Sam Burnham, Curator
So, I heard a story on the radio the other day. Georgia Power is looking to increase its solar power output to stay within a plan being implemented in accordance with the Georgia Public Service Commission to transition away from coal powered generation.
I’ve written more than once about my support for this move and to find sources of energy that don’t lead to air pollution or the stockpiling of coal ash. I’d like to see the implementation of more community solar along with micro-grids, particularly in smaller towns. I would also like to see some efforts towards converting shuttered and demolished coal plants into solar plants. The land is available, and the distribution infrastructure is already in place, so it seems like a no-brainer to me. But, then again, they didn’t ask me.
One major reason I want to see some real effort in using existing sites is a quote that appeared in the story. While suggesting the solar plants need to be in South Georgia, a project manager with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy said, “You can't get a 200-acre parcel of flat land up here. You start getting in the mountains, and it's more developed in the north.”
"It’s more developed."
Yet another example of an organization with "Southern" in their title demonstrating a dramatically un-Southern mindset.
I get what he’s saying what’s bothering me is the mindset that we’ve developed in the modern era. Development means significant construction of buildings, highways, parking lots, etc. Development never means orchards, pastures, timber, or even the current project that will develop into Georgia’s first full-scale national park. It is ok to develop these things into literally anything other than what they are.
Atlanta is dotted with numerous failed and failing shopping malls that all sit on relatively flat land. In fact, Atlanta’s WAGA TV recently reported that Gwinnett County purchased 93 acres of the Gwinnett Place Mall property for redevelopment. Now, that’s not 200 acres but it’s a sizable plot of land that’s close to an area with significant power consumption needs. I haven’t been in that exact area in a number of years, but I’m left wondering how many other surrounding properties could have been consolidated into a plan to put a solar farm in Gwinnett.
But it’s not considered normal to think that way. This is not how our real estate and property development system is set up because it goes against how we think as a society. Development means you go into an area that’s green and leafy, bulldoze it, and then “improve” it. Boom. Instant “progress.”
Why isn’t it considered to be progress to build a source of affordable, sustainable, clean energy adjacent to the customers, but it is considered progress to bulldoze a watermelon farm 200 miles away, build solar, and then run power lines, substations, etc. all the way back up to the customers? Sure, a solar farm in South Georgia will be of some benefit to the people who live there but we know how Georgia works. Most of the customers are north of Macon and that’s where most of the power will go.
We have to start thinking differently about what development means. We have to start thinking about the value of things rather than just the cost.
South Georgia is not some colony to be exploited for the benefit of Metro Atlanta. We can’t just keep dropping landfills, and prisons, and power plants, mines, and whatever other thing that Metro Atlanta residents find to be distasteful on the people in South Georgia. That half of the state IS developed. It just doesn’t look like what the modern world thinks developed means.
And yes, I think we need to do more for the economy of South Georgia but swiping their land to produce resources for Atlanta ain’t it. Innovation and thinking differently can help build a future for clean energy in Georgia. Localizing the generation can be a great place to start.
Sam Burnham, Curator
In 2017 I pulled open the cover of a James Calemine book for the very first time. His then newly released Insured Beyond the Grave, Volume 1 captured my imagination with very real stories about fascinating people.
In 2022 I find myself writing my fourth review of one of his books. Ghostland America is currently in pre-sale and the official release date is July 19th.
The very first thing that struck me about the book is the shape. Ghostland is wider than it is tall, which can be awkward for a novel. But once you open the cover you understand the design. This is not just your typical book.
Calemine is a man of many talents. Sure, he’s a gifted writer. But he’s also a photographer, a spoken word performer, an adventurer, a cultural historian, and has even been known to pick on a guitar. In his latest book he has combined his talents to give his readers a different experience than his previous publications.
Ghostland highlights his photography, which explains the book’s design that I mentioned earlier. But where a typical photography book might offer mere captions, Calemine offers deeper descriptions that help his beautiful photos tell their stories even more effectively.
The first (and also the last) photo that confronts the reader is the beautiful red 1966 Chevrolet Chevelle on the cover. When it comes to American muscle, you can Camaro and Mustang the debate to death. You can ask the cliche question “does that got a Hemi in it?” But none of that will negate the fact that the first generation Chevelle was the pinnacle of the American hot rod. Calemine displays this beauty on a dirt road framed with a tree line on one side and pasture on the other, all beneath the canopy of a blue sky. It’s hard to improve on that image.
But as the reader opens the book and starts turning the broad pages, images jump out, each one has the same effect, they’re just hard to improve on. What’s even more powerful is that the Chevelle photo is the only staged photo in the book. As you meander through this treasure, you’ll find relics of the past, just as he found them. Old businesses, homes, cars, now in ruins, they represent the hopes and dreams of previous generations now shrouded in fog, hidden in thickets, or tucked behind a crumbling barn. This was the life our ancestors knew. These are the remnants of their homes, their livelihoods, their pursuits of leisure. In many cases, these images capture all that remains of that era.
The images are haunting. They stir nostalgia, perhaps even grief. But they also give joy, a happiness based in the knowledge that such things were once common reality. Calemine gives his readers some insight into his processes. I’m not saying reading Ghostland will make you a better photographer but you’ll definitely get a few pointers.
Occasionally along the way he found a local or perhaps a family member or friend who could tell the story of the photo. Other times we’re left with our imaginations or personal experiences with similar places to hash out what might have happened. Either way, the stories are rich.
