The Voltage Gate

When We Let Nature Push Back

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).

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There was a small beaver dam only about a half mile into the walk, but unfortunately the beavers weren’t around.

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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.

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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.

Comments

  1. #1 Mark P
    June 18, 2008

    I had always pictured virgin forests in this area as deciduous, but apparently that was not the case in all areas. Check into the extent of longleaf pine forests prior to European influences in the Southeast. Longleaf pines covered huge tracts of land from the Atlantic and Gulf coasts all the way up to the foothills of the mountains. Very large areas of Georgia had longleaf pine forests, even north of Atlanta. A very few remnant populations exist in north Georgia.

  2. #2 Markk
    June 18, 2008

    The forests of eastern North America weren’t primeval – they were very carefully if perhaps unintentionally maintained by native populations. The book “1491″ has a great description and why the forest primeval as settlers saw it was actually a disturbed zone due to massive die offs of Natives due to disease.

  3. #3 Jeremy
    June 18, 2008

    I didn’t say that the NA forests were primeval. And I said that the “idea” of the vast deciduous forest was an exciting one, not that every valley, swamp and mountaintop was covered in hardwoods.

    l2read folks.

  4. #4 Mark P
    June 18, 2008

    The longleaf pine forests actually depended upon low-level fires for their continued existence, whether natural or set by humans (accidentally or intentionally). I doubt that a massive die-off of North American natives had much to do with the state of the forests in the Southeast when European settlers moved in, since at least the longleaf forests were in a state that required reasonably consistent conditions for a long period of time.

  5. #5 doug l
    June 18, 2008

    For a very interesting perspective on what the “pristine” forests of Eastern North America were like when the first colonizers arrived, I heartily suggest Charles C Mann’s “1491: new revelations on the Americas before Columbus” and be prepared to have a lot of old notions discarded and have them upgraded based on the considerable scholarship and factual evidence that has emerged in the last couple of decades and which for the most part has been ingnored by the consensus of learned professionals in cultural and natural historical interpretation.

  6. #6 travc
    June 18, 2008

    Southern Mexico (the former Mayan areas at least) are a real testament to nature ‘pushing back’. Huge areas which are dense rainforest now were clear-cut maize fields 500 years ago. The idea of massive ruins getting ‘swallowed up’ by the forest and lost can seem far-fetched until you actually see them.

    On the other hand, there is good evidence the biodiversity of the ‘new’ forest is much lower than the places the Mayans never inhabited. So while to most eyes it appears nature has won back the land in 500 years, the process is either still going on or the land will never really fully recover.

  7. #7 Mark P
    June 18, 2008

    I didn’t say that every valley, swamp and mountaintop was covered in longleaf pines.

    You suggest that we, who read your blog and care enough to comment, should learn to read. Pot-kettle-black.

    I made my comment not because I thought you were in error, but because I thought you might be interested in learning something. Perhaps I was wrong.

  8. #8 TomH
    June 19, 2008

    One thing you have to get used to down here in Georgia is the vast expanse of kudzu that threatens to cover everything if left unchecked, even for a summer. If we’re playing mind games, it would be interesting to imagine a rural south without kudzu which was brought from, I think, China by some twit as an attempt at erosion control. I don’t know what kudzu looks or grows like in its native land but here it does absolutely nothing to control erosion and is a blight on the landscape almost everywhere.

    So when you look around in Georgia, remember that the thing that is mostly taking over everywhere is not a native species and has no natural opponent, other than chemical weed killer and manual destruction. Would be nice to see what our forests and fields would look like if…

    TomH, from right near Sweetwater Park.

  9. #9 Mark P
    June 19, 2008

    TomH, it is interesting to see the areas where kudzu has grown wildly, and the other areas where it seems not to thrive. We have a patch near our house, but in the last almost 10 years, it has not expanded much, if at all. I do see it trying to cross the road occasionally, but it can’t move quite fast enough to avoid the cars.

  10. #10 Jeremy
    June 19, 2008

    I made my comment not because I thought you were in error, but because I thought you might be interested in learning something. Perhaps I was wrong.

    Mark, I’m always willing to learn, especially from my commenters. Who else will do my editing if you guys don’t? Sorry if I came off snippy.

  11. #11 Mark P
    June 19, 2008

    No problem, Jeremy. Actually, your post reminded me of a story I did long ago when i was a newspaper reporter across the state in Augusta. I talked to a farmer who continuously uncovered arrowheads when he plowed. He and I both imagined Indians traveling and hunting in forests of gigantic oaks for centuries before the Europeans came. I have no idea how accurate our imaginings were, but it was wonderful to think of.

    Which brings me to my comment on your earlier post about why you blog. As I said there, after working as a reporter for several years, I went back to school at Georgia Tech. It took a year to catch up to where I should have been, and then another four and a half to get a PhD, but it was probably the most gratifying experience in my life. If you are interested in changing careers, I highly recommend it. I’m sure most of the people in administration when I went are retired now, but they were very encouraging when I walked in off the street like a complete idiot and said I want to go to graduate school.

  12. #12 oyun
    October 7, 2008

    Oh very nice picture.Thanks
    I didn’t say that every valley, swamp and mountaintop was covered in longleaf pines.

  13. #13 chat
    October 14, 2008

    thanks

  14. #14 chat
    October 15, 2008

    thanks

  15. #15 Patric
    February 17, 2009

    TomH, it is interesting to see the areas where kudzu has grown wildly, and the other areas where it seems not to thrive. We have a patch near our house, but in the last almost 10 years, it has not expanded much, if at all. I do see it trying to cross the road occasionally, but it can’t move quite fast enough to avoid the cars.

  16. #16 diyet
    May 24, 2009

    I doubt that a massive die-off of North American natives had much to do with the state of the forests in the Southeast when European settlers moved in, since at least the longleaf forests were in a state that required reasonably consistent conditions for a long period of time.

  17. #17 zayıflama
    June 12, 2009

    I don’t know what kudzu looks or grows like in its native land but here it does absolutely nothing to control erosion and is a blight on the landscape almost everywhere.

  18. #18 penis büyütücü
    June 30, 2009

    I do see it trying to cross the road occasionally, but it can’t move quite fast enough to avoid the cars.

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