Saturday, August 2, 2014

TRUCKIN' DOWN TO SAVANNAH

Resurrection fern shriveled on
oak limb
If you're foolish enough to look for resurrection fern in a mountain environment, you'll find it isn't an easy search. In fact, finding plants for a botanist to photograph to accompany poems about plants that appeal to this poet's sensibilities calls for travel further south than the Cumberland Plateau in Sewanee, Tennessee. So last Wednesday, we set out for the coastal country near Savannah, Georgia to search for ancient live oaks that were home to the epiphyte, resurrection fern.

This city, touted as one of the Top 10 Travel Destinations in America, was really not that far from Sewanee—six hours and fifteen minutes, according to travel maps online, but the maps didn't reckon with the mighty eighteen wheelers that crowded the interstates leading to one of the most beautiful cities in the U.S. When I began thinking about writing a blog featuring a city that inspired films like Midnight In the Garden of Evil—the architecture, history, and, yes, hauntings—I had in mind a romantic piece about a place of hospitality and charm.

However, the song of the open road soon soured as we began dodging trucks on the Interstate, especially on I-16, and the congestion leading from Macon, Georgia to Savannah involved many of these big tanks with "Safe and Courteous" written on their tail ends. Sometimes their doubling up in both lanes made me fearful for the safety of prisoners picking up trash on both sides of the highway—I wondered how many pounds of peeled off truck tires the sweating men had been hauling off daily. We hit several of these black rubber teeth as we sped along and later had to inflate all our car tires from rolling over the trucks' discards.


Trucks on I-16, GA
As we whizzed past, I snapped a few photographs of trucks moving hot and heavy, their red underpants flapping in a breeze they stirred up and mimicking trains by carrying train cars on their flatbeds—oversized tanks with launching ports of Salinas, California, Rushville, Indiana, Mobile, Alabama emblazoned on drivers' doors. The truck traffic near Atlanta was daunting, and ten miles out of Savannah, I lost any respect I might have had for the trucking industry when we stalled for one hour on Highway 16 before turning around and finding an outlet to Hwy. 80, which led into Savannah. We heard reports that earlier in the morning when a heavy fog had made highway travel dangerous, seven eighteen wheelers had crashed and caused a 27-car pile-up... and at 4 p.m., the highway still hadn't been cleared.

"Hhmph," I told my botanist friend, 'This vehicle makes wide turns' should be written on the sides of automobiles traveling down here instead of on the rear ends of eighteen wheelers—we're the ones who've had to make wide turns and retrace our route because of their 'safe and courteous driving.'"

The above was the beginning of a rant, which is what one of my former associates once dubbed a newspaper column I wrote for the Daily Iberian in New Iberia, Louisiana, but it isn't the first time I've made noises about Jimmy Hoffa's offspring—the mighty trucks that have replaced my favorite mode of travel—trains.

Yes, "the open highway" is a phrase of the past and has been replaced by "Where is the next exit?" but we did find the resurrection fern, curled up, in need of resurrection and many rains, in Forsyth Park, a green space that was created in Savannah in 1851. We took photographs of a fern clinging to a 300-year old oak in the private parking lot of the law school across from the park and were chased off by a security guard.

As usual, I was doomed to stand in the street before a "closed" sign on Flannery O'Connor's childhood home—her home will be #3 for authors' homes that are usually closed on the days of my visits—the other two being William Faulkner's home in Oxford, Mississippi and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' home near Cross Creek, Florida.

Beach at Tybee Island, GA
I think we got lost enough times to view the 24 Squares that are a part of Savannah's charm before we set out for Tybee Island to find the open sea...behind a fence of sea oats! Low Country Georgia's cuisine equals Cajun fare in taste and rich diversity. Backyard fishermen often catch shrimp, crab, oysters, and flounder from backyard docks, and trawlers bring in catches of whiting, mahi mahi, grouper, red snapper, and Spanish mackerel from the Atlantic Ocean. Savannah cuisine carries the flavor of Spanish, French, and West African cooking. On our return trip to Sewanee, farther up the road at the Harvest Moon Cafe in Rome, Georgia, we enjoyed a flavorful dish of collards cooked with onions and apples.


We only had three days to savor the "coastal empire," but we advise readers to spend at least a week in this city featured in Conde Nast Traveler, Travel and Leisure Magazine, Southern Living and TripAdvisor.com. However, book a flight when you begin planning the trip! Or better still, board a train!
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