Thursday, October 23, 2008


What is it about the place where you live? Most people I know hate the towns where they live. Especially if they grew up there. I assume it all goes back to the old saying that familiarity breeds contempt. In my case, it's so. My home town is a place called Brunswick. It's on the Georgia coast about ninety miles or so north of the Florida border.

There are two seasons in Brunswick: sweltering, which lasts from about March through November; and hot, which extends through the other three months. Most places in the USA have had their populations expand in the past 100 years. But not Brunswick. I'm pretty sure that it's about half as large as it was at its greatest expansion, population wise. Once upon a time Brunswick served as a major port, but it faltered for various political reasons and Savannah and Charleston soon outpaced it and left it in the dirt, with only the mosquitoes and sand fleas to keep the citizens company.

Brunswick is easily one of the most physically hideous places I've ever been. There's nothing about it to make it attractive. The terrain is routinely flat (coastal plain), the forests consisting largely of scabby oaks and anemic pines and palmetto that have grown up since the old forests were cut to the nubs again and again and again.

There are rivers, of course. These are very muddy and turgid. The rivers are so packed with the fruit of Piedmont erosion that even the ocean around Brunswick runs brown. And marshes, too. Sidney Lanier, the great poet of Georgia wrote about The Marshes of Glynn. He never saw those marshes die off from industrial pollution, of course. During most of the years of my childhood, the marshes were dead and toxic. You could fish in there, but eating the fish was pretty risky business. Since then, the industries figured out a way to make money by filtering the toxic wastes and the marshes have recovered. I think the mercury compounds should be sufficiently buried by mud so that the shellfish and such are safe again.

The old hometown has a peculiar scent, too. The two major industries are the local pulp mill where vast tons of paper are made, and an enormous chemical outfit called Hercules that, among other things, processes pine resin into various components. The pulp mill exudes noxious gases into the local atmosphere several times per day that can knock you on your ass. Imagine if King Kong farted directly into your face from about a foot away. That's what smelling the air in Brunswick is like. If you've never been there and are driving in your car with the windows rolled up and the air conditioner on, you might not be quite aware of the stench. At first, you might think someone in the car leaked a silent one out. But as soon as you stop to refuel or get out at a nearby rest area, the full impact of the air will smite you. It will, if you're not prepared, strike you down. Believe it or not, the locals get used to it.

The Hercules plant is another matter. The smells that emanate from that place vary. Some of them are actually pleasant. Pine oil is produced there, and that has a very nice scent. However, I have smelled gases coming out of that huge industrial compound that are definitely not pine. Who knows what it is? I'm certain whatever it is that they make, it must have something to do with the hideous numbers of cancer victims who live in Brunswick.

Once upon a time there was another major employer in Brunswick. It was called Babcock & Wilcox. They made industrial boilers. One of their customers was the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plant. You can guess what happened to Babcock & Wilcox. The power company had to have a scapegoat, I reckon. Jobs in Brunswick were at a premium when they shut down that outfit.

I don't go back to Brunswick very often. Only a few times in the past twenty years. The place stinks, of course. But there's more to it than that. It's just a very nasty spot on the map. I get depressed whenever I've gone back to visit the few friends I have there. I have family there, too, I think.

But other than wanting to take a couple of photos of a few spots in the town (strictly for historical purposes, mind you), I don't intend to ever return there. If I do go back, it will be a very quick detour on my way to somewhere worthwhile. I'll hop off the Interstate, ride to those few locations, take some digital photographs, and get the hell out.

Ah, Brunswick.

There's an exception to every rule, of course. In Brunswick's case, it's the old Glynn County Courthouse. A nice enough building, yes. But the redeeming value of it are the amazingly beautiful grounds filled with old trees, decorated appropriately with Spanish moss. It can almost make you forget where you are.

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