I am deviating from horticultural topics today. Allow me to share a drive I took last week into the South Carolina countryside.
As I left my normal freeway route for two lane, tar and gravel country roads, I switched off the blaring radio to enjoy the absence of traffic noise and train whistles. Fields of unrestrained kudzu blanketed the landscape like a layer of green lava. Pine trees replaced the skyline of industrial factories. Former home sites were apparent by their remaining brick or stone chimneys, surrounded by huge oak trees. For some, remnants of smoke stains told the story of their demise.
Elegant mansions sat cheek-by-jowl with clusters of mobile homes. If you are a native southerner, you understand that the well-tended ones are called mobile homes, while those with washing machines in the front yard and old cars perched on concrete blocks are called trailers. Wide strips of aluminum were nailed around pecan tree trunks to outwit hungry squirrels. American flags flew in front yards. By instinct, you know that if you bad mouth the USA in this part of the world, you’ll be escorted to your car at the end of a shotgun barrel.
Between towns, an abandoned fire observation deck towered over the fields. There were no electric fences, just miles of barb wire around pastures of cows, goats, donkeys. The only way to tell the identity of each community was to see painted signs proclaiming, “The churches of (town) welcome you,” along with a listing of the institutions concerned about your hereafter destination. Along the roadsides, sourwood trees (the first to color up in the fall) were starting to show a hint of the bright burgundy to come. Staghorn sumac had already shed its leaves, but it waved red seed clusters that looked like horns. In the ditches, yellow goldenrod, perennial blue ageratum, wild asters and white sneezeweed painted a scene worthy of an Old Master. Indeed, this landscape was styled by the oldest Master of all. The peace of the idyllic scene was briefly interrupted when our new travel mapping software announced, “Bear left in 100 yards, then continue for 4,386,284 miles.” I wondered what waypoints my husband had entered. Planet Mars, maybe? We switched it off.
Older homes were built of wood. Most had wide, open porches and tin roofs – the sheet tin of years gone by, not the coated, maintenance-free standing seam type sold today. An unpainted barn or outbuildings stood behind most, and small gardens for home-kitchen use were in front of the houses not occupied by farmers. Country people follow the weather, so they knew that Hurricane Michael might bring torrential rains. As a precaution, sweet potatoes had been unearthed from the heavy clay soil. They were curing (drying) in the sun so they could be stored all winter instead of rotting. Every house had a nearby woodpile. There were no gas logs in these fireplaces. It will be years before natural gas pipelines run through these rural communities, if ever.
We stopped once so that I could snap a photo of a persimmon tree loaded with fruit. Now that I am older, I know that the fruit of a wild persimmon is inedible until touched by frost. As the youngest of all my cousins at a family reunion many years ago, I was duped into biting into a green one. I ignored my grandmother Brown’s caution that, “a green ’simmon will turn your mouth wrong-side-out, child.” She was correct. (Think of the character Arseface in AMC’s Preacher series.)
The sight that touched my very soul was the fields of fresh cut hay -- not the square bales that people buy at Home Depot to use with pumpkins as fall décor. These were the giant round bales used to feed livestock throughout winter. Made me feel proud to be American.