Do You Live Above or Below Georgia’s ‘Gnat Line?’ Here’s What You Need to Know

Having lived near the Okefenokee Swamp in South Georgia my entire life, I’ve never given much thought to gnats. A seasonal nuisance, gnats are dealt with similar to the arrangement I have with yellow flies:  I swat, slap, spray, fan, wave, and complain. In short, I hope to eliminate a few of the bothersome pests before they carry me off. 

 Unfortunately, our sweltering summer months, sandy soil, and excessive rains serve as a welcome mat for gnats. They travel in moving gnat clouds, a pretty way of saying “swarming droves of gnats.”

When you live below the Georgia Gnat Line, gnat sightings such as these are inevitable. 

For the uninformed, please know that the Gnat Line does exist and roughly follows the Georgia Fall Line, that imaginary line from Columbus to Macon and Augusta. The Fall Line marks the end of red clay and the beginning of the sandy soil so beloved by gnats.

How do you determine your gnat tolerance?  It’s all about “where you’re from.” Your primary residence will affect your gnat rating. Now, do you live above or below the gnat line?

  •  If you sit on the porch, are you immediately swarmed by gnats?
  •  If you leave the back door open while bringing in the groceries, do gnats come into your home uninvited? 
  • Do you live south of Macon? 

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you definitely live below the Gnat Line, and your gnat rating is likely excellent. Congratulations! 

Folks who live above the Georgia Gnat Line have often mistaken a gnat for a flea, fruit fly, or “some kind of black bug.” Unfortunately, they do not have a proper understanding of these pesky insects, so their gnat tolerance may register as a low-level rating. 

Here are a few suggestions for folks from above the gnat line while visiting friends below the gnat line.

  1. Make a gnat trap.
    My husband creates a gnat trap made with apple cider vinegar. Mix a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, a few drops of dish soap, and a tablespoon of sugar in a bowl.  After mixing, set the bowl where gnats seem most prevalent.  The sugar and vinegar attract the gnats. The soap traps the gnats causing them to drown eventually.  Simple, right?  Not for my husband.  Instead of making a few bowls for the house, he mixes it by the gallon and places the solution in large plastic hanging bags to eradicate the entire outdoors gnat population.
  2. Clean the drains.
    Another favorite is to pour diluted bleach down the drains. Undiluted vinegar also works.
  3. Crash and burn tactics.
    Partially fill a candle holder with water, light the candle, turn off the lights and watch your gnat friends swarm to the flame, where they will meet their demise.
  4. Avoidance.
    Local athletes swear by eating raw sweet onions like apples. I haven’t been able to get past the “like apples” part. And I’m pretty sure gnats chug insect repellant for fun.
  5. Grin and Bear It.
    Some days, I just grin and bear it without the grin. By grinning, you may inadvertently swallow a gnat, which is one gnat too many.

In the end, it’s probable that the most sensible approach if you have a lingering gnat infestation is to contact your pest control service to deal with these uninvited guests. Meanwhile, I’ll stick with the tried and true methods of swatting, fanning, spraying, waving, and complaining.

Mothers Know Everything: A Case of Forbidden Love

As a teenager, I was bored to tears listening to my elders as they reminisced of days forever gone.  Memories resurface, and I’m sitting at the kitchen table with those “boring” people as they share their childhood stories.  The booming sound of my Uncle Elbert laughter echoes, in my mind, as he shares childhood antics.

I clearly see my mother’s beautiful smile as she recalls those same memories.

One of my favorite stories involved my mother, Gladys, my Aunt Mildred, their cousin, Mary Emma, and her mother, Martha, affectionately known as Aunt Mark.  The three young ladies, Gladys, Mildred, and Mary Emma were between 16 and 17 years of age, at the time this “incident” occurred.

Mary Emma had fallen deeply in love with a young man, who was also 16 years old.  For whatever reason, which was never disclosed in the numerous retellings of the story, Aunt Mark did not approve of the relationship nor of the young man.  In fact, Mary Emma was not allowed to see him.  As is the case of most forbidden loves, Mary Emma was determined to continue the relationship despite her mother’s instructions.  The relationship did continue, but, in secret.  In fact, it wasn’t long before Mary Emma and her young beau decided they would marry.

The news of the pending marriage was shared with Mary Emma’s most loved and trusted cousins, Gladys and Mildred.  They were sworn to secrecy, as the three of them planned the elopement.

Planning an elopement is not as easy as one might think.  Remember, this was 1940, when most families did not have telephones, much less a cell phone and the word, texting, was not in the dictionary.   The lack of communication was no obstacle to the girls.  Mary Emma’s happiness was at stake.  In their opinion, Aunt Mark was standing in the way of true love.

The plan was devised, though it was both simple and unimaginative.  It was, after all, the first and only elopement in which these three young girls would ever engage.  An overnight stay with Mary Emma was arranged and perhaps the only thing that went according to the plan.  After the family was asleep, Mary Emma would leave through the bedroom window, where her fiancé would be waiting.

At this point of the story, my mother would interject, “we never gave any thought to what we would tell Aunt Mark the next morning when she discovered Mary Emma was gone.”

As they waited for the darkness, Gladys and Mildred assisted Mary Emma as she packed a few clothes in a small suitcase.  All was ready.  Darkness descended and the appointed time quickly approached.  The window was quietly raised, and nervous goodbyes were shared.   As Mary Emma climbed on the window- sill, preparing to make her descent, the three girls looked down and standing outside beneath the window was Aunt Mark, along with the young bridegroom. Waiting.  Not a word was spoken.

Mary Emma quickly pulled herself back into the bedroom as they heard Aunt Mark’s no-nonsense, sharp tongue send the boy on his way, never to return.  Mary Emma, Gladys, and Mildred waited as they heard the back door close.  After a good “talking-to” and “what were you youngins’  thinking”, and “better, NEVER do anything like this again”, the three wedding planners retired for the night.

As with each telling of this escapade, my mother would conclude the story, by saying, “We never figured out how Aunt Mark found out what we were planning.”

Perhaps, it was just another stellar story of how mothers know everything.

Happy Mother’s Day

Microwave Replacement

Today, sprigs of green are peeping out of the earth, pushing aside the tired and frazzled burnt-brown grass. Like a connect the dots puzzles, they form a clear picture: spring has finally arrived.

Suddenly, I’m energized.  

After being cooped up since the onset of the pandemic last year, I am now compelled to sanitize and reorganize my entire house, using the two-year rule.  If you haven’t used it or moved it in two years, out the door it goes.

First, my closets.  After watching several episodes of Forensic Files, it was obvious the camera man seemed to linger on the cluttered bedroom closets of the crime scene.  By the looks of them, anyone could have been mine. How embarrassing!

Not anymore.  After today, if my bedroom ever becomes a crime scene, TV viewers will be impressed with an uncluttered and tidy closet.  

Following the completion of the bedrooms and bath, tackling the kitchen presented its own challenges. The less than shiny appearance of my worn appliances shouted their ages.   Specifically, my Amana microwave oven, which I purchased nearly 36 years ago. That microwave has been with me as long as my husband!

I was pleased with my new microwave, all those years ago.  It was sleek, attractive, and operated flawlessly.   In the early years of marriage, my husband possessed these same qualities.  

It soon became evident that the microwave wasn’t quite what it used to be.  Little things.  The numbers 4,5,7, 8, & 9 no longer worked.  The reset button finally decided to throw in the dish towel and retired.   The microwave still functioned, just not quite as well.  Sadly, the same could be said for my husband.  

For instance, on any normal workday, my husband would shower, dress, have two cups of coffee and out the door, headed to work within 25 minutes.  Now, it’s closer to an hour before his finishes his second cup of coffee.  Fifteen minutes later, he’s still staring at his shoes, sitting directly in front of him.  No problem, just takes him a minute or two longer to get cooking. 

The interior of the oven is worn and yellowed with age.  As I glance at my husband, he too, looks a little frayed and pale.  It must be the lighting, I reason.  

Remembering the two year rule,  I decide to replace the old, worn-out microwave with a brand new one.  There was a momentary twinge of sadness as I unplugged the old microwave.  That Amana Radarange has been sitting in its prime location above the kitchen countertop for nearly 36 years, watching as the life this family unfolded.  Memories surfaced; like the time someone tried to reheat rice in a stainless steel pot.  Not to mention the thousands of bags of popcorn which were cooked and consumed while watching Disney movies with our grandsons. 

My husband walks into the kitchen, as I’m removing the microwave.  “Are you getting rid of the microwave?” He asks. “ We’ve had that thing for a long time.  It’s been a good one.”  

I look at my husband, then at the microwave.  Then, back at my husband.  The microwave is old, but it still works.  So, what if it’s temperamental and a little difficult to operate at times?  Time has aged the oven, making the interior slightly worn and yellowed.  A few of the parts are worn out.  New isn’t always better.  It’s just new.  

The new microwave is still in the box.  I’ll return it tomorrow, keeping what I’ve had for a long time.  “It’s been a good one.”  Both the microwave and the husband. 

Spring cleaning is done.   

A World War II Romance and a True Story of Love Everlasting

An old love story.

“And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

- Colossians 3:14

World War II was coming to an end. The handsome soldier was home for a short time, when the couple met on a blind date, set up by mutual friends. Originally, the young woman’s sister was the intended companion.  Fate intervened and her sister was unavailable, so she went instead.   

After the blind date, they spent time together until his leave was up.   She feared that would be the end of the new relationship.  Fortunately, that was not the case.  Because years later, this couple became my parents.

During his remaining days in the Army, he wrote to her, faithfully.  Real love letters.  As children, my sisters and I would plunder through closets and chest of drawers, searching for the shoe box filled with those love letters written so many years ago.

“My dearest darling”, each letter would begin.  We would giggle at the salutation. Our humor was short-lived, though.  Barely getting beyond the first paragraph, we were caught snooping time and again.     

“Put that box back where you found it and stay out of that closet.

Those letters are not for you to read.”

She kept those letters for the rest of her life.            

