R.S. Williams

All I want is to get the words right.

Tag: Forgotten Plants & Places (page 2 of 4)

Hillside Monday: 6/19/17

“Detail, Restored Coca-Cola Mural, Doc Spier’s Place”
LaGrange, Georgia – 24 October 2014

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Friday Photo: 5/26/17

“Handed Down in Stone”
Heard County, Georgia – 7 February 2015

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Wednesday Photo: 5/24/17

“Old Rose in Bloom”
Heard County, Georgia – 13 May 2016

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Hillside Monday: 5/22/17

“Peony Globe”
LaGrange, Georgia – 10 May 2013

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Hillside Monday: 5/15/17

“Silhouette with Turquoise and Brick”
LaGrange, Georgia – 29 April 2017

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Friday Photo: 4/21/17

“Shadow Rabbit”
Denver, Colorado – 27 February 2017

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Friday Photo: 4/14/17

“Church Sign, Centralhatchee”
Heard County, Georgia – 24 February 2016

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Hillside Monday: 4/3/17

This cast-iron fireplace front probably dates from the early 20th century (as does the lead-based paint still clinging to it). It’s from one of two original chimneys in my circa-1915 mill house. When we freed this beauty from the wall where it had been closed up for over 60 years, it bore a thick layer of coal dust. As we tore out the bricks from the chimney and hearth, our faces did, too.

Coal, though sooty and potentially dangerous, was cheap in the early 1900s. It was how poor people heated their homes. Its dust sticks around for what seems like forever. More than six decades after this house stopped using coal heat, I still find the silvery-gray dust in the old walls, or in the cats’ fur when they sneak into the chimney space (soon to be a walk-in closet).

“Cast Iron Fireplace Front with Paint”
LaGrange, Georgia – 15 March 2015

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Friday Photo: 3/24/17

 

“Morning Coffee, Morning Booze”
Denver, Colorado – 1 March 2017

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

The Other Vine That Ate the South

In the Deep South, spring smells like grape soda. Not name-brand grape soda, but the cheapest-of-all-cheapo-store-brands grape soda. Or perhaps it smells more like wonky year-old bubble gum, the kind that’s so powdery and bland nobody will even shoplift it off the dollar store clearance rack.

Whatever it smells like, that scent means wisteria, or, as I like to call it, the Other Vine That Ate the South. (The original Vine That Ate the South is kudzu, which blooms much later in the growing season, and is a topic for a different post or twelve.) In March and April, wisteria treats us to two or three weeks of glorious purple clouds in the trees. After that, it finishes leafing out to spend the rest of the season devouring everything in its path—fences, trees, houses, cars, pets.

It’s certainly breathtaking in the garden, but you have to tame it by pruning it hard every year.  Don’t slack off and skip a year. You will regret it. And don’t let its beauty fool you: wisteria sinensis is invasive. Unless someone keeps it in check, it takes over—a simple gardening fact.

But for whatever reason, the majority of people don’t control their wisteria. Or maybe it’s more like can’t control it. I’m not sure. When early spring passes, so do those amazing foot-long purple drupes. By the time summer gets here, its dark green leaves are so plentiful and thick that we can’t even see what it’s smothering 80 feet above the ground.

Other than adding stunning Pointillist color to the landscape and providing food for bees, wisteria doesn’t have much going for it. Oh, wait—it will also hide any place that you mean for people to forget. Don’t believe me? Just follow these two simple steps:

  1.   Plant wisteria.
  2.   Move.

Give it a few years, and voilà! Nobody will know the place ever existed.

People can say what they want about wisteria. I still look forward to its luxurious hues draped over roadside trees every spring. This is probably because I’m lucky enough not to have any on my property. As much as I love the Other Vine That Ate the South, it’s probably best that I leave it where I found it—far away from my own yard.

Photo: “Wisteria No. 471” (LaGrange, Georgia – 21 March 2012)

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

Originally published here on 8 October 2012, this post appears today with revisions. It was also one of my most popular posts in 2016.

 

Hillside Monday: 3/13/17

“Buffalo Rock Bottle Fragment”
LaGrange, Georgia – 1 February 2016

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Wednesday Photo: 2/15/17

“Pecan Branches with Windshield”
Heard County, Georgia – 7 December 2015

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

The Little Peach Tree That Could

In the mid-1930s, my great-grandfather planted this dwarf peach tree in the side yard of his house in southwestern Heard County, Georgia. By the mid-1950s, when my mother was old enough to remember the family’s yearly trips down from Michigan, the tree bore heavy yields every summer.

Pap would slice up quart after quart of fresh peaches, from which he and Grandma Edith would make ice cream in an old crank-handle freezer. It was the finest she had ever tasted, Mom would say years later. When she first moved south in 1968, Mom lived with Pap and Grandma while she saved up for her own apartment in LaGrange. Entering its fourth decade, the little peach tree was still producing as many peaches as the three of them could eat (read: a lot).

In 1988, Mom moved back to Heard County and began fixing up the old home place. By that time, the tree was just about dead. Sap ran sticky amber-brown from the peach borer holes along its trunk. Ice storms had broken off about half its branches. The other half, fiercely proud and unwilling to admit defeat, struggled to stay even halfway upright.

The kind thing to do, Mom supposed, would be to cut it down. No sense in letting it suffer. It had served its purpose for many years. Now it was time to plant something new.

But the saw stayed in the shed.  Mom couldn’t stand to cut down the beleaguered little peach tree while it was still half-alive, or even a quarter alive. “When it’s finally dead, I’ll cut it,” she kept saying. “In the meantime, we’ll just mow around it.”

Which she did—very carefully, with a rickety push-mower and a pair of yard shears. Mom mulched it. She sprayed it for insects and fungus. She watered it during droughts, and pruned away the branches split by the weight of snow and ice. For a dying tree, this one sure was getting a lot of care.

Year after year, the little tree hung on. Every spring, the familiar pink blossoms appeared. By early summer, fuzzy green baby peaches the size of jelly beans dotted the branches. By July 4th, the baby peaches would lie rotting on the ground, felled by some fungus or insect predator. At least the fire ants and yellow jackets were eating well.

For almost 20 years, we had hoped for peaches. For almost 20 years, we had none. I began to accept that peaches, as much as I wanted them, were just not going to happen.

Fast forward to 2003: a warm spring day at the old home place. My mother and stepfather had almost finished rebuilding the long-collapsed front porch. Useless with a hammer but still wanting to be part of the action, I stood nearby.

“Uh, Mom?” I said. “It’s about your little tree.”

“I know, I know.” She mopped the sweat from her brow and grabbed another fistful of 16-penny nails. “I’m giving it one more chance. If it doesn’t make fruit this year, it’s coming down.”

So the spring turned into summer, and the blossoms turned into fuzzy green baby peaches. But this time, the baby peaches stayed on the tree. And grew. And grew. And ripened.

For the first time in nearly 40 years, we had peaches.

I felt badly for having hoped we could cut down the elderly peach tree. I had doubted it, yet it had come back—perhaps to prove us wrong, but more likely because that’s just what trees do. This lonely, gnarled little tree suddenly bore two bushels of peaches just because.

That summer, we had the best homemade peach ice cream and the best homemade peach cobbler I have ever tasted. Since then, the tree has managed to produce at least a few desserts’ worth of fruit every season. It has survived nearly a century of drought, disease, ice storms, and straight-line winds—and, one time, a sweet, hungry, clumsy 2,800-pound Black Angus bull. This beloved little tree refuses to quit.

What will this year bring? We don’t yet know. The peach tree probably doesn’t yet know, either. No matter what happens, though, I will always be grateful to it for showing me what endurance really means.

Photo: “Green Peach, Black Cat” (Heard County, Georgia – 27 May 2014)

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

Note: An earlier version of this piece appeared at my former blog, Forgotten Plants & Places, on 12 April 2012.

 

Wednesday Photo: 1/25/17

“Freight Bandit: You Never Knew, You Never Will (3/13)”
LaGrange, Georgia – 23 April 2015

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Cedars at Christmas

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As I drive around the countryside in late December, I look forward to those fuzzy green oblong clouds along the winter-brown roadside. They float at the edge of the right-of-way, where the natural world waits to retake the built and the mechanized. Often, their knowing gray smirks pucker around twisted steel—Stupid barbed wire. We can’t grow here, huh? That’ll teach you. 

