrated on the cultural significance of the ongoing Alabama football game, we had the street to ourselves, accompanied only by the ocassional wafting scent of barbeque. Frankly, that's all the football I need right there- a scent and the silence left behind by those gone to the game.
Ratpaw wore his heart on his chest.
Patrick addresses demands for his cicada friend to be transferred to a different shoulder.
Patrick ended up wearing three "shape necklaces" made from discarded yarn and paper scraps because the munchkins felt inhibited by such pomp. I appreciate a man who isn't afraid to wear a necklace on his head when the situation demands. Adaptability is the story of our survival.
Tragedy almost struck when Milla's friend fell off her shoulder and onto the concrete. Her little yelp tangled with words we couldn't decipher- an elementary dirge- before I scooped up cicada friend and put him atop my head, where he rested until we returned to the house. Now cicada friend sits on the mantle where Milla decided she "like".
And along the banks...
The best experiments come as opportunities to connect the dots between the ideas we love and the lives we lead. When we dropped by the Clay-Coop at the Kentuck Arts Center a few weeks ago, an unintended field trip turned into an incredible learning opportunity.
Hayes shows a bowl that she made with some kids in the summer clay co-op.
We met Hayes Dobbins, a truly unique local clay artist, who welcomed us into the wonderful world of clay. Many clay artists purchase their clay from online dealers or art stores- the benefit is working with a known quantity. Hayes finds her own clay and uses it in her sculptures. In the process, she gains a working, living knowledge of local soil and clay qualities that allows her to craft truly local works of art.
Finding and Digging Your Own Clay
Hayes walked us through the process of digging and preparing your own clay. (I've added a little to what she told us from information provided by Marvin Bartel.) First, you need to find local clay sources. The best locations are stream and river banks, construction sites, or any place that gets slippery after a rain and sticky as it starts to dry. When clay dries, it almost as hard as a rock. Next time you go for a walk around the neighborhood, look for locations that are super-wet after rain and then dry and hard in rainless weather. Many backyards have their own clay sources just beneath the top soil or in areas where top soil has been eroded.
Some clay is too sandy and some is too sticky. Mr. Bartel looks for clay that can be rolled between his hands into a pencil thick coil of soft clay and wrapped around his finger without cracking. If the coil cracks, it may be too sandy or its clay particles may be too large. Sticky clay sticks too much to the hands and tends to undergo drying shrinkage and cracking during drying. Potters often blend several clays to get the right properties.
We stand and watch as Hayes explains the process of getting clay. Grandma Vicki, the kindred spirit, enjoyed every minute of it.
Hayes explained that she takes a big bucket after it rains and visits her favorite sites where she digs and collects the clay- most of it doesn't even require digging because it seeps from banks. Then she takes the bucket home for the next steps.
Removing Impurities and Making A "Slip"
Most common clay contains impurities, often in the form of iron oxide, sand, roots, and other debris. Hayes encouraged us to remove the large obvious ones (pebbles, twigs, etc.) by hand. Kids get a kick out of this part.
Troublesome tiny impurities can be removed by making a thin slip. Let the clay become totally dry- don't break it up. Now it's time to slake the clay, which is another way of saying "turning it to mush".
Flood the clay with clear water in large bucket or garbage can. Use enough water to completely submerge the clay. Do not stir the clay. Just don't. Stirring it clogs up the porosity and prevents good slaking. In a few days, even large chunks of clay will turn to mush.
The sand settles to the bottom first. Allow the sand to settle a short time. Then decant the clay water (the good slip from the top down to the sand) and discard the sand in the bottom. Allow the clay (slip) to settle.
Now you're ready to make a slip and remove the little impurities. When it's all soft and mushy, stir it until it is a slip. You can used an electric drill, a blunger, or the little red tool that Hayes is holding in the photo above. Add some more water if it's too thick to stir.
Now pour the slip through an old window screen (the kind you find at any hardware or building supply store) into another bucket or can. This screen removes stones, roots, and other small but not teeny-tiny trash that gets in the way. You want to remove the limestone because limestone pieces and particles cause pots and sculptures to break after firing.
When the clay has settled and turned to mush, drain or siphon off the extra water from the top of the mixture. Hayes explains that she spreads the mush a few inches thick on a clean, dry porous surface like a concrete driveway, old jeans, or canvas. Smooth the top with your hand to avoid getting small pieces on the surface. When it is almost dry enough, make coils as thick as your arm and set them around like big arches (a foot tall) and they are ready to use in 24 hours or less.
Impure clay can be used to add special touches to clay creations. For example, stoneware potters use local clay as a source of glaze material. These "slip glazes" have been used for thousands of years for lining jugs and traditional crockery. The bright red Moundville clay pictured above probably has a high iron content.
Storing Your Clay
If you can't use your clay coils in the 24 hour time period, store them in an airtight plastic container for as long as you need before using. Hayes gave us a large chunk of creek clay stored inside a plastic grocery bag wrapped around the clay and covered by another plastic grocery bag wrapped around the clay. Everything she did made use of existing materials that might otherwise be thrown away.
After showing us the light grayish color of the Hurricane Creek clay, Hayes encouraged us to touch it. Milla couldn't get enough of the clay.
Touching the soft, feathery creek clay which Hayes gave to us to take home.
One of Hayes' creek clay creations.
