Wednesday, October 29, 2014

October 28, 2014 Congaree National Park, A Sounder of Wild Boars

We used to call it the Congaree Swamp, then it was the Congaree National Monument. Now it is Congaree National Park. It is actually a flood plain with some of the tallest trees in the world, tupelo, loblolly pines, American beech and bald cypress with their minions of cypress  knees sprouting up from the Dorovan muck. The clay and dead leaf muck is eight feet deep and nourishes the forest.

You can get there from I-77 and I-26 about 10 miles south of Columbia, but I take Assembly to Bluff Rd from downtown and drive 12 miles through the Cowasee Basin down back roads to the park. It is one of our last days of summer like weather, early and perfect, blue and gold, but anticipating 87 degrees in the afternoon.

I take the Weston Lake Loop trail which is about 4.5 miles.  Much of it is a boardwalk over the Dorovan muck, and then a footpath through the high sheltering trees along brown, leaf strewn Cedar Creek. Ducks fly up from the water as I approach.  In a sunny spot, Great Blue spreads his wings and settles in the branches of a tree over the water.  I pass an old still left by Moonshiners long ago.  Here along the creek are two measuring poles indicating that now the water is only two feet deep, but the levels can go up to 12 feet during flooding.

An antlered stag moves quickly across my path.  He is thick and grey and furried, not especially afraid of me. This is his home, not mine.  I hear the deep hoot of an owl and call back, but he is silent. Woodpeckers tap and birds chirp high in the trees as I approach the boardwalk and pier over Weston Lake, an oxbow of the Congaree.  I have been here before and saw countless turtles, yellow bellied and snapping just floating up and down below.  No turtles today, but coming down from the pier, a black piglet, the size of my cocker spaniel, jumps up and runs to the safety of his family.  Later the ranger tells me that a piglet is called a shoat and the group of boars is called a sounder.  There are six or eight shoats and as many large boars. Most of them are black, or dark gray and brown, but there is one middle sized boar that is bright red like a fox. Long ago, the ancestors of these pigs were brought here, some from Germany, for hunting. The ranger tells me that now they are infested with pseudo rabies and  brusolosis.  There is a management plan for them.  They look at me and walk a few steps away, rooting up the ground.

Nearing the Park Center again, I talk to a German family about the boars and then I meet a Japanese family with two small children dressed in Halloween skeleton costumes under their jackets.  The little girl holds my walking stick to inspect it.  The little boy talks to Momie-San in English and Japanese.  I have had my solitary walk, but now I can hear the loud noise of thousands of quacking geese nearby.  It is actually one hundred and twenty school children from Rice Elementary in Hardscrabble having a picnic lunch before they take the trails and see the movie.

High on the wall over the water fountains is a Mosquito Meter, something like the old arrow pointing to the numbered floors an elevator reached. 1 = All Clear  2 = mild  3 = moderate 4 = severe 5 = ruthless 6 = war zone.  I take my hiking stick and move the arrow from just over All Clear to between mild and moderate.

The Congaree floodplain was once a wild place where fierce, wild and unbroken slaves escaped from plantations, slave owners and others who tried to capture them. At the nearby place where the Congaree and the Wateree meet, they set up a Maroon village, preserving some of their African culture and adapting to their circumstances.To this day, some of their descendants abide in this beautiful wild place.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

October 21, 2014 Love Locks at Dreher Shoals Dam

Exit I-26 just above Columbia onto Lake Murray Blvd (exit 1) West. Drive just a few miles into Lexington County.  Dreher Shoals Dam holds back Lake Murray from drowning the City of Columbia.. Only in the past decade, the Army Corps of Engineers found the old dam to be so faulty that if there had been an earthquake or a severe hurricane, it could have burst and flooded Columbia, so it has been rebuilt and with the rebuilding came a 1.5 mile walk, named after Johnny W. Jeffcoat, along the dark deep waters of Lake Murray.  South Carolina Electricity and Gas asks for a fee from April 1 to September 30, but now it is free to park, or even to bring your boat to launch. (After the dam on the right is also Lexington County Public Park).

