puppies

Apparently, big black rat snakes aren’t everyone’s favorite creatures. Hence, the above photo of adorable puppies.

They’re not my puppies, mind you, as I have no puppies, nor even a dog.

It’s simply a way to put something on this blog so that yesterday’s image of a large black rat snake – which I personally found fascinating – would no longer be the first thing folks saw when they clicked on this site.

I sensed a tiny bit of negativity toward snakes after posting the image of a five-foot reptile (see comments in yesterday’s post) that I caught in Newberry County, SC.

Or perhaps it was Mrs. Cotton Boll’s reaction, via email: “You are nuts! I hope you put that yellow jacket and all clothing directly in the washing machine. This freaked me out!”

Of course, I had failed to inform Mrs. Cotton Boll of my success in the snake-catching department the previous day, knowing that she is deathly afraid of our no-legged friends.

She is a regular reader of this blog, but I had failed to anticipate her response to a seeing a large constricting snake, particularly one wrapped around her husband’s wrist and hand.

Needless to say, a Hazmat team was dispatched to decontaminate all clothing that may have come into contact with said black rat snake, and I was politely but firmly admonished.

Actually, Mrs. Cotton Boll is a pretty good sport, given my proclivity for capturing odd wild beasts and her distaste of same. Of course, she did know what she was getting herself into when she said “I do.”

Black rat snake 4 20 2014 059

Different folks have different ways of ushering in spring. For some, the simple arrival of the vernal equinox, marking the point on the calendar when days and nights are of the same approximate length, (March 20 this year) is good enough. For others, it’s tied to specific events such as Easter, the start of the Major League Baseball season or spring break for high schools and colleges.

I measure spring’s return slightly differently. In my eyes, spring begins gradually, with the arrival of wisteria in the trees and shrubs here in central South Carolina, which usually occurs in mid-March, followed by other flora and fauna, such swallowtail butterflies, red-tailed hawks and white-tailed deer.

But the one event that signifies unequivocally, at least in my world, that the seasons have changed is represented by the capture of the first snake of the year. For me, at least, spring came yesterday.

I’d had a near-brush a couple of weeks back when I took my girls to Woods Bay State Park, near Olanta, SC, where we saw a Northern water snake just inches from our path, but while I was able to get a hand on it, it proved too quick and slipped into the underbrush.

Yesterday, with a bit of free time in the afternoon, I drove up the road about 15 miles to an old railroad bed that had been converted into a walking trail within the past few years. It rarely gets much use, so I figured that my chances for seeing some wildlife were decent.

Right off the bat I managed to catch a five-lined skink. About six inches long, this creature resembled a large, fat, short-legged lizard. Judging from its reaction – repeatedly biting me – it appeared unhappy with being disturbed. After snapping a few pictures of Plestiodon fasciatus I set the ingrate free and continued down the path.

After about a quarter mile I came across an old railroad bridge that crossed Crim’s Creek, located in Newberry County, SC. It’s a short bridge, about 30 feet in length; its rails were pulled up many years ago and wooden planking laid down to facilitate foot and bike traffic.

As I walked across watching the water flow along I caught sight of a black rat snake. It was curled around one of the bridge edgings that jutted out two feet or so over a dry part of the creek bed. I snapped a couple of pictures without startling the snake, which was about five feet in length, then walked past to find a stick.

(Having been bitten by several rat snakes, I know better than to simply try to grab at one when it’s facing me. I’m quick that way.)

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A beautiful Federal-style brick structure looms up from behind a massive magnolia tree as one zips down South Carolina Highway 56. Even from a distance it’s apparent that this antebellum edifice likely has a storied history.

Called Belfast, it was built around 1785 by Col. John Simpson, a native of Ireland who named the elegant home for his birthplace. Simpson even had the bricks shipped from Ireland, according to the Palmetto Conservation Foundation.

It would become the home for generations of South Carolina political, military and legal luminaries.

The structure remains relatively unchanged from when it was constructed and demonstrates a commitment to both functionality and craftsmanship.

“The original nine-over-nine windows are evenly spaced across the main facade with simple sills and lintels,” according to a Historical and Architectural Survey of Eastern Laurens (SC) County done in 2003. “The double entry door is crowned with a fanlight and stone arch detail.”