When I was a child in rural east Alabama and west Georgia, these dark green blobs of badass were our Christmas trees.

Eastern red cedar, or Juniperus virginiana, grows all the way from southeastern Canada down to the Gulf of Mexico. A pioneer invader, it prefers pitiful, ragged-out, freshly-cleared land. However, unlike other potentially invasive species, it can live for centuries if left alone. My grandfather’s farm included several cedars with trunks nearly three feet thick. For the most part, though, the ones I notice are between four and seven feet tall, just the right size for the average living room.

I remember only one tree-cutting walk, far behind our house outside Rock Mills, Alabama. We were likely on someone else’s land. My father had to have known this. But, seeing how eastern red cedars alkalize pasture soil and steal nitrogen from forage crops, maybe the landowners would not have cared. Daddy cut it down with a hatchet and a hacksaw, then dragged the tree behind him for the half-hour walk back to the house, my sister and me following as quickly as our little legs could manage.

In this old photo, the short, squat little cedar looks as lush now as it did then to my three-year-old eyes. It sits atop the blanket chest—also red cedar—that my great-grandfather made around the end of the First World War. That same blanket chest now guards my guest room.

Christmas tree farms make me uneasy. Their offerings, while pretty, are not of this land. Their trees’ native soils lie hundreds of miles north and west of here. While I am glad they bring joy while exchanging carbon dioxide for oxygen, they are just not for me.

Those plush needles stay too neatly combed. Too-tidy firs and spruces demand unreasonable cheerfulness and forced smiles. They heap manufactured happiness on top of organic, deeply rooted sorrow. And they act surprised when the needle-fine roots of that sorrow break back up through the soil.

Thanks, but I’ll skip the farmed Dick and Jane Reader perfection. I like a little asymmetry, a little imperfection, with my major holidays.

Instead, give me an eastern red cedar, thriving at pasture’s edge. Give me slowly shredding grayish-tan bark. Give me perfumed red heartwood that swallows barbed wire and NO HUNTING signs along Georgia Highway 219. Give me needles growing in all directions like an overcaffeinated moth-repellent pompom. Wherever I go, for the rest of my days, the trees I have known and loved stay with me.

Photo: “Detail, Red Cedar Christmas: Rock Mills, Alabama, 1976”

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Hillside Monday: 12/19/16

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“Last of the Old Guard”

LaGrange, Georgia – 24 October 2014

#HillsideMonday

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Friday Photo: 12/16/16

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“Small Creek in Severe Drought”
Heard County, Georgia – 30 October 2016

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Wednesday Photo: 12/14/16

Primitive Citrus #3 (Heard County, Georgia - 31 March 2013)

“Primitive Citrus #3”
Heard County, Georgia – 31 March 2013

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Wednesday Photo: 12/7/16

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“Shattered, Part 1”
Wedowee, Alabama – 19 September 2014

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

In a Churchyard at Dusk

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“In a Churchyard at Dusk”
Heard County, Georgia – 7 February 2015

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Friday Photo: 12/2/16

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“Long December”

Heard County, Georgia – 7 December 2015

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Forest Floor, Autumn Drought

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Heard County, Georgia – 30 October 2016

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Ray & Dot, February 1970

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When I browse old family photos, sometimes I see faces I don’t recognize. On occasion, the context reveals who they are: Oh yeah, that’s So-and-So’s friend from Scouts. See the t-shirt? 

Mostly, though, I cannot identify these people from the clues in the image. Their pictures often include no descriptive caption on the back, or perhaps a brief, unhelpful scrawl. In the washboard-rough dirt road of images in this forty-five-year-old photo album, these photos are mud holes. They are in here for some reason that I cannot figure out. I cannot help splashing through them again and again.

On the back of this picture, in Palmer-Method-plus-a-lifetime cursive, someone wrote “Ray & Dot.” And that’s all. I do not recognize their faces. In all my years of eavesdropping on grown-up conversations, I do not recall my grandparents, or their many friends, ever mentioning anybody named Ray or Dot.

