Monday, July 28, 2014

GEORGIA ON MY MIND AGAIN

Back in the 1950's, when I worked for Agricultural Extension Service, I took a course in Agricultural Journalism that introduced me to feature writing and the idea of cultivating serendipity.  For those of you who don't know the story behind that word, "serendipity" is based on the adventures of the three Princes of Serendip. During their travels, they developed a facility for discovering, by chance, or by sagacity, valuable things and ideas for which they weren't really searching. Although they may have been searching for something else, when they stumbled across something worthwhile, they always recognized it. Serendipity often happens to me when I'm wandering around in adjoining states, looking for one thing and finding another.

Last week, we traveled to Roswell, Georgia looking for the elusive pitcher plant for a book of poetry about plants that I'm writing and for which my friend, Victoria Sullivan, is taking photographs of plants. We had read that the pitcher plant was alive and doing well in the Chattahoochee Nature Center in Roswell, so we set out for this town north of Atlanta to find a plant that grows in wetland areas and that we more often find thriving along the Gulf coast.

The Chattahoochee Nature Center began its activities in the 1970's, and during the past five years, the Center has partnered with other organizations in the rescue, propagation, and re-introduction of threatened and endangered native plants. The 127 acres of native plants and gardens also include 50 species of injured, non-releasable wildlife.


We arrived at the Center an hour before it opened and sat on dew-damp benches beside the entrance, enjoying the sight of skippers having breakfast in the Joe Pye Weed nearby and hoping the summer humidity of Georgia wouldn't spoil our walk along the Wetland Trail to find the Pitcher Plant. The garden on this trail represents five types of wetlands in Georgia that stretch from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean.

At 10 sharp, we joined a groundswell of children entering the headquarters of the Center, and ten minutes later, we had begun to wander the Wetlands Trail. We hadn't walked far before we spotted the plant that also grows in boggy areas of the Gulf Coast states. Although the Pitcher Plant seemed to be asleep in a sun that was climbing higher by the moment, Vickie took some wonderful shots of the colorful, funnel-shaped leaves with the reddish veins that attract and trap visiting insects. I told my botanist friend that the pitchers resembled peppermint candy, and she informed me that the plants probably looked that way to insects and that the nectar was the attraction. These leaves become the insects' downfall as they slip and fall into the liquid within that is laced with digestive enzymes. Downward pointing hairs prevent the insects from escaping up the slippery walls inside the attractive pitcher.

We walked several other trails that included the Watershed Trail where animals make their homes and the Forest Trail through upland oak-hickory woods before we returned to the air-conditioned Nature Center to purchase a souvenir shirt and another book to add to a burgeoning plants library.  

Lunchtime brought us to the point of serendipity. In a small mall, we located a cafe within Roswell Farmers Market that we had discovered on YELP. Inside, we approached a woman with a kerchief around her hair and announced to her that we were ravenously hungry. It was only 11:30 a.m., but we had worked up an appetite during the walk on the Center's trails. She looked surprised but promised us lunch within fifteen minutes. Thirty minutes later, Vickie was devouring a special shrimp dish and a salad. Because I'm allergic to shellfish, the owner and chef, Shannon Gowland, had (spontaneously) created a dish for me that contained ground grass-fed beef, tiny cubed sweet potatoes, purple top turnip roots, and Tioga beets, accompanied by mashed gold potatoes mixed with raw milk cheddar. The salad contained mixed greens, shredded zucchini, celery, and pumpkin seed, topped with a soy vinegar dressing that was the chef's specialty and which she offered to bottle for us.

The authentic Serendip was the chef—Shannon—who owns the Farmers Market grocery (no GMO foods) and Cafe, a herbal clinic, and deals in Weight Loss and Meal Consultations. Born and raised on what she called a "biodynamic farm" near Marietta, Georgia, Shannon often helped her grandfather gather plants to make medicinals and grew up with a healthy respect for food. She worked as a dietician for pre-op and post-op patients in a Georgia hospital before establishing a herbal business, then opened the Roswell Farmers Market last year. She touts 100% grass-fed beef, organic, biodynamic, vegan, and gluten free food, and she knows how to concoct delicious dishes that have all these ingredients without offending diners by serving food that sounds like it may be medicine.


We spent two hours with Shannon and her staff, and with a son and a daughter she plans to home school next year. Conversation centered on plants, and when we stopped talking and opened the door to leave, Vickie casually mentioned her book Why Water Plants Don't Drown. I encouraged her to bring in the copy she had put in her briefcase to show at the Nature Center, and Shannon bought it on the spot. We left her turning the pages with the enthusiasm of a genuine plant lover. She also offered to sponsor a meal/reading for us any time we had business in Georgia, saying that she could whip up an event with an enthusiastic audience on short notice. We added that ability to a list of her obvious talents.


As I wrote when I began this blog, it's important to cultivate serendipity... especially when you travel in Georgia, which is fast becoming one of my favorite states!

Photographs by Victoria I. Sullivan

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