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Showing posts from 2017

Another Long, Cold Night

Outside right now, it's 31 degrees, not too bad for the last day of December, but the TV weatherman says it will be much colder in the days to come. Earlier, there were coyotes in the field across the creek. It sounded like they were hot on the trail of something, and by now, the feast is probably on. Blood and guts and hot breath from animals desperate for flesh and blood and heat from calories taken from another living creature. It's something primal. This is not something that most people think about when they think about nature, but it is a vital part. The truth that nature is not always beautiful, but is also violent and dangerous, is something that we often overlook.

Survival of a species is not always pretty, but neither is the other side of things, namely disease and starvation. We all know what it is like to compete for a better job or more pay, or even for a mate in some instances, but what about competing for our own survival? What if we had to find our own food, ei…

As the Last Light Fades

Seasons change, and the balance between daylight and dark shifts, ushering in the bleakness of another winter. Hardwoods become gray skeletons-- chilling winds move their dry bones in an ancient dance, foretelling of the long, cold nights to come. Geese fly in a broken pattern over the swamp, and their calls echo in the otherwise silent darkness.


Orb Weaver

On our front porch, beside the door, a writing spider built her web. We watched her when she began-- it only took her an hour. This is the third writing spider that has built a snare on our little stoop in the past month. The first two, I kindly removed, for they spun their nets too close for my comfort. I am a tall guy, and I usually catch spider webs right across the face, certainly when they are stretched where my front door opens.We never kill these yellow beauties, nor the vile looking brown ones that occasionally appear around our house. With the amount of insects hanging around our porch lights at night, we can use all the help we can get. Just the other day, a katydid made a fatal miscalculation and overshot his landing on the porch rail and ended up dinner for our eight-legged gatekeeper. Moths, grasshoppers, houseflies, and other spiders have fallen prey to her over the last weeks of her tenure. Each capture an interesting display for us of the struggle of the living against…

A Glimpse Behind the Veil

I've been debating whether or not I should write about this topic, seeing as how it has been talked about so much in the last few days that it's now like a piece of used chewing gum; it has lost all of its flavor.I had the day off from work on Monday, August 21, and I had the opportunity to view the eclipse with my family. We rushed around, trying to find the "perfect" location to watch the show. I found myself getting worked up trying to get things together, and getting to where we were going before the crowd gathered. We did pick an excellent spot ( so did the other hundred people) and I was well pleased with how the whole thing played out. Although I had been preparing mentally for what we were about to witness, I had no idea how intense the experience was in reality.In that crowd, I saw people who were different, but the same: Hispanic, Arab, Indian, black, white, young, old, fat, thin, liberal, conservative, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, and non-affiliated.In the …

Joyride

I'm riding down some back road with two sandy-headed girls-- one seven, one four-- in the back seat, bluegrass music turned up loud and the windows down. We're not going anywhere in particular, just driving and jamming. Puffy clouds are drifting in the wild blue skies over hay fields and cow pastures. The girls are watching fence posts and mailboxes flying by, pointing at donkeys and cows and a new house being built in a clearing where a peach orchard used to be. They're laughing and cutting up in the back seat, dancing to the music playing on the radio. They ask if we can stop at the store and get an ice cream, and I tell them we will. Turn here, they say and we cross the river bridge and start around the big curve. They both have their arms hanging out the windows, the wind making their arms flap like the wings of eagles. My girls are having the time of their lives, and so am I. This is about as free as you can get. We pull in the parking lot of the store, and they jump …

Flight

I saw an eagle today. A helmet of white covered its head, and the wingtips like fingers were stretched out to touch the wind. This is not a rare sight in these parts, not anymore. Up until the last few years, though, the only place you could see a bald eagle was in a zoo somewhere, or if you were lucky, maybe you could catch a glimpse of one in the Smokies. My wife saw one twice in the last year, flying over the swamp near our house. The first time I saw an eagle in the wild, I was bass fishing, just off of a rocky point where giant long-leaf pines stood, casting their reflection on the water. I had just poured my second cup of coffee, and laid my thermos bottle down on the casting deck, when I heard the screech from above. I looked up into the treetops and locked eyes with the biggest winged creature that I had ever seen. I froze. It's eyes were sharp, I could see the talons wrapped around a limb as big around as my leg. It peered down into the water below, leaned forward and dov…

Home

We're driving home after dinner this evening, watching the storm clouds build off in the west. As we crest a hill on the highway, in the distance I can see the purple contours of the Blue Ridge Escarpment under the bruised sky of sunset. This view never fails to make my heart beat slower, and it is oddly comforting, knowing that these hills have always been, and always will be. One can't help but feel protected from whatever lies beyond them. When I was a little boy, I thought that was the top of the world, that nothing existed beyond those hills except more hills.Most of my family are from the Piedmont, the mill villages, the red soil where cotton grew and the rivers were slow and muddy. My father wanted to move up here, closer to the mountains, but not so close that you can't step back a little and enjoy the view. I have been here most of my life, and this is my landscape just as much as the flat farmland is to the south. When we arrive home, darkness is gradually beginn…

Survival: For Real

In my library, I have several books on foraging and survival skills. One of my favorites is Camping and Woodcraft by Horace Kephart. There are many guides of edible and medicinal plants, water purification, and magazine articles on shelter building skills. But having all of this information at my fingertips doesn't do me any good if I don't get my hands dirty from time to time, practicing these skills. Not only does it make me feel more confident in the woods, but it is a lot of fun, too.I would like to think that if I had to, I could survive and provide for my family from the woods and waters around here. I could probably kill plenty of squirrels or catch enough fish to feed us for a little while, but it would be a full time job, especially with a wife and kids.On The Fourth of July, though, I witnessed something that gave me a whole new perspective on survival-- actually watching someone having to forage for food on the streets of Greenville. This is what I like to call A Ch…

What's That Sound?

That's the name of a game we play here at our house at night. It's usually my wife who first hears something, then calls on me to go check it out. Fortunately for me, she puts a flashlight in my hand before she shoves me out the door and into the unknown. If I'm real lucky, she'll bring me my pistol--as if when I  do run into something out there in the dark, I'll be able to shoot it and not myself.Usually, it's cats messing around, or deer in the woods causing the dog to bark. That's what I try to tell her, but she doesn't buy it. "Cats don't slam car doors," she tells me. She's got me there.There were several nights that we'd hear dead limbs snapping and it would sound like something was stripping muscadine vines out of tree tops on the other side of the creek. I'm pretty sure we have a bear hanging around, and whatever something that size wants to do in the dark woods is his or her business. I'll stand out back to listen …

Summer Evening Storm

From the west, dark clouds move across the mountains and valleys bringing with them wind and rain and thunder and lightning. Water, running in rivulets down hillsides, filling ditches and indentations, swelling creeks and gutters. Hard rains pelt tin roofs of old barns and corn cribs and houses. Wind shakes these structures, thunder rattles window panes and lightning illuminates the landscape veiled in darkness by the great grey mass above the valley. The storm grows in both size and intensity, and the wind bends trees in all direction. The wind, though invisible, can be seen in the tops of trees, their leaves showing what the wind looks like. In a strong wind, every branch of a tree moves independently, each is effected differently. They sway and shake, some breaking, some only bending, but all of them effected by the wind. Lightning hits the hillside, runs through the earth tunneling, and splits a great pine to mere splinters as it makes its exit. The smell of fire and pitch along w…

Across the River

Right now, a construction crew is working on demolishing the bridge over the South Tyger near my house. My son and I walked past the Bridge Out signs last week, just to take a look at the progress they'd made so far. The guard rails had been torn down partially, and the crew had put up erosion barriers to hold back the little bit of dirt they'd pushed around. The water under the bridge is shallow there, as that portion is being silted in. We talked about how great it would be if they would do a little dredging there, deepening the run like is was years ago, back when the bridge was a killer catfish hole.About twenty-five years ago, I would stand on the bridge and catch channel cats by the dozen. Chicken liver slime marked the spot on the concrete rail where I'd cut chunks of bait, because that's the only bait I knew to use then. I'd drop my line down beside the pilings and wait to set the hook. With a jerk and a bowed rod, I would play the fish out from under the b…

Making An Escape

He got me up early that Saturday, said the corn needed hoeing and weeds had to be pulled. I slid a shirt over my head and found my shoes. The old man was frying sausage and the smoke was thick in the kitchen. Biscuits were browning dark in the oven and I could hear the clock ticking in the hallway. My brother and sister, still laying in their beds, didn't have to wake yet. They would take their breakfast later, an hour or so after I would be hanging my sweat-soaked shirt on a locust post in the edge of the field.I protested as he laid out the list of what he expected me to get done with before suppertime. But with the threat of the belt around his waist, I just looked down into the little saucer at the black piece of meat, then I split the biscuit in half and folded the hunk of sausage inside. I kicked the screen door open and stomped down the back steps to the barn. The hoe was leaned up in one corner beside a sack of feed. In the shed on the back of the barn was the old flat- bo…

Hunting Close to Home

The lady across the street saw me standing in my driveway with a shotgun in my hand, camo from head to toe, and a full face mask. Now, anybody else would know it is turkey season, hence my choice in clothing and accessories, but not this lady, no, she doesn't know about things like that. I could tell by the look on her face that she was concerned as to what was going on.Now this is the same woman that thought I had been using her water one month when her bill was more than normal, and then asks me to crawl under her house to check for a leak after I assure her that I hadn't been. After taking one look under her spider-infested crawlspace, I wish I'd told her yea, that I'd been running a hose across the road at night and watering my marijuana patch that she probably thinks I have growing on the creek. I should've waved and lifted the net off my face just to let her know it was me and not some ISIS combatant about to put the drop on her, but I don't think. I just…

A Point Through Time

Occasionally, the Earth will give up some of her secrets. If one should be so lucky as to stumble across one of those secrets, it can have a lasting impact on how that individual sees himself, and the world around him. History is not just the past, but our past.On my way to a hunting stand one morning, my headlamp caught a glint of white, protruding from the red clay on the bank that I was crossing. I laid my recurve bow on the ground and took great care digging the point out of the mud, then wiped it off on my shirt tail. The serrated edge was as sharp as the day it was made, long before Europeans set foot in North America.Over the years, I have found several points, each unique, bearing the mark of the one who made it. The smaller ones being bird-points, or true arrowheads, the larger were no doubt spear points, used with an atlatl, a device used to hurl the spear at game, or enemy in time of war.They turn up in field edges after heavy rains, or on old logging roads. Sometimes the p…

An Unwelcome Guest

After a hard day on the job, I was ready to crash in front of the TV and watch a ballgame until it was time to go to bed. The Braves were playing the Padres that evening, and they had the lead, so I reclined my chair and laid the remote beside me on the floor. My very pregnant wife was over on the couch, trying to find a comfortable position to sit in, because her back was hurting. Tom Glavine was on the mound, and he was on fire! The Padres' bats were too slow for his fastball, and way too fast for his change-up.I noticed my wife kept looking up at this ficus tree we had at the end of the couch, but I didn't think anything of it. Meanwhile, Glavine sat another one down and the Braves had Chipper up to bat. First pitch was low and outside. The next thing I knew, my wife had jumped up and was standing on the couch. "I'm leaving you!" she cried.God Almighty, I thought, What now?"I'm leaving you if you don't get this snake out of our house!" She po…

A Kindred Spirit

That morning, I paddled the cove, searching around fallen timber and boat docks for bass. The first one I hung into pulled my kayak around like a bathtub toy, even though he was no more than two pounds. I took a good look at the fish, then flipped him back into the tangled mass of brush that I'd pulled him out of. When I paddled back out away from the bank, I saw a man in a red kayak, working the shoreline toward me, although his only fishing rod was upright in the rod holder, and his hands were prodding the rocks, as if he was searching for something. I just watched him, wondering what he was looking for, and then when he pulled up a wad of mono with a Carolina rig attached to it, I knew he was a treasure hunter.He looked to be around 70-- slender and tall with a white goatee and ponytail, earrings and tattoos, a stubby pipe puffing smoke as he paddled on around the bend to find another jewel. When he looked up, I threw up my hand. He took the pipe from his teeth and said, "…

Simplicity

As Wildcat Creek slows and widens, just before it flows into what we call Tyger River Swamp, there is a stretch of water that is deep and full of stumps and fallen trees, as well as cattails and willows, making it nearly impenetrable, that is, unless you happen to be the kind of nut that will do anything or go anywhere to catch a fish. And if it so happens that you are warped enough to weave your way through the thick tangle, and get wet from head to toe, not to mention the possibility of coming face to face with snakes, snapping turtles, or the occasional rabid animal, you'd better be prepared to hang on, because there's no telling what you might catch, and there's no telling how big it will be. Sure it's a challenge to fight a five pound bass in heavy cover from the casting deck of a boat, but try it laying on your belly, half-submerged in mud, with a rod better suited to catch bream or crappies with, knowing all the time that it is an exercise in futility. It's …

Under the Cover of Darkness

I thought it was a good idea to begin with, but I had my first doubts when it became obvious that my brother-in-law had never been in a canoe before, seeing as how he tried to step into it, like he was boarding a pontoon boat. Not only that, but he was also the one with the shotgun, loaded to the gills with buckshot, and I knew from experience that he was more careless with one than my five year old son would've been. Piss poor judgment on my part.We had a major beaver problem on our hands, or actually, in the creek that forms the boundary of our property. The beavers had built a series of dams and backed up water, creating stagnant ponds that would later serve as a giant mosquito hatchery. I'm not sure why we felt it was up to us to "put a stop" to this activity, but I'm pretty sure that it was mostly because we were bored. My brother-in-law had borrowed some beaver traps a couple of months before, and after a few setbacks-- like having to figure out how to remo…

A Murder of Crows

In the distance, just over the hill, I can hear the incessant caw-caws of crows, evidently upset about something. I leave the old gravel road-bed and follow a deer path through scrub-pines and eventually find my way to the clearing where thick woods gives way to an overgrown pasture. I can hear the fabric of my shirt-tail ripping as I pull free of briars that are  waist-high around the field's edge. The crows continue to voice their concern, and as I reach the top of a terrace, I see them, ten or more. I stand still for a moment so as not to alert them of my presence, but I figure that whatever it is they're bothered by is more concerning to them than an out of shape, bushy bearded, lug of a man like myself. I sidle up the hill toward the tree line, and that's when I see the object of their grievances.About thirty feet up in an oak limb, sits a hawk. He is as still as a statue, and he appears unconcerned about the verbal abuse and continuous dive-bombing from the gang of c…

Reluctant Spring

Yesterday, as we traveled the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway near Gowensville, we were amazed by the contrast of seasons on display in the landscape before us. In the foreground was the magnificent pink blossoms of peach trees in full bloom, with the ancient hills of The Dark Corner, covered in a dusting of March snow, as a backdrop. The mountains were shrouded in gray clouds near their peaks, making them look higher than they actually are. We didn't have a good camera with us, just the ones from our cell phones. I did manage to slow enough for Melissa to take a quick, off-handed shot with her phone. As usual, we were in a rush to get from one engagement to another, and didn't have time to stop for a while and take it all in.

The Ghost of Wildcat Creek

From the back porch, where I sit with a cup of coffee on the rail and a notebook on my lap, I can see the dog-hobble covered bank of Wildcat Creek. As mundane as this place might seem to some people, it is a place where I draw a great deal of inspiration from. Mornings seem to be the most productive time for me, as I straddle the line between conscience and unconscious-- with one foot still in the dream world, I suppose. I've written pages upon pages here (mostly crap) just trying to figure out exactly what it is that I think.It is in the evenings, though, that my mind begins to wander, and I find myself distracted with any sound or smell that reminds me of the past. This is usually when I catch a glimpse of him.
----------------------------------------------------------------Laying cross-ways on a Persimmon tree that leans across a deep pool is a boy, no more than seven years old. His tattered  jeans rolled up to his knees and his T-shirt covered in silt and mud. He is looking fo…

Gifts From Above

I've sat among the hardwoods for many  mornings, watching the sun rise and feeling its rays on my face as the first light filters through the trees. The woods slowly wakes and begins to come alive all around me. The birds rehearse their songs and the squirrels leave their warm nests to venture out and get an early start on their busy day. Sometimes, if you pay attention, you can hear a turkey gobble, or the sound of a pileated woodpecker off in the next holler. It's a scene that has been played out since creation. No matter what the circumstances are in our modern society, life in the natural world continues on.Standing knee-deep in the cold water of a mountain stream, I am taken captive by my surroundings, feeling as if somehow I am becoming part of this place by merely standing still and allowing it to consume me. The sound of the rushing waters is soothing because after a while it begins to drown out all of the thoughts that I normally dwell on. Rivers have a calming effect…

Life Hanging on a Vine

We descended the steep slope down to Green Creek and followed the trail that runs beside it, stopping along the way to let the dogs drink where the sandbars were, or to gather large stones or small pebbles to add to rock cairns erected by past travelers in random places along the hiking trail.That late September afternoon, the skies were cloudless, and ever so often, a slight breeze would drift through the hemlocks, making it the perfect day for a walk in the woods. We crossed Green Creek twice on foot-bridges, and began the gradual incline that carried us deeper into the forest and closer to our end point, the South Pacolet River.My wife and I held hands and talked about both past and future adventures in this mountain cove, and I recounted for her the details of hunting trips, just over the mountain.Two miles in and a half mile to go, my wife's hands started to tremble. Soon, her arms felt so heavy that she could not lift them to brace herself on a oak tree. She told me how dizz…

A Miracle of Trout

It was the first day of spring, and I was taking Chase bream fishing. The weather had been warm for several weeks, but the water was still nice and chilly. "It might be too early for them to bite," I told him, just in case they didn't. It's hard enough to keep a six-year old's attention, especially if there's not much action.Bream are temperamental little creatures, and if for some reason they don't want to bite, you can hang it up. You can, however, aggregate them enough that they will go into a feeding frenzy, but it takes a great deal of begging on certain days. This particular day they were in one of those moods. I started working the deep under-cut bank of the creek we were on, and they just weren't getting the idea. My son was losing confidence in me, and fast.Unexpectedly, something took my offering and nearly jerked my spinning rod right out of my hand. I saw a silver flash under the surface as I lifted the rod to pull in the fish. I was think…

Watching The Smoke Rise

There came a point where all of the things that I was once passionate about didn't matter anymore. My mind was filled with negative thoughts, and I could not bring myself to be happy. I didn't want to fish , because all the quiet time gave my mind the freedom to ruminate on things, and I would sink even deeper into despair. I no longer wanted to hunt because, truthfully, I didn't know if I could trust myself in the woods with a loaded gun. I hated myself, and everything about me.My dear wife took the weight of my infirmity on her shoulders. She kept me from completely giving up when I really wanted to. At her request, I finally sought help, and within a few weeks, I started to feel some better. Although I was making progress, I was still hesitant to do things that had brought me so much pleasure before. The strangest feeling of fear and dread would come over me when I would think about my life and what was waiting for me up around the next bend. I know all of this sounds c…

On Teaching A Boy To Fish

Once upon a time, I became the father of a healthy and happy baby boy. I watched him grow, and saw that same curiosity in him that I had as a boy. This pleased me. He wanted to know about everything that crawled of flew or swam. He was cut from the same slab of bedrock that I was.When I felt the boy was mature enough, I told his mother that it was due time I teach him the ways of a fisherman. She gave in, and I made preparation for this rite-of-passage, as old as man himself.To commemorate this occasion, I purchased the best equipment I could afford, which turned out to be a Spiderman rod and reel combo, complete with tackle box and that little thingy that comes tied to the end of the line, so that one can scare all of the fish away on the first cast. The boy was a quick learner, and within a few tries, had managed to break a glass figurine on the entertainment center, and made a perfect cast into the blades of turning ceiling fan. I was quite impressed with the durability of the rod …

