Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Garden Bloggers Geography Project

I said I would do this thing, but then I realized that I no longer live in a city, or town, or even at a crossroads. We literally live in the middle of nowhere, Alabama, USA. First I’ll tell you where I came from. My home town is an hour west of us – Huntsville, Alabama. I grew up announcing with pride that I lived in “Rocket City USA!” Huntsville is high-tech and defense oriented, with NASA and Redstone Arsenal at its center. Werner von Braun started the rocket program here. My father worked at Redstone Arsenal in one of their missile programs. I can still remember the china-rattling propulsion testing, watching huge flames rise from the tester far away while sitting atop the hill above our house. Huntsville is a little melting pot filled with people and cultures from all over the world. It’s one of those places I couldn’t wait to leave, until while traveling I realized everything and everyone in the world I loved was there. It’s my home.
Rocket City USA! Photos courtesy Huntsville Convention & Visitors Bureau
(Space & Rocket Center; Museum of Art, Von Braun Center, Burritt Museum)

When we approached retirement age (my husband – not me! LOL), we decided to find a place on the water. By a miracle, we discovered Bay Hill Village in northwestern Alabama directly on Wheeler Lake, which is part of the Tennessee River system. Our home is right on the river. We wake to the sound of loons and are lulled to sleep by the thrumming of barges. Wildlife abounds. It’s close enough to Huntsville to drive in and enjoy the culture yet far enough away to be able to see the stars at night. Thirty minutes north is the Tennessee border, and due south is, well, the river.

Since I live on a river without a township, I’ll just talk about this river system that continually fascinates me, and my community of friends.

A Sense of Place

Our shorelines are owned by the Tennessee Valley Authority which has strict policies about waterfront development. Recently, TVA announced they would no longer sell any more waterfront to developers. We are relieved. I admit that’s selfish of me but when you experience this sort of beauty you really hate to see surrounding areas gobbled up, leveled and built upon, which would change the very reason we moved here in the first place.

Our home and various boats - as you can see, our bank needs work and is my next project.

This river system is an important watershed as well as being a primary transport system for all manner of commerce. Wheeler Lake is 2 miles wide, and the river channel is on the other side of the lake from our house. Barges lumber through the channel daily, the rhythm of their engines is a constant companion. Occasionally unmarked container ships slip by, their cargo and destinations a mystery. The usual suspects dot the lake in abundance – cruisers, sailboats, fishing boats and those annoying jet skis. Every spring and fall we watch “The Loopers” travel by in their yachts and trawlers, moving their large boats south for the winter or north for the summer. Occasionally, the unusual will happen by like the Mississippi and Delta Queen paddleboats, and the replica of The Nina has sailed by twice. Those are sights that stay with you forever and add to the magic of this place.

This river system is on a migratory path for birds and butterflies. This is where I gained my passion for photographing them as it is very challenging. Bear with me – here I go again but I can’t resist my butterflies and birds.

(Clockwise, from top left: Spicebush, Tiger Swallowtail, Tiger Swallowtail (dark form), Gulf Fritillary, Red Admiral, Zebra Swallowtail, Black Swallowtail, Giant Swallowtail, Monarch, Buckeye - all copyrighted by moi)

(Clockwise from left: Red Breasted Mergansers, House Finch, Mourning Dove, Bluebird, Nuthatch, Chickadee, Red Tailed Hawk, Bald Eagle, Pine Warbler, Great Blue Heron, Cowbird, Cardinal, Downey Woodpecker, Common Loon, Mockingbird - all copyright by me except the Bald Eagle, copyright by Carroll Adams)

Gardening here is a challenge because the earth is mostly red clay and a crumby rock called “chert.” This sticky red soil is high in nutrients and herbs and native plants love it. The challenge is to convince people to garden with what WORKS in this riverside environment and leave the exotic cultivars for the botanical gardens and those who don’t mind working twice as hard to keep the cultivars going in this hot and incredibly windy environment. The winds can be fierce coming off the lake, making it look like the ocean with 4-5 foot swells.

(Clockwise from left: Virginia Sweetspires/Spring, Native Azalea, Pitcher Plant, Pinxterbloom Azalea, Red Buckeye, Shooting Stars, Virginia Sweetspire/Autumn, Crepe Myrtle, Flame Azalea, Doublefile Viburnum, Sweetshrub)

My friend Carroll and I, both Master Gardeners, have started a neighborhood volunteer organization called the Bay Hill Conservancy. Our focus is to educate our neighbors about this unique environment as well as sharing conservation tutorials which including speakers from various fields, because we all do live on an important watershed. We encourage using native plants and xeriscaping to preserve water. Most people snicker at us, but we’re beginning to gain attention! (I hope it's all good attention...)

So that’s it. No town per se, but a dynamic waterside community filled with great people, boats, wildlife, birds, butterflies, plants and all manner of nature. That all folks….


jodi said...

Well, *I* don't snicker at you...you're a hero in my books. What a great post, and I love those poster-like images collections, especially the butterflies. Man, they feel good on a day like today, when it's frigid cold and the wind is sculpting snow-waves everywhere.
I love that your shoreline is protected against developers. That's not selfish at all; it's leaving something for future generations. We didn't do enough of that and too much of our coastline is owned by 'damned furriners' if you know what I mean....Great job Debi!

Robin's Nesting Place said...

Oh, wow, am I ever envious! I'm from Tuscaloosa and I always have wanted to live in north Alabama. You are in such a perfect location, so close to the mountains of Tennessee and the beauty of N. Alabama. Living on the river and the beautiful wildlife just adds to the envy. How wonderful for you!

The Giraffe Head Tree said...

Jodi - Thanks for not snickering. Trust me, there are some here who do and actually call me a "tree hugger." (which I proudly am!) This was a fun project, babe.

The Giraffe Head Tree said...

Robin! Oh my heavens! I will go check out your blog immediately - can't wait to get to know you better. North Alabama is a pretty neat spot, which surprises those who expect Alabama to be like Dukes of Hazzard, or worse. (....is there anything worse? LOL) I've visited Tuscaloosa only twice, and was taken to a pretty spot with waterfalls but for the life of me I can't recall what it was named. Expect to see me at your blog in a minute. xo - Debi @ GHT

Carolyn gail said...

Wonderful post. My birthplace is Jasper, which is just a hop, skip and jump from Huntsville.

Your "nowhere" place sounds pretty cozy to me. Guess I just love small towns versus big cities.

Oh to see those Mississippi and Delta Queen paddleboats once more.

Thanks for sharing your birds and butterflies.

Great job on your homework assignment.

Frances said...

Wonderful post and so nice to learn about your area. We have been to Huntsville, it is about four hours from us. My better half was on a business trip and I spent the day at the botanical garden, a most enjoyable place, especially the butterfly house.

Frances at Faire Garden

The Giraffe Head Tree said...

Carolyn - thanks for stopping by for a read. I've never visited Jasper but when I was a kid we went to Smith Lake a lot to ski and camp. Pretty country down that way! I'll have to go check out your blog now, too. The fam's gonna wonder about dinner tonight, but hey...a gal's gotta do what a gal's gotta do....

The Giraffe Head Tree said...

Frances - thank you for your nice note. I've noticed your blog link from Jodi's and need to come and explore your place as well. Perhaps I'll find out where you are in Tennessee, which is one of my all-time favorite states, btw.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

"Nowhere" sounds idllyic to me, even if conditions for gardening are challenging. Bully for you & your concern about the environment.

Diane said...

What a dynamite post! and photos! This is tremendous. (oh, and thank you so much for that glorious write up and award! I've linked back to you in my post today). Just can't say enough about how enjoyable this post is!

Alberta Postcards
Diane's Flickr photos

Threadspider said...

Well it was a glorious post and those pictures are tremendous. I came by to say hello as a fellow recipient of the Excellence award from Diane and I so glad I did. I love your writing and discovered I too was a snapdragon.

Lisa at Greenbow said...

Deb, Your 'no where' sounds and looks like paradise to me. Great post.

Jenn said...

You forgot to mention your cedar waxwing!

I envy you for your river!

Eve said...

Hello TGHT!!!
It's funny how things just happen and I've just happened upon your blog. I've been going from oldest to newest posts and I'm going to stop and comment here for now.
I want to tell you that we are going to be almost neighbors soon!!
We are leaving for Huntsville on Friday and if all goes well, will be moving to our house outside of Grant shortly after. I am beyond excited. I am an avid birder, butterflier, photographer and love to write! My new home is loaded with garden plants of which some will be totally new for me. We will be right in the middle of the woods (totally new to me too). I've been looking for an Alabama Blogger, so I can see all the things you're blogging about and here you are finally.
Well, sorry about this huge comment but I hope you stop by and see who I am and we can get to know each other a little bit.
I love your Giraffe Head Tree! Good eye!!
(that little squirrel is too much!)


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