Some days the best thing you can do at the office is take a walk in the woods.
I did that yesterday. It’s a great way to recharge your batteries, especially if you’re an environmental and gardening writer.
I turned off the computers, met my friend Leonard Turner and we drove to Wilkerson Mill Gardens in Chattahoochee Hills south of Atlanta, the best source for hydrangeas I know of in the Southeast. I’m a plant collector, and Leonard’s an accomplished photographer who has been wanting to photograph the mill in the fall.
Talk about killing two birds with one stone!
It was also an opportunity to re-connect with the husband-wife team of Gene Griffith and Elizabeth Dean, owners and operators of Wilkerson Mill Gardens. They are fun and delightful people who willingly share their extensive knowledge of hydrangeas. They always have interesting new cultivars, two of which are now planted in my garden. They are the rare and collectible Augustipetala Hydrangea and an unusual dwarf ground cover hydrangea, Hydrangea serrata ’Hallasan’.
I have many treasured memories of visiting Wilkerson Mill Gardens, but this trip now ranks at the top thanks to the walk through part of the woods on the 30-acre property.
The mill is on private property and off limits to visitors to the gardens. Gene and Elizabeth graciously gave us permission to photograph it.
After getting images from a vantage point near the sales area, Leonard and I decided to find a different angle to photograph the mill from the opposite side of Little Bear Creek, which feeds gushing falling water to the mill. There wasn’t an easy way to cross the creek, so we hiked down to Wilkerson Mill Road, back up the road, across the bridge over the creek and entered the woods at a steel gate that may at one time have been the entrance to a road of sorts into the woods.
We made our way through brambles and across logs to the creek bed where there was flat and mostly open access back to the mill. In my haste in blazing a path, I drew a well-deserved rebuke from Leonard as I stepped over a fallen tree … Tom, next time you do that you might want to check first and see if there is a rattlesnake on the other side. Point well taken. The sun had risen high enough to take the chill off the morning air. In the process it had become a beacon of sorts filtering warming light through the forest. For rattlesnakes it was an open invitation to come out of their burrows and, like us, enjoy the day. I didn’t make that mistake again!
The colors of the leaves were nearing their fall prime, birds were singing in the canopy above us. Beyond that there was a crisp blue sky. The crunching of boots against twigs and dry leaves on the forest floor combined with the falling waters of the creek offered a symphony of soothing sounds. Whatever work was piling up on the darkened computer back home could wait. This day was too perfect to pass up.
Finally, the mill came into sight. It and the dam with the ancient speedway to channel the water toward the mill wheel were the only manmade objects in sight. Time did more than stand still. For a moment, it seemed that we had gone back in time. It was easy to imagine another era when farmers brought horse-drawn carts of grains to the mill to be ground into flour.
If you check out the historic mills of the Atlanta area, you’ll find very little information about Wilkerson Mill. It’s not on any historical register, for instance. That may be about to change. Several women from the planned community of nearby Serenbe have received permission from Gene and Elizabeth to research the mill. Perhaps its history – and, maybe a few secrets – will soon be revealed.
Until then, it stands as a silent reminder of a long-ago lifestyle. One that is worth seeing and remembering on a walk through woods that are just a few miles away, yet generations removed, from emails piling up in a computer’s electronic inbox.