Mood: on fire
Before Dwight Eisenhower and the public works project which dwarfed anything ever cooked up by Franklin Roosevelt, America's highways were little more than by-ways. The two exceptions, most probably, were the now famous "getting your kicks" on Route 66 cross-country, and US 1 which ran from Maine to Florida. Although much of both routes still exist, they are either the "path least traveled by," or they are little different from any of the main roads that bi-sect every small town or suburb. Frodo takes special pleasure in the opportunity to travel, however briefly, on one or the other. Except, of course, at this moment.
US 1 passes through Ware County, Georgia, home to the mammoth Okefenokee Swamp made nationally famous as the homeplace of Pogo, Albert, and friends. From the nearby towns of Waycross and Folkston, it is not difficult to gain acces to the Park and to embark on an expedition fitted to ones' style and/or durability. The Swamp can be open water, it can be slowly drifting canals between wooded islands, or it can be open "prairie." The prairie is actually peat floating atop the water, thick enough that it can support the weight of a grown Hobbit (although each step feels as if one is walking on a waterbed). Slicing through the prairie are canoe trails alternatively used most often by alligators seeking food or companionship.
Frodo and Legolas have, but not often enough, followed these trails in search of what they could see, and they have never been disappointed. The flora and the fauna are diverse, different, and plentiful. The alligators are, no matter what your persuasion, the most impressive of all to be seen. Lying on a bank or mound of dirt the grey skin dries to a plastic sheen, and the aura of improbable reality strikes even the trained eye. Swimming alongside the canoe of the Hobbit however, the alligator erases all of that doubt expeditiously. Watching an alligator stalk a wading bird or small mammal is an experience that brings all to a silent, if not terrifying, moment of stark balance in the natural world.
For the past two weeks, fire has ravaged the Okefenokee. More than 62,000 acres of timber, brush, and plant life have been seared in the droughth-inspired inferno. 16 miles of US 1 have been closed to all vehicular traffic so that emergency officials could protect the forest lands adjacent to the park, and the houses of the surrounding communities. With a continuing dearth of rainfall, it is likely that the fire will continue as it is well beyond the first of June. Smoke, rising high enough to be subject to currents aloft, clouds the skies as far North as Atlanta and Chattanooga.
Frodo has noticed, on several mornings of late, the presence of smoke about the Shire. At first he was duly alarmed, and nearly called for the Firemen of the Shire to rally. His inaction proved the wiser course, and soon the winds carried the smoke further North.
There was a time. so Frodo has been told, that when men in motorcars approached fires burning near a road they were subject to the needs of the emergency personnel. Interstate Highways, in so many ways, have changed eventualities. Frodo likes to think that there are still men in motorcars on US 1 who obligingly pull their motorcars off the road and wiliingly take rake and shovel to help build a fire break. Although fire is merely a part of nature's plan to fulfill the need to spread seeds, allow sunlight to penetrate, and ruefully thin the weak, it is man's foe as well as his tool.
Perhaps Frodo looks skyward as others have done for tens of thousands of years. A pleading in his voice, he asks for help.
Come Fall, Frodo and Sam will travel South from the Shire, and they will turn their motorcar off the Interstate long enough to traverse US 1 in Ware County. There is an airboat there that skims along the open waters thrusting artificial wind through the thinning hair on the head of the Hobbit. Frodo would really like to take Sam for a ride. He would prefer that they not have to join a bucket brigade.