A Walk to the Mill Pond

Me at the rock wall at the Mill Pond, circa 1976

Me at the rock wall at the Mill Pond, circa 1976

A couple of nights ago, I dreamt of the Mill Pond on Duncan Creek off Fleming Mill Road.  I can close my eyes and smell the water, silty and fishy and fresh.  Nothing quite smells like creek water in the Piedmont.

It was some 20 minutes’ walk from the house, just off the frontage road along the interstate highway.  Down the hill we sledded on when it snowed or iced and maybe a quarter mile beyond was a dirt road on the left snaking back into the hardwoods.

The mouth of the dirt road was piled with garbage—an illegal dump consisting of old television sets, bed springs and bottles, dismembered baby dolls and beer cans aplenty.  It was where old sofas and ruined carpets and broken kitchen appliances came to die.

It also reeked of death.  There was usually a decomposing dog carcass or two, sometimes on the bare ground, sometimes wrapped in a sheet or ripped plastic bags.  It is where I became familiar with the process of decomposition as I tried to hold my breath until I passed.

Once past the putrid smell of garbage, the road was picturesque.  It wound through a gorgeous and open oak-hickory forest punctuated by holly trees, dogwoods and the occasional beech.  Where it dead-ended you could hear the roar of water rushing over the shoals, which were a short walk through the trees.

As you came upon the shoals, a fairly level slab of rock stretched ahead and to the left, where it met with the creek. Closer and to the right, though, sat twin boulders, half-overlapping with a waterfall rushing between them.  During the spring when the suckers ran they jumped like salmon in Alaska trying to get past this little waterfall.  Water from here sluiced to the right some ten to twenty yards into a shaded and shallow fishing hole.

If you followed the linear level slab to the creek, you could fully appreciate the shoals.  To the left the creek was still and deep, but at this pinch-point, it met the rocky shoals and roared to the right across a fairly steep drop-off into the deep green swimming hole/fishing hole, a combination waterfall and water slide.  The poor man’s water park.

Across the creek from where the still deep water met the shoals was a rock wall, and all around the creek were earthen berms that must have sluiced water down to the mill when it was operational.  Since no wooden structures remained, I can only imagine that the grist mill itself must have sat below the swimming hole somewhere near the right bank. When we first went there, the millstone sat atop a rock wall over a deep drop off.  Sadly, on a later visit, the millstone was cracked in the bottom of the pit, a victim of vandalism.

This place was pure magic and contained an abundance of micro-habitats up and down the creek, likely forming the collective Holmesfeel for conservation of all things nature.

Upstream the water was narrow, deep and still and there was an oxbow or two alongside the main channel.  It was floodplain habitat.  In winter with a good pair of rubber boots, you could wade and find the gelatinous egg masses of salamanders and frogs.  And on rabbit hunts, you might shoot a cottontail and a swamp rabbit if you were lucky.  An occasional woodcock would flush spinning like a whirligig.

On the left bank uphill from the shoals and swimming hole, there was a tiny almost- xeric habitat where sun broke through the canopy to crumbly rock, prickly pear and lichens in one spot, and club moss under shade not too far away.

Further downstream the woods were wide and open to a bend in the creek where a hill piled with boulders on the right bank gave the feel that you were in the mountains.  You could sit up on the hill there with your BB gun overlooking the creek and pretend you were waiting in ambush for some old-time movie bad guys to come along.

Within eyesight on the same bank, the terrain flattened into a cane thicket. You could almost get lost in it bushwhacking your way through the cane and green brier, and most adults would caution you to avoid going in because you might get “that bird disease.”

Back in those days, there was little concept of private woodlands and posted land.  Unoccupied woods and fields were open to anyone to ramble, fish and hunt.  The Mill Pond was a lot like other sets of shoals in the country—a popular place to hang out and picnic or even camp.  Teenagers went to places like this to do their beer drinking and necking.  And families with small children often made such locations a Sunday afternoon outing.

As people are wont to do, someone bought it and built a house on it.  You cannot go there now, and I am certain I would not want to.  It is still the same in my memory.

I grew up wild here—swimming, fishing, hunting.  Seeing, touching, smelling.  Put a watermelon in the falls and let it get cooled by the water before cracking it open on the rocks.

Time spent at the Mill Pond, I am sure, is time that will not be deducted from my life.

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Thoughts on Cecil the Lion by Guest Blogger Ab Abercrombie

Elephants at a water hole in Zimbabwe

Elephants at a water hole.  Hwange, Zimbabwe.

I want to share the following thoughts by my friend Ab Abercrombie with his permission.

Dr. Abercrombie is a Professor Emeritus at Wofford College and teaches Plant and Animal Resources of Africa and Techniques and Strategies of Wildlife Management at Africa University near Mutare, Zimbabwe.  Africa University is a private university affiliated with the United Methodist Church.  Its students come from 22 diverse countries throughout the continent.

Read along with an open mind.  Abercrombie’s words are in blue:

OF LIONS, SYLLABI, NEOCOLONIALISM, AND DEFERRED DENTAL SERVICES

I really like lions, especially the one that finally decided not to eat me some years ago near Vic Falls. Furthermore, I think that Cecil, a late, lamented resident of Hwange National Park, was a fine lion, a glorious lion if you like. I am saddened by the tasteless manner of his death. Heck, I’m so mad that if Walter James Palmer were my dentist, I might skip one or even two cleaning appointments.

male liono with kill

Not Cecil, but an injured older male lion photographed at a kill.  Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe 2013.  Being a wild lion is not for wussies.

I am also disturbed that Cecil’s death has dominated America’s Africa-headlines for days on end. During this same period, South Sudan has been descending into the

greater kudu

This graceful antelope, a greater kudu bull, is one of the most sought after hoofstock trophies in all of Africa. Hwange, Zimbabwe.

abyss of renewed civil war. Guinea has been racked by scary health-care catastrophes. And in east-central Congo, juvenile higher primates, of a species that y’all know very well, have died because proxy fighters for “developed” nations have sought the cheapest coltan to make for us the cheapest cell phones. Probably some truly wonderful things have also happened in Africa, but how would we know?

OK, I’m upset in general. But I’m also upset in particular because Cecil’s death & the furor surrounding it will affect my own life. In a few days Chrissy Hope and I shall depart for a semester in Zimbabwe. She’ll teach “Rural Development.” I’ll teach “Plant & Animal Resources of Africa” and “Techniques and Strategies of Wildlife Management.”

I have taught the Management course before. And I always spend a lot of time on trophy hunting. Of course I’ve never been a trophy hunter myself; I don’t have the money. But some people do, and I am thankful for that. Ecologically, trophy hunting is very low-impact. Properly managed, it is entirely sustainable. Justly administered, it provides revenue for local communities that are desperate for money.

And thus, when it’s done right, trophy hunting can be a powerful tool for conservation. The death of an elephant by Yankee gunfire can contribute $20,000 to a dirt-poor village. Then perhaps elephants will no longer be defined as five-ton rats that will destroy your maize-crop—and perhaps ivory poachers will be condemned as game-thieves rather than praised as agents of nuisance-animal control. Similarly, a trophy-hunt for a big male lion might generate > $30K; then perhaps a villager can tolerate the loss of the occasional cow and can teach her kids how to be very, very careful. Otherwise, well, poison is pretty darn cheap, and somebody will know how to use it.

female lion on a kill

A lioness enjoys dinner in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that trophy hunting in Zimbabwe always works super-well. Mr. Cecil’s death certainly proves that point! But before you propose a general condemnation of trophy hunting, please scan presentations by Zimbabwean, Namibian, and South African biologists at Plenary Meetings of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Or read articles about lion and elephant

lion injured by cape buffalo

Note this lion was photographed at his pride’s kill. Being a wild lion is hard work. He is not bearing weight on his left rear leg, probably from an injury in bringing down the buffalo upon which he was feeding. Hwange, Zimbabwe.

management in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Or meditate on the conservation triumphs made possible by Teddy Roosevelt, the greatest trophy hunter of all time. Or, best of all, come to Zimbabwe and do some serious research. I guarantee that you’ll discover plenty of nastiness, complexity, inefficiency, cruelty, and injustice within the trophy-hunting enterprise. But if you keep your eyes and your mind open, you’ll also recognize some substantial successes—the schools, the clinics, the empowered communities, the changing attitudes about conservation.

buffalo and cattle egrets

A cape buffalo, one of the “Big Five” dangerous game trophies in Africa. Hwange, Zimbabwe.

In the end, of course, you might decide that you still want to oppose trophy hunting. But if you do, management biologists will challenge you to offer a just way immediately to infuse several million replacement-dollars into Zimbabwe’s economy. And if you can’t invent such a plan, then do an honest gut-check on which you like better: tawny-skinned lions or black-skinned people.

ADDITIONAL, PERSONAL NOTE: I do not enjoy killing anything, and therefore I am uncomfortable in supporting trophy hunting. Nevertheless, I am completely convinced that resource managers in developing nations should possess that option within their repertoire of potential conservation strategies. Alongside my students, I’ll think enthusiastically about how this might work. Furthermore, to tell the truth, I’ll be sympathetic when my students brand as neocolonialist certain American attempts to frustrate African-designed and CITES-approved wildlife management programs. And, yeah, you guessed it: for a whole bunch of reasons, Chrissy and I are nervous about this Zimbabwe-semester; we would appreciate your kind thoughts and even your generous prayers.

Grace and Peace, Ab.”

Ab and Chrissy

Drs. Chrissy Hope and Ab Abercrombie off to work at Africa University. Near Mutare, Zimbabwe.

From further speaking with Ab, I know that different African countries are applying varying plans in an attempt to balance wildlife and the revenues that wildlife-watching and legal, responsible safari hunting bring in.  For example, Rwanda charges trophy hunting level fees (Ca-ching, ca-ching, ca-ching!) for the privilege of watching mountain gorillas in the wild.  Botswana has ended trophy hunting and is experimenting with two different fee structures for wildlife-watchers (camera safaris), something akin to “first class” and “tourist” class.

Ab told me that he would hate to see Zimbabwe price middle-class tourists out of being able to go there and view wildlife.  As a middle-class American, I simply wish I was well-off enough to take a couple of weeks off and purchase a tourist class plane ticket to Zimbabwe!!!

Remember that you cannot generalize about Africa.  It is made of many diverse countries, each attempting to make its way into the 21st century.  It is my opinion that carefully managed wildlife-watching and trophy hunting are important tools to protect their precious resources and bring in revenue.  Sadly these nations also must fight the bushmeat trade, habitat loss and a level of poaching that is tantamount to organized crime in order to protect many game and non-game species.

It is noteworthy that in the United States, much of the revenue used to manage game and non-game species and their habitats is generated from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses, tags and permits.  Hikers, campers, birdwatchers, etc do not have to purchase a license to view animals here. If you like seeing our native wildlife, thank a hunter.  Better yet, purchase a hunting and fishing license even if you do not intend to use it.

Thanks to my sister-in-law Sarah for the photos accompanying this blog.

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All the stories he could tell…

Hank Williams Sr

“Stared at that guitar/At that museum in Tennessee/Nameplate on the glass/Brought back twenty melodies”

A musical pilgrimage. That’s what I called my trip to Luchenbach, Texas nine years ago.

Today I still pine for seeing Sun Studios in Memphis, Abbey Road, LaGrange and for standing on a corner in Winslow Arizona. I’ve a road-tripped to see U2, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Jimmy Buffet, Bob Dylan, Robert Earl Keen, Willie Nelson and The Rolling Stones. I’ve stood in the presence of Merle Haggard and a host of country stars because I was country when country wasn’t cool. One evening I walked around downtown Athens and heard the haunting melodies of REM float over the town from a concert at Legion Field. Once upon a time I even took my mama with me to see Hank Williams Junior. And I’ve listened to Americana under the stars at Luchenbach.

art in hall of fame

A journey isn’t just a beginning and an end. The in-between is crucial.

This latest adventure—to check The Rolling Stones off Nolan’s bucket list—started in the Upstate of South Carolina and led us all the way to The Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  But a journey isn’t just a beginning and an end.  The in-between is crucial.

This epic road trip to see The Stones was also a musical pilgrimage, with the principal detour being a visit to Nashville, two nights spent under Todd Snider’s East Nashville skyline, nameless musicians in honky tonk bars and a visit to The Country Music Hall of Fame. Add a quick trip to Bass Pro Shops and it’s staggering what you can cram into two days.

The essence of Nashville is to be found downtown on Broadway. Honky tonks with bad bar food and good cover musicians who don’t stand a chance of making it are interspersed with boot and hat stores and retro clothing boutiques. Every fifty yards or so there is a street musician busking for bucks, everything from one-man bands to traveler kids to Johnny Cash lookalikes to drum acts.

Johnny Cash's black suit

“Do you wonder why I always dress in black?/Why I never wear bright colors on my back?”

Up the street The Country Music Hall of Fame was packed on a Thursday morning. Curiously we arrived at the same time as a large group of excited but well-behaved black children. I happened to stand before Dwight Yoakum’s nudie suit with them and listened to their teacher point out details of the costume.

“See these pockets?” She said, gesturing to upper chest pockets. “They are called smile pockets because they turn up at the corner.”

Darn. Learn something new every day, I thought.

The children sat on the floor and filled out worksheets.

“This is, well, I’ll let you read it. Can you write down his name?”

* * *

art at Country Music Hall of Fame

“If Hank Williams was alive today/I can tell you where he wouldn’t be/Hanging around that Hall of Fame/In Nashville, Tennessee.”   Marshall Chapman, “A Thank You Note” from the album Jaded Virgin

Greasy and Nolan blew through it and I felt like I did as well. There is simply too much too see in one quick visit. Season passes and frequent trips are what it would take to absorb this museum.

Besides Dwight Yoakum, I worshiped at a few displays: Hank Williams’ guitar, Mother Maybelle’s guitar, one of many man-in-black Johnny Cash suits, Gram Parsons’ pills-and-cannabis nudie suit, Elvis Pressley’s Cadillac, Earl Scruggs’ banjo, the cornfield set of the television show Hee Haw. A wall of portraits of country music’s power couples: Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty, Johnny Cash and June Carter, George Jones and Tammy Wynette. Web Pierce’s nudie Cadillac, obscene with tooled saddle leather and steer horns on the front. Little Jimmy Dickens’ display of tiny boots and lime green nudie suit. George Strait’s everyday Western shirt and Wranglers. Actual blue suede shoes.

Bob Dylan, Johnny Cast and the Nashville Cats

“Rock and country, they flow back and forth between each other.”

The current exhibit of note is Dylan, Cash and the Nashville Cats. I’d known that Johnny and Bob were friends. This huge exhibit was a testament to their sense of awe at each other and to the behind-the-scenes individuals that make Nashville tick. Session musicians and sound engineers.

nudie suit

Cannabis-and-pills nudie suit worn by Gram Parsons

It’s also an affirmation of the fact that music is plastic and fluid. Rock and country, they flow back and forth between each other. To me this is a huge paradox: I grew up thinking that you either liked country or rock. Not both. And this couldn’t be further from the truth. To hearken back to my biologist’s training, country and rock are mutualists, locked in a symbiotic relationship.

Right before the museum’s inevitable exit-into-the- gift-shop is the Rotunda. My glimmer twins walked right past it and sat down in the lobby to wait for me.

Whispering, a docent gestured, her voice reverent, “This is the actual hall of fame.”

A small fountain and wishing well were just inside the entryway, full of coins. The rotunda was magic. Holy. Quiet. I circled clockwise, reading the brass plate of each member. I was reminded of my emotional overload experiences at The Alamo and The Astronaut Memorial at Cape Canaveral. There were souls there with me. Souls.

* * *

 

Nashville Tennesse honky tonk

Nolan takes in Nashville from a honky tonk

We walked from the Hall of Fame to Broadway, where we stood on the corner and

Nameless musician in Nashville

“This city is slam full of broken dreams.”

Nolan eenie-meenie-minee-moed over where to eat. He selected a three-tiered honky tonk that boasted a different band on each level. We ascended to the third floor and the view was amazing. A trio of musicians played cover songs that reiterated the flux between country and rock ‘n roll.

“This is incredibly sad,” I said, still feeling all those souls, though this time I was thinking of the non-famous ones.

“What?” said Nolan.

“This city is slam full of broken dreams.”

One only had to look to the stage before us: three men holding guitars and two girlfriends making up the audience.

I put a twenty in their tip bucket as we left, leaned over and whispered conspiratorially to them, “We’re on our way to Indianapolis to see The Rolling Stones.”

“Aw, man, you’ll love ‘em. I saw them a couple of weeks ago when they were here and they were awesome.”

Thank you, sir, I thought.  In case nobody ever tells you, you are, too.

A musician huddles in a doorway in Nashville

“With a million dollar spirit/And an old flattop guitar/
They drive to town with all they own/In a hundred dollar car.”  ~Thom Schulyer; performed by Lacy J. Dalton.

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Ladies and Gentlemen–The Rolling Stones. Part I, Venue Review

Part I of our epic road trip to see The Rolling Stones in Concert

Stones picture

Ladies and gentlemen…The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Fourth of July. An epic road trip. What could be more right?

Apparently football stadium shows with actual seats are a lot more right. This spectacular concept was good in theory. I had tickets to park in the infield, a great tailgate venue if there ever was one. And we couldn’t get there until after the opening act Rascal Flatts had started their set because of horrible traffic.

But before I begin lambasting the venue and production, I want to say some positive things about the city of Indianapolis! It was easy to navigate. The downtown was beautiful with streets and sidewalks that were wide and super-clean. The people were very nice, from fast-food waitresses to Dollar store employees to the staff at upscale restaurants. We would gladly go back and southern monster cities like Atlanta and Charlotte could learn something from this sleeper city in the Midwest.

Greasy and Nolan in Indy

My very own glimmer twins take in downtown Indianapolis

I’ll also add that driving through the tunnel into the Brickyard was an incredible thrill, even though I am not a race fan.

 

Approach

A short YouTube video produced by Indianapolis Motor Speedway gave instructions of how to get to the venue. It was woefully inadequate. It told of what street to approach from but not which direction and did not tell premier ticket-holders which gates were in use. Likewise the paper parking admission ticket did not tell which gates to use or which direction to approach. Fail, fail, fail.

If I learned anything it was to do a mock approach the day before and figure that (expletive) out.

Rolling Stones silver ticket section

Nolan, in Silver seating section.

 

Comfort

The big lie was our actual paper admission tickets. They boasted a section, row and seat number. They promised a vista of the enormous stage. In reality there were zero seats. I found this out the afternoon beforehand on the video from Indianapolis Motor Speedway on how to safely get there and enjoy the show as well as what you could or could not bring in.

It was presented like an incidental announcement—they advised then that it was festival seating. Bring blankets and cushions. No chairs would be allowed.

Blankets and cushions? No chairs?  Insert the world’s most common profane acronym here. We found a Dollar Store in Avon and bought three $7 cushions and a cheap fleece throw, all in suitably bright-almost-psychedelic patterns. It didn’t matter; we couldn’t sit comfortably there. The stage was at the bottom on a little hill. Sitting on the hill was more torture than standing. I won’t even go there about the chiggers.

I saw a medical tent. And remembered Altamont. And wryly wondered how many heart attack, strokes and fallen-and-I-can’t-get-up were taken into it.

 

Visibility

You needn’t have worried that I would throw my panties on the stage.

I never saw the actual stage or the actual Stones.  Just their images on the big screen. By carefully standing on tiptoes and peering between giants standing in front of me I could see the top ¾ of the huge screens above the stage. I saw images of Mick dancing around on stage. I even saw an image of –Keith, yes, Keith—running twice.

I like having the drunk and stoned dancing around me, a whiff of ganga, a splash of spilled beer and a passed out person or two. It adds to the whole experience.

But let’s face it—The Stones are old and so are we, their audience. I saw a lot of white-haired women like myself, cripples and really fat people hobbling along. It was a long but far from unbearable walk to the seating area, a hunt for a place to throw a blanket and a very long stand. Along the way some people took advantage of bicycle-rickshaws and some bumped along in their motorized wheelchairs.

Would Mick, Keith, Ronnie and Charlie endure that cheerfully? I doubt it.

The Rolling Stones

Ronnie, Mick and Keith during the Indianapolis concert July 2015

Security

My sense of security was also let down. What do tens of thousands of people, the proximity of an airport’s flight path, alcohol and drugs, thousands of fireworks, the most patriotic national holiday and a heightened terror alert have in common?

A recipe for unparalleled disaster is what it is.