Calemine is a Georgia boy. But as I mentioned before, he’s also an adventurer. So while the bulk of these photos are of Georgia, you’ll also find gems from other states, a Southern quilt with fragments of our past sewn together with the thread of their stories. But he found what he’s presenting because he’s not afraid to turn that Chevelle off that two lane blacktop highway most people have forgotten and onto an even more ignoble dirt road and find the good stuff. Modernity refuses to coexist with Ghostland’s subject matter. No, that stuff must be razed to make way for a Dollar General, an automated car wash, or some more self-storage units, all in the name of “progress.”
One thing sticks with me after completing Ghostland in a single sitting. Each Calemine book I’ve reviewed has been completely different than the last. It leaves me wondering what I’ll find inside the next time I bend the binding on one of his works. Whatever it is, if the pattern holds as it has, it’ll be fantastic.
Check out Ghostland America by James Calemine from Snake Nation Press, an independent publisher and Georgia-based small business.
Sam Burnham, Curator
Y'all, I gotta tell you, I read the most splendid Twitter thread recently. Typically, if you are looking for joy, happiness, and beauty, Twitter is not the first place to look for it. But I found one of the exceptions. The thread was written by a good Southerner who goes by the handle @NoJesuitTricks. He is well credentialed as a Southern gentleman. He's a gifted writer and storyteller, his faith is rooted in the South's original tradition, his accent is the standard that Hollywood should hold for any actors portraying Southerners, and, most importantly, his rearing substantially took place on a porch.
His story drove me back to my own porch. I've just taken a new home and I am toying with plans for what all to do with the porch. Needless to say, I plan on porch sitting at all hours - thinking, reading, writing, and doing many of the other things he mentioned in the thread.
The discussion of porches takes me back to my grandparents' farm in Central Florida. Ginny and Pawpaw had a porch that spread across the front of their cabin. The porch gave a commanding view of the property. Your average city person might see a whole bunch of nothing. A really ambitious real estate developer might see potential. Looking back, I see perfection.
The porch steps gave way to a well-kept lawn. The lawn transitioned into a pasture that that flowed with the breeze. In the distance, barely visible from the rocking chairs, was the road. The road was unpaved. It was a graded and packed ribbon of crushed Florida limestone that could absorb the blazing heat and the pouring rain with equal tenacity. On each side of the pasture stood a border of live oaks, each one splendidly adorned with its own complement of Spanish moss. Just beneath the tree line to the right ran the driveway. The driveway consisted of two tracks of white sand, the indigenous subsoil of the state, divided by a track of grass. Oak roots served as speed bumps allowing anyone on the porch a few minutes to prepare accordingly for welcome or unwelcome arrivals. You could see any such arrivals from the porch. You could also see my uncle's place. He and his family had taken up a homestead about halfway up the driveway in a patch of oaks beside the pasture. That meant at least one cousin was never far away.
In this magical square, the porch was central. You could just sit and rock while watching the birds and other wildlife that thrived on the cornucopia the pasture provided. You could take a respite from the sun in the shade. You could devise all manner of adventures of varying levels of advisability.
Or, one of the best things to do on the porch, you could watch an approaching storm. It was a given, especially in the summer, that it was going to rain about 3 o'clock every afternoon. You knew that midafternoon was not the time to venture down to the mailbox. The storm was usually short and not particularly severe, but you were going to get hammered if you got caught out in the open. The place to be was in a rocking chair as the wind whipped the grasses up and then the deluge beat it back down. You could see it starting down at the road and advancing towards the porch. This wall of water was more of a tidal wave than a downpour The cool breeze would arrive as strong as if you were laying with your head on the air conditioning vent. And then the rain was upon you. Just a few feet in front of you it was coming a toad strangler but you were high and dry under the cover of the porch. It was glorious.
I think the best times on the porch were the fish fries. Dining al fresco with people you didn't get to see nearly often as you would like. I remember sitting there, staring at my plate of fish, grits, and hush puppies pondering two questions: 1) Is this a blue gill, a warmouth, or a speckled perch? & 2) Who caught this fish, me, my brother, or my Uncle Billy? And then I would shrug and dig in.
Fish fry days were long. They would begin in the predawn darkness in a Ford pickup towing a boat towards Orange Lake. My brother Danny and my Uncle Billy were the core of the operation. Sometimes Uncle Bobby would meet us at the fish camp and we would put the boat in the water. You were going to sit in the boat with a cane pole in hand and a line in the water for an hour. It didn't matter what you tried. no fish were ever caught in the first hour. Call it the tribute you have to pay The Lady of that particular lake before she allowed you access to its abundance. Then, someone would catch a fish and the floodgates were opened. We'd sling fish for an hour or two, return to camp to load the boat and clean the fish and then hightail it back to the porch. Cousins were coming, and plenty of them.
Those long days usually ended with games of tag and other fun for hours after the Florida sunshine stopped force-feeding the St, Augustine grass. The adults had completely commandeered the porch by that time and we were typically ok with that. The stars were out, as were the lightning bugs. We had plenty to do.
Time moves on. Things change. The farm was sold years ago but the memories remain. All those kids are grown now and have their own kids. We don't see each other as much as we like. But the connections were made on and around that porch sustain us to this day and they set the standard for relationships, and porches for that matter, to this day.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire