Sunday, March 22, 2015

A Day in the Life of Andalusia

In the late afternoon on a recent Wednesday I went walking in the woods at Andalusia. I was with Bob Lazenby looking for some property markers. Bob is a forestry consultant who has put in valuable volunteer time to help out in numerous ways at this small non-profit. Wednesdays the farm is closed to the public. That is the day on which we undertake projects and do all the kinds of things we can’t do when the place is teaming with visitors. Caring for Andalusia (500+ acreage and its numerous historic structures) is the charge of The Flannery O’Connor - Andalusia Foundation. Stewardship is in large part a backstory, one of behind-the-scenes grunt work, fundraising, housekeeping, administration, mowing, exploration, and of course excitement at discoveries as we unfold the many stories the farm tells us. Of course the primary story is about Flannery O’Connor, her time at Andalusia and the ways in which it inspired her. There is also an important conservation story. It involves the living collection at the farm: domestic birds, heirloom perennials, heritage shrubs, specimen trees, pastures, woodland and wild game. The preservation story is about structures, lifeways, atmosphere, and adaptive use for program needs.

Earlier that same Wednesday, I spent about three hours with Garry Kornegay and Bobby Huillemeier climbing around, through and up into our several of our historic farm buildings: the Horse Barn, the Calf Barn, and the Hay Loft (in the now mostly rehabilitated Cow Barn). Disrepair of these and other structures, including the Main House, makes up a $2.6 million preservation backlog at the farm. Andalusia staff and board are committed to addressing this because, after all, once historic fabric is gone it can never, ever be put back. Garry is a structural engineer who, when he saw what we were trying to do, cut his fee by saying “I see you need help and don’t have the money.” Thank you Garry! I call Bobby the ‘rebuild artisan’ since he has been helping out with the rebuild of our Equipment Shed. A tree fell on this 3200 square foot structure last year. With a crew of volunteers (generous local folks with equipment, know-how and connections) we cleared out the materials in the shed, managed to harvest trees on the property, and get them down to a sawmill in Cochran, Georgia. Again, our need was apparent to sawmill owner Jerry Peacock who gave us 2/3 discount on the job. Thank you Jerry! With funding from the Watson-Brown Fund Junior Board and a generous donor we are rebuilding the shed and expect it to be open next month.

Well, on this particular Wednesday we also had a group of journalists out. A team was flying drones with cameras to capture aerial shots of the property, in part to see the edges of our land and how commercial development is on a forward march, pressing against our borders. Another team was busy shadowing me and my colleague April Moon. They are interested in the real work of a small organization like ours and this particular day was a good example of the variety of activities that occupy staff at a historic site like Andalusia.

Still earlier on that Wednesday, I also walked our mile loop trail through the woods along the Tobler Creek. The result? A need to call a couple of GCSU English professors whom I call “The Chainsaw Twins” to saw through fallen logs that block the trail and in one case fell on and smashed to bits one of the benches. John Sirmans and Allen Gee have put in good service at the farm, including helping to clear briars and brambles around the Equipment Shed, and have led crews of students on service days here. Thanks John and Allen!

On this Wednesday morning as I was coming from the pond up the hill, back to the house, I saw a gentleman in business clothes standing in the entry drive. I gave him a questioning look. He threw up his hands and announced, “I’m trespassing.” I acknowledged that yes, he was and reinforced that we are closed and he is welcome to come back when we are open to the public (Thursdays through Sundays 10-5). He explained that he is from Baltimore and was driving by having some work and family business in the area. He said he is a huge fan of Flannery O’Connor and just couldn’t help himself, he was compelled to climb over our (barbed wire) fence and enter the property just to take a quick look. He thanked me for understanding the urge and said he would, as I suggested, visit our website, subscribe to our newsletter, and click on the donation button. There is, and will continue to be, something to see at Andalusia because people click on that donation button, mail in funding appeal response cards, and buy tickets to our fundraising events. The Board of Directors is hosting a March 29th celebration of what would be Flannery’s 90th birthday. Click to join us at the Piedmont Driving Club in Atlanta, in person or in spirit on March 29th. Click to support the work we are doing.

Our volunteer "Chainsaw Twins," John Sirmans and Allen Gee

-Elizabeth Wylie, Executive Director
The Flannery O'Connor-Andalusia Foundation

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