Sam Burnham, Curator
It was a breezy cold day in west Georgia. Despite the weather, I needed a breath of fresh air. I needed to hear the singing of the birds and the rustle of fallen leaves beneath my feet. So I took a walk in the woods.
The sting of that winter wind on my face wasn't comfortable. It was unseasonably cold and that harsh dryness moved across my cheeks and made my ears burn. My exhalation formed a fog that flowed outward nearly a foot before disappearing as all mist eventually does. While I do despise the cold there is still something about it that is compelling. It is as much a part of the cycle of life as the warmth of spring. Any true Georgian can tell you that our peaches and apples need these frosty days to attain the flavors and qualities that have made them famous. And just as new shoots from a decaying stump, those warm spring days will follow this harsh season. Besides, one cannot truly appreciate that warm March sun on his face if he has not felt that bite of January's wind as well.
Even in this cold and decaying landscape life is not absent. Moss grows on a rock, a frail and inconsequential life eats away at something so permanent and substantial.The very creation of a healthy and fertile forest floor depends, in part, on the ability of moss to overcome granite. With tenacity and time anything is possible.
From such an impossible task comes soil, then herbs and ferns which lead to shrubs and then understory before a canopy rises to give us the forest. While it can be a fragile balance, it is also known across the world. One place that science and religion totally agree - the forest was here before us. In that fragility, like the moss on the rock, is a tenacity. A fallen tree sends shoots skyward, seeking life-giving light.
As the forest finds ways to survive, it presents us with wonders. These are only dependent on our willingness to stop, to look, see, and recognize what is before us. It takes an effort to brave the cold, to get outside, to wander from the comforts of "civilization." We also have to be comfortable in that surrounding. We have to take the forest or the field and not see it as a a place with potential, wondering about the ways we can improve it or change it. We have to look at it as complete, as already serving its best purpose just by being. By becoming comfortable in such an environment we are returning to a healthy state of nature. We are no longer an intruder. We have instead become a part of nature.
I believe it was Wendell Berry who warned against the tendency to photograph a landscape without any sign of man. We mustn't see ourselves as intruders in nature. We mustn't approach the world as it we are the defilers of nature. While that is often the case, we need to shift our thinking. It is not productive to see the presence of people as something that makes the environment any less pristine. There is a history that would support that man tends to develop, pollute, and defile the natural world. But there is also a history of man preserving, protecting, and living in harmony with that same world.
My takeaway from my immersion in that stand of trees is simple. Our goal should never be creating natural landscapes or environments that are free from any influence or presence of man. Our goal must always be to avoid ever having a world where man is never devoid of the presence and influence of natural landscapes and environments.
Sam Burnham, Curator
Friday was a bit of a travel day. An appearance on GPB Radio and then a ride back home followed by a trip to Carroll County that afternoon meant eight counties in a day. That's not a big deal in our interstate age. I-75 goes through 19 counties from here to the Florida Line. So eight counties in a day...no big deal. But it wasn't always that way.
When I left the GPB studio I decided to follow up on a tip about a priceless piece of Georgia history. What is possibly one of the best-kept secrets in all of Georgian preservation, there is a covered bridge (ca. 1872 to replace the ca. 1840's bridge destroyed during the Civil War) that is still in everyday use! It's not some long ago detoured relic you can walk across. If you meet the seven foot clearance requirements you can drive across!
I had to take the farthest left of the four turn lanes off the 285 exit so I'd be in place to make the left hand turn onto Spring Rd, right next to the Lexus dealership. Then I wound through shopping malls, Indian restaurants, and subdivisions filled with stately homes. Until I found myself in a tree-filled hollow and a real covered bridge that carried me across a rain-swollen Nickajack Creek.
All this in Smyrna. In the shadow of the proverbial Ring of Fire - Interstate 285.
The very next day, I'm in Carroll County listening to my mother-in-law telling stories about visiting her great-grandparents in the Smyrna of that day. Her family took dirt roads to a little cracker cabin where her great-grandmother awoke early to prepare streak-o-lean biscuits for the sharecroppers who hit the fields early, trying to pay the rent. That's a long way from Indian restaurants and Lexus dealers.
