Cataloochee. Another NABventure in the Can…

September was slipping away, and with it, our opportunity to visit the Great Smokey Mountains National Park without having to drive an armored vehicle and wear shoulder pads.   October brings out an army of leaf peepers hell bent on seeing the prettiest fall colors ever.

Elk in meadow at Cataloochee

Lone bull in meadow at Cataloochee, NC

And so it came to be that I tiptoed up to my son’s room and disrupted his slumber at five o’clock.  I beckoned him to come downstairs and shower quietly to avoid waking his father.

By 5:35 a.m., Nolan and I hit the road for our latest NABventure.

Another NABventure

Nolan demonstrates that every NABventure has a jumping off point

Way back when his father and I were going through potential baby names, we were mindful of any acronyms the child’s initials might spell.  We hit upon his name and noted—to our delight—that his initials spelled out NAB.  For the uninitiated, “nabs” are what country Southerners call the little cheese and peanut butter Lance crackers that come in packages of six.  Simple working folk in the South don’t take coffee breaks.  They break for a coke-a-cola and a pack of nabs.

So when the lad and I head out for parts unknown, we call it a NABventure.  Sometimes, little cheese crackers are actually involved.

Our destination in the Great Smokey Mountain National Park was the Cataloochee Valley. The reason for our trip there is that elk have been reintroduced into the park.  Before European settlers came, elk were native to most of the country.  But the last elk in the Smokies were extirpated in the mid-1800’s.  The Eastern elk subspecies is extinct.   The initiative to restore elk to the Smokies took flight in 2001 with a handful of animals brought from the Land Between the Lakes herd and was supplemented by Canadian imports the following year.

If you look at a map, Cataloochee is right off I-40 just beyond Waynesville, North Carolina, and quite close to the popular tourist destination of Maggie Valley.  It appears that it would be easy to get there.

Uh, not!

We made exit 40 at 7:30 a.m., came off the exit ramp and almost immediately found our right turn marked by signs.  And we proceeded on a vertical journey that soon left even

iPhone panoramic view

The iPhone with new iOs 6.0 will take panoramic views

pavement behind.   I squinted at the screen of my iPhone and read directions aloud, “Stay to the Right (at one point, the road will “Y”) Road becomes gravel, and very narrow…proceed UP mountain with caution.  After reaching summit, proceed down same gravel/narrow road.  At the base of the mountain, road bears to the left and becomes paved again.”

I am mortally afraid of twisting turning mountain roads and high bridges.  I’m not talking a little bit scared.  I’m talking lie down in the seats.  I’m talking places where I will get out of the car and walk rather than be inside a vehicle negotiating certain tight spots.  I’m talking medications are really needed.

Farmhouse in the Cataloochee Valley

Cataloochee Valley Farmhouse

This did not go well.  That part of the journey is 10 miles long.  The dirt road is one lane.  There are no guardrails.  A sixteen year old male was driving.  I was beside myself, digging my nails into the armrest and pressing my right foot through the floorboard.

There is no telling how many times I begged “Slow down!” or beseeched the deity I worship to help me.  Near the summit, my prayers were heard and I was helped by scads of chipmunks in the road.  I would holler “LORD!” with one breath and “Oh, look at the cute little chipmunk!” with my next breath.   Chipmunks, you see, were present in unprecedented numbers and they are some really pretty little squirrels.  They were a welcome distraction.

Amazingly, the road is paved in the valley.  It’s a mystery as to how they got heavy equipment in there to pave it.  I wanted to stop, get out and kiss the pavement, and I vowed to never return.  At least not without Xanax.

Cataoochee valley barn

Barn

Just past the ranger house and the small campground, the Cataloochee Valley opens up into a series of broad meadows.  Nolan focused on the wild turkeys, which were everywhere, but I immediately spied a bedded bull in the field, a nice 6×6.  We passed a man walking a well-behaved golden retriever and I spotted a herd of elk in the field on our left where perhaps a half dozen cars had pulled off the road and parked.

In the chill mountain air, several people were photographing a bull and his harem of cows with cameras that I’m sure cost more than some cars.  There were guys with lenses over two feet long and as big around as my thigh.  I got out my binoculars and fleece pullover to the music of bulls bugling up and down the valley and Nolan whipped out his iPhone and began taking pictures.

People with cameras and elk

Elk paparazzi seeking that perfect shot

I had neglected to bring my tripod and a charged battery for my camera, so we were stuck with our iPhones.  Compared to the serious photographers with their obscenely outfitted cameras, we felt a little like David facing Goliath.

Some of the elk wore radio collars and ear tags, but the herd bull was a splendidly naked 7×7.  He guarded his harem and bugled back when a challenging bugle came from up the valley.  The animals were very close.  Cows and calves feeding to our left brought them ever closer to the line of tripods and cameras.

Dominant bull elk

The splendidly naked herd bull. Photo courtesy of Nolan Burns, taken with this "Redneck Zoom Lens."

Calf nursing his mother

A calf nurses, oblivious to the excitement. Taken with our "redneck zoom lens."

A cow elk is not a tiny little deer.  But a bull is enormous.  Much taller than my horse and armed with about a hundred pounds of sharp headgear, he is a testosterone-charged monster all but bellowing smoke.  As his harem came closer to the cars and photographers and the dog walker came back up the valley, the bull became somewhat nervous.

He began running at the cows and circling the harem, keeping between the cows and the line of paparazzi.  There are park rules against using elk calls and rules about how close you can get to the elk.  The elk were oblivious to the 50 yard limit. Through no fault of their own, many of the onlookers and photographers became too close.  The bull trotted towards the road.  The closest guy folded his tripod and beat a retreat.

Nolan scooted behind the truck.

The dominant bull gives chase to a radio-collared cow

Our Redneck Zoom Lens captures love in the the air

He is always openly skeptical about each NABventure.  In fact, sometimes I don’t let on that we are actually on a NABventure until we are in the truck and halfway there. Earlier this year I sneaked in visits to a Revolutionary War battlefield and the Sumter National Forest.  Just tell him that he gets to drive and he will get into the truck.

On this outing, Nolan seized the day and saved the day.

“Mama, give me your binoculars,” he said.

Nolan’s idea worked.  He stuck his iPhone’s lens up to the binocular lens and began to photograph the elk through the binoculars.  A similar attempt of mine failed a few days before, when I tried my iPhone against my microscope lens at work.   But he was able to get some decent shots with his “Redneck Zoom Lens.”

Belting out a bugle

Herd bull sounds off. The bull elk's loud whistles are called "bugles."

Great Smokey Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the United States.  In spite of the Appalachians being right in the backyard of most people in the Eastern U.S., they are rugged mountains, nearly vertical.  I’ve visited and hunted elk, deer and turkeys out West.  Many take the Rocky Mountains seriously and take the Smokies for granted.  People, these are some serious mountains.  Don’t take them for granted because they happen to be in your backyard. 

Cataloochee take home points:

  • It’s really hard to get there!  Take everything you think you will need, including nerve pills for the drive in.
  • No fee to get in the park.
  • There is no visitor’s center or store of any kind.
  • There is a public bathroom which is handicapped-accessible but it does not have running water, electricity, climate-control or a baby changing station. There is a dispenser of hand sanitizer.
  • There are old buildings from before the park service bought the land—barns, a school, a house, a church.  You can and should go in them!  They are our heritage.
  • There are hiking trails but you can see the elk quite well from your vehicle or side of the road.
  • Elk are most active 2 hours after sunrise and 2 hours before sunset.
  • The park is most crowded during the summer and during the month of October.
  • The elk rut is in September-October.  Bulls are bugling and mating is occurring then.  Ideal times to see rutting activity and without having to fight crowds would be mid- to late-September.
Subordinate bull with radio collar

Subordinate bulls are often referred to as satellite bulls

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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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We might be rednecks…ya think?

Yes, I might be one.

After 25 years of working most Saturdays, I’m enjoying having a Saturday off every now and then these days.   This morning I had in mind getting a pedicure and manicure and settling in to convert locally grown organic pears into jars of golden jam. 

My 14 year old son had other ideas. 

“Take me to Academy Sports,” he begged.  After about 45 minutes of running out of excuses as to why I didn’t want to take him, I turned his request to my advantage. 

“Take your laundry out of the drier, fold it and put it away,” I said.  “Pick up all of your clothes up off the bathroom floor and put them in the laundry sorter.  Start a load of laundry.  And I’ll take you to Academy Sports.” 

It’s about 45 – 50 miles from our house to Greenville.  We arrived just in time for an early lunch.  I’m convinced that 80% of our family income goes to feeding this boy.  We went to Red Robin where we ate until we both acknowledged that we wanted to puke. 

From there we battled traffic down Woodruff Road to Academy Sports.  For a short period of time, we dithered around together along the main aisles, then he left me to go shop for bullets for his deer rifle.   I looked at meat-processing equipment, dog items and folding lawn chairs.  He and I rendezvoused in the backpack aisle. 

We drifted past deer stands and trail cameras and into my personal favorite section–deer lures, where I tend to get a little carried away.  For a change, selection and prices were good.  Often I shop too early and they don’t have the good stuff in yet.  Or I wait too late and the good stuff is picked over. 

We discussed a few choices and I started grabbing things.  Pretty soon I had to send him for a shopping basket.  I bought 3-packs of scent wick dispensers–the kind with a felt wick and a handle that easily hang from a branch.  They’re bright orange and easy to retrieve when he you get down from the stand.

I picked up a spray bottle, economy-sized, of a scent eliminator spray. 

And, oh, the deer pee!

I bought doe urine and a nifty three pack that includes plain doe urine, doe-in-heat urine and, yes a bottle of buck urine.  Great products by my current favorite Code Blue and at a very fine price.  The lad and I briefly discussed purchasing a pack of preloaded Tink’s 69 scent dispensers but I balked when I saw that they had to be actived by a chemical heat pack and only lasted for four hours.   

The fun part, really, was the check-out line.  All the lines were long.  We were lucky to be behind a family who, hmm, maybe don’t get to town very often. 

The matriarch went nuts over a little display of crazy bands right by the checkout counter. 

The boy and I made eye contact and shared a very faint smile when she began to squeal with delight over them.  I think I’m short, but the lady was about 4″9″, with a long, black and chemically damaged hair.  She had an odd facial structure, a speech impediment and  few teeth.  And she wore a tee shirt that said “Trailer Park Chihuahua.”  It featured some dandy-looking singlewides, two badass chihuahuas and Confederate flags, plus the slogan “the South”s gonna rise again.” 

While she and her family ripped through the silly bands (“Look!!! They got all kinds!”) behind us, the daddy in front mumbled something to the effect of “Y’all better get up here ‘fore I haveta pay or you’re gonna be SOL.”

Meanwhile another lady in line wearing her Clemson Tigers game day orange was getting pretty spun up by the lighters shaped like little fishing rods and deer rifles. 

“Look!”  she hollered to her friend in another checkout line.  “It’s a lighter made like a fishing rod!” 

“How much is it?”

