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Dream job

Billy Pope has been creating images for 25 years. He has photographed governors, generals, entertainers, natural disasters, and for international mission organizations. During the past 15 years, his role as art director and staff photographer for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has been a dream job that brings together his talents as an artist and his love for the outdoors. His work has been awarded regional and national awards. Some of his photos have been published in Alabama Living. Pope lives in Pike Road, Alabama, with his wife and two daughters. – Lenore Vickrey

How did you become interested in photography?

I never really set out to be a photographer. I have always studied art and design and enjoyed creating images, be it with a brush, pencil or camera. My first job was as an illustrator for the Department of the Air Force. In that role, I was given the opportunity to fill in for our staff photographer on occasion. Those experiences really intrigued me—telling stories one frame at a time. Having to be aware of what was going on around me and anticipating the important moments pushed me to continue to hone a craft I never really knew I would love.

Were you trained professionally, or are you self-taught?

I was never trained professionally in photography. I studied graphic design which I feel translates into my photography. I guess I was self-taught. The biggest influences were editors and photographers sharing their knowledge and being honest with me, as well as giving me the opportunity to grow as a storyteller.

What is your favorite place in Alabama to shoot photos and why?

Alabama has a very diverse landscape and with this diversity the opportunities are endless for photography. I enjoy capturing the fall color in Little River Canyon, the spring bloom of the Cahaba Lilies on the Cahaba River, and there is something special about the sun setting on the bayou in Bayou la Batre. It’s not just the beauty of the locations, it’s the uniqueness of the people in the these “out of the way” places. The deep love the people I meet have for the natural history of our state is part of the fabric that makes up our culture. I have been blessed to be able to capture those places, people and stories and share them with everyone to enjoy.

What’s better – a 35mm DSLR or a smartphone camera?

I read somewhere, “The best camera is the one you have with you.” I find that to be very true. The world we live in is the most photographed in history. Smartphone camera technology has advanced to a point that, in some cases, it is hard to tell the difference in a smartphone photo versus a photo shot with a DSLR camera. They all have their role in today’s story. Cameras and lenses are like different brushes an artist uses on their canvas. Each camera or combination of camera and lens produces a desired result to convey a story. For wildlife and most nature photography I would say a DSLR would give you a better chance of achieving the desired result. Smartphones have produced some great scenic images; but, using a DSLR camera with the right lens, the same scene has more depth to the image. Ultimately, the goal is to capture an image that both pleases yourself and preserves the memory for future generations.

What’s one piece of advice for folks who want to shoot photos of nature and/or animals?

The one piece of advice I would give people who want to photograph wildlife and nature is, “You must be present to win!” Things in nature never happen the same way twice. No two sunsets or sunrises are the same. You can’t tell that Eastern Wild Turkey to go back and gobble again. Along with being present, you also need to learn your subject and its habits, much like a hunter who spends months learning the habits of that trophy buck. Where does the sun rise over the mountain? What’s the best bird seed to attract a certain species to my feeder? It’s a never-ending learning process that will provide you with a greater appreciation for wildlife and the outdoors.ν

Follow Billy at:

www.billypope.com

billypopephoto on Instagram

WTD: Find sweet treats and much more at SweetCreek Farms

By Lori M. Quiller

If you’ve traveled U.S. Highway 231 a few miles south of Montgomery in Pike Road, you’re probably familiar with SweetCreek Farms.

The sight and smell of the wood smokers in front of the market beckon passing motorists who can stop and stretch and enjoy some tasty barbecue dishes, including pulled pork sliders and pecan-smoked barbecue sandwiches.

But the café offers other fresh sandwiches, including a Cuban (pulled pork, ham, Wickles pickles and provolone cheese), chicken salad and grilled pimento cheese. There’s a selection of salads and a soup of the day, plus camp stew and such specials as smoked chicken and St. Louis-style ribs.

And it wouldn’t be “sweet” without dessert. Enjoy some homemade cookies, ice cream or a big serving of peach cobbler at one of the special craftsman tables made from reclaimed wood, or on the porch in one of the rocking chairs.

