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Everything and Nothing: The Heartbreak File

Aïda Rogers

Posted Oct. 20, 2021

By Aïda Rogers

The deadline for submissions to the annual South Carolina High School Writing Contest has closed, which means my Heartbreak File has opened. In it are assorted entries the contest has received since it started in 2013, with Pat Conroy as judge. He wouldn’t have seen the contents of this file, but after his year on Daufuskie Island, he wouldn’t have been surprised.

Here’s a bit from “Heartbreaker #1,” written after the floods of 2015: “…people had to stay in their homes, make sure they had everything they need so they wouldn’t have to come outside, and make sure they got home before all this starts to happen round midnight tell dark time. When everyone wakes up early in the morning, all they seen was water …”

This was written by a high school senior in this state, responding to our annual prompt, which is “How can we improve South Carolina?”

That year, we also got this: “If South Carolina would sedulous a road side clean up then we wouldn’t only be helping our street look better but we would also be saving animals.” This student advocated recycling. “We could get bens and put them up at local businesses …”

The Heartbreak File thickens every year. Aside from students who aren’t writing proficiently – and somehow, those are the most heartbreaking to me – we have others reporting heartbreaks of many other kinds.

“As a 17-year-old girl, you would expect me not to know a thing about ‘drugs,’” one marvelous young writer wrote. “Truth is, before I could barely read a chapter book I knew how to cut a pill seven different ways … I should not have known the going rate for one OxyContin pill was eight dollars, nor how you could crush this into a fine powder and snort it.” For this student, vanquishing the stigma of addiction was the best way to improve South Carolina. (In 2020, there were 1,730 drug overdose deaths in South Carolina, a 50 percent increase from 2019, according to the CDC.)

Several young women reported sexual abuse. “I finally spoke about it, at the age of twelve, to my friends one night at a sleepover, and remember them asking if I was being molested. I did not even know what the term ‘molestation’ meant,” she wrote.

To improve South Carolina, students and teachers need more education about sexual abuse than what she got in second grade, when she and her classmates received coloring books that showed an older man on a beach asking to touch a little girl “in her bathing suit area.” They were taught to “say no and find a trusting adult.”

As she put it, “I did not link the coloring book to my situation. I cannot recall a single lesson or guest speaker talking to us about signs, what the boundaries are, and where to go for help. If I had been more aware of the definition of child abuse, then I would have been able to understand the situation more clearly.”

You can read the edited submissions to the contest in volumes 1-6 of “Writing South Carolina: Selections of the High School Writing Contest.” Publisher is the South Carolina Honors College at the University of South Carolina, which presents the contest with partners that include the Pat Conroy Literary Center, South Carolina State Library, South Carolina Academy of Authors, South Carolina Writers Association, and Thad Westbrook, a University of South Carolina trustee. SCHC Dean Steven Lynn, an English professor and Greer native, started the contest to give students a competition that requires mental muscle. Our judges have been a Who’s Who of South Carolina writers – among them poets Nikky Finney and Marjory Wentworth, novelists Mary Alice Monroe and Pam Durban, and historian Walter Edgar.    

As the contest coordinator, I’ve read every submission we’ve gotten – about 1,400 of them – and edited, with my students and Dean Lynn, the 296 pieces published so far. I make sure we have signed parental or guardian permission to publish those younger than 18, and we get legal advice when necessary. Nine years in I know to expect work that is brilliant, average, earnest, funny and shocking. There are always heartbreakers.

And there are heart-warmers. One student, an abuse survivor who graduated from Saluda High, told me the contest gave her the confidence to study English education at Lander and the University of Cambridge, and to accept an internship at Duke. Now Sarah Williams-Shealy teaches at Wagener-Salley High, where she won “First-Year Teacher of the Year.”

One of Williams-Shealy’s classmates wrote about how hard it was to act as a Spanish-speaking translator for police officers investigating his scared, vulnerable neighbors. Unable to afford college in South Carolina because he and his Mexican parents are undocumented – this state mandates that Dreamers pay out-of-state tuition for in-state schools – Nicolas Fernandez Rodriquez left. He graduated this year with a degree in statistics from the University of Illinois Chicago. His GPA was 3.86. Chicago is home to him now: While working as a data analyst he’ll start a master’s program and try to bring his family there.   

The contest offers an interesting way to learn the state. Thanks to an energetic teacher at Gaffney High who always has her students enter, I learned the band was marching in old uniforms from another school while the football team got a brand-new stadium. From the Lowcountry comes panic about the environment. “I am afraid. Terrified,” confessed Samuel Rosenberg of Charleston. “I write this today as Hurricane Michael slams South Carolina, and I have my fifth hurricane day this school year.”

Two young Black men described obvious racism. “Walking on the street downtown to my job at the Fifth Judicial Circuit Solicitor’s Office, I have witnessed White Americans go to the other side of the street so they wouldn’t have to walk by me,” wrote Justice Hill, a Columbian who aims for law school.

“Regardless of how many community service hours I complete, how high my GPA is, or how my pants sit on my waist, there is always something that will cause a cop to stop me for being a Black man owning a Tahoe with rims or for a White woman to obviously move away because somewhere in the back of their minds, no matter who I am as a person, they will only ever see me as a color,” wrote KhaFee Walker-Lewis of St. Stephen, who joined the Army. 

Of the many submissions about our roads, Devin Leigh’s was the most pressing. He described how his mother, an EMT in Horry County, struggles to insert IVs into patients on roads riddled with potholes. “Imagine the lives that would be saved – and not just in the back of an ambulance – if South Carolina had higher quality infrastructure,” he wrote. 

Our finalists reflect our population. Several are of Asian, Muslim, and Latino heritage, and some are mixed. We’ve had various genders and sexualities and a foster child. They abhor South Carolina’s inequitable public education system, our “Corridor of Shame,” and they want good teachers to be paid more. Mental health is a big issue with them, and so is comprehensive, comprehensible sex education – they’re crying out for it. They deplore the litter on our roads and the hypocrisy of the South. They call out older generations who use disrespectful language about minorities.

Soon I will read the 94 submissions we got this year – we think that’s a good number considering the pandemic – and I’ll see what the trendy topic is for 2021. One thing will be clear. As the author of Heartbreaker #1 began, “In South Carolina there are many problems.” That student got it heartbreakingly right.  

Volumes 1-6 of Writing South Carolina: Selections of the High School Writing Contest are available on Amazon. Volume 7 is in production. Volume 8 can be accessed here

Aïda Rogers writes from an old house in Columbia and a new porch in McClellanville. Her three-volume anthology series, State of the Heart: South Carolina Writers on the Places They Love, includes stories by 108 Palmetto State writers.

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Elusive Butterfly Of Fall

Tom Poland

Posted Oct. 19, 2021

By Tom Poland
A Southern Writer

December 1965, that’s when a catchy tune debuted. Bob Lind’s “Elusive Butterfly” used a butterfly as a metaphor for love. Some of you survivors of these modern times might remember Lind’s line, “I chase the bright elusive butterfly of love.” Well, I chase the elusive cloudless sulphur butterfly.

Among my autumn signposts are ripened wild grapes, colors of football jerseys and flags, falling leaves, and a golden butterfly fluttering across highways as I make my way to games, back roads, and family.

That golden butterfly I see that seems to never land? It’s the cloudless sulphur butterfly, Phoebis sennae, as naturalists know it. Its genus name comes from the name of the Greek god Apollo’s sister, Phoebe. I’ve tried to photograph this golden goddess, but it’s one of those butterflies that never stays in one spot long, a transient like some house-flipping investor or culprit on the lam. Well, all that sounds a tad negative, so let’s just say the cloudless, as I’ll call it, is busy sharing its beauty on a nonstop tour to the south.

Each fall as I drive east to west, I look for these beauties, and they never let me down. Here comes one fluttering, dipping, and darting across my path. I take care not to hit it. These golden flashes of light are on a mission: they’re migrating. Like monarch butterflies, sulphur butterflies migrate but nowhere as far or in as great of numbers. I see a lot of them, and I read that they’re in no danger these days, a good thing.

During fall, sulphur butterflies abandon their breeding sites up north and like snowbirds weary of snow, bagels, and taxis, travel airy I-95s south to Florida and other southern places. They live down that way until winter gives way to spring. Then they head back north to familiar breeding sites.

On my trips to Georgia, and in particular, Athens, Georgia, I count their numbers until distractions cause me to lose count. I look for those fluttering pale yellow harbingers of autumn, and they never let me down. I check my compass, which I keep handy, and sure enough, they are heading south.

I’ve long tried to photograph one but they flit about, landing on flowers for a nanosecond before they head out. You need to be a butterfly whisperer to calm them down. I got lucky at a place I’ve put in books, the Janet Harrison High Pond Heritage Preserve near Monetta, South Carolina. I stopped by this preserve that might be a Carolina bay in the making on a sunny, warm fall afternoon. The place swarmed with butterflies. That warmed my heart in this day of vanishing bumblebees and dwindling honeybees. My gut tells me too many pesticides are at work these days. Think twice before you reach for that can of spray or box of granules.

Seems to me, observations prove that “cloudless” likes red flowers, and lo and behold research reveals that’s true. Here you see one resting for a few seconds on an old variety of canna lily, an odd species to be in a high pond. Did someone plant these lilies? I looked around and sure enough an old homeplace once stood in the preserve as lilies and old bricks embedded in soil attest.

We look for meanings in nature. To see a yellow butterfly represents joy and creativity. If you see a yellow butterfly flitting about expect some happiness and prosperity. And if you need some exercise, venture forth into nature this time of year with a camera and chase these little gold jewels around. Chase the elusive butterfly of fall and if you’re quick enough, as the song goes, you may catch an image of this lovely migrant headed south.

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Living on Purpose: Wherever you are God is with you

Dr. William Holland

Posted Oct. 18, 2021

By Dr. William Holland

For those who try to live for the Lord and want to please Him, I’m sure you know what I mean when I say there are times when the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. When it comes to maintaining a red-hot enthusiasm for the Christian life, we are not robots, but rather we are emotional humans that have good days along with other times that are clouded with with feelings of melancholy. It does the heart good to quietly sit alone as we search within our soul trying to figure out what is wrong. It could be a nagging sin where we should have stood strong against it but instead we gave it control. God promises that in the midst of our misery there is nothing we can do that will make Him love us any less. Or maybe our hearts are weighed down with heaviness for a world that has turned away from God. Whatever our burden, we can rest assured that He knows our thoughts and exactly what we are going through. Romans 8:39 is a wonderful reminder, “Neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

The gospel is often called the good news and rightly so as there is nowhere in this world that God cannot hear our cries or feel the weight of our worries. There is no point in our lives where He turns away from us or sees us as undeserving or unworthy of His love. So today, if you are having difficulty sensing His presence and feel like you are drifting on an open sea, God wants you to know that He has never left your side. There is strength, confidence, and hope in His name as He is waiting to lead you into the healing light of His glorious presence. II Samuel 22:3-4 declares, “My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge, my savior; you save me from violence. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.” The Lord promises that we can always run to Him when we are afraid and anxious, when we are having health issues, confused or sad, or overwhelmed with discouragement. Wherever you are, He is always there to protect and comfort you.

As I sit here seeking God’s guidance, I just received a text from a dear friend asking for prayer. He said he is struggling with a sense that he has been abandoned by God. I’m sure you will agree it’s not a coincidence that I would be writing about the very thing that he just contacted me about. It hurts me to see others discouraged as we are living in difficult times but there will be seasons when we are convinced He is not concerned about what we are going through. This happens to all of us because our emotions namely what we see, hear, and feel are so strong, however, these natural feelings can be misleading and often prove that things are not always the way they seem. Divine truth is found in the spiritual realm with God and is based on His nature and character which is an extension of what He has promised in His Word. “So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you. And the Lord, He is the One who goes before you. He will be with you, He will never leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:6,8).

The desert is a hot and dry environment and we read in the Bible that many of God’s people including Jesus Himself spent some agonizing times there. But let us remember that for whatever reason we may go through these wilderness experiences, God is not only with us every step of the way, but He also promises after a certain amount of time to lead us back into the cool refreshing waters of His joy, peace, and restoration. Ask Jesus to forgive and cleanse your heart, trust in His endless grace, and as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, you will find yourself back in His everlasting arms of love.

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Stuart Neiman Cartoon: Manchin vs. Sanders

Posted Oct. 18, 2021

By Stuart Neiman

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Star Light, Star Bright

Tom Poland

Posted Oct. 14, 2021

By Tom Poland
A Southern Writer

Back in the late 1980s and early ’90s, I’d leave on a Friday afternoon and head for the mountains, the Blue Ridge species. My monthly drives from Columbia, South Carolina, to Buchanan, Virginia, took me to family. You see my daughters lived in that small town named for President James Buchanan.
The five-hour drive involved I-20, I-77, I-81, and a welcomed break from interstates—the majestic Blue Ridge Parkway. Along the parkway, 18-wheelers noticeably absent, my views included valleys, clouds drifting across my windshield, waterfalls, deer along shoulders, and places with poetic names such as Peaks of Otter, Sunrise Field, and Sunrise Meadow. I recall, too, a high, narrow ridge with deep valleys plunging off each side. It was like driving the edge of a knife blade.

One memorable view stood out. By day the Roanoke Star, more accurately, Mill Mountain Star, was invisible. By night, however, that white star meant I was just half an hour from my girls. It became a private landmark. “Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might, have this wish I wish tonight.”
My wish was to spend time with my daughters.

In early dark winter the Hollywood sign of the East Coast stood out. It loomed over the Roanoke Valley. It shined upon Roanoke, Star City of the South. Driving along a rim of mountains, weaving in and out of curves, and driving within that valley, to me it seemed a giant had pinned the star to Mill Mountain, so named because a gristmill once operated at its base.

Back then I never got to visit the star. I knew nothing about the world’s largest manmade star. I just knew I’d soon see my girls. Then, some thirty-plus years later, I saw the star up close. On an October Sunday, my daughter, Beth, and her family and I enjoyed lunch at the park associated with the star. An autumn wind rustled leaves. Some leaves were beginning to turn. Though it was warm, the wind carried a chill. Winter, my star time of yesteryear, was calling.

After lunch, we went to the star I had only seen from afar. Standing beneath it erased a lot of self-doubt and pain. So, right here I must thank the Roanoke Merchants Association and Roanoke Chamber of Commerce for erecting that symbol of hope in November 1949. One-hundred feet tall, the star stands 1,847 feet over sea level and 1,045 feet over Roanoke. It stands tall in memory. Looking up at two stars within a star I thought about all the trips I had made back in the day. Just above where I stood came the white light that sustained me.

That October Sunday I looked out across Roanoke Valley wondering just where I was when I first spotted the star light. Standing beneath it felt personal. Perhaps another father in absentia gazed upon that star and found in it a landmark of hope.

 Over the years the star’s shone red to indicate a traffic fatality on a given day. After the mass shooting at Virginia Tech, the Mill Mountain Star burned bright white with several sections symbolically blacked out. For me it shone as a symbol of hope, that my girls would grow up unscarred by divorce. For me, passing through Roanoke Valley alone on cold winter evenings long ago, the star light, star bright symbolized a time to be with family during trying years. When I look back across time I see it through windshields long gone. The star burns bright, a beacon of hope, and all turned out well just as I hoped.

Tom Poland’s website at

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Living on Purpose: Our decisions determine our destiny

Dr. William Holland

Posted Oct. 11, 2021

By Dr. William Holland

For those who occasionally think about how to maintain and increase the spiritual aspects of your life, we must consider that our decisions are directly associated with accomplishing our destiny. I have thought about this for many years and have come to the conclusion that desire is one of the most critical steps for knowing God. If we have a passionate and unwavering dedication to accomplish something, we have built a solid foundation for the other steps that will follow. However, without fervent enthusiasm, our vision will remain a whim. When it comes to drawing nearer to our Creator, we will discover this is the most difficult challenge we will ever face. Why is it so hard to walk with Christ? One reason is that having a personal relationship with him includes surrendering our control so that he can possess and control us. It’s one thing to work toward such things as weight loss, exercise, or training for a sport as we are only in a battle against our bodies to succeed. Granted, these are serious challenges but when we become obsessed with advancing into God, we will face resistance from our old nature, the need to renew our mind, and a hostile devil who hates us and does not want us to be victorious.

There is no doubt that many people are lukewarm in their spiritual life. It’s true, we all have times when we drift a little or become distracted from the Lord, however, there is a serious problem when we are satisfied with a mediocre relationship with God. I have discovered in my own life that it is much easier to live in the outer courts than to be a cup-bearer for the king. Honestly, it’s simply a case of not wanting to sacrifice our time or our pleasures just to have a more intimate connection with him and we are all guilty. Our rebellion refuses to pay the price that is required for a sanctified lifestyle. I was talking to a friend the other day, and he was telling me about a new diet he had been following for the last few months. He was proud of his accomplishments and went on to explain that when he started out, some of his family and friends scoffed and said he could never do it because of his reputation for being a foodaholic. Then he mentioned something that caught my attention. He said, “I became so focused and my determination became so strong, I demanded my body to obey my will. In the last three months, I have lost 32 pounds and I’m only getting started.”

I am very impressed with this level of infatuation and congratulated him for finding such relentless perseverance. At the same time, I thought about how spiritually mature every Christian could be if we decided to become this serious about concentrating on the awareness of God’s presence. One of the greatest revelations I have discovered is that we can live as close to God as we want, and this brings us back to our desperate need for desire. So, if failing to achieve our goals is caused by a shortage of fervency and self-discipline, where can we find it? God gives it to those who ask for it. It’s true, with certain situations there are other factors that can make a difference, but when it comes to developing a personal relationship with God, the opportunity is available and nothing is preventing us from knowing and loving him except our will. In Matthew chapter 5, one of the beatitudes says, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” For each person, questions remain: “Do you have a relentless craving to walk with God and how important is it for you to know him?” I was watching a football game the other night, and the coaches were fiercely challenging their team to dig deep within themselves and find the raging fires of desire. They were looking at each player in the eyes and asking how much do you want to be victorious? Have you ever sensed the Holy Spirit convicting you with the same question? We can inspire others but the intriguing reality about motivation is that no one can force another person to change their mind. Most people only want enough of God to go to heaven but do not love him enough to become who He has called them to be.

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See you later, alligator: Experts chime in on viral video

Posted Oct. 7, 2021

By  and  
Carolina News & Reporter
University of South Carolina

Editor’s Note: This package includes additional images, which can be found on the  Carolina News & Reporter site

A recent viral video captured in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, exposed an alligator’s cannibalistic palate and created misconceptions about the reptile’s eating habits that wildlife experts are working hard to dispel.

The alligator species is widely known to feed on dead carcasses called carrion. The prey in the video was a smaller alligator that had already drowned shortly before, according to Taylor Soper, who originally posted the video on Twitter.

Soper says his father was enjoying a day on his porch when he witnessed the 12-foot-long alligator devour a smaller gator. 

A sign warns passerby’s to “be gator safe” and stay aware along the Timmerman Trail in Cayce. The park closed briefly in 2017 after a sighting of a 9-foot long alligator. Photos by Destiny Stewart

“[He] was kind of amazed that it happened,” said Soper. “[The fact that] he even had a chance to capture it on camera and just be able to see all that…that’s not at all a very common occurrence.”

The nervous system of an alligator is similar to that of a chicken, and the carcass will continue to flail for moments after death. This phenomenon has made shocking video seem a lot worse than it is.

Morgan Hart, an alligator program biologist with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, said the alligators are “not monsters, just wild animals.”

Soper says that his family members are no strangers to wildlife. Just days before the incident, they witnessed a baby gator get eaten by the same six-foot-long alligator that was prey in the video.

Joshua Castleberry, the environmental and natural resources chair of Central Carolina Technical College, said though he understands the initial shock factor of the video, this is fairly common in nature.

However, catching an interaction like this on camera is still rare because larger alligators of this size aren’t as common anymore.

“It happens all the time with baby alligators,” said Castleberry. “They’ll call out in distress and the mothers will respond. Unfortunately for the baby, the noise attracts larger males who would happily snack on easy prey.”

“It is just the circle of life,” Hart said.

Soper and his parents are hesitant to disclose the exact location and details of where the alligator incident occurred.

“We just don’t want the alligator to be bothered… that’s nature,” said Soper. “It wasn’t like he was attacking a human or anything like that. He was just kind of doing his thing, and it just happened to be in the pond behind the house.”

Hart says the DNR estimates there to be around 100,000 alligators in the state. Though the population is currently stable, the American Alligator was formerly listed as endangered.

They are legal to hunt, though it is tightly managed. They are predominantly hunted for sport because there is generally very little investment return on alligator hunting: Alligators are more expensive to hunt than they are to process and sell. This year, the “lottery hunt” runs from Sept. 11 to Oct. 9.Alligators are known to “self manage” their population, according to Hart. The alligator will fight its own kind over “property disputes” and other threats to its habitat.

Wild alligators that present a threat to pets, livestock or humans are considered nuisance alligators. In case of emergency or requested removal of a nuisance alligator, the DNR has a list of resources. There are also local wildlife extraction services that specialize in alligator removal.

“They will stay to themselves, but they will definitely defend themselves when provoked,” said Hart.

The DNR reported its most recent alligator attack Monday morning. A Hilton Head man in his 70’s was doing yard work near the edge of a pond on a golf course when he was attacked. A nearby golfer came to help the man, who suffered serious bites to his arms and legs, according to the report.

“When they do attack, it is generally because people either displayed weakness, short circuited their predatory behaviors by feeding them, or took a risk like swimming at dawn or dusk,” said Castleberry.

Castleberry said alligators are generally wary predators, hardwired to choose weak or easy prey to reduce the risk of injury to themselves and increase spent energy.

There is a common misconception that alligator attacks can be avoided by running in a zigzag line. Though it is true that they do not turn well or run quickly for far lengths at a time, this is not the best method of prevention.

In case of an alligator attack, Hart says there are two important rules.

First, it is important to always assume that any waterway below the fall line, a South Carolina geographical region, will be inhabited by alligators.  Always be aware of your surroundings, especially near water.

Do not feed the gators. Hart and Castleberry both describe the species as afraid of people, but a fed gator will “begin to lose its natural fear of humans,” said Hart.

“If you want to keep your fingers, do not approach.”

There have not been any recent sightings of alligators in Columbia. Castleberry said the closest he has seen was in the Congaree National Park.

“It is not likely,” said Castleberry. “Though as a naturalist I have learned to never say never.”

See full package with images.  

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An ode to the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, savior of Congaree

Posted Oct. 7, 2021

By  and  
Carolina News & Reporter
University of South Carolina

Editor’s Note: This package includes additional images, which can be found on the  Carolina News & Reporter site

Fifty years ago, a whimsical boat voyage and the cry of a mythically rare bird led to the creation of Congaree National Park. Now, 77 years after its last confirmed sighting in 1944, that same bird, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, has officially been declared extinct. 

In the spring of 1971,  Alex Sanders and a group he described as “South Carolina’s infant environmental movement,” were looking for a reason to get the government to protect the Santee Swamp, the country’s last untouched old growth bottomland hardwood forest, located southeast of Columbia. The swamp and its valuable timber were being targeted for logging. 

Park ranger Jon Manchester shows off the wingspan of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker using a model. Photos by Sebastian Lee

In an interview Monday, Sanders, a retired chief justice of the S.C. Court of Appeals and president emeritus of the College of Charleston, described how he scheduled “excursions” designed to bring press to the area, one of which was a plan to “discover” a Civil War train wreck, complete with cannonballs. In a state that revered the Old South, the group figured a Civil War site would certainly be preserved.

Eventually they would find their savior of the swamp, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. In a boat heading down the river, Sanders and members of the movement along with WIS television reporters played the call of the woodpecker in hopes to hear a response from a living one. 

According to Sanders, everyone left the boat convinced that they had heard a reply. 

“Hearing that cry was tantamount to finding an angel,” Sanders said.

Despite the crew’s certainty, no further surveys of the swamp revealed any signs of the ethereal bird, leaving many to wonder if it happened at all. Even today, Sanders is ambiguous.

“It doesn’t really matter whether it’s true or not,” Sanders, now retired and living in Charleston, said. “He was there when we needed him to be… that’s what this whole thing is all about.”

Sanders’ report, corroborated by those who were with him, drew international attention and compelled the U.S. government to establish Congaree National Park on the swampland.

“There’s nothing as powerful as public opinion, but it must be aroused, sometimes artificially,” Sanders said, chuckling. 

The Ivory-billed Woodpecker was an “unmistakable” bird before its extinction, said Congaree Park Ranger Jon Manchester. Before extinction it was the third-largest woodpecker in the world, with a wingspan of nearly 3 feet. 

“It’s enormous,” Manchester said, “so they called it the Lord God bird, because you saw it and you were [like], ‘Lord God, that’s a big bird.’”

Habitat destruction was the primary factor in the bird’s decline. In its prime, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker inhabited old-growth bottomland forests across the Southeast and parts of Cuba.

These forests, with large, hard trees and nearby sources of water, were ideal for logging and subsequent farming in the 19th and 20th centuries, Manchester said. 

“There are little pockets of old growth left across the Southeast, but it’s just not enough for a species to be able to survive and continue on,” Manchester said.