“Ten dollars.”

“We better wait til closer to Christmas.”

The lad and I shared another slight smile and I whispered, “These people obviously don’t get out very much and are excited by the colorful trinkets.” 

And I thought we lived in isolation.

The gnomelike woman and her five to seven kids continued to paw through the silly bands and the lady in front of me was still mesmerized by the lighters.  “Hey,” she called to her friend again, “The one shaped like a football is only eight dollars.”

All of the sudden a scream ripped the air from a line off to our right.  Startled, I started to grab my son and hit the floor.   I have a healthy paranoia of being stuck  in line somewhere during a holdup.  

But the two Hispanic guys standing by the screaming woman started laughing and the woman started loud, fast talking in Spanish, and she was beating both guys with her fists. 

“That line over there is moving faster,” my son said.

“Yeah, but this one is way more fun.” I countered.  The woman was still cursing those guys when we finally made it through the checkout counter.

We live in a rural area, a bit off the beaten path.  At times I am inclined to believe that everyone I meet lives in a trashy home and either cooks meth or makes moonshine in the shed out back.   But today, in metropolitan Greenville, I felt rather…sophisticated. 

Until I got home and got out of the car. 

 “Hey, boy,” I yelled to my son, “don’t you leave that pee in the hot car.”

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A Wednesday in September

"The River of Muscadines"

Enoree River -- the river of muscadines

Wednesday promised to be an aggravating day for me.  The afternoon schedule include my annual eye exam and then a dental appointment.  I knew that before it was over, my pupils would be dilated, blurring my vision and increasing my sensitivity to light for several hours.  And I knew that my mouth would be numbed and drilled on. 

Simply, ugh.

Yet it was warm (not hot!), sunny and calm, a glorious September morning.  I decided to go to the river. 

My family’s ancestral stomping grounds–both the paternal and maternal sides–run along the Enoree River from the vicinity of Youngs community down through Enoree and Lanford Station, ending up near Cross Anchor and Horseshoe Falls.  Sometimes it calls to me like a siren’s song.

I went to the falls first and had them all to myself.  Wearing a skirt and flip flops, I walked the path down to the creek, ditched the flops and waded into the water.  Minnows scattered before me  in the clear water around my feet.  I hitched my skirt up around my thighs with my left hand and balanced the camera and truck keys in my right and photographed the falls from several angles. 

Horseshoe Falls

Images played in my mind–flickering, jerky home movies of my mama and daddy.  Mama with a picnic spread on a quilt, the Skotch cooler full of sandwiches and cold drinks.  My little brother Joey, maybe a year old,  playing on the rocks.  Jeff, also still a toddler, standing still for once, mesmerized while my daddy took a stick and dipped up a water snake that he had just killed with his pistol.  The snake was limp and kept sliding off into the water.  Daddy, young and slim,  had his pistol in one hand and the stick in the other. 

Next I drove down the road to the Enoree.  In childhood, this short drive was sullied by litter, a dumping grounds for household garbage, old television sets with shattered picture tubes, cans and broken bottles.  Now it is prisine.  There is a small but tidy parking area with a sign that marks the way to put in kayaks and that gives a brief history of the area’s Revolutionary War significance. 

Again, I waded into the river, clear water rushing under my feet.  My  eyes are peeled for snakes and, unlike my daddy, I am not packing a revolver.  Just my camera.  Snakes, I  love ’em. 

Purple Muscadines

After this I made a quick trip up I-26 to the farm store at Live Oak Farms, where I purchased an organic blue corn taco kit, a pound of butter made locally from Upstate cows and a hunk of local white cheddar with green olives in it.  I enquired about muscadines for my jelly-making enterprise.  She didn’t have any, but soon I was on my way to a small farm between Cross Anchor and Pauline where the owner and I picked three gallons in 15 minutes working in the warm September sunshine, careful around a host of lazy bumblebees.

That night, with the whole left side of my face numb and my eyes dialated, I made bronze scuppernong jelly, gloriously golden. 

When all is said and done, I will have made bronze scuppernong and purple muscadine jelly, peach and pear jam, all from fruit grown within a 30 mile radius of my home.  Why go to all the trouble when I can buy all the jam and jelly I want from the supermarket?   Like my trip to the river, it connects me to the earth, to family, to my past and that of my ancestors.

Purple Muscadine and Bronze Scuppernong Jelly

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Rush Hour…and then some. Atlanta adventure.

Consider that you are dropped into one of the busiest cities in the USA at rush hour on a Friday night.

You are suddenly teleported into an unfamiliar vehicle in an unfamiliar city…and expected to follow an ambulance carrying your spouse to a hospital you’ve never even heard of.  Whoops.  With an anxious teenager riding shotgun.

That happened to me last weekend. 

Barreling down I-85 just across the state line into Georgia, my husband suddenly slammed on brakes and jerked the wheel to the side, landing us about where an on-ramp entered the interstate.  Nonplussed, I simply figured there was a blue light flashing behind us.

Wrong.

Mr. B had suddenly become very dizzy and lost most of his vision.  “You’re going to have to drive,” he said.

I schlepped us down to the next exit where I pulled over and checked his blood sugar.  170.  Certainly not contributing to his dizziness.  My son got out and helped him try to walk it off.   It didn’t work.  A recently diagnosed early diabetic on blood pressure medicine, Mr. B had left his blood pressure cuff at home. 

We decided to motor on, with me at the helm of his F-150 pickup truck, dizzied myself by the array of controls.  I had driven this truck exactly twice on very rural South Carolina roads.  I didn’t even know were the door locks and window locks and seat adjustment buttons were, much less how to work the navigation system and cruise control, yet I was in command of this beast of a truck at 75 to 80 mph for the next hour and a half. 

Some of it was bumper to bumper stop-and-go traffic, some was easy cruising.  And some was rush hour in Atlanta.  All the while checking every few minutes to see if my Mr. B was still breathing.  His eyes were closed and he was uncharacteristically silent, responsive but barely.  I tried to stay calm for the lad beside me.

There are a few cliches about Atlanta.  One is the old joke that when you die, you have to be routed through Hartsfield on the way to the pearly gates.   The other is that if your middle finger is disabled, you can’t drive in Atlanta.  Both are pretty close to true. 

With the help–or hindrance–of the navigation system, I muddled my way to the Omni at the CNN Center  in downtown. 

I consider myself a pretty sophisticated person.  I’ve been a good many places by plane, train and automobile.  Driven in most of them and am competent at checking in and out of hotels, motels, country inns and B&B’s.  Ditto for campgrounds and, yes, even yurt villages.   But this downtown hotel confounded me.  Parking valets and bellmen descended on us like ants at a picnic.  I had no time to decide which bags we would take in and which we would leave in the truck.

We had coolers of drinks and snacks, a shotgun and a case of shells, two laptops, grocery bags of sugarless snacks and our raggedy assortment of what might loosely be called luggage.  I felt like we were the hillbillies arriving in Beverly Hills. 

Somehow we managed to get Mr. B up to our room and receive our luggage from the bellman.  Whereupon he tried to walk and fell down and said, “I hate to say it, but you’re going to have to take me somewhere.”

Yep.

I tried to call the concierge desk and the damn phone didn’t work.  “Excuse me,” I said, coolly, like I did this every day, “I’ll just go down there and talk to someone.”

Things came unhinged from there.  Our concierge said protocol dictated that she would have to call security and 9-1-1.  Then she quickly, diplomatically and calmly accompanied me to room 415.  We got there before security and my husband was still out flat on the bed, eyes closed, poorly responsive. 

While we waited for the paramedics, the phone maintenance guy drifted in and in broken English explained that he would have to come back later and reprogram the phone.  We paced and waited…and waited…and waited for the EMS to arrive, with me fretting, thinking, I’m glad he’s not having a heart attack.  Truth be told, I didn’t know what was happening to him.  Recently he has lost weight because of the diabetes, and this has helped his blood pressure, but I feared a stroke.  And time is critical with those.

The paramedics arrived after twenty minutes.  Given the traffic, I could understand that, but it did little to instill confidence in having him get the help he needed.

They assessed him and advised that they transport him to a hospital.  I was given two choices, and considering what I’d heard about one of them, hoped that I’d chosen wisely.  Things moved very quickly from there.  While one EMT set an IV, the other tried to give me directions to the hospital.  Uh, slower, I’m trying to type this into my cell phone.  The next thing I knew, he had an oxygen nose piece on and was strapped to a gurney and being loaded into an ambulance.

An ambulance that I was going to have to follow through downtown Atlanta at 5:30 pm on a Friday…in a truck that I was just learning to drive. 

We made it.  I ran a couple of yellow lights, got separated from the ambulance once but never lost sight of it.  I even managed to thread the big 4WD pickup into a parking garage at the hospital with just a few inches to spare and my son coming unglued, yelling “Don’t scratch his truck!  You’re gonna scratch his truck!”

Less than an hour and a half later, he was treated and released, the diagnosis being vertigo.  Relieved, I navigated to a Walgreen’s with excellent directions from the nurse and got his prescription filled.  We made it back to the Omni and somehow led him to the room.

He stayed in the room for two days, wobbly and nearly blind, before beginning to toddle out a bit.  A little over a week later, he is gradually feeling more and more normal.

Gimme a truck, any truck, and I guarantee that I can drive it anywhere under battlefield conditions.

And the irony?  His physician was in the same place as we were..at the same time as we were running around like chickens with heads cut off…and we didn’t know it.

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The Probability of Cyndi Lauper: Hell Hole 2008

 

 

It took two showers to wash the funk of three days camping in the wilderness off of me.  That and a swim.  In a couple of days I’ll be semi-satisfied that I no longer smell like I spent three days bicycling in a jungle.

 

Day 1

 I arrived in the Hell Hole Wilderness area of the Francis Marion National Forest on the heels of a May thundershower.  In the darkness, the misty roads were disorienting.  My dashboard GPS, which speaks to me in a robotic male voice I call Bob, only served to make matters worse, commanding, “Entering unverified area!  Use caution.” 

 Bob didn’t know diddly.  He kept telling me I had about 15 miles to go and I knew it was a flat-out lie.  But the further I drove, the more confused I became.  I found a Forest Service spur road, number 198A that was also labeled Hell Hole Road.  It wasn’t the one I knew, but rather was bushy—overgrown—and even curvy.  The smell of wood ash stirred by rain on a fresh controlled burn filled my nostrils.

 Bob commanded me to “Make a u-turn, if possible” and my iPod shuffled to Cyndi Lauper. 

 I had to escape

The city was sticky and cruel.

 Hmm.  And I thought girls just wanted to have fun.  I gripped the wheel tighter and wondered if I was going away from Hell Hole campground or towards it.

 The road grew thick with toads.  Thick like an Alfred Hitchcock movie.  Though I needed some air, I rolled the window up so I couldn’t hear them when they popped under my tires. 

 Finally 198A came to a t-intersection.  I glanced at Bob and his screen showed a blue dotted line connecting me with a target-shaped destination.  I hung a right.  I’d get there eventually.  The road grew straight and flat and cypress trees in the headlights gave my mist-limited vista a feel like something out of a sci-fi movie.  I strained myself for a glimpse of headlights to confirm that my comrades were out on the roads.  They weren’t.  Ah, well, it’s a wilderness area—there isn’t supposed to be traffic.

 Toads hopped everywhere in front of my tires.  I usually swerve.  There were too many.  There were so many I saw them hopping over each other.  Twenty minutes and maybe two thousand amphibians later, I spotted the campground, though I use the term loosely.  It’s a two acre clearing the national Forest.  There are two meat poles, a big steel trash can that rednecks use for target practice and a concrete picnic table.  No electricity.  No water.  No bathrooms.  We use the woods. 

 *  *  *

 I found out why there no one was out cruising the roads.  Everyone was in the campground, the cars circled like covered wagons in a cowboy movie.  And there in the center of it all was my brother Jeff and his bride Miss Punkin plus old friends and some yet to be made.  I was home.  Yes, Cyndi Lauper is right–I would drive all night to get there. 

Understand that this is an annual event, a reunion of sorts.  Snake hunting is the term we use for this activity but it is a gross misnomer.  We do not hunt snakes, at least not with guns.  We look for them and catch them.  It is an act of intimacy, this rendering an uncooperative reptile into your hand.  You are touching it against its will, if they have a will. 

 So we go out herping and visit and play a lot of music and gather around a fire.  But our purpose is clear.  We are re-aligning ourselves with nature under the pretense of hunting snakes.

 Operating with special permits from appropriate state and federal wildlife agencies, we count, catch and release any animals we find.  Mark their locations with GPS coordinates.  Share the story of the species with others.  We talk about the habitat, the impact of hurricanes and drought and humans. 

 Like me, some choose to camp in the national forest.  Others stay in at a Holiday Inn in Monck’s Corner, which is quite a distance from Hell Hole Wilderness.  There is an occasional commuter from the Charleston area and even from near Georgetown.  We are an eclectic group consisting of a mixture of naturalists, fans of the indie rock band The Floating Men and borderline TFM stalkers.  Looking around I saw cast of characters easily described as Southern gothic, a jumbled mix of tragedy and triumph, part refugee and part genius.

 The lovely Miss Punkin helped me unload a few things from my truck and we pitched half a camp in a few minutes.  I chose not to erect my tent in the dark and possibly end up sleeping on a hill of fire ants.  And even if it is me, I think there is something just right about a middle age woman willing to sleep in the back seat of her pickup truck.  It strikes a pose between self-confidence and self-flagellation.  I sleep there because I want to.

Day 2

I was already stinking.  To avoid being carried away by mosquitoes, I slept with the windows rolled up tight, tangled in my sweaty sleeping bag and worried about whether or not I’d be getting enough oxygen.  But I woke surprisingly fresh; the seat of my truck apparently is shaped so that my shoulders and spine were in perfect alignment all night long. 

 The night had passed without rain, but everything in our camp was soggy or covered with water and soon my running shoes were squishy.  My matches were so damp I couldn’t light my stove.  Still, I’m such an early riser that I managed to make it to the closest convenience store in nearby Jamestown.  There I was dazzled by a staggering array of exotic coffees and creamers.  I chose Kona and half-n-half.  What the hell.  After briefly considering bathing in the ladies room sink, I purchased a bag of ice and, feeling like a little bit of a cowboy, headed south for Hell Hole.

 *  *  *

 I am the bicycle guide.  I guess.  Maybe the bicycle geek.  Three years ago I decided that we might see more snakes, turtles and lizards from the seat of a mountain bike than a truck and started leading small groups of eager cyclists on a thirteen to fourteen mile out-and-back on Hell Hole’s main road.  I have a high dollar road bike that’s high-tech, light and fast and I consistently can’t live up to what my bike is designed to do.  But on these gravel roads on a heavy steel-frame hard tail with knobby tires, I can kick ass.  One year I sent tee shirts that read “I Survived Cycling with Jackie” to those who rode with me. 

 This year I was expecting to ride alone, to maybe make a day of it.  But Jeff had more participants than guides and low and behold, Gordon and Ronnie brought their bicycles and had the guts to go out with me for a second year.  I arranged for people in vehicles to give us water when they passed us and told Gordon and Ronnie that I had packets of Hammer Gel should they need it. 

 Right down the road from camp I spotted a swallow-tailed kite, a dramatic, graceful raptor that winters in South America.  It is a species of special concern in the southern states in which it occurs.  We see them every year, but I proudly pointed it out to my two cyclists.  These kites have deeply forked tails and are a blue color like where the sky meets the horizon on a clear day.  Gordon and Ronnie didn’t know how lucky they are to see it, but I did. I would report it to the Citizen Science for Swallow-tailed Kites Network.  Last year they gave me an actual refrigerator magnet for my effort.

 Later I spotted a medium-sized alligator as it slid into the road ditch.  Ronnie and Gordon didn’t see it and snakes weren’t crawling.  By this time last year I had caught two snakes and detained another one.  It felt like we were in a steam bath, but the temperature really wasn’t that high.  Maybe seventy-five, not ideal but plenty warm enough for crawlers.  I’m being generous to describe the mood as subdued.

We reached the end of Hell Hole Road and started back.  Soon I saw what I thought were people in the road ahead.  In Hell Hole, I’m never sure if what I see is a mirage or not.  But finally I realized it really was someone.  Eddie, Patrick and Ty materialized on the road, arms extended and thumbs out as though they thought I could pick them all up on my bicycle and ferry them from the swamp.  They had spotted an alligator, scared it into the water and just took off on foot to look for more neat stuff. 

