Sam Burnham, Curator
The first time I ever visited Dade County was by accident. At least it was somewhat by accident. I was one of a group of guys headed to hike at Cloudland Canyon. The guy who knew where we were going wasn’t with us yet. We were going to pick him up from Covenant College which is atop Lookout Mountain but definitely in Georgia. But we weren’t sure exactly where. Our directions were foggy at best and we wound up in Chattanooga - I-24, then 59, then an exit somewhere in Dade County where a polite man in a shirt and hat that each read “Praise Yahweh” put us on the right road with clear directions. We went back into Tennessee up the mountain, into Walker County, Georgia, retrieved our companion who directed us southwest along the mountain ridge, back into Dade County, where we enjoyed a lovely day of hiking.
That’s a fair introduction to Dade.
The border of the county tracks Lookout Mountain from the state line of Alabama to is counterpart at the disputed border of Tennessee (how hard is it to understand “35th Parallel?”). The most direct routes into the county are via I-59 from Alabama or Tennessee. The only other real option is to take GA 136 up over the mountain, past Cloudland Canyon State Park and down through the switchbacks into Trenton. If it’s foggy up there, that’s a bad idea. It’s the perfect geographical and geological barrier for the “Independent State of Dade.”
There’s a legend (probably at least partially based on actual events) that says Dade County leaders got a little anxious during the secession debates of 1860 and voted to secede from Georgia and therefore the Union. They we're either tired of waiting or worried that Stephens and his types would keep Georgia in the Union. The legend continues that the county leaders in 1945, some 85 years later, realized Dade’s secession had never been reversed and then voted to rejoin Georgia and therefore the Union.
Today Dade County is still a bit remote with the natural barriers and all. The courthouse square in Trenton is about a 20 minute drive from Downtown Chattanooga. That’s not a bad commute by any stretch. But this area has not seen the development and growth that closer border towns like Rossville and Ringgold have experienced. Perhaps out of sight is out of mind.
While the development has mostly overlooked Dade, that’s not always a bad thing. Downtown Trenton has maintained its small town feel. There are local businesses and traffic along Main Street certainly isn’t dead. You can find plenty of old architecture in the area. Vernacular and Folk Victorian homes are commonplace. Several older commercial buildings are occupied while more seem to be vacant. While the bones are there to offer promise of building a stronger economy, sometimes the better option is to be left alone. Dade can offer an opportunity to get away from the noise and bustle of Chattanooga or their fellow Georgia counties over the mountain.
As my younger brother said, “Beautiful place. Tough place to get a win in any sport. People that live there LOVE being from there. Shame they got left off of the Georgia state quarter.” (Fact check: Dade was indeed omitted from the depiction of Georgia on our state quarter.) Danny has been there several times and has a pretty good feel for the place. My experiences there pretty much reflect his sentiments.
I stopped in at Cloudland Canyon on my way up. The ceiling was high for the overcast conditions so I took the 136 route up. The park was being well utilized. There was not a single available campsite, I encountered several hikers, and I can only assume the cottages were all booked as well.
The canyon is a gem of Dade County. The rift in the face of Lookout Mountain opens up allowing Daniel and Bear Creeks to join and flow through Sitton’s Gulch and out into Lookout Valley. The fall colors are breathtaking. I was reminded as I heard the falls on the canyon floor of the description in Ezekiel 43:2 of God’s voice as the “noise of many waters.” The sound was substantial and powerful. It could not be ignored, yet it was still peaceful and calming. That is the essence of the canyon. The vast breach, the roaring waters, and yet, peace. A stop there is highly recommended.
All in all, we consider this county, up in the far northwest corner, “The TAG (Tennessee , Alabama, Georgia) Corner,” if you will, to be among our favorite places. How could we not?
Sam Burnham, Curator
I typically like my drama to be in the movie rather than about the movie. So I’ve been curious about First Man. With so many complaints about the depiction of the flag planting, the portrayal (or lack) of Neil Armstrong’s patriotism, and whatever else has been stirring, I really wanted to see this one.
From a stylistic standpoint, this is a well made film. The use of camera effects and angles, music, perspective, all contribute to the storytelling. Building drama in this story is hard because (spoiler alert) Apollo 11 was successful. Making a well-known success still be suspenseful is hard. But this film does that. One of the greatest triumphs in human history has you on the edge of your seat, even 50 years later.
As hindsight is 20/20, it is easy for us to think the moon shot was an simple task. In our mind, there was no chance that Michael Collins would have to return to Earth alone, leaving his two teammates to remain forever at rest on the lunar surface. There is no thought of something going wrong somewhere along the half a million miles the mission covered from the Earth to the moon and back. It could have easily gone very differently. This film shakes your assurances and awakens you to the truth that Apollo 11 was a frighteningly dangerous mission. In doing so it gives a picture of the courage and adventurous spirit that was required to pull it off.
While there has been much talk about the flag, it’s there. You plainly see if standing proud alongside The Eagle at Tranquility Base. There is no scene depicting Armstrong and Aldrin planting it but that is not something I missed in the story. I didn’t walk away thinking that the story suffered from that omission.
On the contrary, this story is not about the flag, it’s really only about the moon because walking on the moon is what Armstrong is famous for. He is the subject of the movie. And the story gave me an appreciation for him as a person. Seeing the man struggle with so much while pressing forward into iconic status in the pantheon of American history. Armstrong is a pragmatic engineer with a stoic outward appearance but a deeply emotional core. Viewers are privy to his inner thoughts and emotions while those who love him most are often left curious. But the Armstrong we get to know in First Man is the hero America needs. He’s not arrogant or selfish. He’s confident without bragging and courageous without carelessness. He’s quiet and reflective yet competent and inspiring.
