Friday, February 24, 2006

Georgia acts to honor their red clay

Most states have recognized official soils. Georgia may be the first in designating an official state dirt:

HB 1443 - Red clay; Georgia's official dirt; designate

A BILL to be entitled an Act to amend Article 3 of Chapter 3 of Title 50 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to state symbols, so as to designate Georgia red clay as Georgia's official dirt; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes.
It is tempting to poke fun at this diversion but many others (Improbable Research, No1ofConsequence and Scribal Terror.), all faster on the draw than me, have already developed this fertile territory.

Let me instead point out the obvious positives, if this passes. First, no taxes will be increased. Second, no rights will be diminished. Third, no pockets will be lined. In any state, not just Georgia, any one of these legislative feats is a noteworthy accomplishment. Fourth, it is an opportunity to engage in self-deprecating humour, which, in my opinion is one of the essential ingredients for preserving mental health. That Georgia would do this greatly increases my confidence in this legislative body.

Before I give my fifth reason, I offer these excerpts describing red clay:

"I curse the red clay,'' says Santiago. "They have it in Florida but it's not as bad. And I've been to Texas with the [baseball] teams I've worked with but it's not as bad as anything around here.'' Other parts of the country do have red clay. But it dominates the landscape of no other region as it does the Piedmont, that rolling plain between the mountains and the sea - extending from Alabama to New York.

"It is a striking fact of the landscape,'' says Al Stuart, professor of geography at UNC Charlotte.

It is even more than that.

Red clay is the ground of our being, the material that has shaped, nurtured and sustained us. So different from the dark gumbo soil of the Mississippi Delta or the yellow sands of the Carolinas coast, it has produced crops, provided building material for schools, houses, churches and factories and shaped our sense of ourselves in ways large and small.

Embedded in our history, it is the soil "as red as blood'' described by John Lawson, who in 1700 was one of the first Europeans to explore the land; the stuff Catawba Indian women fashioned into their distinctive stamped pottery; the material spit from the wheels of the first race drivers' cars on the sport's earliest dirt tracks; gluey enough when wet to pull the shoe off your foot.

Thomas Wolfe's character Oliver Gant takes a train from Pennsylvania to Altamont, Wolfe's fictionalized hometown of Asheville. Gant stares out from the train window at "the fallow unworked earth, the great raw lift of the Piedmont, the muddy red clay roads and the slattern people.'' The novelist drew a parallel between the raw land and the untidy people, seeing the prospects dim for each. But Wolfe was wrong.

The Piedmont became prosperous, an ironic result of the poor growing qualities of red clay. "Because the soil wasn't very forgiving there's always been a sense among Piedmonters that we had to try harder ..."

In some places it goes down 100 feet before bedrock. Geologists and soil experts call it an "ultisol,'' soil formed over billions of years.
Piedmont red clay truly deserves to be recognized as the implacable force that it is. A state government seems like the perfect size jurisdiction to act on this responsibility. Thank you Georgia.

Side note. Georgia red clay soil characteristics have quite a bit in common with Amazonian oxisols and ultisols. They are acidic and low in fertility. The Piedmont soils in Georgia would benefit from a innovative Amazonian soil ammendment, bio-char, mentioned earlier. It is fortuitous that Eprida, a biomass processing concern, has its bio-char pilot plant in Georgia.

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