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Artificial reefs provide extensive habitat for many species

The state welded together a tugboat and a barge to make a reef dedicated to the Alabama Conservation Enforcement Officers Association. To add additional fish habitat, they welded various objects to the barge before sinking it south of Dauphin Island.
Photo Courtesy of the Alabama Marine Resources Division

Since 1953, the state of Alabama has dropped thousands of objects ranging from concrete chunks to military tanks and entire ships into the Gulf of Mexico, Mobile Bay, Mississippi Sound and other waters. These objects now hold numerous fish, leading to some of the best fishing for red snapper and other species in the nation.

“Alabama has the largest artificial reef program in the United States, and we are very proud of that,” says Craig Newton, the Artificial Reef Program coordinator for the Alabama Marine Resources Division (AMRD). “We have well more than 10,000 artificial reefs off the Alabama coast. We have the best red snapper fishery in the United States and it is 100 percent related to our artificial reef program.”

Recently, the AMRD added one more reef to its list. The state sunk a barge and an entire tugboat into 67 feet of water in the Gulf of Mexico about seven miles south of Dauphin Island. The reef top comes up to 42 feet from the surface.

“The barge is about 30 feet wide and 100 feet long,” Newton explains. “The tugboat is about 30 feet long. The barge was welded to the tugboat to make one big reef. We even added some enhancements to the barge using steel and pipe and took an old wheelhouse off another boat. We welded it all together to give the reef more structural complexity.”

The state dedicated this particular reef to the Alabama Conservation Enforcement Officers Association (ACEOA). Among other things, the association helped raise money to establish the reef for the enjoyment of all anglers.

Artificial reefs being deployed.

“Our association focuses on encouraging the use of our fish and wildlife resources,” says Kevin Dodd, ACEOA executive director. “Our association funds numerous public service events annually, but construction of a public reef was a first for us. Anyone who has ever looked at vehicle tags in area boat ramps or marinas will testify to the fact that saltwater angling is a tremendous tourist draw. Our members felt that creating an artificial reef made good sense for the Alabama economy and will serve to motivate other organizations and civic clubs to consider similar projects.”

Reefs create habitat for numerous creatures. Structures offer small organisms places to hide, forage for food and reproduce. Small species feed larger ones, building an entire food web that nourishes everything from algae to giant sharks. Depending upon the location and depth, an artificial reef can hold red snapper, grouper, triggerfish, amberjack, sheepshead and other fish. Roving predators like cobia, king mackerel, wahoo, sailfish and sharks also hunt near reefs.

“We’ve been working with the ACEOA for several months to build a reef to recognize the efforts of our conservation enforcement officers,” Newton says. “It takes years for an artificial reef to mature into a fully functioning reef system, but we expect people to be able to catch red snapper off this reef this summer. It will also produce a variety of other fish including gray triggerfish and other species. In the spring, it will have sheepshead on it. In the fall and winter, it will serve as great habitat for flounder.”

The state established reefs across more than 1,200 square miles off the Orange Beach-Gulf Shores area and Dauphin Island. The reefs extend out to the edge of the continental shelf about 55 miles from land. Some artificial reefs sit in water 300 to 400 feet deep. In addition, the state created more than 30 artificial reefs in Mobile Bay, Mississippi Sound, Perdido Bay and other nearshore or inshore waters to provide habitat for redfish, speckled trout, sheepshead, black drum and other species.

Anglers in private or state-licensed charter vessels can begin fishing for red snapper on June 1 this year. The season will continue on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through July 28. However, anglers can also fish on July 4, which falls on a Thursday this year. Each angler may keep up to two red snapper per day. Each red snapper must measure at least 16 inches long. Federally permitted vessels for hire can fish for red snapper from June 1 through 12:01 a.m. Aug. 2.

For more information on Alabama artificial reefs and reef locations, see

John N. Felsher lives in Semmes, Ala. Contact him through Facebook.

Igniting memories: How to be firefly-friendly

fireflies flying around the jar in hand drawing

Turn off the outdoor lights and step into the dark this summer and you may find yourself in an enchanted landscape where hundreds, maybe even thousands, of fireflies — and perhaps a few children carrying Mason jars — streak about in the night.

Or you may not.

Fireflies (or lightning bugs, if you prefer) are the stuff childhood memories are made of, but these bright little beetles, and possibly future memories, are also at risk.

The twinkling that attracts us to fireflies is caused by bioluminescence, a chemical reaction in their bodies that allows them to produce and emit light. Fireflies use that light to ward off predators and attract mates, the opportunity for which is but a spark in time.

The lifecycle of fireflies starts each summer when females lay eggs in or on top of the soil. The eggs hatch in about three weeks and the larvae then spend another year or two, depending on the species, maturing in the soil or in organic litter on top of the ground.

Beginning in the spring (I saw my first 2019 firefly in March) and continuing through the summer, the larvae pupate and take wing as adults on a tight schedule: They have only a short time, usually two to four weeks, to procreate before their lights go out forever.

The process is much more complicated, and fascinating, than I have space to cover in this column, but suffice it to say that among the more than 2,000 species of fireflies found throughout the world (170-plus of which are found in the United States) there is wide physical, behavioral and bioluminescent diversity — including some species that group together in synchronized light shows.

Fireflies not only delight us visually, they are also important to our ecosystems. Firefly larvae eat — and thus help control — a number of pests such as slugs, snails and worms. Adult fireflies eat very little, if at all, because they are focused on reproduction, but they help pollinate a variety of plants, may be eaten by other animals up the food chain and their bioluminescent chemicals have medical and scientific uses.

Unfortunately, fireflies are also at risk, a problem that was first detected a decade or more ago when scientists and enthusiasts began noticing a decline in firefly populations. The exact causes of this decline are still being studied, but most experts agree that habitat loss, light pollution and over-use of pesticides are the main culprits. Other human activities, changes in hydrology and — believe it or not — predation by earthworms may also contribute to the problem, as does commercial harvesting of fireflies.

Without conservation efforts, there may come a time when firefly lights go out in Alabama (and elsewhere). But luckily fireflies have advocates working to keep their lights shining, including Texas biologist Ben Pfeiffer who founded, a website filled with information on fireflies and how we can help protect them.

Those of us with gardens and lawns can help the effort simply by making our landscapes firefly friendly using Pfeiffer’s simple suggestions.

  • Reduce light pollution by keeping outside lights off as much as possible and closing curtains or blinds to limit escaping interior light.
  • Create firefly larvae habitat by leaving fallen logs, limbs and yard litter in place.
  • Maintain or establish a water feature such as a small pond or stream or a wet or marshy area.
  • Reduce, or better yet avoid, the use of pesticides, especially lawn chemicals, and limit the use of mosquito over-spraying to times when fireflies are least active.
  • Leave areas of tall, uncut grass, a favorite hangout of fireflies during mating season, in parts of the yard.
  • Plant native trees, shrubs and grasses.

These measures, along with many others that can be found through Pfeiffer’s website and other sources listed in the “Illuminating Information” sidebar, may help ensure that we and our children and grandchildren continue to step into enchanted summer landscapes for generations to come.

Illuminating Information

Here are some exceptional resources on fireflies and firefly protection:

Conscientious Catching

Chasing and catching fireflies is an age-old joy of summer, but considering their decline, is it a good idea? Experts say it’s OK if you catch and release conscientiously.

  • Use gentle collection techniques (a butterfly net is best).
  • Keep fireflies no more than two days in a jar with a perforated lid.
  • Add a moist paper towel or coffee filter and a slice of apple to the jar to help keep the jar’s environment firefly-friendly.
  • Set fireflies free at night so they can get back to the hard work of courtship. They only have so long after all.

Firefly Talk

Though flash patterns and behaviors vary among firefly species, typically male fireflies are the ones twinkling in the air and in trees. Females hang out in tall grasses and shrubs near the ground where they can observe the selection of aerial suitors.

When a female spots an appealing fella, she usually emits a single come-hither flash inviting him in for closer inspection. At least one species of firefly, however, mimics mating flashes to lure in other firefly species for dinner — that is, to become dinner.

Watching these visual conversations can help determine which firefly species are in your area. Another great resource can be found at Science Friday radio show’s website,

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

WTD: Seasonal offerings, fresh foods elevate dining at Odette

Odette features a long bar designed for enjoying both cocktails and meals, detailed with a solid-slab concrete top and handmade tiles below.

By Jennifer Crossley Howard

Florence’s Odette restaurant takes a nostalgic approach to food while keeping an eye on tomorrow. Located on downtown’s main vein of Court Street, Odette — open since 2013 — serves as much locally grown food as possible. Its menu rotates each season to serve what’s growing.

“Every season, we change about 70 percent of the menu,” says Chef Josh Quick.

In late April, there were a lot of dishes with asparagus, onion, radishes and peas because that’s what farmers were yielding.

Quick’s menus feature well-produced, quality fare. Chicken breast, for example, is all free range and vegetables are fresh. The idea is to let the food speak for itself.

“In spring and summer it’s so easy,” Quick says. “The colors and flavors are so vibrant.”

Odette features a long bar designed for enjoying both cocktails and meals, detailed with a solid-slab concrete top and handmade tiles below.

Much of it comes from down the road, including Bluewater Creek Farm in nearby Killen and Sunlit Farm in southern Tennessee. Fresh seafood from the Gulf of Mexico arrives by truck a few times a week, resulting in dishes such as the Blackened Mississippi Redfish Sandwich, grilled fish enveloped by pullman bread, red cabbage slaw and avocado.

Switching menus by season keeps things interesting. Cooks and servers must be on their toes, said general manager Kristy Bevis.

“It’s always a fun time in the restaurant, like a reopening,” she says.

Quick typically starts planning new menus a month before their debut. In addition to food, the well-stocked bar will also take a seasonable turn, with six to seven new drinks replacing last season’s favorites.

In the kitchen on a recent weekday, Michael Cuffaro, a roundsman, chops chuck tender for Steak Frites, a constant on Odette’s menu. Hand-cut fries, arugula salad and chimichurri complete the dish. The kitchen conjures a sharp greenhouse aroma coupled with deep savory notes.

Sous chef Ramon Jacobsen rinses a colander full of fresh peas for dinner. The kitchen staff takes their food seriously; themselves, not so much. A photo of young Bill Murray pointing is posted on the side of a refrigerator. “You’re awesome,” it reads.

Now, Jacobsen has another accolade: On May 1, he won the 2019 Alabama Seafood Cook-Off in Bayou La Batre. He will represent Alabama in August at the 16th annual Great American Seafood Cook-Off in New Orleans.

Now offering Sunday brunch

Quick cans spring peas and hot banana peppers to use in winter, a tradition he picked from up as a boy from his stepmother. Every sandwich is served with a seven-day pickle, sold in jars near the front desk.

For spring and summer, Quick has served strawberries from across the river in Tuscumbia. Berries appear in the Strawberry Salad, an arugula pesto and whipped feta goat cheese concoction topped with marcona almonds and fermented dressing. Quick uses the fruit for fresh jam, which will be on the new Sunday brunch menu. Odette opened its doors for Sunday brunch on Easter, previously offering it only on Saturday.

“We think the community will be really receptive to it,” Bevis says.

The inside of Odette reflects its philosophy that good food need not much adornment: upholstered booths and dark wood tables sit on original hardwood floors, and exposed brick remind diners that this place had a life or two before it became a restaurant. For many years, the space housed Kaye’s, a shoe store that was in business until at least the late 1970s. Kaye’s is immortalized in script engraved into the sidewalk in front of Odette.

As for the restaurant’s name, owner and Shoals native Celeste Pillow honored her great-grandmother.

“She wanted a name that had Southern appeal to it,” Bevis says.


120 N. Court St.

Florence, AL 35630



11 a.m.-11 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday

11 a.m.-1 a.m. Friday-Saturday

11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday. (Between lunch and dinner, a reduced menu is offered that includes a classic burger and bar snacks.) 

Safe driving starts with the turn of a key

Philip Lutzenkirchen, during his days at Auburn.

By Allison Law

It’s been five years since Mike Lutzenkirchen lost his son, Philip, the Auburn student-athlete who played on the school’s 2010 national championship team. More than just a standout tight end, Philip had a servant’s heart, was humble to fault and loved spending time with children, especially those fighting cancer or who had special needs.

Philip was 23 when he died, as a passenger in a drunken- and distracted-driving related car accident. The elements involved – drinking during the day, speeding, lack of seat belt use – resulted in a horrific crash that killed Philip and the driver.

Five years later, his dad, Mike, is the voice of the Lutzie 43 Foundation, founded in Philip’s memory to encourage and empower young people to be positive ambassadors for safe driving. Mike travels constantly, speaking to high school and college organizations and sports teams, church groups and others. He estimates he’s spoken to 180,000 people across the country, sharing his story as a grieving father but also of a parent motivated to create change.

He gets “some pretty incredible” emails from young people who are inspired by his talks. Some feel comfortable talking with him about issues they might not bring up with a parent or teacher.

“I get compliments that I don’t come in and lecture and just rattle off a bunch of stats,” Mike says. “This is a real voice of a real father, talking about the loss of a child. I think kids respect that.”

The Lutzie 43 Foundation’s newest initiative will still bring Mike and his message to young people. He will still talk to them about making better decisions, as drivers and friends.

But Mike thinks the new 43 Key Seconds initiative will also resonate with grown-ups, and has started reaching out to corporations, associations and other companies to create new partnerships.

Keys to success

Mike Lutzenkirchen speaks at the press conference unveiling the new 43 Key Seconds initiative.

Last year, an acquaintance who was familiar with the Lutzie 43 Foundation and its work asked Mike about the future goals of the Foundation. He pointed out that each new day is one more day past Philip’s time on earth. Mike realized that today’s high school seniors weren’t even in high school when Philip died; how could they continue the relevancy of the message, and of Philip’s legacy?

Mike showed the acquaintance information about a program for which Mike has been a keynote speaker – an interactive teen driving summit called URKEYS2DRV (your keys to drive). The acquaintance seized on the symbol of a key, with the idea of pairing it with the number 43 (Philip’s Auburn jersey number) and the words “distraction free.”

They were aware of the successful, catchy safety slogans, such as “click it or ticket” and “drive sober or get pulled over.” But the Foundation wanted to create a campaign based around a tangible reminder – something that will be visible for drivers and easy to keep up with.

The result: a safe driving checklist placard, clipped to a replica of a key and attached to a lanyard. The idea is that the driver will take 43 seconds before starting the vehicle to go through the checklist: “clear head, clear hands, clear eyes, click it; now turn the key.” The driver keeps the lanyard and key on the rearview mirror, or as a keychain.

The lanyard, decorative key and checklist placard that are the symbols of the new initiative.

The tangible items have another benefit: The ability for co-branding. The key and lanyard have the 43 Key Seconds emblem and colors, and there’s room on the back of the key for a company logo or a team’s mascot. So far, the initiative has partnered with the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA), Georgia State Police, the University of Montevallo and Baldwin Electric Membership Corporation, among others.

“I believe, because of the epidemic nature of distracted and impaired driving, all these companies, regardless of what kind of business they’re in, have an element of safe driving,” Mike says.

He thinks the co-branding will add a level of buy-in to the campaign. “Opelika High School, for example. For those kids to walk out with a 43 Key Seconds key on one side, their logo and their colors on the other, and their logo intermingled on the lanyard. They buy it, that’s my school, that’s part of me.”

Wind power on the rise

The answer to what’s new with electricity is, as Bob Dylan first sang 57 years ago, “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

Technology brings history-making updates to the old windmill

This year, wind power will replace hydro for fourth place on the list of fuels used to generate electricity (behind natural gas, coal and nuclear.)

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration projects the growth of wind power will continue into 2020, when it is expected to generate 9 percent of the nation’s electricity.

Wind’s popularity is propelled by the rising interest in renewable energy and improving technology, which has reduced the cost of wind power to about the same price as electricity generated from coal power plants. The federal Production Tax Credit has also driven wind development, and its pending expiration has led to a rush of new projects that will come online over the next few years.

Today’s wind turbines are a lot more high-tech than the old windmills that cranked water up from under farms.

Wind turbine blades are huge, and they’re getting bigger to capture more wind. Over the last 20 years, the diameter of a typical wind rotor assembly has increased from about 75 feet to almost 180 feet. And turbine towers are getting taller, from almost 200 feet to nearly 300 feet since 1999.

Behind each of those rotors is a much smaller turbine, kind of like a miniature version of those that spin to make electricity in a coal-powered plant. The rotors turn 30 to 60 revolutions per minute, and gears inside the turbine ratchet that up to more than 1,000 rpm, which is fast enough to generate electricity. Computerized sensors keep the rotors pointed at the wind.

A large wind turbine can generate enough electricity to power about 500 homes—if the wind blew all the time. But it doesn’t, and that makes wind a tricky power source. Developers hope improvements in large battery technology might store power for use during calm days, but for now, for wind to provide reliable electricity, it needs the help of coal, natural gas and other energy sources that can run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Paul Wesslund writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the national trade association representing more than 900 local electric cooperatives. From growing suburbs to remote farming communities, electric co-ops serve as engines of economic development for 42 million Americans across 56 percent of the nation’s landscape.

Take control of high summer bills

Energy-intensive activities like doing laundry can increase heat and humidity inside your home. Try time-shifting these types of chores to off-peak hours, when energy demand is lower. Photo courtesy Steve Buissinne

By Derrill Holly

We expect summers to be hot, but most of us do all we can to keep our homes as comfortable as possible, even as outdoor temperatures edge thermometers upward.

When it comes to electricity, each of us has the power to help control our costs – we just have to make thoughtful choices to make energy savings pay off in dollars and cents.

Look toward the west. If you don’t have trees, a porch overhang or awnings shading windows exposed to afternoon sun, there’s a good chance radiant heat could be driving up indoor temperatures and adding to your overall cooling costs.

Window coverings can help. Blinds or shades can deflect intense sunlight, and draperies lined with a thermal radiant barrier can block up to 95 percent of sunlight and 100 percent of ultraviolet rays.

Comfort and cooling are easier to maintain when we take advantage of air flow. A ceiling fan can pull warm air up above your living zone, making a difference during summer months. The evaporative effect of circulating air blowing across our skin makes us more comfortable, but that benefit completely disappears when we leave the room, so turning fans off in unoccupied rooms will save energy.

HVAC filters have a lot to do with airflow through your heating and cooling systems. Dirty filters restrict circulation through your returns, requiring your cooling system to work harder. If you can see dirt in a filter, it’s likely 50 percent clogged. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on replacing disposable filters or cleaning permanent ones. If you’ve got pets, consider checking them more frequently.

Ceiling fans help keep us cool during the summer, but that benefit completely disappears when we leave the room. Turn fans off in unoccupied rooms to save energy. Photo courtesy Stefan Schweihofer

You can save money and electricity by time-shifting some of the most energy-intensive activities away from peak energy use periods that normally occur during the hottest hours of the day. Cooking, doing laundry and using power tools can increase both heat and humidity inside your home, making it harder to reach or maintain a comfortable temperature.

Remember, controlling energy costs will always work better with buy-in from everyone in the household.

One open window anywhere can be like an uncapped chimney, pulling the conditioned air you pay to cool outside.

A gaming system, computer or big screen television left on but unwatched produces nearly as much heat as it does when it’s in use.

Lighting and ventilation fans add convenience and provide benefits when they are needed but when left on and unattended, they use energy.

A bag of ice poured into a cooler will chill summer beverages as effectively and less expensively than an aging refrigerator in a hot garage.

Check with your local electric cooperative for details on programs that can help you control energy costs and avoid seasonal billing challenges.

Your co-op may also offer energy audits or additional information that can help you identify and correct problems that might be contributing to higher bills and increased energy use in your home.

Alabama’s own Captain Marvel

If you watched Saturday morning television in the mid-1970s, you likely remember the CBS children’s series, “Shazam!” based on DC Comics’ Captain Marvel. In the series, a young boy traveled around the country in a motor home solving problems by uttering the word, “Shazam!” and turning into superhero Captain Marvel. The captain was played by Jackson Bostwick, who grew up in Montgomery, where his father was a neurosurgeon. He graduated from Lanier High School and studied pre-med at the University of Alabama, where he lettered in rifle before he decided to pursue an acting career in California. He earned an MFA in acting at the University of Southern California. His role on “Shazam!” in 1974-75 endeared him to many fans, who still enjoy seeing him at Comic-Cons around the country. He was gracious enough to answer a few questions for Alabama Living. – Lenore Vickrey

What was the hardest thing about playing Captain Marvel for the TV show? Getting into the costume? Staying in shape?

I didn’t have much of a problem with anything playing the Good Captain, other than a couple of the stunts (I did all my own stunts except one – wrestling with a lion). I kept in very good shape participating in judo and kick boxing. I did run my own dailies at the studio with no sound, just to watch how I carried myself and to make sure the costume was presented with as little wrinkles as possible. I never put my hands on my hips, as I felt this would be preaching to the kids, except in one scene when it demanded an authoritative presentation.

Why do superhero characters like yours have such an enduring popularity?

Captain Marvel was my favorite hero when I was growing up, along with The Lone Ranger, Tarzan, The Phantom, and Sgt. Preston of the Yukon. From the time of the Greek and Roman gods and heroes, to the biblical heroes, most everybody has a role model that they can identify with and dream about, even though they could never accomplish the feats of these icons. Superheroes, not just heroes, are the hardest to portray believably. If an actor can pull it off, a superhero can be very effective role model for generations to come.

Do you have a favorite, or most memorable episode of “Shazam!”?

“The Athlete” episode stands out as one. It is the one where I pulled off my best stunt. I had to, as Captain Marvel, pull the stunt lady, Patty Eldege, from a running horse as she galloped past me at full speed and I was running as fast I could alongside her. We did it, as with most of the show’s stunts, in one take. There were other good gags that were done during my time on the show, but this one stands out as my favorite.

What do you think of the new movies, “Shazam” and “Captain Marvel”?

I’m not a fan of what has been done to the classic icon, Captain Marvel. To me this is a spoof of the character, like Adam West did with Batman. Made him a buffoon. When is the last time you’ve seen a superhero talk about, or for that matter, even going to the bathroom? That’s Jim Carrey stuff. There will be an audience for it, yes, as there is an audience for “Sponge Bob, Squarepants,” but in no way is it the original Captain Marvel. C.C. Beck, a good friend of mine and the original artist of the Golden Age comic, is rolling over in his grave. He once told me “Jackson, the way you portrayed Captain Marvel is exactly the way I envisioned him to be.” Some people say it needed to be brought up to date. That’s like saying let’s bring the Bible up to date and modernize it. Or, let’s put a crayon mark on the Mona Lisa. All I can say is thank God they didn’t use the character’s real name.

Do you ever get back to Alabama?

I no longer have our family’s cabin on Lake Martin, but that is a place I go back to visit along with the graves of my mother and father in Montgomery.

Got any new projects in the works?

I’m mainly doing Comic-Cons (check out my appearances at and enjoying meeting the fans. I’m also finishing up my book Myth, Magic, and a Mortal, along with wrapping up a movie I wrote, produced and directed called “Bloody Mary-Lite.”

A photographer’s visual journey across the state

For this unusual shot of Noccalula Falls in Gadsden in Etowah County, Dersham used a three-second exposure on a tripod behind the falls on a foggy fall morning.

John Dersham pays tribute to Alabama in new book for the Bicentennial

By Lenore Vickrey

Imagine paddling up the Cahaba River on a spring afternoon, then walking through one of Alabama’s spectacular waterfalls. Gaze in wonder at the giant sycamores in Pickens County, and admire the native rhododendron ablaze with color in Cherokee County. Stroll down a dusty road in rural DeKalb County, and then kick off your shoes and scamper down the sun-warmed beach at Gulf Shores. 

Those settings and hundreds more are all part of the visual feast prepared by John Dersham and shown off in his new book, My Alabama: John Dersham Photographs a State, published in collaboration with the Alabama Bicentennial Commission. Dersham, who has been photographing sites in Alabama for more than 20 years, had a long career in the photo industry with a Kodak subsidiary, and now is president/CEO of DeKalb Tourism. 

The book is available through bookstores and online or through its Montgomery publisher, NewSouth Books, He answered a few questions for Alabama Living.

A giant sycamore at the Natural Bridge of Alabama Park in Winston County. There are several photos of similar majestic trees in the book.

How did the idea for the book originate?

I had done quite a bit of photography for Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association, and I began talking to (director) Tami Reist, Jay Lamar (Alabama Bicentennial Commission director), Lee Sentell (Alabama tourism director) and Nisa Miranda (director, Center for Economic Development, University of Alabama). The idea was to show the world what Alabama physically looks like.

My photographic vision is to craft a body of work that is beautiful, expressive and visually impactful. Whether the subject is a landscape, an old building, a still life or a cityscape, I want the viewer to sense the visual excitement that I felt in capturing the image. – John Dersham

We spoke about the fact that in tourism and economic development we are continually speaking with potential out-of-state visitors or business clients who have a total misperception about what Alabama physically looks like. Many think we are a flat state; many do not realize we have mountains (southern Appalachians) or beaches. Almost no one knows we have one of the premier river systems in the world and are the fourth most biodiverse state in the country.

We all agreed there needs to be a photography book that shows the scenery of Alabama that includes all the different regions of the state, and that includes our great variance in topography, flora and fauna, rivers, mountains and farm lands. This book would make a great book for consumers, libraries and for the tourism and economic development industries. Jay Lamar wanted it to be a Bicentennial book and with the support of Lee Sentell and the tourism office, which the Bicentennial Commission is managed under, it became a reality.

How did you come up with the idea to organize it seasonally, rather than by region, or some other way?

We struggled for a while to figure out the best way to lay it out. The publisher at NewSouth Books, Suzanne LaRosa, and editor Randall Williams thought the seasonal approach would work really well, and I totally agreed.

Tell me about the process you went through to narrow down your 50,000 photos to just 200.

I had three groups of three to five people, as did the publisher, to help narrow down the vast number of images to a manageable number, which was still over 1,000 images. The process continued for several months with lots of input, to finally get it down to a manageable 200 or so images. The subject matter became critical. We needed to make sure all the Alabama regions were represented and the subject matter was also diverse.

I have to say, Randall Williams, who edited the book and did the layout, really helped me get past some personal image preferences to favor images that needed to be included and not just be there because I thought it was a great photograph.

A farm near Hamilton in Marion County. While the book features some photos taken in metro areas, most are of rural scenes that capture country life in all four Alabama seasons.

Is there a location you have returned to, more than twice, to shoot again, just because you love the way it looks, or it has special meaning to you?

Since I live near Little River Canyon and I teach photo workshops there for Jacksonville State University, I shoot the canyon on a regular basis. I have also shot at many of our state parks multiple times and have shot in many of the same counties and regions of the state many times over the process of this publication.

How did you get Bo Jackson to write the forward?

Randall Williams arranged it with Bo, based on the fact Bo was doing his annual fundraiser where he rides through Alabama on a bicycle. His text deals with viewing the beautiful scenery in Alabama from a bicycle seat.

Do you still take most of your photos in the wee hours?

I leave the house before daylight and shoot pre-daylight till just before midday. I like late afternoon light also, but morning is my preference since not only can I get the sunrise, but often I will have dew, wet roads, frost, fog and other sparkly image enhancers not available at the end of the day.

This month in Alabama History: June 23, 1945

Eugene Sledge on Okinawa, 1945.

Cpl. Eugene B. Sledge helped secure the island of Okinawa on this date after 82 consecutive days of combat during World War II. A native of Mobile, Sledge is internationally renowned for his 1981 memoir With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa, which graphically portrays combat in the Pacific Theater. The memoir was used as source material for Ken Burns’ 2007 PBS documentary “The War” and HBO’s 2010 miniseries “The Pacific.” He joined the biology faculty at the University of Montevallo in 1970 and taught for 20 years. As an avid lifelong ornithologist, he led bird-watching expeditions in Montevallo and other parts of the state. His second memoir, China Marine: An Infantryman’s Life after World War II, was published posthumously in 2002, and he was inducted into the Alabama Men’s Hall of Fame in 2013.

Get smart! Energy-saving apps and devices

More-advanced (and more-expensive) smart thermostats like the Ecobee4 can work with sensors that detect when someone is in a room and adjust the temperature accordingly. Photo Courtesy Ecobee

Q: It seems like I’m always hearing about some new device or app that will save energy, but I wonder if they’re worth the time and money. I want to learn about simple ways I can use technology to save energy. Any advice on where I should start looking?

A: Every new piece of technology seems to come with a lot of promise, doesn’t it? Then we have to find out for ourselves if it lives up to the hype. Here are a few products we recommend.

Smart Phone Apps

There are several energy apps available today, but two stand out. They’re free, easy to use, effective and available for both Android and iOS devices.

JouleBug is a fun app that helps you save energy. You collect points for each energy efficient move you make inside the home, on your daily commute and in daily life. The app helps you make changes and build ongoing energy-saving habits. It’s designed as a competition among friends and can help you and your family create an energy efficient household together. The app also includes fun, educational videos and links to helpful articles.

There are several energy cost calculator apps that help you identify where you use the energy most in your home. You can enter how many hours a day you use each appliance or electronic device (some have a dropdown of typical household items) and the rate you’re paying for power, which you can find on your energy bill. The app creates a total operating cost for that specific device.

How much is that hallway chandelier costing you every month, and how much would you save by turning it off for an additional hour each day? How about that second freezer or the big-screen TV? The answers aren’t exact, but they will give you a better idea of your overall energy use and help you focus your efforts on the opportunities that will save the most energy.

Smart Thermostats

A smart thermostat connects to the internet and your computer and/or smart phone through your home’s Wi-Fi and could shave $50 off your energy bill every year. Most fall within the $100 to $250 range. If the price for a feature-rich model is more than you’re comfortable spending, ask yourself if it’s worth buying a lower-cost model, or if your current thermostat is doing the job.

Here are some features to keep in mind if you’re considering a smart thermostat:

  • Learning: A learning thermostat will figure out your habits and adapt––this is probably the best way to make the most of a smart thermostat’s energy-saving potential.
  • Geofencing: This will detect when you leave home and return, and adjust the temperature up or down so energy isn’t being wasted.
  • Additional features include remote room sensors and voice control.

Before you buy, learn what you can about the functionality of the smart thermostat’s app.  And take a look at how easy it is to program the thermostat unit directly. Finally, consider the installation. Some models are more difficult to install and may require re-wiring.

Smart Power Plugs and Switches

Smart outlets and light switches are still considered a relatively new technology, and we think there are improvements that will be made over time. That said, if this is a technology you’re interested in, there are a couple of options that consumers seem to like.

Hub-based systems like the Currant Dual Smart Outlet and Philips Hue smart lighting systems are highly rated and cost about $200 or more for eight to 10 smart outlets or light switches. That’s a pretty big investment, so we recommend using an energy cost calculator app first to decide if it’s worth the additional cost.

We hope you these reviews will be helpful as you consider smart technology that promotes energy efficiency. Don’t forget to check with your local electric cooperative on additional programs and services designed to help you save on your energy bills.

This column was co-written by Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen of Collaborative Efficiency.

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