As was the Kodak 110 photo lab custom of the time, the white border is stamped “FEB 70,” to denote the image was processed and printed in February 1970. No telling whether the photo was taken in February 1970. If the photographer was like many amateur family snapshotters back then, the film could’ve been exposed for months or even years before she or he finally thought to get it developed. The right edge has been cut away at a scissors-in-the-right-hand angle.

I showed the photo to my mother and my sister. Neither recognized the faces or names. The setting, though, looked familiar to Mom. “They might be at the old Rock Mills Cemetery, where Mildred’s folks are buried. Who in the family died in February 1970?” Nobody that I could think of, right off. I suggested to Mom that the background could also be the cemetery behind Paran Baptist Church, an eighth of a mile from the Georgia line on Alabama Highway 22. “Yep. Could be Paran. And it could be the big cemetery in Roanoke, too.” She sipped her coffee.  “But I still have no idea who these people are.”

Ray and Dot are dressed in fashionable clothing for the late 1960s and early 1970s, and are pretty stylish for people who look to have been about twenty years older than my grandparents. Dot’s long-sleeved, high-necked green dress and brown purse suggest fall: cooler weather, but not quite coat season. The green dress also tells me this occasion was not a funeral, as does Ray’s rumpled light tan suit. A church homecoming, perhaps? Dot’s corsage indicates she was someone special at this gathering.

While Ray squints into the sun at the camera, Dot turns toward him and smiles broadly, as if anticipating the funny remark he’s on the edge of making now that somebody’s taking his picture for the hundredth time today. Do they know the dark-suited fellow in the background who’s strolling off into the cemetery? Are they about to hop into that big brown Chevy and rumble down narrow two-lane roads to their house? Are they married? To one another?

I cannot answer any of these questions. Chances are that I never will. Just the same, forty-five years after someone froze this moment onto light-sensitive paper, I keep Ray and Dot in my photo album—and in my heart.

“Ray & Dot, February 1970” – original photographer unknown
© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

A Story for All Hallows’ Eve

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Most Halloweens I spend at my mother’s house. It’s the same house where her father was born in 1922. Like many old houses, it has plenty of stories to tell. And it won’t tell them to just anyone. Oh, no. The house plays favorites when it has something to say.

In non-drought years, Halloween means we build a bonfire in Mom’s yard, then make s’mores and tell family ghost stories. We listen to the deep, hollow hoo-hoo-hoooooot of the great horned owls in the pasture next door. Sometimes, well after dark, the local coyotes begin choir practice. Their not-quite-dog-like barking, their yip-yip-yip-yip-ooooooOOOOOO! far off in the woods, stirs up in the human heart something ancient and primal. That’s when Mom and I feel the hair stand up on the backs of our necks. It’s our All Hallows’ signal to grab the dogs and scurry back indoors.

Since 1834, there has been a house on this spot in Heard County, Georgia. The original cabin burned in the 1880s; people built another using the foundation and field-stone pillars from the first house. When that one burned 30 years later, they built yet another house. That’s the one my mother and stepfather live in today.

Mom and Steve have spent the last couple decades renovating the house, taking what was essentially a falling-down sharecropper’s shack and turning it into a cozy home in the woods. It now has insulation, gas heaters, a full kitchen, and two bathrooms with hot running water. They refinished the 14-inch-wide heart pine floors, original to the early 1900s version of the house and likely similar to the floors in the first two houses on this site.

The ghost story that I always heard about the house goes something like this:

Late July 1864 saw one of west central Georgia’s few Civil War battles: McCook’s Raid, in what is now Coweta County (about 45 miles east of Mom’s house). In the days after the battle, one Union soldier appeared, on horseback, on the dirt road that once passed in front of the house. The soldier, who didn’t look much older than a teenager, was all by himself.

He wasn’t in good shape, either. He was slumped over onto the horse’s neck, over the horn of his saddle, unconscious. The skin-and-bones horse seemed to follow the road of its own accord, carrying its rider per its beastly duty. The people inside the house no doubt heard the hooves clop-clop-clop on packed dirt, and walked onto the porch to stare.

