stranger in a strange land

I took a day off last week so I could take a day trip to Livingston, Alabama, to see my prairie garden at the Center for the Black Belt/ the University of Western Alabama. But first, I met with Gail Barton, who is a horticultural consultant to the University, Sam Ledbetter and Robbie Limerick(both University staff members), to make a quick dash to Old Bluffport, a property owned by the University at the edge the Tombekbee River. The University owns this property, along with the very similar and nearby Ft. Tombeckbee property, for their cultural and scientific value. Both are similar in their geographic features, with cedar woods, chalk outcrop prairies, and other associated intergrades.

The old town at Bluffport is completely gone: withered away long ago and, in fact, the town of Bluffport picked up and moved from its river edge location to a new rail-edge location sometime before 1900 when the railroad came through. What is left at Old Bluffport is a typical out crop of chalk commonly found in the Black Belt. You arrive at the town site by way of foot, through a shaded wood lot. You park where the four wheel truck can’t go any further and hike in a few hundred yards. Before you get there, you can see the glare from the sun reflecting on the white chalk, gleaming through the shade of the canopied forest.

As you walk out from the wood edge, the landscape opens up and you step out on the bright glaring light similar to the sugar-white sandy beaches in Destin, Florida or the stage lights of a broadway production. At once, you are in this bazarre world of whiteness. The source of the white is calcium deposits from a receeded ocean, when the oceans lapped at the door of Jackson Mississippi, about sixty million years ago
The vegetation is uniquely suited to this geology with plants thriving in what would seem to be rather harsh conditions. And it is rather harsh conditions. But prairie plants have adapted to this and take it in stride.
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ancient oyster/ clam shells litter the ground
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using the water-worn chalk trail to get across the landscape

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Bluffport is a large representation of a Black Belt chalk out crop. I was particularly endeared to this patch of vegetation, mostly indian grass, either being slowly eroded away or just establishing itself on the chalk. I’m not sure.
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A great shot of Gail with a flowering Dogwood(Cornus florida). We saw two other species of Cornus(drummondii and Cornus amomum). But the Cornus florida was really out of place here. It was making a very meager subsistence from the out-crop chalk. Amazingly, it had established and survived for what looks like many years. Both of these acid lovers are probably really old and stressed and stunted by the extreme alkalinity and the presence of little soil.
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you pass through an old cedar forest just before the River.

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Then, you come up to the incredible bluff overlooking the Tombekbee River. Robbie told us that these chalk formations were laid down at the same time as the white cliffs of Dover.

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you can get a sense of scale if you see the tiny boat in the river in the distance.

We eventually got away from there before it got too hot and visited our prairie restoration on campus to see what had grown. It was quite a treat to see plants and all of the tiny seedlings popping up. It was a good day in the field.

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