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A Vanishing Coastal Icon

Tom Poland

Posted Nov. 1, 2021

By Tom Poland
A Southern Writer

Photographers love to shoot them at sunrise. Riding a glittering golden sea, shrimp boats strike a classic silhouette with that orb of fire rising behind them. A shrimp trawler working coastal waters ranks right up there with other iconic coastal scenes … elegant sea oats at sunset, a classic lighthouse, workboats in a marsh, and a cast net at full extension.

Nowadays my trips to the beach and explorations along coastal stretches turn up fewer and fewer shrimp boats. It’s a sad commentary on modern times: photos of trawlers at dawn are not easy to get. You don’t see shrimp trawlers working the sea like you once did. You don’t see them coming in with their photogenic outriggers up. To be clear, trawlers still work the sea but nowhere in numbers like they once did. You have to work to find them these days. Vacationers don’t expect to look up from your beach lounge chair and see trawlers on the horizon. You might see one. Maybe.

Times were you’d see them out at sea working, nets out, capturing shrimp. Beachgoers would see several trawlers with nets up coming home with a haul. Beachgoers and locals alike knew where to get fresh-caught shrimp and it was no marketing spin. It was the real deal, but those days are slipping away.

Glorified in song, “Shrimp boats is a-comin’” heralded the romance of the sea and the men who worked it. An old salt of a captain with a snow-white beard like Hemingway braving the elements to reel in shrimp seemed gallant, a hero. There’s nothing gallant about putting a bag of frozen shrimp in a sink full of water. Nothing heroic about cutting open a plastic bag of thawed shrimp. Give me fresh-cut roses, not plastic ones. But that’s where we are. These days shrimp boats aren’t a-coming, they’re a-goin’. No, you just don’t see shrimp trawlers much.

Regulations, pollution, imports, inaccessible shrimping grounds, mariculture, maintenance costs, aging fleets, and other factors have put the hurt on the shrimping industry. Adverse effects on fish and other species pose problems. Shrimping like so many other areas of life has grown more and more complicated, less and less profitable.

I’m sure getting workers isn’t as easy as it once was. The work is hard. Tough hours. Tough conditions. And perilous. Like other boats, shrimp trawlers sink, burn, and suffer adversities that only the sea can throw at them.

“Walk a mile in my shoes” goes the saying. Lowcountry fisherman and shrimper, Woody Collins of Beaufort, South Carolina, knows the deal. He walked the walk and wrote Where Have All of the Shrimp Boats Gone?, a 100-year history of the shrimping industry in the South Carolina Lowcountry.

An insider’s story, it’s told by a man who was involved in the industry for about 60 years. Collins began his shrimping career as a boy growing up in the 1950s in Beaufort and Port Royal. “I didn’t come from a fishing family,” he said in an interview. “I was the same age as boys whose daddies owned shrimp boats. If you showed an interest, you’d end up working on them.”

Men like Collins watched as change silenced diesel engines. “From Texas to North Carolina,” said Collins, “boats that don’t work are just sitting at docks.” As Otis sang, they’re “sitting at the dock of the bay.” They’re sure not out on the sea like they once were.

The silencing of trawler engines goes on here and in other states. Shrimp boats no longer ride into a rising sun. They’re trawling into a setting sun, and yet another coastal icon vanishes.

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Pumpkin Patch Northeast UMC celebrates over twenty years, gives back to community

Posted Oct. 25, 2021

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

The Pumpkin Patch at Northeast UMC is located at 4000 HardScrabble Road and open until Oct. 31. Photos by Michaela Catoe

Walking into the Northeast United Methodist Church pumpkin patch for the first time, Erica Bush and her 5-year-old son Carter were bursting with excitement. 

“This year was really special because now that he is 5 years old, he’s able to really be hands on with the pumpkins. So this is the first year to really do decorative pumpkins in our house,” Bush said. 

Pumpkin Patch at Northeast UMC has been a staple of Northeast Columbia for over twenty years, one of a number of church-run patches that draw in visitors each October. The pumpkins decorate the front lawn of the church, leaving a colorful view from HardScrabble Road.

The congregation sets up the pumpkin patch every year as a fundraiser for the youth program, which has about twenty children. The money received is delegated towards youth scholarship events and to a charity of the children’s choice. In past years, the church has donated to organizations such as Palmetto Animal Assisted Life Services [PAALS] and United Methodist Committee on Relief [UMCOR]. In addition to fundraising, the children volunteer in the patch.

Bush said that purchasing from this charitable patch was fulfilling.

“This is a good opportunity for us to be able to give back to the community,” Bush said. “It’s not just us getting a pumpkin for a few weeks in October, but it’s actually going to help somebody. That’s amazing.” 

Abbie Mantor, the discipleship coordinator and co-leader of the pumpkin patch, said that nearby schools will visit the patch to participate in fun activities such as reading a pumpkin story.

“We schedule about half an hour per class, and that gives them enough time to do a story, sing songs and pick out their pumpkin,” Mantor said. 

Kendrick Hampton, a teacher at Education Express, brought his class of two year olds out to kick off their fall festival. 

“Everyone got a pumpkin, we did story time and they played on the playground,” Hampton said. “I really hope they had a good time.” 

The local patch receives its batch of pumpkins from a farm in New Mexico which specifically distributes to non profit organizations across the country as well as local farms.

“All the pumpkins that go bad, we donate to a local pig farmer,” Mantor said. “At the end, anything we haven’t sold we have to give away to a local farmer as well. It’s all donated.” 

Raegan Prest, a mother of two from Elgin, has been coming to the patch for the past six or seven years. 

“I have pictures of them from all of their past years, in their costumes too,” Prest said. 

This year, they plan to leave with about ten pumpkins. 

“My daughter likes to paint them, my son likes to carve them., We buy all types of pumpkins. I like the little tiny gourds and the little tiny pumpkins,” Prest said. 

Mantor said the pumpkin patch had one of their best years last year despite the Covid-19 pandemic. They sold almost $38,000 and are on track to raise over $40,000 this year. 

Last year, the patch enforced masks and social distancing. To continue with COVID-19 safety this year, they have kept some of the same protocols. The patch suggests social distancing by recommending that customers space out by staying six pumpkins apart.

“Even though it’s open and airy, we still try to be as cautious as possible, especially with the kids who cannot be vaccinated yet. So we want to be very cautious and make sure that everyone feels comfortable and loved,” Mantor said.

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Goat Daddy’s Farm back again with Halloween fun

Posted Oct. 28, 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

Jason Southers, co-owner of Goat Daddy’s Farm, plays with Abu the camel. Abu was nursed back to health after being rescued with a broken leg. Photos by Nick Sullivan

Down a narrow, windy gravel road in rural South Carolina, Goat Daddy’s Farm lies on 40 acres of land. Those who dare take the drive this Halloween might just meet 41 goats, 13 cats, 12 dogs, two emus and a camel named Abu. 

The farm in Elgin, about 20 miles outside Columbia, is celebrating spooky season with its fourth-annual Halloween event on Sunday. The celebration is free to the public, and all the animals will be lurking.

The family-friendly event will include a costume contest for both children and adults. Games will be set up throughout the evening, including cornhole, bowling and cow patty bingo, in which attendees take bets on where Norris the cow will, well, do his business. Patrons can also stroll down the haunted trail, where local vendors will line up to sell their goods and a troll will await candy-seeking children. Despite the name, scares are limited.

“Nobody’s going to pop out with a chainsaw and be like, ‘I’m gonna kill you,’” said Jason Southers, the co-owner of Goat Daddy’s Farm.

Southers started the farm in 2014 with his partner Josh Slade, who is now his husband. Since then, they’ve devoted their work to producing humane animal products such as goat cheese and raw goat milk while also serving as a nonprofit animal sanctuary. The farm is open to the public for “farm days” every Saturday.

“You can truly tell that their animals are so loved, and they just take such good care of them,” said Brittany Waldrep, an Elgin mother-of-one who drops by the farm at least a couple times a month. “They’re wonderful people.”

But it hasn’t been smooth sailing from the start. The farm took time to build a name for itself and establish ties within the community. 

“Our first farm day we sold like two cucumbers and a couple dozen eggs. I think we made $17,” Southers said. Eventually, he was able to quit his full-time job at SCE&G, now known as Dominion Energy. “Now, I’m just doing the farm and the animal rescue.”

The Halloween event has grown over the years alongside the farm’s popularity. More than 500 guests have attended events in the past, and nearly 300 have reserved tickets for Sunday’s festivities. Tickets are not required in advance. 

Though the event is free, donations and purchases are appreciated, according to Goat Daddy’s. Southers estimates events at the farm cost anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 to organize. Purchases help the farm to break even, with money left over to split between their own farm needs and helping other animal rescues.

Part of Goat Daddy’s mission is to support the local community. That’s why more than a dozen local businesses are coming to sell their products.

“It’s local,” Southers said. “You’re actually supporting a family and local employees.”

Regina Dreher, owner of Nettie’s Pride, is one of the local vendors making her way to the farm. Dreher started the business, which sells exotic and rare houseplants, in honor of her mother. Through the help of Goat Daddy’s, Dreher has found the support she needed to get her business started. 

“It means so much to see people come out to the farm that typically don’t get outside, or typically that you see that they’re scared of bugs, or they’re scared to touch the animals, or scared to try goat cheese or new things. It really just means a lot to see those people,” Dreher said. “Goat Daddy’s bridges a lot of gaps.”

Outside of Halloween season, Goat Daddy’s hosts special events such as graduation and birthday parties. The farm also offers homestead classes, goat care classes and their most popular event, goat yoga. 

The Halloween event runs from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. on Sunday at the farm’s location at 144 Tomahawk Trail, Elgin, South Carolina.

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As Columbia mayoral election looms, city business leaders look for change

Posted Oct. 29, 2021

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

Photos by Jack Bingham

Talk to business leaders around the city of Columbia, and one thing is clear: The city is not welcoming to entrepreneurs. From the galleries of the Vista to Five Points’ boutiques and bars to neighborhood convenience stores, business owners and representatives citywide decried fees, taxes and other obstacles to their work in the city.

Columbia’s commercial property taxes are so much higher than elsewhere in the state – 47% higher than Charleston’s, for instance– that many business leaders believe they’re a roadblock to their work. 

“If my restaurant got wiped out in a hurricane and I had to reopen it, I don’t know that I’d do it in Columbia. I don’t know that it’d be possible,” said Steve Cook, president of the Five Points Association and owner of Saluda’s restaurant. He is among the most outspoken critics of a city government that he says is mired in inefficiency and ineffective at clearing a path for fledgling small business owners.

“There’s so many groups in Columbia that have so many disparate outcomes that they just end up splitting the baby,”  Cook said. 

Cook isn’t alone. Business leaders around Columbia echoed his sentiments on the difficulty of starting and maintaining a business in the city. 

Matthew Marcom, a franchise owner of Pelican’s SnoBalls and leader of the Greater Rosewood Merchants’ Association, expressed concerns about the city’s bureaucracy. 

“City ordinances and red tape keep out some hyper-small businesses, people who are taking the step from ‘Oh, this is something I enjoy,’ to a way they try to make a living,” Marcom said. 

Tia Brannon, owner of Carolina Hair Studios on Main Street,  said she was met with bureaucratic barriers while trying to obtain city funding in 2013 to establish her business.

“They said ‘Oh, we’re gonna give you a loan. Just bear with us,’ and then finally, they call me and say, ‘Oh, we’re doing a restructure,’ three months later. So at that time, I didn’t have time to investigate what was the deal; I had already started my business,” Brannon said.

Despite her high credit score and $40,000 in liquid assets, Brannon never received the loan, and was never told why. 

Brannon’s not the only one to experience frustration with the slow pace and convoluted path involved in opening a small business. Cook said city officials may take weeks or months to inspect property, list necessary changes or approve business licenses. 

“People feel beaten down by the time their businesses open,” Cook said, “I’ve certainly felt it.” 

This beat-down feeling continues, said Sunrise Bath and Body Works owner Tzima Brown, because of  Columbia’s taxes. Although she received a grant from the city to improve her business’ facade, she said something “should be done” about local property taxes.

“The city of Columbia has done so much for me,” Brown said, “but [small business owners] pay more taxes than anybody. We don’t have accountants that are able to wiggle us out of having to pay taxes at all.” 

Small business, high  taxes  

Columbia’s commercial property taxes are so high, said mayoral candidate and law firm owner Tameika Isaac Devine, because of the city’s large amount of tax-exempt property.

This includes state-owned property, universities and churches. 

“The brunt of taxes in Columbia are shifted onto small business owners,” Devine said. 

The city’s Columbia Compass report states that 76.5% of Columbia’s property, including Fort Jackson’s sprawling U.S. military installation, is tax-exempt. 

The city’s property, Devine said, is also “depressed” in value compared to comparable cities. As a consequence, higher commercial taxes are necessary to rake in the same amounts of revenue as cities with more valuable property.

Additionally, the cost of starting a business is astronomical, Cook said. Depending on the size, location and type of business one is looking to start, he said, it can be a multi-step process that can cost tens of thousands of dollars. 

“You wanna start a business? You gotta be a developer, you gotta be a rich guy, you gotta be a corporation,” Cook said. “The little guy doesn’t stand a chance.”

All the above facts, Cook said, lead to prospective business owners looking elsewhere to set down roots.

“You go to West Columbia or Cayce, they’ll say ‘Oh, what can we do to help?’ They’ve got a small group of employees that can make decisions in the moment,” Cook said. “Here, everybody with a desk has to justify their desk.”

Candidates offer array of fixes  

The Compass Report makes suggestions for how to alleviate these issues, the main one being: Explore fees for tax-exempt institutions. Such fees could include compensation for city services, such as drainage and streetlights, or payments in lieu of taxes, which are voluntary. 

While City Planning, the government agency that developed the Compass Report, was not available to comment, Devine said that such fees are “tools in our toolbox,” but that there are “no big things planned at this second,” regarding efforts to change the city’s commercial tax structure. 

Devine, along with Columbia’s other mayoral candidates – Councilman Daniel Rickenmann, former mayoral aide Sam Johnson and former Councilman Moe Baddourah – have suggestions of their own. 

Johnson, after eight years as the mayor’s aide, would turn to the city’s government to solve the problem. He would appoint an ombudsman for each city council district in order to direct business owners and other citizens to the city office appropriate for their needs. 

“As opposed to you getting in touch with a city council member who’s got a day job, a family, and maybe won’t pick up the phone…  let’s make sure we have the necessary personnel to really handle Columbia’s situations and challenges,” Johnson said. 

Johnson calls this solution an “immediate fix” to bureaucratic inefficiency in Columbia. 

Rickenmann, an owner of businesses that include renewable energy generation and food production, has targeted Columbia’s high tax rate as the source of its “unfriendly business reputation.” Rickenmann pushed for a city-wide study into Columbia’s taxes last year, available here.

“We’ve got a challenge here,” Rickenmann said. “We’ve got a slow permitting process and high property taxes, so high that we’re competing against our neighbors. What do we do about that?”

Rickenmann’s proposed solutions, which more or less match the city’s tax study, include reducing selective tax breaks, primarily those on student housing, which can range from 35-50% over ten years. 

Baddourah, a restaurateur, is also in favor of reducing selective tax breaks. He’s also in favor of eliminating the business license fee for businesses making less than $500,000 annually.  

“[Eliminating the business license] is going to encourage small businesses to come in, and it’s not just the fee, which could be substantial,” Baddourah said. “A lot of small businesses don’t have the time to deal with the politics of a business license.” 

A small business license in Columbia costs roughly $60 per year for businesses making under $25,000 per year, according to the city’s business licensing department, with an additional dollar added for each additional thousand dollars in revenue. By these metrics, a business making $500,000 yearly would pay an annual business license fee of roughly $530 annually. 

Devine, owner of her own law firm, is focused on equity and inclusion in solving Columbia’s business woes. She plans to create a small business advisory council featuring workers from all sectors of Columbia’s economy, she said. 

“There are so many people that aren’t getting to participate in the conversation right now. How are we supposed to fix our city’s issues if we don’t know those examples?” Devine asked. 

This council would not only advise her and city officials on the state of small business in Columbia, but would expand the city’s official definition of “small business.”

“I went to see jazz last night on Main Street,” Devine said. “That musician, he’s a businessman. He should be treated no different than a brick and mortar establishment.” 

The Columbia mayoral election and city council elections for District 1, District 4, and an at-large member are  Nov. 2. 

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That Legendary Everlasting Plant, Rabbit Tobacco

Tom Poland

Posted Oct. 26, 2021

By Tom Poland
A Southern Writer

She smoked it as a kid. Said she smoked grapevines too but it was Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium, one of the everlastings, she talked about most. She and her brothers and sisters smoked rabbit tobacco. She was my mom, and Depression era kids had to get their kicks somehow. Why not rabbit tobacco?

Back in her day, few country folk had heard of marijuana. I’m sure smoking rabbit tobacco sounded exotic and daring to kids of the 30s. Doing so made for a rite of passage. In the rush to shed childhood and act grown-up, kids smoked this herb that stands tall in folklore.

Rabbit tobacco—Easy to spot but not so easy to smoke.

As a boy, tales of smoking rabbit tobacco fired up my imagination. Back then I knew nothing of rolling papers such as Zig-Zag or hemp but I could imagine wisps of smoke rising from a corncob pipe. It sounded bold. It seemed mysterious. I wanted to smoke it too, but I never did, and I’m glad I didn’t. The experience had to be foul. I’ve never heard one soul say rabbit tobacco made for a fine smoke, and I know not one adult who made it a lifetime habit.

Where might you find this legendary plant? Well, it shouldn’t be hard. Rabbit tobacco grows throughout the South. Seek out dry, sandy soil. Mom grew up in northern Lincoln County, Georgia, and sure enough there’s a good bit of sandy soil up that way. How well I remember her childhood home’s flat, sandy front yard. When mom and her sisters were kids, their Saturday task was to sweep it clean with dogwood limbs. Maybe after a morning of yard sweeping, they took a clandestine smoke break.

“Let’s sneak over behind the barn and take a few hits of this rabbit tobacco.”

(Insert sound of coughing here.) As Carl Spackler (Bill Murray) said in Caddyshack, “It’s a little harsh.”

Coughs aside, like many plants, rabbit tobacco is purported to have healing properties. The Cherokee mixed it with lard and made a salve, which they rubbed on their chest to relieve congestion and induce sweating. Sounds a bit like Vicks VapoRub doesn’t it.

Some old timers believed rabbit tobacco was good for respiratory ailments like asthma, coughs, and colds. Why I bet they rubbed broken glass over cuts to help them heal too. But I can’t criticize kids of the old days for experimenting a bit. I tried cooking banana peelings and eating them to get high once upon a time. Zero results.

Will rabbit tobacco get you high? Negative. Mom’s annual herb has no nicotine nor does it have THC, that acronym for tetrahydrocannabinol, the crystalline compound that gets reefer heads high. No, smoking Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium won’t get you high, but it will take you closer to nature. Butterflies like it, and so do I. For me it provides a window through which I see how children of the 1930s amused themselves.

Recently I was exploring the Henderson Preserve in Aiken County. Rabbit tobacco. There it was, standing tall and pretty in this preserve that protects a longleaf pine and scrub oak sandhills ecosystem. Easy to spot in the fall, its seed heads, for sure, will catch your eye.

This native herb is a member of the family that includes sunflowers. No consensus explains how it got its name, but one angle I read makes sense. Its seed heads look much like a cottontail rabbit’s tail. One thing’s for sure, the rabbit-terbacky-smoking kids of yesteryear laid claim to “smoking weed” long before hippies did. They were smoking weed before smoking weed was cool.

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Above, Not Below, The Jailhouse

Tom Poland

Posted Oct. 25, 2021

By Tom Poland
A Southern Writer

Standing in a courtroom, a malefactor dreads a dire warning. “If you don’t straighten up, I’ll put you under the jailhouse.” Uttered by many a judge, that admonition, no doubt, failed to hit the mark, and sooner than later, wrongdoers heard the gavel. “He’s in the jailhouse now,” as the song goes.

What could be worse than finding yourself in the jailhouse? I think I know. Being in a Crossbars Hotel where 100,000 gallons of water rest above your cot. There you are in a most unusual slammer with the law of gravity looming over you. All that water above, all that tonnage, made for a place of serious soul searching. You see, there was a time when and place where a Lowcountry judge would sentence miscreants to time in a jailhouse where something like 834,000 pounds of water towered over their head.

Seeing is believing. On a bright Saturday afternoon I stood in front of a standpipe-jailhouse. This strange case of architectural multiuse sent my mind back to high school when several of us toured Clarks Hill Dam, that stalwart of iron and concrete that holds back Clarks Hill Lake, aka Strom Thurmond Lake. Going down into the dam’s depths below all that pent-up Savannah River water proved unnerving. So great was the pressure, water seeped through the concrete. It was nothing like water trickling over the granite face of mountain. An intense claustrophobic feeling doesn’t come with blue sky. Trapped in what might be a watery sepulcher, I could not shake the thought, “If this dam breaks right now ….”

In the jail I’m about to describe, claustrophobia and haunting fear had to consume its ill-starred residents. In tight confines, they lay on a cot in a damp place, keenly aware that a lot of water, 417 tons to be precise, towered over their head. A fine cold sweat covered the walls, just as it covered the imprisoned. Two small windows gave jailbirds a way to covet blue sky but there was no way to flee or fly. Iron bars saw to that.

Now research conflicts on the number of cells. Some sources said six; some said three. Ever how many cells the jail had, just two windows made for a damp, clammy place to ponder misdeeds. And a cold winter night? Bricks, rusty iron cots, and water-coated walls made for a long, bone-chilling night. But there’s another dire warning for rogues and rascals. “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.” Of course some fought the law as the song goes, and the law won.

All that dampness doomed this unique jail, and it closed, its iron door to clang no more. Curious to see it? You’ll find this most unusual tower—a standpipe—in Walterboro, South Carolina. The tower’s so rare that you will only find three in South Carolina and just one in Georgia in a place called Tallapoosa. Now Georgia might have others, but I didn’t find evidence of them. So, around these parts we have four-of-a-kind structures but only one features a jail and its days are long one.

Check it out. Walterboro, a city of about 5,000 people, sits about 50 miles west of Charleston. Go to Walterboro and it won’t take you long to notice the Water Tower. What you behold is a predecessor to today’s metallic multi-legged water tanks. Walterboro’s standpipe stands 133 feet high, and I’m sure it stood even taller in the memories of those who spent time there.

The story goes, just legend they say, that the standpipe served as sleeping quarters for stranded travelers needing a place to stay for a night. No thanks, my legs work fine. I’ll keep on moving.

Trust me when I say you don’t see standpipes everyday. Imagine the biggest silo you’ve ever seen and multiply that by a factor of five. Curious to see all of South Carolina’s standpipes? Visit Walterboro, Allendale, and Belton. And should you run afoul of the law, no need to worry about spending time beneath a full standpipe. That era has evaporated you could say.

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Living on Purpose: Being prepared when it’s time to stand

Dr. William Holland

Posted Oct. 25, 2021

By Dr. William Holland

In our modern world, we can agree there is no shortage of information. We are constantly surrounded by voices wanting to help us understand every subject under the sun, however, in our quest for gathering accurate information, we also realize that most of what we listen to, especially political news, is sprinkled with half-truths, speculations, and biased observations. The bottom line is that we actually know very little about facts and depend heavily on outside sources to relay to us what they have heard. Imagine what we would know if there were no television, radio, newspaper, telephone, internet, or any type of media communication. Knowing about state, national, or world events would be comparable to those who lived 200 years ago. Yes, we have certain convictions about social and spiritual issues, but for the most part, our views are shaped not by what we positively know to be a fact, but rather by trusting what someone has told us.

When it comes to our spiritual perspectives, Christians have God’s Word and His Spirit that speaks directly to us, along with pastors and teachers who give us their interpretations, but again we must be discerning with the knowledge we gather. I have a friend who is in his eighties and is known for saying that he listens to everything, but when it comes to politics and religion, he keeps his opinions to himself. He believes that political and spiritual views are deeply personal and a sure way to cause arguments, divisions, and make enemies. This is true, but I also believe especially from an evangelical perspective we should not be intimidated when God provides an opportunity to share our faith. When it comes to divine appointments, we are reminded of St. Francis who said that we should, “preach everywhere and only use words if necessary” which emphasizes the need to demonstrate Christ instead of just talking about Him. Christians are not secret agents but are called to be ready and equipped to explain what we believe and why even when it’s not popular.

We are emotional beings but we cannot afford to be controlled by them and one of the most difficult challenges is to develop our spiritual discernment to the point where we know the difference between God’s voice and everyone else’s including our own. Have you noticed when you sense the Holy Spirit beckoning for you to say or do something, immediately there are resisting persuasions trying to talk you out of it? No doubt, there are powerful forces at work attacking our thoughts and trying to distort and control our attitudes, emotions, and especially our obedience to Christ. Fear wants to manipulate, but we have the choice to allow it to dominate us or we can resist it. Our trust in Jesus as our Lord includes inviting Him to rule and reign within our mind and conscience. He wants to literally possess us, but without surrendering our will to Him, we are not able to walk in covenant with Him. This is why we study God’s Word every day and are constantly asking the Lord for wisdom and determination to execute self-discipline. Our spiritual destiny can be accomplished, but He is not going to do it for us.

I sense we are moving into a time where the Christian can no longer use immaturity as an excuse to live in sin. I’m not just talking about blatant wickedness, but rather the subtle apathy of neglecting to walk with God. The sins of omission are refusing to do what God is saying and there are many who are hiding in the shadows as they refuse to learn and ask God for the courage to represent His truth. How can anyone say they love Him if they do not invest their time into knowing Him? How can we live in the light of His love if we are choosing to serve the darkness? We cannot dwell in the life of His truth if we are absorbing sin which are the wages of death. Our flesh will argue we are too busy to concentrate on our relationship with the Lord but we always make time for what we love. For those who are satisfied with living in lukewarmness, they will suffer great loss, but for the ones who are dedicated to abiding in the secret place of the Most High, they will stand when it comes time to stand.

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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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