Now and then

When I worked in Huntsville, Al, I occasionally had to fly on business. That almost always meant flying out of the Huntsville airport to Atlanta. I usually tried to get an aisle seat, but on the short flight to Atlanta I liked to sit by a window and stare down at the passing scenery, since we flew over northwest Georgia where we live.

On one such flight I noticed a distinctive mountain formation. There were two ridges that formed an almost completely enclosed valley, and in the middle of the valley there was an oval mountain. I thought that was odd, because it looked so much like the ridges that form Big Texas Valley and Little Texas Valley. I thought that type of formation couldn’t be all that common in northwest Georgia. And then I realized that it actually was our mountains. I looked more carefully and actually saw our house. This image is from Google Earth. When zoomed, out house is very obvious because of the light blue roof.

texas valley

Lavender Mountain, our mountain, forms the southern boundary of Little Texas Valley. Simms Mountain forms the northern boundary of Big Texas Valley. Rocky Mountain sits in the middle, separating the two valleys (which I usually just lump together as Texas Valley). Lavender Mountain has a fishhook extension that turns north towards Simms Mountain and almost closes the gap. A separate mountain extends along the main ridge of Lavender Mountain. That’s Turnip Mountain.

There is another pocket formed by a fishhook mountain near us actually named The Pocket. Here is another Google Earth view.

the pocket

It turns out that this sort of formation is not uncommon in the Valley and Ridge province of northwest Georgia where we live. This region was formed by folding of strata, with the erosion-resistant sandstone forming ridges and the more-easily-eroded limestone forming the valleys. If you think about an irregularly folded sheet, it’s not hard to imagine how pockets and gaps could form.

Not far from The Pocket there is a little community my father told me about. He said that many years ago when the community was looking for a name for itself, they asked a local doctor to name it, with the provision that he not name it after himself. So Dr. Underwood named it Subligna.

Topo maps often show a lot of towns that don’t exist any more. In the days prior to automobiles and good roads, there were lots of small towns and communities with their own business districts and their own, distinct personalities serving people who didn’t have time for a long trip by wagon to a bigger town. When the automobile became common, most of them disappeared as actual towns. It’s hard to imagine how isolated people were 100 years ago if they didn’t live in a big city, and even Rome didn’t qualify as a big city.

Armuchee, a few miles north of Rome on the way to The Pocket, had its own post office, businesses and a railroad line to connect it with Rome. Maps show a community named Fouche in Big Texas Valley, which had a post office. There was a community named Lavender somewhere on the southern edge of Lavender Mountain that also had a post office and railroad service to connect it with the big city of Rome. Some of Armuchee’s buildings still exist, but today the name just refers to an area with indistinct boundaries miles away from “downtown Armuchee”.

I don’t know whether Lavender ever had its own businesses or even a building for its stop, but as far as I can tell, nothing exists to mark it other than an abandoned railroad right of way.

In searching around for information on our area, I also found the nearby communities of Poetry and Sprite. Like Lavender and Fouche, both of these exist today only as names on topographic maps, or maybe in the memory of someone older than me.

Projectile points

Finding an Indian arrowhead in this part of Georgia is exciting but not particularly unusual. According to the archeologists, Indians have lived in this part of Georgia for more than 10,000 years and they were making stone implements for essentially all that time. For most of those thousands of years, the stone implements were spear points, axes, scrapers, knives and maybe other things, but not arrowheads. Arrowheads appeared only around 2,000 years ago.

Here is an arrowhead fragment I found around here a couple of years ago along with a complete arrowhead that Leah found when her parents were building their house in the early ‘60’s. I outlined the complete point and laid the fragment in it.

two points compared

It seems clear to me that the fragment is part of a full point that would be very similar to the complete point. I’m going to call the point I found an “arrowhead” because it seems to be the right size and shape, but it might, in fact, be something else. I suspect that an expert would be able to identify the marks that the maker left when the point was chipped from the original source stone. But to me the shape in general is enough to convince me that it really is part of an arrowhead.

Here the fragment is in my hand to give an idea of the size.

point in hand

The fragment appears to be made from chert. One Web site says that brown chert is common in southern Georgia, while gray or black chert is common in northwestern Georgia. The same site says that brown chert turns reddish when heated. The fact that Leah’s arrowhead is black is consistent with where she found it, but what about the reddish color of the fragment I found? Was it obtained in trade with Indians living further south?

I don’t know how many Indians lived around the Rome area through those thousands of years, but if you assume that as few as a couple of people who made or used projectile points lost or broke a couple each year, that would mean there were tens of thousands of projectile points scattered in the area. Maybe not as many arrowheads, but I’m going to make an uneducated guess that Indians might have lost or broken arrowheads at a higher rate than other stone implements. My guess is based on the relatively small size and the fact that arrowheads are shot from bows in ways that might make them hard to find if they missed their target. Even if that assumption is not true, if you assume a couple of lost or broken arrowheads every year from a given small population, there should still be at least a couple of thousand points in the area where that small population lived.

