The last time I was drove south, the kudzu was but just brown, hard vines curled like steel wire around telephone poles and trees. I didn’t get to see it all green and lush so, when I passed one of those kudzu valleys, somewhere in Virgina, I was dumbfounded by how utterly beautiful it was and how heavy it must be to the living things it consumes. The trees looked as if they were drowning.
Kudzu crept into my dreams when I started reading southern literature of questionable merit at 14, 15 years of age. I heard William Christenberry tell his stories about the crawling plant. Seeing it with my own eyes, however, that was fantastic.
I exclaimed wildly about kudzu on my drive through Virigina, via text message to A. He said to me “Yeah there’s a reason they thought it’d be a good idea to plant” and after traipsing through it a few times in the early morning light to make some pictures, I totally saw why. It’s blossoms were sweet smelling and though I know it’s a menace, it’s hard to ignore just how gorgeous it is.
There is not much else to be said about this plant, with it’s long hanging tendrils and fat leaves that hasn’t already been said. It’s beautiful and weird and mean and lovely.
The Gift Haus, the large Amish couple and the Miniature Village are remnants of road culture when the only road from Allentown to Harrisburg was Route 22, a two lane highway with a max speed of probably about 45 miles per hour.
The endless expanse of the interstate can take those engines and wheels fueled by fossil fuel that same distance in about 2 hours and such places are blips on drivers’ windshields. They beckon now out of curiosity, not necessity. Because they have always intrigued me, always baffled me, I decided to do some exploring. Vacation gives my curiosity about the world time and energy to stop and look around for awhile.
I didn’t have the time nor the energy to wander into the Miniature Village but stepping into the Gift Haus was stepping back in time. While I have been a casual collector of such kitsch, I realized that there is a small but profitable cottage industry based around the aesthetics, design and stereotypes of the Pennsylvania Dutch. Offered up for my consumption was shoofly pie, hex signs, cast iron trinkets and tea towels. I decided to bring my hosts some shoofly pie and a hex sign, as I couldn’t really think of anything else that would be considered more Pennsylvania than that.
The landscape around the Gift Haus is strange. There is the Riverboat Saloon with it’s spray painted sign and the store, Antique Treasures, beckoning with promises of old, beautiful things, holding an overwhelming expanse of old treasures of bizarre and obsessive proportions. As always, I found myself crouched in front of the jewelry case, intensely surveying an extensive collection of Native American beaded jewelry. I picked out a 4 strand, multicolor necklace with a lovely tassel on the end and headed on my way.
The asphalt pushed me westward, southbound. I had some place to be and that place was Winston-Salem, North Carolina, at the home of a dear and beloved friend.
Cars, like this great lumbering beast of the late 20th century, populate my photographs so frequently not only because of their obvious prevalence in the American landscape but because the gleam and glint of the metal makes me sweat. I have been known to stop and stare, exclaim wildly about a vintage model and fantasize about the way the open road must feel under the tires of such a sleek machine, how the internal combustion engine opens up and shoots forward with 400 horsepower. The promise of hot metal and gasoline, of asphalt and chrome intoxicates.