Friday, June 27, 2008

A different kind of bull - - - - - - for Charlotte

Things learned while looking up other things:

You'd think the state legislatures of North and South Carolina had covered just about every state symbol possible. We have the N.C. state mammal (grey squirrel), the N.C. state reptile (Eastern box turtle), the N.C. state vegetable (sweet potato, although you can insert political joke here about various not-very-energetic elected officials). South Carolina has a comparable list, including the S.C. state snack food (boiled peanuts). Want to know more? Click here.

But we lack a state soil. Turns out a number of other states have adopted state soils. Examples: Illinois — Drummer silty clay loam. Massachusetts -- Paxton soil series. Kentucky -- Crider soil series. Florida -- Myakka fine sand.

North Carolina has a variety of regionally distinct soils. I don't know the scientific names for them, but the flat sandy expanses of Eastern North Carolina are not the same as the thick red clay of the Piedmont. And smack between them lies the Sandhills, which is of course white sandy soil.

But let me propose, if not a state soil, then an official Charlotte soil: Bull tallow.

Ever heard of it? Welcome to my world, or at least, my garden. It’s a thick, yellow-gray clay with, near as I can tell, no plant-supporting properties whatsoever. Red clay soil is heavy, but put some compost and humus in it and it will grow all kinds of wonderful things. Not so bull tallow.

A bit of online research I did seemed to point to bull tallow being a folk name for kaolin, a clay used for pottery and ceramics. Hmmm. But here's why I nominate bull tallow: You really shouldn't build on it, because it expands and contracts dramatically when wet or dry, making the land unstable. So, um, why again have so many houses around Charlotte, and in Union County as well, been built on it? (I've even heard it called the Foxcroft bull tallow.) Guess some developers just wanted to make a little money, and the specter of perpetually cracking home foundations for decades to come wasn't really their concern.

Which, of course, makes it quintessentially “Charlotte.”


Anonymous said...

No state soil? Barbarians!

Anonymous said...

Oh come on! Of course the red clay should be the official state soil of North Carolina. That's what we're famous for down here. All my out of state friends ask me why the dirt is so red.

As for developers building houses on bad soil, of course we know they're buddy buddy with the foundation repair guys. These things keep th economy going y'know. ;)

surfshark said...

bull tallow has a particular smell. if you walk down willow oak right now you can smell it w/ all the construction going on.

they've leveled the big house at townes and willow oak--looks like they're going to put up houses all the way down to little sugar creek.

i used to have a job on a swimming pool construction crew, and seemed like every time you dug a hole you hit bull tallow. seems like it might be hard to avoid building on it.

Anonymous said...

Mary I just picked up some Bull tallow a yello /gray clay and its terrific for pottery; They grazed a huge hill by steele creek 3 miles from the buster boy bridge Lake wylie; This was perfect for pottery and i was going to keep some for a little later on; not much grows in the red clay either; George Washington had the same trouble in in Mt. Vernon so by hand they brought up buckets of Loam from the potomac and sand and the place grew like weeds. Fish poop and sea shells Is what It was on the creek bottom .

tarhoosier said...

I have an enormous appreciation for grave diggers in the pre-mechanized Carolinas. How they accomplished their task, with picks and shovels in that hard clay earth, and then were able to climb out when it rained; I shiver to think even now.

David McKnight said...

Honoring the bull tallow might inspire some revised lyrics to a famous song, for example:

"Try to remember,
"The soils of September,
"From Derita and Dilworth
"Clear out to Monroe.

"Try to remember,
"The glow of the embers,
"When the Checkers hit the ice
"In those autumns so nice.

"Try to remember,
"The soils of September,
"Bull tallow, tallow, tallow..."

Anonymous said...

How about Sen. John Edwards?

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