golden fields of grain

December 12th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

I live very close to the mouth of the mighty Altamaha River, where 14,000 square miles of central Georgia surface water tumbles into the sea. Un-dammed and free flowing throughout its entire course, the Altamaha is a biodiversity hotspot, and has been the focus of intense conservation efforts for decades. Today, thanks to collaborative effort between GA DNR, private property owners, and The Nature Conservancy, the Altamaha boasts a 42-mile continuous corridor of protected lands, and serves as a best practice for other critical habitats on the coast.

On its north shore lies the small town of Darien, chock-full of history, shrimp and home to a expertly-curated marine hardware store (just a few of my favorite things).

At the hardware store in Darien, GA

At the hardware store in Darien, GA

I cross up to Darien on old Route 17. This route passes through a vast area of impoundments that once comprised the massive rice plantation owned by Pierce Butler. It is a space that contains multitudes. Here, it is possible to gather threads of some of the most pivotal/defining/challenging narratives of the antebellum Lowcountry. Fanny Kemble, Roswell King, The Weeping Time, the Bank of Darien and Gone With The Wind are imbedded in the very landscape.

Rice impoundments at the mouth of the Altamaha River

Rice impoundments at the mouth of the Altamaha River

These impoundments are a living vestige of forced labor performed by slaves from West Africa’s Rice Coast (Senegal, Sierra Leone and Liberia), who would give rise to the Gullah-Geechee people. The earthworks speak volumes about the scale and scope of forced labor in a way that lands differently in me than visiting a historic tabby ruin.

Rice was grown in diked fields at the mouths of most Lowcountry mainland rivers, with production reaching its peak between 1850 and 1860. In Georgia alone, about 23,000 acres of land were felled of cypress and worked into an orderly grid of canals and impoundments.

Today what remains of Butler’s rice operation are a few historic structures and the extensive dyke system, which is laterally compressed to the view of the casual motorist, but extensively accessed by local populations of waterfowl, sportsmen, and natural resource managers. Some of the other rice plantations have been converted into other uses like residential subdivisions (See FLORIDA) and crawfish farms (See WOODBINE), but many remain fallow yet functioning, with a diversity of marsh grasses now mixed in with the most persistent wild rice.

On the Satilla near Woodbine, GA

On the Satilla near Woodbine, GA

The stirring juxtaposition of intrinsic good – biodiversity, ingenuity, and productivity – nested within unbearable suffering – enslavement, abuse, and separation – is something that I rarely see in the interpretation of plantation-era sites. Interpretation, like people, is often segregated. These earthworks present an impossibly complex narrative deftly, even marking the passage of time and imparting a sense of urgency looking into the future.

self-order in a new place

December 5th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

I used to live in a town where I could walk out my door and step right into a protest on environmental, social or economic injustice any day of the week. Granted, we were just being led into NYPD corrals and getting our bikes confiscated, but I could move my feet and see others moving theirs.  Now, I live in the coastal south – the Lowcountry.  There is currently a deep divide between my online community (in uproar), and my face-to-face community, where I am largely segregated and unfamiliar. I don’t know what to say or not say. I don’t have access to Discourse or guidance on “allyship”. In this sense I am feeling alone.

Its not right, what’s happening. Its not enough to summarize #Ferguson, this is a mandate to burn the myth of “post-racial America”.  My guru Chris Rock says racism is a disease, and, “you’ve got to get it at a lab, and study it, and see its origins, and see what it’s immune to and what breaks it down.” Its plain that its not going to get better without more pain. I don’t know what I can do, and am keenly aware of the privilege implied in seeking involvement in the movement.

I am not a cop, I do not have black children, I am not institutionally oppressed. Well, there is that pesky equal pay for equal work thing…Nonetheless, I am on a side. And everyone is taking sides on Facebook. I took a “check your privilege” quiz there, and it told me I am not at the top of the stack.  If this sounds flip, its because it is. My experience right now is through a screen and so much remains undigested.

I am compelled to support the meek, whom I wish would inherent the earth already.  Selfishly, my seed saving and composting skills will finally come in handy. I want to heal myself and support the many people I have met who feel discarded and damaged. I want to bear witness to change, and find those opportunities to hasten it. I don’t see a place for me otherwise.

Tonight I saw a Congressman from my new home state perform a rather powerful bit of spoken word in one of those hallowed halls of government that he only gained access to within the last century. This guy is making moves.

I am exhausted where I should be energized. Overwhelmed without a clear step forward that I am capable of taking.  I imagine so much for my lifetime that I will most likely never affect. For today I think the best I can do is write this here, and not on Facebook, and hope that someone in realtime, in the place I live now, will feel a kinship and want to talk. In person.  Maybe tomorrow I can do more.

Where am I?

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