I may be a tiny bit more situationally aware than most people. Maybe it’s that I read too many Jack Reacher novels. I do like to have an escape route planned ahead. And I fully exercised it the night before when some jackass pulled the fire alarm in the hotel. I knew where the stairs were. Down and out in the middle of the (expletive) night!

Beforehand at the hotel, I mused aloud, wondering if The Stones had played a US speedway since Altamont.  Knowing that my own glimmer twins were naïve to the story I read it to them from the internet. All of it—poor planning, poor setup, drunk Hell’s Angels, fights/knives/gunshots, death. The alleged botched Long Island hit on Mick Jagger.

And I ended my soliloquy with the hope that I wanted to be carefully searched going in, because if I was, every potential terrorist or testosterone-fueled would-be killer du jour also would be carefully searched.

We weren’t. Going into the tunnel under the famed Brickyard a woman barely glanced at our tickets. Instead of scanning them she scribbled on them with a red magic marker. And we were in.

Tickets for the Rolling Stones Indianapolis concert 2015

Our infamous paper tickets, with red scribbles

Parking was a breeze. Well-handled and well directed. Once in the venue a security checkpoint was a joke. The search of my cavernous beach bag was cursory. And the pat-down? She barely brushed my pants.

Going through the bag beforehand I had removed my Thermacell mosquito repellent device because it has an internal ignition system and runs on butane cartridges. They wouldn’t have known that. A pile of confiscated items there at the checkpoint attested to the fact that they didn’t want you bringing in your own water and candy. My granola bars were not detected during the search. And once again, our tickets were never scanned.

Driving into the infield we stopped at a bathroom building to use the facility. Right near there we saw row upon row of fireworks sitting wired and ready to be detonated. Out there in the open, apparently unguarded. What if some nut with a match had run through there?

During the show I was able to relax and forget that someone could crash a plane into the crowd or point the fireworks into this knot of mellow old humanity and fire away. Was the security just carefully hidden? Were there armed moles scattered throughout?

Let’s just say that I was a bit on edge until the biggest fireworks display in the USA started shooting up into the sky instead of into the crowd. 10,530 charges. It was a suitably big bang. It could have made a much bigger bang.

This was the premier rock concert event held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  Here’s hoping there are improvements before the next one(s).

The Show and General Musings

Must wait for the next blog.

In this one I’ll just say: They are old. We are old. Everything is so much sweeter with age. They are just as good as when I saw them (twice) in 1989. Raunch and roll at its pinnacle. Two hours of starting me up, making a grown man cry, a gasgasgas. I got a lot of satisfaction.

I’m alive and richer for it to tell the tale, though, and now must go soak my ancient feet.

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Weeping for South Carolina…

hands11We have much to learn, my friend. So much to learn.

Yesterday I was crushed when I woke up to the news of the senseless slaughter of a family of faith attending a Bible study and prayer service in Emanuel AME Church in my beloved state of South Carolina. Shot down in cold blood by an evil killer who came into their midst during worship, they laid down their lives in a place that should be holy.

I’ve been reeling with grief. Tears, then prayer, then more tears and more prayer. These people are my brothers and sisters in Christ. This is my state. My religion. This is deeply personal to me.

As a South Carolinian, a Christian and especially as the mother of a 20 year old male who loves guns, I am numb.

Yes, my son loves guns. Taking his example from me—the hunter, and my father before me, a hunter and a military rifleman—he picked up shooting at an early age. He is fluent in shotgun and handgun and archery. Sporting clays dominated his middle school and high school extracurriculars. At the final tournament of his high school shooting career, he broke 98 out of 100 tiny flying clay targets to own the highest score in his division and claim a Harry Hampton Wildlife Fund Scholarship.

This killer lived in the Greater Columbia metro area. My son attends the university there, where this murderer scoped out the mall. My son frequents that mall, and I am no stranger to it. He was apprehended in Shelby, North Carolina. Shelby is less than two hours from here and one of my cousins lives there.

Like I said, this is personal to me.

So I have to ask myself, what goes so very wrong in a person to make him go into a movie theater, an elementary school, a mall, a college campus, a highway overpass or a church and begin mowing down random strangers?

You can say what you want about nature vs. nurture. I know nothing of this young man’s upbringing, so anything I say about his family life is only conjecture. But as a person who knows something of genetics and a tidbit or two about culture and families and mental disturbances, I am going out on a limb and say: Acts like this take “a perfect storm” of things gone horribly awry to produce such a killer.

I think it is a yank on the handle of a slot machine with the slots lining up: Demon. Demon. Demon. A rare combination of mental illness and/or drugs and/or deficient moral upbringing and/or heritable mental illness and/or acquired mental illness and/or learned behavior/learned hatred and/or the effect of relatively harmless recreational drugs on the developing brain.

Did you notice I said mental illness a lot?

Note to parents: if your child is a testosterone-fueled post-adolescent who is severely introverted, cannot make eye contact, stays in his room all day playing violent video games, doesn’t have any friends or interact with others, has a weird haircut and vacant soulless stare and may have a substance abuse problem, please, PLEASE don’t give him a gun. Ever.

This is becoming a really recognizable asocial personality type. I am not a psychologist.

How blind do you have to be to miss this?

At any rate, I have to look at my son to reassure myself. Though at times he does everything in his power to provoke me, he is socially involved, does well in school, makes eye contact and interacts well with people of different ages, classes and social backgrounds. He attends church regularly and is engaged in what goes on in the community, thanks be to God. I can take credit for none of this normalcy. It is goodness intrinsic in him.

 *  *  *

I cannot address this tragedy without addressing the elephant in the room, though I wish it was not a factor. Race.

It is my belief that even without his obvious racism and hatred, this young man was so abnormal that he would have found some excuse to kill someone someway somehow for something. Disturbed individual that he was, he was bound to kill a lot of somebodies. But it sticks in my craw that he chose to make it about black and white. Because that seems to be a very real problem in the USA.

I feel that I grew up during an exciting time in race relations. It was right after the peak of the civil rights movement. Our cultures were coming together and liking it, in part thanks to newly opened minds, music and fashion and sports. We looked at them and said to ourselves, I really like what she’s wearing or it’s got a great beat and I love that song! We worked together on our sports teams, the student council, the yearbook and the newspaper staff. I thought we had seen the last of racism in 1977. That’s almost 40 years ago.  I was woefully wrong.

What the heck happened? Why does racism still rear its incredibly ugly head? And what can we do to stop it?

*  *  *

As I said, this mass shooting is personal to me. Immensely personal. So I am making a conscious effort to look beyond the soulless dead eyes of this boy killer du jour and into the sparkling warm eyes and lives of these beautiful victims. I am making an effort to memorize the faces and the names of each of these people and memorialize them in my heart. To learn a tidbit or two about each of them. To remember them and their loved ones—individually—in my prayers.

Here, again, are their names. They are important people. Remember them always:

Reverend Clementa Pinckney, 41
Reverend Sharonda Singleton, 45
Myra Thompson, 49
Tywanza Sanders, 26
Ethel Lee Lance, 70
Cynthia Heard, 54
Reverend Daniel Simmons, Sr., 74
Reverend DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49
Susie Jackson, 87

These fine South Carolinians gave their all in service to their church and they gave it to their Lord and Savior. They are martyrs. Some say they are now saints. In my very mortal voice, I agree.