Just then, the Union soldier fell off his horse into the middle of the road, a dead-weight heap in blue homespun. His eyelids did not even flutter as the people ran out into the road, hoisted him by his armpits and ankles, and brought him inside.

They lay the soldier on a straw mattress, and fetched fresh water from the well out back for some cold compresses. The Union soldier was still knocked out, and now sweating profusely.  He was very badly cut and bruised. Other than his ragged dark blue uniform, the young man offered no other clues as to his identity. The people wondered if he had been wounded in a nearby battle. Or perhaps he had been robbed, beaten, and left for dead by unknown assailants, many miles from where he was now.

There were no letters from home stashed inside the young man’s coat—no mementos, no lock of hair, no faded daguerreotypes of loved ones waiting for his return. He simply lay there in the bed, barely breathing, just a kid sent far from home by a country who probably didn’t even know where he was.

He never woke up, and died the next morning.

They buried him in the cemetery 300 feet down the road. His coffin was made from weathered old boards pried off of the barn. They marked his grave with a large rock. It was all they had.

In the spring of 1928, C.B. Adamson decided it was time that the unknown Union soldier had a fitting tribute. C.B. was a child when the solider died at the house on the ridge. So he composed a long poem for the soldier, and went down to the graveyard, where he mixed up some homemade concrete, poured the fellow a gravestone, and stamped the poem in the wet concrete. Community historians sent a request to Washington, DC for an official Union Army headstone. When it arrived, they placed it next to the concrete slabs. Despite nearly 100 years of harsh weather and occasional neglect, the unknown soldier’s grave is still intact. Caretakers patched the slabs back together a few years ago after an ice storm sent a four-foot-thick white oak crashing into their center.

When Mom moved down here from Michigan in 1969, her grandparents were still living in the old house where she lives today. She moved in with them until she could find a job and apartment. In 1989, she returned to Heard County, and has lived in the family home ever since. Of course, Mom grew up hearing stories of the Union soldier’s ghost. While she’s never seen him, she’s heard him walking around and felt his presence in the house.

“When I hear him,” she says, “it’s usually the sound of heavy boots along the floor—like the boots don’t fit very well, or maybe the person’s feet really hurt. It happens when I’m the only one at home. Other times, it’s just a funny feeling I get, like someone’s in the room with me or is watching me. But when I look up, nobody’s there.”

On Halloween 2006, Mom and I made our usual bonfire a good, safe 50 feet from the house. About 9:30 that night, I turned my back to the fire and was finishing the last of the s’mores as I watched how the blaze illuminated much of the yard. For safety’s sake, we’d left the lights on in the kitchen, dining room, and living room—the rooms on the west side of the house, and the ones I into which I could see from where I stood in the yard.

That’s when I saw him in the house.
A man.
Dressed in dark blue.

He walked from left to right: starting in the kitchen, he made his way slowly through the dining room, and into the living room. I watched the man, of average height and build, walk along and reach with his right hand as if to open a door. His dark blue sleeve reached to his knuckles, as if his shirt or coat were several sizes too large. He walked steadily through the house, opening one door and the next, passing by all the windows. When he reached the living room’s old chimney. . .he vanished.

“Mom, is someone in the house?”

“Nobody but the cats. Why?”

I blinked hard, and began shaking. “I just saw someone walk through the house. From the kitchen, to the dining room, on through to the living room.”

Mom sat straight up in her lawn chair by the fire. “What?”

“I swear to God, Mom. I just saw somebody walk through the house. A man, wearing a long-sleeved blue coat or shirt.”

Mom was quiet for a long moment, then turned to me. “You know what this means, right?”

“No. . .”

“It means you’re the first person I know who’s actually seen the unknown Union soldier.”

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Wednesday Photo: 10/26/16

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“Early Evening in the Woods”
Heard County, Georgia – 7 October 2015

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Sky on Fire, Centralhatchee

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Heard County, Georgia – 30 September 2014

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Wednesday Photo: 10/19/16

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“Feathers with Milky Quartz, No. 1”
Heard County, Georgia – 9 October 2016

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Dr. Parker’s Gardenias

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When I was a baby, my parents rented a tiny house trailer in Randolph County, Alabama. Their elderly landlord was a retired country doctor. Dr. James Parker* and his wife, Opal*, passed their days tending to their legendary vegetable and flower gardens. Born in the late 1890s, they also shared with my mother many stories from their childhoods.