We didn't get around to sculpting and crafting until yesterday, when some friends dropped by and clay caught the attention of all the little ones. They used stamps and twigs to leave imprints on the clay. Max decided to make a pot, a platter, and a pot hot plate. You can use the instructions for making a clay bowl with kids to arrive at a similar place- though letting them get there on their own is much more fun to all.
A side view of Max's clay "pot".
Max's "hotplate platter" for his pot.
A view inside the "scoured bottom" of his pot.
As Max's creation dries to a soft gray, I can't help thinking about how much I love the circuitous way in which this came about. All thanks to meeting a super-nature-knowing lady by the name of Hayes Dobbins.
If you live near Tuscaloosa and would like to play with local clays, stop by Kentuck A La Carte this month next Saturday from 10 am to 2 pm in downtown Northport and meet Hayes. She will be out there with to share her clay-work and let kids and adults experiment with clays.
Thursday, September 6
6-9 pm Art Night in Tuscaloosa
includes straum at the Harrison Galleries and
Reclaimed Creek Wood Art Exhibit at Kentuck Art Gallery.
6-9 pm Brendan Nolan House Concert in Tuscaloosa
Irish singer-songwriter Brendan Nolan gives a house concert
with acoustic guitar at the Chambless Home in Woodland Hills.
Friday, September 7
6:30-9 pm September First Friday at Habitat Alchemy in Tuscaloosa.
Paintings by artist Gary Stone and music by DJ Tom Kat Kitten. Spirits abound.
Saurday, September 8
9am to 9pm A Red Clay Revival Contemporary Bluegrass and Arts Festival at Horse Pens 40
Located in Steele, Alabama. The sort of thing you just don't want to miss.
Ever. Horse Pens 40 is a dream of a park and a hope for the future of Hurricane Creek.
Sunday, September 9
9am to 9pm A Red Clay Revival Contemporary Bluegrass and Arts Festival at Horse Pens 40
Located in Steele, Alabama. The sort of thing you just don't want to miss.
Ever. Horse Pens 40 is a dream of a park and a hope for the future of Hurricane Creek.
6-8 pm First Annual Garden Party in Tuscaloosa
Fundraiser and local food extravaganza for the Druid City Garden Project
at the L and N Train Station. Delicious and beautiful.
Followed by Tuscaloosa premiere of Eat Alabama! at the Bama Theatre.
Tuesday, September 11
8:30 pm "Social Conquest of the Earth" lecture by E.O. Wilson
in Sellers Auditorium of Bryant Conference Center thanks to
Christopher Dana Lynn and his incredible crew.
Saturday, September 15
10 am to 2 pm Kentuck A La Carte in downtown Northport
Free food, clay crafts, and learn more about Hurricane Creek
at this free event which encourages hands-on activities and explorations
for kids and adults.
Sunday, September 16
2:30 to 4:30 pm Tuscaloosa Area Virtual Museum Grand Opening in Tuscaloosa
at the Tuscaloosa Public Library Main Branch. Come
see what all the history is about.
Saturday, September 22
6 pm Bonfire Drum Jam at Nomad's Land in Attalla.
Families welcome, bring an instrument to jam and joy.
Thursday, September 27
6-9 pm Creekstravaganza for Hurricane Creek in Tuscaloosa at Kentuck Art Center
Live music, local foods, creek wood art exhibit and contest-
a beautiful, family-friend event for those who cherish our creek
and its future.
Down the Garden Path and to the Water's Edge Exhibit
Art exhibit at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens with free entry.
Features work of local artist Deborah Hughes.
It's All Good- Reclaimed Hurricane Creek Wood Exhibit
from September 6 through September 27th at the Georgine Clark Gallery
in downtown Northport. Free wood art with inspirations by art teachers
and their students.
Gee's Bend Quilt Exhibit
Through the month of September at the Westervelt-Warner Transportation
Museum. An awesome opportunity to see the quilts in the flesh
and add a coloring book of quilt meanings to your local history
James F. Sulzby, Jr., the Birmingham realtor who founded the Alabama Historical Association in 1947, shared his personal passion for local history in Historic Alabama Hotels and Resorts. The bland title obfuscates the diligence to detail within. Sulzby's chronicle reveals the early development of Alabama by land speculators and land grant companies, many of which purchased land, discovered a mineral spring, and created a resort around these "therapeutic waters", in that order.
The cloudy Saturday started slowly at the Coryell Castle- piles of laundry to fold, sort, and put away almost distracted us from the call to adventure. Then I stumbled across a chapter called "Windham Springs" and the sirens started. Love for laundry aside, Patrick and the kids didn't take much convincing. Off we went in search of Windham Springs which we knew from Sulzby's book was "located on Crabbe Road, twenty-five miles north of Tuscaloosa, in the extreme uppermost part of Tuscaloosa County".
Sulzby's description of Windham Springs, which was called the "Fountain of Youth" while the resort was in full operation, bore reading aloud in the car. The name comes from Levi Windham, formerly of Pickens County, who first established this formerly-famous watering hole:
After obtaining title to the land, Mr. Windham returned to settle there. He brought along fifty slaves to clear the land, and upon completion of that work he possessed a beautiful farm. The immediate area surrounding the springs was left in its natural state because of its picturesque beauty, and became known as Windham Springs.
In 1850, Mr. Windham built a hotel and six cabins... After Mr. Windham discovered the curative qualities of the mineral waters on his place, the news spread throughout Tuscaloosa and the adjacent counties like news of a new patent medicine. The water was "reputed to cure rheumatism, toe itch, colic, stomach acidity and most any other sort of ailments."