Sadly, after 33 years of marriage, my father died of cancer on February 14, 1976. My mother said many times,

“33 years was not much time.”

They began dating steadily after he returned home from service. After having a slight disagreement, they hadn’t seen each other for several weeks.  As my mother was walking home from work one afternoon, it started raining.  A car was approaching behind her and began to slow down.   She glanced over her shoulder. It was him!            

“Do you want a ride?”

“I just kept walking,” she said.

The rain got heavier.  The car continued to follow behind at a slow pace, as she sloshed through mud puddles.  Finally, soaking wet, she accepted the ride and got in the car. That ended the spat.                  

Late one afternoon, my mother, then age 82, and I sat talking.  She shared a story of one of their early dates.

“We went down to the Old River at Camp Pinckney with Martha Lee and Colonel.  We built a fire and roasted hot dogs.  We had the best time sitting around that fire, just talking and laughing until it was dark.”   

And, then with tears in her eyes, she remembered the time my father told her,

“You’re the prettiest woman I’ve ever known.”

After all these years, she was still in love with him.

She never remarried and when asked why, she simply said,

“Sometimes there is only one true love.

I had mine.

There’s no need to look elsewhere,

because you will not find it.”

So, whether it’s a lopsided heart cut from construction paper by the shaky hand of your six-year-old, the dozen perfectly shaped roses from your spouse, or one precious memory of long ago, Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to celebrate love.

Santa's Got Nothing on Me! Confessions of a Chronic List Maker

“Making a list and checking it twice.”  Santa Claus has nothing on me, the chronic lister.  Picture Santa, a twinkle in his eye, red pencil in hand, checking his infamous list and smiling as he verifies each name.  You can almost smell the sugar cookies baking in the oven.  

Now, visualize me, the chronic lister.  A formidable look of concentration, colored sharpies, three sharpened pencils, multiple highlighters, along with day planners, legal pads, post-it notes, Google calendar, and a daily task planner spread on my desk.  No sugar plums dancing in this head.  

As we rapidly approach Jan. 1, my life Is filled with lists. But this compulsion to list hearkens back to a simpler time.

I became a lister in elementary school when I discovered my first homework assignment book complete with subject dividers and perfectly lined pages, waiting to be filled.  It was wonderful!  As a fourth grader, my lists were simple: Homework & Christmas list.  My homework list kept me focused while my Christmas List allowed me to dream. Two vital life skills for a nine-year-old. 

Nothing is ever as uncomplicated as childhood, so as I grew so did my lists.  It was like an obsession.  Actually, it is an obsession.  I had to have a list for everything.  The grocery lists.  The household chores lists.  To do lists. Completed work lists. Pending projects lists.  Brilliant ideas lists. Lists for my lists. Telephone conversations with bullet points lists.   And the lists go on and on and on.    

For instance, as soon as the telephone rings, I pick up a pen and notepad before answering.  Before the conversation begins, the notepad has the date and time at the top of the page.   If the conversation is lengthy or boring, the margins will be filled with doodles and lines.  Doodling is permitted only on the sidelines.  Never mix doodles with bullet points.  The list is easier to decipher when re-writing a more legible list from a doodle list.  

I’m always looking for that all-purpose list.  You know, the one list that will include all lists.  A master list for lists, if you will. “Try such and such day planner.  It’s great for lists!” other listers suggested.  After spending literally hundreds of dollars on day planners, my debit card cried out in pain forcing me to take a reality check.

The reality was plain and simple.  There is no perfect planner.  It doesn’t exist.  There must be, I argue with myself.  This was totally unacceptable.   I decided to create and customize my own day planner.  It would be the ultimate Super-Duper Day Planner, which would meet not only my needs but the needs of other listers like me.  This could go global.   Dollar marks danced in my head along with“ sugar and spice and everything nice”.  As I began to list the standards for the Super-Duper Planner, I quickly realized that it could not be done.

To meet the strict requirements for the perfect planner, I would need a red Radio Flyer wagon to pull around with me all day.  Just to carry the planner. 

Someone, obviously a fly by the seat of  your pants person,  suggested that I stop making so many lists.  It was as though I had suddenly been deprived of oxygen.  Once my heart rate returned to normal, I immediately added their name to my list of Unusual and Abnormal People.  

So, I’ll carry on.  Business as usual.  Colored sharpies, sharpened pencils, highlighters, day planners, legal pads, post-it notes, Google calendar, and a daily task planner.  And, a red Radio Flyer Wagon, just in case.  

Chicken and Dumplings

Any Southern cook worth her salt has a treasured cove of favorite Christmas recipes that cannot be found in a conventional cookbook.  Those favorite family recipes spring to life when biting into one of Aunt Gussie’s soft and chewy Ginger Cookies, reaching for that second helping of Mama’s Cornbread Dressing or savoring that huge slice of Phyllis Anne’s Fruit Cake filled with pecans.   

A traditional Christmas Dinner is not complete without those unconventional family recipes. (By dinner, I mean the mid-day meal; not the evening meal, which is supper)  On any given Christmas Day, our dining table and buffet could have been the cover for the holiday edition of Southern Living magazine.  

What makes a family recipe so exceptional?  It’s because they are well guarded secrets. I’ve known family members who haven’t spoken in years because Granny’s original recipe for Pumpkin Pie is missing.  And we’re all pretty sure who has it.    

Many of these recipes are handwritten on paper, torn from a spiral-bound composition book over 30 years ago, with drops of bacon grease staining the list of ingredients, so that you’re not sure if you need two cups of sugar or three egg yolks.  Thankfully, the cooking instructions are grease free. 

“Mix together and bake at 350 degrees, until done.”

Have you ever thumbed through an old family cookbook?  Pay close attention to the handwritten notes in the margins. Oftentimes, these notations will be the difference between success or failure in a traditional southern recipe:

“Leave out the nutmeg.”  

“Add a little more brown sugar.”  

“This recipe makes plenty.” 

“Use pecans-not walnuts.”  

“I used six eggs.” 

Better yet, some of the best recipes are never written down.  Many Southern cooks rely on their memories.  It’s a gift.  A true blessing.  Unfortunately, I do not belong to that elite group of cooks.  I need clear and concise directions.    

Many Christmases ago, as a young adult and inexperienced cook, I attempted to write down my mother’s recipe for her “made from scratch” Chicken and Dumplings.  (To this day, nobody has ever come close to duplicating her chicken and dumplings.)  

Here’s how that recipe unfolded.  

“How much chicken do I need?”  I asked, sitting at the kitchen table, pen poised over my notepad. She answers. “I don’t know, exactly.  Just get you a good-sized hen. A hen,” she repeats, “Not a fryer.”   

Right out the chicken coop, my feathers are ruffled.  I have no idea what she’s talking about. Chicken is chicken. 

“After you cut up your hen, cover it with plenty of water and cook it until it’s about ready to fall off the bone.”  

Well, that’s certainly clear. 

“Mama, I can’t cut up a chicken. I’ll just get one pre-cut,” I protest.

“Well, you’re going to pay extra.” She answers, baffled by the fact that she has an adult daughter who can’t cut up a chicken. “Anybody can cut up a chicken.”

I tried cutting up a chicken once.  No one recognized it as chicken. 

“While the chicken is cooking, go ahead and make your dumplings.”

“Alright, how much flour for the dumplings?” I asked. 

She pauses and looks at me with a slightly puzzled expression on her face. 

“It’s according to how many dumplings you want.”

What!?! I need cups; exact measurements.   

“Okay,” I say. 

“As soon as the chicken is done, set it on a plate and let it cool so you can pull it off the bone, later.  That won’t take much time since most of it is going to just fall right off.  Make sure you don’t leave any bones or grizzle in your chicken broth.” 

Oh, that’s going to be fun; fishing chicken bones and grizzle from the broth.  

“Now,” Mama adds, wiping her hands on a dishcloth, “Let that broth come to a good boil.” 

“About how long will that take?”  I ask, while trying to make copious notes.

“‘Til it comes to a good rolling boil.  I’m not sure how long it takes in minutes. Just stand there and watch it, I reckon. Then write your time down.”  

Whoops, I detect a little note of impatience in her voice.  

Looking up from my paper, I notice she’s using a heavy, smooth tea glass to roll out the dumplings.

“Why don’t you use a rolling pin for that?” I ask. 

“Because, I don’t have one,” was the clipped answer.

That’s not impatience in her voice; it’s irritation.  

“Try not to handle the dumplings any more than you have to,” she continues with her instructions.  “It will make them tough.”

Before I can write all that down, she’s already taken a knife, cut the dumplings into strips, and begins dropping them into the broth.  

She moves quickly, as she works with the dumplings.  The stove burner is turned off.                    

I’ve stopped writing and watch in amazement as Mama moves from the kitchen table to the stove several times, as she magically cooks those rich and luscious dumplings.  I know for a fact that those dumplings will actually melt in your mouth from the first bite to the last. 

The chicken, which actually did fall off the bone, is added back to the broth.

“Just let that sit a minute, while those dumplings soak up the broth.”  Mama washes the flour off her hands at the kitchen sink and then sweeps up the tiny white trail from the table to the stove.  

“Did you get all that written down?”   

I look at my “recipe.”  

Hen-not fryer. Cook it. Make dumplings. Rolling boil? Add dumplings. 

That’s all I had.  

“Yes ma’am, I did.”  I smile to myself.

That’s the exact moment that I realized the secret to those delicious dumplings.  It wasn’t the ingredients, the correct measurements nor the exact cooking times, but the endless amount of love that was added to the pot.

Merry Christmas. May the love in your family fill to overflowing this holiday season.

Got “Cabin Fever?” Ease Your Mind With Our Secret Newell Lodge Remedy

Got “Cabin Fever?”

Ease Your Mind With Our Secret Newell Lodge Remedy

We exhibit all the symptoms.  Restlessness. Irritability. Loneliness. Quarantined at home. Southerners are falling prey to a tiresome malaise that is now increasingly common. My diagnosis? Cabin fever.  