One thick summer evening, sitting on the Parkers’ front porch, Mom complimented Miss Opal on the waxy, heaven-scented white flowers blooming at the very edge of her yard. “Your gardenias are amazing. Would it be all right if I cut a few to put in a vase?”

“Help yourself,” Miss Opal said. “I can’t stand gardenias. James loves them. I told him if he just had to have them, he needed to plant them as far away from the house as he could.”

This was a new one for Mom. “How come you don’t like gardenias?”

“They remind me of my Uncle Bert*.” Miss Opal looked across the lawn at the hundred-foot row of waist-high, glossy-green-leaved shrubs that separated her yard from the overgrown pasture next door. She sighed, and turned back to Mom.

“Uncle Bert was Mama’s youngest brother. He left for Oklahoma when I was a child—thought he’d try farming out there, where it’s flat and you can see for miles and miles. One day, he was fixing a barbwire fence when a bad storm came up. He didn’t worry, though. The storm was still a good way off. He’d figured he’d patch that fence, get on his mule, and beat the rain back to the house.” She paused. “He didn’t count on the lightning.”

“The lightning?”

Miss Opal nodded sadly. “Lightning struck about a mile away. The charge traveled all the way up the fence to where Uncle Bert had his hands on it. Killed both him and the mule.”

“My God!”

“Even worse,” Miss Opal continued, “was that he had told his wife he wanted to be buried back home, in Alabama. And he died in late June.”

She closed her eyes. “The funeral was open-casket, even though we could barely recognize him. There was this big old burned streak down his face, down into his shirt collar and, I reckon, the whole length of his body.” Miss Opal shuddered. “Took the train eight days to get here from Oklahoma City. His wife didn’t have the money to have him embalmed.  With all that time passing, and the summer heat, by the day of the funeral—Lord, have mercy. They had that church full of gardenias to cover up the smell. It didn’t work.”

“To this day, every time I catch even a little whiff of the blasted things, all I can smell is sickly sweetness—just overpowering summer and perfume and death. I see Uncle Bert again, all burned and purplish-black there in the casket. And I just about faint.” Miss Opal pointed toward the edge of the yard. “And that’s why I made James plant his gardenias way out there.”

*Note: All names have been changed. 

Photo: “Gardenia Ghost No. 2” (LaGrange, Georgia – 6 June 2016)

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Wednesday Photo: 8/24/16

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“Waiting on a Train, Part 3”
Anniston, Alabama – 23 June 2016

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Hillside Monday: 8/15/16

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These are likely bathroom tiles, judging by their shapes and color. This shade of greenish-blue was popular in working people’s homes around here from the 1920s through the 1960s. I found them lying on the ground after a heavy rain. They were probably buried decades ago, after the house came down to make way for a public library.

Photo: “Blue Tiles, Coleman Library”
LaGrange, Georgia – April 2014

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

View from Salem Road Bridge

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Troup County, Georgia – 3 May 2014

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Wednesday Photo: 8/3/16

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“Ripening Peach, Early Summer”
Heard County, Georgia – 9 June 2016

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Keep Your Faith

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Stovall, Georgia – 21 July 2016

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Wednesday Photo: 6/8/16

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“Old Nails with Paint and Barn Floor”
Troup County, Georgia – 24 April 2016

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Old Rose in Bloom

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Heard County, Georgia – 13 May 2016

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Wednesday Photo: 5/25/16

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“Quiet Country Barn Demolition”
Troup County, Georgia – 24 April 2016

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Trumpet Vine with Mural

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LaGrange, Georgia – 19 August 2014

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Hillside Monday: 5/16/16

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“Doc Speir’s Front Window”
LaGrange, Georgia – 24 October 2014

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

 

Wednesday Photo: 5/11/16

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“Bank Building Mural, Late Afternoon”
Meansville, Georgia – 6 November 2014

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Track and Sky

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Abandoned mining camp, Leadville, Colorado – 9 August 2014

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Wednesday Photo: 4/27/16

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“Yellow and Gray with Window”
Wedowee, Alabama – 19 September 2014

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Hillside Monday: 4/18/16

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In past Hillside Monday posts, I’ve shared with you a few items I’ve found where mill houses once stood: coins, marbles, bits of broken dishware. Even when a small artifact is coated in sixty-plus years of dirt, I can identify it before long. Now and again, though, a discovery stumps me.