Ryan Gosling sold me Neil Armstrong. I bought it. With a larger than life character, that’s no easy task. But he does well with it and helps you emotionally connect with an American legend.
Claire Foy, who was so convincing as Queen Elizabeth in The Crown, never gives a hint of the Queen’s English. Her passionate portrayal should get her some buzz come awards season.
Jason Clarke, who I loved in Mudbound, is excellent in his supporting role as Ed White.
You can’t make a NASA movie without Deke Slayton and Kyle Chandler is quite convincing in that role.
At the risk of being repetitive, the key to appreciating First Man is to read the title again. It’s not about America. It’s not about the moon, the moon landing, or the space program. It’s about Neil Armstrong. It accomplishes that task thoroughly. If you go in expecting that, you can’t be disappointed.
Sam Burnham, Curator
i read a recent article in the New York Times.Times writer Glenn Thrush was in Camilla interviewing farmers who lost so much, some everything they had, in the storm. His article didn’t focus on the losses, the recovery efforts, or the work of farmers. No, he chose to focus on climate change.
I’ve done several rebuttals to the arrogant work of East Coast elite “journalists” over the years. This time I’m not wanting to just vent off my frustrations with an angry reply because I think there’s too much at stake this time. This time it’s not just a typical New Yorker looking down his nose at the “dumb Southerners” who don’t understand science. As the political and social divide continues to grow in America and we inch ever closer to whatever cataclysm awaits us at the end of this bumpy road, somewhere the chorus of a Greek tragedy is crying out “this is how they got Trump.”
At some point there has to be a realization. I’m sitting in Georgia, an advocate for the defense in this case. So my position is admittedly biased. But I’m also a writer and I know a bit about that craft as well. Let me just say that a person who can take a woody shard of genetic material, shove it in a hole in the ground, and allow the sky to provide the needed hydration and photosynthetic energy and thereby derive a living for himself and his family is either a scientist or a witch doctor. Either way, his livelihood requires much more understanding of science than a newspaper writer needs.
And that is where the realization must happen. Mr Thrush May have spent the decade of tropical silence between Katrina/Rita and Harvey attending cocktail parties but the farmers in South Georgia were busy trying to turn seeds, dirt, rain, and sunlight into money. While Thrush was rubbing elbows with celebrities, the farmers were looking at late frost dates, finding days that were dry enough for planting, planning crop rotations, timing fertilizers or defoliants, setting traps for boll weevils, planning irrigation, paying property taxes, researching breeds of hogs to determine which will be most profitable. You know, science stuff.
But the biggest realization that needs to be made is that what happened in South Georgia when that storm ripped through wasn’t political. It wasn’t about climate change. It wasn’t even about the $2.5 billion in agricultural losses. What happened was bigger than all that. It was a human tragedy on a colossal scale.
Farming is a ridiculously difficult job. Yes, there are some factory farms raking in subsidies and turning massive profits. But there are far more that are covering expenses and maybe a little more. Many of these farmers are working the land their parents, grandparents, and perhaps further generations worked before them. Many hope to pass down the land and the livelihood to their children. Recovering from this disaster is the only way such a cultural and familial heritage can be passed on because there is presently nothing to hand down to the next generation.
I'm sure part of the article's bourgeois tone was Thrush's own frustration. He was the NYT's White House correspondent until several of his female coworkers brought allegations of unwanted sexual behavior against him. I'm sure he'd rather be reporting on policy in Washington than covering the ruination of some backwards hayseeds in Mitchell County. So instead of covering the human tragedy, he made it all about politics. It says a lot that his employers think covering a human tragedy in South Georgia is a demotion worthy of sexual harassment. Why are these people the ones reporting this story in this way and telling the world it is All the News That's Fit to Print? How is this worthy of a newspaper of record? How can we ever expect to change the tone of this conversation when human tragedy isn't fit to print but the writer's ideas about the role of climate change in the tragedy is?
As it is becoming increasingly clear that big city journalism is trending toward caring less and less about what goes on in places like Nashville or Alapaha, Georgia, Southerners need to be trending more toward small journalism to tell the stories about what is really going on. Support your local papers and other journalism. We need better regional options as well. Maybe if the New York Times wants to cover a story like the hurricane and agriculture they should partner with the Valdosta Daily Times rather than send a Washington-based Times writer who doesn't understand farming or rural life.
Mostly, we need thoughtful reactions. We need to be more and more self-sufficient, more and more regionalist and localist in how we operate. Perhaps instead of giving an out-of-town big city writer a chance to try to make us look stupid in the Times, we need to throw him off the property as soon as he shows up.
To their credit, the New York Times did open comments to farmers and others in the area to add input through a comments section on a follow up to the original article. But what did that prove other than admitting, after the backlash, that sending Thrush to Georgia was also a disaster? So I offered the Times my advice on the matter in the form of a comment I'll add here:
My name is Sam Burnham, I’m the Curator of All the Biscuits in Georgia (allthebiscuitsingeorgia.com) and an advocate and supporter of agriculture and the people who make it happen. Rather than sitting in Manhattan waiting for responses, you need to send people down here to look and see. They need to know some farmers and the local businesses who depend on the success of an agricultural economy. Get off the paved road, get your hands dirty, be real journalists. More importantly, be a real humans. You want to understand why what you printed was so wrong? Come see for yourself. Come open minded and ready to learn. Oh, and come hungry.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire