Wooded Reflections; Route I
by Kimberly S. Love
“We gone try to sing up a little timbre”
--local church song
Bud Gandy saw a way to make a dealing with white folks when ole Watson propositioned him for Timber. Bud had inherited Alabama ground, west of State Highway 106 in Section 13, Township 8, Range 12: The land of his uncle who had passed away, leaving 40 acres to his heirs. Bud counted a fortune in the trees that his uncle had never felled— had never tapped into. So Bud accepted ole Watson’s entreaty and the one damning caveat: ole Watson would hold the land deed and oversee the clearing while Bud kept some wood for himself.
When the transaction was finished, Bud waited. And he waited. Finally, he paid ole Watson a visit. Now that all the Timber was cut and hauled out of town, Bud went to claim rightful title to his uncle’s land. But ole Watson say to Bud, "you must be crazy,” and Bud never held the title again. Must have been crazy. Must have been.
And just like that, the Gandy family of West Georgiana saw their ground passing away.
And Bud just one of many;
we been losing ground since the first and second generations passed away,
the way Grandma Sadie Mae tell it.
Trees canopy the rural South; lush, green foliage overhangs blossoming enclaves that are downHome to branches of families. These territories were once folk-contained worlds into and unto themselves. Here, homefolks made do—and in making do they devised ways and knowledge systems for communal sustainability.
Maintaining woods and microclimates continue to be vital to how we make do and gather life and healing forces through the surrounding environment. And threats as old as ole Watson loom as negotiations for land and Timber continue to be fraught transactions. Today, gaping holes in the woods threaten the whole of nearby communities and remind residents of land-loss legacies.
Trees traverse the rural South on the flatbeds of lumber trucks that meet on main roads like funeral processions on fast forward. Hometown folks struggle to hold onto acreage as increases in property taxes and lackluster (at best) state governance benefit lumber, utility, and oil companies that decimate and scramble areas for resources.
Old age and mortality leave areas ripe for plunder, especially in rural areas where there are few (if any) surrounding industries to compel young residents to stay or return home. As landowners pass away, surrounding areas are left vulnerable to land-and-people clearing by corporations that await southern expansion for industrial development.
In Georgiana, the sentiments and investments of government officials have been expressed time and time again through the landscape—divots are left in country roads, unevenly dispersed gravel hardens thruways, and most recently, local and state government officials have erected stop signs that stall local traffic in order to usher spring break travelers off Interstate 65 South onto Alabama State Highway 106, which jams with out-of-town beach goers. Georgiana still blares with natives and residents who see this latest installation as a low-rank reminder of their status in state-managed affairs.
How do we live in the rural South and other endangered communities? How do we raise our timbre to rescue our homes?
Timber tells. And times old and new take shape among oak and pine, reminding us to value who we have been, what we have, and who we still are: seeds of futurity within wooded territories.
Kimberly S. Love is a storyteller, tree-enthusiast, and Professor of English at Williams College. Her current research discovers and maps under-recognized histories of Black land possession and land ownership in the deep American South from the postbellum era to the present. Using oral histories, community narratives, and land deeds, Love’s work uncovers Black and southern ways of knowing that evolve in relationship to land and ground. Connect with her on Twitter @Plumn3lly or Instagram at Plumnelly_Project.