Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Exploring Georgia's Lake Country

           When I was invited to visit Georgia’s Lake Country I have to admit that I had no idea where that was.  Knowing it is in Georgia’s Heartland helped a little. The photo reminded me of the Great Lakes in Michigan but this area is just a four hour drive from Charleston, southeast of Atlanta. The colorful characters I met there, some real and some fictional, brought the story to life.

          Perhaps if I were Japanese or into Goth culture I would have visited Andalusia in Milledgeville, Georgia sooner.  Since the proliferation of television shows like “Lost” and “Hannibal”, Flannery O’Connor’s childhood home has had a resurgence in popularity that delights Craig Amason, the Andalusia Foundation director.  The Southern Gothic author would probably appreciate the throngs of Japanese and black-clothed teens that come with pilgrimage zeal.  She led a rather unconventional life herself.  Her favorite playmates were her pet ducks, chickens and peacocks. Fowl roam the restored farm today. So enamored was she of her ducks that she designed an entire outfit for her favorite one and paraded it to school for a sewing assignment. 

          Other literary heroes attract visitors to the area also.  Alice Walker's enslaved ancestor Mary Poole walked to Eatonton from Virginia as she supported a baby on each hip. Alice began writing at the age of eight surrounded by her family’s rich oral tradition.  In her Pulizer Prize winning book The Color Purple she wrote ''I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it.''  Of Flannery O’Connor she said “She destroyed the last vestiges of sentimentality in white Southern writing; she caused white women to look ridiculous on pedestals, and she approached her black characters - as a mature artist - with unusual humility and restraint.”

          Joel Chandler Harris, the collector of Uncle Remus stories, is celebrated in nearby Eatonton with a log cabin museum in the park.  Careful to say that these stories are not original to Mr. Harris, the docent pointed out that these were African tales that were published in newspapers, books and eventually make into Disney movies.  The sensitivity to racial history was apparent in several conversations.

          Georgia is proud of its history but not shy about revealing its dark side.  Mapped driving routes have been developed for exploration.  You can wander along the “Antebellum Trail” to see architectural gems and Civil War sites.  Or explore the “Blue and Gray Trail” and see over 60 civil war battlefields.  General Sherman still looms large in the area’s imagination.  Milledgeville calls itself “the Antebellum Capital of Georgia” and the old Governor’s Mansion remains a treasure because the town didn’t resist Sherman’s occupation and he headquartered in the building.  There’s also the Trail of Tears that follows the
Cherokee’s forced migration and others devoted to interests ranging from antiquing to pottery to presidents to farming.

          At Crooked Pines Farm Duncan and Angela Criscoe gave us a taste of the area’s agritourism.  Turning what could have been a financial downfall into success, the Criscoes reinvented their family farm after Duncan was downsized out of the hospitality industry.  It now offers a variety of events, concerts, camps and culinary experiences in an atmosphere that “provides lasting memories for family and friends.” The town of Madison has a popular bi-annual Farm Meander with over 20 farms, inns and markets.  Among them is self-taught cheese maker Christel from Greendale Farm, a Zimbabwean who “decided to get up and go farming” along with her husband and children.  The delicious cheeses are sold widely including at Fig and the Butcher and Bee in Charleston. 

          In Greensboro our group was unexpectedly joined by Flo, a colorful character dressed as a Waffle House waitress.  With a big beehive hairdo (“You know the thing about big hair?  It makes your hips appear smaller”) and lots of flare, she explained in her exaggerated Southern twang that Greensboro is a “whine free community.  You need to FIDO:  forget it, drive on.”  Greensboro’s is like its famous buttermilk pie, she said “real and simple.”  She led us to the Festival Hall auditorium where we were given samples of that real simple pie and an excerpt from the town’s community theater. 

          And then there is the lake.  Lake Oconee is the second largest in the state.  It looks immense from the shore. I launched a canoe from Cuscowilla on Lake Oconee, a huge resort with golfing, pools, and a variety of accommodations. As I drifted peacefully I pretended I lived in one of the grand houses along the shore. There are lots of ways to meander around Georgia’s Lake Country and relive history, explore agriculture or nature, buy antiques, learn about authors and culture…or you can just quietly float on the glassy water of the mammoth lake.

More Images are here:  Georgia Lake Country Images

If You Go

Crooked Pines Farm:

Cuscowilla on Lake Oconee: