Discovery Center – Blog

September 30, 2007

YardBirds Dog Breeds – Brief Dog History

YardBirds Dog Breeds – Brief Dog History

Airedales

  The Airedale’s history is unique in that it is both a working/war dog and a sporting dog. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Airedale’s title as the #1 working/war dog in the world was undisputed. Upon introduction to North America, the Airedale developed into the original “three-in-one” gun dog, equally able to handle upland game birds, waterfowl and fur. Airedales still perform as first rate hunting partners and working dogs, as well as being competitive in obedience, agility and conformation. And just as important, they are great family companions!

Beagles

  Dating back to the 1300s, the Beagle was first bred as a hunting companion for small game. His compact, muscular body, bold attitude and hardy bearing, come from a blend of various ancient hounds. In America, the Beagle dates back to colonial days, when they were imported for hunting rabbits. A weekly brushing helps to keep their short coat in condition. Smart, independent and easily bored, they will get in trouble when unsupervised, and that includes barking. Beagles come in two varieties: Not to exceed 13″ and Over 13″ but not to exceed 15.”

Bloodhounds

  Bloodhounds are one of the oldest breeds of dogs that hunt by scent. They are distinguished by their pendulous ears, loose skin and extraordinary olfactory powers. It is believed that the modern Bloodhound developed from the St. Huberts and the Talbots, two ancient European hounds of the 7th and 8th centuries. The Bloodhound has unmatched ability to discriminate human scent, and only a trained Bloodhound’s evidence is accepted in a court of law. Remarkably, the same Bloodhound may be on a trail one day, in the show or obedience ring the next, and laying on your couch the day after that!

Boxers

  The Boxer is a highly intelligent, medium-sized square dog with clean lines and balanced proportions. He was refined and bred from ancestors in Germany called Bullenbeisers–historically used to run down and hold large, formidable game animals–bear and boar. Today’s Boxer is fearless but tractable, energetic, and wonderfully patient with children. Extremely intuitive, he is at all times responsive to his master’s moods. He is the ideal family dog, but can be protective when called upon. Not a dog for the frail or timid, he is boisterous and clownish, cherishing his toys and his family into oldest age.

Bulldogs

  This breed often mislabeled, is simply the Bulldog, not the English Bulldog. It got its name from the ancient and brutal gambling spectacle of bull baiting. The Bulldog’s traits of courage and tenacity have made him a symbol of determination. Despite his tough-guy good looks, he is fun-loving and extremely affectionate. He adapts well to a family with playful children or to sedate apartment living. Since he is a wash and wear breed to show, he is a popular owner handled dog.

Chihuahuas

  There is much disagreement as to the origins of the Chihuahua. Guesses include Mexico and the Aztecs, Egypt, the Sudan and Malta. Used for sacrifice in religious ceremonies and eaten by the conquistadors, there is no question that it is an ancient breed. It was said that a yellow Chihuahua could guide its owner’s soul across the river of death to the other side. Chihuahuas have been a registered breed in this country for 100 years. Clever, gigantic in heart and personality, this no more than six pound companion is much beloved by owners. There are two varieties, Long and Smooth Coat.

Dachshunds

  The long, low sturdy body of the Dachshund, developed in Germany three centuries ago, is a perfect example of form following function. With a prominent forechest and front legs that can dig, the Dachshund tenaciously and efficiently goes underground to hunt badger and other den-dwelling animals. He is a versatile hunter and his instincts help him to excel in conformation, earthdog, obedience, agility and tracking events. Bright and affectionate, the Dachshund is a wonderful, loyal pet. This unique breed comes in three Varieties – Longhaired, Smooth, and Wirehaired.

Doberman Pinschers

  The Doberman Pinscher is best described as “an elegant athlete in a tight-fitting wrapper.” This square, compact and muscular dog gives the immediate impression of grace, beauty and nobility, while at the same time being energetic and fearless. It has made its mark through the years as a police, military and service dog. But it is best known today as an intelligent, affectionate and obedient companion. A spectacular Doberman Pinscher sculpture, “Always Faithful,” a tribute to war dogs and veterinarians, is on permanent display at the U.S. War Dog Cemetery in Guam, at the Quantico Marine Corps Research Center in Virginia, at the University of Tennessee Veterinary School, and at the AKC Museum of the Dog in St. Louis.

German Shepherds

  A dog for all reasons, the German Shepherd Dog is diversified in its ability to truly be a partner to mankind. With brains, size, coat, trainability and its desire to please, it has long been the choice in many canine-related fields. Originally bred in Germany to be a protector and a herding dog, the German Shepherd has made its mark in animal assisted therapy and as a service dog, in explosive and drug detection, search and rescue, law enforcement and more. Through it all, the German Shepherd is also a wonderful family member and a dog of distinction.

Golden Retrievers

  The Golden Retriever was developed in Scotland and England in the late 19th century for the purpose of retrieving wildfowl on land and water. Its physical characteristics and its willing, adaptable, trainable nature have also fitted it for usefulness in many other endeavors such as service dogs, guide dogs for the blind, therapy dogs and search and rescue. While the Golden is an ideal family dog, it requires training and exercise. Persons wanting to purchase a Golden Retriever puppy should learn about this breed and purchase only from a reputable breeder.

Great Danes

  The Dane is a true giant among breeds descending from the Mastiff. The Great Dane was developed in Germany to hunt wild boar, and was known as the Boar Hound when it appeared in America late in the 19th century. While intimidating in size and stature, this is a breed noted for its gentleness and “human-like” compassion. They make excellent family dogs Its impressive size, family devotion and gentle nature combine to create a first-rate companion. The breed also competes well in obedience, agility and tracking. Permissible conformation colors are brindle, blue, black, fawn, harlequin and mantle.

Greyhounds

  A swift and ancient coursing breed dating from the time of Cleopatra, Greyhounds accompanied Spanish explorers to the New World in the 1500′s and were present in the Colonies by the Revolutionary War. English and Irish imports of the 1800′s used their talents to control wild game in the developing American West, and today’s show Greyhounds descend from imports in the early 1900′s. Built for speed, the Greyhound is powerful, symmetrical, balanced, and keen. Greyhounds adore human companionship, and indeed are happiest when engaged in play and running. Today, Greyhounds are successful show dogs and compete in obedience, agility, and coursing events.

Hot Dogs

   The Hot Dog is a smooth haired dachshund. The long, low sturdy body of the Dachshund, developed in Germany three centuries ago, is a perfect example of form following function. With a prominent forechest and front legs that can dig, the Dachshund tenaciously and efficiently goes underground to hunt badger and other den-dwelling animals. He is a versatile hunter and his instincts help him to excel in conformation, earthdog, obedience, agility and tracking events. Bright and affectionate, the Dachshund is a wonderful, loyal pet.

Hound Dogs

   The Black and Tan Coonhound is an old scenthound breed descended from a careful combination of the foxhound and bloodhound. A true American breed, these agile, powerful dogs are known for their beautiful mournful bawl and their long ears. The Black and Tan standard requires that the ears extend beyond the end of the nose. He is known as a specialist on raccoon, of course, but can do well hunting deer, mountain lion, bear, and other big game. Although the Black and Tan is fundamentally a working dog, he can be a great family companion as well.

Labradors

  The Labrador is a retrieving gun dog of medium size, with a dense, weather-resistant coat, an “otter” tail, and a clean-cut head with a “kind” expression. The first Labradors arrived in England from Newfoundland aboard fishing boats early in the 19th century, and imports to this country began in the early 1900s. Labrador temperament is outgoing, indulgent with peers, human oriented and tractable. Labradors can be found in guide and assistance dog programs, and substance detection and search and rescue work. Since 1992, the Labrador Retriever has headed the list as the most popular breed in the U.S.

Mutts

  Mutts as you know come from the combination of any three or more dogs of different breed. Mixed breeds are definitely more interesting. They are often a mix of at least two known breeds of dogs. Known mixes are often called crosses while anything beyond two is called a mutt. Mutts are America’s most popular pet. They are typically thought of as inferior to a known breed, but can make the best pet and deliver a lot of unconditional love.

Poodles

  Don’t be fooled by the Poodle’s fancy haircut – this is a dog for all reasons (and comes in three sizes!). Whether you desire a charming companion, show dog, hunting retriever with a sense of humor (forgives you if you miss a shot), the Poodle fits the bill–and mostly because he or she is bright, alert and trainable. It is high maintenance because of the coat which grows all over its body and must be kept trimmed (a variety of styles are fashionable as well as the show trims), the Poodle makes up for it with its extreme intelligence.

Pugs

   The Pug is one of the oldest breeds of dog, originating in China some 700 years B.C. Their presence was noted in Holland, England, Germany, Spain, Italy, and Russia as early as the 15th & 16th centuries. Their primary purpose has always been exclusively for the companionship and amusement of their people. Pugs combine a cocky confidence with a friendly, sensitive nature. They are great with children and thoroughly relish playtime. They are small yet sturdy, rough and yet sensitive and sincere. Pugs are extremely friendly, uninhibited, delightful, comical little characters. Pugs come in two colors, fawn and black.

Rottweilers

  The Rottweiler has a strong willingness to work and is happiest when given a job to perform. This breed’s versatility is demonstrated in herding, carting, search and rescue, therapy work and more. Most importantly, the Rottweiler is a devoted companion. The breed is medium to large in size and is compact and muscular. The Rottweiler has a short, docked tail and the only acceptable color is a solid black body with rust to mahogany markings. Properly matching a Rottweiler to its new family brings out the best this breed has to offer.

Schnauzers

  The Standard is the oldest of the three Schnauzer breeds, originating in Bavaria in the 15th century. Highly intelligent, this medium sized, sturdy dog was the working companion of the common man, a drover’s dog, rat catcher and guardian. They were first imported in numbers to the U. S. in the 1920′s. Now primarily family companions, their versatility is still in evidence. In addition to agility, obedience and tracking they excel in such diverse activities as bomb detection, search and rescue, and therapy. The breed is a capable herder of stock and is eligible to compete in AKC Herding Tests. They have wiry coats and are either black or salt and pepper in color.

St. Bernards

  Within the Saint Bernard standard the words “powerful”, “muscular”, “strong” or “strongly developed” are often repeated. These words represent the foundation of correct Saint Bernard breed type. The Saint Bernard must be capable of performing his historical tasks as a companion, draft, rescue, and guard dog thus requiring not only structural strength but just as importantly, strength of character. Neither the tallest nor heaviest of breeds, he is a powerful dog whose soundness of body and mind are evident at first glance. Structural balance, functional correctness, and the good-natured temperament inherent to the breed cannot be over emphasized.

Terriers

  The Scottish Terrier was originally bred to rid highland farms of ground-dwelling predators. In the early 20th century, the breed became a popular show dog and family pet in England and the United States. Despite its small size, the Scottish Terrier is a powerful dog with well-developed hunting and digging instincts. Scotties are supremely independent little dogs who can be stubborn and sensitive at the same time. They are often aggressive with other dogs of the same sex, but can usually learn to respect a cat. Scotties require regular grooming to keep their smart appearance. Scotties are inclined to ignore strangers until they have been properly introduced.

September 19, 2007

Glass Bottle Trees add color to your garden.

Filed under: Garden Talk — Tags: , , , , , , , , — discoverer @ 11:42 pm

Glass Bottle Trees- Is it just a Mississippi thing?
We have received inquiries about the glass bottle trees, which will be available on our website soon. Thought we might share some history and reading material for those interested.

Slaves from the Congo in Africa brought the idea of the traditional bottle trees – live trees with colored bottles on the ends of branches – into this country. Bottle trees protected homes from evil spirits by trapping spirits inside the bottle, where they could do no harm.

Recently, the bottle tree has seen new life as a tree-like metal structure with a steady base and branches (where colored bottles are placed).

Today's Bottle tree

It was the perfect song for Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon knew it. The song was still fresh and Muddy learned it quickly from Dixon while taking a break between sets at Chicago’s club Zanzibar, where he was playing a regular gig. The year was 1953 and Muddy was at the height of his power, both artistically and commercially.

When he tried “Hoochie Coochie Man” on his band and the club patrons moments later, he knew he had a hit. The crowd went nuts. Muddy growled and swaggered, imbuing the song with sexual power and menace. Muddy gave voice to the defiant pride of his audience, a pride long held in check in the segregated South, now finding a new freedom in the urban North.

But it wasn’t just the sexual swagger and electrified sound that connected Muddy to his fellow exiles. Muddy was openly acknowledging the power and influence of Hoodoo in the lives of his fellow African Americans.

The laundry list of magical talismans and beliefs in “Hoochie Coochie Man” serve the song primarily as metaphor for virility and sexual power, but they also serve as a powerful connection of his audience to a shared African past, the evidence of which still exists today, hiding in plain sight.

The shared past of African American history begins along the African coast from Senegal and Gambia to the North, through Sierra Leone and down to Nigeria and the Congo. Most slaves brought to the Americas came from this narrow coastal region, a region culturally diverse in language, religious practice and musical traditions. To maintain control over the slave population, the Africans were stripped of most of their cultural identity and forced to take on the religion of the master, Christianity. For survival, most eventually succumbed to the oppression of the white masters, or so it appeared on the surface.

But the history of Africans in the New World is that of a people who knew how to adapt, innovate and maintain their spirit even under the most brutal of conditions. Noticing similar characteristics in the pantheon of Spirits from the Yoruban religions to those of the Catholic Saints, the apparent Christian conversion of many slaves was little more than a mask that allowed them to maintain an African cultural connection through the process of adaptation. Thus, the West African religions became Vodun in Haiti, Obeah in Jamaica, Santera in Cuba, Shango Baptist in Trinidad, Voodoo in the Deep South, and elsewhere, its lesser-known cousin “Hoodoo.”

Unlike Voodoo, which maintains a connection to the Orisha, or African Pantheon of Spirits, Hoodoo is not a defined belief system but rather a gumbo of African-American folk magic, Indian herbalism, root work, European folklore, traditional Christianity and personal rituals. Practitioners of the craft are known as root doctors, two-headed men (and women), hoodoo doctors and conjurers, among others. Though derided by mainstream Christianity as, at best, naive superstition and at worst, devil worship, many practitioners of Hoodoo consider it a practical, ritual-based form of folk Christianity, a white magic.

In many ways Hoodoo represents the flip side of Christianity, sharing similar goals and aspirations but doing it through practices that utilize the collective memory of African culture, therefore being exiled to the shadows of mainstream religion. Similarly, the blues is Gospel’s earthier, secular cousin, speaking similar truths but doing it in a voice unfiltered by Christian dogma. It’s hardly surprising then that a reviled and misunderstood form of African-based religion would find voice in a music similarly condemned by the church.

The history of the blues, both in recorded lyrics and in the personal beliefs of some of its greatest musicians, is rife with examples of Hoodoo. And despite the fact that most practitioners of Hoodoo make outward claims of it being an extension of Christianity, much of the Hoodoo referred to in blues lyrics is decidedly of the darker variety.

Perhaps the most pervasive and powerful myth in blues lore is that of Robert Johnson selling his soul to the devil at the crossroads in exchange for guitar prowess. Aside from the fact that it was singer Tommy Johnson and not Robert Johnson who actually made this claim, the crossroads myth is nevertheless a belief that cuts to the heart of Yoruban religion.

In Africa, the god of the crossroads is known variously as Legba, Eshu, and many others. Although Christianity regards any trickster god as being synonymous with Satan or his lesser demons, the beliefs of the Yoruba hold that it is only through this trickster God that you can gain access to the higher Gods. Thus, a crossroads is the best place to gain access to spiritual forces that will allow the believer to gain one of many different skills, be it gambling luck, dancing ability, various work skills or the ability to play music better than one’s rivals.

The good/evil duality of Christianity has no allowance for a more complex polytheistic system like those found in Africa, so Legba becomes Satan and a rather benign ritual is equated with eternal damnation. Robbed of the original context for what was a partially remembered ritual, many African Americans came to accept the equating of Legba with Satan, further exiling the bluesman, or anyone else beyond the Christian mainstream, from respectable society.

Many blues lyrics reference the spells or talismans of Hoodoo, such as “goofer dust,” or a “black cat bone,” but the most commonly used and misunderstood of all is the concept of “mojo.” Mojo has become a ubiquitous cultural buzzword, incorporated into the title of dozens of commercial products. Through cultural references by rock band the Doors (“Mr. Mojo Rising”) and the satirical British spy Austin Powers (“Blimey! I’ve lost my mojo!”), mojo is often understood to be nothing more than sexual virility or a euphemism for the male organ.

Derived from an African word meaning “spirit” or “life force,” mojo in the context of Hoodoo and the blues refers to one of various types of flannel bags containing secret magical ingredients obtained from a Hoodoo conjurer and designed to assist the believer in either love or money interests.

Evidence of Hoodoo and other African cultural retentions also can be found in African-American material culture, although the original meanings of the objects have often been forgotten. Most of these objects were traditionally used to keep “evil spirits” out of the home, but they also served a decorative function and it’s in that context that most still exist.

The most well-known is the horseshoe nailed above a threshold for “good luck.” This is but one of many objects African Americans used to keep evil from entering the home. Others examples included tacking a bible verse above the door, painting doors and windows blue (called “haint blue” in South Carolina), hanging “ghost mirrors” beside the door (evil is repelled by its own sight), flanking the door with vessels of water, and hanging a colander or sieve over a keyhole (evil spirits are obsessive compulsive and must count the holes before entering).

Yesterday's Bottle tree

© Eudora Welty Collection

Mississippi Department of Archives and History

This photograph by Welty, of a home in Simpson County, reflects a folk belief that “bottle-trees” trees on whose limbs bottles have been placed will trap evil spirits that might try to get in the house. Welty used bottle trees in her short story “Livvie,” which was set near the Old Natchez Trace, a famous colonial “road” used by Indians, merchants, soldiers, and outlaws between Natchez and Nashville, Tennessee. This photograph, like many others taken by Welty during her work for the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, appears in One Time, One Place: Mississippi in the Depression: A Snapshot Album (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1996).

The old methods of repelling evil that still commonly exist are mostly found in yard art or yard shows. Surrounding any living plant or tree with rocks, a discarded tire, or small wire fencing acts as an encircling charm of protection. Similarly, encircling herbs planted around the home serve as a botanical protection. “Swept” yards containing no grass were thought to prevent the devil (i.e., snakes) from having protective cover. But the most dramatic of all art objects designed to repel evil has all but disappeared from the Southern landscape: the bottle tree. In this belief, reaching back to the Congo of the 9th century, colorful bottles (traditionally cobalt blue) are placed on branch ends to catch the sunlight. When an evil spirit sees the play of light, it enters the bottle and, like a wasp, is thereby entrapped.

Remnants of African culture and religion are woven into the fabric of American culture in so many ways, they often remain hidden in plain sight. Hoodoo is alive and well, both in the rural South and in the urban North, evincing the resilience of these beliefs to survive in the face of continued prejudice and misunderstanding. Like the blues, Hoodoo and other belief systems of African derivation will never die but will continue to adapt for survival into the 21st century.

Glass bottle trees are no longer just a Mississippi thing – the popularity has grown into a national interest. Everyone wants a bottle tree to protect their garden. 

May 24, 2007

Glass Bottle Trees

Filed under: Blogroll — Tags: , , , , , , , , — discoverer @ 8:34 pm

Glass Bottle Trees- Is it just a Mississippi thing?
We have received inquiries about the glass bottle trees, which will be available on our website soon. Thought we might share some history and reading material for those interested.

Slaves from the Congo in Africa brought the idea of the traditional bottle trees – live trees with colored bottles on the ends of branches – into this country. Bottle trees protected homes from evil spirits by trapping spirits inside the bottle, where they could do no harm.

Recently, the bottle tree has seen new life as a tree-like metal structure with a steady base and branches (where colored bottles are placed).

Today's Bottle tree

It was the perfect song for Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon knew it. The song was still fresh and Muddy learned it quickly from Dixon while taking a break between sets at Chicago’s club Zanzibar, where he was playing a regular gig. The year was 1953 and Muddy was at the height of his power, both artistically and commercially.

When he tried “Hoochie Coochie Man” on his band and the club patrons moments later, he knew he had a hit. The crowd went nuts. Muddy growled and swaggered, imbuing the song with sexual power and menace. Muddy gave voice to the defiant pride of his audience, a pride long held in check in the segregated South, now finding a new freedom in the urban North.

But it wasn’t just the sexual swagger and electrified sound that connected Muddy to his fellow exiles. Muddy was openly acknowledging the power and influence of Hoodoo in the lives of his fellow African Americans.

The laundry list of magical talismans and beliefs in “Hoochie Coochie Man” serve the song primarily as metaphor for virility and sexual power, but they also serve as a powerful connection of his audience to a shared African past, the evidence of which still exists today, hiding in plain sight.

The shared past of African American history begins along the African coast from Senegal and Gambia to the North, through Sierra Leone and down to Nigeria and the Congo. Most slaves brought to the Americas came from this narrow coastal region, a region culturally diverse in language, religious practice and musical traditions. To maintain control over the slave population, the Africans were stripped of most of their cultural identity and forced to take on the religion of the master, Christianity. For survival, most eventually succumbed to the oppression of the white masters, or so it appeared on the surface.

But the history of Africans in the New World is that of a people who knew how to adapt, innovate and maintain their spirit even under the most brutal of conditions. Noticing similar characteristics in the pantheon of Spirits from the Yoruban religions to those of the Catholic Saints, the apparent Christian conversion of many slaves was little more than a mask that allowed them to maintain an African cultural connection through the process of adaptation. Thus, the West African religions became Vodun in Haiti, Obeah in Jamaica, Santera in Cuba, Shango Baptist in Trinidad, Voodoo in the Deep South, and elsewhere, its lesser-known cousin “Hoodoo.”

Unlike Voodoo, which maintains a connection to the Orisha, or African Pantheon of Spirits, Hoodoo is not a defined belief system but rather a gumbo of African-American folk magic, Indian herbalism, root work, European folklore, traditional Christianity and personal rituals. Practitioners of the craft are known as root doctors, two-headed men (and women), hoodoo doctors and conjurers, among others. Though derided by mainstream Christianity as, at best, naive superstition and at worst, devil worship, many practitioners of Hoodoo consider it a practical, ritual-based form of folk Christianity, a white magic.

In many ways Hoodoo represents the flip side of Christianity, sharing similar goals and aspirations but doing it through practices that utilize the collective memory of African culture, therefore being exiled to the shadows of mainstream religion. Similarly, the blues is Gospel’s earthier, secular cousin, speaking similar truths but doing it in a voice unfiltered by Christian dogma. It’s hardly surprising then that a reviled and misunderstood form of African-based religion would find voice in a music similarly condemned by the church.

The history of the blues, both in recorded lyrics and in the personal beliefs of some of its greatest musicians, is rife with examples of Hoodoo. And despite the fact that most practitioners of Hoodoo make outward claims of it being an extension of Christianity, much of the Hoodoo referred to in blues lyrics is decidedly of the darker variety.

Perhaps the most pervasive and powerful myth in blues lore is that of Robert Johnson selling his soul to the devil at the crossroads in exchange for guitar prowess. Aside from the fact that it was singer Tommy Johnson and not Robert Johnson who actually made this claim, the crossroads myth is nevertheless a belief that cuts to the heart of Yoruban religion.

In Africa, the god of the crossroads is known variously as Legba, Eshu, and many others. Although Christianity regards any trickster god as being synonymous with Satan or his lesser demons, the beliefs of the Yoruba hold that it is only through this trickster God that you can gain access to the higher Gods. Thus, a crossroads is the best place to gain access to spiritual forces that will allow the believer to gain one of many different skills, be it gambling luck, dancing ability, various work skills or the ability to play music better than one’s rivals.

The good/evil duality of Christianity has no allowance for a more complex polytheistic system like those found in Africa, so Legba becomes Satan and a rather benign ritual is equated with eternal damnation. Robbed of the original context for what was a partially remembered ritual, many African Americans came to accept the equating of Legba with Satan, further exiling the bluesman, or anyone else beyond the Christian mainstream, from respectable society.

Many blues lyrics reference the spells or talismans of Hoodoo, such as “goofer dust,” or a “black cat bone,” but the most commonly used and misunderstood of all is the concept of “mojo.” Mojo has become a ubiquitous cultural buzzword, incorporated into the title of dozens of commercial products. Through cultural references by rock band the Doors (“Mr. Mojo Rising”) and the satirical British spy Austin Powers (“Blimey! I’ve lost my mojo!”), mojo is often understood to be nothing more than sexual virility or a euphemism for the male organ.

Derived from an African word meaning “spirit” or “life force,” mojo in the context of Hoodoo and the blues refers to one of various types of flannel bags containing secret magical ingredients obtained from a Hoodoo conjurer and designed to assist the believer in either love or money interests.

Evidence of Hoodoo and other African cultural retentions also can be found in African-American material culture, although the original meanings of the objects have often been forgotten. Most of these objects were traditionally used to keep “evil spirits” out of the home, but they also served a decorative function and it’s in that context that most still exist.

The most well-known is the horseshoe nailed above a threshold for “good luck.” This is but one of many objects African Americans used to keep evil from entering the home. Others examples included tacking a bible verse above the door, painting doors and windows blue (called “haint blue” in South Carolina), hanging “ghost mirrors” beside the door (evil is repelled by its own sight), flanking the door with vessels of water, and hanging a colander or sieve over a keyhole (evil spirits are obsessive compulsive and must count the holes before entering).

Yesterday's Bottle tree

© Eudora Welty Collection

Mississippi Department of Archives and History

This photograph by Welty, of a home in Simpson County, reflects a folk belief that “bottle-trees” trees on whose limbs bottles have been placed will trap evil spirits that might try to get in the house. Welty used bottle trees in her short story “Livvie,” which was set near the Old Natchez Trace, a famous colonial “road” used by Indians, merchants, soldiers, and outlaws between Natchez and Nashville, Tennessee. This photograph, like many others taken by Welty during her work for the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, appears in One Time, One Place: Mississippi in the Depression: A Snapshot Album (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1996).

The old methods of repelling evil that still commonly exist are mostly found in yard art or yard shows. Surrounding any living plant or tree with rocks, a discarded tire, or small wire fencing acts as an encircling charm of protection. Similarly, encircling herbs planted around the home serve as a botanical protection. “Swept” yards containing no grass were thought to prevent the devil (i.e., snakes) from having protective cover. But the most dramatic of all art objects designed to repel evil has all but disappeared from the Southern landscape: the bottle tree. In this belief, reaching back to the Congo of the 9th century, colorful bottles (traditionally cobalt blue) are placed on branch ends to catch the sunlight. When an evil spirit sees the play of light, it enters the bottle and, like a wasp, is thereby entrapped.

Remnants of African culture and religion are woven into the fabric of American culture in so many ways, they often remain hidden in plain sight. Hoodoo is alive and well, both in the rural South and in the urban North, evincing the resilience of these beliefs to survive in the face of continued prejudice and misunderstanding. Like the blues, Hoodoo and other belief systems of African derivation will never die but will continue to adapt for survival into the 21st century.

Glass bottle trees are no longer just a Mississippi thing – the popularity has grown into a national interest. Everyone wants a bottle tree to protect their garden. 

May 16, 2007

Save the Seeds

Filed under: Bird Talk — Tags: , , , , , , , , — discoverer @ 7:18 pm

Heirloom gardeners preserve the plants of the past. 

While driving along a country road, most people only notice the meadows filled with colorful wildflowers. It takes an heirloom gardener to distinguish a hard-to-find plant such as Dame’s-rocket from the common weeds surrounding it.

Heirloom gardeners – those who enjoy searching for and planting old-fashioned non-hybridized plants – don’t hesitate to hit the brakes and park alongside grassy embankments to get some cuttings or a few seeds.

The time they spend tramping through open fields or across cemeteries is their contribution to the preservation of seemingly rare cultivators. They also share their knowledge – and ofentimes, a few plants – with other gardening enthusiasts.

Heirloom Gardener

Betty Perry, 81, is one such gardener.

“I just love to collect plants,” said Perry, a former volunteer and garden curator at Mordecai, a historic home, garden and park site in Raleigh. “You see, they’re taking the old plants that were big and rangy and all, and making them into little [plants], for people who have little gardens. I don’t like them. I like the old plants. I didn’t like seeing plants destroyed.”

Zinnia

After volunteering in Mordecai’s garden, which she helped install in 1973, and having amassed several plants, some of which had been in pots for more than 20 years, Perry got to work creating her dream garden at the 1820s North Carolina home place of her husband’s family.

“I wasn’t getting any younger,” said Perry, who is assisted three days a week by her gardener Ed Sessoms. (Her husband, James, mows the lawn.) “I should have started earlier because I have so much I want to do.

What is an heirloom?

Most definitions for “heirloom plants” are highly subjective. Some believe true heirloom plants are strictly open-pollinated - plants pollinated naturally or ” in the open.” Others say an heirloom must be at least 50 years old or introduced in the United States in the 1600s to the mid-1950s. Others call an heirloom a plant that has been passed along throughout the generations or simply an old-fashioned plant. But most agree that heirlooms are not hybrids – plants bred through cross-fertilization.

Perry is not alone in her quest for preserving plants. The N.C. Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill is a founding member of the Center for Plant Conservation, which actively preserves seeds or plants of endangered species.

Old Salem, restored Moravian community in Winston-Salem has one of the best-documented gardens in the country and supports plant preservation through seed saving. It is a member of Seed Savers Exchange, founded in 1975 whose membership has grown in popularity as the interest in heirloom plants has grown, according to Keyes Williamson, Old Salem’s director of horticulture. 

“Enormous number of old varieties of plants have disappeared in the U.S. in the last 100 years,” said Williamson, who cites a USDA statistic that 97 percent of vegetables available in the 1900s were not available in 2000. “They were lost because commercial growers focused on certain plants, and the rest just disappeared.”

