The size of the snake had grown, in the telling, from the length and breadth of my friend Martha’s arm, to the far more dramatic dimensions of her muscular cousin Dickie’s. I was at a gathering of the Dabbs clan at one of the old family properties by the Crossroads just east of Black River Swamp in the county of Sumter, South Carolina. Martha and I had been hiking along on the High Hills of Santee Passage of the Palmetto Trail when the large green-brown serpent slithered across our path and disappeared into the waters of Old Levi Mill Lake. Martha was disturbed; I was ecstatic. I let out a gleeful shriek.
The South is intriguing territory. Home of the blues, gumbos, gators, haunts, hollers, swamps and all their quirky inhabitants, it’s also been the stomping grounds of some of my favorite writers – William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Harper Lee, Erskine Caldwell, Alice Walker, even Edgar Allen Poe – sensual, steamy and sometimes scary as hell. As a girl I longed to explore it. As an adult I did, eventually capsizing my canoe and falling into the murky waters of the Okefenokee Swamp. So when southern friends Mary Brent and Martha suggested a visit, and Martha mentioned the 425-plus-mile Palmetto Trail, I found the prospect exciting. Of course with an ankle recently broken, plated and pinned, I thought it would be awhile until I’d be doing much hiking. But the allure of the trail worked its magic. It wasn’t long before I found myself just north of Charleston, S.C., heading up Highway 17 toward Awendaw, the Francis Marion National Forest, Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge and the point at which the Palmetto Trail hits the sea.
The Palmetto Trail is really not one trail at all. Cobbled together from only a few of the myriad footpaths that fret the state, it is a nearly continuous passageway that stretches from Oconee State Park in the mountainous upstate region to Buck Hall, its low-country terminus. A federally designated Millennium Legacy Trail and one of only 13 cross-state trails in the nation, it crawls down pinnacles, across gorges and swamps, along riverbanks and through forests, traversing some of the most spectacular terrain in the country.
The weather was hot when I emerged from my car at Buck Hall Plantation, the cicadas so loud they sounded like buzz saws blazing away in the blistering sunshine. Only a fool would tackle the trail in the middle of summer, but after months of enforced immobility, I was desperate.
Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/10/07/CM2LRMIN4.DTL#ixzz0jonuJyHR