The bird’s chances of survival weren’t helped by its ecological needs, which include large swaths of territory. One pair of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, Manchester said, require as much territory as 130 pileated woodpeckers, a smaller but similar-looking variety of woodpecker. 

“It’s a sad thing to have to say, yes, a bird is extinct, but it should also be an impetus to say okay, what can we do to try and make sure that other bird species don’t go the way of the ivory-billed woodpecker?” Manchester said. 

Another South Carolina bird, the Bachman’s Warbler, was also declared extinct in the same U.S. Fish and Wildlife press release as the Ivory-bill Woodpecker. The Warbler could be found around Francis Marion National Forest in the coastal region.

Fortunately, there are many things that can be done to prevent bird endangerment. The largest and simplest, said Charleston Audubon Society President Jennifer Tyrell, is to keep your cats indoors. 

“If you have a cat, or are getting a cat, keep it inside, or get it a catio, or leash-train it, because cats do quite a number on birds,” Tyrell said.

report from the American Bird Conservancy found that household cats kill approximately 2.4 billion birds annually. 

Turning lights off at night and marking windows can also save birds from endangerment. Millions of birds hit glass windows and die annually, Tyrell said. 

The Audubon Society is also involved with replanting species of trees that endangered bird species use for their habitat, such as the longleaf pine, in order to combat habitat loss. 

While these measures won’t resurrect the Ivory-Billed woodpecker, Bachman’s Warbler or other birds lost to extinction, Tyrell said that keeping our bird populations alive and well is essential.

“Where birds thrive, people prosper,” she said. “So if birds are thriving, then that means we have clean water, that means we have clear air, we have good natural resources.”

And there are those who are skeptical of the woodpecker’s extinction at all.

“There’s still the hope that there’s a relic population down in Cuba,” Manchester said. “There are people who have said it’s not extinct down there, but again, I don’t know how much habitat it has.”

And so, as it has for nearly 80 years, the search for the Lord God bird continues. 

To hear the call of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker click here.

See full package with images.  

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Magic In Some Alien World

Tom Poland

Posted Oct. 6, 2021

By Tom Poland
A Southern Writer

On a hot, windless Sunday, I found a place where wind swept up and over a cliff to pour through pines. The cooling torrent felt like a sea breeze off Pawleys Island, though I was nowhere near sea level. It made for a great place to see the smoky blue Georgia horizon reveal Earth’s curvature.

Far below, a parched basin with its acid pool and barren, rocky land looked like an alien planet in a science fiction movie. I was gazing upon some alien world. A mesa overlooking a wine-colored pool reinforced the feeling I was seeing a setting in a sci-fi film, and I was.

The Tomorrow War, a 2021 military science fiction action film, used this familiar mountain as a setting. The plot, if you’re intrigued, involves alien invaders who kill off most humans in no time. Militaries make their way into the future via a worm hole to save Earth. After a lot of explosions and weaponry kill screaming aliens who look like giant camel crickets, heroes save Earth and humanity.

Yes, Sunday, I went up on the mountain. Sounds Biblical, “I went up on the mountain.” I went to watch folks crack rocks at the annual October Rock Swap & Dig, but that movie was on my mind. I worked in film once, a kindergarten version of Hollywood at best. Even so, I know how movie magic transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary. Add some computer-generated special effects and most anything can be faked these days. Thus did we have camel cricket monsters with faces akin to that monster in Sigourney Weaver’s Alien in Lincoln County, Georgia.The movie’s producers used Lincoln County, Georgia’s, Graves Mountain as the setting for a scene where good guys and a gal capture a strategic alien female holed up in the mountain’s interior. (If you want details, stream it. The movie was never intended for theaters.)

Reality and a bit of imagination, however, are pretty good too. From my windy perch on high I watched one lonely fellow trudging uphill on a road of rocks and packed earth. Seen from hundreds of feet above he looked like the last man on Earth. He brought to mind The Road and Mad Max, movies that evoke the word, “dystopian,” a state or place where all is abysmal. If nuclear war brings nuclear winter and wholesale destruction, we’d experience a dystopian world.

Sunday night my brother-in-law and I watched the scene in The Tomorrow War where Graves Mountain is the star, and wouldn’t you know it? My windy cool perch was where alien invaders, “Whitespikes,” streamed over the cliff to attack soldiers and helicopters.

