Monday, December 9, 2013

Callaway Gardens

It must have been in the middle 1980s or so when I first heard of Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia, and it probably was because of an ad in Southern Living magazine. I was living in southeast Texas then with hardly two nickels to rub together, and going there seemed as attainable as going to the moon. Then one day last month I was in the state visitor center in Plains and found a flyer for the Christmas lights at Callaway and almost immediately bought a couple of tickets and made reservations for a ride on the trolley. I was going to the moon.

My friend and I got to the garden well before dark and had time to drive around and see the sights. We got there in time to catch the birds of prey show and it was darn good. The young woman who narrated the show must have done this dozens or scores of times but made it sound like she was giving a talk to friends in her living room. She was a natural. She and another woman brought out four birds for us to see in action.

The first bird was a cute little barred owl, but she assured us that none of the birds we would see that day were of the cute and cuddly nature. 

All of the birds respond to hand signals from the trainers, who kept them flying back and forth, back and forth, over the heads of the people in the audience. More than once I saw wing tips brush through people's hair, the birds were swooping so low.

The second bird was a red-tailed hawk. All of the birds at the center have been "damaged' in some way. Some were picked up and taken away from their natural habitat by well-meaning people who thought the bird was injured and then the bird became imprinted on its new "mother." This red-tailed hawk was hit by a car when it was feeding on something on the side of the road, and was blinded in one eye.

The third bird was a horned owl. The "horns" help the bird to blend into its surroundings in the forest by blurring the outline of its head.

Here's not such a great picture but it shows the owl heading right toward me, just as it left its perch. If I remember correctly, this bird's feet exert a force of 150 pounds per square inch. Imagine being a mouse.

The last bird is this beauty and I can't remember what kind it is. David Shaffer, if you're out there, can you identify it for me? This bird actually flew away from the center one day and was gone for a few weeks. They learned it had flown about 25 miles away, into the yard of a man who'd seen the show. He identified the bird as one belonging to Callaway and performed the hand signals toward it after wrapping his forearm in a t-shirt. Sure enough, the bird came to perch on his arm and he was able to keep it safe until someone from the garden could retrieve it. They now put transponders on most of the birds and especially this one.

Next stop was the butterfly center. They grow their own butterflies:

There weren't a lot flitting around, which was something of a disappointment, but it was overcast and that affects butterfly activity. This is all I got.

We also stopped at the Ida Cason Callaway Memorial Chapel and were the only ones there. At one of the gift shops I'd seen a magnet shaped and colored like the window at the chapel and wanted to see it in person. We were the only people there and it was nice to have it to ourselves.

Its design was inspired by 16th century Gothic churches and is built of local materials, including fieldstone quartz. The windows reflect the changing seasons of the surrounding forest and are really lovely.
The big attraction, of course, was the Christmas lights and I got not one usable photo. Some of the displays were just stunning, like a long stretch where two curtains of white lights were strung parallel to the road, one curtain behind the other, a pair on each side. The simple design was interspersed with snowflake designs and created depth that didn't seem possible. It started to sprinkle as we boarded the trolley and then it rained in earnest, blowing in on MY side of the seat. I was soaked by the end of the ride but I've also been on walking tours of Christmas lights in really cold climates, so the wet seemed like something of a trade off.

We had a nice time, weather and bad wi-fi at the hotel notwithstanding. I'd love to see the gardens in full bloom and maybe I can if I swing back through the area at the right time of year.

Thought of the day:

You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down. (Toni Morrison - Song of Solomon)