Throughout the Deep South in these winter months you’ll find one of the great traditions of Southern Culture. I can think of few activities that can match it for social and historical value. It’s built from brush britches, heirloom shotguns, well trained dogs, and quality time outdoors. It’s a tradition that’s making a comeback and bringing an indigenous species with it.
There are sounds in nature that stand out from he others: the hoot of an owl, the gobble of s wild turkey, the repetitive song of the whippoorwill. The call that gave the bobwhite quail its name is one of the best. It is a call that lets you know you’re out in the country. That low “Bob” followed by the rising tone, almost like a question, “white” was once far more common in The South. Development, industrial farming practices, poor habitat management, and predation nearly wiped out quail in the southern wild lands.
In the past, small interconnecting farms protected large and numerous coveys. By obtaining permission from the property owners hunters could spend a day walking through pastures and pine savannas jumping coveys and harvesting birds. The nature of the sport offers a social outlet like golf. Conversation and companionship make quail hunting very different from other forms of hunting. Former President Jimmy Carter, who comes from a great quail hunting area, is quoted as saying “Life is too short to quail hunt with the wrong people.”
One of the joys of the hunt is the work of the dogs. They scout out the path, leading the hunters, locating to coveys, and then lunging forward, prodding the birds to take flight. After the shots ring out, the dogs retrieve the downed birds without damaging the meat.
Like all game animals, quail need food, water, and cover to thrive. Unlike so many birds, quail shun the protective heights of tree branches. They nest on the ground and prefer to run until flying is their last resort. Their nests fall prey to snakes and coyotes, and, more recently, domestic pets. Pastureland used to provide homes for these birds but chemical fertilizers have taken a toll. Neighborhoods overtook habitat.
Locations and individuals hosting quail hunts had to resort to placing farm raised birds to facilitate those outings. Farmed birds don’t behave the same and don’t give the same experience as wild birds. But with declining populations, the only other option was to just not hunt.
In recent years, land management practices have changed. Work geared at bringing back the longleaf pine has improved habitats. Eliminating non-native grasses and vines has helped indigenous varieties thrive again and I’ve personally heard stories of property owners and managers jumping multiple coveys in several different counties. We’re still looking at a greatly reduced population compared to the golden age of quail hunting but the signs are promising.
The best thing that could happen for the quail is the popularity of quail hunting with people in cities and towns. Non-rural people who use their disposable income to come to rural areas and hunt quail are providing the resources needed to continue the work of habitat creation and preservation.
The profitability of the sport has created numerous businesses. Plantations across the coastal plain have begun offering hunts - guides, lodging, food and drink, all manner of amenities, all for a nice price. This provides much needed job opportunities for people in small rural towns. Some locations are more expensive than others. But all of them are making some sort of difference.
I still hold fond memories from the South Georgia Cracker Quail Hunt I was part of a few years ago. We got together just outside Hahira and had a great hunt. The hunting and the company were excellent. The lasting benefit is management of that property. It’s an example of a property owner caring for the land and making it much like it was 100 years ago, That adds beauty to the world, the landscape, and the life it sustains.
The evidence im going on is anecdotal and it’s still too early to declare victory and the return of wild quail but what I’m seeing and hearing is promising. As the economics help drive this trend, we’ll see better managed habitats. That makes for more beauty in our area. Better habitat is good for the land, good for the people, good for the animals. That’s a lot of winning. We’ll take it.
“When we get back to Hahira, you can just turn in your ring, and your tie-tack. 'Cause Coy, you are out of the Shrine.” - Ray Stevens, ‘Shrine Convention’
Another day, another know-it-all from the metro running around the unspoiled parts of the state demonstrating a complete and total lack of home training. It’s not a new phenomenon.
A recent article in The Gwinnett Daily Post told the story of a recent visit by one Rob Jenkins, “a local writer and college professor,” to Hahira, down in Lowndes County. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I had to stop writing a post involving Hahira to write this defense of that fine town. So when I received word that such a scurrilous example of muckraking had hit the newsstands, I was angry. So I took some time to cool down.
Nope. Still angry.
The story is piled high with historical and factual inaccuracies. It’s almost embarrassing to read. Fortunately, Hahira is typical of South Georgia towns in that it has a wealth of folks who are quite capable and prepared to defend their hometown. Several of them did so masterfully here.
Since the historical inaccuracies were already rebutted by the good people of Hahira, I want to deal with the rest of the affront.
Supposedly this guy was almost hit by a train trying to go get a sandwich. Having crossed those same tracks in the exact same place I can tell you this, those tracks are straight as an arrow and South Georgia is flat as a table top. If you look south you can see a train coming as far as Lake City, Florida. If you look north you can see one as far as Unadilla. Yes, those trains come humming through town but if you get hit by a train in Hahira, you earned it.
As far as eats, there’s many good choices. From personal experience I can tell you the food and the service at the Church Street Cafe can’t be beaten. We had a wonderful pre-quail hunt breakfast there. Granted, we used our manners and didn’t go in there like a bunch of self-important carpetbaggers. That probably makes a huge difference in how the locals receive you.
Interestingly enough, the national chain restaurant Mr. Jenkins chose over local fare also had a store in the Gwinnett Place Mall. During the 2018 Christmas shopping season in that particular store a young lady died and her decomposing body went unnoticed for two weeks. That’s Gwinnett in microcosm. “Gwinnett is Great” so long as you love declining shopping centers, variable fare toll lanes, and concrete. You can’t tell where one town ends and another begins. You’re just another face in the crowd. If you get far enough north in the county you can pay half a million for a home that sits a full 18 inches from the one next door. You know, if you’re into that sort of thing. Even that close to your neighbors they probably won’t notice you except if they hear you flush the toilet next door. If you die they might notice you in a couple of weeks. What a wonderful place.
