A place of refuge: Bedfords cultivate outdoor beauty
FRANKLIN LIVING—On 200 acres north of downtown, one Russellville family has created their own North Alabama paradise. Ospreys and bald eagles fish the 12-acre lake, where geese and ducks find sanctuary. Deer wander along the wood line, and rabbits nest in the vegetable garden in peace. Fruit trees blossom and produce, and flowers bloom by the multitudes.
Roger and Maudie Bedford call this Russellville refuge home.
When the couple purchased the property 20 years ago, the previous owners had broken the dam for the lake for liability purposes. “They didn’t want people going out there and fishing and getting hurt,” Roger explained. He had the dam repaired and the lake expanded, and after building a house on the property in the late 1990s, the family moved to their new home.
“It’s the beauty of living in a great town like Russellville because it’s 3.5 miles and one traffic light to get to the law office. I feel fortunate to have lived here all my life and raised my son and family here,” added Roger, calling himself “a good ol’ country lawyer.” The former senator and local attorney serves as county attorney for Franklin and city attorney for Red Bay, among his other career endeavors. “It’s very relaxing to me to come in from being on the road in politics or practicing law and just sit by the lake.”
Of course, Roger and Maudie don’t “just sit” by the lake. They are both avid fishermen, and Roger frequently hosts family and friends to go fishing. He stocks the lake each year with tilapia in the spring – to provide feed for the bass, which are plentiful in the lake in multiple strains. Shellcracker, black crappie, bream and rainbow trout are also abundant.
When they aren’t fishing, the Bedfords can frequently be found enjoying the ducks. A duck pagoda floating on the lake provides six domesticated mallards a safe place to rest and lay eggs. “You can go down there and quack, and they’ll be on the other side of the lake, and they’ll swoop over because they know we have some cracked corn to give them,” said Roger. He purchased the mallards at the Northwest Alabama Cattle Auction. “I thought they’d look good out on the lake.”
“We take care of our ducks and feed our ducks usually twice a day,” said Maudie, who now serves as director of the Southern Development Council after a career in radio. “It’s just become a part of our lives. They like cracked corn the best, so we give them cracked corn and sunflower seeds. If we don’t feed them, they come stand out in the road when we’re driving away. You have to be very aware when you’re going because they’ll block you from going until you bring them something.”
When the ducks first joined the family, the Bedfords realized bats and other predators would eat the baby ducks and geese, and there was no safe place for them to take shelter. One memorable day convinced Maudie that something had to be done. “One day I was outside and heard this horrible commotion and saw this goose going down under the water,” Maudie said. “I paddled the boat out, and a turtle had a baby goose, and the mother and father were pecking the turtle, trying to make the turtle let go.” She hit the turtle over the head with the paddle until it let go – and the gosling lived. That was when the Bedfords decided to add some islands – created from floating Styrofoam, turf and an anchoring device – and the duck pagoda as a safehouse for the mallards, plus duck boxes for the wild wood ducks.
Six baby geese have made the lake their home this year, and a wild duck had eight or so babies on the lake. The only other danger these waterfowl face is from the Bedfords’ Labrador Retrievers, brothers named Bruni and Maximus. “They have learned they can chase the geese but not the ducks – that makes Maudie mad,” Roger said.
“The ducks know when we walk in the morning that we have the dogs, and they don’t get near us,” Maudie said. “When the labs chase the ducks, it just scares me to death. But so far, no problems with the labs catching ducks.”
Away from the lake, Maudie dedicates much of her leisure time to her garden.
“I love my garden. Before we moved here, at the other house I tilled and had it out in the yard. I did a raised bed garden here,” Maudie said. “I get up really early and go out when it’s cool in the summer and work in it for an hour or two.” She grows a variety of produce, including radishes, lettuce, asparagus, beans, blueberry bushes and tomatoes – 28 different kinds. “There’s nothing like tomatoes in the summer,” she said. The property also boasts nut, berry and blossoming trees – “for the wildlife to enjoy as much as us,” Roger said. Cherry, oak, pear and plum trees are among the varieties.
Maudie uses her harvest to make jams, jellies, pies and tomato ketchup, not to mention delicious home-cooked meals. “I love to cook; that’s probably the thing I do best in life,” Maudie said. “Having a garden just really goes along with that. Having had breast cancer, I’m really careful about eating fresh vegetables with no pesticides. I know where it all comes from.”
She is generous with her produce, sharing with friends and family who are thankful for the homegrown fruits and veggies. She also dedicates a portion for the wildlife: Deer and turkeys share the Bedford home, and the couple often feeds them corn, watermelons and any vegetables from Maudie’s garden that have gone to seed, along with leftovers, at the edge of the woods. Last year a rabbit nested in one of her raised beds – and that was OK. “There was plenty for everybody,” Maudie said.
Both Maudie and Roger were raised to enjoy the outdoors, animals and plants, and they both said they value that heritage that gives them an appreciation for their Russellville home. “It’s nice to walk and have room for your animals to run around and have a place to roam,” Maudie said. “It’s a lot of upkeep, but that’s what I’m used to.”
“I enjoy the opportunity to be away from the phone and away from the hustle and bustle,” added Roger. “If you’re sitting on a boat or in the woods when the sun comes up and the Lord starts to wake the world up – that’s just a special time to feel God’s grace.” He said one of his favorite activities is to watch the sunset with Maudie and the dogs and “just enjoy the beauty God has created. We’re all stewards of God’s creation, and I think it’s important we try to improve and preserve the great beauty that is Alabama and America.”
The Bedfords have one son, Roger Bedford III, who works with the University of Alabama sports program in player recruitment and retention.
PHOTOS BY CHRISTOPHER WEBB