not for sissies

“Walking the streets of Charleston in the late afternoons of August
was like walking through gauze or inhaling damaged silk.”

Pat Conroy

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(yellow sulphur butterfly / Julie Cook / 2016)

Summer in the deep South is not for the faint of heart…

98 degree days coupled with 98% humidity…
Clothes cling to bodies like wet toilet paper dangling from a tree limb after a rain.
Hair doos are non-existent.
And sweat becomes an accessory rather than an unsightly bodily function

Then there are the…

98 degree days with low humidity which equals no rain, no moisture whatsoever…
for days and days and days and days…
Everything dries up…
the grass crunches,
green things all turn brown
and earthworms shrivel into brown sticks…

Yet there are a few among us who remain unfazed…
who actually seem to thrive, coming into their own.
The higher the temperature, the more excited they become….

And you just thought butterflies were for sissies….

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(clouded skipper on the butterfly bush / Julie Cook / 2016)

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(gulf fritillary butterfly / Julie Cook / 2016)

For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults,
hardships, persecutions, and calamities.
For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:10

Sunny days

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.
C. S. Lewis

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(a fiery zinnia / Julie Cook / 2015)

Festively dazzling
Both fiery and bight
The sun’s brilliant performance
Both awes and delights

Miserably hot
And desperately dry
We look for relief
But no clouds in the sky

Radiantly beaming
She cooks and she bakes
With wicked hot rays
As she gives and she takes

Relentlessly strong
For relief we all prayed
As the sun beat down
We scrambled for shade

Delightfully relieved
As the sun finally rests
Yet the evening now yields
A myriad of tiny bloodsucking pests. . .

For the love of a tree

“For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfil themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. . .
Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.
A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.
A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live. . .”

Hermann Hesse, Bäume. Betrachtungen und Gedichte

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(the anticipation of hopefulness, a pecan bud / Julie Cook / 2015)

First I wish to clarify this post with a tiny disclaimer—I am not a huge fan of nuts.
I’m not talking about the crazy people nut variety but rather the product of a tree nut variety.
I don’t really care for eating nuts. I only like nuts in limited quantities and then only salted. Maybe a nice Sole Almondine with an unctuous berure blanc sauce, perhaps a tasty handful of sugared and spiced holiday pecans, or a few hearty walnuts scattered with a bit of blue cheese alongside a poached pear or two. . .but that’s about it. None of this pecan pie business, no nuts on my ice-cream sundays, no nut dotted fruit cakes, no handful of protein packed healthy snacks. . .
So the question today begging to be asked—why this latest endeavor of mine?. . .yet but before we can address latest endeavors, let’s turn our attention to trees shall we. . .

I suppose for a true southern girl such as myself, nothing speaks more of the South than either a majestic oak draped in the gossamer lace of spanish moss or that of a stately grove of pecan tress creating a sun dappled canopy, rich and cool, during the lazy humid summer afternoons indicative to this deep south of mime.

I have always wanted to have a home surrounded by and nestled amongst a grove of pecan trees. The pecan tree, unlike the towering protectively strong massive oak, is a bit more demure as it arches more delicately outward verses stately and upward. A pecan tree wants to envelope you, wrapping you in its charming branches—tenderly and gently holding you and comforting you with its wind whispered lullabies. It is no surprise therefore, that my husband is quite accustomed to my wistful sighs whenever we find ourselves driving in the southern part of the state as there is nothing but pecan orchard after orchard for as far as the eye can see.

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(photo courtesy Sugarland Farms)

Driving throughout much of middle and southern Georgia, passerby’s are often struck by the serenity of the never-ending pecan orchards. The pecan is big business here in Georgia. It is reported that one-third of the nation’s pecans are produced in Georgia with an average of 88 million pounds produced annually. So I suppose it’s terribly unnatural that this very southern Georgia girl does not particularly care for munching on pecans nor any other nut for that matter. My disdain for eating nuts however has never diminished my love and appreciation for the tree.

