Sunday, August 23, 2015

August 22, 2015 The Cottonwood Trail, In the Time of Butterflies

It is the time of fullness, the time of harvest;  the boardwalk is being overcome with green branches and vines trailing over it. The poison ivy is dark green and verdant, dripping urisol on unexpecting hikers and the coats of dogs. Again, after rains, the water is high. The gnats and mosquitoes are out in droves.  There is a field of vibrant zinnias along the way, deep pinks, brilliant oranges and reds, soft yellows and even the occasional white bloom.  On a path through tall bushes and brambles, there are pink Scottish thistles growing over ten feet in height. Near the wetlands are Dutchman's britches, the white massed blooms of Confederate Jasmine, yellow woodland sunflowers, a tiny red flower on a vine, bunches of small purple blossoms on long stems hanging over the boardwalk.  In a field of brown grasses, tiny white spiders have made thousands of DVD sized delicate webs, glistening, ghostly in the morning dew.

Reaching the creek, I scare up a group of deer drinking water on the near side. They plunge, splashing into the water and up the far bank into the woods.  Where I found the snake skin, a bridge has fallen off the muddy bank, but right away, someone has shored up the path.

At home, in my yard, I can hardly step for the countless hoppy toads that scatter along the ground before me.

And there at my back porch, the butterfly bush is full of yellow swallow tailed winged creatures, opening and closing their wings, mysteriously flittering into life and out again.  Butterfly, in Greek, psyche, the word also for soul.

"He leadeth me beside the still waters
He restoreth my soul"

The 23rd psalm, The Holy Bible

* The yellow tiger swallow tailed butterfly is the state butterfly of South Carolina.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

August 17, 2015 Rivers Bridge State Park "Dream of Battlefields No more"

From my home in the Upstate, along the escarpment of the Blue Ridge, which you can see from a good day, blue and gray undulating bands holding up the sky, it was a round trip of 524 miles down to Erhardt in Bamburg County. This is counting wrong turns in Aiken in a down pour and my accidental trip to the back entrance to the Savannah River Site (known in gallows humor by the locals as the "bomb plant") where I was met by a highly armed man in body armor. He was not glad to see me, but showed me on my map where I made my mistake in Barnwell by turning right instead of left on Hwy 64, the low country highway.

I had begun my trip early; everywhere the yellow school buses breaking my heart, scrubbed, blank faced children standing by the road with their backpacks under a buttermilk sky.

I passed through Kirksey after Greenwood with a pasture of white goats and an old store with a big fat black and white cat curled asleep on a red porch swing.

 I drove down through historic Edgefield, "home to 10 governors--
Edgefield has had more dashing brilliant romantic firgues, statesmen, orators, soldiers,, adventurers and daredevils than any other county of South Carolina, if not of any rural county of American" W.W. Bull,
"The State that Forgot" this on the side of a building, near the square.  It is also the home to the National Wild Turkey Federation (see the giant turkeys painted by artists all over town).  One turkey has has an expanse of pottery painted on its wing, attesting to the famous Edgefield Pottery Works where the enslaved potter "Dave" created his artful jugs.

Passing under I-20 before Aiken, Hwy 19 becomes Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.  Within the lovely still lively downtown, Hwy 19 becomes Whiskey Road, down to New Ellerton. 278 to Barnwell and 64 to Rivers Bridge. Just before the park,  I pass a large ornate gate at a field proclaiming:  "Stuck Kin Our Swamp"
.
Here it is the swamp of the two branched Salkehatchie river (a tributary of the Combahee). And  here at the end of the Civil War on February 2 and 3, 1865, at the crossing called Rivers Bridge, Confederate troops vainly tried to delay Sherman's march up country to burn Columbia.

At the Ranger Station, I meet John White, Ranger and Archaeologist, who is on light duty recovering from knee surgery and takes the time to give me what he calls the "very short history of the park and battle", which did set the stage for a end of the war, the burning of Columbia and Sherman's march into Virginia to meet Lee.
He draws me a map of the Memorial and the Battlefield so that I can take the road down to the Salkehatchie River and Swamp.  At the Memorial, rangers and the State Archaeologist are mapping the ground in anticipation of making either penetrating ground radar or ground resistance testing to search for the remains of the unknown buried dead soldiers.  10 years after the battle, residents of the community had disinterred the remains of many and placed them in a single grave just here where local women later placed a large general headstone with the words"

Soldiers rest, your warfare o'er,
Sleep the sleep that knows not breaking,
Dream of battlefields no more,
Days of danger, nights of wakeing."

My friend from nearby Hampton tells of attending the Spring Memorial every Spring while growing up.

The trail to the battleground is a mile out and another back, an easy walk on white sand and pine needles. You must cross a road and come to the battlefield, pass by to the swamp where Union soldiers froze in the rain in the dead of winter.  There is a great blue heron and some turtles, cypress and cypress knees. No copperheads or water moccasins about which John White warned me. Even so, I carried a stick.

I travel under black clouds, occasionally letting down heavy rain. On Whiskey Rd in Aiken, I pass statues of horses painted by artists. This is horse country, in fact. On the far side of town, I pass --
Off Da Chain Seafood and Mo, which is unfortunately closed and boarded up and the the Booyah Bar and Grill which appears to still be in business.

Much thanks to John White, to whom I am indebted for enlightenment in history and for helping me get back to Highway 64 (without going to the bomb plant) and home again before dark.

Monday, August 10, 2015

August 9, 2015 Francis Biedler Forest "Brake for Snakes...and Turtles"

I can't tell you how to get there. You will have to ask.  I don't know if GPS will do it.  It is really out in the boondocks, the sticks, the outback, out in the country. Traveling East on I-26, take exit 177 after going under I-95, about 7 miles and go into the town of Harleyville.  From there, you are on your own. But the address is 336 Sanctuary Rd., Harleyville, South Carolina 29448.  Believe me, it is worth the trip.

The Biedler Forest is an Audubon Center. Down the dirt road, you will find a well equipped station with guides, gift shop, rest rooms, outdoor picnic tables and after a $10.00 adult fee, the entrance to the 1.75 mile boardwalk winding through the last and tallest stand of Cypress-Tupulo Swamp in the world. Yes, I said, in the world.  It is the summer (spring and fall) home to the protonotary warbler, a little yellow bird who makes its home in the hollows of the thousands of Cypress knees rising up from the black muddy soil of the swamp.
When I last visited here, it was winter and the yellow bird had gone down to South America.

I returned in hopes of meeting this yellow warbler, the mascot of the center.  And I did meet him.
But first we traveled along the boardwalk until a blue eyed, grey haired New Zealand Birder, armed with binoculars, approached and pointed out not one, but two 5 foot long brown water snakes, their brown, yellow striped underbellies bulging with recent dinners.

We came to a high observatory stand built over a lake brimming with turtles swimming and sunning on logs.
It was there that I saw the yellow birds flitting around in the tops of the trees.  The New Zealander was there and a young landscaper from Columbia who was also a birder.  They pointed out the wood stork flying far up in the blue heavens above us, the great blue heron perched on a log down the lake, a little blue heron flying up from the bank.

Going back along the boardwalk, we meet a young woman and man  using binoculars to watch small birds high in the trees, attempting identification.  She tells me to get the "merlin" app of Cornell Lab Ornithology which will help me identify birds on a smart phone. You enter size, location, at most three colors, where the bird is sighted (such as soaring, in bushes, on a fence etc.) and then you will be offered a series of possible photos.  You may even be able to hear the recording of the bird's voice.  It is almost like having a teacher or birder guide with you.

This area is known as Four Holes Swamp. The Biedler Forest Center offers guided canoe trips in May and  monthly night walks.

Notice the sign upon entering Sanctuary Rd:  "Brake for Snakes....and Turtles" and the admonition in the Center: "May the Forest Be With You."

And so it will.
( If we take care of it.)

August 8, 2015 Givhan's Ferry: "This, the Way to the Stars"

I slept on the porch over the North Edisto River, watching the stars overhead which seemed to dance and disappear with the drifting of clouds. Before light, I head the call, "WhaaWooooo..Wa Wa Wa Whooooo" close by and then an answering call upriver.  I have heard it here before.  I think it is coyotes.

We visited Drayton Hall Plantation built by John Drayton in 1738. Over the great mantel in the Ballroom is the motto of the Drayton family inscribed in Latin and translated "This, the way to the stars".  We walked the long grassy path from the house down to the Ashley River where ancient oaks lean over the waters.

Givhan's Ferry is found just off highway 61, "the Ashley River Rd" about 25 miles north of Charleston past the plantations of Drayton, Middleton and Magnolia.  The four cabins here were built by the CCC in the 40's.  There is camping with hookups and primitive camping.

"Floaters" drift down the dark tannin colored waters of the North Edisto on colorful tubes and rafts.  I floated this river once at just this place.  Nearby on the water, a gang of teenagers were yelling and diving for their truck keys which had gone overboard into the drink.  A drunk woman motored her boat wildly up and down the river, pushing my float from side to side, interrupting the zen like travel down this beautiful ancient waterway.

