Saluda River Dawn

 

October 15th image River

Photograph by Robert C. Clark

Outside of sportsmen, photographers, and naturalists, few witness the dawning of a river morning. For photographers, it’s a sublime-yet-fleeting moment to capture the start of another day, and what a day. As fog gathers over a swirling Saluda River, dawn’s early light spreads a golden patina over waters that have made their way from the cold depths of Dreher Shoals Dam.

Few will behold this daybreak pageantry.

As people get ready for work, as others take in the news, as others sleep, the Saluda gleams beneath spokes of light. The founding editor of South Carolina Wildlife, John Culler, wrote a simple truth long ago. “The most delicious time in all creation is just before sunup.” Indeed it is. How many Saluda River dawns have you missed?

Indian Fields Trumpeter

 

 

William Bowman at p#120EC9D copy

Presenting Mr. William Bowman.

Some faces say little. Others volumes. Mr. Bowman’s grizzled face lectures us on life and its never-ending difficulties. I look into his eyes and see seven Ph.Ds.

Mr. Bowman blows the horn at Indian Fields Methodist Campground near St. George where folks live in wooden “tents” for a week and worship in the tabernacle. Standing amid the ninety-nine tents surrounding the tabernacle, Mr. Bowman sounds his notes as the lengthy trumpet rests across a comrade’s shoulder. People gathered beneath blue October skies socialize until the pewter and brass horn summons them to service.

And the children? When Bowman’s notes sound quiet time at eleven in the evening they know their day is done.

Mr. Bowman has long blown the holy trumpet but his tenure pales in comparison to his Uncle Shell who last blew the horn at the tender age of 103. Till that day, Uncle Shell had sounded the trumpet for seventy-five years.

You should hear it. You should see it. Bowman applies his weathered face to the brass mouthpiece and his notes lift people from their chair. Brother, sound that mighty trumpet like no other, but you know and I know your eyes say it all.

Sentimental Journey Along Highway 25

Gulf Dealer 2

I was making my way from Greenville to Lincolnton one Saturday afternoon. I had to take a back road, a blessing. The light was bad at 3:45 p.m. but I had to photograph this old store on Highway 25 between Ware Shoals and Greenwood. I don’t know who owns it but I thank this kindred spirit for reminding us of days gone by.

On its right side are reminders of days past, including an icon of the South: the revered RC Cola Moonpie combination, the workingman’s lunch. One ad is real but the others are painted onto the boards. Coca Cola has given us memorable images, and this pretty woman on a diving board doesn’t diminish that legacy. Red Man Chewing Tobacco, no doubt, gives politically correct, ultra-sensitive kneejerk types a jolt. Well, get over it. Move on …

The front pairs Lucky Strike cigarettes with that old classic drink, Orange Crush. Lucky Strike came out in 1871 and took its name from the era’s gold prospectors. Peer through the windows into the past. Not too much to see in the shadows but vines have invaded the place. Nature reclaims all she can, including quaint reminders of the last century.

For some of us, country stores bring to mind memories such as pouring peanuts into a Coke bottle. As I say in my talks, “I can’t see my grandchildren many years from now moaning and groaning, ‘Man, they just don’t make stores like Walmart anymore.’ ” You can’t miss what you never had.

The store’s left side has ads that portray the soft drinks Seven Up, Coca Cola, and Pepsi. Note, I didn’t say “sodas.” That bit of Northern nomenclature grates on my nerves. Down here some of use “Coke” to indicate we’re going to get a drink. “Hey, pull over to that store and let’s get a coke.” My Granddad Poland called Cokes “dopes,” and I’ve written that Coca Cola did indeed contain cocaine when it was in its infancy, shall we say its baby bottle stages.

Don’t you know that old Gulf Dealer sign comforted many a driver watching the needle hover over E. Easy to imagine an old wood-paneled Ford Wagon pulling in. Gulf Oil came to be in 1901. Red Man tobacco in 1904. Crush came out in 1911, and Moon Pies came out in 1917. Coca Cola, introduced in 1886, is the second oldest man in the room, second to Lucky Strike. These products bring to mind my grandparents’ heyday. If only they could have seen how stores would evolve, for what strikes me here is what you don’t see. No asphalt parking lot out back. Just a field of sheep sorrel and woods. Neither do you see mercury vapor lights. No rack for shopping carts. Paper, not plastic, bags worked just fine.