Mr. Jenkins, I wish your son and his new bride all the best but I hope you plan to have your family holiday gatherings at your own home. After that pile of hot garbage you wrote about Hahira you shouldn’t have the gall to ever step foot in that town again. I can’t imagine anyone even pretending to be a Georgian behaving in such a way. If you need to drive to Florida, you owe it to the people of Hahira to take I-95. Don’t ever show your face in their fine town ever again.
Sam Burnham, Curator
A good development last year was having the ABG Facebook page participate in the Vanishing Georgia Facebook group. It has connected ABG to some great folks and given us an opportunity to share our stories and photos with a larger audience. I recently shared a photo of a house that was moved from downtown Rome to be fully restored some 23 miles out into rural Chattooga County. The story behind the house and the move were very popular with the members of the group and it stirred a lot of discussion, comments, and questions.
The point of reference in the photo is a little deceptive. The zoom and focus make the house look closer to the camera than it actually is. There’s also a grassy mound between the house and the road. The mound obscures the lawn area immediately surrounding the home and gives the illusory appearance of unkempt landscaping. This led to a lot of questions about the status of the house, the condition of the house, and whether it was occupied or maintained. The house is occupied and beautifully restored. But the weeds and grass on the mound made such questions appropriate.
One of the comments was that the house could use some landscaping and hardscaping. This was the comment that got me thinking about this article and the ideas came to shape as I worked on my own property. While tending to my own landscaping and hardscaping I caught that inspiration that Agrarian writers tend to find as they’re out dirtying their hands.
The examples of two schools of thought about land usage that came to mind are a bit fancier than my own property and even more upscale than the house from my photograph. They also offer us a contrast. We can look to them as examples from rural and urban, or at least suburban, locations.
The earliest Agrarians, and the purists of today, had very little use for landscaping as we think of it today. Flower beds, shrubs, and ornamental plants all require time and energy and aren’t very practical in a frontier setting. These people were focused on survival.
The crackers settling South Georgia and Florida were busy either growing or finding food, clothing, and shelter. There was not much time for transitioning from salvia to pansies with the changing of the seasons. Landscaping would have consisted of beans, squash, okra, corn, tomatoes. Hardscaping would have been hog pens, smokehouses, or chicken coops.
For this side of the discussion I found myself considering Wendell Berry and his practical, simplistic approach. Berry is not the one you would go to to get advice on lawn care that keeps your HOA off your back. I love his quote on dandelions: “The world is in fact full of free things that are delightful. Flowers. The world is also full of people who would rather pay for something to kill the dandelions than to appreciate the dandelions. Well, I’m a dandelion man myself.” But in reading his writing you learn about beauty and resourcefulness. Beauty is something you can find if you stop to notice it, give weeds a chance. In a beautiful process land can produce food and goods and if they are treated right there will always be enough.
For a visual I go to Monticello, Jefferson’s little mountain. There was no corner market. There was no grocery store. If Jefferson, his family, their guests, or the numerous slaves were going to eat, Monticello had to produce the food. Meat came from the surrounding forest or from livestock The garden was large and located close to the main house. Although Jefferson’s many experiments were ornate they often involved plants that produced food of some sort or had some other practical use. Even the fish pond, one of the most photogenic features of the estate, had a practical purpose - keeping fish, which were caught in nearby rivers and streams, fresh until needed. The land was paramount and the beauty was both natural and practical. Even the house was built with that concept in mind. Though the house is large and spacious, it isn’t an imposing mansion. It is designed in a manner that appears compact. It doesn’t take away from Jefferson’s little mountain.
On the other side of the discussion I pondered Roger Scruton. Scruton is not the antithesis of Berry by any means. Their philosophies overlap in many ways. But Scruton brings a philosophy of urbanism to the discussion. His ideas on design and architecture focus on wise use of man made improvements, structures and infrastructure, and how aesthetics improve our world. His ideas can be implemented in our towns, suburbs, and even in our homes.
For this discussion I offer the example of the rebuilt (ironically from Jefferson’s notes and drawings) Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg, Virginia. We featured the palace back in 2016. The home is enormous, one of the largest structures in the historic district. It is filled with details, mill work, wall and floor coverings, and decor that projected the wealth and power of the governor.
But the gardens are what is pertinent. The pathways, fencing, benches, pergolas, and trellises all work in concert with trees, vines, flowers, and grasses. The purpose is purely aesthetic. Only an ice storage chamber in a back corner offers any hint of practicality. The gardens exist to be enjoyed, to be pleasing to the eye, to provide beauty.
They also provide a respite. That is one thing beauty can do. For a man with a difficult task, the responsibilities of leading the colony of Virginia and the accountability to the King for the well-being of the colony and the face of the crown there, the gardens were an opportunity to step away. In just a few steps out the rear doors he was no longer in Williamsburg, no longer on duty. He was in some other place, perhaps some other time. Stress and pressure could be unloaded. The senses could be engaged in something pleasing.
The hardscaping offered passage, a quiet place to sit, even isolation from the outside world. The landscaping provided color, shade, texture. It attracted birds, bees, squirrels, it breathed life into an urban environment. The entire experience offered an opportunity to reflect, meditate, relax. That is what landscaping and hardscaping offer us at home, albeit on a more humble scale. Daffodils, tulips, or liriope might not make the menu but they might make your day better.
So I offer you this compare and contrast, perhaps even compare and agreement. It’s not that either of these are wrong. It’s not even that they are all that different. In fact, they can easily coexist and even compliment each other. How we apply them depends on our personal preferences, where we live, how much space we have to work with, and, of course, our budgets. The main thing is that we find ways to add beauty, practical or aesthetic, to our surroundings and that we take the time to appreciate it.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire