Monthly Archives: August 2020

Set in Stone


Photography by Rhonda Hall

If you build it, they will come. The Rock Garden in Calhoun, Georgia is a testament to that.

If you’re looking for a relaxing way to spend an early fall afternoon, then you might want to consider visiting Paris’ pre-fire Notre Dame Cathedral or the Colosseum of ancient Rome. Yes, we know you can’t travel back in time and that air travel to Europe is restricted now because of the coronavirus pandemic. And you can hardly visit Paris or Rome in a day.

However, we know a secret. Tucked behind the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Calhoun, Georgia, The Rock Garden: A Place of Prayer, is home to more than 50 miniature stone structures, including the Notre Dame and the Colosseum. And since a car trip to Calhoun just might be the next-best thing to international travel these days, the peaceful little place, which is not more than an acre in size, is waiting.

“It’s designed as a nice, quiet place for people to come admire nature, meditate and think about their creator,” says Mike Miller, maintenance manager of The Rock Garden.

While the setting might be humble, visitors nevertheless should prepare to be impressed.

Solitude and Serenity
The intricate mini structures are made out of tiny stones, pebbles, shells, odd pieces of broken glass and china, ceramic tile, wire, cement and other craft materials. The creations also include other cathedrals, a monastery, castles, towns and bridges, and they’re all designed to mimic their larger counterparts. They share another common characteristic as well.

“All of the structures are from medieval times,” Miller says.

In addition to the Notre Dame – complete with stained glass windows, of course – and the Colosseum, a stroll along the stone garden paths leads to other historic places. Visitors can get a glimpse of a diminutive Dover Castle, a fortress that is known as the “key to England” and has played a crucial role in the country’s defense for more than nine centuries.

They can explore the little town of Bethlehem, which took a year to build, or Nottingham, where legendary outlaw Robin Hood stole from the rich to give to the poor. Paris, the City of Lights, when it was merely a village, is represented as well.

A replica of Japan’s Himeji Castle can transport visitors to East Asia. Also known as White Heron Castle because of its elegance and white appearance, the structure is widely considered as Japan’s most spectacular castle for its imposing size, beauty and well-preserved grounds. Unlike many other Japanese castles, this feudal building never was destroyed by war, earthquake or fire and survives to this day as one of the country’s 12 original castles.

An unfinished replica of Jerusalem also is underway. While construction has been put on hold, Miller says it could resume in the fall.

Some of the other constructions have religious themes as well, and some places have scriptures inscribed in walkways or walls. The Ten Commandments tablets are embedded, broken, in one of the walkways.

“We also have painted rocks with Bible verses and promises on them to emphasize God’s love,” Miller says.

The Rock Garden is a great place for a family outing, or – just in case you haven’t had enough me time lately – it’s the perfect spot to find a little bit of solitude and serenity. While you might be alone with your thoughts, however, you’ll still have some company with you.

If you peek inside the buildings, you’ll see porcelain people in various rooms and nooks and crannies of the tiny structures, and porcelain animals dot the landscape. Some of the figures are only 2 inches tall.

Self-Guided Fun
The whimsical garden is the brainchild of DeWitt “Old Dog” Boyd, a California native who started creating the tiny villages for his eight children as a family game. Each time his family moved, he would reconstruct a tiny village for his children. He also made an alter-ego porcelain figure for each child.

“He was a sculptor by trade, and he would make intricate little figures,” says Miller. “This started as an amusement and a hobby for him.”

In 2007, the self-described “scoundrel” started the rock garden to keep himself “out of trouble.” Later, his wife, Joyce, joined him in his efforts, and she started building most of the structures in 2014 while he concentrated on the porcelain figures. The couple has since moved to Mississippi, but their children and 20-30 grandchildren have carried on the tradition.

“DeWitt was not trying to emphasize anything in particular,” says Miller. “He had no master plan. He just got permission from the church to start building there. The only thing he followed through on was the medieval setting.”

Originally, the tranquil spot was intended to be a prayer garden. However, it was renamed The Rock Garden because of 1 Corinthians 10:4, which says “. . . that Rock was Christ.”

Visitors can forget their troubles as they roam through the rock garden on self-guided tours, and free, onsite parking as well as picnic tables also are available.

Depending on the season, garden flowers include roses, hydrangeas, clematis, ferns and hostas. In addition, visitors can walk on a shady, 1-mile, unpaved trail behind the garden. The trail runs along a creek, up a steep hill and down the other side to the opposite side of the garden.

The property also includes a pavilion, which serves as a music or a wedding venue, and an enclosed Prayer Place. Hearts with the names of couples who were married in the garden are embedded in the rock walls that surround the Prayer Place.

About 300 to 400 people a week visit The Rock Garden, says Miller, and they come from all across the country.

“The Chamber of Commerce says it’s the biggest draw in the city,” he says.

If You Go:
What: The Rock Garden: A Place of Prayer
When: 8 a.m. – 8 p.m., seven days a week
Where: Seventh-day Adventist Church, Highway 53 South, 1411 Rome Road SW, Calhoun, Georgia
How Much: Free, but donations are accepted
More info: (706) 629-5470 or The Rock Garden Facebook page

By Morgan Davis


‘All About the Storytelling’


Photos courtesy of Mark Albertin

Regardless of the type of camera he has in his hand, a local documentary filmmaker and photographer loves to preserve special moments in time.

Growing up in Wisconsin, Augusta resident Mark Albertin knew little about the South other than the often distorted portrayal he saw of it on film and television. However, his maternal grandmother was born and raised in Augusta, so he had a connection to the region.

He moved to Georgia in 1986, but he strengthened his ties to the South even more when he made his first video – a tribute to his grandmother – as a birthday gift for his own mother years ago.

“It all comes back to the roots of where it started,” says Albertin. “I never met my grandmother, but I wanted to know who she was. My mother talked about us like we were soup. She said we came from good stock.”

As it turns out, that dive into his ancestry was a gift to himself as well. After making the video, Albertin started Scrapbook Video Productions in 2000 to produce documentary films. He made a $30,000 investment in equipment, including a high-end video production camera and editing equipment, to start the business.

“I was bitten by the bug, and I wanted to do bigger and better things,” he says. “It allows me to do the projects that I want to do.”

Many of his productions, which range from stories of towns to noted individuals, have aired on PBS and received awards from film festivals across the country. His newest film, Finding Home – 20th Century Voices of Augusta is slated to premiere late this year or early next year. Albertin had planned to hold the premiere in August at Imperial Theatre, but it has been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

This film is a revised version of Augusta Remembers, which aired on Georgia Public Television in 2000. For the original documentary, Albertin interviewed his grandmother’s contemporaries about life in Augusta from the early 1900s to the 1940s. In Finding Home, Albertin has added interviews with local residents about living in the area from the 1950s through the 1980s.

“The documentaries that include oral histories are essential. We need as a nation to listen to our older people,” Albertin says. “It gives us comfort and support and makes us feel better to know that other people lived through hard times.”

School of Hard Knocks
Albertin, who also is a professional photographer, is a self-taught filmmaker. His original skill set is in color separation for the four-color printing process. That process is flat and two-dimensional, he says, so he started attending video boot camp training classes in Atlanta and Charlotte in his spare time.

In addition, he says, “I went to the school of hard knocks where you’re up until three in the morning trying to figure something out.”

Like many documentary filmmakers, Albertin says, he followed the lead of celebrated documentarian Ken Burns, who uses archival footage and photographs, to transform a film from a product with boring narratives and static images into something more compelling.

“Ken Burns showed us that you can use voices, sound effects and music from the time period,” says Albertin. “The key is to pull people in, and you can do that with writing, sound effects, voiceovers and real people. The audience needs to engage with the film and feel a connection to the people and the subject matter.”

Albertin enjoys every aspect of filmmaking from adding movement, sound and sound effects to conducting interviews and writing the scripts. “It’s a blast to do this stuff,” he says. “It allows me to really be creative.”

He spends 80 percent of his time on video, 15 percent on photography and 5 percent writing. “I love all three of those things, and I find ways to mesh them together,” Albertin says.

He also likes to meet people and talk to them, and he has learned firsthand from people’s oral histories what it was like to live through trying times such as the Dust Bowl or the Holocaust.

“If these people are good storytellers, they take you somewhere you’ve never been,” says Albertin. “I can feel their pain when they tell me their stories. People in the twilight of their lives want to talk about their experiences for posterity.”

He spends a lot of time doing research and tracking down people, and he wants those he interviews to feel like they have been heard and respected.

“The people that know that history are the ones that are going to come and watch a premiere,” says Albertin. “The main audience that I’m appealing to is age 70-plus. To capture their stories and preserve them is a wonderful thing to do. The feeling that I get in my heart and soul is something I can’t explain.”

He often relies on narration early in his documentaries to set the stage, and he says the narrator can “make or break” a film.

“Each film has a different formula, depending on what the storyline is,” Albertin says. “Sometimes you start with the ending first. They’re not always chronological.”

Feeding the Senses
Some of his other documentaries include Displaced: The Unexpected Fallout from the Cold War, about the development of the Savannah River Site that displaced more than 5,000 residents in rural South Carolina communities, and Discovering Dave: Spirit Captured in Clay, about a literate slave potter who lived in Edgefield, South Carolina and wrote verse and poetry on his pots. He also has done a Remember series about various towns such as Augusta and Savannah in Georgia, St. Augustine and Jacksonville in Florida, Beaufort, North Carolina and Topeka, Kansas.

He made the award-winning War Stories – Augusta Area Veterans Remember World War II, in which he spent four years interviewing local veterans from all branches of the military to highlight their World War II experiences.

This project began as part of the Veteran’s History Project, which was undertaken by the Augusta Richmond County Historical Society to add to the Library of Congress Veterans History Project. To collect these oral histories, Albertin went to Brandon Wilde and interviewed 20 veterans a day.

“You’re not going to get rich making documentaries,” says Albertin, who also does promotional spots and commercial videos. “It’s the satisfaction of preserving something and creating something that makes people laugh or cry.”

The reaction to his work is something that Albertin usually experiences secondhand, however. He says he never sits in the theater when his films premiere. Instead, he dispatches his wife to join the audience while he settles in the lobby.

Maybe he should rethink that plan, however, because his wife usually tells him he should have been in the theater to see the positive reaction to his films.

“When I’m gone, I will have hopefully left something behind that people can learn from,” says Albertin. “Film was, and hopefully one day, will become a social event again. I love film because you’re seeing two things happen. You hear and see, so you’re getting two senses fed at once.”

Documentaries need to be fair and balanced, he says, and he covers difficult issues such as racial injustice in his films.

“It’s something we need to see and hear. We need to understand that it can happen again, and we need to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” says Albertin. “Everybody has their own angle on what happened.”

Blending In
When he photographs a subject, Albertin approaches it from different viewpoints as well.

“Photography is an extension of video,” he says. “It’s trying to tell a story with pieces in an artistic manner. It’s all about the storytelling. Sometimes one picture is all you need. Sometimes you need multiple pictures with multiple angles.”

His love of photography dates back to his childhood when he would borrow cameras from his father, who was a medical illustrator. And that interest “never went away.”

“I love going out and playing with old cameras. The results you get are totally different from digital,” says Albertin.

He prefers photographing landscapes to people because he finds it less stressful. “Those places are where I find peace,” he says of landscapes. “They’re getting harder and harder to find.”

He says it’s pleasant to go outside – other than having to lug all the gear around. He likes to capture the light or early morning dewdrops on leaves. When he goes into the woods, he usually is alone.

“You have to sit still for a while to blend into a setting,” Albertin says.

He is just as likely to shoot in black and white as he is in color, depending on what he wants to accomplish.

“To me, color is really at its best in the spring,” says Albertin. “Black and white is a more spiritual medium. I use black and white when I want people to notice the object and the composition. Black and white can do amazing things if you use the right filter.”

Whether he is making films or photographs, Albertin hopes his work provides people with an escape.

“I want people to be able to leave their stress, their worries and their problems behind and get into another place and see what I saw,” he says. “To me, that is another way to do something good.”

By Leigh Howard

Take it to Heart


Photos courtesy of University Health Care System

While covid-19 is a known respiratory syndrome, evidence is emerging that the virus can affect heart health as well.

