"On a recent road trip from Atlanta to Auburn, Alabama -- once the heartland of the land of cotton -- I did not see a single cultivated field and scarely even a pasture."
“The heart of the southerner has been in his land,” reflected Howard Odum in his magisterialSouthern Regions of the United States. “The early richness of which,” he added, “like the prodigality of his rainfall and climate, he has nonchalantly taken for granted.”
While Odum’s readers of the 1930s may have mingled love of the land with ingratitude, earlier generations had openly reverenced the natural beauty and variety of the southern environment. Ralph Lane, the hard-bitten commander of an English expedition to Roanoke Island in 1585, famously gave Virginia credit for “the goodliest soile under the cope of heaven, so abounding with sweet trees, that bring such sundry rich and most pleasant gummes,” as well as “grapes of such greatnes, yet wild, as France, Spaine nor Italy hath no greater.” More than a century later, in the spring of 1701, the English traveler John Lawson crossed the Yadkin River in the interior of Carolina. A practical man, Lawson was usually thinking about the possibilities for trade and land speculation, but he could not hide his admiration for the sights and sounds of what he called “a delicious country.” “[The river] is beautified with a numerous Train of Swans, and other sorts of Water-Fowl, not common, though extraordinarily pleasing to the Eye,” he remembered. “The forward Spring welcom’d us with her innumerable Train of small Choristers, which inhabit those fair banks; the Hills redoubling and adding Sweetness to their melodious Tunes by their shrill Echoes.” Later still, a lengthy and exhaustive trip through frontier Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas inspired pioneer botanist William Bartram to call the world he had seen “a glorious apartment of the boundless palace of the sovereign Creator” and to rejoice in its “infinite variety of animated scenes, inexpressibly beautiful and pleasing, equally free to the inspection and enjoyment of all his creatures.”