It’s not really the welcome we envisioned

  • Friday, April 11, 2014

Mark A. Stevens

I have to say itís not the best welcome to living in Pawleys Island. Donít get me wrong, I love it here. Itís one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

I just get the feeling maybe Iím not wanted.

My wife and I moved to Pawleys in early December Ė the fulfillment of a lifelong dream to live full time in the Lowcountry. Weíve owned property in Beaufort County for many years, but it wasnít our permanent home. When a job opportunity presented itself in Georgetown County, we jumped at the chance to live in Pawleys.

Not even half a year later, Iím still getting the sense weíre not welcome.

First, there were two ice storms. When friends and family back in Tennessee and Louisiana, where Amy and I had lived before we made the move to Pawleys, heard weíd been trapped by freak ice storms, no one could believe it. When we told them we were moving to the Lowcountry, they pictured palm trees, beach umbrellas and sandy beaches. But here we were with eight-inch icicles hanging from our home on the South Carolina coast.

Maybe it was Mother Natureís subtle way of saying, ďGo away.Ē Of course, thatís silly. Weather is freaky. Itís probably just some of that climate change Al Gore was always talking about.

But then on Feb. 15, a 4.1-magnitude earthquake hit South Carolina. Mother Nature, I thought, wasnít being subtle after all.

Well, if Iím being honest, I didnít even feel the quake, which was centered near Edgefield, about 160 miles from Pawleys. Still, I continued to feel a bit rebuffed.

No, no, no, I told myself. These are just funny coincidences.

Finally, the long winter started turning into spring, and we could walk on the beach without a fur parka. I wasnít feeling the earth move under my feet, and the sky wasnít, as Carole King once sang, tumbling down. Things began to seem normal.

And then it happened -- the news report April 4 that a gaboon viper was on the loose in Mount Pleasant.

Unlike Edgefield, Mount Pleasant is just a hop, skip and jump from Pawleys, and if Iím down in Georgetown, as I often am, itís even closer.

Seems a maintenance man at Harbor Point Apartments found a strange snake skin that had been shed in the bushes. Experts soon claimed the shed skin was that of a gaboon viper, one of the most poisonous snakes in the world.

Itís not supposed to be on the outskirts of Charleston. A gaboon viper is found in Africa -- and the last time I checked, thatís even farther than Edgefield from Pawleys.

South Carolinians were immediately warned to be on the lookout for the venomous snake, and attempts to locate the creature have, as of yet, been unsuccessful.

South Carolina has seven native venomous snakes, and thatís quite enough. But a gaboon viper? Have you seen a picture of one of those things? Itís ugly. It makes a cottonmouth look like a butterfly.

Iím easily spooked, as you can tell. I guess 24-hour news does that to you.

A few years ago, USA Today reported that huge Burmese pythons could colonize one-third of the United States, including South Carolina, partly due to climate change. ďThey are moving northward,Ē said zoologist Gordon Rodda, ďthereís no question.Ē

And all through my childhood, there were dozens of news reports -- not to mention really bad TV movies -- about killer bees. Short of not reading newspapers anymore, and thatís not the sort of thing you want to encourage as a newspaper columnist, I just have to accept some things -- the weather and geological events, for example -- are out of my hands. And killer bees. As really bad TV movies in the í70s taught us, thereís no good way to get rid of killer bees. Even a nasty hornetsí nest takes some serious thinking. If youíre like me, you get a can of Raid, spray the nest and run like the wind. But snakes, now thatís a different story.

My grandmother, Verna, never had any love for the snakes she found in between the corn and beans in her vegetable gardens. She knew what to do when she came upon a snake. She took a hoe to it.

To a good country woman like Verna, hoes served two purposes: 1) to chop weeds and 2) as the most effective snake killer ever invented. If youíre armed with a good hoe, like my grandmother always was, you can kill any kind of snake, even a gaboon viper. Or at least thatís what Iím telling myself.

So, I have to say, South Carolina, from polar weather to African snakes, this hasnít been the best welcome.

But Iím not ready to surrender. I love the Lowcountry too much. Maybe itís just Mother Nature out of whack. Or maybe Al Gore was on to something. Whatever the reason, if weíre going to contend with pythons and vipers in our backyard, I do know this: weíre going to need a bigger hoe.

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