The pandemic has stopped us in our tracks, and the negative effects of cabin fever are felt all over. We do the best we can with email, social media, and phones, but the reality of social isolation is sinking in.

 “I’m about to go stir-crazy!” according to one phone friend.

 Folks from the South are social creatures with warm, sweet personalities, who need to hug, shake hands, hug again…and again and again.  

“ I can’t stay cooped up in this house another minute,” a frantic mother scribed on Facebook. 

The vital family and social connections, which we cherish, are now on hold-until further notice.  

“I’m going plumb crazy,” a recent text message claimed.

Thing is, social distancing and sheltering in place run contrary to the very testament of our Southern hospitality.  As a result, we experience loneliness and an undefined restlessness.  Worse, our sense of self has been interrupted, leading to irritability.  

Take, for example, supper. We hesitate to invite friends and families for supper.  We haven’t been to Wal Mart in a month of Sundays.  We don’t stop our buggies in the center aisle at the Piggly Wiggly to hear the latest gossip.  

By chance, if we recognize our next-door neighbor, it is a miracle. Especially if she is wearing a surgical mask with gold sequins glued across the top and a pair of 70’s sunglasses that would make Elton John proud. Then, it’s nearly impossible to carry on a decent conversation from a sizable distance with your mouth and nose covered. Not to mention what it does to your lipstick!  

Good gosh, what do we sacrifice next- our manners?

Or perhaps you have a doctor’s appointment?  Be prepared.  The receptionist sits behind a plexi-glass barrier, wearing a plain Jane surgical mask.  She pulls your chart and instructs you to return to your vehicle and wait.  

“Do you prefer a call or text when the doctor is available?”

Oh, my. How in the world are we supposed to find out who else is sick, sympathize, and bless their hearts while sitting in the parking lot in 100 degree weather with the a/c running?  

Besides, the waiting room at the doctor’s office is a fountain of information on a variety of subjects. Waiting patients are a diverse group.  Their conversations are a fount of relevant engaging local news, ranging from local politics to who was pulled over for speeding by the police last night.  

Southerners are simply not equipped for staring at four walls in complete isolation from the world around them.

Whether we agree or disagree, it is crucial to the overall health and safety of the general public that we comply with COVID health and safety guidelines. We must continue to integrate Pandemic prevention into our lives for the foreseeable future. We find ourselves in need of a remedy for cabin fever? 

Our Secret Family Remedy for “Cabin Fever”

Our secret family cure is quite simple: return to nature. The great outdoors is a great healer for all sorts of malaise.

What is this healing power of nature?  Studies have shown that spending just 30 minutes a day outdoors will improve our mental and physical health and wellbeing.  What we do while we’re outside is not as important as being there.  You don’t have to walk briskly, practice yoga, or run a mile with earbuds jamming your favorite music.   You simply have to be. 

You don’t have to look far to find nature.  It’s right here in our backyards, a city park, the coast or a wooded area. You’ll find it’s possible to experience a sense of timelessness and a renewal of self, even while maintaining social distancing and sheltering in place. 

Here, in the Okefenokee region, you will find the tradition of cabin dwellings innate to the early swamp settlers. Cabins speak to us of family, self-sufficiency, and safe dwellings. Of course, here at Newell Lodge, you’ll feel all that, but we include all the modern conveniences that make a cabin feel like home. 

Five Ways To Overcome “Cabin Fever”

In south Georgia, a cabin in a grove of trees offers an opportunity to watch that wiry, little squirrel scamper from tree to tree looking for something he never seems to find. Here are some of the ways a bit of time in a rustic cabin can improve your outlook on life. You can:  

  1. Let the world unfold around you like a patchwork quilt.
    Wild Black-Eyed Susies grow along the fence line.  Appreciate their beauty by picking a bouquet to place on your table. With a little water, they’ll last for days.
  2. Sit in the front porch rocker and watch the sunrise while horses graze silently in the pasture.
    Gentle rocking and a nice hot cup of coffee brings soothing relief to frazzled thoughts. Listen to the quietness.  Feel the stillness.  The morning dew glistens on the grass as though it had been sprinkled with transparent glitter for your enjoyment.
  3. Spend time at the barn with the horses.
    Our equine friends understand our emotional state.  They make no judgments and listen without interrupting. They have no advice to give-only love and acceptance.  Who could ask for a better friend?
  4. Feed the chickens.
    The bucket is in the feed room, along with the scratch feed.  They’ll hear you coming and rush to the chicken coop door. It’s a great feeling to be appreciated, even by the chickens. It’s a simple task with great rewards.
  5. Just breathe.
    Take a leisurely stroll beneath the sprawling oak trees. Sit in the swing for a spell. Think of nothing but breathing the crisp morning air filled with nature’s sweetness.

Time spent in the great outdoors will strengthen our resolve and resilience, preparing us for what is to come.   This small dose of nature is just what the doctor ordered, and the stresses of the pandemic are held at bay. That cabin fever? Maybe it can be a good thing after all.

