Pretend it’s pepper

The fall line in Georgia is a narrow border between the rolling hills of the Piedmont Province and the flatter Coastal Plain. Millions of years ago the fall line was actually Georgia’s Atlantic coast line. It’s called the fall line because there is a quick decrease in elevation characterized by waterfalls and rapids. It’s the furthest upstream that the early settlers were able to navigate easily on the rivers. For that reason, towns were often formed at the fall line, like Columbus (home of Fort Benning) on the Chattahoochee River, Macon (best known for the Allman Brothers) on the Ocmulgee River, and Augusta (home of Fort Gordon and the Augusta National Golf Course) on the Savannah River.

The fall line also happens to coincide with another border in Georgia known as the gnat line. Below the gnat line, there is a kind of gnat that breeds in the sandy soil of that region. In the summer, the gnats rise up in swarms so thick it’s hard to keep them out of your eyes, nose and ears. Once many years ago when I was a small boy, my family vacationed at Jekyll Island, one of Georgia’s barrier islands near the southern end of the Georgia coast. My most vivid memory is of eating a picnic lunch and trying to keep the gnats out of the food.

We who live up here in the Valley and Ridge Province, part of the Appalachian Plateau, are not supposed to suffer the plague of the gnats, but lately I could make a good argument against that proposition. I spend a good part of my morning dog walk swatting gnats away from my ears and eyes. It may be only the recency illusion, but it seems like the gnat problem has been getting worse up here in north Georgia.

But maybe it’s not an illusion. The Macon Telegraph had a small article about whether the gnat line is moving north. Jeff Burne, an entomologist at Middle Georgia State University, said the gnats of south Georgia need sandy soil to breed, so they can’t actually move north of the sandy Coastal Plain. However, he said that another kind of gnat isn’t so limited. The reason those gnats may be (or seem to be) increasing in numbers north of the gnat line is global warming. North Georgia is just getting to be a better place for gnats to live.

The gnats I experience every day don’t swarm in the numbers that the gnats of south Georgia do. They are aggravating, of course, but so far I haven’t swallowed any, at least as far as I know. In south Georgia, however, it has long been considered impossible to eat outside without eating gnats, who seem to like human food almost as much as they like human eyes and ears. Down there, it’s just a way of life. When you look down and see gnats all over your food, there’s only one thing you can do: just pretend it’s pepper.

The 2 percent sol

Our eclipse was right on schedule Monday at 2:34 PM here in Rome, Ga. We had about 98 percent coverage of the sun. We took the same pictures that probably millions of others who were not in the path of totality did. Here are the crescents made by the sun filtering through a sparsely-leafed maple next to the driveway.

We made an eclipse viewer from a cardboard box. I cut a flap out of the side so we could look in. I made a small hole — a pinhole, as they say — that focused the sun’s rays pretty well, but I have to admit that viewing an eclipse that way is not all that satisfying. I think our new cat is going to get more use out of it than we did.

A couple of hours from of us (in normal traffic, not eclipse traffic) the extreme northeastern tip of Georgia was within in the path of totality. The TV stations covered it, of course. The thousands of people who gathered in the little towns in northeast Georgia had a scare as the clouds moved in, but I think they got a pretty decent look at the fully-eclipsed sun. The televised image from a telescope was probably better than what they got with the naked eye.

My brother was in Tennessee at almost the exact center of the moon’s shadow, so he got the full effect of the eclipse.

I would like to experience a total eclipse. Although I would like to see the solar corona when the sun is fully covered, what I would really love to see is the shadow of the moon racing towards us at 1800 miles an hour.

They say the next eclipse in the continental US is in 2024. I will be 74 by that time, but I hope I’m still able to travel. Maybe Leah and I can start making plans right away.

Muscadine summer

Ripe muscadines lying on the road are a sure sign of late summer. They are ubiquitous on the mountain. The vines are thick in the woods and on the ground along our driveway, but the most ripe grapes I have seen lately are across the road from the driveway. They grow in small groups but not in bunches like most commercially-raised grapes.

These are nearly ripe. These turn almost black at the peak of ripeness. Other varieties range from lighter red to green when ripe.

Ripe muscadines fall readily off the vine.

I think I posted some time ago about cutting some trees in the woods at our old house and not being able to get the trees to fall because their tops were laced together by muscadine vines. The vines produce fruit on new growth, so they tend to grow vigorously. I have read on one site that the original European settlers in the Southeast found old muscadine vines a foot in diameter. I haven’t seen any that thick, but vines a few inches in diameter are not uncommon.

