Book 30: Ecology of a Cracker Childhood by Janisse Ray

I have so many things to say about this book. One being that I certainly wish that I had read it when it was assigned, though I feel certain that I chose to read it at the perfect time all the same. 
Many of you may not know that I’m a Georgia native, never having lived out of state for more than five weeks. I grew up in Macon and Warner Robins, pretty much the center of the state. This book takes place in southern Georgia, though many elements rang true for all of the state. I grew up surrounded by a typical pine tree, not the stunning longleaf pines that Ray cherished so dearly; my late grandfather did talk about their scarcity with a passion almost equal to Ray’s, however. 

Image credit: –A longleaf pine sketch. 

“Q: ‘You know how to tell when you’re in Georgia?’

A: ‘All the houses are on wheels and all the cars are on blocks.’”

I came from middle Georgia, an area that’s less affected by poverty than Southern Georgia. We have malls, Smoothie Kings, and infrastructure. We still have more poverty than, say, Cobb or Cherokee county. A friend visited me while I was back home for my break and marveled at the first trailer park she’d ever seen – in Georgia it’s not uncommon. 

The flora and fauna found in the pages of this book are the flora and fauna of my homeland as well. Spider lilies, muskmelon (cantaloupe more often than others), and fishing with worms on a hook all brought back childhood memories. My homeland is one riddled with a sordid past, but it’s ecology can be breathtaking. 

I also felt a kind of kinship with Ray; she felt being a southerner to be a burden, the redneck stereotype and the accent being signifiers to people out of state that you’re probably less intelligent than they are. She mentioned attempting to lose her accent when she moved away to college, and I assure you that my college friends could tell you that I did the same. My voice on a call home was night and day from my voice answering questions in an auditorium. I think I’ve always unconsciously battled with my accent. Liquor and anger bring it out more fiercely than my family can. 

Ray’s father was a complex man, and I truly enjoyed getting to know so much about him. His choice to whip his children combined with his love of nature and his tendency to help mend the broken bits of wilderness that he found showed his complexity. His resourcefulness and drive were uniquely southern. 

Mental illness is a theme that I didn’t expect coming into the book, though I definitely appreciated it. From Valium to mental hospitals, Ray laid it all out and didn’t hide it like some southern folk do.

I enjoyed the historical bits, ranging from the Celtic settlers turned crackers to the creation of grits on land where wheat wouldn’t grow well. Their arbors of scuppernong vines reminded me of the many vines my grandparents grew. The interlacing of religion, though more conservative than the baptist church I grew up in, also rang true to a southern upbringing. 

Milledgeville’s mental hospital was mentioned many a time in the book, and I think it’s worth noting that I’ve just moved to Milledgeville myself. I’ll be attending GCSU starting in a couple of weeks. Ray also mentions McRae Georgia, a town my grandfather discussed frequently (MAC-Rey as he pronounced it) in terms of his childhood. 

I think my favorite things about this book are the setting being so beautifully woven in, the fact that it’s nonfiction, and the constancy with which Ray intertwined themes of gender and ecology. It’s a feminist read for many reasons, but definitely for its ecological perspective on gender. 

My least favorite element was the little blurb about how “the south will rise again,” but in an ecological sense. I’m not keen on the phrasing, or the Dixie phrasing she used. Let’s put that to rest and leave it. 

Ray’s book was required reading for my Ecofeminism class, and as a result was sitting unread on my Kindle these two years later. I still have a few books left to read, and I’m looking forward to it. 

Now I’m craving my Nana’s fried squash and fried cornbread and some of my aunt Peggy’s ten-fifteen layer cake. 

I give the book a 9/10.

Happy reading, Scarlett 

Ps; I apologize for the formatting issues. I won’t have wifi until the ninth, so I’m blogging from the app. 


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