Friday, March 19, 2010


I saw these farmer guys setting a field on fire.
It looked so very cool I had to tag along.

It was actually a very wet marshland and difficult slogging through it. The mud was deep and it sucked me down. I couldn't keep up with the guy. He knew exactly where to step and he just kinda cruised along effortlessly like there was nothing to it.

I had to query Jake about this practice of setting fire to the land and he explained that it's a regular part of crop management and "Hey, we do the same thing down on our property. You should join us."
Excellent, I say.

Little did I know that instead of slogging it on foot I'd be outfitted with my very own ALL TERRAIN VEHICLE. And instead of flat empty fields it was gonna be deep woods and steep clay roads.
I even had the task of carrying the emergency water tank.
So after my 30 second driving lesson - clutch, gear shift, gas - I was off on my mini death machine, one hand on the camera and barely able to see.

Jake's ATV carries the fuel tank and flame thrower. The fuel is a gelatinous substance similar to napalm but not quite as thick. The Rednecks have a racist term for the fires caused by this fuel having to do with our former enemies in Asia.
The whole process of this soil management does feel rather like a military operation. You have squads, captains, deadly weapons, and a briefing to prepare the platoon for the attack.

Guys with hand-held napalm cannisters strike out on foot to lay down a line of fire.
Jake and the flame machine flank and surround this line on a wider perimeter to form a strong back fire.

I follow with the yellow water tank in case something explodes.

These images don't come close to showing the intensity of the fire and smoke. I couldn't film the most hairy moments because I really needed both hands on the handle bars to maneuver through the thickest smoke and searing heat. Emerging with my eyes burning and lungs scorched, all I can say is, HOT DANG!

Then the clutch on my ATV broke. I felt bad for riding it so hard. I think in my first-timers panic I may have pushed it inappropriately. But everybody gathered around to fix it and I think I was forgiven. Then the power cord on the water tank snapped when we tipped the ATV over.

Striking out on our final mission, a real emergency occurred. A section of forest fire was getting out of control and threatening to expand beyond the designated perimeters, potentially destroying the livelihood of everyone involved.
Jake went for the water tank but the power line was broken. I re-inserted the electric wire and manually held it together while he directed the water. All the while Jake is screaming for Big Red, his lieutenant, to come assist with the dowsing of the widening flames.

Let me tell you - there is nothing more scary than a bunch of pissed off Rednecks in an emergency.

It's almost prescient that my camera should suddenly shut off - battery dead, memory full - just as they were starting in on each other. Their language was way too colorful for a family audience.
But believe me, it was an awesome show.


This Jake character is taking over my whole darn Blog. But there ain't much I can do about the fact that my days down on his farm are some of the best days I've had in Alabama.
So much so that I invited friends from far and wide to be the first to experience the first 'Water Valley Lodge Southern Experience Tour'.
Utsey actually wants to expand his business to include a kind of Rural Heritage/Historical Tour to introduce urban Americans to this foreign land in their own country.
My good friends functioned as sort of a focus group for Jake's entrepreneurial experiment.

There's Marvin Novogrodski from Rhode Island way out in the distance there and Gabe here on loan from the US Army. Kimson and Abby came from Brooklyn and the good man, Richard Goulis, from Providence.

We cast our lines in the pond with poles of various sizes. Mine was pretty high-tech and very long.

We all gave our blood sweat and tears but Jake's 5-year-old daughter caught most of these fish. We were all thankful for our good fortune anyway. The meal was outstanding.

The Creek Indian attack on Fort Mims in 1813 is right up there with 911 or Pearl Harbour. It prompted the USA, under Andrew Jackson, to go bonkers on Native Americans, seizing millions of acres, killing or displacing tens of thousands of people forever.

Abby, Rich, and Kimson survey the scene. At Fort Mims as in most events in this country's history, nothing is just black and white - or red and white or what have you. Negros and Indians were inside the Fort too. The Creek attackers were led by two mixed race men, William Weatherford and Peter McQueen. One of the leaders of the white settlers was mixed race as well.

Half the charm of any tour is Jake's encyclopedic knowledge and colorful commentary. He's also good for a lively debate.

The alligator farm was a doozy. It was worth the side trip even though the tour guide was an annoying rightwing shill with the worst, most unfunny political wisecracks. Pathetic and stupid. We all agreed that he will most likely one day go the way of this chicken.

The cemetery at Selma is splendid. The rebel flags and tombstones of unknown confederate soldiers were no surprise. What surprised us were the thousands of Jewish graves with names hailing from the far reaches of the diaspora. Their gravestones are the only indication of a large, influential, but now vanished community.

I'm trying to put together a group for a tour in the coming months. It'll be a longer stay. There's so much more we want to do

Walton Creel of Birmingham is gaining renoun for his gun-made art.

After his great show at the Coleman Center Gallery he was cool enough to demonstrate his technique of repeated .22 caliber gouging through a steel sheet.