Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Driving to the Writing Workshop

It's March 4, New Moon in Virgo—which happens to be my birth sign—and I'm driving from Florida to Reidsville, Georgia, for an environmental writing workshop with one my heroines, Janisse Ray.

I drove the Florida-Georgia route many times with my parents when I was small, but I don't ever remember driving this stretch from Lake City, Florida, to Homerville, Georgia. It's just about the longest stretch of nothin' I've ever seen—miles and miles with no houses, no settlements, no gas stations, nothing but planted pines and swampy areas along the edges of the road, punctuated by the occasional sight of a dead deer that was hit by a passing vehicle.

I am travelling the western edge of the Okefenokee Swamp, where the Suwannee River rises out of Georgia mud for its long, meandering flow west to the Gulf of Mexico.

I give a little prayer of thanks that I had enough foresight to fill the car's gas tank before I left Lake City. There's certainly no gasoline to be had on this stretch of road.

Actually, I enjoy this long stretch of nothin'. There are too many planted pines for me to say that I'm in a wilderness area, but there are practically no other cars or humans to be seen, and the solitude is welcome. Music even seems jarring, so I turn off the radio.

It's late winter here in the South, and most of the landscape—except for the ubiquitous planted pines—is still a dull grayish-brown, splashed here and there with the brilliant pink of a blooming redbud or the snowy white blooms of pear or wild plum—tree candy for the eyes, especially after our cold winter.

A grey fox lopes from west to east some distance in front of my car. I slow down.

Crossing into Georgia, I spot a spectacular two-story wooden building right on the banks of the Suwannee River. It turns out to be the Suwannee River Visitors Center, and the building is so impressive that I pull in to investigate.

I find a very welcoming volunteer staffer, some wonderful exhibits, a great selection of books about the area, an array of t-shirts in gorgeous soft autumn colors (my favorite!), and a bona fide composting toilet! Best of all, this is a "green" building—LEED certified—an example of what state agencies everywhere could be doing if only they had the funding.

Coming out of Homerville, the landscape becomes more civilized, though still mostly rural. I smile when I see the signs so common to rural areas everywhere: "brown eggs for sale," "chicks are in," and, amidst pecan groves, "Nut 'n' Honey." Lots of places are selling honey; hopefully this area has not been hard hit by bee colony collapse.

And churches. Everywhere, little country churches.

I can't ever drive for a long way without remembering all the road trips I took with my parents when I was a child. We moved a lot, and we took summer vacations every year, often driving from Georgia or Florida to Texas to visit my paternal grandparents and my father's sister.

I drive by a field and am suddenly haunted by these old memories of road trips with my folks, sparked by the sight of small round stubby bushes flecked with white. I know this crop; I used to see it on the way to Texas when I was little, but it's been so long since I've seen it that it takes me a few seconds to recognize it: cotton, emblematic cash crop of the South, source of "the fabric of our lives."

So much Southern history draped around cotton. So many memories of my parents and grandparents.

So many tears.

And yet, so much still to love.

The pear trees here in Georgia seem bigger and more showy than the pears in Florida. Big and spectacular, these Georgia trees boast oodles of snowy blossoms that toss and glow in the brisk wind. If you love trees, you have to love these pears.

Getting close to Reidsville, with the road winding through farm after farm and pecan grove after pecan grove, I spy a red brick country church bordered on one side by a long row of some of the tallest and most beautiful pear trees I've seen so far.

Like many country churches, this one has a sign out front. The country church, the gorgeous pears, and the sign combine to create a silent sermon in only three words.


And just for the briefest moment, my busy mind stops.

The photo shows the Suwannee River Visitors Center in Fargo, Georgia. Great place to visit! Click on the photo for a larger view.

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