BULLARD, Ga. — The great room at the Charlane Plantation lodge is spectacularly and authentically rustic in design from its polished hardwood floors to the massive beams high above. It features an impressive stone fireplace and a wooden bar carved from timber harvested from the plantation's sprawling forestland.
As owner Rose Lane Leavell pauses in describing to a visitor one of the finer points of the restored 1835 farmhouse, her husband sits down at a thoroughly modern, gleaming black Yamaha grand piano situated in one corner of the airy room.
With the slightest encouragement, Chuck Leavell launches into a rousing, yet soulful blues number, singing and playing in a Southern boogie style that instantly recalls the best of his former band, the legendary Allman Brothers.
Music fans around the world instantly would recognize Leavell, the legendary keyboardist who became known as the "sixth Rolling Stone," playing, recording and touring with Mick Jagger and Co. since 1982. He also has held his own onstage with Eric Clapton, George Harrison and other rock greats.
But in other circles he's just as well known as a conservationist, a nationally recognized tree farmer and an environmental activist.
Around these parts, Chuck and Rose Lane Leavell also are famous for running an excellent lodge that caters to nature lovers, photographers, artists, hunters and people who just love the outdoors.
"We offer four-day retreats for artists, photographers, bird-watchers and just anybody who enjoys taking nature walks or just relaxing on the porch," said Rose Lane, an artist herself whose work adorns the walls of the Leavells' home and the bedrooms and hallways of the plantation's Bullard House and Lodge, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The retreats include expert instruction in plein-air painting and photography, if desired, forest tours, overnight accommodations in beautifully appointed bedrooms and "old-fashioned Southern cooking," some of it prepared by Rose Lane, she noted.
Shorter stays also are available at the 2,500-acre plantation, which offers canoe rides and, in season, quail, deer and turkey hunting, complete with dogs and guides.
"We try to offer a memorable experience for anyone who loves the outdoors, in a truly green environment," said Rose Lane, who inherited the south Georgia forestland from her grandmother in the 1980s and since has been the driving force in developing the plantation as a place for visitors to experience "a true Southern forest."
The Leavells live on the property and with a sizable staff work the tree farm as a sustainable timber forest, employing environmentally sound methods that have earned them national recognition as conservationists.
"Rose Lane comes from a family tradition of being strong stewards of the land, of people who feel a responsibility to take care of our environment," said Chuck, who credits his wife with energizing his own latent love for nature, nurtured in his native Alabama.
Chuck Leavell met Rose Lane White in 1972 in nearby Macon, where she worked in the office at Capricorn Studios. The young musician had followed his musical muse from Birmingham.
Leavell joined Greg Allman and the Allman Brothers for "Brothers and Sisters" in 1973. Greg's brother, Duane, was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1971.
Chuck and Rose Lane also married in 1973 and, belying the stereotypical rock 'n' roll lifestyle, have been partners ever since, balancing Chuck's life on the road with the Rolling Stones and others with the business of running a tree farm, a plantation and a family, raising two daughters and now spoiling two grandchildren.
Leavell is not your typical celebrity activist, having instead walked the walk of environmental consciousness and preservation for decades. He has studied the science of conservation (he was named National Outstanding Tree Farmer in 1999 by American Tree Farm System) and put sound environmental practices in place at Charlane Plantation.
He has written three books on the subject, including an illustrated children's book on tree farming, and his latest, "Growing a Better America," (Evergreen Arts) drew praise from a fellow Georgian, former President Jimmy Carter, and actor/environmental activist Ed Begley Jr.
In his spare time, Chuck Leavell has co-founded the Mother Nature Network website, whose stated goal is to provide "the most accurate and up-to-date news and information available … (and) cover the broadest scope of environmental and social responsibility issues on the Internet ... for everyday people."
At age 59 but looking younger, Leavell has not retired from music — far from it. He is working with singer John Mayer on an album, expected to be released before the end of the year, and that collaboration is expected to include a concert tour.
Leavell is particularly excited about a project he is working on to record a collection of classic blues songs, playing with several of the dwindling number of artists of that genre from the 1930s, '40s and '50s.
Which is yet another example of Leavell's appreciation of his roots and devotion to preservation of things that touch the soul — from music to his beloved forestland.
Charlane Plantation is off Interstate Highway 16 near Macon. Retreats start at $350 per person per day. For more information, see charlane.com or phone firstname.lastname@example.orgCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times