Max jumped in to exclaim that his toe itched due to fire ant bites, and he looked forward to being cured of this annoyance. I told him that there might be reason to expect such a cure since George Christian, father of Northport businessman T.W. Christian, had supposedly been "cured" of a "severe case of eczema on his legs which the doctos were unable to cure" by soaking his legs in water from Windham Springs.
Though Mr. Windham apparently enjoyed a drink- the hotel's saloon really took off- local churchgoers did not approve. The legislature passed a bill prohibiting the selling of alcohol within five miles of nearby churches, which meant Windham's saloon had to be shut down. After the Civil War (consistently described as "The War Between the States by Sulzby), Mr. Windham lost his slaves and couldn't operate the farm or hotel anymore. The acrerage and resort were sold to Sam Friedman and Company of Tuscaloosa.
Sam Friedman added several new cabins, bringing the total to twenty cabins, at Windham Springs. He also leased the hotel and cabins to local operators. The "curative effects of sulphur water continued to attract people to the resort and often there were three to four hundred people there at one time". Sulzby notes that "traveling drummers who made trips out from Tuscaloosa, Jasper, Fayette, and Carrollton stopped at Windham Springs regularly because of the good hospitality, cool nights, and good meals."
On the fourth Sunday in May of 1917, tragedy struck the resort when a tornado rolled through and "blew practically everything away." The cabins, stores, houses, and the Baptist Church in the area were levelled. Houston Clements, who had been managing the hotel, barely escaped with his life when the entire hotel save for two rooms, one of which he used as storm shelter with his family, was destroyed.
In 1933, Joe Christian purchased the Windham Springs property from Friedman and Company. Professor T.E. Christian who taught school in various parts of Tuscaloosa was still living on the property when Sulzby's book was published in 1960.
As we drove along Crabbe Road, it soon became clear that there was not going to be a Windham Springs sign or any easy access route from the road. We stopped at Field's Grocery and Patrick went in to inquire about the healing sulphur waters. Mr. Fields told Patrick that he used to "drink that water all the time and it tasted gooo-o-o-d". As for directions, we needed to turn left at the curve in the road with mailboxes and trailers onto a dirt-road winding around the back.
Milla makes her way down to the mysterious spring.
The ladies stare with slight horror at the tap water running into the creek.
The sulphur water tap is still running- and look at the white residue!
Micah finds the spring and the tap where Max waits.
Patrick was the only one brave enough to taste the spring water, which smelled distinctly of old eggs.
More butterflies to chase if you decide to cavort around the Windham Springs area
The WTTO Tower, supposedly "one of the tallest constructions on earth"
Alabama Pioneers' geneological history of Windham Springs
The Windham Springs Baptist Church nearby on Crabbe Road
Goodwater Cemetery, home to several Christian and Dunn headstones
Field's Grocery on Crabbe Road- to get the scoop from Mr. Fields
Photo credit goes to Tuscaloosa News. See corresponding article.
In this love, I must include the Linda who led me to it. The Brown House Project is an adventure or journey undertaken by Amy and Adam Pierce in their home:
We are just plain, vanilla, normal Christians who decided a while ago to share our lives, our love, and our home with the neighbors around us. We live intentionally and deliberately to try to show Christ's love to the world, and we focus on the kids around us that we see each and every day.
The Thursday Night Thing looks inspiring and filled with fellowship. Not far away lies the The Blue House Project involves six Christians in Northport, Alabama who are undertaking "an experiment in Christian living". Telling the stories of the humans investing in other beautiful humans.
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (ADCNR) State Lands Division has scheduled four Open Woods Weeks at the Forever Wild Land Trust’s Sipsey River Swamp Recreation Area and Nature Preserve. This beautiful tract is located in Tuscaloosa County near Buhl, Ala., off State Highway 82. It consists of more than 3,000 acres of beautiful bottomland forest along the Sipsey River. The Sipsey River watershed is one of Alabama’s 10 Natural Wonders.
Open Woods Weeks are currently scheduled for: July 20-29 , August 10-19, September 7-16, and October 5-14. During Open Woods Weeks, the main gate will open on Friday at 4 p.m., stay open through the following week, and close on Sunday at 4 p.m. During each Open Woods Week, the public may drive into the tract along the designated main gravel road leading from the Jack’s Drive Parking Area, to the south gate.
Canoeing, birding, fishing, picnicking and wildlife photography are welcome on these dates. Hiking, bicycle riding and horseback riding are discouraged on these dates, because of the increased vehicular traffic along the main road.
The Forever Wild Land Trust has purchased more than 227,000 acres for public protection and recreation since the program began in 1992. Developed in response to the loss of land available to the public for hunting and outdoor recreation, Forever Wild has protected over 197,000 acres in 14 Wildlife Management Areas. This November, Forever Wild needs your vote to continue its work for our state and its residents.
Funding for the Forever Wild Land Trust is generated by the interest earned from natural gas royalties, which means that tax dollars are not used to fund this public service. Most of the people who will vote against Forever Wild will do so out of ignorance as opposed to malice. Why has Forever Wild garnered consistent bipartisan support among knowing voters? The following printable briefs can be read and shared with fellow Alabamians.
To see and visit what Forever Wild has saved for you and your family, check out this map. I've heard there are a number of great geocaches at the Sipsey Swamp.
