South Carolina

Thursday August 23rd

Cowpens, South Carolina.

I think it’s mid afternoon but since I left Melbourne 30-something hours ago in the evening, I can’t really be sure. In front of my aunt is a large, icy gin and tonic. Condensation forms on the bottles of local craft beer sitting between my cousin and I; Fat Tire Belgian White Ale, Stone IPA, RJ Rockers Son of a Peach Wheat Ale. Good thing we bought the local sampler pack from the supermarket on our way through from the local airport.

In the near distance, a slow rolling hum of a freight train, drawn-out horns sounding at the three level crossings it passes. Cicadas are quietly murmuring in the settled heat. Waves of a soft breeze cascades through the mature trees which line both sides of the gully. A yellow, rope hammock sits abandoned down by the creek which snakes its way through the kudzu-covered underbrush. This large-leaf vine swiftly grows over anything that stands still. A problem in America’s South-east, it’s taking over 150,000 acres of land a year.

My aunt is peppering my cousin with questions about work and I’m only half-listening. His accent is the perfect blend of retained Australian phrasing and the local Carolina intonation. Every now and then, he pauses to explain who this Dave or that John is. I smile and nod and know that I won’t remember it but enjoy being included anyway. His wife sits opposite keeping an eye on the kids as they dart in and around.

We sit out back in the shade of the carport around a metal outdoor table, a well-used basket of chalk centre-placed. This could be my home – scooters flung by the back door, shoes lined up by the steps, coats hanging on hooks just inside. Three generations usually separated by half a globe but this afternoon we’re gathered around a table.

Friday August 24th

Cowpens, South Carolina.

A woodpecker goes about his business in a tree by the house next door. No one else even looks up from their morning cup of tea. I’m onto my second. And it’s in a full-size mug rather than those pissy little excuses of things that airlines give you. On the flight over I gave up asking for more tea after the third cup.

Other cheery chirps go on in the distance. A car drives down the road; it’s only the second one I’ve seen since I arrived. The kids scoot up and down without concern. Padded up, their knees and elbows protected by plastic and velcro. It reminds me of the year my siblings and I were given bicycles for Christmas and the entire summer we’d peddle around the top of the court where we lived. My brothers were more adventurous than I. They’d walk their bikes up the steep hill at the start of our road and let the bikes speed down the slope, feet splayed out, pedals turning madly. Aimlessly riding around and around never seemed to get boring.

As the morning plays out, the woodpecker falls silent to digest its breakfast of insects gleaned from the bark. It now snoozes as the next stanza of birdsong starts up. The occasional rumble of far-off traffic or a freight train punctuating the rustic peace.

Tamika and the kids go off to Forest school to scramble about in rivers and across rocks for the next few hours. David, Lynda and I are heading into Greenville to do some banking, organise a SIM card for my phone and have a general look around. David and Lynda go inside to have a shower and get ready. I take the chance to sit out here solo and absorb my surrounds. A third cup of tea helps. In the front yard of the quiet grey house next door, an animal of some kind attacks a tree, seeds, leaves or twigs fall to the ground. In the distance, a truck applies its air-brakes. Dogs bark in the yard, their sounds echoing off the hill behind. Other dogs further up the road respond.

I look out through the balustrade and into the gully below. Heavily treed, there’s only the odd plant growing through the dense carpet of discarded leaves. Dappled sunlight brings out a rich variety of greens in the trees above. This late summer day warms my winter bones and only the sounds of traffic from nearby roads remind me that I’m not alone.

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