They would have to have been lost mainly in areas where they were made or used, so they are probably concentrated in some areas and scarce in others. The Rome area should be such a point. We know for sure that there was a reasonably large population not far from Rome, up the Etowah River near Cartersville, because they built large earth mounds there somewhere around 1,500 years ago. We also know that Indians caught fish in the rivers around here, because of the fishing weirs that still exist in the Oostanaula and Etowah rivers. It seems reasonable that the two rivers that meet in Rome would have provided a constant, reliable source of water for human and animal needs. Today there is a lot of game around our mountain, deer, squirrel, rabbit and turkey at least. I assume, maybe wrongly, that the same types of animals would have been here for thousands of years. There seems to be good reason for Indians to have uses their stone implements in this area, so, in my view, it’s not surprising that I found a projectile point. And the simple fact is that I did.

That leaves only the question of how I found it.

I was looking down as I walked. The arrowhead was lying on the ground surrounded by pieces of rock about the same size and color. If you had been trying to find a good place to hide an arrowhead in plain sight, it would have been a good choice. But my eye was drawn to it, and when I saw it I knew immediately what it was, despite the fact that it was not even a complete arrowhead.

I know in general how I did it. Humans have a remarkable ability to recognize patterns. The human visual system – the eye and brain – do this job so well that we seem to be forced to find patterns even when there are none. For example, constellations and images of Jesus on a piece of toast. But still, finding it was an amazing feat, even if I do say so myself.

I didn’t have a camera with me when I found the fragment, but I went back some time later and put it down in an area similar to where I found it. After putting it down I’m not sure that I could have found the fragment if I had walked away and come back the next day, even though I knew where I put it.

hidden point Here it is with a cheater arrow.

hidden point pointed out

Here it is with a few rocks chosen from the area in the photograph.

point with rocks

It’s still kind of hard to see it, but you do the same thing pretty much every day. If you have ever become interested in something, say nice, round rocks, or box turtles, you are probably familiar with the way it seems like you start seeing them everywhere. They were always there, but your pattern recognition system has been trained to see them. Unconsciously you have identified some features of the thing you’re interested in, and your visual system automatically, with no conscious effort on your part, uses those features to discriminate between your object of interest, and everything else in the world.

I was not looking for anything in particular, much less arrowheads. And besides, it wasn’t even a whole arrowhead. Leah remains unsure that it is an arrowhead fragment. I understand pattern recognition, but I still don’t know how I recognized it so quickly and easily.

I do know that if you could turn what I did into a computer program, you could probably get a job in the field I used to work in (missile defense).

Dogwood problems

The dogwoods on the mountain are not looking too good. Most of the dogwoods on our property are showing leaf wilt. The natives and the transplants are both showing the same problem. As I walk the dogs I have noticed quite a few natives in the woods showing problems as well.

Here is a transplant of a native I found on the property. This one had been growing well. The top third or so of the tree seems to show the most leaf wilt.

transplanted dogwood

The one below is one of the original dogwoods on the property. I posted a picture of its blooms this spring. It has been very healthy for as long as I have been up here, going back to around 1999. Now it’s looking sad. About half of its little children growing nearby are also infected.

native dogwood

Fortunately the two specimens we planted out front don’t seem to be affected, at least yet.

At first I thought it was anthracnose, which has been troubling dogwoods for some time. But when I look for some of the signs I read about online, I am not finding them. I think it might be powdery mildew.

I think our wet spring is to blame for the problem. I don’t think we got an extraordinarily high amount of rain, but we seemed to get rain fairly often.

The world in a spider’s abdomen

The dogs and I have seen several interesting things in the road over the last few days. We saw snakes a few days ago, a newt on Sunday and a turtle on Tuesday. But the most interesting thing we saw on Tuesday was a black widow spider.

blackspider

You don’t really need to see the red hourglass to recognize a black widow. If it looks like it’s been spun out of shiny black glass, it’s a good bet it’s a black widow.

This one was in the road, apparently dead. It looks like it’s missing some legs. The red markings are not the well-known hourglass, because that’s on the under side. These red markings are on the upper side.

But here’s the cool thing. I leaned down to take a photo with my phone. It turned out pretty well, I thought. And then I enlarged the image.

worldinspider copy

You can see the reflection of the sky and even me in the abdomen. It’s like a black, spherical mirror. Black widow spiders may be dangerous, but they are beautiful in a sinister sort of way.

Snakes on a road

I saw this little garter snake Thursday morning as the dogs and I came back up Fouche Gap Road from our walk.

garter

I was happy to see this one still alive, because I had just seen one like it a few feet away that had been run over by a car. This one seemed content to stay at the side of the road, so I didn’t disturb it, if you ignore leaning down to get the picture. The snake stuck out its tongue at me.

A few days earlier as I was driving down the mountain I found a beautiful black racer lying in the middle of the road. I put on my emergency blinkers and stopped to try to get it to move off the road. It was about three feet long and very thin. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to get a picture because I had stopped at a curve and couldn’t linger.

The snake reared its head as I approached. I nudged its tail, but it didn’t want to move. I kept nudging it until it finally got the message and raced off into the woods.

People around here tend to run over snakes when they see them, whether they are venomous or not. That makes cool mornings and sunlit asphalt a dangerous combination. So far I haven’t found either the garter snake or the black racer dead on the road, so maybe they’ll make it.