America through the Windshield--Getting to Know the First Americans travel blog

Driving to Kolomoki, Blakely, GA

Thursday, March 08, 2012

We had a rather long drive today; however, the drive was one that we enjoyed. We saw more Georgia countryside as we meandered along county and state roads heading to our first prehistoric site during our stay in Georgia. The beauty the drive offered was just what a day in early spring should hold. We saw thousands of acres being prepared for planting. Farmers were pulling harrows to break up the clods of red clay that had hardened through the winter rains and winds. There were others who were plowing massive fields, shades of red clay, brick red to a burnt brown, breaking up the fields and turning under the green grass cover crops that give nutrients to the rested soil. We used our imaginations as we drove through and passed farm fields that were sometimes thousands of acres and others that were smaller and nestled between gullies, swamps or old home sites. We used our imaginations regarding future crops that would be planted. Would it be cotton that would be ginned in Blakely or Leslie, Georgia? Could it be a vast field overflowing with a peanut crop that would eventually wind up in Lance crackers manufactured in Columbus, Georgia? We could only daydream about the destinies of the summer’s crops as we began to take in the beauties of the south Georgia farmland.

In addition to farmers preparing fields for spring planting, we again saw miles and miles of aged pecan orchards. If these old established trees could share their stories, we knew they would tell of long-ago farmers who planted them and then years later harvested their fruit possibly selling bags of shelled and unshelled pecans at a road-side stand after selling most of the crops to commercial pecan buyers . Many of the orchards were still productive and full of trees that looked happy in squared rows, always parallel to paved or dirt roads, railroad tracks or adjacent fields. These orchards were stately with green grassy spaces under the trees with few random stretches of weeds or broken limbs that had fallen during winter winds and down pours. And, there were orchards that were past their prime; maybe, because the descendants no longer farmed or possibly because the farm land was no longer needed to support a family. Those orchards looked lonely, as if they had been overlooked or forgotten. These orchards grieved and cried out to us that they were no longer the farmer’s pride, joy or primary income.

We have seen pecan orchards that have boasted their pride with only healthy trees. The newer saplings that were scattered among the older generations would be productive in the distant future, after they had grown through their early childhood and adolescent years under the watchful eye of their elders and the farm hands. These were the lucky orchards that had irrigation systems and newly mowed grasses below their lengthy branches that were beginning to show their delight in the warmer days of spring and the warmer rains that provide them with moisture similar to the dew from cool nights. They were not yet bursting with their spring frocks, however, with warm evenings, warmer and longer days it would not be long before they would begin exploding with their first greens during this season of awakening.

One of the magnificent sights we witnessed today was an enormous pasture farm. All along the road was a series of grassy fields full of black angus cows in cooperative groups standing near fences. (Could it be the grass is greener on the other side?) They were bunched near small ponds, under trees and sometimes playing follow-the-leader to find the shortest route to the fresh bales of hay that were being delivered by a farm hand. Their steps were unhurried as they moved in the directions of their noses. Daylight hours consisted of no preplanned actions, no timelines, few considerations for the next meal, few interruptions to their orderly grouping, only the nudging of little ones as the cliques of equine pondered their chewing of cuds and partaking of the riches given to them to insure their health and readiness for market. Our unknowing eyes viewed the cattle farm as an idyllic profession requiring unlimited pastures, contented cows and calves with fenced pastures displaying random bales of hay. We knew only what we could see and that was enough for the sunny day and our glimpses of the livestock prior to our departure as we eagerly looked for the beauties to be discovered around the next bend or dip in the road.

We learned today that the hundreds of super green fields with beautiful stands of tall grass reaching ten to twelve inches in height are winter wheat fields. We had no idea that wheat could be grown so far south. We thought back to our last drive across the northern states (August, 2004) when we saw wheat fields being harvested with five to ten tractors and combines in staggered columns as they marched across the fields with only inches between their machinery. Many of these Georgian fields were certainly vast enough to have such harvesting days. We had learned in 2004 that many of the harvesters are contracted and begin harvesting in the south then work their way north to the later harvests. Once again our remarks returned to a conversation of queries: “When would the wheat be harvested?” “Is it baled like hay or is it picked as a kernel?” “Would the owners of the enormous tractors be traveling here with their owners/drivers?” We generated numerous questions for which there were no answers. Its kinda neat to know that there are connections we experience as we travel through the American farmlands and countryside. We always find ourselves looking forward to our “back” road sprints; almost all of our day trips to Prehistoric Natives American sites are far away from the more metropolitan areas typically sending us over roads and trails that are seldom viewed by tourists (see FACT).

As we made our way on the two plus hour back roads today we discovered commercial processing plants that we might never see in our communities. The first commercial plant was a peanut processing plant. Offices and plants where farmers sell peanuts, possibly to a farm cooperative or a farm broker. One plant made peanut oil (huge train car tankers were on the adjacent track labeled “peanut oil”). Another plant bought peanuts, shelled peanuts and had grain silos that stretched upward toward the clouds, far above any of town buildings on the main street where peanuts were held until shipped to buyers for commercial production. We passed a gin where pecans were brought after harvest. We could not determine if they were shelled at the plant; however, there were many warehouses adjacent to the gin for storage until the fresh nuts would be freighted out of the area by train or by truck.

