Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Historic Georgia and My Last Night of Camping (For a While!)

A bottle tree, which African-Americans believed
attracted and captured harmful spirits

On a mountain in the woods...

Tomorrow I will reach Palmetto, Georgia, one of the major destinations on my trip. I'll be spending several weeks pet- and house-sitting at Serenbe, an intentional sustainable community that has a bountiful organic farm, restaurants, an inn, a farmers market, housing, stores and galleries, and a nonprofit institute that seeks to bring it all together--the arts, nature, culture and people.

I don't actually need to report for work until next week, but there are cool things going on at Serenbe this weekend! There is a Spring Harvest Festival that will raise funds for the local charter school, as well as a gallery opening on Saturday night. So I'll get a chance to get to know Sarah, the person whose pets I'll be caring for, and a few hundred of her friends, before she takes off for Italy next week.

These last few days of heading north through western Georgia have been some of the most interesting of my entire trip so far. I spent a night at Devoncrest Travel Park near Albany and then visited Plains the next day.

Devoncrest, by the way, is a great stop if you need any RV repairs. I'd exhausted every way of duct-taping and wiring on the old door over my propane tank compartment. At the RV park, they created a new locking metal door for me out of an old metal RV vent cover--for $25! I thought this was great, 'cause I saw at least two guys working on this project for about an hour.

Plains was great except for the 100 degree weather and nasty gnats. I toured the Jimmy Carter childhood farm and, as luck would have it, I once again arrived at a museum just as a school group was starting a personalized tour, so I got to tag along and get far more insight than I would have from just wandering through the site myself. I got a real sense of why President Carter has such strong Christian values and love for the land and the American people. He worked hard from the time he was just a little kid, sometimes walking 6 miles to sell peanuts in town and nearly always having his meals interrupted to go open the store that his family ran on their farm for local folks who would walk over for a plug of tobacco or a pound of sugar. He got up at 4 a.m. nearly every day of his young life to go catch the mules so the day's work could begin. His childhood friends were all African-Americans, and he became keenly aware of his opportunities when they parted at the gate each day--Jimmy heading off to high school, while his friends had to stay home and work.

I also visited the public school that both Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter attended, which is now a very nice museum covering not only their childhood, but their return to Plains in 1953 after Earl Carter died. They had to take over the family business, which had fallen into such disarray that they actually qualified for public housing the first year they were back home. They quickly turned things around, though, by a combination of hard work and seeking education in agriculture and business. Jimmy had wanted to continue his Naval career, but instead became a farmer, engineer, inventor, and politician. He still teaches adult Sunday school at the local Baptist church several times a month, and anybody is welcome to attend his class. I think I would have liked and admired everything about this man, even if he'd never been the first President of the United States that I voted for as a young adult.

I spent last night at another RV park near Americus. It was a totally forgettable place, but it had hookups, which are essential here this time of year unless you've had time to acclimate to the warm temps, which I haven't yet.

Then today I headed to Andersonville, the Confederate prison where nearly 13000 Yankee soldiers died in just a little over one year due to overcrowding, poor nutrition, bad water, worms and sometimes outright murder. The most interesting aspect of Andersonville to me was the museum which is dedicated not just to the Civil War, but to all prisoners of war. It was fascinating to learn why it's so important whether a prisoner is designated a POW or called something else. If he is a POW, he is entitled to certain standards of treatment under international law. Unfortunately the designation of a prisoner is usually determined by his captor. I could have spent more time at this museum, except it was full of rowdy 8th graders. Unlike the Alamo, the staff did not insist on decorum or a show of respect for the fallen.

I also enjoyed the small town of Andersonville, where the local historical society has the smaller Drummer Boy Museum. And the cafe has $1 ice cream cones!

Since tonight is my last night camping for a while, I decided to splurge on a nice state park. F.D. Roosevelt State Park is up on Pine Mountain, about 80 miles southeast of Atlanta. It's a huge park with lots of recreational opportunities--hiking, boating, fishing, a swimming pool, cabins, camping, horseback riding, and more. After two very hot, humid days, it is great to be in the woods.

FDR's "Little White House" is also located in this park, and I'll take a quick look at it tomorrow before I head up to Serenbe. I remember seeing footage of this place on a PBS special about polio a few years ago. I may get a swim in before I head out, as well, because my drive should only take me a little over an hour.

There have been many interesting things to see as I've wandered through this part of Georgia--the soil that's redder than a new penny, the small towns where I didn't see another white person except maybe the cop, a bottle tree, and the unusual foods that I tried (cracklins make me sick to my stomach and boiled peanuts are just plain yucky, but the peaches, sweet potatoes and collard greens are awesome). A true history buff could probably spend months in Georgia and never get bored.

So, my readers, the focus of this blog will change for the next few weeks as I stay in one place. I expect there will be no interruption of the adventures, however!

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