I finally had a chance to get out to Sweetwater Creek State Park last week, and we picked a perfect day for it. It was warm and slightly muggy, just the type of weather to bring out some of the Georgia wildlife I’ve been looking forward to seeing. Unfortunately, I wasn’t quick enough to film them, but I did get some pics of things that don’t move (perceptibly anyway).
There was a small beaver dam only about a half mile into the walk, but unfortunately the beavers weren’t around.
The ruins were perhaps the most interesting part of the park. This was once the New Manchester Manufacturing Company, a textile mill built in 1849, and primarily produced a type of coarse fabric called Osnaburg. In 1861, the Confederacy contracted New Manchester to produce materials for their soldiers’ uniforms. On July 2, 1864, Union forces under Sherman’s command captured New Machester (the company town and the mill), arrested its employees and burned it to the ground. The 70 or so employees were forced to take an “Oath of Allegiance” to the government, and were dumped off across the Ohio River, and told not to return south until the war was over or face imprisonment, showing just how sweet a guy Sherman really was.
All that’s left of New Manchester now is these ruins and the millrace that led to the water wheel. The ruins are gated off (except on tours), so this is as close as I could get.
The way plants grow down is somehow different than up north. I’m used to mainly pine forests, the towering conifers spaced out among blankets of dead needles and sporadic fern. It’s never too crowded in the mountain forests of Pennsylvania and Maryland. Georgia, at least in the areas I’ve been, is a little more populated.
There are entire swaths of sidewalk in my neighborhood that have been consumed by brush, broken by tree roots and barricaded by twisted vines. Midtown Atlanta is hardly neglected by the city, but the plant life down here just seems more aggressive, and forces you to look beyond the pavement and man made structures to the veritable tangle of vegetation between blocks, behind homes. It’s easy to imagine that you can actually see the slow takeover, witness nature’s reclamation.
It always brings my mind back to precolonial America, the idea that the entire Eastern US was covered in deciduous forest, from the Atlantic to the Mississippi. It’s the same feeling I get from that primeval, aboriginal fantasy that plays out in our minds when we think of alien landscapes towering ferns and sauropods. What would it have been like to walk in those ancient, untouched Appalachian forests? To hear wolves at night and know that you were most definitely alone in the wilderness, with the exception of the native tribes? Frightening, perhaps, but none the less, an exciting concept.
Americans thought of wilderness in interesting ways back then. The Puritans equated their flight to America from England with Christ’s journey into the desert wilderness or the exile of the Jews. So it was considered an appropriate setting for a test of spiritual hardiness. When more and more settlers came to the country and started establishing communities, the wilderness was perceived as working against them, they worked to conquer it.
The American wilderness broke against the successive waves of development to the extent that we had to sanction areas to preserve so that they could never been exploited. Still those boundaries are tested, especially in the past eight or so years, and it seems like nothing is safe from our influence, directly or indirectly.
But there are those moments, that exist maybe only in my mind, where I see nature pushing back, breaking concrete and barring passage, and we just let it, and I get a great sense of peace from that.