As a Christian, I have to think to myself: What would Jesus do?

Hmmm.

A few months ago, I learned of a hush-hush initiative to put concealed weapons into some area churches. I was shocked and disillusioned to learn of it. This is what it has come to? Armed men in places of peace, tranquility and reverence? Perhaps these people had foresight. They knew it was coming. In denial, you knew it was, too.

Yes, they are there wearing earbuds and are carrying concealed weapons. They are in constant communications with each other, kind of like the Secret Service of the Lord. WWJD? In these days and times, he might be packing heat.

*  *  *

Grace. It is an ill-defined Christian concept referring to God’s granting a lenience to those who unequivocally do not deserve it. I am right with the concept of grace. Too many times it has been extended to me when I had done nothing to merit it.

Today I witnessed  Christian grace granted by better Christians than me who have just had their hearts cut out and desecrated. Last night I tried to pray for the sonovabitch who did this horrendous act. Try as I might, I could not extend him my grace and forgive him in private prayers.  I tried to pray for his poor, confused family and I could not find it in me to do so. I am mortal. Through my tears, I could not do it.

Yet I see during his arraignment, lo and behold, victims’ families are praying for him and asking our God for forgiveness on his behalf.

I am learning something. In this simple act of Christian forgiveness and grace, God is working in our evil, evil world.

 

Drawing by a girl named Madeline memorializes those slain at Mother Emanuel Church

Drawing by a girl named Madeline, aged 7,  memorializes those slain at Mother Emanuel Church

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DIY Camping Hot Shower

Ready for the camp out

Let’s go camping!

Every Spring, I attend a long weekend camping in the Hell Hole Bay area of the Francis Marion National Forest, which is a swampy area northwest of Charleston, South Carolina.

Twenty miles or so from the nearest decent-sized town, the area is not truly remote in a wilderness sense–there are paved roads that pass right by it.  But cell phone service is spotty to nonexistent.  There are few houses, no stores and what we call a campground is maybe an acre clearing in the pines.  There are two game poles, a cement picnic table and that’s it.  No electricity, no water, not even a trash receptacle.  And especially no showers.

Since we are there to catalog reptile and amphibian populations, watch birds, observe mammals and experience plant and animal communities, we get dirty.  We are in and out of our trucks and cars and in the brush and weeds as well as wading in swamp water.  Mosquitoes descend on us every time we step out of our cars and tents, so we are oily with insect repellent. Sometimes we walk through areas where the woods have been control-burned and we get sooty.  We sleep in sweltering conditions, and we answer the call of nature behind trees in the woods.

Getting down and dirty with a glass lizard

The reptile paparazzi surround an Eastern glass lizard during the Under a Low Country Moon Nature Interpretive weekend. Can you see how we’d get dirty?

We get stinky after a half-day, and positively rank after three.

When we started doing this in 2001, I was a good deal younger.  I had a hard-nosed edge to me and I endured being filthy a lot better.  Nowadays, I don’t like feeling all squishy-nasty-dirty.

For several years I attempted to solve this problem by using commercially available means.  But those cheapie discount store solar showers–the big black plastic bag that you let sit in the sun until the water heats up–mine broke the first time I tried to hoist it into a tree to use it.  An almost-acceptable means of staying clean are the camping moist towelettes which are glorified baby wipes.  They are better than nothing.

One year I just couldn’t take it any more so I went over to a small public beach access campground near Awendaw, paid their parking fee at their honor-system kiosk and went in.  I slipped into their bathhouse and furtively took a five minute shower.  I didn’t get caught, and it felt divine.

Began to use a spayer for showering, 2011

In May 2011, after ten years of being stinky and uncomfortable during the ULCM weekend, I field test the camp shower! This photo is my original one.

In 2010 I was sitting on the cement picnic table in camp feeling like a very. dirty. girl. when I was dumbstruck by an idea.  I could use a pump-up sprayer, the kind you use mix up insecticides, herbicides or other chemicals.  I didn’t get to try it until 2011, and it worked fantastically well!  Using a waterless shampoo and the sprayer, I could wash my hair and it felt like I had really washed it.  Miraculous.

But there’s a funny thing about sprayers.  Around a homestead, they tend to disappear.  Somebody will nab it to mix up chemicals or wash something with it, and next thing I know, I can’t find it, or if I find it, it is all stinky with chemical residue.

Now I want you to think of this as though I am saying “I got religion.”

New sprayer

I purchased a shiny new sprayer that even has a shoulder strap.

I got Pinterest, and my life will never be the same.

On Pinterest, I saw where sorority girls buy cheap coolers and paint them for special weekend events.  And they are awesome-looking creations by the time those girls are done with them.  Lord knows how good their grades could be if they put that much work into their studies.

And so I decided to decorate myself a sprayer for the annual camping trip.  Somehow, I don’t think these men with whom I live will make off with it now, as it’s almost girlie-looking.

Chalk paint can be used on almost any surface--plastic, wood, glass, metal--with minimal prep.

Chalk paint can be used on almost any surface–plastic, wood, glass, metal–with minimal prep.

First, I purchased a new sprayer and painted it with chalk paint.  Note, this is not chalkboard paint.  Chalk paint can be found at craft stores in a variety of colors.  It has a very, very flat finish and can be used on most surfaces–glass, metal, wood, plastic.  I painted my sprayer black to enhance its solar heating capability.  I even taped around the “how to use directions” on the back, lest I ever forget how to use it.

Next, I felt compelled to girlie it up so it’s easily identifiable as mine.  I have a Cafe Press account and most things in my “store,”  Herptacular and Then Some have motifs centered around the annual camp out.  So I ordered myself a big sticker that says Under a Low Country Moon and put the sticker on the front of the sprayer and lettered it as my “Hell Hole Hot Shower” with stick-on raised lettering that I bought at Micheal’s.  To seal everything in, I put several coats of Mod Podge, water-based sealer, glue & finish over the lettering.

This could also be used in hunting and fishing camps and by preppers/off gridders.  A one and a half-gallon sprayer is easy to use and because it isn’t dependent on gravity to work, it doesn’t have to be hoisted into a tree.

I’ll never be dirty again on the camping trip!

Under a Low Country Moon camp out shower

Voila! My solar shower for the camping weekend is da bomb!

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The Purity of Football

Clemson Tigers and USC Gamecocks flag

A house divided–Clemson and Carolina flag

Allow me to wax poetic about football.

In her later years, my mother eschewed football in favor of baseball. “It’s just so…brutal…violent,” she said.

Many writers before me have observed that football is a ritual reenactment of the primal clashes of mankind.  There are broad-shouldered, narrow-waisted men fighting on the field and hourglass-shaped women on the sidelines cheering them on.  Mama was onto something. Nowadays, analysts have turned their thoughts to the consequences of the sport’s violence–brain damage, memory loss, dementia, neuromuscular disorders, orthopedic injury–and the failure of the industry to support players who have passed their use-by date.