Ronnie and Gordon caught up and we went with the Hade family to where they had pulled their car over for the gator.  Of course it wasn’t there.  These gators are savvy and go into the water fast if they feel pressured.  They have good eyesight and keen hearing and since they have been harassed before, they usually don’t linger in an area this accessible to people. 

Ronnie found it, though, on the opposite side of the road, its prehistoric head sticking out of a culvert.  The six of us clustered around the culvert, and I was certain the gator would disappear in a swirl of black water.  I thought wrong. 

It stayed while every frigging one of us tramped onto its culvert and then it stayed some more.  Eddie got close, really close and patiently took photo after photo, grasping for just the right light and exposure and angle.  I stepped down the ditch a few feet and into the edge of the water to take some photos of my own.

Since we had permission from state and federal agencies to handle reptiles, I’d quizzed Holmes—which is what the fans call my brother—before heading out.  Hey, Jeff, should, uh, opportunity arise, can I catch an alligator?

 “Hmm.  They’re not endangered any more.  But they’re not clumsy and they are really fast, even on land,” he said. “And this year’s hatchlings—remember the mother’s not far away and she’ll get pissed if you mess with her babies.”

Then he gave me a conspiratorial little smile, one that said, ok, you didn’t hear this from me but, maybe one a foot long or so. 

Gordon and Ronnie and Patrick and I pow-wowed while Eddie continued to take photos and Ty played around in the road.  They wanted to call Win.  Win, they reasoned, would try to grab it.  But between all of us, we didn’t have a cell phone with enough battery to text anybody.  Good thing we hadn’t encountered a venomous reptile.

But my womanhood was threatened a bit.  Call Win, my butt. 

“I’ll try to touch it,” I said.  “But it’s too big to grab.”

I had handled alligators and crocodiles before.  Small ones are easy enough to grab bare-handed and bigger ones can be handled with the proper tools.  This one was maybe four and a half to five feet, its snout easily broader than my hand.  It would take two hands fast on the snout, simultaneously, flawlessly, to avoid being bitten.  Knowing myself rather well, I worried about getting the clumsies and rolling into the water, where it might slash me with its claws.

This alligator, it was way too large to hand-grab and I knew it.

Still, you will never get this close to a wild gator, at least not outside of a national park where the animals have no fear.    I could, though, envision counting coup on it, extending my hand and touching its snout as it quickly submerged.

I could also imagine it slashing its head sideways and ripping the meat off my hand. 

I stretched out on my belly on the culvert and cameras came out. 

“Whatever you do, don’t get my butt in the picture,” I said.  “I will kill you.  I mean it.”  They, being men, understood.

Time stood still.  I realized the water was clear though dark orange from the tannins in it.  The gator was tantalizingly close, a beautiful thing, eyes rimmed in gold lamé.  My face was maybe a foot and a half from his.  I extended my hand to six inches from the reptile.  My fingernails, polished pink and shiny with my own gold bands, glistened in the sun.  I hesitated.  Okay, no, I suddenly went chicken.  I choked.  But so did the gator, which submerged just as I paused. 

I am so down with no emergency room visit.

*  *  *

Meanwhile, Holmes and Miss Punkin got lost, really lost, in the swamp.  For an hour and a half.  Jeff, who has become somewhat of a techno-geek, went temporarily insane and left his cell phone and GPS in their Land Cruiser.  They tried following the sun.  They finally nagivated back, zeroed in on the music of the frogs.  Punkin, I said, I’ve been in a swamp with Jeff and I can tell you he can get lost with a GPS in his hand.  I’ve been lost before and I know it’s true what they say in the Westerns.  You do go in circles.

*  *  *

A front blew through and the weather went from sort of okay to really chilly.  Folks snacked and napped.  Steve and Sylvia arrived and Cris mistook Steve for a stray dude wandering into our camp.  Pam and Tyler came in and put up two tents.  Junkman and his girlfriend put up a tent.  I noticed him trying to pound pegs in with his knife so I produced a rubber mallet for them.  I must own three rubber mallets, having had days when I couldn’t get a peg in the ground for nuthin’.  At any given time, I can find one of my mallets.  Good thing.  Everybody needed it.

Then we went back out cruising for reptiles.  This time, I took them in cars.  Alysen and Misty rode with me.  It was party time.  We started with my iPod on shuffle again and then we rocked out.  Every artist had a story, split between my softer, flatter accent and Alysen’s high-pitched and very fast mountain twang.  We got hung up on Prince for a while. I could barely drive for dancing.

“That’s one sexy, tiny little black man,” Alysen said.  I laughed my butt off.  She is so right.

Back on shuffle, the iPod spat out Billy Idol and by some improbable cosmic occurrence shuffled back to Cyndi Lauper. 

I was dreaming as I drove,

 The long straight road ahead.

 

How likely is that? A machine with almost 4000 songs, set to random shuffle, picking up one of maybe two Cyndi Lauper songs on it and playing it twice in one day’s time?  Not very, I thought. 

Alysen had a story about that, too.  “Cyndi Lauper.  I ‘member I used to like her better than Madonna.  Tried to dress like her. ”  I grinned, mentally envisioning tweenaged Alysen and Misty decked out in some mixtures of clunky beads, ripped lace and plaid with crimped pink hair and pouty lips.

