Martes, oct. 09 de 2012

The Georgia excursions

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0 Opiniones Opine

Georgia is my home state, even though I was born across the state line in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and work and schooling have taken me all over the Southeast. But I’ve lived in Georgia for almost 20 years, so if I have a home state, this is it.

In truth, my attachment to my adopted state began years before I actually lived here. I grew up in a suburb of Chattanooga called East Brainerd, which literally abutted the Tennessee-Georgia line. As soon as I was old enough to leave the neighborhood on my bike (you could do that, back in those days) I discovered that the nearest places of interest to a young boy were all just across the line in the village of Graysville, Georgia.

Chickamauga Creek, as it runs through Graysville, is wide and deep. My friends and I spent many a summer day on that stretch of creek, fishing or jumping off our rope swing or just floating around in the moccasin-infested water. A little further downstream were a dam and a mill pond and even an old abandoned stone mill, with signs warning “Do Not Enter.”Of course we did.

A few years later, when I was in high school, my family moved across the state line. I would live in Georgia for the next eight years, until I went off to graduate school. Then, in 2000, Georgia called me back, this time to the Atlanta bedroom community of Lawrenceville, with a family of my own in tow.

Meanwhile, my parents had stayed in North Georgia, selling our suburban home and moving to a small farm in remote Kensington. Over the years, as my four children were growing up, that farm became one of our family’s favorite places. My kids, lifelong suburbanites, learned to fish in grandma’s and grandpa’s creek and discovered that swimming in a pond can be more fun than swimming in a pool, once you quit worrying about whatever is nipping at your feet. They got to ride on a tractor, see cows up close and personal, and go with grandpa to pick up a load of hay. Today those are some of their favorite memories, and I consider those times to be an indispensible part of their upbringing.

Perhaps all of that helps to explain why, when my dad asked if I would like to ride along while he took pictures for a new book about Georgia’s back roads, I jumped at the chance. I had accompanied him on a couple of occasions when he was photographing his previous book, Rock City Barns: A Passing Era, and enjoyed it immensely. I have never had any desire to be a photographer, but on those trips – adventures, really – I certainly began to understand the lure. Besides, the subject matter of this book piqued my interest because of my own happy associations with rural Georgia.

Our Georgia excursions differed from the barnhunts: less adventurous, more laid back. We weren’t looking for anything in particular, just for something worth photographing. For the Rock City Barns book, we were looking for specific locations where Rock City barns stood, or had once stood, at least. Since most of the barns were painted back in the 60s, the landscapes had changed quite a bit. Many of them were no longer on main thoroughfares, either, the Interstate highway system having changed America’s travel patterns in the 70s and 80s. That meant that many of the barns were difficult to locate, so searching for them made me feel like a cross between Ansel Adams and Indiana Jones.

This time, we were just driving around, stopping to shoot anything that my Dad thought was interesting. And maybe one or two things that I thought were interesting, although looking at the final selections, I don’t feel like I contributed much. I think the only shots that made the cut from the days I rode along  are the little shed with “Posted! Keep Out!” signs on page 124, like a clubhouse my friends and I might  have made when we were kids, and the metal eagle  and dragon on page 119. (Although it was one of  the strangest and most random things we saw.)

I also enjoyed the diverse scenery  —the small ranchstyle homes, the mountains purplish— gray in the distance, the poorly paved roads, the little boys, shirtless, riding wobbly bicycles while trying to hold onto fishing poles. It all took me back to my own boyhood, where the suburbs of Chattanooga pulled up abruptly against a culture that hadn’t changed much in 50 years.

But even if I didn’t do much for the book, that’s okay, because it does a lot for me: it transports me back 40 years, to a time when I was a little boy with a fishing pole balanced across my handlebars, zig-zagging down one of Georgia’s back roads. If I could go back and ride my bike down to Chickamauga Creek, if I could fish in the old mill pond or jump off the best and highest rope swing ever or stop by the ancient general store for penny candy, I would. Turns out it’s  really true —you can’t go home again.

But this book is the next best thing.

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