Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The South That Once Was

(Aaron watching the Braves at the farm)

Rowdy wrote this and I thought it was great insight into who he is and where he is from.
Reading this makes me so sad, but it makes me love him even more.

I have often reflected on the significance and the value of my Southern heritage. It tells me who I am because it has molded me into that person I have become. I’m Southern down to my very core and it pains me to witness the passing of so many of the things that made the South great.

I have listened as my dear family has recounted glorious stories of simplicity that rival any of the complex representations of the “future”. They speak of the sense of community that has been lost in recent years; the loss of depth and beauty and stillness. The South continues to lose many of its endearing and defining qualities as it becomes more and more like the rest of the world: more competitive, less connected, and more production driven. This change has caused great sadness (a word not entirely representative of my feelings), and I wish we could go back to simpler times.

I long for the times when people would throw "fish fry's". I long for the lazy afternoons sitting on the porch as friends and family incessantly stopped by. I long for the understanding that the TV wasn't turned on until the evening that the Atlanta Braves were playing. Even when I was a child and spent summers at "the farm", things were so different and so much has been lost. It hurts me deeply to know that so much good is now gone with the changes between generations.

I wish I could save it; I wish I was able to scoop what was up and put it beneath a protective dome. In truth, it seems my grandmother (who is 90) is all that is left of the South that I once knew.

My Grandfather was a proud, industrious, and honorable man. He owned a 387 acre farm (where my grandmother still lives as a double amputee alone because that is how she wants it!). He always reserved several fields exclusively for growing vegetables for the family and to give to others in need. However, everything my grandparents and parents knew has long since been lost to "progress" and the search for immediate gratification. Only traces remain. People are more cynical, less honest, and more consumed with themselves. People move more quickly but less gets done. It is no longer enough to take care of your family if you can't have "stuff".

These days I almost can't bare to go back to the farm because it hurts so much and the pain cuts so deep. I have watched the small once thriving community they lived/live in and so many others like it be swallowed up by the expansion of large harvesting centers. I have seen more and more people move away and more and more seasonal migrant workers replace them. It is now a dying community like so many others in rural Georgia. As the farmers and families of farmers are pushed farther and farther away, unable to compete, the gap widens between rich agricultural entrepreneurs and private farm owners.

The men who rent my grandmother's land are good and hard working men. However, they are finding it more and more difficult to compete in a system that is so different from the one my grandfather once thrived in. One is in his late 40’s and was diagnosed with cancer, which I suspect is from being exposed to all the chemicals. My grandmother is overwhelmed with taxes that have become suffocating on land she owns outright! She will not raise the rent because she knows these men are struggling worse than she is.

These farmers are forced to go to greater lengths to produce and ironically, they end up growing less. They put greater strain on the land as more chemicals are used. Each year I see more and more empty barrels of pesticides and fertilizer, as they fight against the market and against the problems they created in prior years. Every year they scrape by as my grandmother tells me to "pray The Boys get some rain". They teeter on the edge, dangerously straddling a threshold which only needs two unproductive planting seasons to put them under.

They irrigate out of and have destroyed the pond that my grandfather had created for us to fish out of. It was a heavily stocked and painstakingly maintained pond. Now it is barely three feet deep where all of the fish have long since died and it is overrun with algae and other phosphorous driven plant life. The other huge lake which was self-sustaining with a beaver dam, alligators, and a diverse fish community, is following closely behind as "progress" pushes forward. With the lack of monitoring, it has been over fished, the alligators likely were poached, it has been inundated with fertilizer runoff, and the foreign plant life has increased exponentially. It was very resilient, but soon it will become a stagnant body of water, good for nothing but irrigation…like the pond that my siblings and I once loved.

Even now, I write this, with magnificent sadness as tears wet my face. I am reminded of one of my favorite songs written by Damien Rice which says: "You know when you've found it, that's something I've learned, because you feel it when it's taken away”.

This WAS my commune, but no longer. I know that what is gone is gone forever, never to return. Regardless of how much reform occurs, it has entered into a different regime and will never be the same again. The lamentation I feel is not solely based on the death of my grandfather who passed away 17 years ago, but upon the death of the South that he knew and loved. Change is hard, along with death and the death of tradition, but to many others, “progress” in the South has proven to not only be a devastation of life... but of soul.

-Aaron Stroud

and if you're really in the mood for more reading -- here's something I wrote forever and a day ago about my take on The Farm.
AND some pictures and more thoughts -- a recent MMB post of mine: the importance of family history found here , and my first photographic approach of The Farm found here

1 comment:

Mo said...

oooh I love it! It's a bittersweet post. And so fun to hear from your hubby!

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