View Ad-free Ventures in Alabama in a larger map
My work-in-progress... A google map of sights, sounds, and places to wander in Alabama. Coming soon- the free soundtrack for said adventures. I'll keep adding, since the map is nowhere near complete. Please share any places I am missing.
Hurricane Creek along Keene's Mill Road.
The kids love when we go for drives to "discover more parts of Hurricane Creek". Yesterday, we explored a beautiful secret of east Tuscaloosa/Cottondale- Canyon Lake.
Canyon Lake Road.
After watching a pair of ducks lull about the water, Max spotted a blue heron in the reeds. He screeched with joy- "a blue heron, Mom!" I think we've come upon a new wildlife watching location.
The water looks low along Hurricane Creek.
We came out of the neighborhood onto Keene's Mill Road, where the creek skips alongside the street at several locations. Of course, there isn't any access at these points. But that didn't stop me from parking my car in an unknown driveway and rushing across the road to get a photo.
You can help us save Hurricane Creek for future families and generations to enjoy by signing our petition. Or, you can just pretend that it doesn't really matter and take care of important things like dinner.
Living in Cherokee Hills means you don’t drive on Loop Road immediately after it rains- the water pours along the street as if it were a creek. It’s no secret that Loop Road has long posed problems in dealing with stormwater management and flooding.
This year, the city of Tuscaloosa secured a grant from the Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program (ATRIP) to perform “critical improvements” between Fairmont Drive and Woodland Hills, including realignment of the two-lane road, adding sidewalks and curb and gutter improvements, and putting a better storm-water collection system into place. A vehicular roundabout will replace the existing stop sign-controlled intersection of Cherokee Hills Road and Loop Road.
While these changes will make traffic on Loop Road safer, they point to the need for greater citizen participation in the local transportation and infrastructure planning process. The ATRIP grant will fund 50 percent of the $2.1 million total cost with the remaining balance being matched by local funding. This means that the city or county will pay over $1 million dollars for this stormwater issue.
If the local authorities had conducted more research, the financial cost of the Loop Road project on our cash-strapped community could have been eased through multiple grants which fund stormwater projects. Being as time and money are limited resources, local leaders don’t have the time or the human resources to survey all the possible applications of green-friendly growth.
A standing Good Growth Committee for the purpose of advising the regional planning organization on related development grants, opportunities, and knowledge-based investments would open many doors for our regional planners. It would also provide them with free consultations and ideas from local residents on how to tap the economic potential of the beautiful natural landscapes and resources which surround Tuscaloosa. Rather than settle for covering half the cost of the Loop Road improvements, we could have secured a Low Impact Development grant from the EPA for a rain garden project to assist in managing the runoff problems.
On the forefront of low-impact development models, rain gardens reduce the amount of auto emissions and chemicals in our local waterways. Vegetation and soils within the rain garden naturally remove contaminants carried by stormwater runoff, while replacing stormwater into native soils helps mimic natural drainage processes and reduces the volume of stormwater runoff. Rain gardens keep our local water resources clean by reducing stream bank erosion and the negative effects of road runoff on aquatic communities. Most stormwater drains dump the runoff straight into local creeks, streams, ponds, and lakes, thus imposing greater long-term cleanup costs.
I want my neighborhood to look beautiful- to grow and develop in an attractive way that brings a good return on my investments. Rather than spend $1 million on an unattractive stormwater drainage system that includes hidden cleanup costs, I’d prefer a cutting-edge, forward-looking policy solution that saves taxpayer dollars while making my community more beautiful. The Good Growth Committee would offer our local leaders funding alternatives and ideas to attract businesses and nonprofits to the area.
It’s time to stop selling ourselves short. Businesses, nonprofits, and individuals should be attracted to the Tuscaloosa area because it is wonderful place to live-- not because it is an easy place to pollute, destroy, or secure taxpayer-funded freebies. Many locals have amazing ideas and thoughts on how to help Tuscaloosa attract investors who make “good neighbors”. If you are one of these people, then consider adding your insights to the Good Growth Committee. Because bad growth is no growth at all.
Here's my proposal for a Good Growth Committee to help our local leaders gain access to new ideas, trends, discoveries, and funding sources in infrastructure and planning. They have absolutely nothing to lose from it and everything to gain. If you'd like to be involved, send an email my way and let me know. The more, the merrier.
The way the sunset shimmers like gasoline on the Black Warrior.
Patrick took this photo on our Bama Belle sunset cruise last month. So much of Alabama's history runs along the Black Warrior River- from the cotton plantations to the rise of local industries to the early Indian settlements.
The Black Warrior inspires the best in us. In fact, the university's poetry magazine even proudly bears the title, Black Warrior Review. On early mornings, I love watching the rowing crews cross the water, oars in perfect sync, the resemblance to the waltz of the water striders unmistakable.
The Department of Interior Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service (FS) are working together to plan and schedule a public information meeting about oil and gas leasing in Alabama. They are tentatively planning the meeting for late August in Montgomery. As soon as details for the meeting are finalized, an announcement will be sent to news outlets and posted on agency websites.
Last month, the BLM delayed the proposed sale of oil and gas leases on 43,000 acres of the Talladega National Forest, following extensive public outcry against the possible industrial development and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which could follow such leasing. The US Forest Service and the BLM are planning a“public information meeting” for late August in Montgomery.