In the distance there are islands (one is named Lunch Island) where in World War II pilots learned to bomb and drop incendiary devices.  Five B25's went into the deep. Four were later brought up and salvaged, leaving one rare B25C left to find and restore in 2005.  Now that war is long off.  The remaining soldiers and pilots are growing very old.

From the top of the dam on this cool early morning, I see the blue silhouette of downtown Columbia. Across the road, the concrete bunker of the dam rises with two dozen vultures resting on its parapet.  Others circle in the morning haze.

Approaching the far side of the walkway, there is a 15 foot chain link fence with countless tiny glittering sparklers covering it.  They look like the tiny schools of silver fish flashing up from creeks.  When I arrive at the fence, I see that the silver sparklers are locks and chains. The locks  have the names of people on them, sometimes even a photograph, a date.  The occasional chains are attached in the shape of hearts.

At the end of the walk is another parking area where I meet a woman in an SUV who tells me about the locks.

They are called Love Locks and no one actually knows how the tradition began.  They are sometimes memorials to a deceased loved one or friend but more often they commemorate the love between two people, family members, a marriage.  The lock is attached and the key is thrown into the deep waters, signifying undying love, perhaps even eternity.

October 19, 2014 Great Blue, My Altar

Each morning I have gone down to the dock on the marsh at sunrise and he is there. First, he is perched far out over the creek at the end of a long palm tree leaning over against the yellow and orange sun coming up, then on the left bank already fishing and then on the bridge to the dock itself.  He is there, completely visible to me, gray and blue, haunting in his faithfulness on nearly every hike.  Sometimes I hear his wings and sometimes I know he is there and but I do not see him. I see him in my mind's eye.

On this last day, I walk the Spanish Mount Trail with Michael and his family.  The children are transformed here as are we all.  They tell us that they are no longer speaking human.  They have found a secret place down a hidden path onto a dried pluff mud shore along the marsh.  Now they scamper down the trail, wearing their coon skin caps, dragging palm fronds behind them and chortling in secret wild tongues.

We have all heard the wild language of the birds, the animals, the marsh and the sea.  One day, we too, may learn to speak it.

We are restored.

Monday, October 20, 2014

October 17, 2014 Edisto Island, Oyster Shell Kaddish

I am walking down the beach intending to cross Jeremy Creek at low tide where the big shells are, when my cell phone rings.
My dear old friend is dead.  Her death has lasted for three years, first the brain and then the body.  And now she is at peace.

Oddly, it is just here at the campground behind the big dunes where she used to come, driving down in her Mustang convertible with her son, Willie, for camping under the stars with the sound of ocean waves and the scent of the sea air.

I turn back and gather a bag full of oyster shells, the old kind battered by the tides, that have holes in them.  I buy a spool of crab trap cord at the gas station.  And then I find a gnarled spindly piece of drift wood and tie the shells to it into a makeshift wind chime.

I hung the chime on the edge of the marsh so that at night I could hear the clacking, clinking sounds of a kind of prayer for the dead, wafting across the water.

Peace.  Amen.

October 16, 2014 Charles Towne Landing, Aboriginal Eyes

On the way to Edisto, down I-26, I visit Charles Towne Landing in Charleston.  (Take exit 216 A onto Hwy 7 which is Sam Rittenburg Blvd, then left onto Hwy 171, which is Olde Towne Road (go past Charlestowne Drive) then take the next left at the stop light into Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site.

The first European settlement here was in 1671.

The Visitor's Center is flanked by gardens of sweet Grass, now blooming with cloudlike fronds of dusky pink blossoms.

In the Center, there is much to learn of Colonial history.  There are tours and demonstrations. In the park, there are replicas of a ship, the building of another ship like the rib cage of a huge whale.  There are cottages to visit, a history trail, an animal forest, a Native American exhibit, archaeological sites.  There are many paved walks.

I elect to wander around all of these things until I find the dirt trails bordering the marsh.  I find an entrance near the beautiful restored home of Ferdinanda Waring's grandparents who once owned this land. Today, there are marriages held here.