Chasing Ole Rattler: the True Story of a Racepond Boy and His Dog

To most folks, Rattler appeared to be a run-of-the-mill dog. But to a six-year-old Harvin, Rattler was anything but ordinary. 

“There was nothing Ole Rattler wouldn’t chase, except a bear,” Harvin recalls. 

“ He would run a deer, tree a coon, even catch a wild hog or an armadillo – anything, but a bear.”

Thinking of Rattler always brings a smile to Harvin’s face as he reminisces.  

“Zeke Layton’s red tick hound had a large litter of puppies. One Saturday afternoon, Zeke stopped by the house and offered a puppy to me-if I wanted him.”

Did he ever! 

“In just a few minutes, Daddy and I were in the truck on our way to Zeke’s house.” 

Pretty soon, they pulled up out front, then got out to take a look. 

“The mama dog and the puppies were in a make-shift bed under the old wooden porch of the house,” he recalls. 

There were about six or seven squirming little puppies left in the litter. 

“I had to crawl in a little ways and quickly spotted the one I wanted.”

 He was the runt. 

Daddy said, ‘Son, you’ve picked the ugliest dog in the litter, but if that’s the one you want, get him.’  From then on, it was me and Ole Rattler.” 

One look at Rattler confirmed that, in fact, he was ugly.  The short hard coat of white hair, speckled with red, and long legs accompanied the sad, soulful look on his freckled face.  As he grew, Rattler’s muscular frame, long tapered tail, and his low hanging ears did nothing to improve his looks.  

Fortunately, love sees beyond the physical appearance and captures the essence of the heart and soul.  When you’re six, it is quite simple. The boy loved the dog and the dog loved the boy.  

Theirs was a friendship that lasted for more than 12 human years, or 84 years in dog years.   

Every afternoon, without fail, Rattler was standing at the roadside, waiting for the school bus to make its appointed stop.  As Harvin stepped from the bus, Rattler was there barking and jumping in excitement that he was home at last. 

“It was always such a good feeling that Rattler was so happy to see me.”

Red Ticks are known to be loving and loyal pets.  While Rattler was gentle, he also had a good nose for danger and was extremely protective.  Rattler never hesitated to jump from the back of the truck or bound from his resting place beneath the oak tree,  barking and growling, if anyone dared approach Harvin.

Young Harvin, the namesake of his uncle, Harvin Cason, grew up in Racepond, on the edge of the Little Okefenokee Swamp. Harvin was the youngest of eight children and was the center of his father’s world.   

The dark, ominous backdrop of the Little Okefenokee was created by plentiful overhanging trees growing in and around the marshy, brackish-like waters of slow running creeks  and thick woodlands. This slice of wilderness  provided excellent hunting for Racepond locals, including Harvin and his father.  In those days hunting clubs were non-existent, much less their possessive, posted claims of TRESPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED.    

It was here, in the Little Okefenokee, that Harvin and his father, Allen Carter spent countless days, walking the woodlands with Ole Rattler in tow.  Rattler loved to roam, exploring and tracking the scent of other animals. Rattler was rugged and he was fast. Harvin enjoyed watching his exploits more than the hunting. 

Under the guise of hunting, their ramblings became more about the treasured times that Harvin, his dad and Rattler spent together.  More often than not, a shot was never fired. Instead they would spend an entire day tromping through the thick woods, dead leaves cracking under the weight of each footstep.      

Sometimes,  Ole Rattler’s tracking led him deeper into the woods than Harvin or his dad dared to venture. It wasn’t unusual for them to head back to the house without Rattler, knowing he would find the way back home.  

Other days, the trio would make the short trip to their favorite fishing spot in Gum Slough, an area just north of Racepond near Fort Mudge.  

Excited, they would “get up before daylight, get our fishing poles and bait together, and pack a lunch of whatever was left over from supper,” Harvin remembers. “Then, as we would head towards Gum Slough, daylight would break. There was nothing any prettier than the morning sunrise.”

There was always the momentary thrill with the fishing line would bob in the water, signaling there would be fried fish for supper that evening.   

“I guess we were naturalists, when we didn’t even know the meaning of the word.”  

 The solitude, the stillness and essence of nature strengthened the bond between a loving father, his younger son, and a homely dog. 

In later years, Harvin did more than his fair share of fishing.   Those times paled in comparison to the fishing days of his youth. Nothing could be better than Gum Slough with his father, an old cane pole and a box of freshly dug worms, with Rattler sleeping at his side, enjoying the warmth of the summer sun. 

 “I’ve always tried to find another dog like Ole’ Rattler.  But I never have.”   

Like Ole Rattler, some things can never be replaced.  Poor Rattler survived  snake bites, multiple injuries when hit by a car, and encounters with wild animals, except a bear.  His sole purpose in life was to bring happiness to a young boy in Racepond, Georgia. Rattler’s job was done when he died of old age of 12. 

Like Ole Rattler, in your heart you know where home lies. 

Whether it’s the bond between a boy and his dog or the cherished memories of walking through the woods with your father, returning home as the sun is setting. Or it’s the aroma of  fatback in a cast iron skillet, grits with stewed tomatoes, and the scent of biscuits cooking that reaches you as the back door opens. In that place, you hear the muffled voice of your mother coming from the kitchen, realizing that in that brief moment you are loved.  