I am rambling on but some of you know of what I write. We’re circling the drain, as younger generations get all excited about the latest app on their phone. Yes, times change. The Gulf Oil sign rusts and vines invade the store. No greeter stood in the door, beneath which a stack of bricks served as steps. You had to open the door yourself. No automatic opening to welcome a swarm of flies winging its way through a fan’s downburst, which messes up your hair, ladies.

What you see here is destined for a place called “Obscurity.” But for now it’s here and it brings to mind an email a lady sent me about today’s kids.

“They miss so much with their faces glued to smart phones and such. Do they ever take notice of the world around them?” No, I doubt they do, and nary a one, I’d wager, realize that the old store would be much more authentic with a rusty tin roof, but, you know, I do love those red shingles.

The Beauty Of Old Bridges

File this column under “Progress.” I guess. I remain a skeptic of much that is new and better and that includes the new bridges going up across Georgialina. Better is not always beautiful. On both sides of the Savannah you’ll see detour markers. Somebody found a big pot of gold evidently because old bridges have been razed to make way for new ones. Bridge rehabitation they call it. Bridge replacement too.

Going, gone, gone are the old rusty steel truss bridges. Up go the wide concrete bridges. The old bridges? Destroyed and removed. That hasn’t always been the case. If you know where to look, you can find old bridges and when you do, see if you don’t find them elegantly beautiful.

In my explorations of back roads I come across their remains. Ghostly, overtaken by woods and vines, they stand alone. No traffic, save a solitary fellow with a camera. The beauty of old bridges should not be lost so easily. The next time you’re driving down Highway 378 from McCormick toward Saluda look to your left as you cross Hard Labor Creek. Through the trees an old bridge materializes like a spirit. Surreal but real, it hosts a deer hunter’s hut-like stand where old cars and trucks once sped. Hard Labor Creek runs on as if nothing has changed, but it has. Icons fall like leaves.

 

The ghostly remains of the old Hard Labor Creek Bridge.

 

Some cling to existence. If you take Highway 283 out of Plum Branch toward Edgefield you’ll see Key Road to your right. Take it and you will cross an old steel truss bridge over Stevens Creek. Just pass it is a turn off to the right that takes you to another old bridge. Here you can walk out on yet another steel truss bridge and see the Key Road Bridge. Two old steel bridges side by side, twins. One’s for cars, and one’s for couples, bikers, and hikers. At one end of the “walking” bridge is Edgefield County; at the other, McCormick County. The view provides one of those scenes Hollywood would love for one of its old movies.

 

Highway 181 bridge to nowhere.

 

Yes, old bridges are still with us but on life support. When I see a forsaken bridge clinging to life I conjure up images of classic old cars and trucks. Think about the people, long gone, who depended on those bridges to get from one place to another.

Here’s another old one … Highway 181 crosses a free-running stretch of the Savannah River just below Lake Hartwell. You can see this old steel truss bridge jutting just over the state line into South Carolina. The authorities spared it. As I wrote in my back roads book, South Carolina Country Roads, “Neither you nor I will ever cross that bridge again. Its South Carolina terminus has been cut away. It hangs over the river, a dropping off point if ever there were one. A wide concrete bridge, which seems to be the trend, now, has replaced it. Barriers prevent you from driving onto the old bridge. Drive across this bridge and you essentially walk the plank with a plunge into the Savannah River your fate.” Beside it runs one the new spans that quite simply lacks character. Think of a parking lot.

 

A familiar sight these days.

 

We lost our covered bridges long ago. Now we’re losing the old steel truss bridges. Sure, they are narrow and creaky but that’s a blessing. Build a wider bridge and man can get his big trucks into places like undisturbed islands. Let those big trucks in and watch how things change, and not always for the better.

A few photographs say more than I can about the need to leave some old bridges standing. Let them watch their new counterparts shoulder man’s burdens. Hang onto a bit of the past; hang on to the beauty of old bridges.

 

Squatters

Squatters Debris Trail 2

Part of the debris trail

Looking back, they lived like frontiersmen. Looking back, I admire them for doing what they had to do. Find a place to survive. A squirrel-hunting boy who skirted their wooded encampment, I considered them bums. Looking back that seems harsh. Down on their luck some would say. Poor decision-makers others would say. Looking back, I say they were frontiersmen. Modern-day Daniel Boones.