This temporary delay of the proposed lease sale and announced meeting are not the permanent solution that is needed. Wild South and several other Alabama organizations have united in opposition to gas exploration and drilling on our national forests and will be hosting screenings of the award winning documentary, “Gasland,” in Talladega, Birmingham, and Tuscaloosa over the next couple of weeks. Here is the schedule:
Doors will open at 5:30 PM and the film will start around 6. There will be time available for discussion and sharing of ideas and concerns before and after the film. There will be information and literature available from 5:30 on, as well as opportunities to take specific action on addressing this issue, so stop by and visit even if you can’t stay to watch the film. Light refreshments will be available.
The Prewitt Slave Cemetery Comes to Light
In 2006, Carolyn Mason opened the history of the Prewitt plantation and its slaves to the readers of the Tuscaloosa News. Her article described the Old Prewitt Slave Cemetery as "the final resting place of 300 to 500 slaves and their descendents". Mason explained:
Plantation owner and slave trader John Welch Prewitt, who was said to have owned more than 600 slaves, established the burial ground in the 1820s. Prewitt’s estate once covered more than 6,000 acres north of Northport. His home, which burned down in the 1940s, was a few hundred yards uphill from the cemetery.
Prewitt, who is reported to have owned slave ships that docked in Mobile, designated a two-acre parcel of land next to the road for his slaves to bury their dead. After Emancipation, many of the freed slaves took the last name of their former owners — as was the custom of the time — and settled in the same vicinity.
Possibly the largest existing slave cemetery in Alabama, Prewitt cemetery’s location has remained well known within the black community since its oral history was passed down through the generations.
Although the last burial in the cemetery was in 1945, Prewitts continued to gather there to pay respect to their kin and roam across the sacred ground in search of familiar names among the haphazard gravestones. The markers include hand-cut river rock with crude etchings, solid slabs of arched stone, footstones and flat rocks tented together to keep out animals. The markings range from initials scratched into stone to full names and dates going back to 1819, the year Alabama became a state.
Responsibility for this cemetery was assumed by Pole Bridge Baptist Church, the official landowner of the historic cemetery. But annual clean-ups could not stop the deterioriation of the aged stone markings. At this point, several factors coincided to bring the Prewitt cemetery onto the radar of local historians.
Eloise Prewitt stumbled across a few articles written by Marvin Harper, an early leader of the Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society and founder of the Kentuck Arts Festival. In these articles, Harper described early pioneers, including a man named John Welch Prewitt. My feeling is that this very article might have been the one which occasioned Eloise's search. Recognizing the shared surname, Eloise began an adventure that all local history aficionados can appreciate.
After consulting census records, Eloise confirmed that she was the great-great-great-granddaughter of John Welch Prewitt. Then she found his grave, which was marked with a fading headstone nestled among about two-dozen markers. Mason writes:
The practically unknown cemetery is deep in a heavily wooded and almost inaccessible location on the southern side of the portion of Lake Tuscaloosa that crosses U.S. Highway 43.
In 1998, Prewitt resumed up her quest and found the Prewitt Slave Cemetery. “I felt a strong pull, a sense of family and a determination to do something about the condition it had fallen into,” she said. “I wanted to help.”
What followed was a massive restoration and preservation effort that continues today. The mission brought Prewitt the warmth and acceptance of an extended family, including Floda Prewitt Taylor, known as Miss Flo, and now-deceased Willie Prewitt, black descendents of Prewitt plantation slaves.
“She did more than just help out,” said Taylor, 88, and still active in clean-up duties. “She’s family now. Her efforts have been astonishing, and I think of her like a sister for all she’s done.”
The white and black sides of the Prewitt clan have formed a close connection through their work at the cemetery. But make no mistake: It is backbreaking work against the forces of nature. Volunteers spend hours toiling in the sun’s heat, pulling weeds, cutting vines, digging up stumps and trying to halt nature’s impulse to cover her ground.
The markers at the cemetery have been placed randomly, reflecting times when there was always room for the body of one more family member. They were days when it was common to mark a grave by planting a flower, vine or bush or merely breaking a dinner plate and scattering the pieces.
The cedar trees at the site date to pre-Civil War days and possibly were planted in memory of the deceased, and every rock and stone must be treated with due respect. That this once overgrown cemetery is now easy to access and its appearance is remarkably improved is often credited to Eloise Prewitt.
She says her efforts are nothing more than something families do to help each other. But her actions speak volumes. She set two goals: to help with the physical preservation of the cemetery and to match existing genealogical records with the writings on the grave markers to create a historical account before nature erases the last clues.
“I care that future generations have these records before it’s too late,” Prewitt said.
She has compiled comprehensive, though not-yet completed, notebooks with photographs, slave census records, press clippings and detailed information on every grave she’s documented. She shares her notebooks with volunteer workers and court-assigned clean-up crews.
Eloise Prewitt's hard work opened the doors to the descendants of the Prewitt plantation to discover and commemorate their own roots. The story of James Wilson's efforts to gain access to the Prewitt Cemetery gained prominent attention a few years ago. Yet the media accounts of this cemetery offer only a limited and fairly glossified version of the story.
The Less Publicized Stories and Legends Surrounding the Prewitt Plantation and Cemetery
To get a clearer picture of the Prewitt plantation and cemetery, I consulted the Alabama State Archives and stumbled across an essay by Lillian Finnell written in the 1930's. At one time, Lillian Finnell's every stumble merited mention in the Tuscaloosa News. Apart from being a collector of local folk tales and histories, Lillian also happened to be a sister of Colonel Woolsey Finnell and "prominent in the work of patriotic organizations" who happened to be raising their trumpets in the Depression-era south.
