In South Carolina I can’t understand people.
There is a man sitting outside the gas station, reading a battered paperback. Something pulpy that you might find in a library sale, unclaimed at the end of the day. This is the third gas station where we don’t find a restroom or firewood. The man has an accent I don’t understand very well, so when he repeatedly says “at the top of the mountain” and something about “boiled peanuts,” I think maybe I’m not hearing him correctly. I unknowingly adopt a slight southern accent to speak to him. We buy ice and drive up the hill.
As promised, at the top of the hill there’s a business with no name, but a big sign for boiled peanuts out front and a Sharpie’d sign detailing the prices of firewood. They still seem to sell boiled peanuts. They also sell made-for-TV workout products marketed for women in yellowing packaging, chips, and firewood. We are there for firewood. The woman ringing me up, likely in her late 80s with leathered skin, dyed black hair, and dark mascara smudges ringing her eyes, doesn’t remember the prices off the top of her head. She says, “thank you Lord Jesus the sun came out today”. “Yeah totally, it’s so great the sun’s out.” I feel clunky and foreign.
Hauling back my last load of wood from the Boiled Peanuts Store, knocking off as many ants as possible, I look up to see a Confederate Battle flag printed on the storefront awning, greying and worn and proud. We’ve already paid. The wood is in the car. Our $5 is dirty and lost. We drive away disheartened.
The campsite is confusing, requiring online reservations, meaning we backtrack several miles to cell reception range, book online, and drive back to camp. Is this supposed to be more convenient? Maybe. For whom? Not us. Maybe it means there are fewer rangers. More fees. We wonder how prohibitive this is for people. How public public land is.
The wood is terrible, and it takes us longer than it should to start a fire, like Brigid and the weather gods are shaking their heads at us for buying worm-riddled logs from Confederate apologists and trying to light them in the rain. I think about the Boy Scouts in the sites next to us and don’t want us to be emasculated. They would be better at starting the fire. But we must do it. It won’t catch, it’s too big, it’s mealy. I want smaller pieces – more kindling. We don’t have an axe. We want an axe.
But the table is concrete. And the wood is mealy. So I bash the wood against the table and it explodes into shards. I repeat this process over and over and it is satisfying. It feels good. To smash the cursed wood against a table. To try to make it into something manageable – something we can set fire to. South Carolina feels like the den of a depressed recluse – once loved, maybe, but left uncared for for too long.
We leave in the rain for the other Carolina. The one people sing about. The one with dogwood and someone’s baby.