A recent email from my friend, Pat Branning, known for her gorgeous “Shrimp, Collards & Grits” cookbooks, sent me on a quest. P

Late, late afternoon it was. She walked into the restaurant and lit it up. A beautiful woman will do that, light up a place, but she was an outlier, a woman who no longer dyed her hair but had taken care of herself over the years.

The things we collect. When I am gone my daughters will think their dad was a bit touched. Just why did he hang onto a rusty bolt? And what’s with the rock? The arrowheads they’ll get. Well, each object you see here holds memories.

The song lends itself to all sorts of versions and lyrics. Savannah resident James L. Pierpont composed it and when he did he sowed the seeds for a controversy. Pierpont wrote his Christmas classic in the autumn of 1857. “One Horse Open Sleigh” was its original title. Pierpont wrote it as a …

As I write, it’s 38 degrees and rain is falling. We always seem to be just a few degrees away from snow.

There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

Back when I worked in wildlife cinematography, I tried to film the beavers on an old woodland pond back home. I’d get up before dark and hide in bushes. I never shot one frame of them. Wary, ever alert, beavers knew I was there. Beavers. You hear them more often than you see them. Cruising a…

Oct. 26 found me on a history adventure courtesy of Ralph Scurry. Ralph and I met at a book talk in Edgefield several years ago. Ralph loves history and he invited me to visit his beautiful homestead in Greenwood County. It took me a while but I finally got to see his place, and its natural …

My excursions along backroads always reveal two nostalgic sights: the rusting tin and decaying wood of crumbling barns and old pickup trucks beneath sheds. They’re going nowhere. Vines grow in their grille. Tires dry rot. A patina of dust covers hoods. Even saw a vacated bird nest cradled in…

Here I am biking along a nature trail, when a juvenile delinquent squirrel shoots across my path with a cigarette in his mouth, only it wasn’t a cigarette. It was a mushroom stem. Now I had seen a squirrel once with a cigarette butt in his mouth, a true juvenile delinquent rodent, but this s…

Was it left to right, or right to left? When a black cat crossed the highway in front of Dad, he made a sweeping “X” movement of his hand across the windshield. “That,” he said, “wards off bad luck.” I do the same but since I can’t recall if it’s left or right I do both.

Not that many years ago, I wrote about Cape Romain Refuge in Aida Roger’s original trend-setting volume, “State of the Heart South Carolina Writers on the Places They Love.” In my story you’ll see this sentence: “Orange-billed oystercatchers and white egrets seem to vibrate against green spartina.”

March 13, 2020, seems an eternity ago. That day my niece, Benton, got an unwelcome big 4-0 birthday gift — a national emergency courtesy of COVID-19. “How lucky am I,” she said. Well, this was no ordinary black cat Friday.

Atlantis sank into the sea around 380 B.C. So said Plato. Its founders were half-god and half-human. Its lush islands contained gold and silver and supported rare, exotic wildlife. A great capital city existed on the central island. It’s the stuff of legend, and many an explorer has searched…

Driving north on Highway 79, you see beautiful country in a region rich with history yet a tad poor looking. Don’t be fooled by lack of development (a blessing) and Wikipedia’s bland description, “State Route 79 is a 26.7-mile-long state highway in the east-central part of the U.S. state of …

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I wish every small town had a hero, someone who walks onto the national stage and stays untarnished by changing times. War, for certain, begets heroes. True heroes. In charred, radioactive Hiroshima and Nagasaki, my dad, an Atomic Veteran, saw firsthand what atom bombs could do. Dad died not…

Driving a country road the other day, I spied two wild turkeys. They resurrected a place called Childhood, Georgia, when I worked for a country store grocer, Clifford M. Goolsby. How he loved to hunt wild turkeys. Each spring the small-town weekly, The Lincoln Journal, ran a photo of Mr. Cli…

Two words say it all. “Delicious simplicity.” No register. Cash and carry. Paper bags to hold jewels polished by the farmer’s hands. A friendly face. Produce that glitters like some pirate’s chest overrun with rubies, emeralds, sapphires, citrine and gold. From Mother Earth, as all gems are.

I grew up unlettered as Huguenots go. That changed much later after I moved to South Carolina. There I drove along Huger and Gervais Street and learned of French bluebloods in Charleston. Back in Georgia? I cannot recall one history teacher mentioning the Huguenots, so learning late in life …

I love back roads and their fading vestiges of yesteryear. Bull Durham and Coca-Cola ads painted onto brick and old Camel cigarette signs don’t bother me at all. In fact, I love ’em, and, no, I never chewed tobacco or smoked. Classic signs of the past belong in a realm called art.