In 1941 Ferdinanda planted an avenue of oaks as an incredible approach to the house. Ferdinanda had a flower business and an egg business, around the same time mid century that my Grandmother, Katherine Quigley, had an egg business out in Leslie, SC.  She had tried to learn to drive a car in her 60's but proved so maniacal a driver that my father hired a man to drive her into town to sell her eggs.

Ferdinanda sold the property to the State of South Carolina in 1981.

I take the dirt path to the marsh and am engulfed by the intense sweetness of the Elaegnus (Elaegnus pungens, also known as Silver Thorn) which is everywhere.  Later the ranger tells me it is an invasive species.  I say let it invade for its scent alone.

I enter a side path to a "Scenic Point" where there is a bench on a sandy spit of land.  With my hiking stick, I write "Hallelujah" in the sand.

Walking back along the marsh where oaks bend gracefully over the water, dripping Spanish Moss, I look out with my "Aboriginal Eyes", something I have done since childhood, imagining I am one of the first people seeing nothing but what they saw, without modern civilization.

Silently a silver plane emerges in the deep blue heavens, seeming to hang there almost motionless. I perceive that it is a god or a demon, a flying canoe drifting the blue waters of the sky.

Back to today's reality, a world where there is the Ebola virus and where there is the plague of Isis, and I am, out of some kind of Cosmic luck, safely buying coon skin caps for Zack, Shane and little Earl who will meet me at Edisto for a moment out of time.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

September 30, 2014 Fourteen Mile Creek Trail, Lexington, SC The Tree of Heaven

From I-26 take Lake Murray Blvd West (Hwy 60) through the town of Irmo. In about 4 miles hwy 60 becomes Hwy 6 (do  not turn rt on Hwy 6, go straight) and the road goes over the magnificent Saluda Dam where couples walk quickly holding hands, young mothers run with their babies in strollers on the edge of the deep blue Lake Murray.

Soon, there is a gas station on the left called Stop and Shop on the corner of Old Cherokee Rd. This is in the town of Lexington.

The trail begins from the parking area of the gas station.  Just before I arrived, a dedication was held for the newly built trail.  Dignitaries dressed in suits and ties, Sunday dresses are walking back from the woods.
The trail is only 3/4 mile ending in a loop in a field.  It follows 14 Mile Creek.  An explosion of fuzzy blue astor type wildflowers lines the wide walkway.  On the far bank, bright red and yellow purse like blossoms
are in full bloom.

A big fat brown rabbit comes so very close, as if it is Durer's watercolor come to life, nibbling among the leaves and grasses, almost tame.  Rabbit, symbol of birth and creativity, totem of the "fear caller", the
message to move through fear.

Here there are the invasive tall plants called "the Tree of Heaven" now hung with large seed pods.  Two mothers with small children are investigating the pods.  I hear a mother tell the children that these are the magic seeds of Jack and the Beanstalk.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

September 30, 2014 Riverbanks Zoo, Over the Bridge and Into the Woodswalk

It is early and the air is filled with the hoots, screeches and hollers of monkeys, apes and birds.  I take the modern concrete and steel bridge over the Saluda River where there are five foot tall pots overflowing with flowers and weeping willows, yellow Adirondack chairs and bright blue benches, where you can sit and watch the zip glyders flying across the waters.

There was a covered bridge here built in 1819, but it was destroyed by the Confederate Army in 1865 in an effort to prevent General William Tecomseh Sherman from entering the city of Columbia.  Sherman had a floating bridge made from the lumber at the Saluda Mill just a hundred yards up river and Columbia was burned.

The Woodland Trail leaves the path to the right at the far side of the bridge, following the river to a building housing a textile museum.  The trail is short and steep from there among mountain like boulders.  The reward at the top is the stone entrance to the Botanical Garden.  Entering is the intoxicating scent of hundreds of roses. There are spider lilies blooming.  There are fountains. There is an Art Garden with a sculpture by Anna Hyatt Huntington of Jaguars on a Tree Stump.

Over the entrance to the Garden House is the inscription:

Care for the Earth As If it Were Our Garden.