April 11, 2021•1394 words
After a leisurely early morning at the M-S house, I packed up and headed inland for Columbia to visit family friends. The green fields were brushed with swaths of rust-red grasses and pale purple wildflowers, and the masses of wisteria vines hanging by the roadside gave off clouds of their sweet scent. It was a sunny day but the air was cool and dry from the recent front, adding a sharp edge to the lush atmosphere of spring. I stopped for lunch at an interesting-looking place called Gypsy's Village, which also advertised blacksmithing, herbs, and "spiritual items", but it turned out their restaurant had been closed because of the pandemic, which was a shame, they said, because it had been the only swamp kitchen in the area. Apparently a swamp kitchen serves gator meat, frog legs, and that sort of thing. The place definitely had character, and reminded me a little of what might have become of the establishment in Tom Robbins' novel Another Roadside Attraction if it was in South Carolina and had been allowed to grow old and go to seed. I ended up eating lunch in Lake City at a barbecue joint called Slabs, where the food was delicious, plentiful, and cheap, the owners were extremely friendly, and the outdoor deck was peaceful. Over most of the coastal plain, the monotonous landscape and the chilling wind lulled me into a trance, and I struggled to stay alert and engaged, but finally I reached the rolling hills of the Midlands and was soon in the leafy old neighborhood of Shandon, where my "aunt" PF and "uncle" GF have lived for as long as I can remember.
I was joining a small Easter gathering, with my parents visiting for a few days, as well as the F's daughter LF with her husband PS and two children down from Virginia, their son NF with his wife LS and child who live nearby in Columbia, and PS's mom and step-dad who'd just returned from a long stay in Arizona. I pitched my tent in the immaculately landscaped backyard, and we had a dinner of Mediterranean takeout on the screen porch. Sunday was leisurely. Going to get some groceries, I walked down Blossom Street, which for the moment was aptly named since every yard was overflowing with blooming perennials. The churchyards I passed were filled with well-dressed parishioners singing Easter hymns. Back at the house, the three kids hunted for eggs, the eldest being nearly too old for it and the youngest nearly too young, but the problem was solved by the one cousin helping the other. My mom and I talked about literature on the sunny lawn and took afternoon naps, and later she sang some songs for GF, who's recently been confined to a wheelchair by Parkinson's. Despite having some trouble speaking, he was able to sing along with every song. After dinner I read on the lawn until it was too dark, half-listening to the conversations on the porch.
On Monday morning I got on the road back to my family's land in Hadley, where I'd started the trip, planning to spend a few weeks seeing friends, exchanging gear, and working on Punkin in the garage. It was a pretty uneventful ride. I amused myself by imagining that the signs saying PLANT ENTRANCE were warning about fast-moving plants that might grow into the road. In a gas station bathroom stall there was a graffiti dialog about racism, much like what you might find on social media, while at the urinals I could hear two men of different races finding common ground in complaining about whoever had pissed on the floor. Truly a microcosm of our great nation. I stopped for lunch in Cheraw and briefly met up with my parents, who'd gotten a later start, took a scenic route through Goldston, bought a towering load of groceries in Pittsboro, and finally arrived back at the big field where I'd spent the winter.
Spring had definitively arrived and everything looked different. Soft new grass had sprung up, the forest was punctuated by the white blooms of dogwoods and fruit trees, the redbuds were dressed proudly in pink, and a chorus of frogs sang out from around the pond. I pitched my tent at the old campsite, splashed myself clean in the creek, and settled into the peace and quiet. Most days I worked by the pond or in a shady part of the field, but one day I went into town and worked the morning from the NC Botanical Garden, where I had to periodically wipe a thick layer of pollen off my screen, and the afternoon from the banks of Morgan Creek, where I took a late afternoon walk with HW. I spent one evening at the garage overhauling Punkin, mainly changing the oil and replacing the chain, and hanging out with RM and a woman named A who were working on a sweet Toyota Corolla wagon from the 80's. One night AP and GB grilled burgers on their porch and my parents brought a grapefruit and avocado salad. GB and I had Impossible Burgers, and little A had an Invisible Burger (which was an extra bun). There'd been vague talk of watching a movie, but we were all too tired, though I did get to tour the nearly-finished addition that AP has been busting ass on for many months.
On Saturday I took a long walk down to the river and visited along the way with my neighbors MH and TH, who were fixing the tire on a riding lawnmower, AH who'd just gotten back from a turkey hunt (getting no turkeys but finding a beautiful deer antler that had just been shed), KC who was working on the piece of land she'd recently become the steward of, and BM who was taking a break from making sculptures that look like totem poles of large ceramic diatoms. I reflected on how the place has become more developed since I was a kid, but then again there was a time before I was born when the land was covered in farm fields instead of forests. Where I'd gone down to the river, there are old wagon roads winding through the woods, and out in the stream stands a battered brick pillar that once supported a bridge. On my way home I stopped to talk with my neighbor JM, who recounted how there used to be a thriving community down there with a grist mill and a post office, but then about a hundred years ago a tornado destroyed it all in an instant, killing every inhabitant except a single baby boy. As Octavia Butler wrote, "the only lasting truth is Change."
Things I Learned
- Getting sand in a motorcycle chain makes it wear out a lot faster.
- There is still a huge demand for outdoor gear. I overheard a saleswoman telling some customers that if they were thinking of buying a kayak they'd better act fast because the store was projecting to sell out company-wide within the next few weeks. Last year kayak sales were up 140% and the manufacturers are still scrambling to meet the demand.
- Big trucks have a kind of brake that works by choking off air to the engine, which makes a very loud sound. I've been seeing a lot of signs in small towns that say "engine braking prohibited", and RM and A (who has a CDL) explained it to me.
- Earthseed, which is a fictional religion in Octavia E. Butler's "Parable" series, has become a real religion, which is quite a testament to her thinking and writing. I'm not sure if it's big enough yet but if they have a church or community somewhere, I'd really like to visit it someday.
- Sunlight shining through new leaves, like fresh jewels against the darkness of forest shade.
- Honking geese flying northerly.
- Rain washing away the pollen in yellow rivulets, and the next day the wind from the woods smelling like a pond in the summertime.
- Lying naked in the field watching massive thunderheads roll by and feeling the occasional drop. Then remembering the cloudbusting scene in The Fisher King and that I happened to have it saved on my computer, and enjoying the film one more time.