During our driving excursions in southwestern Georgia we have eagerly searched for the agricultural irrigation systems that are reclining in large fields awaiting marching orders. These motionless aluminum sprinklers resemble a Granddaddy Longlegs on steroids with only one leg. This massive leg is anchored to a tiny body at the edge of a field or at a centralized location. This appendage must work alone and can only move in a circular (or half circle) motion. The segments, each supported by two sets of tires, is as tall as train car and almost the length of a football field. We have seen these legs with three to nine segments, stretching hundreds of yards. Today we saw the longest one yet. It was stoic as it stood and waited for the time when it would be driven by water pressure, to rain on the crops when Mother Nature doesn’t respond to the rule of “supply and demand. Greg clocked it to be one half mile in length. That’s some spider leg, ten segments long with twenty-four tires to support and move the double frame of each segment. The water pressure of this irrigation system will move the irrigation pipes with billions of water droplets shooting out and millions of gallons water providing drink for thirsty crops.

As we scooted over hills, tiny towns with only stop signs, past proud historic court houses and around plowed fields we discovered a rather small commercial building. It was unpretentious with aluminum siding, a tin roof and situated right at the edge of an unplowed field. It appeared to be the home of a miniscule business; we were amazed to read the inconspicuous sign, Irrigation Manufacturing. So, this was the home of the monster irrigation systems. We immediately realized that only a few parts of these work horses could be assembled prior to delivery—the erection of the irrigation systems had to be made in the fields and pastures. They would be constructed as if erecting super sized erector sets. How appropriate that the owner of the business found the best location to be right in the middle of farming country.

Most individuals eat meat. Yes, we know that there are exceptions to this statement; nevertheless meat eaters seldom give any thought to “where” the meat originates and the steps needed to prepare it for our consumption. When in the country (north, south, east and west) the people are fully aware of the sequence of events required before the meat arrives on the table. Even though Brenda grew up on a farm and her father raised all of their meat, she has been so far removed from its origin that she joins me in giving this process little though. Driving through the farm lands and woodlands it “hits you between the eyes” when you see locally made signs posted on roadways and across singular structures stating “deer processing”. This implies that one of the guys living in the community knows how to clean and butcher wild game for human consumption. Hunters often seek out the prized locations during hunting seasons and in advance prepare pasturelands, woodlands or croplands to take advantage of the best locations for deer stands then wait for the deer to arrive. After the animal is downed and taken back to the 4-wheeer or truck the carcass is transported and delivered to the processing plant coming back later for the individually wrapped bundles for family meals. We have seen these signs each time we take a day trip; we are forced to assume that lots of hunting takes place in these woodlands with many meals serving wild game as the main course. Initially these signs and buildings are difficult to accept, until one gives additional consideration to the purpose. It is multi-purposed. Hunting is an all-American sport for millions of Americans, not just a sport of country folk. It is more than a shooting sport, it prevents overcrowding and overgrazing (competition for food with starvation resulting), hunting licenses and taxed woodlands result in dollars for jobs and it provides families with large quantities of meat and lowering food costs.

Our last commercial discovery on another local Georgia road was a manufacturing plant that made fire-engine-red agricultural trailers. It appeared that two sizes met the primary needs of farmers, large solid sided and larger and longer solid sided trailers. They were lined up in the adjacent pastureland after assembly. The commercial building was another unobtrusive aluminum prefabricated building in a pastoral setting. These trailers would be pulled by a farm tractor in the field and loaded with a crop of cotton, corn, peanuts, pecans, soybeans during the harvest season then pulled to market by a heavy duty pickup truck or an 18-wheeler tractor trailer style truck (also known as a tractor). These working wagons were another critical piece of needed farm equipment. They were looking like children’s toys coming off the assembly line all in pristine condition with cherry red bodies ready for the trips from farm fields to agricultural markets.

FACT: The Prehistoric Native American sites that existed prior to the development of American towns, cities and metropolises, were normally located along riverbanks, lakes, coastlines with access to water for daily purposes as well as waterways for extended travel for trade, social interactions, celebratory events, and war. The sites usually consisted of ten to fifteen homes (styles dependent upon season, latitude, tribe). The homes would be near planted crops, set out orchards, tobacco and herb gardens, family storehouses or caches of foods for the winter and within traveling distance of hunting grounds, fishing sites and / or seasonal harvesting areas (salmon runs, green corn season, nut harvesting, berry harvesting, etc.). These locations were the first to be experienced by the explorers, traders, trappers and eventually settlers. These productive and beautiful sites were the first to be taken as the encroachment of the European immigrants sought land for their homes and crops. And, these sites were the original sites for the early colonial villages and ultimately towns and cities.

These first Prehistoric Native American home sites, villages, trade centers and ceremonial centers are not often available for archaeological exploration. These sites are now the locations of our most industrialized and commercial cities: New York, Chicago, Seattle, Charleston, Savannah, Miami, Pittsburg, Philadelphia and hundreds (possibly thousands) of other cities. Therefore, we only learn about the earliest inhabitants of these sites through historic records and when building destruction or construction disturbs lower levels of soil. Fortunately, there continue to be preservation and discoveries of sites that have been lost to history, time and geographical changes in topography. These are the hidden sites and unsung museums that we visit. These are the ones that we often find as we experience the “back” roads of America.

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