Great Aunt Annie, long-buried in some graveyard up Asheville way, told me ghost stories when I was a boy. I’d sit by a hissing wood stove on a bitter night and chills gave me goosebumps, but Old Man Winter wasn’t the culprit. Aunt Annie’s tales were stories about a dead woman on full-moon ni…

I remember Mom talked of a flower with a strange name, hollyhocks. She talked flowers a lot mentioning dahlias, Cape jasmines, which go by jasmines, gardenia and a fancy scientific name, gardenia jasminoides. She mentioned too another flower with a poetic name, plumbago. The gardenia, it’s s…

Growing up in eastern Georgia deep in pines, I wakened to the wail of chainsaws six days a week. Yellow McCullochs and red Poulans sliced through green resinous pines as Dad and his partner, Bobby Cooper, tested saws they had fixed. Not repaired, mind you, fixed, in a sweltering shop of tin.…

My back-road explorations take me to little eateries tucked neatly in the middle of nowhere — whistle-stop places. Country folks run these deep-fried, lonely roadside stops, so you’d think they serve fried green tomatoes. Like some character in a Fannie Flagg story, I can pull into a gravele…

The book is 9.25 inches long, 6.5 inches wide, and less than an inch thick. Its 182 pages present a world well-fed folks can only guess at. Harry Crews got just one Christmas gift as a boy, a Baby Ruth bar. That prepares us for a brutal world beautifully described.

On my way back, I crossed Clarks Hill Lake twice. In soft early evening light, the water lay like a mirror. Smooth as glass as we like to say. Shoreline reflections rendered perfect hourglass illusions, like some fine photograph. Water mirrors people. It’s moody and can present a calm face o…

A botanical superstar lives in the South. It’s exquisite, ephemeral and periled, in that much of its habitat lies beneath lakes. I’m writing about the rocky shoals spider lily. As status goes, it’s a national plant of concern, but you’ll find it in just three states: South Carolina, Georgia …

One man’s junk is another man’s treasure. It’s true. We live in a throwaway society and junkyard junkies seek bargains. Making use of discards is frugal. My late Uncle Joe found many a use for things others sold for scrap. Dad liked junkyards too. Mom said he usually came back with more stuf…

Among my father’s passions were birds and woodworking. He made bluebird boxes in his workshop and mounted them around home. He loved hummingbirds and looked for a hummingbird nest all his life. He looked and looked. Never found one. Well, some nests find us, and that’s where Dad’s interest i…

Over the past five years, I’ve developed two traditions I plan to never break. Come March and come May, I drop everything and head to three places so beautiful they compel me to visit them. Hence, the title of this column, “The Pull of Beauty.”

A searing, sweaty summer day … just as my friend leaned over to pick up his dropped keys, his glasses slid onto the asphalt and cracked. “Damn. If it weren’t for buzzard luck, I’d have no luck at all,” said he.

Rain, rain and more rain. It hasn’t been a biblical 40 days and 40 nights but sure seems like it. A record sopping-wet winter has creeks running high, swift and heavy with silt. Pockmarks dapple a drift of rain-pelted sand, and more rain’s coming but that old fisherman’s chair refuses to be …

The South and its vernacular, love it and never lose it. Seems to me, we have the finest, most colorful expressions. Yes, Southerners have a flair for talking with flair. I was in Dad’s saw shop on a blazing hot Saturday when a man stumbled in drunk. He wore striped overalls like some train …

Nancy’s eyes betrayed frustration and fear. “I can’t cut your hair right now. I’ve got to close.” Early April 2020, the year of perfect vision, what do we see? Closings. Not so perfect, but to venture out is to risk death. So they say. So they say.

Spring’s springing. I put my hummingbird feeders up for soon the feathered jets will arrive. My azaleas burst into living color as Disney phrased it, and hardwoods’ newly minted leaves look so green they’re fluorescent. The cypress I planted long ago sports tender bright green needles. Yes, …

The cold water hurt my teeth, and it didn’t come from a cooler. Nor a faucet. There was no faucet. My grandparents cranked a windlass, lowering a bucket into a hand-dug well and hauling up water a dowser said was there. Hand-dug wells and dowsers … erased by time. But the dowser was right. W…

The past lives in a rural version of an assisted living center for a parallel exists between elders and the sights along back roads. A lot of people live out their final days in homes these days. Unless you have reason to visit them, they are invisible. Like a society you never see, they non…

Rocks preserve our feelings, record important things and tell others that someone dear once walked this green earth. To the dismay of some, rocks commemorate unjust wars but they’ve also elucidated and educated us. Teachers wrote on slate blackboards and students wrote on slate tablets in th…

My great uncle cut my hair when I was growing up in Lincolnton, Georgia. That would be Waymon Walker, granddad’s brother. Walker’s Barbershop of white concrete blocks stood on the corner of Highway 378 and Main and stands still, though forest green now. To this day I see Uncle Waymon working…

The blue lake, white sands and green trees of summer camps live on as I recall days at Rock Eagle 4-H Camp. I dare not mention the mosquitoes but canoeing methods, crafts and tree identification broadened my skills. But hindsight’s 20/20. I work with words. If only I could have attended a cr…

As you drive from here to there in a rush, how many times have you turned around to stop at an abandoned store? I do that a lot. The older I get, the less I hurry, and being in a hurry on the back roads just doesn’t happen for me. I take the back roads to pay homage to those who came before …

Homes perch on rock piers in a forgotten land called Abandonment, but as that old Elton John song goes, they’re still standing. Now modern homes with closed-in crawl spaces look more together, but they deny kids fun. You see yesteryear’s dusty crawl spaces served as a playground. I’d get on …

He didn’t like to fly, but he traveled the world, missing the South always. When he was in some country afar and by chance heard a Georgian’s accent it pierced his heart. He was a Southerner and he wrote a book that became a Southern classic, “Red Hills and Cotton: An Upcountry Memory”. His …