Squatters Pot

A cooking pot, not a chamber pot

Today, a debris trail of bottomless chamber pots, broken bottles, glass Clorox jugs, and assorted flotsam brings them alive one more time. Untangling the vines and clearing away the pine straw, I uncover artifacts of unusual people. In the lexicon of nomad types we have hoboes, vagrants, and itinerants. And squatters named Tom and Yank. Yank carried himself with a bit of dignity. Tom seemed shy and withdrawn.

I first saw these brothers in Clifford Goolsby’s country store. They wore felt hats and loose, rumpled, brown garments. They looked like the Darling family of the Andy Griffith Show. Yank had a grizzled beard; Tom was clean-shaven. What I remember most shocks me still—the first time I saw a man with a missing arm. That would have been Tom. Despite not wanting to look, I stared at his stump, the shirtsleeve dangling over it. And then later, Bill Goolsby, a character if ever, told me Yank had shot off his brother’s arm in a hunting accident. As Bill recounted the story, I could see the muzzle blast and buckshot tearing into flesh and bone. I winced.

Yank, in penitence, took care of his brother the rest of his life. As I worked at the store pumping gas and bagging groceries, the brothers came and went. “They must live close by,” I thought. Naïve of my own surroundings outside of the goings and comings of squirrels, I didn’t know the ill-fated brother, Tom, shotgun-wielding Yank, and their mom lived close by. And then one cold, October morning, one of those mornings when crystalline shafts of light pierce wooded shadows, my squirrel-hunting adventures led me to their home. I was following a squirrel leaping from pine to pine in graceful arcs. In a pool of morning light I saw their shack. It stood in woods not far from the Augusta Highway. It was made of cardboard. Large sheets of cardboard tacked to strips of wood and set among the trees, shelter nonetheless. I recall it had a tin roof, and indeed, rusting sheets of tin take their place in the debris trail, a string of abandonment reminiscent of a sinking ship’s dying moments.

They long lived there. Doing some math, reckoning, I realize they were living there when Uncle Joe bought the land they were squatting on. Uncle Joe, as good a man as you’ll find, never thought once about evicting them. And so they remained without plumbing and without electricity. I saw what might have been a well, filled-in now, and I saw an old TV thrown into what might have been part of the old manganese mining operation nearby. Others, not the squatters, jettisoned this relic of the days of grainy test patterns. Hard to run a TV without electricity.

Squatters Homesite

Here stood their shack of cardboard

As for me, the years piled up. My days of hunting squirrels faded, and fate moved me to another state. A lifetime entire passed before recent forays into the family woods brought Tom, me, and Yank together again. Curious as to their fate, I searched online to learn what became of these squatters. All I could find was the date of Yank’s death, June 6, 1978. His birth date was given as 1910, no month, no day. His real name was Ansle, a noble name of the old days. Perhaps that’s why he seemed a bit dignified despite his position in life. He’s buried, if indeed, this is the Yank I remember, in the cemetery of my church. I just can’t be sure he is one of the two mysterious men who would walk into Goolsby’s grocery store. Goolsby’s. It had to be the source of the debris trail’s many bottles, jars, jugs, and cans, some of which I no doubt stocked.

We cross paths with all sorts. For this Georgia boy, working at a country store and hunting squirrels brought me into contact with frontiersmen. Had I not been so timid, I could have put myself at ease around them and learned much about survival. But that was then, and this is now. They are gone and the squirrel hunter’s a photojournalist. All I can do is walk their debris trail and see what it teaches me about these squatters of the 1950s and 60s, a family who lived like pioneers.

The Wall That Heals Comes To Camden

A black eighteen-wheeler will soon roll into town with an escort. On the trailer’s front end are the words “The War and the Wall,” on its back end, “The Wall That Heals.” Along the wall’s route, those words and much more cause adults and kids to stand at attention.

“Kids need something to stand up for and this (wall) is part of it because everybody gives their life for something sooner or later.” So said a veteran on-camera as he stood before The Wall That Heals, the wall that will be in Camden May 3 to May 6. You can stand before it, too, in Camden, the only South Carolina venue on the 2018 Tour schedule.

The Wall honors the more than three million Americans who served in the U.S. Armed Forces in the Vietnam War. It bears the names of the more than 58,000 men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice. It gives veterans, families and the Camden community a chance to honor lost loved ones and friends.

According to virtualwall.org the following Camden servicemen died in Vietnam: PFC Michael Lynn Christmas, SP4 John Larry Jeffers, PFC Jerry Whitaker, and SGT Daniel Williams III. (Note: Sometimes names don’t appear under the cities you think they do.) The names on The Wall That Heals, listed alphabetically by day of casualty, replicate names on The Wall in Washington, D.C. Beginning at the center/apex, the names start on the East Wall (right-hand side) working their way out to the end of that wing, picking up again at the far end of the West Wall (left-hand side) and working their way back in to the center/apex. The beginning and ending of the conflict join at the center, signifying an epoch in American history.

American Legion Post #17, with support from the City of Camden, Kershaw County government, Historic Camden, Kershaw County School District, VFW, Marine Corps League and Navy League is hosting the wall. It stands 375 feet long, stands 7.5 feet high, and educational exhibits accompany it, providing a 24-hour, multi-day experience and education on the history of the Vietnam era for local schools and organizations. The exhibit includes The Wall That Heals and a mobile Education Center comprised of digital displays of photos of service members whose names are on The Wall; letters and memorabilia representative of items left at The Wall in D.C.; a map of Vietnam and a chronological overview of the Vietnam War. The exhibits tell the story of the Vietnam War, The Wall, and the era surrounding the conflict, and are designed to put American experiences in Vietnam in a historical and cultural context.

With its deep Revolutionary War experience, Camden is no stranger to war. How fitting that this wall honor veterans and their families for three days in a city noted for its wartime history. See The Wall That Heals at 222 Broad Street, Historic Camden, in Camden From Thursday, May 3 to Sunday, May 6.

See it 24 hours a day and see the educational exhibit housed in the eighteen-wheeler’s trailer. Cases built into its sides allow the trailer to serve as a mobile Education Center. It tells the story of the Vietnam War, The Wall, and a divisive era in American history. Stand together in Camden. Stand together in front of the Wall That Heals and remember the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Leaving Your Mark

Initial Tree

This old survivor continues to make its stand, a living memorial.

Of all the trees down South, beeches and white birches gets picked on the most. The love sick, the egotistical, the passerby, and all manner of folk love to carve sentiments into the trees’ vulnerable white bark. Arboreal graffiti I call it. The temptation’s just too much. People feel compelled to leave their mark. I’ve yet to do that, though if I have I don’t recall it.

In my sojourns across Georgialina I’ve come across beeches and birches with many a name, initials, and whatnot carved into them. I suppose if a tree can have tattoos, then many a beech and birch do. Tattooed trees. Some are lightly scarred. Others heavily. I recall a tree standing near the path to Badwell Cemetery covered with carvings. Seems if a tree is isolated … somewhere in obscurity, the more likely it is to provide a canvas for knife-wielding folk. A bit of privacy is essential to do your work. Of course, trees aren’t the only place people leave their mark. Sit at a railroad crossing and watch the cars roll by … lots of graffiti … often quite clever. People leaving their mark.

Back in March, my brother-in-law, Joe, and I were checking out some aquatic plants growing in the family pond. Or beaver pond. Or mine hole, which it is. Manganese. We walked the edge of the water and as we did I asked Joe if the old birch tree still stood, the one with initials in it.

“Sure,” he said and he led me to it. Yep, it’s still there although the years and elements have split its top. Even so, it has a new tree growing up from one of its roots, a shoot destined to go under the knife in decades to come. I hadn’t seen the tree many a year. Somehow on my walks to the pond, I never made it to the eastern edge where the tree has long stood.

JMP 1

From a knife, not a pen, bark instead of paper, Dad’s handwriting reaches out over 15 years.

When I saw it, I got a shock. Somewhere down the line, my dad carved his initials, “JMP,” into the tree. Seeing those initials meant more than you can imagine. You see, Dad died back in 2003. Come this November 15, it will have been fifteen years since he left us.

As far as I’m concerned this birch with his initials (and my niece’s) amounts to a monument. My dad’s clothes are gone, many of his tools are too, and his house is nothing like the comfortable place he called home. Much of what he left as reminders of his time here just doesn’t exist anymore.

Aunt Vivian once said that just before a funeral God sends a storm to wash away the departed’s footprints. Initials carved in a birch, however, endure, and seeing them brought my father to life again, if only for a moment. Yes, he succumbed to the temptation to leave his mark, but I’m glad he did. As I studied his work, I stood where he had stood, where storms long ago washed away his footprints. For that brief moment, a tree connected Dad and me one more time.