Even with the challenge of below normal rainfall, spring turned out to be a beautiful time of year at Charlane Plantation. While the drought continues, the good news is that we have had rain at critical times, which for the most part has kept the woods green and beautiful—and the wildlife happy and healthy. We’ve had several visits to our feeders by Georgia black bear, whitetail deer, turkeys, raccoons, opossums, squirrels and assorted other critters. We’re fortunate to have a nice population of fox squirrels on our place, and I love seeing them. They come in quite a variety of colors: gray, black, and a reddish-rust. They are about twice the size of the more common gray or “cat” squirrel and have a much fluffier tail. I’ve seen many fawns in the woods, as well as lots of turkey poults, some nesting quail pairs, and a few sow bears with cubs. So, despite the drought, I am encouraged about our wildlife population.
On the last official day of spring, Doug, our postman, brought us a very special package. It had nothing to do with the mail. It was what I believe to be a two-day-old fawn. Doug found it laying in the middle of our dirt road about a mile from our house. Our daughter Ashley was with us before heading down to Gainesville, where she is entering a two-year program for endodontics at the University of Florida, having just graduated as a dentist from Tufts University in Boston. She was very taken with the little guy, and didn’t hesitate to pose for a picture with it. Doug told us that the fawn was by itself; just lying still in the road, and that he didn’t see its mother around.
Not knowing what else to do, he brought the fawn to us. We cuddled the little thing and put together a makeshift baby bottle with some milk for it, but it didn’t seem too hungry and only gave the bottle a passing sniff and nudge. While my wife, Rose Lane, and Ashley looked after it, I called our veterinarian, a good friend, Johnny Bembry, to ask him about an animal rescue center that might take it. We knew we couldn’t look after it, as we were headed out of town the next day.
Johnny told me to check if the fawn seemed injured, or if it looked like anything might be wrong with it. If it was injured, then he could at least look at it and assess the situation. But if it looked healthy, the best thing would be to call our game warden about a rescue place in our area. I took the little fellow up to our horse barn and into one of our stalls so it couldn’t run out, then set it on its feet. It wobbled a bit, but quickly started walking around and seemed to be perfectly fine—other than being lost and no-doubt confused.
Next, I called our game warden about it, but unfortunately, we were told that all the local rescue places were full, especially with deer, and that there was no chance to get it into a place any time soon.
The warden told me that if we took the fawn back to where the postman had found it, there was a very good chance that the mother would come looking for it. He told me that a doe will look for a lost fawn for up to about a week, and that even if something had happened to the doe, other does would likely adopt it, as they have a very strong maternal instinct. He said it is quite common for them to take an abandoned babe. He explained that the fawn would bleat to be found, and that would bring the mother or another doe to take it. The little thing had already bleated a few times while in our possession, so that seemed to make sense to me.
So, with a degree of reluctance but with hope in our hearts, we took it to where Doug had found it. I looked around for a place that I thought would be good—with some cover protection from predators—but close to where we hoped its mother would be, and gently set it in the bushes. It was hard to leave it there, but it seemed this was the best option we had. Nature would take its course. We drove back onto the plantation in silence, saying prayers to ourselves that the best would happen.
We will never be 100-percent certain, but later that day, our friend and employee, Scotty Simpson, told us he saw a doe with a small fawn with it near where we had been.
I have to believe in the positive.
The flora within the forty acres is faring quite well even with the lack of rain. The early summer days were not so hot and cruel, and even without the rain we hope for, there have been some very pleasant periods. All the spring blooms have finished and the green shoots have grown into mature leaves. The pines have put on their first candles (the tender new growth), and some of the grasses, weeds, and legumes are beginning to put out early pods of seeds. Browse for the wildlife is fairly abundant, and the natural cover is helping the animals move around with relative ease and safety. But the ravine in the “Forty Acres” that I am focusing on in these seasonal dispatches is bone dry, and when you dig in the earth, the soil is getting like powder. So late spring into early summer into fall, everything is still thirsty. And we pray for rain every day.
Those prayers were answered in early July. But the problem is that we got a lot more than we bargained for. Not in the amount of rain, but with the bordering-on-tornado winds that came with it. On July 1, while I was in Nashville recording with blues harmonica legend James Cotton, Rose Lane called to tell me a storm was brewing. Indeed it was, and we got two-and-a-half inches of rain from it. The strong winds blew down several trees, blew one of our wooden gate fences off its hinges, and flung an unwanted mass of limbs, twigs, and leaves on the ground.
I arrived back home the next day to see the damage for myself. It could have been worse. And the next day, it became worse. On July 3, we were enjoying our evening cocktails on our back porch, hanging out with our border collies, Maggie and Molly, and our cat, Booker, when a second and more powerful storm took shape. It brewed for a good forty minutes or so, eventually hitting us.
The rain came very hard—torrentially hard—for a short time, and the winds encouraged our trees to start dancing to-and-fro. At the time we were grateful for the extra rain it brought. But the next morning while I was exercising in my home gym, one of the plantation managers, Scotty, called me and asked if I had driven around the property. I had not, but he had, and he said I would not be happy with what I would see. Apparently a light tornado had blown through a part of the property, taking down a number of trees.
I groaned at the news and told him that I’d get out to inspect the damage on my ATV. I did, and he was right. It was not a welcome sight. The forty acres we’re focused on fared well, as did most of the property. But there was an area on our south side that was hit hard. I made a guess that there were some fifty to seventy trees either uprooted or snapped in two. Some were mature, some not, but they were all gone. More pines were affected than hardwoods, but it broke my heart to see a few really beautiful mature oaks blown over.
Yet this is Mother Nature at work, and these events come with the territory. We get storms like this about every ten years or so, and there is nothing to do but salvage what we can and clean up the mess. When we find storm-damaged, lightning-struck, insect-infested, or diseased trees, we always salvage what we can and have them sawn into lumber. I make use of my Stihl chain saws, and a home-made grapple on one of my tractors. I buck and cut the trees up, then we load them onto a trailer and haul them about twenty miles away, to my friend Jerry Peacock, who has a small sawmill. Jerry saws them up for us into whatever dimensions we specify and we use the lumber to build, renovate, or repair our structures at Charlane.
We built our 5,500-square-foot guest lodge out of this lumber, our horse barn, our horse pasture fencing, and also renovated about a third of our own house using this material. So while we hate to lose it, at least we get to use it. It is, after all, a great resource; I don’t like to see it go to waste. So, we’ll be sorting out what trees will make decent lumber and working to get it to Jerry over the coming month or so.
As I’ve said, prior to the storms, the weather had been hot and dry. Late June saw five days in the triple digits in temperature. But Scotty and I had been able to break up our feed plots in mid-June—all forty of them—and get them planted. Scotty seems to have a magic touch in knowing when to plant and where, and sure enough, the day after he finished planting them we had a nice half-inch of rain and the seeds burst open and broke the ground a few days later. So now they are up and with the rains, they are looking great.
We plant these strips primarily for quail, but almost all the wildlife use them, even the songbirds. We plant a combination of sorghum alum, Egyptian wheat, and two different kinds of millet. This gives the birds a nice variety of seeds, as well as cover tall enough to move around in and hide from the hawks and owls, their main predators.
I’ve seen quite a lot of bluebirds, redbirds, cardinals, Carolina finches, and a variety of other songbirds on the Forty Acres and throughout our place. There have also been lots of other species: great and lesser blue herons, egrets, and more. Our ponds are flush with bass and bream, and there are decent populations of turtles and frogs in some of them. I’ve seen a few snakes here and there, mostly black racers, garter snakes, coach-whips, and a few rat snakes. We usually see some timber rattlers by now, but I’ve not run into any so far this summer. No doubt there are some out there, though.
Rose Lane planted her garden fairly early in the spring, and we are reaping the benefits of it now that summer is in full swing. We have Fresh Parks Whopper and Better Boy tomatoes, arugula, Swiss chard, oak leaf lettuce, cucumbers, green and red bell peppers, sweet and hot banana peppers, yellow squash, zucchini squash, cantaloupe, okra, Brussels sprouts; green beans and snow peas, strawberries, raspberries, and lots of spices such as rosemary, fennel, thyme, mint, and others. Nothing like good mint iced tea in the hot summertime.
We have a sprinkler system for the garden and the shrubbery and grass around our house, so all of that looks great. We’ve been enjoying fresh tomato sandwiches, salads and veggies along with our entrees, some of which also have come from the land, including quail, venison, fresh fish from the pond, and wild turkey. Our chickens provide us with fresh eggs, so we have been eating quite well at Charlane. We work the garden and do most chores in the early morning before the heat becomes too much. Then Rose Lane goes up to her art studio to paint and I go to my piano to practice or write. So, life is good at Charlane Plantation this summer as we lean into autumn.
Photo by Andrew Kornylak