The next segment off the big road was to get off the interstate and follow the old road - Old 41 - from Wild Man's up to the new ball fields in Emerson. The speed limit is lower but so is the traffic and the scenery is exponentially better.
Between the two locations I encountered the trauma of crossing the interstate not once, but twice, on the left side of the road. This isn't due to a construction detour or an accident, this is Georgia DOT's answer for long turn lane waits for left-hand exits. Just crisscross the traffic on overpasses. Dear Lord, just get me to the two lane.
Old 41, as the name suggests, is old. It is largely residential, homes and small businesses, schools and churches, trees and shrubs. In some places the road spreads into turn lanes, even four lanes in a few places but the highlight this time was Acworth.
This wasn't my first time in Acworth, not by a mile. But this time was intentional. Although not a full fledged stop with details on stores and restaurants, I did want to get some photos and enjoy the architecture. Acworth is a lovely town. The downtown area is tastefully preserved and vibrant. This is not the woeful southern small town that is in disrepair and vacated. There are businesses - shops, restaurants and such - lining both sides of the road. Like so many similar towns, the railroad tracks cut right through the middle of town so you have to check both sides of the tracks to see it all. There are plenty of well-kept homes just behind the rows of businesses. A new apartment complex has broken ground just east of downtown promises to stick with the prevailing architecture and fit in rather than stick out.
Seeing Acworth yourself requires a short drive off Exits 277 or 278 and just following signs for a mile or less.
Or just take the Road Less Traveled...in this case Old 41 and see what else you can find on your own.
Sam Burnham, Curator
I had originally thought of putting this post in the ABG CFB blog but I think it belongs here.
There is a lot of discussion today about Alabama coach Nick Saban pulling even with Bear Bryant after last night's victory in an otherwise excellent National Championship Game. After some thought and a couple of discussions, here is my take on this as a Southerner.
With six national titles at two different schools, you cannot deny that Nick Saban has set a high bar for coaching going forward. His use of a true freshman QB from Hawaii shows the reach pf his recruiting. His success in the perennial powerhouse Southeastern Conference is proof of his tenacity and strategic genius. There is no doubt in my mind that this is the greatest wins and losses coach in the nation today. He is in his own league.
And there will be nothing in this post negative about Nick Saban. But I remain adamant that this is an apples and oranges comparison. And here is why.
Bear Bryant was an excellent football coach. But his legend in Alabama goes well beyond what happened on the field. Bear Bryant coached at Alabama through the 60s and 70s, some of the greatest times of upheaval and discord in the history of our nation - and Alabama was often Ground Zero. We live in times when bad press for Alabama involves a kooky guy with a questionable past runs for the senate. Bear Bryant coached in a time when negative press involved lynchings, church bombings, peaceful protest being violently terminated, and the forced desegregation of schools, including the University of Alabama.
Through all these times the people of Alabama had one thing in the national press they could be proud of. A man in a hounds tooth hat was leading their state's team all over the nation and handing out butt whippings. It was one thing they could point to with pride. And this man had piles of stories about picking cotton with the families of kids he recruited, eating chitlins and greens in cinder block restaurants in South Alabama, and a thousand other tales that let Alabama folks know that "The Bear" was one of them. Even my grandfather, who grew up in Mississippi before setting 30 minutes from Florida Field, had a hounds tooth hat hanging in the den. He wasn't particularly fond of Alabama but he loved Bear Bryant.
And Bear Bryant built the Alabama brand. There was football in Tuscaloosa before the Bear, but let's admit it, it wasn't what it was when he left. The success the team had under Gene Stallings was due to Bear's tutelage of his assistant but also the brand that he built. And that is the brand Saban started with and built upon. Saban has build a big house on Bear's foundation.
And so, if you ask me if Bryant or Saban is greater, I'm liable to answer "yes" or maybe "no." Take each man and ask yourself if he could win in the other's time period. Is that a fair comparison for either of them? Could Bear win in 2018? Could Saban win in 1968? The times are different, the nation is different, the state is different, the school is different.
Alabama Football has two legends now. I don't think either should overshadow the other. Looking at the whole picture, I think they each show the greatness of the other.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire