Garden & Gun

May/June 2012

Since I first made his acquaintance in the 1980s, it’s always been the same. He comes out and invites you in. The greeting is never about him. In our history he’s never been the Great Man Behind the Huge Wooden Desk. Instead, he’s up and working in his Atlanta office, greeting you himself in the outer seating area. Or he’s coming up from a trout stream on one of his properties when he hears your car arrive (until recently, with his wonderful and often creek-drenched Labs, Roxy and Chief). Or he’s just come in from some sort of work on the land.

And then, he always extends his right hand and smiles. Above the smile, and below pale blue eyes that on occasion can focus terrifyingly, there’s always that famous Rhett Butler mustache. His handshake is firm but friendly.

On this day, I’ve arrived at his 8,800-acre plantation outside Albany, Georgia. As I approach the house, walking up the sandy, peagravel driveway—beneath the shade of enormous live oaks with rows of azaleas whose blossom pods are getting fat and will soon bloom along the driveway’s edges—he comes out from his study on the main house’s right side.

This is his latest purchase. He bought it from a friend in a “gentleman’s agreement” that if the friend ever wanted to sell, well, Turner just might be in a buying mood. After all, he has been coming here to hunt quail for three decades.

To get to the house, you drive up an almost mile-long single track of sandy gravel. Flights of native quail sail off in clouds from the fields along the roadside as the car crunches past. You know you’re getting close when—after passing several covey fields and forests—you begin to notice horses’ hoofprints in the roadbed sand. Then you see the white peaked barn on the right and its boardfenced paddocks.

This morning, as Turner comes out to meet me, he’s dressed in thorn-proof khakis tucked into tall snake-proof hunting boots. His face is less craggy than in recent years. He seems to have gotten more sleep. At seventy-three, he is still tall and lean. He has a khaki shirt on, the sleeves rolled up his forearms. “Heyyyyy…how ya been?” he says. He extends his right hand as he comes down the low stairs of the house. “It’s been too, too long.” Along with the Southern manners and the warm friendliness that resides beneath, Ted Turner has risen to be an American authentic. He is both self-made and unique, and he has made his life into what he wanted through hard work and concentrated thought and constant, focused effort. Consider this as an example: As a younger man, and a dedicated and sometimes competitive sailor, he decided to win the America’s Cup. Then, according to his son, Beau, he basically sailed and trained his crew and team for two years. And then, Dad went and did it.

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