A few years ago, on a walk after a week of heavy rain, I spied the mottled green ball you see above. It practically waved at me, half-sticking out of red clay. Three broken fingernails and a muddy shoe later, it was in my palm.

It was heavy enough and hard enough to be one of those coveted “monster” marbles I’d heard about. But at about 1.25″ in diameter, shooting it just once would probably cause an epic nail bruise, if not a broken finger. Ouch.

When I got it home and cleaned it off, I saw the ball had been machined from stone. It couldn’t have been natural; it was perfectly round. A small divot, maybe a millimeter deep, revealed the off-white of the stone’s interior. I asked around, but nobody could tell me more about the mysterious little sphere. So I put it in my marble container and forgot about it.

A couple weeks later, I showed a friend some of the cool old Hillside marbles I’ve found over the years. The little greenish ball was in the box with them. It stuck out, self-conscious and forlorn—like the kid who’s been held back a grade or three, the big, slow, clumsy one who catches hell every recess. “I don’t know what this is,” I said, “but I found it at an old home site, like the rest. It’s pretty, even if I can’t tell you what it’s for.”

My friend smiled, then excused himself to walk out to his truck. He returned holding the blotchy little brownish-tan ball above.

“This is the sixteenth one I’ve found in three months,” he said. “They showed up in a load of milled asphalt I bought for my driveway: recycled old paving, smooth little river rocks, crush-n-run gravel…and these things. A few have asphalt stuck to them, but otherwise they all look like this.” He handed it to me. It was the same size, weight, texture, and shape of my lonely green orb. “Never seen anything like it. No idea what it is.”

Well.
That makes two of us.

Photo: “Hillside Mystery Stones” (LaGrange, Georgia – 29 July 2014)

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Peony Problems

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Here in the Deep South, peonies are a hit-and-miss gardening affair. Sometimes, the weather and bugs and fungi and soil all manage to cooperate, and POOF! an early-blooming variety gives you two weeks of gloriously ruffled, heavily perfumed blossoms six to eight inches wide. (Unfortunately for us all, Southern weather gets too hot too soon for the late-blooming varieties.)

Seeing and smelling these flowers is the gateway drug to a serious gardening habit. You can’t help wanting moremoreMORE after an experience like that. Before you know it, you’ve got three, six, a dozen of them in the yard.

You tell yourself, “I don’t have a problem. I can quit any time I want.” This is while you’re sneaking plant catalogs into the employee restroom at work. You start showing up to important meetings with dirt still under your fingernails. You call in “sick” so you can stay home and dig several cubic yards of composted sheep manure into your garden beds. And the peonies started it all.

It gets worse. You find yourself unable to sleep from your gardening high, so you order even more plants online at 3:00 in the morning. Your spouse gets suspicious. The cycle of lies begins: “No, honey, I don’t know who would order twenty rare peonies, ten Japanese maples, six Himalayan lilies, fifty ‘Pheasant’s Eye’ daffodils, twenty blackberry canes, and a Piedmont azalea all at the same time.”

Most of the time, though, the weather and bugs and fungi and soil refuse to cooperate. You’re left with apricot-sized flower buds that turn to soggy brown mush just as they’re about to open. Then it’s all weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth while you walk around in sackcloth and ashes. Sad, but true: this has been my peony story for most of the ten years I’ve had them in my garden. It’s a rotten way to live.

However, the exceptionally cold winter of 2014 made this old-fashioned, finicky plant happy—which made me happy. 2015 brought a mild winter and brown ruffled mush. Who knows what our extra-mild 2016 winter will bring, peony-wise. Guess I’ll just hope for a repeat of two years ago, and then take whatever I can get.