When we first built our house nearly 16 years ago, we always said we’d plant some pecan trees. The house is perched in the middle of 5 acres. . .a perfect setting for a small pecan orchard. Yet I suppose at our age, my husband and I pretty much figured that we would never live long enough to see “an orchard” to fruition. That being said however, my husband often fondly reflects. . . “I spent my life enjoying picking up and eating the pecans from trees that were planted long before I was living, it’s only fitting that someone one day should enjoy the pecans from a tree I planted”

So with that mindset at the forefront of our thoughts, we got busy this past week with this pay it forward endeavor of our very own orchard.

Not knowing the first thing about this planting business of nut tress much less any sort of big tree, we ventured forth, quite wet behind the ears, but with the resolute spirit of anticipation and hope.
Last Tuesday we drove almost 2 hours northward to Cartersville, Georgia to a tree nursery in order to procure our trees.
The nice nursery folks told us we’d need two types of pecan trees in order to provide cross pollination, otherwise trees of only one variety may never produce nuts containing any nutmeat.
We opted on the Pawnee and Sumner pecans.

We bought 15 6 foot trees, bare root, and grafted–hauling them back home in the back of the truck.
They were bundled up in plastic with an added gel goo to help keep the roots from drying out, that were then wrapped up in a burlap sheet. One look at the motley muddy bundles, my husband assumed the worst, that we’d just spent a small fortune on two big bundles of dead sticks. Yet the nursery assured us that the trees were indeed alive and well and would need to get in the ground as soon as possible.

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Once home we gingerly placed the tree bundles on the back porch until we had a full day to dedicate to their planting. The greatest issue at hand was going to be digging the holes, which was to prove to be no easy task.

We already had a manually operated arguer, yet at 8 inches wide, we quickly realized we’d never get the 2 foot wide by 2.5 foot deep hole the trees would require.
We had to find an arguer that would fit on our tractor.
Already investing a small fortune first in the trees, we added to that investment with the purchase of a much larger arguer from our local Tractor Supply Company—the only problem was we had to figure out how to assemble this monstrosity of farm equipment, mounting it to the tractor ourselves.

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Once the auger was rigged up to the tractor, we had to run enough water hoses to be able to reach the planting sight as the trees would require a massive amount of water just to get them in the ground. I screwed together three 100ft hoses and pulled them out to where we would be digging the holes. Pecan trees need their space—anywhere from 30 to 60 feet apart. We planted ours 30ft apart lengthwise and 60ft widthwise giving us 4 wide rows.

My husband began drilling out the holes.

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Now I know you tree experts out there are screaming that our holes needed to be wider, but we did the best we could and are praying for the best! There is only so much these two older tired bodies can do!
The trees need enough depth as not to bend the tap root—the main base root of the tree–of which the nursery folks appear to have trimmed.

The nursery folks gave us a helpful printout from the University of Georgia’s Agriculture Dept regarding the planting of pecan trees. The instructions explained that the hole was to be filled half full with water, once the tree was centered in place, then back fill the hole with the extracted dirt as this would help to eliminate any air pockets. So we were basically burying a hole full of water with a stick poking out. . .hummmmm

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The manual instructs that one “should not tramp down the soil as the roots need oxygen.” How in the heck does a drowned root find oxygen in non tramped down water logged soil?!

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It took us about 8 hours to get all 15 trees in the ground. This is when we figured out that we had marked off space for 18 trees and planted only 15–which means, another trip to procure 3 more trees.

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The trees need lots of water in order to get established. So I’ll be schlepping out the 300 feet of hose weekly, if not more often, once it warms up in order to keep everyone nice and moist. The next thing I have to do is to paint the base of each tree with white latex paint. This is to ward off any insect infestations and to deter deer from nibbling on the tender little trees.

Now that the planting is finished, all that remains is to water, hope and pray that 15 trees can forgive two novice planters, as I sweetly envision, many years from now, the wistful thoughts of those who will pass by my own little pecan grove.