Muscadines are native to the American South. According to the California Rare Fruit Growers Web site, they can be grown in the warmer grape-growing regions of California, Oregon and Washington, but their true home and the place they do the best is in the warm, humid, long summers of the American Southeast.

Grapes are apparently toxic to dogs, but Sam has been a little too quick for me on a couple of occasions and has scarfed down a grape or two. No ill effects so far, but I do need to keep him away.

Muscadines have a strong, musky but quite pleasant taste. The skins are thick and tough and the seeds are almost inextricable from the pulp. One Georgia gardening expert suggests putting a grape in the mouth, biting into the skin, sucking the juice, and then spitting the skin and pulp out. This, like watermelon eating, is best done outdoors.

Back in the day

I found several old photographs that I wanted to include in the post I did for my father’s 100th birthday on August 2, but sometime in the move from our old house last year I lost the power cord for my scanner. I ordered a new cord, and I have finally uploaded the scans.

This is my father (he thought) and his mother, in a photo that must have been taken in 1917 or early 1918, not long after his birth. Based on the plants behind them, it must have been warm weather, so probably late summer or early fall of 1917. He was wearing a dress at the time.

The photo was not taken at the house in Rome where my father grew up, so it might be where my grandmother and grandfather lived in the little town of Cave Spring, not far from Rome.

This is a photo of my father’s biological father, who died when my father was so young that he had essentially no memory of him. I can’t remember how he died, but it was from something that does not kill people today.

I don’t see any facial resemblance to my father, except maybe the hairline. Leah thinks he does resemble my father. I can say, though, that I must come from a long line of dog lovers.

This is my father in his uniform wearing a garrison cap.

I’m not sure where this was taken. It might be in the back yard of his home; there was an alley that ran beside the house from 5th Avenue up to what was then Avenue C. I don’t think it was in the front yard on 5th Avenue, because the houses don’t seem to be right. It’s probably just me, but I think the 1940’s Army uniforms look better than the current ones. I think they have more in common with 19th Century uniforms than the later 20th Century uniforms. The boots and trousers look like a horse-back riding uniform. In fact, my father trained in horse-drawn artillery units before the Tiimberwolf Division deployed overseas; of course by the time they reached Europe, the US Army was’t using horses for combat transportation.

This is my father and mother in front of another unknown house. Since both are now gone, there really isn’t anyone to ask where it was taken. He’s wearing a service cap in this photo. He was also wearing a Sam Browne belt, as you can tell by the small buckle in the center of his chest.

This is the “old home place” where my father grew up.

I don’t know when this house was originally constructed, but I believe it was prior to the widespread use of indoor plumbing in Rome, probably in the late 1800’s. The house consists of four rooms, two on each side of a central hall that ran from the front porch to the back porch. I think the house originally had a porch on all four sides. As you can see, the windows were taller than the front door. I think even when this house was built doors were usually the same height as modern doors, which is six feet, eight inches. In modern architecture, the tops of windows and the tops of doors are at the same height. In this house, the windows are higher than the door top and reach all the way to the floor. This was a typical Southern construction method which was intended to help ventilate rooms in the hot, humid summers.

The room layout was probably a living room or parlor and a dining room at the front, and two bedrooms at the rear. I think the house had several significant modifications by the time I came along. A separate apartment was added on the back left side room by enclosing part of the porch. What my father called the sleeping porch was a room that was enclosed on the porch off the back right bedroom. I think it was used as a bedroom during hot weather.

There was a small sitting room on the back rear that was under the porch roof, and a kitchen that I think was at least mostly under the porch roof at the back corner of the house. My grandparents basically lived in the kitchen, sitting room and the back right bedroom. The other rooms were seldom if ever used.

There was a bathroom on the extreme left corner of the house, also under the porch roof, that could be reached only by going out of the sitting room and walking across the porch. It was necessary to go outside to reach this bathroom, although my grandparents put some kind of plastic sheeting on the porch to kind of enclose it.

The structure on the left of the house is an old greenhouse, which I vaguely remember.

This kind of architectural history is interesting to me and probably a few people in the world, but probably not to many others.

My father and at least one of his male relatives weatherproofed an old chicken coop in the back yard and moved their beds out there. One was Uncle Charlie, my father’s maternal uncle, who looked so much like my father that some people occasionally confused the two. The biggest clue to which was which was the fact that Uncle Charlie lost his right arm in an accident.

I also scanned a photo that my father took in Europe when he was there during WW II.

This is actually a contact print. There is some writing on the back that identifies it as a German gun emplacement on Utah Beach in September 1944. Not as busy as it was three months earlier. I wondered where or when my father got this photo processed. I discovered something on the back when I scanned it.