Her social status offers insight into cultural mores and assumptions predominant during this period by the "educated classes". As you read Lillian's entire account of the Prewitt plantation (excerpted below), take note of the subtext which suggests that some slave-owners were "good" or "virtuous" slave-owners:
Mr. John W. Prewitt and his wife lived 13 miles north of Tuscaloosa on the Byler, US 43, Road. They owned approximately one thousand slaves. These slaves lived in different communities in groups necessary for working the farms they lived on. Mr. Prewitt had no hired overseers, but each farm was under one of the slaves that was most dependable.
All these slaves had their own cows, hogs, chickens, etc. which they used and disposed of as they wish. They kept the mules- which were owned by Mr. Prewitt- that they worked and used at their homes. They raised their corn and kept it at home. They went to mill- the mill belonged to Mr. Prewitt- just like white people. On Sunday morning by sun-up these leaders were at the "Big House" (thus was the master's house always designated by his slaves), to draw meat, flour, lard, coffee, sugar, or any other supplies they needed. The following which was related long years after the war by some of the old ex-slaves is pertinent at this time.
They said that when they used to go to the commissary to draw provisions on Sunday mornings that "Miss Betsy" (Mrs. Prewitt) was always present and that she wouldn't let "nobody" have a thing unless he, or she, had bathed the night before and had on clean white clothes that morning.
The largest group of slaves lived in quarters back of the "Big House" and worked the big farm. Just south of these quarters was the grave yard for the negroes. When the negroes had colds and other ailments, especially the children, Mrs. Prewitt would get her lantern and such home remedies as she kept, and go from house to house doctoring the sick before she went to bed. This happened oftener during the rainy spring months, because there was more sickness among the darkies then than at any other time.
After the slaves were free and Mr. and Mrs. Prewitt had died, the negro quarters were burned or torn down. But all the old negroes and most of the younger generation believe that every bad rainy night "Miss Betsy" can be seen with her lantern visiting the sick, and not finding them in their cabins, she goes to the graveyard and ministers to them there.
There are some 2000 negroes buried there now. It is the largest negro graveyard in America outside of a large city.
There is another item in connection with the Prewitt negroes which has been handed down by citizens of Tuscaloosa who lived before the war. As the Prewitts had so many slaves- there was only one other gentleman in Tuscaloosa county who probably owned as many slaves as Mr. Prewitt- it was not an easy matter to keep them eployed at all times. So in the fall of the year, during cotton picking time, Mr. Prewitt would hire some of his slaves to planters living below Tuscaloosa in the Black Belt to pick cotton for them. It was said by those older persons, who witnessed such occasions, that it was a show to Tuscaloosans to see the Prewitt negroes passing through the town on their way down to pick cotton on the river plantations.
There would be wagonloads of them, men and women, all so strong and healthy looking, and every one dressed in white.
The paternalism in Lillian's account is impossible to ignore. Clearly, the Prewitt slaves were to be considered fortunate and lucky to be so finely adorned as they were carried like cattle across town. Even Mr. Harper's account, written in 1972, describes the kindness of the Prewitt's in their treatment of slaves.
Paternalistic descriptions of slavery bring to mind the excuses given by harem or brothel owners for treating women and their bodies as property- "But we make them look so pretty and you know they would just be on the streets without us". I call "canard". The enslavement of human beings is never justifiable on ethical or moral grounds; and the only heroic slaveowners are those who refused to own slaves.
The Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society includes the Prewitt Slave Cemetery on their list of historic places in Tuscaloosa. The cemetery is located just off Byler Road, the oldest public road in Alabama. To get there, take U.S. Highway 43 to the northwestern edge of Lake Tuscaloosa and turn at the historic marker for Alabama’s first public road. Then follow what’s left of Old Byler Road until it reaches the lake. Once a toll road that crossed land that was swallowed by Lake Tuscaloosa, Old Byler Road connected the Warrior and Tennessee rivers and ran through the Prewitt plantation. If you happen upon the ghost of "Miss Betsy", let her know she can rest in peace because owning other human beings in now against the law of this land.
Rarely do I venture forth into places where I wonder if I should have brought my own pit bull or mean dog for company. But last week's survey of property along Reichhold Road in Holt spooked Angie enough for her to say, "Alina, I'm not going on this road with you and the kids again unless you have some protection." The kids agreed.
Our first stop was the old Empire Coke Company, where Arthur, Angie's dad, worked for a period of time. Angie reminisced about climbing the old fence and playing the shrubs while waiting for her dad. Those days are over, as Empire Coke no longer appears to be operating. The site is fairly desolate.
One of the first stops along the way was the old Reichhold Chemicals headquarters- now deserted and ripe for the possible poetic plucking. Something about the building brought the rich history of Tuscaloosa's early industrialization to mind. The style of the roof resembles Jack Warner's oriental-inspired architecture at Northriver Yacht Club and the Westervelt headquarters.
Back in 1942, when the Tuscaloosa plant for Reichhold Chemicals was constructed, World War II loomed large. The plant was constructed “primarily to serve the war effort through the manufacture of synthetic phenol”, a chemical used in the manufacture of munitions and plastics. Personal history intersects with Reichhold history in 1960, when Thomas P. Shumaker was named the Corporate VP of Sales for Reichhold. My early memories of childhood include growing up in the old Shumaker home, fascinated by the woodturning lathe in the basement- a hobby that must have been part of Thomas Shumaker's life.