Today, Belfast, which includes more than 4,600 acres, is owned by the state, having been purchased by the SC Department of Natural Resources and the state Conservation Fund within the past few years from International Paper, according to the Newberry Observer.

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Evidence that’s there’s nothing new under the sun, particularly when it comes to bad behavior, can be found by perusing old newspapers.

Take this sad tale from the Oct. 28, 1896, edition of the Newberry (SC) Observer:

A “well-to-do colored farmer” named Pressley Cromer, living in Newberry, “came into possession of some lurid literature” put out by the Migration Society, which evidently spoke of the joys of life back in Africa, according to the publication.

Apparently buoyed by the knowledge that the society’s president was Bishop Henry McNeal Turner of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Cromer sold his 50-acre farm, house, three mules, cow and calf, 20 hogs, 500 bushels of corn, 225 gallons of molasses, 35 bales of cottonseed and all his furniture.

He then booked passage to Liberia for himself, his wife, his four children, his mother and father, his two brothers and their wives. The price: $412 – no paltry sum in the late 18th century.

Liberia is unusual among African nations because beginning in the early 1800s, the region was colonized by freed American slaves through the help of such organizations as the American Colonization Society, a private entity that believed ex-slaves would have greater freedom and equality in Africa.

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To understand the impact of a recent study that suggests some 750,000 Americans perished during the War Between the States, rather than the 620,000 figure that’s been accepted for more than a century, consider this:

Given the current US population, the new figure would be the equivalent of 7.5 million dead today.

“The Civil War left a culture of death, a culture of mourning, beyond anything Americans had ever experienced or imagined,” David Blight, a Civil War historian at Yale University, told the BBC. “It left a degree of family and social devastation unprecedented for any Western society.”

Historian J. David Hacker of Binghamton University SUNY published a paper late last year in Civil War History revealing the new figure, based on demographic methods and sophisticated statistical software he used to study newly digitized US census records from 1850 to 1880.

Hacker began by taking digitized samples from the decennial census counts taken 1850-1880.

Using statistics software SPSS, he counted the number of native-born white men of military age in 1860 and determined how many of that group were still alive in 1870, according to the BBC.

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A tall chimney, virtually alone in a field denuded of pine trees just days before, stood silhouetted against the winter sun.

Fifty trips down this stretch of South Carolina backcountry had never afforded me the above view, or even knowledge of the structure, or rather, what was left of it.

My first thought was that it was one of the increasingly rare but still extant examples of the havoc wrought by Sherman’s troops during their march through South Carolina in the early months of 1865.

Research shows that the structure, built by Thomas Wadlington in 1858, was indeed consumed by fire, but the conflagration took place some 124 years after Sherman’s bummers laid waste to much of the Palmetto State.

Known as the Keitt House, it was located eight miles east of Newberry, S.C., and was rented and used by the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity chapter of Newberry College from the early 1970s until Oct. 8, 1989, when it fell victim to flames.

Afterward, trees and undergrowth grew around what was left of the structure, mostly just the brick foundation and 30-foot-tall chimney, almost certainly built by slaves in the period just before the War Between the States.

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Conventional wisdom holds that the subject of race in the South is an inflexible, immutable issue, separate and distinct as regards blacks and whites. Just as importantly, it always has been, according to popular notion.

A couple of cursory examples:

  • Southern blacks today are overwhelmingly seen as being aligned with the Democratic Party, while a solid majority of Southern whites are Republicans; and
  • If you visit a so-called “black church” or a “white church” you’ll rarely find many people of the opposite race on hand.

But as selectively segregated as some institutions may appear to be today, there’s no doubt that race relations have thawed considerably in the region over the past 40 years. Obviously, Jim Crow didn’t do a whole lot to bring people of different backgrounds together prior to that, nor was it designed to.

However, one occasionally stumbles across a glimpse of a past that shows that not everything was as neatly delineated between the two races as today’s stereotypical view of yesteryear might have us believe.

If one looks hard enough, there are examples that show the South, like any part of the United States, was and is an infinitely more complex region than today’s television pundits and political opportunists would have us believe.

Case in point: Earlier this month while rambling through the South Carolina Upstate, I came across New Enoree Baptist Church, located in rural Newberry County, about six miles northeast of the town of Newberry.

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