The novel coronavirus has its name for a reason. From devising improved treatments to understanding its effects on the human body, the medical community is discovering more and more about covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. While covid-19 is a known respiratory syndrome, evidence is emerging that the virus can affect heart health as well.

“In cardiology journals we have seen volumes about the development of the relationship between covid and cardiovascular issues in the past six months,” says Dr. Mac Bowman, medical director, cardiovascular practices at University Health Care System. “That’s the acuity and majesty of an organized, scientific approach. We continue to learn.”

An Ounce of Prevention
People who are most at risk for cardiovascular ailments can be susceptible due to genetics or to lifestyle choices. However, Bowman emphasizes that the best way for people to avoid cardiovascular issues is to mitigate the risk factors that make them prone to heart disease.

Genetically susceptible people have a family history of heart disease, heart attacks, stroke and diabetes. While family history cannot be changed, other risk factors, which Bowman calls the “big four” — elevated blood pressure, tobacco use, abnormal lipid status and blood sugar levels — are modifiable.

Blood pressure readings should not rise above 134/84, Bowman says. As for tobacco use, regardless of the form, he says, “The appropriate amount is zero.”

Levels of HDL cholesterol (the good one) should be higher than 40 – 45 milligrams per deciliter – “the higher, the better,” and levels of LDL cholesterol (the bad one) should be below 85 mg/dL. “That has changed,” says Bowman. “It used to be below 100.” And finally, triglycerides should be below 150.

A fasting blood sugar should be 100 mg/dL or less, or a normal A1c, the average blood sugar level for three-months, is 5.7 percent or less.

Other modifiable risk factors, which have become more prevalent with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, are a sedentary lifestyle and stress that, in turn, exaggerate risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

“This has turned most individuals, most households, most work places and most hospitals askance to the direction it was before,” says Bowman.

With more people working from home, lifestyle habits have changed. “Home is supposed to be a safe space where we do the things that make us feel warm and fuzzy,” Bowman says.

However, some people who have been spending increased time at home are more isolated or are juggling work, school and childcare responsibilities. They have gained weight because they’re eating more and making poor nutrition choices. They don’t sleep well, and their heart rate and blood pressure are higher. In addition, Bowman says, homebound people are watching coronavirus news coverage that can be “depressing, disheartening and frightening.”

“If you don’t have an effective way to deal with that, it can have adverse consequences,” he adds. “It’s important to face concerns honestly and forthrightly and face them with a plan.”

In Control
First and foremost, Bowman recommends that people focus on the things they can control to safeguard themselves from covid and other health problems.

“Social distance. Wear a mask. It’s not a political statement. It lessens your ability to infect somebody else, and it protects you,” he says. “Keep yourself in the best physical and mental shape that you can. Get fresh air; go outside; walk; dance; and take your medications.”

Even people who naturally are tightly wired can find ways to dissipate stress, and physical activity is a good way to relieve tension.

“Exercise in a fun and healthy way helps blood vessels relax and helps people burn off energy in a positive way,” Bowman says.

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, people have postponed or skipped doctor’s appointments. However, Bowman stresses the need for cardiovascular patients to keep their regularly scheduled appointments.

“We try to identify evidence of a problem, and most importantly, we try to help them rectify that problem,” he says. “We do it as a team.”

At his office, like other medical practices, the staff has taken precautions to make patient visits as safe as they can. Social distancing and masks are required, and patients’ temperatures are taken. “We try to make them feel as comfortable as possible,” Bowman says.

For patients who are apprehensive about going to the office for an in-person visit, his practice offers video visits, telemedicine and phone calls to discuss lab results and medications.

“We try to give them options,” he says.

Patients’ family members currently cannot come with them to office visits, but the patients themselves often are the best advocates for their health.

“If you have a pre-existing condition, it’s important that you listen to your body,” says Bowman. “Especially if you’re in a high-risk group where you have high blood pressure, diabetes or you have felt pressure in your chest before, you can’t stay home and talk yourself out of being seen by a doctor.”

Cardiovascular patients that avoid treatment can suffer serious consequences. When people suffer a heart attack at home and delay treatment, Bowman says, they lose heart muscle and don’t get it back. This also could result in congestive heart failure later.

“People need to take care of themselves. Don’t delay if you have an issue. There are ways to be treated,” says Bowman. “The later we see you, the less we can do.”

However, taking precautions doesn’t take the risk factors down “to zero.”

“Just because you’re high risk doesn’t mean you’ll get covid, but you need to be more hyper-vigilant,” Bowman says. “And there’s twice the possibility you’ll have cardiovascular involvement.”

Covid and Cardio
The cardiologist says 20 percent of covid patients will have some enzyme elevation, which indicates that the virus has affected the heart muscle. For those who are at greater risk for heart disease, the probability of enzyme elevation jumps to 35 percent to 50 percent.

“The heart very early on identified itself as a strong player in this situation,” says Bowman.

The higher the cardiac lab abnormalities such as cell damage, inflammation or heart wall stress, he says, the greater the potential for cardiac adversity, including death.

“With covid, inflammation of the heart doesn’t mean it has irrevocable damage, but some people could have less stamina,” he says. “There are questions about the residual effects of people with moderate inflammation.”

If the virus attacks blood vessels, it can increase the possibility of a stroke. In addition, blood clots can form when small vessels in the extremities become inflamed.

“Because covid affects the blood vessels and everything traveling to the heart, it can cause life-threatening blood clots to the heart,” says Bowman. “Multiple organs can become affected, and they don’t show improvement.”

Research has shown that even athletes who have been infected with the coronavirus could be at risk for heart complications, he says, and there is a question of “how soon is too soon” for them to return to action.

Meeting the Challenge
Of covid patients, Bowman says, 75 percent to 80 percent feel bad for two to three weeks, and 10 percent to 15 percent require hospitalization. Another 5 percent to 8 percent go on a ventilator, with a minimal likelihood of getting off of it. 

Covid-19 has challenged physicians to try new strategies, the cardiologist says, and treatments have changed since March.

Initially, patients on ventilators laid on their backs. Now, however, they are put in a prone position on their stomachs, and they are improving faster. “In the covid age, it’s a routine part of pulmonary maintenance,” says Bowman.

In addition, he says, covid patients are being treated with the medications remdesivir and dexamethasone as well as blood plasma that has been donated by people who have recovered from covid-19. Patients also are put on blood thinners earlier now to treat complications of the disease.

Physicians are still learning about the virus, Bowman says. For instance, they have found that some people have T-cell lymphocytes that fight the virus and protect them from covid.

“The cells stay in the blood and have memory to attack covid, but we don’t know why,” he says.

However, Bowman calls herd immunity “potentially dangerous.”

The science is unclear if those who have contracted covid-19 are immune to future infection, and the intermediate and longer term consequences of the coronavirus are unknown. And, under a herd immunity strategy, those who are affected less severely by the disease still can pass the virus to the elderly and others who have a higher risk of mortality.

Bowman, who has been practicing medicine since 1977, believes testing and a vaccine are key to battling the pandemic.

“Getting quick testing is the next big thing we need to do, with results available in 15 minutes to two hours. Contact tracing goes out the window when it takes a longer time to get results,” he says. “Quick testing would be a usable weapon. We ought to have it. I don’t understand why we don’t.”

He is optimistic about the development of a vaccine as well.

“I believe as we get a vaccine, and we will, it won’t be an instantaneous answer. But it will be better,” he says.

The cardiologist believes people should have no reservations about getting the vaccine, but that people in high-risk categories should be the first to receive it. He also says he has never seen anything like this virus in all his years of practicing medicine.

“It’s real. It’s real. It’s humbling. It’s eye-opening. It’s challenging in every way, shape and form,” Bowman says of covid-19. “Everywhere you look, it has changed a norm. Doctors are no different. We need a level of insight, energy and humility. There is no comfort zone.”

Nevertheless, he is quite comfortable with his mantra to remind people to try to stay as healthy as possible until the pandemic ends.

“Six feet apart. Avoid crowds. Sunshine when you can. Regular exercise. Good nutrition. Wear your mask,” says Bowman. “And say your prayers – before, after, in reverse and upside down.”


By Betsy Gilliland