It started in April, a new class with Kim Manley Ort, a photographer and writer I have followed for several years. She practices contemplative photography, which is a whole ‘nother post altogether! This class focuses on the places we live, starting with the geographic/geologic history and moving into other history. In May, the focus is on the history of the indigenous people, the “homegrown” people and ways, if you will.
I am catching up, if I ever really started. It’s so hard to work in these things I want to do when I am teaching, and the last month of school seems to be the busiest. Yet, I find myself reading each week’s lessons from Kim, and at least thinking about the inspiration she provides. Perhaps, as the summer approaches, I’ll get into the deeper research of the class. As I was reading the last post from April, I was inspired to write this rather long email to Kim. I’ll post it here in its entirety. Maybe these prompts from her will inspire me to get back into writing as well as into photography.
It’s a quiet Saturday at home. I am sitting beside two loads of laundry waiting to be folded and put away (there are at least three more loads in the bathroom to be sorted and washed before the weekend is over). I have fifteen days left in this school year to concentrate on world, American, and British literature. (only about 10 days left with my unruly seventh graders–well, maybe not unruly, but rambunctious, loud, and sometimes obnoxious–but they are twelve years old! The majority of the class is boys–and having raised two boys to manhood, by the grace of God alone!–I can expect rambunctious, loud, active, and obnoxious all at the same time).
I guess you can see I haven’t had much time for deep digging or personal photography. Yet, I have been constantly thinking about the landscape and the place I call home. The area between the Congaree and Saluda Rivers is known as the Dutch Fork. It was given to German Lutherans in the 1700s by way of a landgrant from George III of England, and there are beaucoups of Lutheran churches in the area. I am descended from those German Lutherans, as well as a branch of Austrian Lutherans, called the Salzburgers (from Austria), who settled on the Savannah River in Georgia. I grew up in Richland County. You know, I haven’t learned whether the county is called Richland because of the rich earth (rich land), or whether is named after some aristocrat from England (like Lexington County).. Hmmm, more research.
Even if the land is fertile, there is so much red clay in our area, especially on the hill where I grew up. And quartz and some mica, and the ocassional feldspar/fool’s gold. Imagine my disappointment when I was a little girl taking my “gold” to show my mother, and she informed me that it was only fool’s gold, and not the real thing. Seriously, I thought I was rich! But oh, how I loved finding beautiful quartz crystals in the native rocks. I did not enjoy hauling buckets full of those rocks out of the vegetable garden, though. That was punishments, even if I hadn’t done anything to deserve that chore!
My father had an “eagle’s eye” for finding interesting things after plowing up the fields to plant grains or the garden for vegetables. He could spot an arrowhead with accuracy that amazed me. I’d pick up a milky white stone that LOOKED like the arrowheads he’d find, only to discover I had picked up a rock. I never could “get it right” (but once!). He had a collection of these artifacts that he would let us children (my brother and sister and I) look through and hold in our hands to feel the sharp edges. There was one, though, he had that did not look like anything else. Gosh, I don’t know if I can describe it: one side was black, not shiny, but kind of dull, muted; the other was brown, almost as if it had been covered with something, or painted. Daddy said that a friend of his who was a self-styled expert on Indian artifacts told him that this particular arrowhead was not native to Richland County or to South Carolina, and speculated that it might have been traded or brought back by a warrior who had been wounded with it. (And there is some research to be done!) My mother made a shadow box and mounted several of the arrowheads from Daddy’s collection.
In the 1920-30’s, Lake Murray was created by damming the Saluda River. A whole lot of land in Newberry, Saluda, Richland, and Lexington Counties has been covered with water to form the lake. It bogles my imagination to think of the artifacts that have been covered by the lake: cemeteries that were not moved; buildings’ foundations; and who knows what else. I wish sometimes that I could dive those places to see those relics of the past.
I am looking forward to the research on the indigenous history of Newberry and Richland Counties. What I’ve learned so far is that a number of native peoples who inhabited South Carolina are now extinct, either because they are not organized or recognized as tribes, or because there are no longer descendents of those tribes. It gave me moment of sadness to think that these people have been lost to history, either because they died of disease and epidemics brought by the settlers from Europe or were killed in skirmishes and battles among themselves or the settlers. So much to think about!
I’m sorry this email is so long! Once I start writing sometimes, the words just don’t stop! Even though I’m not necessarily doing the photography part, this class is giving me the freedom to explore and think, and to write!