Later I had the pleasure of taking out Junkman and his girlfriend Sarah, who I promptly nicknamed Junkwoman.  Nice kids, first Hell Hole experience.  I let them drink beer in my truck.  Junkman, I was told, holds the dubious distinction of being the only Floating Men fan ever arrested at a Floating Men concert.  He served twelve hours of hard time for trying to talk a policeman out of taking his friends to jail.  We talked a lot and quite naturally didn’t see any snakes but found two dead hogs and a dead pit bull near the meth head’s trailer.  Such is Hell Hole.

Back at camp my matches had dried out enough that I could start my stove.  I cooked butterfly pasta.  Tossed it with some olive oil and canned smoked salmon.  No capers—according to Miss Punkin, the Monck’s Corner Food Lion was fresh out, though I hardly think there was a Memorial Day Weekend rush on capers. I put some olive oil in a cup and sprinkled it with Italian seasoning, served it with French bread and offered it up to the public.  I guess I stunk so badly that nobody but Jeff’s old college friend Lauren took me up on it. 

People drifted in and out of the campsite that I occupied with my gal pal Cris.  In Hell Hole, Cris is in her happy place.  Happy with carrots and white bean hummus.  Happy with spring water. Happy with blackberries and yogurt.  No wonder she’s a stick.  Me, I gotta eat something with major carbs.  I have a little tool box full of necessaries.  Instant oatmeal.  Seasonings.  Olive oil.  Jiffy pop. Mustard, ketchup.  Crackers.  Tuna.

Junkwoman looked shyly at my box. “Do you have any marshmallows?” She asked. 

But of course.  I even offered to pull the skinny wire legs off my plastic pink flamingos to use as skewers.  Too bad the Leap-people weren’t there.  Michelle, I’d bet, could produce something Starbucky.

Everyone arrived by the fire.  It was as large a Hell Hole gathering as I’ve ever seen.  And as quiet.   Where’s Leftwich when you need him? No one was loud or drunk and disorderly or the least bit boisterous.  Ty ran around quietly playing with a turnip he found on the ground.  We sat close by the fire, partly for the warmth.  People left and came back with blankets.  It was that cold.  No snakes? No wonder.  And no worries.

Jeff took requests from each of The Floating Men’s studio CD’s.  Win’s friend Randy nabbed me and got me to serve wine that he and his wife Kim had concocted.  Home-made blackberry merlot.  It was damn fine stuff, though fortified, he said with some real alcohol.  I took it real easy, produced some clear plastic glasses and served it like communion, circulating quietly through the chairs.  Coffee, tea or me ran through my head. 

Holmes, sans indigestion this year, gracefully played the requests.  Then he took a short break and launched into his new material with Punkin holding a flashlight onto his notebook full of lyrics.  Good stuff.  No, great stuff.  Not a soul heckled him or talked out of turn.  Near the end (wink) I thought I saw Eddie nodding off.  Then he got up and put Ty to bed in the back seat of their car.  The wilderness area biologist arrived late with his wife and three daughters.  We talked after Jeff was through singing and I wished they had come sooner.  True, the guy was fine (A Georgia alum and all) but his wife could’ve been the life of the party.  Gordon cranked the TFM on his motor home stereo and a few stalwarts hung around the fire and visited over marshmallows. 

I was snuggled down in my sleeping bag, rated to zero and oh-so-comfy by 11:30.  This time in a tent.

Day 3

Morning found me energized though stinkier than ever and wanting to head to Jamestown for more Kona and cream and maybe–just maybe–a sponge bath in the sink at the convenience store.  It was not to be.  That scoundrel Bob had stayed up all night partying and his battery was as dead as my tent peg mallet.  I located a semi-dry match and made coffee in my enamel percolator on my stove and Cris boiled some water for my powdered eggs. 

They were simply not edible.  But Hell Hole, being a little bit of a temporary commune, took care of me. 

Pam popped up, handy with jumper cables and cars were hastily rearranged to let her Mustang Ka-Thunk, a girl car, couple with my Honda.   Randy showed us how to connect the terminals and Bob purred to life, basking in the afterglow of his chance encounter with a real American auto. 

Randy and Kim and Amanda and Paul and Hope and Win cooked enough eggs and bacon for the entire camp.  They offered and I accepted, my appetite for eggs apparently whetted by the disgusting powdered stuff that I had tried to reconstitute in its pouch.  We folded the eggs and bacon in giant flour tortillas and I spiked mine with Tabasco and shredded cheddar.

Hell Hole?  Hell, yeah. 

Then I took Miss Punkin on a run down Hell Hole and to the old cemetery off Yellow Jacket Road where we saw a flock of turkey hens and admired a little plastic saxophone that’s always on one of the graves. We stopped and watched woodpeckers in the tall stand of long leaf pines at the intersection and I whipped out my Antsy McClain CD collection.  Punkin said nice things (though her colorful use of the English language would make a sailor blush) about the cover art on Way Cool World and we couldn’t stop laughing so we sat there and listened to “Skinny Women Ain’t Hip” and watched red-headed woodpeckers where we should have seen red-cockadeds.

She is getting out more because of changes in her office.  I’m glad.  Her laughter is contagious, her wit keen.  Both of my brothers have excellent taste in wives.

We didn’t see anything of great significance but this is not failure.  The sun was bright, though, and the day promised to be warmer.  Maybe someone would catch some snakes before the day wrapped with the Ghost Tour on Pawley’s Island, but I knew it would not be me.  Like many parents, I get the guilties for taking some me time.  And there was a lad at home and he won’t be twelve forever.

I left Hell Hole at noon, gassed up and put the iPod back on shuffle.  Inexplicably, just before Summerville, Cyndi Lauper came on again. 

I drove all night

To get to you

Is that alright?

I drove all night.

 

Yeah, I probably will next year, too.

 

I remembered this essay and posted it today due to the duplicity of Led Zepelin.   Driving home from the grocery store, the radio was playing “Fool in the Rain.”  When I got home and got out to unload the groceries, “Fool in the Rain” was playing on my iPod, which I had set up outside by the pool.  I laughed out loud.

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Hearing Bea Laugh

We lost a family treasure this week. 

Aunt Bea passed away peacefully at the home of her daughter and son-in on Monday.   She was ninety-six years old. 

Bea had many names.  Her given name was Lydia.  She was called Lottie Bell by many, which was  shortened to Bea.  Unable to pronounce her name, her first grand-daughter began to call her Mudgie.  It stuck.  All three of her grandchildren called her Mudgie. 

I have a theory that the number of nicknames one has seems to be directly proportionate to how much one is loved. 

Bea was a feature of my childhood.  She lived with her mother–my Granny Cooper–on the mill hill in Enoree.  They had their own home, a four room mill house near the Enoree School.  But they could likely as not be found at Nanny and Papa’s old big house–one of the biggest houses on the mill hill.   Papa was entitled to the big house because he was the night superintendent at the mill.

But there were curious things about Bea. 

Mind you, I am looking at things through the eyes of a very naive little girl growing up in the Sixties.  Nothing bad had ever happened or ever would. 

Aunt Bea had no husband.  I suppose at various times my innocent mind partitioned her off as a widow or even a spinster, never mind how she came to have a daughter and grandchildren.   So it was a shocker to find out that Bea had been married and divorced.  Nobody we knew of in Enoree except scandalous Aunt Jennny had been divorced.  People whispered about folks who got divorces.  It just wasn’t done.  There certainly was plenty to whisper about Jenny, but Bea was just Bea.  No whispering required.

A second curious thing about Bea was that she didn’t drive.  She walked to work, walked to Nanny and Papa’s.  Wherever else she needed to go, there were always relatives and friends to take her.  A good many women in the Sixties did not drive.  Nanny didn’t, but I remember Papa Claude teaching her…or trying to, and she eventually got a driver’s license.  I don’t know if Bea ever did.  

Bea and Papa Claude shared a special friendship, even after Nanny died.  Bea was his sister by marriage but also by the heart.  Papa liked puzzles and trickery of all kinds, but he was a master of practical jokes.  One time he got a mail-order motion activated recording that he hid under the toilet for Bea.  it said something like, “I SSSEEEEEE  YOUUUUUUUUUU,”  in a man’s deep voice.  My little old Papa giggled for days about that.

If Papa Claude giggled, Bea laughed.  Not a loud, crazy laugh, not a dainty little laugh.  A just right laugh.  She laughed a lot.   Shortly after mama got the call about her death, in the quiet of her home with her mind turned to a simple task, mama heard Bea’s laughter. 

Bea stayed healthy and vibrant well into her senior years.  I reckon all of that walking all over the mill hill kept her slender and strong.  She worked long days in the cotton mill into her seventies. 

Keep on laughing Bea/Lottie Belle/Mudgie.  We’ll see you again someday over yonder.

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This ain’t the Low Country

It happens all the time. 

You meet someone somewhere–at a convention, a vacation, a meeting, a resort, even on line or while conducting business on the telephone.  They ask, “Where are you from?”

Any more, I sort of hate to say South Carolina.  Because inevitably, there is a squeal of pleasure, “Oh, we LOVE South Carolina,” and they go on to prattle on about Charleston or Hilton Head or Pawley’s Island or Beaufort.   About seafood and beaches and live oaks and palmetto trees and golf courses. 

I have to grit my teeth and politely say, “We’re from the Upstate.”  You know, near Greenville?

The Upstate, it seems, is invisible to the world.

We have our own topography, red clay and hills, lush and green and punctuated by cow pastures, chicken farms, hay fields and deer leases.  Flowing with brown silty rivers and creeks with the occasional rocky shoal. 

We have industry and farming and our own regional accents.  We have a rich history of Piedmont blues musicians and textile league baseball.  We are dotted with former cotton mill towns and historic sites from the Revolutionary War.  We have miles and miles of beautiful lake shores, campgrounds and state parks.  We are covered with liberal arts colleges and state universities.

Aside from the expected–a local variation of barbeque sauce–we have a regional cuisine.  It is pinto beans and cornbread, fatback and fried chicken.  Peaches in the summer and collard greens in the winter.  It is potatoes instead of rice.  And a squash is a yellow crookneck, not a zucchini and not one of those Yankee things that looks like some kind of little pumpkin.

We have a sense of self, an identity, a pride.

We are the Upstate.

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Pull up a chair, pass the cornbread…and set a spell.

Wry wit and wisdom

We have teeth.  We are educated.  For the most part, our family tree actually branches. 

Sure, we might whip out a banjo but we just as easily could play our iPod.  We might dine on fusion cuisine or we might crave some butter beans cooked with a little fatback.  We like to go deer hunting and bass fishing but we compost our kitchen waste and sort our recyclables. 

We’ll update our facebook page from where we sit drinking corn liquor from a jar beside a camp fire.   We read Garden & Gun magazine and we whoop and holler at the Friday night high school football games.  We might sip wine at an art gallery opening tonight and troll through yard sales looking for bargains tomorrow morning.

We wear our Carhartts on the ski slopes, and we always try to leave  at least one Christmas decoration up year ’round to stay in line with our neighbors.  We can toggle between Oprah and NASCAR without batting an eye.

We are the new.  The old.  The rural South.

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