Five years ago, my mother died in April at the age of 98. Two weeks later, her sister died as well. They had always done things together; gone to nursing school together, gotten married the same year, had their first child within a month of each other.  And now they had taken their last long journey together.  My cousins, Ruth and Grace and I went together on the weekend of Mother's Day to Givhan's Ferry after their passing. There was a Pow Wow of the Edisto Tribe in nearby Ridgeville and we took our folding chairs to watch.
Under a tent, men played the big drums in a circle while other male tribe members danced dances of the hunt.  In honor of mothers and Mother's Day, all women were invited to dance in an only women's dance, even if you were not Native American. Ruth and Grace declined, but I joined the dancers.  There was no way to tell if I was a member of the tribe.  The chief's son was blond and blue eyed. Another primary dancer had the skin and features of Africa.  The dancing women took me in and showed me how to dance the age old dance.

On another visit to the park, we were honored to see a local church baptizing members in the waters of the river.  Ministers stood waist deep in the water and dunked believers. Several old men bound to wheelchairs were carried out, the old and infirm, as well as the young and healthy with tribal tatoos.

 Today I take the Nature Trail of 1.6 miles through the forest.  It begins beyond the camping areas and near a picnic shelter which has a horse shoe playing ground. The trail glances the edge of the Limestone Cliffs on the banks of the river. 30 million years ago, the ocean was here and left layer upon layer of sea animals which created the alkaline soil where plants live which are otherwise unusual to the acid soil of South Carolina.
I come to a fallen tree still bearing green leaves and go off trail through poison ivy and brambles for a while.
There is then a wooden bridge over a stream dried now to mud.  Coming off the trail onto the athletic field, I meet two women who have been geocaching.  They tell me they have found all of the caches in the park.

At the cabin, we cook waffles with strawberries on top and drink coffee and tea on the porch over the river.
We are in the zone.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

July 30, 2015 110 Calhoun Street

The Emanuel A.M.E. church sits a half block off the intersection of Meeting St and Calhoun St. in Charleston, initially organized in 1891, it was named "Emanuel", meaning 'God With Us" in 1865 and has the oldest African American congregation south of Baltimore.

It was the site of a massacre of nine members on June 17, 2015 during a prayer service.  On June 22, thousands linked arms, sang and walked across the Ravenel Bridge in support of the victims, their families and the congregation.

On July 10, we watched the Confederate Fight Flag come down from the South Carolina State House grounds.

I walked from the Music Hall which is close by.  The facade of the building is amassed with wreaths and bouquets of flowers. The old Welcome Banner is now covered with prayers and condolences from thousands of people.  Twenty foot square signs proclaiming "Forgive Us As We Have Been Forgiven" have been erected to take the overflow of writings. Even the fire hydrant near by is covered with signatures and prayers. A new purple brass plaque proclaims inside a heart , "We Are U9+ed in Faith and Love and has the names of the slain.

I leave my small note, "Time Passes, Love Lights the Way" nearly invisible among the thousands and complete my walk down Meeting Street, back up King and around John Street again to the Music Hall.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

July 25, 26, 27 28, 2014 A Snake Skin on the Banks of the Creek

Everyday, it is so hot, that the thunder storms that sometimes crack the darkening sky in the afternoons seem like the monsoons of the Rajasthan desert.  Everyday at dawn, I go to the Cottonwood Trail before the intense heat.  The storms have done little to fill the wetlands back up.  The reeds are turning brown reaching up from the mud.  One morning I can see not one but two Great Blue Herons perched high up in the tops of the dead trees in the wetlands.  There are deer tracks in the mud.  There is a flock of goldfinches careening around in the damp warm air. A doe picks her way through the bending grasses.

One day, I hear the deep and distant chanting of a large group of human beings.  They are coming closer, breaking the orchestral music of the cicadas, the crickets and the birds with their "sound off".  A group of ROTC students with their leaders are marching through the forest, calling out their sound off.

As children, we had a sound off that went like this:

I left my wife and 49 kids,
the old gray mare
and the peanut shells.
All because I thought it was right,
Right,
Right through the cornfield
Right by jingo (skip into the air and change feet)
Left
Left
Left
I left my wife and 49 kids
the old gray mare
and the peanut shells
Without any hamburgers
Left
left

Another day, I found a snake skin curled on the bank high over the creek.  I took it home.
The skin can mean, change, rebirth, the sloughing off of the old ways that are no longer viable.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

July 13, 2015 Great White Swamp Flowers

At dawn, the wetlands are dry as a bone, still as the grave.  Hardly a bird sings, too early  now for the cicadas.  It  is overcast with white clouds, windless, airless without a leaf stirring, already  70 degrees.

All of the worshipers at the Emanual Church have been laid to rest.  The Confederate battle flag has been taken down from the statehouse grounds.  The people sang: Na, na, na na...Na na na naaaa...goodbye.

All across the drying wetlands, swamp flowers are in glorious bloom. Giant white blossoms, deep dark red at the base of the stamens.