Home Waters: South Tyger River

As you read the entries in this blog, you will notice that a recurring theme in my writing is water-- particularly rivers. I have fished for trout in the most pristine waters of the Blue Ridge, and fished for striped bass and largemouth in some of the best known impoundments in the southeast. I have paddled the black water swamps and fished tidal creeks along the coast. But no matter where I go, no matter what body of water I find myself on, in my subconscious mind, I'm somewhere in the South Tyger watershed.  The namesake of this blog, Wildcat Creek, flows into it. It was on these waters that I found my place in the outdoors. A river is often used as a metaphor for life, and I understand why. It is hard for me to be in or around moving water and not wax poetic. In fact, I have written poems about rivers, and when I dream, it is often about rivers. I had a man tell me one time that if for some reason he can't get out on the river and paddle his kayak, he'll just sit on the…

Hemlock Cathedral

The morning fog was lifting in the mountains and the sunlight had began to filter through the trees. I turned off the asphalt highway onto the gravel road. The only other vehicle in the parking area was an old International Scout, so I took a few minutes to check it out as I slung my pack over my shoulders and grabbed my hiking staff, and then started walking.I walked for a few minutes, and up ahead, I saw an old man and a dog. The man was sitting on a big rock, and his dog was just standing there beside him. The old man looked to be in his seventies, he had a wild grey beard and a floppy hat and glasses as thick as Coke bottles. His shirt was unbuttoned to his navel, and had white chest hair and a gold rope chain hanging out."Beautiful day, ain't it?" he said."Yessir.""Looks like you're headed to the top," gesturing at my pack."Guess so," I said, "You too?""Nah, this is enough for me. But I can't think of a holier pla…

That Night on the Ridge

As I fought my way through the thick brush down in the creek bottom, I could hear Al, my Walker coonhound, treeing hard up on top of the ridge. I found a good place to cross the creek, and began my climb up the steep hillside to get to where he was. I had to grab onto saplings to help myself up in places. Losing traction and falling backwards down the long slope would be deadly, so it was important to stay low to the ground and hold on when possible.My dog had treed in an ancient white oak, so big it would've taken three grown men to reach around the trunk. When I finally got to him, he was still dead after it, taking runs at the tree, biting anything hanging down, shaking the massive vines that ran down the trunk. He knew the coon was up there, and he was doing anything he could think of to get it to come down. Pieces of shredded bark incircled the base of the tree and Al had blood and slobber all over his mouth.I got back from the tree with my Wheat light and shined every limb, …

A Matter of the Heart

As my son and I were ascending the steep and rutted trail leading up to Chestnut Ridge one particularly raw December morning, I felt my heart muscle quivering in my chest, and I became sick at my stomach. I thought I was about to pass out. I wasn't aware of it at the time, but what I was experiencing was actually an episode of a-fib ( atrial fibrillation), something that I wouldn't be diagnosed with until two years later, lying flat on my back in a hospital bed, scared out of my mind.
Chase and I were headed to a spot that I had found while roaming around up there the week before. I thought it would be the perfect place to take him deer hunting, and I'd be able to keep my eyes on him at all times.
When I stopped in my tracks and placed my hand on my chest, he asked me what was wrong. I didn't dare tell him. I figured that the last thing I needed was for my twelve year- old son to start freaking out on me up there in the mountains.
I was joking with my wife the night b…

Welcome to Wildcat Creek Journal

This is a blog about life in the outdoors of Upcountry South Carolina.
Come along with me as I fish a cold mountain stream for trout, or hike into the rugged back-country and set up camp, far away from the lights of town. We'll find a good spot in the woods and get ourselves into position to call up a gobbler, or raise our bows to take a shot at a whitetail deer. Or, we could just take a seat around the campfire and talk for a while.
My goal here is not to give technical advice on things, or endorse any product. Simply put, my goal is to entertain you. I want to make you laugh, make you cry, maybe teach you a little something along the way, but most of all, I want to tell you a story.