People get all that, but people watch football games because they are fun to watch.  There is a culture of football in the US; people schedule their lives around it.  Home game?  Whee!  Excuse to let down your hair, paint up your face in team colors and escape your humdrum life.  Party on!  Tailgate cities and healthy economic support of the poultry industry ensue.  The very existence of fried chicken, chips and dip and beer are justified.

Beat Texas A&M tee shirt

A newly-minted University of South Carolina Gamecock

College football, its rituals and rivalries are a religion in the South.  My son went off to college last week.  Yes, he attended high school football games, in a sort-of lukewarm way.  He has never shown a lot of interest in football of any kind.  Now all of a sudden, he is a student at the University of South Carolina and, GO COCKS!

Me, I cannot watch football at a crowded party, in a bar full of strangers or on a flat screen under a canopy at your tailgate.  The rumble of voices, the distraction of folk coming and going, the food and drink–for me these things all take away from the purity of football.  I have to concentrate, gird up my loins and (sort of) play.  I watch to see the plays unfold and follow the announcers as they dissect the replay.  I find it difficult to give the game my full attention when there are more than a couple of people in the room.  It is as though I get in a zen state where the only things in existence are me…and the football game itself.

Sigh.

This week marks the opening of college football season 2014.  I graduated from the University of Georgia during the Hershel Walker years, but I have always considered myself a Clemson sympathizer.

Lest you think I’m preaching from the sidelines, I worked as a clerk in the Wofford College Athletic Department.  I personally assembled the playbook for the Wofford Terriers with whom the ClemsonTigers opened their 11-0 national championship season.  I’ve also attended some mighty fine contests on the gridiron, games such as Clemson v UGA back in the early 80’s when these teams won back-to-back national championships, and I’ve felt the earth shake in Death Valley at Clemson-Carolina games.  I’ve heard the Dawgs woof between the hedges and stood outside the coliseum in the ticket line. Heck, I separated my left shoulder playing intramural flag football at UGA.  I’ve even been to the Esso Club on game day.

How I prioritize college football

How I prioritize college football

So I self-identify as a Clemson fan though I don’t wear their colors.  I pull for Clemson even when they play my almer mater.  But unlike many Clemson fans, I don’t hate the University of South Carolina.  As a matter of fact, I yell for them like crazy when they play anyone other than the Tigers.

It gets a little more complicated when the two South Carolina powerhouses lock horns.  Long ago, I would have remained true to the Tigers.  Perhaps I’ve mellowed out over the years, or maybe it’s the respect the old ball coach has brought to Gamecock football, for now I pull for whichever team stands to gain the most in the polls.

There, I’ve said it and it feels good, like I’ve emerged from some kind of closet.

This week, South Carolina opens with Texas A&M at home and Clemson travels a few miles down the road to clash with the mighty Dawgs in Athens, Georgia.  Have a happy–and safe–football season.  Don’t  punch some guy in the parking lot of a bar like one of my friends did one time.  Travel safely, party responsibly and enjoy.

Don’t mind me.  I’ll be watching in air-conditioned comfort, solo, in the lotus position with my head in the game.

 

Clemson v UGA

Go Tigers!

 

 

 

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Cue the banjos if you will…

 “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.” 

                                                           Norman Maclean

Enoree river up and muddy

Nolan in the Enoree River when she's up and muddy.

The last time I floated this river was about 27 years ago, when I was lithe and strong and filled with enthusiasm.  These days I am troubled by bad feet, hot flashes, night sweats and anxiety.  I hide myself behind hipster glasses, voluminous clothes and work.  I don’t go out—even to the grocery store—unless it is totally necessary or unless my destination is obscure or anonymous.  I can handle walking around downtown Beaufort.  The local Walmart terrifies me.

So I don’t know what possessed me to float the river yesterday.  Perhaps it was a sense of urgency that the lad will be going off to college in less than two months.  And perhaps it was shame that my husband bought two kayaks four years ago and we have never taken them on the water.  Then there was the nagging knowledge that without something to do, I would sit on my bed all day and read or peck around on my iPad.

The plan was thrown out hastily before the boy scooted out the door to church, “Hey, want to take the kayaks down the Enoree River today?”

Sure, why not? Nolan with kayaks

“I want the green one.” Nolan picks his kayak in 2010, not knowing he wouldn’t travel in it until 2014.

In this household, I am never exactly sure whether or not a plan is going to come together until it is actually being executed.  So I puttered around the kitchen with less than 50-50 odds of the kayaking outing becoming a reality.

When it became imminent that I was going to get in the truck and go float the river, I hastily tossed some almost-random things into a gallon Ziploc bag—K-Bar knife, bug spray, Kleenex, a half a 16 oz bottle of drinking water, a floating solar powered lantern, a couple of individual serving packs of trail mix and because no one should ever leave home without enough bags, I threw in extra Ziplocs.  You might need a few things in an emergency, and only two weeks ago there had been a major search on our benign little river for two boys lost on a cheap raft.

We, it turned out, were so poorly prepared for this maiden voyage that I had to turn around and drive back home to get our PFDs.

Joey canoeing

Portrait of Joey canoeing the Okefenokee swamp near Folkston, Georgia circa 1982. Joey used to be my Enoree canoeing partner.

The Enoree is a silty brown river, medium-sized, and in most places sluggish.  We launched down a vertical bank that was maybe 15 feet high, quite a challenge for this old fat woman.  Immediately we ran into a mess of downed trees low across the water that would become strainers after a hard rain.  If I was afraid of spiders, I would have not made it past the first 100 yards.

But the river opened up and I began to point out landmarks along the stretch south from Lanford Station towards the Highway 49 bridge, including a famous fishing hole on the right bank marked by a big rock.  My daddy had loved to fish this place.

Beaverdam Creek near Lanford Station

This may be my lifer bluegill. 1961 with my Daddy.

My son’s experience with rivers had always been high adventure up until now.  We’ve done the Nantahala several times.  The Black River in Georgetown county.  The National Outdoor Whitewater Center in Charlotte, which is intense.  The salt marshes at Murrell’s Inlet.  The Green River, nestled deep in a gorge in North Carolina.  And oh, yes, the Chattooga when he was fourteen.  I almost drowned, though from a simple fluke and not for being caught in something as dramatic as a hydraulic.  The experience was such that I have never wanted to go back.

I wanted Nolan to know there was virtue in this quiet river.

“Listen,” I said.

Him:  “What?”  Wondering, I guess, what bird song or frog call I was about to point out to him.

Me, “Nothing.  You can’t hear anything.  No traffic, no dogs barking, no chainsaws or heavy equipment.  Nothing.”

Pause.

“You’ve been on a few rivers, Nolan.  All crowded with other boats and rafts.  How does it feel to have the river all to yourself?”

“My daddy always says if there are not cars in the parking lot of a restaurant, it’s because the food sucks,” he said.

Learning to Kayak

Nolan casts from my kayak in 2009.