Who am I kidding? I’ll be heartbroken without those six-inch, heaven-scented, crinoline-ruffled light pink pom-poms. But it’s no big deal. I’ll be okay, eventually.

Besides, I can quit any time I want.

Photo: “Pink Peony Ruffles” (LaGrange, Georgia 8 May 2014)

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

Note: This post first appeared here in July 2014, and has since been revised.

 

Hillside Monday: 4/11/16

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Most of the dishware fragments I find around Hillside are plain. They’re almost all solid white or off-white, their glaze turned crackly by water and soil and pressure and years. Now and again, I stumble upon a shattered bowl or cup featuring a stripe or two along the rim.

Back then, the plain stuff was about all most people in Hillside could afford. Many working people bought their dishware one piece at a time at Woolworth’s or Kress. Others built their collections with the sturdy, unembellished dishes that arrived in boxes of powdered laundry detergent.

But when something this pretty shows up, I think of how much those ornate blue flowers and birds probably meant to someone. I think of how a heart must have broken along with that special platter.

Photo: “Blue-Ware Bird, Forrest Avenue” (LaGrange, Georgia – June 2012)

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Song 19

The silence between icy wind and cedar branch,
and moonlight on sad ragged azaleas,
and the lone water oak missing its twin,
and the chickens’ worried dream-clucking,
and the audacity of blackberry winter when the earth is newly green,
and my grandmother’s gaudy orange cannas by the old water tank,
and her menthol-smoking ghost walking past them with a frown,
and whether she ever forgave herself,
and whether I can ever forgive myself.

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

The Other Vine That Ate the South

Wisteria #471, LaGrange, Georgia (21 March 2012)

In the Deep South, spring smells like grape soda. Not name-brand grape soda, but the cheapest-of-all-cheapo-store-brands grape soda. Or perhaps it smells more like wonky year-old bubble gum, the kind that’s so powdery and bland nobody will even shoplift it off the dollar store clearance rack.

Whatever it smells like, that scent means wisteria, or, as I like to call it, the Other Vine That Ate the South. (The original Vine That Ate the South is kudzu, of course, which is a topic for a different post or twelve.) In March and April, wisteria treats us to two or three weeks of glorious purple clouds in the trees. After that, it finishes leafing out to spend the rest of the season devouring everything in its path—fences, trees, houses, cars, pets.

It’s certainly breathtaking in the garden, but you have to tame it by pruning it hard every year.  Don’t slack off and skip a year, because you’ll regret it. And don’t let its beauty fool you: wisteria sinensis is invasive. Unless someone keeps it in check, it takes over—a simple gardening fact.

But for whatever reason, the majority of people don’t control their wisteria. Or maybe it’s more like can’t control it. I’m not sure. When early spring passes, so do those amazing foot-long purple drupes. By the time summer gets here, its dark green leaves are so plentiful and thick that we can’t even see what it’s smothering 80 feet above the ground.

Other than adding stunning Pointillist color to the landscape and providing food for bees, wisteria doesn’t have much going for it. Oh, wait—it will also hide any place that you mean for people to forget. Don’t believe me? Just follow these two simple steps:

  1.   Plant wisteria.
  2.   Move.

Give it a few years, and voilà! Nobody will know the place ever existed.

People can say what they want about wisteria. I still look forward to its luxurious hues draped over roadside trees every spring. This is probably because I’m lucky enough not to have any on my property. As much as I love the Other Vine That Ate the South, it’s probably best that I leave it where I found it—far away from my own yard.

Photo: “Wisteria No. 471” (LaGrange, Georgia – 21 March 2012)

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

Originally published here on 8 October 2012, this post appears today with revisions.

 

Wednesday Photo: 3/30/16

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“Life in the Ruins”
Leadville, Colorado – 9 August 2014

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Church Sign, Centralhatchee

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Heard County, Georgia – 24 February 2016

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Hillside Monday: 3/21/16

Look, Mama! 6 April 2012

“Look, Mama!”
LaGrange, Georgia – 6 April 2012

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Soybean Field, Autumn

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Heard County, Georgia – 25 September 2014

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

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