By Sam Burnham
I've known Jeremy Givens for ten years. In that time he has proven to be intensely alive. His emotions were open for all to see. He was a constant source of laughter with a sense of humor that all who knew him would agree was custom made for Jeremy.
Such life and intensity contributed to the shock with which I received the news of his passing. Jeremy was not an old man. He was five years my junior and seemed to have so much more life ahead of him. The suddenness is as stunning as the loss itself. Had I known our meeting on Tuesday afternoon would be our last, I would have worked harder to crack a better joke than the one I chose though I'm not sure he could have laughed any more than he did anyway.
We had many great chats about our years at Jacksonville State. We both spent many hours in Stone Center and Martin Hall while chasing our mutual love of history and politics. Though we shared those experiences in common, we never crossed paths until we have both finished our time there. He was a rabid Crimson Tide fan which provided him with both glorious jubilation and volatile ranting, depending on Bama's performance.
Whether he was working, coaching his daughter's softball team, or watching the most bizarre movie he could find, he was all in. I checked his Facebook page this morning in hopes that I would learn that the news I had heard would prove to be a prank, which would have been quite within his capabilities. I was pleased to see his banner photo to be the statement "Live Your Life Fearlessly." I feel quite certain he did exactly that.
Life is a precious, delicate thing. It is also fleeting. There is no promise of tomorrow. If we are to live our lives fearlessly, we can't wait for it to become convenient. There's just no time for that.
Godspeed, Jeremy. Thanks for the memories.
By Sam Burnham
Let's talk about a book.
First of all, anytime you get a book recommendation from a South Georgia hog and poultry farmer, follow up on it. That will be a good book. Trust me. That's how I got to this point. Second, we don't usually review new books here. It happens but we would rather review a good book than a new book.
So the good ol' Georgia PINES catalog indicated that the book was indeed at my local library so I swung in and picked up a copy. True to the recommendation, A Land Remebered by Patrick D. Smith was as advertised. The story itself was very much what we so often discuss here at ABG. Without ruining the plot, the book carries your through 3 generations of the MacIvey family, crackers from Georgia who make their way into the untamed Florida frontier and attempt to squeeze a living off a fertile yet unforgiving landscape.
This work of fiction is a great representation of the faceless multitude of crackers who settled the Sunshine State, as well as much of Georgia. Before there was a Miami or an Orlando, there were cypress cabins strewn over the hammocks and prairies of central and south Florida. Seminoles still hid in the sawgrass and the cypress as they too made their living off this land. It was a tough existence that required the people to be just as tough.
The books characters are realistic and endearing. Some of the dialogue gets dry in places and may not always be true to the time period but overall you find yourself pulling for the MacIveys. You want them to make it. There are plot twists that you cannot predict any more than they could have. You along for the ride with them. And it does get bumpy. The plot deals with issues of race and class. There are moral as well as physical crises and you see good and bad coming from decisions.
But the title puts the land itself under the spotlight. I think the plot does as well. The land is there before any of them arrive and it is there long after they are all dead. How the people interact with the land is the story. There is a lesson that native Floridians know all too well. It is the lesson of the Florida that was and the Florida that is. It is the lesson of greed and development. It is the lesson of "progress." As you see the land and the people change, you can see exactly how it all happened. You see how people sucked the life out of the land and, in turn, sucked the life out of themselves.
I highly recommend A Life Remembered. It's a great story with a great lesson.
By Sam Burnham
This story was born atop a wood table alongside gas station food. I'm not talking the gas station biscuits we've discussed on Twitter, I'm talking country fried steak, mashed potatoes with gravy, and Fordhook Lima beans. But this isn't a food critique. So I'll shelve that talk for now.
The establishment in question sits adjacent to a paper mill and coal-fired power plant. So just about everyone else in there eating was driving some sort of truck. Some guys haul pulpwood in and others hauling coal ash out. That is where the story got interesting. A conversation on outgoing coal ash, some headed to become a cement ingredient, the rest to specially designed landfills, grew into this article.