Individuals are also doing their part to preserve the plants of the past. Lee Calhoun of Chatham County has gained national fame as “the apple man” for his efforts to preserve old-fashioned varieties of this all-American fruit. Several are farmers provide heirloom varieties of tomatoes for the Carrboro, North Carolina’s Farmer’s Market annual tasting, selling them to customers throughout the year. And countless other unsung heirloom plant gardeners are gathering seeds and cuttings – and the stories behind them – every day, like Betty Perry.

Cut-and-come-again Flower

Sentimental journey

Perry’s “old country garden” is a little more than 5 acres that is broken into several flower beds with a colorful hodgepodge of flowers, ornamental grasses and old garden roses. One of the oldest is a 1540 musk rose (Rosa moschata). She got it from a cutting that was growing in a cemetary in Charlotte. The only other known cultivators have been spotted in Hillsborough at the Burwell School for Girls, a historic site, and at Chatwood Gardens, she said. When Perry began searching for native plantings for Mordecai’s garden, she discovered that the best specimens were only a few blocks away. During the 1970s and mid-1980s in downtown Raleigh, buildings on Blount, Hillsborough and Willimington streets were being demolished. Before grading began, Perry asked the property owners for permission to get the plants.

“I got a lot of my choice plants that way,” Perry said. “A lot of these plants [in the garden] that I saw were in yards and they were destroying them. I knew that they were not readily available and I would probably never see them again.”

Walking through the garden, Perry enthusiastically explains where she found each plant – oftentimes stopping in midsentance to pick a weed or to check on the condition of a seed pod. Perry found the mush-sought after Dame’s-rocket (Hesperis matronalis), growing in a field in Chapel Hill. This fragrant perenial with clusters of purple flowers that resemble phlox, can grow about 3 feet tall. Its seeds will self-sow, but some suggest treating it as a biennial.

One of her rarest finds is a fig tree (Ficus carica), which bears black fruit. She got a cutting from a yard in Oakwood when a home was remodeled and the tree eventually destroyed., she said. 

Perry also claimed wildflowers when I-40 was being built, in the area where Cary’s Crossroads shopping center is. In her many years of collecting plants, she has been “caught” only once.

“One time in Maryland, I was down under a bridge, and I had my four little kids in the car and a policeman stopped and he asked, ‘Are you having trouble?’ No, but there’s a plant down here that’s a weed, and I need to get a start of it because I take care of a historic garden and I need this plant. It’s called Lunaria,’” Perry recalled. “It was a yellow thing that looked like a snapdragon and he said, ‘Well, can I help you get it?’ He was so nice.’” Perry chuckles.

Trials and tribulations

Even though the largest obstacle to heirloom gardening is finding the seed or the plant, heirloom gardeners must also harvest seeds and cuttings to keep the species in existence. This task has proved challenging in the last few years because drastic weather conditions – like the current rainy spells and last year’s drought – can make collecting seeds difficult.

“In this rain, I’ve lost more plants,” Perry said. “And the weeds. The weeds!”

Unlike hybrids, which Perry describes as being high-maintenance, heirloom plants tend to be hardy and resilient. “For a plant to make it through so many years, it’s got to be tough,” said Perry, who doesn’t believe in babying plants. Perry doesn’t irrigate and only waters new plants.

She is also an organic gardener preferring to fertilize with chinchilla and rabbit manure. She enriches the soil with compost and suggests using pine straw or decayed leaves as a mulch  to retard weeds and to keep in moisture. Perry strongly advises against using pine bark mulch, which can harm plants, she said.

Perry collects seeds – “when they’re ready” – dries, sifts and places them in medicine bottles or in envelopes. She doesn’t own a greenhouse and sows the seeds in trays inside her house every March.

Future of heirlooms

In a way, through Perry’s work with Mordecai and its popular plant sale, which was the event in the gardening community back in the 1980s, she has fostered the preservation of several heirloom plants. With sun beaming down upon her blue garden hat, Perry also explained that gardening has kept her in shape despite her bouts with arthritis, cancer and two knee replacements. “I know I would have been in a wheelchair by now,” said Perry. “But I plug along.”

And though she’s not completely satisfied with her garden, Perry looks back on her plant rescues with great pride.

“I do believe that through heirloom plants we are preserving a lost history. I really do.”

 

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