Posts Tagged ‘reading the built landscape’

It’s been three weeks now since what’s been termed the 2011 Super Outbreak of tornadoes.  In this part of the country, one doesn’t have to look very hard to tell that some serious stuff went down that day. Lots of blue roofs and fallen trees. Many, many people are still struggling to piece their lives back together.

But, most of the power has been restored and the rural roads are now clear enough to bike on, so I’ve been back at it. I took a short ride the Saturday after the tornadoes (April 30) and a longer ride the following Saturday, which actually crossed through the track of an EF4. Wow. Photos cannot do that justice, I promise you.

The Times Free Press recently ran an article about how relief agencies have all the used clothing and toys they can handle.  However, there are STILL ways to help. One thing I’ve heard is that lots of people need food that doesn’t require cooking or refrigeration (Beenie Weenies and the like).  There are collection centers in town. Calvary Chapel looks to have  pretty well organized effort on that front.   And the best collection of lists in town is still at the WRCB website. They’ve divided needs into SE Tenn., N. Georgia, and NE Alabama.

Anyway, with all the websites and twittering out there, one might think the humble church sign is a thing of the past, but I’ve found some pertinent information and ways to help on those signs as I bicycle through North Georgia. Here are three:

Flintstone, Georgia

Elizabeth Lee UMC; Chickamauga, Georgia

Wallaceville, Georgia


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It’s another PhotoWednesday! I have three shots lined up today, all of them leaning more towards documentation than art.  Basically, I thought that those of you who have already read Confederate Streets might like to see the very streets of which I write. The first two pictures are of Robert E. Lee Dr. – one is at the corner of Tyne and the other looks up the road from Otter Creek. I literally went through each of those intersections every day of my life in Nashville.  I mean, there may have been a few days per month when I didn’t travel Robert E. Lee for some odd reason, but for the most part, the views in those two shots were so much a part of my life that I barely even saw them. I was glad I could get some pics with the spring blooms on this most recent trip back.

The third picture is of Percy Priest Elementary, which features prominently in the first chapter of my book. Percy Priest is much, much larger than it was when I went there in the 80s, but this section of the school looks essentially the same. (The colors are different though. when I went there, those panels were orange, not beige.) My favorite thing about this shot is the hill jutting straight up behind the school. Nashville may not be in the mountains, but it has some killer hills.

Here’s an interesting fact: At one of my Nashville readings, I learned that the yards in my part of town are big because each house has a septic tank. The city didn’t run sewer pipes out there until the late 1980s.




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I don’t mind winter much. However, I do have to say I’m not a huge fan of March – the month that can’t make up it’s freakin’ mind. Two weekends ago, I was wearing shorts and sandals, sitting in some clover by a playground. Last weekend, I walked my dog in wet, blowing snow. But, like I said, winter itself isn’t so bad when it’s all in.  I like the bare trees, the sunsets, the way the skeletons of the mountains are exposed.  I like baking bread and reading and watching TV on DVD without feeling like I need to be outside.

So, before it leaves us altogether, let us pause for a couple looks at the winter that was. Both of these shots were taken from the Walnut Street Bridge in Chattanooga.

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Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is one of my favorite cities on the planet. (disclaimer: my planet consists of the U.S., Canada, Britain, and Ireland, which are the only countries I’ve been to)  Still, I went to college in Pittsburgh and I like it a whole lot. Last month, the Carnegie Mellon Creative Writing Department flew me up to their fair city to be the Distinguished Alumni Reader in the Adamson Visiting Writers Series.  It was early February and very, very cold – as in about 5 degrees when I landed.  The cold, clear air made for some great window seat photography.

Obviously, I was drawn to shots of the downtown gathering around those three rivers, but then, as the plane flew out to land at the airport, I was struck by the patterns of subdivisions in the snow.  The contrasting landscapes made me think of two things. First, The Geography of Nowhere by James Howard Kunstler – a book I read as a text in a class I took at Carnegie Mellon. Second, my own essay (of course!) Rowing through the Ruins, which is about taking that class – Reading the Built Landscape – and rowing down the Allegheny River every morning. Think about the different experiences one might have in either of these cityscapes, what each one might do to the soul.

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I have to hand it to the Times Free Press – for a city the size of Chattanooga, it’s a darn good paper. I subscribe and they include enough articles relevant to this blog to keep me posting for a long time.  (I’m also reading an excessive amount about the Vols and some local gal who is apparently a finalist on that craptrain known as American Idol, but I guess they have to sell papers somehow.)

Anyway, this was the front page story yesterday. I’m impressed by the reporter’s attention to detail and her willingness to give residents of the Harriet Tubman housing development a voice.  The Tubman homes look almost exactly like the projects which were across the street from my junior high school and are described in “17th and Jo Johnston” – an essay in my book.  Those units were ultimately torn down and replaced with Hope VI Housing.  The new units are less dense and certainly appear more habitable, but they can’t serve as many people and, as the TFP reporter makes abundantly clear, tearing down anyone’s home brings up some complex issues.

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I am not any sort of photographer, but I do enjoy taking pictures.  I have found that carrying my little point-and-shoot helps me to be an observer. I frequently focus my shots on, well, not so much “architecture” as physical space, and when I’m walking around on any given day, I find myself thinking about how we move in space and what we build there.

This is all a long way of saying that I hope to have a weekly photo posting on this blog which will focus on what we build or how we use it (lots of latitude for interpretation there).  For the next several weeks, I’ll be posting shots from my book travels.  Today, I give you two (two! it’s your lucky hump day!) of the Adams Morgan Metro station.  I took these  late at night on Feb. 5 – the last day of AWP.  I’d been in the station twice every day during the conference and thought it was rather bleak, but the wine good humor of the WVU MFA 10th Anniversary gathering, caused me to see the Metro in a different way.

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