The sweet memories of home will always linger within the heart.  Just like Ole Rattler and his boy.

The Sandy Path Home: Ecology, Tourism and Newell Lodge after COVID-19

What if the natural world we love so much no longer existed? What if there were no blue skies overhead? No live oak trees or sandy beaches? What if the seasons never changed? I can’t imagine what that world would be. But the recent devastation wrought by COVID-19 have left many of us shaken and questioning the path forward.

Like you, I feel fortunate to live in a region filled with a wealth of nature and a diverse cultural history. In my capacity as a regional tourism leader, both in my Charlton County home and at Newell Lodge and Resort, I have learned that the sandy path to home is also the one that leads to a better future.

The question of “How do share our unique resources with others?” is one that has become more important than ever as each of us in the region, in the nation, deals with the effects of COVID-19 on our local economies.

The answer is simple and one which we embrace at Newell Lodge - tourism.  

Ecotourism is the heart of Newell Lodge. The lodge is a favored Southern hospitality destination for multigenerational horse and nature enthusiasts who want a memorable Okefenokee experience. As soon as it’s safe, we’ll re-open our cottages and bistro and fill every room with laughter and gratitude.

Nature is a great healer. When people finally begin to leave their homes and rejoin family and friends to celebrate life and to grieve what has come to pass, they will necessarily turn to the wonders of nature.

How do we encourage regional economic growth without destroying the natural environment which makes us who we are?

The International Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education.”  

At Newell Lodge, this type of responsible travel translates into a direct experience of a gently built environment which conserves the 300 year old oak grove at the heart of the property. We work tirelessly to protect Buffalo Creek, which winds through our campgrounds, and to offer visitors a window into the history, culture and families which are intrinsic to live in the Okefenokee region.

Ecotourism is not only necessary but critical to the tourism industry in the U.S. and our state.  This is especially true for South Georgia and our Coastal communities. It is so much more than just traveling and sightseeing.   

It’s also about growth of resources for our neighbors. People who work at the lodge are local, and the money guests and diners at SwampFire Backwoods Bistro spend goes back into the local or regional economy. 

We invest in eco-tourism because we’re committed to consciously creating sustainable relationships between people and places we love.

In the days ahead, as businesses reacclimate to a new normal, we must encourage people to explore the coastal area’s ecologies and microclimates in ways that positively impact both the environment, through preservation and restoration, and our communities, through positive growth. 

You’ll see more of this sense of exploration in our horseback riding offerings, including family oriented events and trail rides, as well as yoga with horses.

Environmental education and conservation create economic opportunity. Now and for the future, we can work together to create a positive and exceptional experience for everyone through ecotourism. 

According to an article by written by Richard Louv, 

“People are wired to love and need exposure to the natural world.  Researchers have found that regardless of culture, people will gravitate towards nature.”

It is this concept of sharing our love for the places we call home that propels us forward as we embrace ecotourism. Our marketing strategies must invite people into our communities who share these interests, rather than being bound by geography or the limitations of the past. 

Value-based sharing of our region’s ecology and lifestyles is likely our best opportunity for sustainable growth as we recover from the impact of COVID-19.

 Researchers at the University of Rochester report that “exposure to the natural environment leads people to nurture close relationships with fellow human beings, value community, and to be more generous with money.”

Shouldn’t we nurture the human connection we all value, build our communities, and encourage generosity in all that we do?

Shouldn’t we consciously create the future we want for our children?

Several years ago, rich deposits of the mineral zircon were located on Newell Lodge property.  Great news, right?  The Carter family, my family, thought so at first.  Unfortunately, the trees would be removed for mining.  Our family passed on the opportunity. Had we chosen otherwise, would Newell Lodge be here today? Probably not.

Today, Newell Lodge guests can continue to embrace nature-based activities surrounded by a unique 300-year-old natural oak grove, surrounded by the beauty of our native scrub forests while picnicking, fishing, or bird watching. Through these and other experiences, guests increase their appreciation and understanding of the natural and cultural values found in the Okefenokee corridor of the coastal region.    

Visitors here are actively encouraged to explore the local ecosystem and history, whether at Newell or by a visit to the Okefenokee.  Similarly, guests are encouraged to visit to the region’s historical and natural attractions of our coastal partners. Through one-of-a-kind experiences, we elevate the heritage and culture of the region and increase appreciation of the relaxed lifestyle available to us in South Georgia: one of rejuvenation, meaningful connection, and deep natural beauty.

Charlton County is my home. I have lived in appreciation of the natural beauty of our region my entire life, as has my mother and her mother, as well. My grandmother spent her childhood years in the Newell community, just across the railroad tracks on the right.  During those days Newell supported a thriving turpentine industry. My Grandmama’s stories of those long-ago days are rich with our local culture and a sense of family. 

