“From a scientific point of view, it can be said he [Thoreau] documented for the first time how ecological succession works … The mechanism was animals and weather. Squirrels carry acorns so oak trees replace pine when the pines are cut down. And pine seeds blow over to replace the oak.” – Richard T. Forman
I started writing this piece about two weeks ago. I was talking about succession over trend with a colleague and she asked me to put down my thoughts about how that worked. And so I started…and as I was writing, the question of trend began to appear in the press and this story seems on one hand less important and on the other hand more important. I’ll let you be the judge. In any case, thank you for coming here. Thank you for reading:
There is a small stop at milepost 330.2 on the Natchez Trace Parkway called Rock Spring Nature Trail. I’ve been going to this spot on the Natchez Trace since I was a little girl. Perk, my maternal grandfather, used to take me (and all of the cousins) there en route to Colbert Ferry park on the “other side” of the Tennessee River from our home. From there, we would launch his small fishing boat and run the trotline of baited hooks for catfish (more on this boat and Perk’s trotline coming soon).
Rock Spring is a natural aquifer that merges with Colbert Creek where this nature trail now stands. The creek is a small, meandering stream of rare beauty (see the photo above)—named after George Colbert—who ran the Ferry that crossed the Tennessee River along the Trace before the days of a bridge.
Large stepping stones now create a pathway across the Colbert Creek to a trail rising towards a hilly land that, until recently, was covered in hardwoods. I should mention that this creek, and the Natchez Trace parkway, is just a stone’s throw from the land where my Grandfather Perk was born and raised—in a community called Rhodesville. It only occurs to me as I’m writing this that he most likely visited this spot often in his youth. Perk was born in 1906, in a time before the ice maker would grace every Southern home. And I can attest that the cold water bubbling up out of the aquifer is a welcome relief in the sweltering, hot heat of an Alabama summer. I drank this water often as a child on trips to and from the boat launch with Perk. And I came back often as I grew older. I brought my son Zach there in the 1980s, and my dog for walks in the 2000s. Now, I take Maggie, who is learning to appreciate the art of sitting still.
But it was in the 2000s—and as I began building the business that has become Alabama Chanin—that I first learned of the concept of succession on the new National Park plaques that appeared at Rock Spring.
This plaque in question—and pictured below—described “succession” and its effect on the surrounding geography. You see, it happened that sometime between 1980 and 2000, beavers built a dam where the Rock Spring Aquafer and Colbert Creek merge. Subsequently, a beaver pond formed and, through succession, the landscape changed.
The plaque reads:
Creation of dams dramatically changes the environment. Water-loving plants move in and replace vegetation that requires less moisture. Over time the area will continue to change. If the water supply increases, the area will continue to widen and flood, yet resemble what you see here today. With less water the area may fill in with dense grasses, sedges, and shrubs—the start of a marsh that will later develop into a meadow through a process called succession. An influx of new plants may alter the types of wildlife in this area.
And it was that day I first began to understand that a collection could be like the environment— slowly evolving, morphing, and changing—and that a trend could be something that describes a slow movement over a decade (or two).
And that day, I started designing collections that would flow from one to the other, not based on trends, not based on fashion cycles, but based on the life of a woman, my life as a designer, and the ever-changing and evolving wardrobe that grows in each of our closets.
Today, I’m still learning how this process works and I’m still working on the idea that a collection begins in a landscape where trends and succession meet.
Photo of Stepping Stones at Rock Spring Nature Trail courtesy of the National Parks Service; other pictures from Alabama Chanin