But SweetCreek, which is served by Dixie Electric Cooperative, is more than a restaurant. The barn-style market offers a bounty of fresh picked, Alabama-grown fruits and vegetables as well as a host of handmade crafts and other goodies from local artisans, such as woodworkings, soaps, lotions and ironworks. And it has both entertainment and education for the little ones.

“We consider SweetCreek an agritourism destination,” says owner Reed Ingram. “When families stop here, they can come into the restaurant for a homemade ice cream cone, then go outside and see the goats, chickens, rabbits and peacocks in the petting zoo. Certain times of the year kids can go out into the field, and we’ll have a hayride set up to tour our crops.

“We want people to know we grow these products here in Alabama, and the closer they are to you, the better they are for you. This is a fun place, and we want them to enjoy themselves while they’re here. They can relax and watch the windmill turn, smell what’s on the smoker and take a minute to slow down.”

Ingram and his wife Karen opened SweetCreek Farms in March 2016 in part to address the need for fresh, healthy food in the area, but to also show support for Alabama’s food growers.

“I wanted to make the farm and the table come together in the produce we sell and also by bringing the farm to the table in our restaurant as well. I think we have been compromising our products in Alabama because we have great farmers but just not enough farmers. Our farmers are getting older and the industry is changing. Our younger generation isn’t growing up and saying ‘When I grow up, I want to be a farmer,’” Ingram added.

Ingram also sells plants and, even if you don’t have a green thumb yourself, he and his staff can help you start your own backyard garden.

“Just one acre can create a lot of produce. We sell plants and encourage them how to grow their own produce. We don’t have classes, but when someone buys something from us, we offer advice by telling them how to keep it healthy for the best yield,” Ingram says.

SweetCreek Farms has grown in the past couple of years from 10 employees to 70, and Ingram insists that teamwork is the fabric that holds everything together. Most of the employees who work at the farm are experiencing their first job, so Ingram celebrates that with them by taking their photo when he hands them their first paycheck.

“Everyone here works together really well,” Ingram says. “All of the kids learn how to grow produce, they get on a lawn mower and mow grass, pull weeds, help plant crops, and help harvest. I feel like God has put us here for a reason, to not only be a mentor to these kids but also teach them a work ethic and about one of Alabama’s greatest industries.”

Worth the Drive: Sweet Creek Farm Market from AREA on Vimeo.

Sweet Creek Farm Market
85 Meriwether Rd
Pike Road, Alabama 36064

(334) 280-3276

 

 

 

 

 

Skunks can ‘reek’ havoc, but there are ways to avoid them

Skunks in Alabama don’t look for animals or humans to spray, and usually use an elaborate warning ritual before releasing a potent blast of mercaptan. Photo by Geoffrey Kuchera/Dreamstime.com

By Richard Bauman

Skunks aren’t ferocious, but they can be dangerous, and it’s the rare person who wants to meet up with one.

They are notorious, of course, for the overpowering, stomach-turning odorous mercaptan they produce, which you definitely want to avoid. And it’s reasonably easy to avoid being sprayed if you encounter a skunk.

Skunks are nocturnal, and you’re most likely to encounter one at dusk or at night. They don’t go around looking for animals or humans to spray, and often use an elaborate warning ritual before letting go with a blast of mercaptan. They will:

  • stand still
  • stamp their front feet
  • hiss and shake their head from side to side
  • raise their tail straight up

By the time the skunk raises its tail, if you haven’t backed off, you probably won’t escape unscathed.

North America is home to two types of skunks — the striped skunk, and the spotted skunk. And both call Alabama home.

Striped skunks are the larger of the two (about the size of a house cat), with black fur and one or more white stripes running from head to tail. Spotted skunks are smaller, but no less potent, are reddish colored with random “body bands” of white fur that give them their spotted appearance.

Spotted and striped skunks spray mercaptan from musk glands at the base of their tails. After going through its warning ritual, the striped skunk quickly turns around, arches its back and blasts some mercaptan at its target.

Spotted skunks use a “handstand” method of spraying. They stand on their front paws, hold their hind legs in the air, and with tail arched shoots a stream at their target. The spotted skunk can hold its handstand for five seconds, which is plenty of time to aim and spray.

Whether mercaptan is from a spotted or striped skunk matters little. Both are yellowish in color, and need to be washed off promptly, or the stench will last for days on skin, hair and clothes of humans, and on the fur and skin of animals.

De-skunking products are available or make your own

Pet stores, sporting goods stores and even Walmart sell de-skunking products. The go-to home remedy for de-skunking humans and animals was discovered by chemist Paul Krebaum. It chemically neutralizes the skunk odor, but it must be made up fresh.

It’s a mixture of:

  • one quart 3 percent hydrogen peroxide
  • ¼ cup of baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon liquid dishwashing detergent

If your pet gets skunked, the Humane Society of the United States recommends:

  • Keep the pet outdoors
  • Mix up the hydrogen peroxide solution, or use a commercially available product
  • Clean vigorously and rinse thoroughly
  • Shampoo your pet
  • Use the solution to get rid of any mercaptan you might have accidentally gotten on you or your clothes.

Keep skunks from moving in

According to experts at the University of California Integrated Pest Management Program, and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s Wildlife Damage Management Program, skunks are attracted to places where they can readily find food, water, and shelter. They will live in burrows, but they are also like:

  • old buildings
  • hollow trees
  • spaces under porches, decks, and crawl spaces under houses
  • wood piles

To prevent skunks from moving in on your property, make it unattractive to them:

  • remove piles of wood or junk from the area
  • stack firewood tightly, and at least 18 inches above the ground
  • seal garbage cans and secure pet food bins
  • use insecticides to control grubs and lawn pests
  • reduce potential food sources such as fallen fruit and spilled seed from bird feeders
  • remove food placed outdoors for pets by nightfall
  • install fencing that extends below ground at least twelve inches around buildings and seal your foundation.

If a skunk has already made a home under your house or elsewhere, proceed with caution. It is probably best to hire a wildlife removal specialist. These experts can remove resident critters, and “skunk proof” areas favored by skunks.

According to the Professional Wildlife Removal website, skunk repellent products you spray or sprinkle about your property aren’t effective. “Wildlife experts insist that habitat modification and removal are the only effective ways of preventing skunks. Several repellent substances are available … (but) Most do not keep away skunks.”

Skunks are usually considered unwelcome, but skunks do their part to control other pests. They eat grasshoppers, crickets, mice, salamanders, tobacco and tomato worms, snakes, small birds and even small rabbits.

There’s no other animal quite like a skunk. The potent odor it produces is unique. Once you’ve had a nose full of it, you never forget it.

On the other hand, there’s no reason to ever become the target of a skunk’s spray. If you encounter a skunk, give it a lot of room. Don’t make threatening moves toward it, and you probably will never need a peroxide and baking soda bath.

Teens and distracted driving: Adults must be role models for young drivers

By Donna Bayless and Sharon Winter

Have you ever followed a car that was weaving all over the road and thought, “I bet that person has been drinking?” Maybe you pulled up next to them at a red light and realized, instead, they were on their phone.

We know we shouldn’t drive when drinking. Why do we think it’s OK to drive when we’re on our phone?

Maybe because our phones are our lifeline to the outside world. Think of them this way: Our phones are a movie theater, mailbox, library, sports arena, newspaper, GPS, weather guy, calendar and a huge party with all our friends and acquaintances rolled into one tiny little box.

Now, it’s one thing if you miss some dialogue from tonight’s episode of “This is Us” because you’re texting your best friend your plans for the weekend. You can always rewind the DVR, right?

But what if you take that need to look at your phone every five minutes into the car with you and you miss a stop sign? Or the car in front of you that stopped suddenly to avoid hitting the black lab that darted into the road? You can’t hit rewind on a car crash.

Driving = freedom

For most teens, getting their driver licenses equates to freedom.  Jackson, a junior at Hewitt Trussville High School, says he loves having a car and a license because it means he can drive to visit his girlfriend, friends, and even to see his grandparents across town. 

We met Jackson because we teach safe driving to both corporate audiences and at a defensive driving school we operate in Franklin, Tennessee.

Most teenagers that we talk to never want to be responsible for hurting someone, either physically or emotionally. When we’ve talked about the aftermath of a potential crash, where they would be at fault, teenagers consistently go back to the emotion of the event. How would that make my grandmother feel if I was responsible for a crash that hurt someone else? Or my parents?  Or my friends? What would my life be like if I killed my best friend? What would I say to his parents? How could I live with that?

By helping teenagers get in touch with those emotions, we can help them make better decisions when they drive.

We fear that we, as adults, have unknowingly taught our children that you start the ignition, buckle the seatbelt, put the car in gear, and pick up the phone, in that order. Because it’s not just teens on their phones. We adults are addicted to our phones. Is this the behavior we want our young teen drivers to imitate?

Parents must set the example

So, what can parents do? Parents must set the precedent for safe driving. If a dad thinks nothing of going 90 mph down the interstate, then his daughter will think that’s OK, too. If a mom decides to send a quick text from the car, then the son will never see a problem with using his phone when he drives.

Parents must be the first ones to draw the line on distracted driving and put their phones on Do Not Disturb. Only then, will they be able to encourage their kids to hang up and drive.

Secondly, and critically important, parents must not expect their teenagers to answer their phone when they’re driving. This is the number one complaint we hear from teens about their parents: “My mom gets mad at me if I don’t pick up the phone or if I don’t immediately respond to a text. Even when I’m driving.” We suggest you develop a family agreement that there is never an expectation that teens answer a phone call or text when they’re driving.

And lastly, when we learned to drive in the 1980s, our biggest obstacle was learning how to use the clutch when starting from a stop — especially on a hill. We never had to worry about missing a phone call from parents or boyfriends because we were driving our cool cars. Oh, the freedom!

Which brings us to a lost skill set and maybe a great opportunity for parents. Get your teens a standard transmission vehicle. Both hands are busy driving and perhaps there will be more focus on the road.

Research shows it takes around 21 days to make a habit. Your family could make a conscious decision to put the phone out of reach for three weeks when driving. The pull of the ping of a notification or the ring of a phone is powerful, and it takes strong willpower not to give in. So, turn on the Do Not Disturb. Use it only for GPS, letting the verbal directions guide you.

And then when you get to where you’re going, call back those people who love you and want you home tonight. Or even the client or boss who counts on you to be there for them every day. In other words, call back when you can focus on them and not when you are focused on driving.

Be focused.  Be safe.

Sharon Winter and Donna Bayless are founders of RightLane, a training company based in Brentwood, Tenn., that offers seminars on safe driving nationwide. RightLane also operates a defensive driving school in Franklin, Tenn.


Alabama law restricts the youngest drivers from using any handheld communication device. The state law also restricts all drivers from texting and driving.

The Hands-Free Georgia Act took effect July 1. The law requires drivers to use hands-free technology when using cell phones and other electronic devices while driving.

Beautiful, hardy, adaptable and local: Ten native plants that feel like home

Passionflower vines can provide stunning blooms and a sense of place to our home landscapes. The purple passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), commonly known as the maypop, suggested by Kaul Wildflower Garden curator John Manion, is native to Alabama. It is among a number of passionflower species readily available in a variety of colors, such as this red one, at garden centers in the state. Passionflowers are magnets for butterflies and can be grown on trellises or other structures, but also look fabulous climbing up a tree or scrambling across rocks and stones.

Native plants, those denizens of Alabama’s natural terrain, are increasingly popular choices for Alabama’s cultivated landscapes. And well they should be, because they are as necessary to our wellbeing as they are beautiful to our eyes.

Alabama is home to some 4,000 different species of native plants, 28 of which grow only in our state, and we are ranked fifth in the nation for plant biodiversity. While some of these plants are endangered and protected, many are readily available for use in our gardens. So many, in fact, that it may be hard to choose which ones to plant.

To get some advice on making those selections, I turned to John Manion, curator of the Birmingham Botanical Gardens’ Kaul Wildflower Garden. As curator, Manion tends the largest collection of native plants in the state — about 900 at last count — but he also tends to the education of others by sharing his knowledge as often as possible, and sharing it with delightful and compelling enthusiasm.

Manion’s enthusiasm stems from several factors, chief among them the roles native plants play in our ecosystem. “Until a few decades ago, the image of native plants was sort of kumbaya and peasant shirts,” Manion says. “But they have really come to the fore now as people have begun to understand that native plants are essential to our survival.”

According to Manion, the book Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants by Doug Tallamy, which eloquently explains humankind’s interconnectedness with native plants and the other animals they support, was a major catalyst for this growing appreciation of native plants.

It doesn’t hurt their popularity, though, that native plants can also make the hard work of gardening easier. Manion noted that this doesn’t mean natives are easier to establish than other plants, but once they are established, natives requires less attention because they tend to be drought and pest tolerant and longer lived, among many other fine attributes.

“They have evolved here over thousands of years, so they are well adapted to Alabama’s growing conditions,” Manion explained. “Natives just know what to do.”

But natives have another huge plus for Manion — they feel like home. “These plants are part of where we are,” he says. “I have nothing against other plants, but I personally want plants that feel and look like I am in Alabama.”

So how can you begin to surround yourself with plants that feel like home? Start with a few native plants that are as adaptable as they are beautiful, for which Manion offered suggestions. He actually offered lots of suggestions, and sang the praises of each, but in this limited space here are simply the names (common and scientific) of 10 plants he adores, all of which tolerate a variety of growing conditions, are easy to find in retail outlets and, best of all, are gorgeous.

In the groundcover category, Manion recommended green-and-gold (Chrysogonum virginianum), pussytoes (Antennaria plantaginifolia) and yellowroot (Xanthorhiza simplicissima). If you’re interested in flowering perennials, try an herbaceous native such as lance-leafed coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolate), Stokes aster (Stokesia laevis) and ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata).

Looking for a native vine? Manion suggested coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirus), passion flower (Passiflora incarnata) and climbing hydrangea (Decumaria barbara). Ferns, such as the Christmas (Polystichum acrostichoides) and southern shield (Thelypteris kunthii) ferns, and grasses, such as woodoats (Chasmanthium sessiliflorum), are also great choices for a variety of uses and environments.

The Kaul Wildflower Garden, which has more than six acres of native plants to wander among. Or if you’re interested in growing your knowledge of native plants, consider signing up for Manion’s Certificate in Native Plant Studies program. You can learn more at bbgardens.org.

Katie Jackson is a freelance writer and editor based in Opelika, Alabama. Contact her at katielamarjackson@gmail.com.

Snapshots: First Day of School

The Holmes Family. Dad is a full-time firefighter going to law school and mom homeschools all 5 children. SUBMITTED BY David W. Philpott, Jackson’s Gap.

Bailey and her Daddy dropping off for her first day of 4th grade. SUBMITTED BY Tara Woods, Montgomery.

Honee’s first day of doggy daycare. She is a liver dalmation and the first deaf dog accepted to Whitesburg’s daycare program. SUBMITTED BY Patricia Davis, Lacey’s Spring.

Our sweet grandson Kyle’s first day of pre-school. His parents are PJ and Jamie Alexander. SUBMITTED BY Kathy Walker, Arab.

Kensley Robinson with her JoJo on her first day of Pre-K SUBMITTED BY Joey Robinson, Prattville.

Piercen’s 1st Day of Kindergarten. SUBMITTED BY Holly Saint, Section.

6 year old twins, Savannah and Shyann Daszczuk, on their first day of 1st grade. SUBMITTED BY Danielle Daszczuk, Deer Park.

Submit Your Images! October Theme: “Pumpkin Patch” Deadline for October: August 31. Submit photos online:www.alabamaliving.coop/submit-photo/ or send color photos with a self-addressed stamped envelope to: Photos, Alabama Living, P.O. Box 244014 Montgomery, AL 36124. Rules: Alabama Living will pay $10 for photos that best match our theme of the month. Photos may also be published on our website at www.alabamaliving.coop and on our Facebook page. Alabama Living is not responsible for lost or damaged photos.