Georgians, you don't have to travel across the continent to California to see a rare and stunning ecosystem with majestic trees. Look no further than your own Coastal Plains region, which boasts the world's only longleaf pine ecosystem. This ecosystem once covered the vast majority of the southeast, but has now been reduced to less than 1% of its natural glory. It has become one of the rarest (and most breathtaking) ecosystems with the most diverse and rare wildlife population in Georgia, and which I was fortunate enough to visit along with my students a few weeks ago.
In Moody Forest in Appling County, GA, I put my arms around 200+ year old trees. I could almost feel their wise hearts beating deep inside. Kids picked edible berries and grasses, and we saw a rare bird that can only be found in the longleaf forest. In our nostrils was a rich and savory smokiness, coming from a controlled burn not far away. That's how they keep the forest floor healthy and allow new growth to take root and flourish. Georgia author, Janisse Ray, prizes these trees and this forest deeply, saying “I carry the landscape inside me like an ache. The story of who I am cannot be severed from the story of the flatwoods” (Ecology of a Cracker Childhood). Even from my short visit to Moody Forest, I could sense why. There's something magic about trees that watched our ancestors settle this land, and continue to watch as we tiny humans delve into the depths of the woods with our children in 2013.
Our guide was the aforementioned kind and spirited author, Janisse Ray herself, who opened up her prized stomping grounds for us to explore, as well as her home and farm, Red Earth Farm, which is another amazing destination once your in the area. Especially if you're interested in ethical, natural, locally sourced food. They do amazing work there, and make it a priority to educate the public about the farm food movement. If you're visiting the longleaf pines, do yourself a favor and schedule a visit to Red Earth Farm too for organic produce or one of their cool workshops (make your own cheese, anyone??)
Janisse was too hospitable, letting the kids roam free on her farm, feeding goats, terrorizing chickens, being terrorized by an over-friendly turkey, and absorbing the good a unique place like this can do for souls. I'm overflowing with gratitude and hope for the future. My next visit to Tavia's Trail in Moody Forest will not be too long in coming.
How to get there: The following instructions are taken from Shan Cammack and Hilary Smith's Public Lands Profile: Miracle of Moody Forest: "From Baxley, take U.S. 1 north for about eight miles. Turn right onto Asbury Church Road and go about three miles. Turn left onto Jake Moody Road, go about a mile, and then turn right onto East River Road. The trailhead for Tavia's Trail is at the intersection and the office is about a mile to the east."
For more information about the two trails that run through this ecosystem, contact the Nature Conservancy's preserve manager at (912) 366-9549.