One story that I remember is that she and her sister, Mildred, loved to walk along the dirt roads, picking wildflowers for their mother, my great-grandmother. She recalled the beauty of the flowers they chose, the sweet coolness of spring afternoons, and the simple pleasures she shared with her family. Her story reminds me of a simple truth, one that is at the heart of who we are. Everything we need to make Folkston and Charlton County grow is already here, right at our fingertips. We have but to choose the sandy path back home.

We have a story to tell. The story is found deep in our culture, our small-town atmosphere, our southern hospitality, and an ecological system that compares to no other.  In the days ahead of COVID-19, it is my mission to promote Newell Lodge and my home of Charlton County as an ecological vacation destination. 

Together, we can share our beautiful Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, rich colonial Wiregrass and Swamper heritage, our industrial era legacy of timber and trains, exceptional southern cooking, exclusive lodging accommodations. We can enjoy simple things: horseback riding, exploring nature trails, and investigating the wonders of our natural environment.

We can improve our lives and those of others through this generosity of spirit.

Our stories are those of Indians and outlaws, of steel magnolia women and hard-working men who faced and overcame adversity and fell in love with prairies and pine forests, wrestled alligators, charmed bees, and found beauty in the everyday, all around them.

In the days ahead, as life returns to “normal,” we invite you to become a part of our story, even now, as you rebuild and renew cherished relationships. Together, let’s experience the sweetness our lives in Folkston and Charlton County have to offer.

You have my commitment and belief. In the proactive support of ecotourism, we redefine what Charlton County and the Okefenokee Swamp means to Coastal Georgia tourism. 

We can redefine the future.

Albert Einstein said, “"Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better."  

How great is that?   

Ashley Carter-Gowen is  the event coordinator and dedicated equine expert at Newell Lodge, LLC, where she is a partner in her family’s business.  She received her degree in Diversified Agriculture from Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College and currently serves as executive director of the Charlton County Development Authority.             

Ashley believes that our future can be found in the simple things: horseback riding, exploring nature, and investigating the wonders of our natural environment.  Her mission is to promote Newell Lodge and her home of Charlton County as an ecological vacation destination. 

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Mama’s Easter Parade: Reflections on Love, Faith and Shiny Shoes

On Saturday, the week before Easter we made our annual trip to Waycross to Schreiber’s Bootery to buy shoes.  Mama preferred that Mr. Schreiber himself wait on us because, “he won’t sell you a pair of shoes that don’t fit.”  

Shoes were important to my mother, but not because she loved shoes.  Growing up in the depression, she wore shoes that were simply too small.  

“I promised myself that my children would always have shoes that fit them.”  

The promise was one she kept. Shoes for all five girls were purchased there because “Mr. Schreiber knows shoes.”

The brand-new black patent leather shoes were so shiny that I could see my reflection.  

“Can I wear them home?”   

“No. These are your Sunday shoes.  We have to save them, so they’ll look good for church.” 

Our next stop, down the street from Scriber’s, was Penney’s.   There, we purchased lacy, white socks and white cotton gloves to complete our Easter ensembles.  

Afterward, we would dart into Kress', so Mama could buy cashews and maple nut goodies for my Daddy.  We then waited in the car while she went into the Amspacher's bakery for crème horns, a bonus to go with the cashews.

On the ride home, I took my black patent shoes out of the box. For a minute, I inhaled the new shoes smell, felt the smoothness of the patent leather, and wondered if I would have a new Easter dress this year.  

At Easter, the winter chill turns into the slight coolness of April.  The azaleas were in full bloom, perhaps a little too early, but still vibrant.  Like clockwork, Aunt Gussie would arrive with newly sewn dresses for my sisters and me.  

As she clicked the gold latches on the worn tan suitcase, I anxiously watched as she pulled out the newly sewn clothes.  

First, everyone received a set of shorty pajamas.  

“Where are the dresses?” I wondered as I leaned over the heads of my younger sisters, trying to get a better look.  One year, Aunt Gussie made stylish black velvet dresses with rounded white collars for my sister, Sue, and me, which pleased us both.

On Easter morning, we would each find our pretty new dresses perfectly pressed and hanging in our closet.  Our shiny shoes, lacey socks, and prim white gloves were lined up on top of the deep freezer in the kitchen. 

Getting to church for a family of seven was quite an ordeal, and Easter was no exception.  The five of us would hurriedly dress in our new outfits with scratchy crinolines, eat our breakfasts and arrive our usual 5 minutes late for Sunday school. 

For the next 45 minutes, we listened to the reassuring story of Christ’s great love for us and His victory over death. Even now, some 58 years later, it’s this message, this memory, which helps to renew my hope each Easter day, a cornerstone of our family’s faith.

As we leave our Sunday school classes and head to sanctuary with Mama and Daddy in the lead, Mrs. Madeline Lott, stopped to remark to my mother.

“Gladys, I don’t know how you do it.  All five of these girls look like they just stepped off the band wagon.”  

When I heard her kind words, I was so proud - not only of my beautiful Easter outfit and the compliment - but proud of my mother who managed to pull off her own personal Easter parade with her five beautiful, beloved daughters, year after year.

Despite all the world’s uncertainty, may Easter bring the timeless promise of joy, hope and faith to you this year.