out of sync

This search for happiness can knock us out of sync with God. As the life of Jesus makes clear, keeping in sync with God is about obedience. Any other pursuit will get in the way.
Franklin Graham

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(the grackles are back / Julie Cook / 2015)

A common visitor to the yard, in the quiet dull grey winter months, is the common grackle.
A lanky gregarious bird who reminds one of that over the top boisterous relative who comes periodically to visit, wreaking havoc on one’s usually quiet, calm and orderly world.
The grackles swoop in by the hundreds, like a giant black undulating cloud, shape shifting against th bleak cold backdrop of sky.
Loud,
noisy,
obnoxious. . .

So imagine my confusion today when that oh so familiar black squawky loud cloud of winter descended on the yard in the middle of a hot, sweltering August morning.
Hummmm. . .

They swooped in by the hundreds—darting through the early morning sprinklers spraying a desperately thirsty lawn. They chased the regular birds from the feeders. They pecked and groused at the mourning doves. They filled the trees like a million black frigidity leaves. They devoured the stale bread I’d thrown out for the crows. Even the rabbits ran for cover when the shifting black cloud landed, blanketing the lawn like a heavy black curtain.
The silent genteel Southern morning calm now punctuated with the herky jerky jabbering din of chaos.

As to why this unseasonal visitation, I can’t exactly say—but I will say that it has brought a bit of lively vigor to this otherwise oppressively hot, dog day, sensory dulling, summer’s end. . .
I can’t help but feel a bit out of sync with this topsy turvy season business and wonder what, or more precisely who, just might show up next. . . .

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Stormy Weather

“I like to hear a storm at night. It is so cosy to snuggle down among the blankets and feel that it can’t get at you.”
― L.M. Montgomery

Old age is like a plane flying through a storm. Once you’re aboard, there’s nothing you can do.
Golda Meir

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(ominous clouds as tornado sirens howl on a stormy Sunday Georgia morning / Julie Cook / 2015)

“. . .Life is bare
gloom and misery every where
Stormy weather
Just can’t get my poor self together
I’m weary all the time
The time
So weary all the time”

2nd stanza / Stormy Weather

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There’s nothing like listening to that beautifully melodic and mesmerizing voice of the one and only Lena Horne.
I loved / love Lena. . .
Ms Horne was born to a generation of singers who sadly have come and gone.
Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James. . .
Soulful storytellers whose beauty and life’s trials, as well as their gift of song, could stir the deepest of emotions in even the most casual of listeners.

Lena Horne defined both class and grace.
Although being born in Brooklyn and spending most of her life in New York and Pennsylvania, Ms Horne spent a good bit of her childhood living in Fort Valley, Georgia—of which I suppose lead her to acquire that markedly distinct sultry southernesque drawl she’d call upon for wooing audiences and movie producers alike.

Today’s weather is a fitting tribute to the woeful lament Ms. Horne made famous, Stormy Weather.
First performed at the famous New York Cotton Club in 1933 yet a song made immortal when performed by Ms Horne in 1943 in the movie of the same name. . .

“. . .don’t know why, there’s no sun up in the sky. . .
Stormy Weather. . .”

I didn’t need Ms Horne however, to remind me of the current weather condition as the early morning wail of the tornado sirens was sign enough.
The sirens wailed, the phones buzzed with alerts and the television was rife with the warnings of impending doom. . .as in “SEEK SHELTER NOW!!!”

Luckily the “rotation” the doppler radar was indicating was remanning up in the clouds and thankfully had not descended to the ground.

It was to be on this tumultuous Sunday morning, as it is on many Sunday mornings, my husband was to treat me to breakfast out. As in I wasn’t going to have to cook it. It’s the only morning he’s not at work. As in he’s actually home. And of all the little treats in life. . . it’s breakfast out that I enjoy most. There’s just something special about heading out on a lazy stress free morning to some inviting little restaurant or tiny cafe, as the heady scent of bacon mingling with fresh coffee greets all at the door.

And so it was on this stormy, springtime morning I was to be treated to a nice breakfast out. The only problem was that an impending tornado was in the middle of my path to bacon and pancakes.
UGH!

The weatherman on the news was zooming in on a fierce looking storm hovering about 5 miles south down the road from our house. It’s amazing how they can pinpoint storms with such vivid accuracy. A Tornado Warning had been issued, the sirens were wailing and my stomach was growling.
We waited.
I peered out the windows.
The rain beat down.
No lightning thank goodness.
I hate lightning.
No winds.
Just black skies with torrential rains.

All of which got me thinking. . .
How often in life are we excited, full of anticipation, looking forward to something special, when suddenly, out of the blue, we get blindsided, we’re thrown a curve ball, we hit the proverbial bump in the road, we hit the wall? There’s a glitch that rears its ugly head in our best laid plans. Our assumptions for a complete follow-through are not what we had expected or anticipated.

Rather than savoring the smooth sailing toward a treat, a reward, a trip, a special event, a magnanimous moment we’re faced with an impending storm, a train wreck, a disaster, a detour. Our attentions shift, our guard gets up, plan B must be implemented, and we hunker down.
We wait.

And as it so happens with the worst of storms–the rains fall, the clouds lighten, the winds shift, the energies exhaust and the dangers pass.
With or without repercussions.
At which time we emerge bleary eyed, nerves shaken, but resolve in tact.
We’re ready to proceed, to continue, forward.
Maybe we have to pick up a few pieces along the way, maybe our plans are delayed. . .
yet nevertheless our eyes remain fixed. . .fixed on our hopes and dreams which remain down the road where we had yearned to travel in the first place.

So on this new morning to this new week, may you keep your eyes on the prize. . .
whatever that prize may be for you. . .
May you remain prepared for what life may throw in the middle of your travels
And may you remember that we all have stormy weather at some point in our lives
but that the storms will always, eventually, pass. . .

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. . .

Memory

Gratitude changes the pangs of memory into a tranquil joy.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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(an old home-place in the middle of nowhere western Georgia / Julie Cook / 2013)

The old metal spring frame screeches obnoxiously with the slightest turn and twist.
Eyes blink in the inky blackness haplessly trying to focus.
No street lights, no city glow, just the twinkling of a million stars filling an endless sky.

The mattress thin and lumpy, ancient army surplus, offers little in the way of comfort.
The unzipped sleeping bag certainly not refreshing in the stifling humid summer’s night air.
There’s no breeze, no movement, no relief. . .only the shrill symphony of sound produced by the profusion of an endless sea of tree frogs.

Lying in the darkness, with arms folded under head, staring upward at the nothingness in the tiny musty room, pleasant thoughts race across the expanse of time.
Old wooden planks pop and groan recalling the countless steps which once trod over the roughly hewn surface.
Fading laughter mixes with the steady hum of cicada.

The once binding tie of whispered secrets now mingle together with the rising smoke from the countless crackling fires.
Age old stones, stacked artfully together generations earlier, blackened by years of thick heavy soot, offer a warm, smokey, familiar welcome.

The intimate faces, which form a memorable past, collide in the middle of this darkened night, with the new faces of a current life.
The difference between now and then spans across an endless abyss of time and space.
The experiences of “then”, which make the current moments of “now”, merge mindlessly together resulting in the singleness of one

Lying in the darkness on a hot humid night, with all that was and with all that is, tenderly forming the basis of the dreams yet dreamt, heavy eyes now close as muscles give in to the weariness of time, while a magical dance of a thousand fireflies sparkles, beyond an old broken window, as the singleness of now is made whole by the union of then.

Melanzana, aubergine, mad apple–it’s all eggplant to me

“How can people say they don’t eat eggplant when God loves the color and the French love the name? I don’t understand.”
Jeff Smith (The Frugal Gourmet)

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First the flower, then the emerging fruit and finally the fully grown black beauty.
Eggplants making their way in the garden.

And yes, eggplant, as it is commonly referred to here in the US, is indeed a fruit and not a vegetable–matter of fact, it’s actually considered a berry.
Who knew?
Another little known fact is that eggplants contain nicotine, but the levels are so negligible that those smokers out there don’t need to get all excited.

Because I am Sophia Loren’s love child—oh you didn’t know that?
Don’t worry, Sophia Loren doesn’t know it either, but don’t tell my college roommates that.
They were convinced. Has to do with all that adoption business and a love of all things Italian but I digress as usual.
I thought at an early age I needed to add the eggplant to my palate.

And those giant purple things found in the grocery store can be a bit intimidating to the home cook. I mean really, what does one do with a giant purple globule of a veg. . . eh, fruit?!

Yes there is the standard quasi Italian eggplant parmesan, and the French melange of ratatouille, but I live in the South remember—we fry everything, including eggplant.

I wonder why that is.
I’ve never really stopped long enough to research why we southerners find it important to fry almost anything and everything. Didn’t I once read that Elvis’s favorite food was to fry a bacon, peanut-butter and banana sandwich? And now there’s tell of fried oreo cookies, and fried ice-cream and fried cheesecake—but the standard bearers are of course fried chicken, fired okra and fried green tomatoes. . .well, there’s just not much anything better than any of those nor anything much more Southern—except for maybe fried eggplant.

Here’s a couple of shots from a previous frying episode

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Here’s a quick tutorial to serving fried eggplant.

I always peel my eggplant—the skin can often taste bitter and does not break down well when fired, making for unpleasant eating. I find that store bought eggplant’s skin is more bitter and tough than my garden fresh variety, but it just makes for easier eating to peel it away.

Slice the eggplant into thin rounds.
The pictures here are of the large more global shaped eggplant verses the more sledder Japanese eggplant pictured earlier in the post–either one works splendidly.

There are even white eggplants–which seem to fit the whole name thing much better than the purple specimens.
I grew white ones once.
My husband likened them to looking more like dinosaur eggs than a delectable vegetable / fruit and was a bit put off—hence my now standard bearer purple variety.

First, I soak my eggplant in buttermilk.

Often folks will salt the rounds, layering them in a colander to drain for about 30 minutes, as this helps to remove the bitterness in the seeds (I wonder if that’s where the nicotine is hiding, hence the bitterness. . .)
I find that the soak in buttermilk is sufficient to render excess moisture and any lurking bitterness–soak about 30 minutes.

Prepare a plate or shallow pan with a mix of cornmeal, a little flour, salt, pepper, and any other spice addition that may float your boat–making for a nice dredging mixture.

Prepare a skillet with about a 1/2 inch of canola oil and heat over med heat until a pinch of flour dropped in sizzles or for the more exact among us—between 275 and 325 degrees.

Remove a round at a time out of its soaking liquid, allowing it to drip free of excess buttermilk— then dredge the eggplant round in the cornmeal mix, coating throughly on both sides.

Place coated rounds in the pan making certain not to overcrowd or overlap.

Fry on one side till a nice golden brown then flip to finish the other side.

Remove the cooked rounds to a wire rack to drain.

Fry remaining rounds then lightly salt, dust with grated parmesan cheese and serve immediately. You may serve with a dipping sauce of choice—a spicy remoulade, or fresh tomato salsa is nice, but my husband prefers a horseradish sauce for a little kick.

Enjoy!!
Mangia!

A very tenacious, sensuous and most southern vine–or–the final page to the story

“…how sweetly smells the honeysuckle in the hush’d night…”
-Tennyson
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(wild honeysuckle on an old fence post / Julie Cook / 2014)

The humidity was so heavy and the air so thick, no one dared moved for fear of suffocating.
The beads of sweat, growing larger across her brow eventually grew too heavy–giving way as if a dam had burst, trickling rapidly down past her rounded cheek, even more quickly down her supple neck and sensuously disappearing down her silky blouse.

“What on earth is that oh so heavenly scent?
The question directed at no one in particular as the now shadowed figure stepped out onto the ancient front porch through that same torn screen porch door her daddy had always sworn he’d get around to fixing.
“Oh that’s mama’s honeysuckle vine on the trellis over by the side fence” she replied in a slow drawn-out honey coated drawl that he could suddenly not place.
Was it Savannah? Maybe Charleston? Better yet, maybe Natchez.

She could smell something other than the honeysuckle. “Nothing like a freshly showered man” she silently mused.
A mix of soap and saving cream hung heavily between them.
Despite the recent shower, the stiffly starched clean white oxford cloth shirt stuck to his back.
He handed her a glass.

The glass was one of her daddy’s Waterford crystal old fashioned glasses, the one from the makeshift bar in the front room he had christened his office away from the office. More like a big boy’s secret club house– as mama use to flippantly tell the kids about daddy’s time in “the office.”

The cold heavy glass, feeling instantly familiar and refreshing to the touch, was also full of her daddy’s favorite bourbon. When she was a little girl, asking for a sip of her daddy’s drinks, he’d simply whisper he was having a drink of a secret medicine. With the ice rapidly melting, she thankfully raised the sharp edged glass to her thin dry lips. One sip and she immediately felt the warm brown liquid erasing any remaining tension from the weight of the worries of the day. A silent “thank you Daddy for the medicine” wove itself into her thoughts.

As the cicadas gently hummed throughout the moonless night, he pulled over one of the other rockers asking if he could join her.
“Whenever did you have to ask to sit down” she quizzically quipped.
He couldn’t tell if she was playing or was actually annoyed.
It had been a dreadfully long day and he knew how heavy her heart had to be.

“Ever since you decided to spend the evening in the dark on this front porch” came his reply, attempting to sound more matter of fact rather than accusatory.

Suddenly he felt a warm hand reaching through the thick air landing gingerly upon his knee.
“It’s been a long day and a long life” she exhaled as she spoke in that breathless way she did when she fought from crying.
The years suddenly draining from her body as he placed his much cooler hand over hers.

Maybe it was the bourbon, maybe it was sitting on the terribly familiar porch, maybe it was the deeply southern humid evening–but whatever it was. . .she had finally sensed that she was going to be ok—-maybe it was because she had finally understood that she was just as stubborn, just as sensuous and just as tenacious as that damned ol honeysuckle vine her mama had planted 45 years ago, the one her daddy cussed every summer as he’d get stung by the visiting bees when she’d make him go prune the blasted thing.

In just a few short weeks, a little bit of Southern Heaven for expectant tastebuds

Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.
May Sarton

ADD A LITTLE OF THIS:

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(a small section of the plowed garden)

PLUS A LITTLE OF THIS

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(a few heirloom tomatoes ready for planting)

WHICH EQUALS A LOT OF THIS:

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(part of last year’s bounty of heirloom tomatoes)

AND OF COURSE THE BEST PART IS THIS:

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(sliced heirloom tomatoes, shredded basil, chopped chives, fresh green peas, sea salt, fresh ground pepper—add blue cheese or feta—yum. . .)

Yep, it’s that time of year again.
Actually we’ve gotten a rather late start.
Things should have been plowed and planted by now, but as this was the year for the winter that wouldn’t let go. . . we’ve had to wait.

Yesterday the ground was plowed, boosted with the addition of fertilizer and plowed again.
Hopefully a nice little passing rain shower, which is predicted for this morning, may grace the freshly tilled soil.
Add the water, let dry, plow again, then add tiny tomatoes, eggplants then the myriad of seed packs—yellow crookneck squash, black beauty zucchini, leeks, Blue lake bush beans, Silver Queen and Peaches and Cream Corn, yellow wax beans, bush baby limas, bush cucumbers, red and orange bell peppers, etc

And now, we wait. . .

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. . .)

Observations of a southern snow

“Never trust to general impressions, my boy, but concentrate yourself upon details.”
― Arthur Conan Doyle

Images taken during the beautiful yet crippling Georgia snow–
As I post these images, there are still individuals who have yet to make it home. The storm arrived higher and earlier than anticipated, leaving thousands scrambling to depart both work and home–all at the same time creating a traffic nightmare. Snow is one thing, but brutally cold temperatures wickedly turn the gentle white blanket into a sheet of deceiving ice.

Prayers to all who were stuck in the traffic gridlock which Atlanta became. . .forcing so very many to spend long cold nights in cars and buses—witnessing schools turning into 24 hour care centers for the hundreds of students, throughout the state, who were unable to leave school for home.

But behind the misery lies a frozen world of magic. . .

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I’ll fly away

“Every bird that flies has the thread of the infinite in its claw.”
Victor Hugo,

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(crows taking off from the field / Julie Cook / 2014)

Watching two crows waddle about on a cold January morning, on their never ending quest for something to eat, only to have them spooked by who knows what— I was reminded of a very old and very southern song—“I’ll Fly Away”

Having been raised in the Episcopal / Anglican Church, with it’s rich ancient sounds and music, songs such as I’ll Fly Away were never a part of my Church experience much less on my radar. . . However it is that part about being raised in the South which leads itself to my being very familiar with this “other” type of church music—music simply known as Gospel Music.

I am certainly no aficionado of music and truthfully I prefer, as well as love and adore, the more ancient hymns of an ancient church— but I would not be true to my southern raising if I totally eschewed the type of music which is rooted as deep as it can go into this very deep South I call home.

Music is as much a part of our lives here in the South as it is a part of our history—it is who we are as a people. So much so that it has transcended an entire Nation, offering the world a unique sound that is truly all our own.

Much of the Gospel music echoing out of this sun-baked ground, found only here in these Southern states, is steeped in the histories of a wide variety of people— all of whom made their way to this area very long ago by either choice or coercion.

Whether it is the traditional music of the “Negro Spirituals”, whose history is mingled with the blood, sweat and tears of the cotton fields of long gone plantations–songs of faith and strength created by those brought here against their own wishes in order to tend the land of others—– or be it those of the melodic tragic stories and tales as told by an accented clannish people who fled the famine of another country, traveling across a vast ocean, only to settle within the “highlands”, as it were, of Appalachia— culture and music are each wedded and woven just as intricately as the kudzu and red dirt which both run deep and wide here in the South.

The “hymn” I’ll Fly Away was written by Albert E. Brumley in 1929. Need we be reminded of what transpired in this Country in 1929? Our fate that year was sealed on Wall Street as it, along with almost everything around this Nation of ours, crashed. Who living at that time most likely didn’t wish to “fly away”–as things, as a whole, were tragically bad for this Nation. Lives were shattered and changed forever. Dreams vanished over night. Hope was a lost commodity on an entire generation of people—so perhaps it was the desire of flying away, leaving those burdens of a very heavy and weary life behind, which most likely appealed to the masses.

It is claimed that the song I’ll Fly Away is the most widely recorded Gospel song in history. It has been taken and amended by not only Gospel singers, but those who sing Country, Bluegrass, Rock-a-billy, Rock, Christian, Jazz, Pop and even Rap. Most interesting that one song has had the ability of transcending such a wide variety of genres. Perhaps that speaks to the staying power of the lyrics themselves. Depending on who is currently singing, some of the lyrics may be added, subtracted or amended, but over all it is the enduring freeing gist of the song which remains the same—that of leaving behind the trials of life. . .oh to be freed, free as the bird who has just been released from a cage, soaring heavenward, all to the waiting arms of a loving Father—oh by and by. . .by and by.

So on this new day to a new week, don’t be surprised if at some point you too may find yourself wishing to just leave it all behind—however, just remember, don’t fly too high.

Some bright morning when this life is over
I’ll fly away
To that home on God’s celestial shore
I’ll fly away

I’ll fly away oh glory
I’ll fly away (in the morning)
When I die hallelujah by and by
I’ll fly away

When the shadows of this life have gone
I’ll fly away
Like a bird from these prison walls I’ll fly
I’ll fly away

Oh how glad and happy when we meet
I’ll fly away
No more cold iron shackles on my feet
I’ll fly away

Just a few more weary days and then
I’ll fly away
To a land where joys will never end
I’ll fly away