There is a very faint stamp on the back. I can read part of it: “NOT FOR PUBLICATION”, and 5 MAR. I can’t read the year, but it’s probably 1945. I assume from this that it was printed at some Army darkroom in Europe.

After looking at this photo and the photos of my father in uniform, I looked at the Wikipedia entry on the 104th Infantry Division. It’s basically a shortened history of the division, a little easier to follow than the much more highly detailed account in Timberwolf Tracks, the history of the division. I saw place names that my father mentioned in the stories he told us: Camp Adair, Aachen, the Ruhr and the Rhine. For some reason, seeing those names had a stronger emotional impact on me than just looking at the old photos. I can still hear him saying those names.

One hundred

My father was born 100 years ago today, August 2, 2017.

This is one of the earliest photographs of me, my brother and my father. I’m on the right.

I’m not sure I actually have any memories of those days. I must have been only about two years old, so that was around 65 years ago. Is that a lens cap I’m holding?

My father spent a few of his years as a young adult in Europe, where he met a few of the natives. That’s him on the left.

Although the houses might be from a lot of different places in Europe or even Britain, this is almost certainly Belgium, since my father’s division was the first to travel directly from the US to the mainland of Europe. Some Belgians still remember his division, 104th Infantry Division (the Timberwolf Division), with affection and respect for their role in liberating them from the Nazis.

He did some preparation for his trip to Europe in the American West.

This could be Arizona or possibly Colorado. It might also be somewhere in Oregon, although I haven’t seen enough of Oregon to be sure there is anywhere there that looks like this.

He was not a desert rat, but he looked like one.

It’s the goggles. He’s still wearing the crossed cannons of the artillery rather than the muskets of the infantry.

It might not be immediately obvious, but even typewriters played a part in winning the war.

When my father returned from Europe after World War II, he and my mother lived in Akron, Ohio, for a few years. That was where my brother was born. They moved back to Rome, Ga., in time for me to be born in 1950, and they spent the rest of their lives there.

By the late 1960’s they had sold my old home place on Redmond Road to a medical clinic and had built a house on the other side of town. That’s where this photo was taken.

This is me, my mother, her mother, and my father. You can get an idea of the date from the pants I was wearing: purple, button-fly bellbottoms. My lack of facial hair dates it to around 1973 or 1974, when I was working for the Augusta (Ga) Chronicle. I had a beard when I interviewed in 1973, but the managing editor wanted me to shave. So I did, until he died a year or so later. Then I grew it back.

My parents retired but kept busy. This must have been when they were about to leave to attend some sort of fairly formal event, possibly when they were singing in the community chorus in Rome.

This, like the previous image, is a scan of a Polaroid print.

Time passes while you’re busy doing things, which is a good recipe for missing a lot of other things. I was lucky enough to have quit my full-time job and gone back to work as a part-time consultant in the late 1990’s, which allowed me the freedom to accompany my parents on a few of their long RV trips.

This is a picture of my father at Craters of the Moon National Park in Idaho.

He has a kokopelli on his hat and he’s wearing a sweat shirt with a timber wolf on the front. His Nikon F2AS is hanging around his neck. This photo was taken probably around 1997, twenty years after he bought the camera. I remember because he ordered it but had to leave with my mother on one of their months-long RV trips before it arrived. My father arranged to have his brother mail it to me at Lake Tahoe where I was living at the time. My parents stopped there for a couple of weeks. They left from there for Yosemite. I rode my motorcycle down from Lake Tahoe to see Yosemite with them.

They say that the sense of smell is directly wired into the brain in a more visceral way than the other senses. That may be true. To this day I can still recall the smell of their Airstream trailer, a distinctive smell I associate with traveling, the West and my parents.

This Craters of the Moon photo was taken before my father started showing obvious symptoms of the pulmonary fibrosis that would eventually cause his death. That death came in 2000, seventeen and a half years ago, when my father was 82 and I was approaching 50.

So 100 years. A century. One tenth of a millennium. In other words, a long time ago. There is almost no one alive today who was alive when my father was born. There is almost no one alive today who has first-hand knowledge of the world my father grew up in. I’m fortunate that my father told us a lot about his life when he was growing up. In fact, I think he did a lot to make the experiences of my brother and me like his own. We grew up a mile from where he grew up and spent a lot of time walking along the same railroad tracks and throwing rocks into the river at the same places he did. In some ways I think he relived his own boyhood with my brother and me.

I wish he had told us more. I wish he had been able to stay around a little longer.