I saw no evidence that a movie crew had been there. I certainly saw no aliens. All I saw were rocks and pines. And what did I hear? It wasn’t death rays or helicopters firing rockets or blood-curdling alien screams. I heard the wind and clink, clink, clink of rock hounds from all over the United States seeking rutile and other precious minerals. Aliens were not on their mind. Just mine. A hometown boy visited a Hollywood set on a mountain he’s long visited, and that felt a bit magical.

Tom Poland’s website at

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Southern Voices, Southern Voices: I peed on a toady frog

Michael DeWitt, Jr.

Posted Oct. 5, 2021

By Michael DeWitt, Jr.

I was born in the summer of 1972. The Vietnam War was still raging. Elvis was still very much alive. Needless to say, I’m not a little boy anymore.

Yet, as I soon celebrate a half century on this planet, I was pleased to learn recently that, deep inside my wrinkled, fatty, hairy exterior, there still lives a five-year-old boy – and he still has a mischievous streak and some unresolved issues.

This epiphany came as I was reflecting on life while standing under the stars enjoying some fresh air, which, in the rural South Carolina Lowcountry, is a nice way of saying I had stepped into the backyard to urinate outdoors. (My apologies if this topic offends our more genteel readers, but you simply can’t write about little boys growing up in the rural South without at least once mentioning the sport of outdoor urination.)

There I was, pondering life’s little moments and mysteries, when low and behold an unsuspecting frog hopped right up to me, almost landing on my toe. I tried to shoo him away with my foot, but the little guy just sat there and wouldn’t budge. It was almost as if the fellow were lonely and thought he had found a friend.

The toady frog, as we used to call them when I was a kid, was about the size of a child’s fist, and about as plump and icky. It was the kind of toad that hung out in the wet grass under your parents’ yard lights when you were a kid, and, every time you picked him up, without fail, he always peed on you. Then you would drop him, run inside screaming to your mother, and she would promptly instruct you to go scrub your hands.

“That’s how you get warts, you know!” Momma would always say.

Now, confronted with this frog 45 years later, a more enlightened, mature soul would most certainly have said something like, “Shoo, little froggy. Go away now!” and went about the mature, responsible business of being an adult.

But the five-year-old lurking inside of me would have none of that.

“That’s the same frog that always peed on you!” the inner boy said to me.

“That’s crazy,” adult Mikey countered. “That can’t be the same toady frog!”

“Look at him!” Little Mikey said. “He’s got the same stripes, the same beady eyes, the same evil grin and everything!”

“He does look a little familiar,” Big Mikey admitted.

“You know what to do!” Little Mikey said, no doubt rubbing his grubby, chubby hands together with excitement. “I won’t tell Mommy if you don’t!”

“Come on, that’s not right! What if my wife finds out? What would the kids think?”

“It is time for someone to finally make things right in the universe!” said Little Mikey with an evil, sinister laugh, and that was all it took.

So it is with a mixture of pride and shame that I confess to you, dear reader, than on Sept. 24, 2021, one of your favorite adult journalists, a Southern Baptist who was once named the Chamber of Commerce Man of the Year, a father of two and an otherwise normal, upstanding citizen who pays his taxes on time, urinated on a live frog in Hampton County, S.C.

Just a little bit. Not enough to make it weird, cruel, or unusual. Not enough to make it a case of animal cruelty, but just enough to get my point across and make a statement.

I did it for the irony. I did it for karma. I did it for justice. I did it for every little boy out there in the history of the world of little boys who has ever picked up a mean toady frog and got his curious fingers peed upon.

To all the innocent children everywhere, to all you victims of random and unprovoked frog-pee attacks, you are avenged!

As I predicted, the wife did not appreciate the karmic, life-coming-full-circle magnitude of the moment. There was a lengthy lecture about animal cruelty and setting poor examples for the children. The kids look at Daddy a little funny now. There is talk of calling PETA and the ASPCA. But none of that is important right now.

All that matters is, somewhere out there at this very moment, a toady frog is worriedly asking his Momma if he is going to get warts.

And that’s enough for Little Mikey.

Michael M. DeWitt, Jr. is the managing editor of The Hampton County Guardian, an award-winning journalist, columnist and outdoor writer who has been published in South Carolina Wildlife, Sporting Classics, and the author of two books.

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