As we talk about jobs and the land we live in, the rivers we fish on, the air we breathe, and what we leave our kids, I think this is a discussion we need to have. We don't need a lot of Greenpeace slogans or chanting or left-wing politics, but we do need some realistic talk about this coal thing. In all the talk of President Trump ending the War on Coal it is easy to pick a side, Left of Right and stand there. It is another to see what this means in reality and make a decision independent of political parties altogether.
So I'm looking at one plant. Just a small portion of a major utility in The South. Plant Hammond in western Floyd County, Georgia came on line back in the 50's. It was pretty advanced for its time and helped to electrify rural areas of Georgia in the post-war era as well as providing some solid, good paying jobs in the northwest Georgia area. But technology has changed. The Southern Company has begun to diversify its generation facilities. Hammond has become a sort of peak usage reserve generation plant. Basically, they only operate when there is the heaviest use on the system. Often when they fire up Hammond's boilers it's to meet demand for The Southern Company's customers in Mississippi or Alabama. It may even be to sell power to another agency such as Oglethorpe Power or perhaps a local co-op.
The aging plant is just not vital to Georgia Power's operations any longer. As the road is being cleared for expansions to continue on nuclear fueled Plant Vogtle and natural gas becomes more affordable and easier to access than coal, modernizing a plant like Hammond starts to make less and less sense for a stockholder operation like the Southern Company. It's not a big secret that Hammond is close to joining sister facilities such as Plant Yates and Plant Kraft in being decommissioned and demolished. At normal operation, the coal pile at Hammond sat high and level from one end to the other - 30 days of coal for regular operations. This week a meager pile sits at the front end, just under the chute, while a small stack remains for the length of the rest of the pile. A rough guess at the size suggests it might last 4-5 days.
But here is one major reason that this is not necessarily a bad thing. Coal ash. This is a broad term being given to the solid byproduct of burning coal for power. The new air quality scrubbers take the particulates out of the exhaust from the plants. This material used to fly up the chimneys and out into the air high above the plants to be scattered by the wind. This material is now collected and hauled off on dump trucks to be dumped. This is an additional cost to the use of coal in generating electricity. This makes natural gas and renewables more attractive since the byproducts are easier and cheaper to deal with.
And let's face it, I don't really want to be breathing stuff you can haul in a dump truck. I also would prefer that it isn't necessitating landfills and eating up real estate that could have much better purposes. So the old way is not a great choice and the new way might be even worse. This is not helping me want to see a coal-fired revival. To be honest, I don't think it is making the southern Company want to see it either. They are following market pressures and real estate prices into a future in which coal just doesn't make much sense.
And I know that there is a concern for the miners and the life that they've led as well as their prospects for the future. That is a very real concern that those of us who care for the people of rural America will have to deal with. But I'm afraid the miners and their families have found themselves as pawns between rival factions for their own gain and never them pawns'. Same old story we've always heard. Finding an economy to help these folks make their own way seems to be a better option.
Honestly, I don't think it matters if the Clean Power Plan stays or goes. I think it is just a political football for the two factions to kick around to make us think they are doing something. In reality, they're just wasting our time and money. The point is, coal is on the way out of the electricity business. And that's just reality.
I leave with the words of John Prine singing of a place close to his heart and a land that will never be the same. I used to think it was environmentalist whining. I know better now.
When I was a child my family would travel
Down to Western Kentucky where my parents were born
And there's a backwards old town that's often remembered
So many times that my memories are worn.
And daddy won't you take me back to Muhlenberg County
Down by the Green River where Paradise lay
Well, I'm sorry my son, but you're too late in asking
Mister Peabody's coal train has hauled it away
Well, sometimes we'd travel right down the Green River
To the abandoned old prison down by Airdrie Hill
Where the air smelled like snakes and we'd shoot with our pistols
But empty pop bottles was all we would kill.
Then the coal company came with the world's largest shovel
And they tortured the timber and stripped all the land
Well, they dug for their coal till the land was forsaken
Then they wrote it all down as the progress of man.
When I die let my ashes float down the Green River
Let my soul roll on up to the Rochester dam
I'll be halfway to Heaven with Paradise waitin'
Just five miles away from wherever I am.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire