State-of-the-art technology guarantees we are always plugged in, turned on and available. So occasionally, we need to unplug, tune out and be out-of-pocket while finding a quiet spot or moment where we can hear ourselves think and give ourselves the opportunity to contemplate without artificial noise.
Proudly sustaining a reputation which includes historical significance and dedication to service, the First United Methodist Church of Jasper offers an inviting haven from the noise.
Stepping into the cool mahogany sanctuary, quiet- seekers easily find the marked pew where President Franklin Delano Roosevelt sat during the September 1940 funeral of William B. Bankhead, a genuine statesman who was Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives the last four years of his life.
A brief pause to sit for a moment results in an embrace of calm.
Businessman\philanthropist L.B. Musgrove, who was chairman of the church building committee, had the sanctuary’s stained glass dome created in honor of his mother, Elizabeth Cain Musgrove.
Built over a period of two years, 1920-21, by the Kansas City Stained Glass Company, the president of the company traveled to Jasper with the dome to direct the installation. Nine feet high, 105 feet in circumference, and thirty-four feet in diameter, this massive work of art is composed of 109 sections which include 30,000 stained glass pieces.
Angels, cherubs, and banners noting “Faith-Hope-Charity” as well as “Honor Thy Father and Mother,” decorate this richly colored dome, the crowning glory of a sanctuary which provides a rare sense of peace and well-being.
A longer quiet-seeking effort requires a two hour road trip to Perry Lakes Park, five miles east of Marion on State Highway 175. Built in 1935 with the mules and wagons of the Civilian Conservation Corps, this park closed in 1974.
With the cooperation of state and federal government officials, local community leaders, environmental and wildlife groups, and Dr. Thomas Wilson, Judson College Professor of Biology, the park reopened in May 2002.
Easily accessed by seven miles of interpretive nature trails, Perry Lakes Park is a treasure chest of incredible ecosystems revolving around hardwood forests, four oxbow lakes resulting from the Cahaba River’s changing course, Tupelo and Bald Cypress swamps, streams, sloughs, and hammocks.
The Cahaba River, the longest free flowing river in the state, has the most significant biodiversity of any river in North America. One of the trails leads to Barton’s Beach Cahaba River Preserve, which is owned by the Nature Conservancy of Alabama and boasts the largest sand and gravel bar on the river.
More than 200 species of birds make their homes in Perry Lakes Park. This amazing variety includes huge, striking Pileated Woodpeckers, golden yellow Audubon’s Swamp Warblers, and a large heron rookery. Bald Eagles nest next door to the park at the Marion Fish Hatchery.
Wildflowers bloom abundantly year-round and visitors discover fragrant Atamasco lilies in the spring and vibrant red Cardinal flowers in the summer. About 64 species of trees thrive, including eight Alabama Champion Trees and one National Big Tree Champion.
These trees are the largest trees of their specific species in the state and in the country. The park’s oxbow lakes support an assortment of wildlife and fishing from canoes and small aluminum boats is permitted.
Perry Lakes Park offers a 100-foot birding tower, a former forestry tower which was dismantled by four Auburn University Rural Studio architecture students and rebuilt in the park. Perry County donated materials and the students raised about $20,000 to fund the remainder of the project. Other Rural Studio students built a pavilion, a covered bridge and restrooms.
The park continues to be maintained by volunteers and college service-learning programs which have involved, among others, Judson College’s Earth Team and chapter of the Cahaba River Society, the women’s basketball team from Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina, Samford University Campus Ministries, and Honors College and New College students from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
Dr. Thomas Wilson, whose official title is Environmental Advisor to Perry Lakes Park, is aptly named “The Guardian” in a student-produced documentary film about his mission to preserve and protect the park while making it available to the public.
Dr. Wilson has made the park the focus of much of his time, energy, and expertise. In addition to recognizing the park’s value to the environment, he also sees it as an excellent outdoor learning laboratory and noted, “Every season is a new lesson.”
He also appreciates the park’s role in the surrounding community and feels a sense of duty to promote the park on behalf of the individuals who live there. “We have the most wonderful outdoor place in the poorest place in Alabama.”
As he leads a small crew on a guided tour, Dr. Wilson stops talking for a minute, giving each member of the group an opportunity to appreciate the lack of human noise and to absorb the soothing sounds of the natural world.
He then looks out around him and adds, “This is where I come to be quiet.”
A magnificent church sanctuary, vibrant with history, and a unique park which hauntingly speaks to nature’s soul, provide extraordinary sources of quiet.
However, often serendipitously, these moments appear when we need them the most but are not actually searching for them. Merely by chance we find them in unexpected places… an abundant sunflower garden where diligent honey bees gather nectar… on the front porch at home while watering geraniums on a humid weekend morning…standing in the back of a church fellowship hall, silently observing a large, comfortable family gathered to celebrate the life of their matriarch…
Down home, down the street, down the road — we happily discover our quiet moments and places and savor their comfort.
Margaret Dabbs is a freelance columnist who resides in Jasper. Her column appears every other Wednesday in the Lifestyles section. Comments and suggestions are welcomed by contacting Dabbs at 205-387-2829.