A good ways before the Highway 49 bridge, he began to ask the cliché child’s question.  Are we there yet?  I waved towards the left bank, the Spartanburg County side.  The land there is one of my brother Joey’s primo spots for birding and herping.

“There’s Joey’s river pasture.  It’s Sunday afternoon.  Maybe he is over there herping.” I said, joking.

We got a little silly and started hollering.  “Joey!  Joey!  Are you over there?”  We even went so far as phoning Joey but our connection was bad.

Then I got occupied with spotting softshell turtles and we rounded a bend in the river and the bridge came into view.

“Look, Mama!” Nolan said, pointing at the bridge,  “There goes Joey!  In his Buick!”

It couldn’t be, could it?  We phoned Joey again and this time the call went through.  He verified that he had indeed driven his Buick across the bridge seconds before.

How often, I wonder, do lives intersect in this manner?  What are the odds that we would be floating kayaks under the bridge just as my brother was driving over it?  How many cars cross that bridge on any given day?  Hundreds.  How many kayaks go under it?  Very few.  The fact that our paths crossed, we recognized it and we were able to communicate with each other instantly is mind-numbing.

 

The River of Muscadines

Old bridge abutments on the Enoree River near Musgrove Mill

Below the Highway 49 bridge is the set of rocky rapids that are sometimes fun.  Not on this excursion.  The water was low.  We spent more time pushing off rocks and dragging our kayaks as we did surging over tiny sections of whitewater.  Our new kayak’s seats were horrible, with zero back support.  If you set your feet against the footrests and tried to push off the bottom with your paddle, there was not enough seat for you to do anything but flop backwards onto nothingness.  Every muscle in my body screamed in protest.  And let me tell you this—if a fat woman wearing a life jacket falls out of the kayak onto her back on the rocks, she is more or less stuck there like a box turtle until someone helps her roll over.

Past the rocky stretch, the river returned to its normal taciturn character.  Silent and slow.

Nolan at Sands Beach, Port Royal, SC

Nolan checks out the beach at Port Royal, SC, where we saw my South Carolina "lifer" bald eagle.

We watched the usual species—great blue herons, little green herons, wood ducks, kingfishers and red-tailed hawks.  For excitement, a goldfinch.  We passed sand bars cris-crossed with the tracks of nesting turtles.  We endured a brief stint of traffic noise while floating under I-26, and encountered an isolated rapid that Nolan went into sideways where he rolled his kayak.

He was grouchy, and the trip seemed to be taking far longer than the two hours I thought I remembered.  I was surrounded by water and yet horribly thirsty. Our moods plummeted. I somehow drew ahead of him, as he was not able to get all of the water out of his kayak after his last spill.

I noticed he was missing and turned to face upriver just downstream of a fun-but-tiny rapid.  I was about to paddle upstream looking for him, but at last I saw the movement of his paddle and then his green kayak came into view.  I enjoyed the rhythm of his paddle strokes, my mind a blank, my back temporarily comfortable.

It caught me by surprise, just over his head, circling out over the river.  A large dark bird with an unmistakable blazing white head and tail, flying so easily that it looked…casual.  I threw back my head and laughed, keeping my face towards the sky to watch for a re-run while I waited for Nolan.  I considered that perhaps he fell behind because he was watching this eagle.

He drew even with me and passed me in stony silence.  I turned the boat back downstream and stroked to catch up.

“Did you see it?” I said.Bald eagle

Nothing.

“Nolan.  Did you see it?”

Nothing.

“Nolan!  Did. You. See. It?”

He finally spoke, “What?”

“The eagle,” I said.  “Did you see the eagle?”

He raised his arm and pointed downstream.  “You mean that eagle?”

Sure enough, the bald eagle was perched on the Laurens County side and flew out over the river.  The white of its tail was blinding.  I broke out in cold chills and my eyes began to tear up.

Bald eagles belong to a subgroup of eagles called sea eagles.  They are seldom seen far from really big bodies of water.  In fact, breeding pairs prefer bodies of water greater than 7 miles in circumference.

Sightings away from large lakes, estuaries and oceans are rare.  They eat mainly fish, with a smattering of other birds, rabbits, rodents and possibly bigger mammals such as raccoons and baby deer.  They also eat carrion.

Birders and herpers call new-to-them species “lifers.”  The first Southern hognose snake of your life.  The first prothonotary warbler sighting of your life.  Your first-ever glimpse of a roadrunner or a smooth green snake or spotted turtle.

Joey Holmes with his lifer Heterodon simus

Joey with his lifer Heterodon simus, Southern hognose snake

This Enoree eagle is not my true lifer.

I saw an eagle in the Florida Everglades in 1980. And while I’ve kept my eyes peeled for an eagle in South Carolina for 55 years, I had never seen one until two weeks ago.  Venturing onto Sands Beach in Port Royal, I gazed out over the salt marsh and spied a bald eagle on a man-made nest platform.  Again, Nolan was my sidekick.

The boy has a knack for seeing eagles.  He saw his first at the age of 13, fishing Lake Murray with his dad, and has seen them on two different occasions less than a mile from our house.

Nolan can call the Lake Murray eagle his lifer, and the Enoree River eagle his fifth.  For a birder my age, it is not that simple.  The Everglades eagle, it is my lifer.  The Port Royal bird, my home state lifer.  But this Enoree River eagle is the lifer of my soul.  My stomping grounds.  My Upstate.  My heart’s river.

 

The lad and I finally rounded a bend near the Musgrove Mill Revolutionary War Battlefield to see a cluster of people, adults and small children fishing from a sandbar and teen lovers bobbing in the water.  We passed close to two encampments and were excitedly greeted by country folk—men clamoring towards us, all with the same question, “Hey!  Where’d y’all put in at?”

Cue the banjos if you will.  Open the pages of Norman Maclean if you prefer.

Scraped, bruised, sunburned, tired and thirsty, we pulled our kayaks toward the bank near the concrete pylons of a bygone bridge to the stares of more recreational waders and splashers.  I was so feeble at that point that I washed through the final rapids, dragged behind my empty kayak, too wiped out to curse the slippery rocks upon which I kept falling.  A float I thought I remembered taking two hours ended up being a five hour adventure, and I was shocked when Joey informed me it was ten miles.

Ten miles for an eagle?  Totally worth it.

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That Old School Bell’s Gonna Ring Loud and Long…

The other day I ran into an old friend.  We were in school together from the 6th grade until high school graduation and started to reminisce.  I teased him about a pretty unpopular teacher that we shared for 7th grade English who unfortunately followed us to the high school.  We had her again for 9th grade English.  Some poor folks even had her three years in a row.

She berated him constantly–whether he was doing anything bad or not, and I can still hear her calling him out in class,  “Mark Burke, you so mannish!”  My husband suffered a similar fate in her classes:  “Tommy Burns, you are grinning and that means you are up to no good!”

At any rate, I asked my friend who his favorite teacher was.  His answer came as a complete surprise to me.  I had in mind all of the great teachers we had in high school, whether physics or chemistry or 12th grade English lit.  But he shocked me by again reaching back into the 7th grade at old Ford School in Watts Mill and saying, “Well, Jackie, I guess it was your daddy.”

Another shared teacher, my daddy Jack Holmes taught us 7th grade science. I had almost forgotten that.

Surprised and humbled, the best I could do was blurt out “Why?”

“See, it’s funny what I can remember about school and what I can’t,” he said, “but I can remember specific questions on tests he gave us.”

Yeah, right, I thought.  “Name one.”

But he did.  “True or False.  Astronauts cannot eat in space because they can’t swallow.”

I had to think for a second, because it seemed so obvious that it sounded like a trick question.  My friend went on to explain the answer, that yes, they swallow because the muscles do the work of pushing ingesta down into the stomach.  The question made him think and made an impression on him, so I began to think of teachers who had made an impression on me.

My favorite teacher was 10th grade English teacher Mrs. Anna T. Mims, an exquisite lady who somehow took Silas Marner and inspired in me a love of literature that shapes who I am today.  I also adored the almost bashful and halting delivery of algebra-trig and physics teacher Mr. Ben Miller, the precise and demanding Chemistry teacher Mr. Harold Ligon, the irascible U.S. History teacher Mr. Tommy “Sub” Sublett,  strict government teacher Mrs. Rosemary Johnson and Mrs. Keith Oakes, who prepared us well for college with senior English lit.

I spent so many years in school, from Ford to the high school to Wofford College to the University of Georgia.  It would never have occurred to me that anybody could remember specific questions on specific tests.  Later on, I searched  my brain to see if I could recall any test questions.

They were all in college or vet school.  There was the infamous social ethics test at WoCo given by Professor Walt Hudgens, who passed out blue books and then said, “There is no test.  But I want you all to sit here and write in your blue book for at least an hour.  You can doodle, draw, write love letters, whatever…just pretend that you are taking a test.”  The class was flummoxed.  I chewed on the end of my pen for a few minutes staring off into space, then furiously started to write.

Of course it was a test, and on one of the ethical dilemmas we had studied.  Not as good of a test as the previous year when he came in the room, threw a rubber chicken on the desk and said, “Prove that this isn’t God,” but a test nonetheless.  He graded our blue books. I made an A+.

Another Wofford test I remembered was in the second day of class in Dr. H. Donald Dobbs’ freshman zoology.  Each fall he’d start with about 150 would-be doctors filling the lecture hall and rather quickly weed out those who weren’t cut out for medicine By the end of the four years, roughly a 12 to 14 of us actually made it into medical, dental or veterinary school.

Dobbs did it starting on the second day of class with a pop quiz on Latin and Greek prefixes, suffixes and root words.  Most of us, myself included, bombed the quiz.  Why would we think to study our dead languages for zoology class?  In fact, we probably represented the first generation of students who didn’t have the opportunity to take Latin in high school.  Tenacious, I hung in there and made it to the end.  In fact, on the biology class senior comprehensive exit exam, I scored  #1 of 19 graduating bio majors, edging out top rivals who went on to become orthopedic surgeons and gynecologists and dentists.

Another test that sticks in my mind was in vet school’s Public Health class, Dr. Brown’s infamous Caribou Test.  Most of my eighty-odd classmates bombed this test, which could have been on something important like tuberculosis in cow’s milk affecting everyday milk consumers.  Instead, 100% of the test was on the obscure cycle of brucellosis in caribou, wolves and native peoples in Alaska.  I aced the test, mainly because I enjoyed thinking about going up to the last frontier and hunting some of those pretty little caribou with my deer rifle.

I barely remember dragging myself out of bed, driving to the vet school and taking Dr. Clay Calvert’s cardiology final.  I had the flu so I called him and he would not let me out of taking the test.  I was out of my head with fever, but did about as well on the test as anybody else, as none of us could fathom Dr. Calvert or what he wanted from us come test time.

Small Animal Anatomy’s final lab practical was a doozy.  Dr. Peter Purinton took dogs and cats that we had dissected in the traditional longitudinal fashion and sawed them in cross-section, sticking pins in nerves and muscles and veins that we had never seen from that angle.

But the most interesting single test question I recall is from the practical exam in large animal anatomy.   Our only classroom blurb in poultry anatomy had come on the last day of class, “Chicken Day.”  On Chicken Day, Professor “Arvle the Marvel” Marshall divided us into groups and each group was assigned an organ system.  We had to make up a skit about our organ system and it was a big joke.  Nobody gave a rip about a chicken unless it was barbecued at a fraternity party.

The question was posted at the base of an articulated chicken skeleton.  “What gender is this bird?”  Hurt yourself thinking if you wish.  I got it right, but then I was the only student who could identify the bacculum of a raccoon when a dairy farmer hosting us for herd health lay it on the table and asked us what it was.

Next week, school starts again.  For better or worse, teachers are leaders who shape our lives even as they struggle to get through their workdays and their own lives.   Their classroom time is only part of their job.  There is lesson prep and there are forms to be filled out, bus duty and other hoops to be jumped through for the school system.  There are tests to be graded.  They give to their schools with pride, show up for ball games and open houses, encourage and inspire.  I feel that a single simple act of kindness and caring from a teacher may make the difference in a child’s life.

As Jack Holmes would teasingly say to us before the first day of school every year, “That old school bell’s gonna ring loud and long in the morning.”  I still run into people he inspired, from 6th grade at Enoree School to Laurens Primary to Ford or Sanders or Gray Court to the ball fields or boy scout camp.

What an amazing gift.

 

 

 

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Maiden Voyage

My son got his driver’s license yesterday.

I hadn’t realized how hard it would hit me until I left the office and stopped by the grocery store for a few things.  I ran into our pastor and I must’ve looked stricken, because he asked me if I’d had a hard day.  My thoughts came rushing out about my new driver and I knew he’d understand as his youngest daughter is my son’s age.

Coming home from the store, I crossed the creek, cruised up the hill past the chicken houses and met my son  in the road  by the neighbor’s dove field. He was alone, driving his big white-and-gold F-250 and he had the windows down with the breeze ruffling his hair. He stuck out his arm and gave me a big wave and a smile.

For this maiden voyage he drove back roads down to Mountville, where there is definitely no mountain…and no stores. There’s just a P.O., a church, an old school used as a meeting hall for the grange and a volunteer fire department.   The highway was moved years ago and it doesn’t even go through the settlement any more.

A hilly tar-and-gravel road named Ginger Creek  leads from our road down towards Mountville.  It winds past woods and farmland, crosses the creek and makes an inexplicable hairpin turn around an broad old white oak and passes beef cows grazing in knee-high fescue.  My son and my husband used to cruise this road together on our golf cart.  The route must’ve felt familiar, safe.

The boy took time enough, it seemed.  I imagined him with the stereo cranked on some country station,  stopping, caressing the dash, maybe setting a spell in the parking lot by the Mountville First Baptist,  texting his friends  and then moseying home–where I paced and looked out the windows, waiting somewhat restlessly for a cloud of dust.

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