In 1968, the Geological Survey of Alabama (GSA) and Deep Well Pollution Control Corporation published a preliminary study for a deep dispersal well at Reichhold- “Study of the Potential of Subsurface Disposal in Tuscaloosa Area” dated Sept. 30, 1968. At the time, environmental industry leaders and the EPA were seeking ways to dispose of industrial waste deep below the surface of the earth. Ultimately, this search would lead them to drill dispersal wells over 8,000 feet into the ground on the Reichhold site. After Reichhold abandoned its Tuscaloosa plant in the early 1990's, this experiment in waste disposal remained. I hoped this little drive would help me to discover where the underground wells could be found.
As we continued a little further along the road, we noticed a large red clay field to the right. I stopped the spaceship and jumped out, hoping to catch a glimpse of a company name or associated business. Alas, no proper nouns could be discerned.
A quick hike led me to a clearing in which trucks were excavating what appeared to be red clay dirt. When I realized that a man was standing nearby smoking a cigarette- "H--e-ey miss, whutchalookinfor?"- I smiled nervously and scurried back to the van. Angie laughed and rolled her eyes, warning me that she would soon start making calls for protection.
Across from a loop with one residential home owned and occupied by the Corder family, we found a locked gate near the location where the deep dispersals wells are rumored to lie. Again, I jumped out of the car, snapped a few photos, took note of the jeep with an Obama bumper sticker and Auburn decal parked in front of the locked gate, and vowed to return to solve the mystery of the road leading up the hill. I will have to hike this one on my own.
The road ends with the intersection to Merichem Chemicals and Southern Ionics, a mysterious corporation which currently owns parts of the property formerly held by Reichhold Industries. To the left of this dead end lies one branch of Merichem with extremely high security and a no-visitors policy. To the right, the road extends for some ways until it meets up with a timber industry and an old house at the end of a driveway marked with an "M".
The homes range from barely-standing to well-maintained. The house above even had a nice set of hens running around the driveway alongside the multiple signs warning of guns and danger to trespassers. My adventures along Reichhold Road deserve a sequel- as well as a Bruce Springsteen song. There is so much history to be mined here.
Image of Sam Friedman, Helen's father, discovered in a drawer at the Friedman home and shared with the world by the kindly folks at Tuscaloosa News.
After polishing off Helen F. Blackshear's memoir, Mother Was A Rebel: In Praise of Gentle People, I reread a few of her poems with the additional reference points. There is something so juicy and summer-laden about reading poems informed by the poet's biography, especially when the same scent of soil and sun runs through both lives.
Helen wrote this poem while wandering through her family's property along the banks of Bee Branch, one of the major tributaries to Hurricane Creek. It reveals her family's deep ties to the local landscape and its natural beauty. Next week, I'm going to ask her daughters about her ghost and whether Helen kept this poem-promise. In the meantime, savor the poem and ask yourself if there is some landscape which bonds you to your family. Or, explore the artwork of Helen's daughter, Sue Blackshear.
These woods have captured me.
Ghosts wait where the past turns.
My grandfather, immigrant Jew from Hungary,
bought this land, searching for coal
and bored these prospect holes along the creek.
Perhaps, stopping to smell pink
honeysuckle clinging to the cliff,
he too fell captive here.
I feel his presence.
My father knew these pines from boyhood
when he swam naked in this stream.
Later he built a summer cabin here
for our holidays.
In his eighties he still took walks
most mornings, tree pruners shouldered
to free some tender dogwood sapling
from entangling vines.
If it is true that ghosts may linger
in places they have loved, perhaps my children too
will find me here,
caught in a woods spell.
A gentleman scouring the creek on a very hot morning last week.
The recent rain-less heat got so bad that I wrote a poem- "Hot Grass"- about the scent of scorched grass in our yard. Fortunately, the past week's rains have added some water to Hurricane Creek and our Alabama farmers' crops.
07-09-2012 -- Tuscaloosa, Ala. -- Milla Coryell, 2, looks at the live tilapia in a tank at Mr. Chen's on Monday, July 9, 2012. The restaurant, Mr. Chen's, opened June 28 and is coupled with a grocery store at the Parkview Center on 15th Street. (Erin Nelson / The Tuscaloosa News)
I'm not usually excited to discover the existence of another chain store in Tuscaloosa. But Mr. Chen's Authentic Chinese Cooking and Market won an exception to my usual rules. Located on 14th Street across from Central High School, Chen's lured Milla and myself through its unremarkable doors this afternoon.
They aren't delivering food yet, but the friendly young lady behind the cash register assured me that was "in the works". In the meantime, you can take a look at the menu and see if any possible take-out or dine-in options capture your salivary imagination.
All the chili pepper spreads you can imagine line the shelves.
Milla wanted the Kewpie mayonnaise with all her heart.
Fortunately, she was distracted by the siren call of the fish.
There was one in particular which she kept trying to kiss.
I walked away with a rubber tree cutting board- perfect for slicing and dicing all those summer vegetables from the garden.
A little surprise for the family- each Coryell can have their own set of chopsticks.
The heat wave is not bothering the fig tree one bit. Milla and Patrick can't seem to stay away from the sticky-sweet that is summer fig-ness at the community garden.
The Palmers' eggplants have turned that rich, dark purple so distinct that even Crayons have started to use it as a descriptor. I think they have a few more days, but eggplant recipes are certainly in this family's future.
The Johns have finished harvesting their corn and now have a whole new crop of beans to pluck and clean.
