My grandparents farmed soybeans, peanuts and of course pines, along with the other usual suspects found around Baker County, Georgia, but their concerns were those of a former generation, and so the land fell to disrepair over the years along with their own bodies. Many years ago on a visit, my father led me on one of his short cuts from the house back to our campsite along the Itchawaynotchaway Creek, which took at least as long as the clear path, probably longer, and resulted in an abundance of scratches from green briars, sticker bushes and an unnamable list of other scrubby, prickly things. You couldn’t see through it, much less walk through it. It never occurred to me that this land that was inhospitable to me was equally as inhospitable to all wildlife aside from those small enough to be unfazed by the dense world. Having grown up in South Georgia, scraggly slash and loblolly pines and scrubby brush seemed to be the natural state for this neck of the woods, as they say. Turns out, it isn’t.
When this land was still occupied by those who gave the creek its name, pines ruled, though not the fast growing, scrawny species preferred for pulp, but the longleaf. Stalwart and slow growing, these pines populated the land across the southeast with a canopy that provided an open understory allowing for the range of wildlife native to the area. The southern landscape of today would be unrecognizable to anyone who knew it before logging and fire suppression.
My cousin moved into my grandparents’ house after my grandmother died, another generation in a long line to occupy this land, and she brought along a new husband. He brought along a wealth of knowledge about conservation, in particular prescribed burning to promote longleaf growth, and a new vision for this stretch of land. Significantly transformed after only a few years, the farm is now home to a growing number of native species including quail and the fox squirrel, as well as yellow Indiangrass, and of course longleaf. Many of the young pines are still spending their energy sending extremely long taproots down through layers of sandy soil to find water. Others have begun their path upward. It will be about thirty years before they mature creating a new landscape for my cousin’s daughter, and perhaps her family.