Next on tap will be a few apple trees. And I must say, the nursery had some beautiful olive trees—I have a feeling my next nursery run will find me bringing home more than 3 more pecan trees.
And as for my earlier disclaimer, I will not be going into the nut business necessarily, but more aptly, I hope to be going into the tree business, as there is just nothing quite as lovely as a tree. . .
Here is to the hope of growth. . .

Hidden Past

“How can the past and future be, when the past no longer is, and the future is not yet? As for the present, if it were always present and never moved on to become the past, it would not be time, but eternity.”
― Augustine of Hippo

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(remnants of a long forgotten still found deep in the woods of Troup County, Georgia / Julie Cook / 2014)

Buried deep throughout hills and woods, since Revolutionary days, from Pennsylvania to Florida, a clandestine world once flourished.
Scattered debris of the silent ghosts of a former world, now fade into dark shadows.
Discarded pieces of a secret past.
Gaelic roots
Whisky
Moonshine
Stumpwater
Hooch
White lightning
Rotgut

Fires burned under the cover of moonlit nights
Jugs loaded into burlap sacks, dropped silently into black water creeks, whisked swiftly down stream to waiting hands.
Barrels of sugar
Bags of corn
Copper coils
As one man’s income becomes another man’s poison.

Chances are that today’s woodland wanderer will stumble upon pieces of this mysterious time.
The remnants of illegal lives hidden deep from prying eyes.
Broken shards of pottery, pieces of colored glass and rust coated metals fade from memory under dying leaves.
Taxes were levied
Rebellions were quelled
Taxes were repealed
Wars were fought
Taxes re-levied
As prohibition begins
Speakeasies thrived
Revenues refused
as people died

Pieces of history from a nation’s vices lay broken and forgotten
For good or bad, it is our past
Volatile, Secretive, intoxicating
Lives were taken and lost
Fugitives
Mobsters
Revenue Men
Mountain Men
Triple X

Walking in the woods seeking solace, peace, wonder
Yet finding history, stories, secrets
Voices hide behind the trees
as shadows move through the night
Echoes of a past. . .
both yours and mine.

(*** To be out walking and exploring an area that has yet to be claimed by the insatiable appetite of urban expansion, only to happen upon the past endeavors of the men and woman who once inhabited the area of which I am currently traipsing, I am always amazed and certainly surprised. Be it the pock marked caves and deep holes nestled in what was once considered uncharted woods, all of which were once dug by those who thought gold was hidden underneath the ground. . .to the broken bits and pieces of the clandestine stills which once laced these back woods throughout the South—I am awed and most astonished to have a glimpse at dreams and secrets of those who went before me. These small reminders which act as pieces of the thread which weave the once rural highlands and lowlands of my southern culture together.

Growing up in Atlanta, I can easily remember when the new trendy spin-off upstart cities, those that have broken away from the all encompassing umbrella of the mega Fulton County, home to Atlanta City, were but the pastures and fields of the farmers who called north Georgia home.

My high school was built in 1968 and was just barley 4 years old when I entered it’s hallowed halls. It was considered new, trendy, modern and on the leading edge of the massive urban sprawl sweeping Atlanta’s expansion northward. Before there was Perimeter Mall, a completed GA 400, the “Mcmansions” of which Atlanta is now so famous for, or the cities such as Sandy Springs, John’s Creek, or Milton. . .there were still farms, dense deep woods, and a now forgotten “country way of life” which truthfully, I miss.

The woods surrounding my high school, the woods that gave way first to the high school’s cross famed country course, followed by the now massive exclusive neighborhoods, the area was full of the would-be mines, the dug out holes and caves, of those who just knew there was gold in “them thar hills”.
I can still wander in the dense woods of the far western counties of Georgia, those counties which still remain more rural than urban, finding the remains of those who thought they were safe to create a secret yet lucrative business for homemade whiskey, better known as moonshine. The forgotten broken remains of stills lace the backwoods of Georgia.

These remnants of day’s gone by, which are now rarely seen or found, due to the gobbling up of a hungry need for growth, not only offer intrigue to our history of development, but the nostalgic humility which comes to those who are fortunate enough to catch a small glimpse of what once was. . .)