The peppers are popping up- last week it was the green bell peppers and now the light-green salad peppers.
And the tiny tomatoes flash every shade of red- from heritage pink to the mock orange- in the plots just across the way. I struggle with plot envy every time I catch a glimpse of the Brooks' wonderland or the Adelaide-Miranda marvelousness.
The Brooks' sunflowers tower over every other plant in the garden. I think they are our skyscrapers- happy, golden, buttered sunflowers.
Adelaide and Miranda have more flowers than they need for a flower crown party- and they bring color and good bugs to the area.
Thankfully, little Micah continues to tend to our own personal broken and dessicated flower stems. Granted, it was a little late in the game for hay, but the heat made adequate water an impossibility, so we heaped on too much too late and lived to tell the tale and learn the lessons. The same, however, cannot be said for half our tomato plants.
This image of a young African-American girl with a calf was taken circa 1900-1929 somewhere in Alabama. It is available at the Alabama Department of Archives.
According to notes taken by Lillian Finnell during her time as a Works Progress Administration writer in Tuscaloosa circa 1930, black sharecroppers had a explanation that went something like this:
A twig breaks behind you while you walk through the woods
"When you are walking along and hear a stick crack behind you, it's two dead folks arguin' bout whether it's you or not. One says, "It wasn't her"; another says, "Yes, it was". So they break the stick to make you turn round right quick so they can see you and whether it is you."
A dog goes under the house and howls
"When a person is sick and a dog goes off under the house and howls, the persons's going to die."
An owl screeches on your house
"When a screech owl comes and sits on your house and hollers "He-e-e-eh", it's a sure sign of death. But run and put a poker in the fire and heat it red hot and it'll keep Death away."
How to cure the chicken pox
"When chillun have the chicken-pox, make them go into the fowl house nine morning's in a row and shoo the chickens off the roof; the chickens flying over them will cure the chicken pox."
How to soothe arthritis
"When people get old and their joints get stiff, kill a buzzard and boil it. Then skim the grease off the water in which it boiled. Rub your joints with the buzzard oil and you'll get spry again."
Max and Micah are taking summer classes at Capitol School, one of my favorite places in Tuscaloosa.
Milla has been adjusting to the early morning drop-offs with a little fussing and extensive bye-byes.
Leave it to Milla to find ways to learn new things and practice her skills on site.
Milla's smile sparkles with pride as she finishes off the last few extra-curvy steps.
John's daughter, Sarah, recorded a song he wrote about two years ago with him- it makes me happy. If you listen closely you can hear the katydid's in the background. If you visit John's blog, you can watch colors packed tighly in metal tubes come to life as he arranges them on canvas.
Hanging out by the rocks waiting to hop on board.
Last night, Patrick and I took advantage of a night out on the Bama Belle to learn more about the amazing work of the Black Warrior Riverkeeper for our river. We accidentally met a boatload of wonderful people just as inclined to appreciate the beauty of waterways on a perfect early summer evening. I trotted around like a chicken with a petition in hand because carpe diem tastes best when combined with social responsibility.
The music was as easygoing as the ride.
Something about the water makes a harmonica even more priceless than usual. The fresh food from Snow's Bend Farms hit the spot, as did the Sweetwater IPA on tap.
The Bama Belle offers its own testimony to the history of the Black Warrior River.
We left just as the stars began to prance about the sky. My last impression was the sense of insignificance which grabs you when a massive barge filled with cargo passes by- everything is tiny in comparison, including the Bama Belle, which seemed like a river queen prior to the barge's arrival.
Driving along Hurricane Creek today, looking at the property which will be destroyed and turned to rubble should Mayor Walt Maddox have his way with the Eastern Bypass, we came across a geodesic dome home! I can't help wondering if this particular geodesic home was built by New Age Construction, a Duncanville company that specializes in geodesic domes.
The Geodesic Dome in Green Acres
A geodesic dome is a spherical or partial-spherical shell structure or lattice shell based on a network of great circles (geodesics) on the surface of a sphere. The geodesics intersect to form triangular elements that have local triangular rigidity and also distribute the stress across the structure. When completed to form a complete sphere, it is a geodesic sphere. A dome is enclosed, unlike open geodesic structures such as playground climbers.
Typically a geodesic dome design begins with an icosahedron inscribed in a hypothetical sphere, tiling each triangular face with smaller triangles, then projecting the vertices of each tile to the sphere. The endpoints of the links of the completed sphere are the projected endpoints on the sphere's surface. If this is done exactly, each sub-triangle edge is a slightly different length, requiring links of many sizes. To minimize this, simplifications are made. The result is a compromise of triangles with their vertices lying approximately on the sphere. The edges of the triangles form approximate geodesic paths over the surface of the dome.
Geodesic designs can be used to form any curved, enclosed space. Standard designs tend to be used because unusual configurations may require complex, expensive custom design of each strut, vertex and panel. (Source: Wikipedia)
It's hard to find comfort in the prospect that the destruction of this home will supposedly "pave the way" for strip malls and 70 mph traffic in this beautiful area. It's hard to square the destruction of this entire neighborhood which borders Hurricane Creek with any notion of "economic progress". Once upon a time, the South was known for its regard for history and traditional culture. These days, the nihilistic frenzy of prefab development keeps our souls numb and our eyes focused on consumption.
Years from now, Tuscaloosa residents will read about these treasures destroyed in the name of progress and wonder how the local officials got away with it.