It was an unexplored wilderness for a 6-year-old. The vast, uncharted woodland just north of our small town. We called it "The Indian Camp." It was said that the first colonial settlers to the area drove out the Native Americans, and they camped for a time in the nearby woods - hence the name. That name is still used by locals today. A narrow dirt road that was passable only in dry weather, ran across the middle of the land.
The woods were special to me even as a child - full of adventure and treasure. My friends and I explored the countryside far and wide. "The Camp" was a place of intrigue and mystery to us. There were no cultivated fields or houses. It was a wild place.
There were also no landfills back then. No recycling centers or dumpsters. We burned our trash in an open pit out in the back yard. When the hole got full of ash, tin cans and bottles - we dug another pit. Other people hauled their refuse to the woods.
Some people dumped their trash at The Indian Camp. Old junk cars, washing machines, broken furniture and piles and piles of household garbage lined the road. The beautiful piney woods were full of trash, and it broke my heart.
The timber was cut in the late '60s, and the land was cleared. The woods that had provided a safe haven for displaced Native Americans were gone. Bulldozers and draglines worked over the land for several years. Deep canals were cut in a grid of straight lines throughout the property. The trash piles were pushed up, loaded onto trucks and hauled away. Timber that wasn't valuable to the market was pushed into piles and burned. It was a wasteland for years, and it broke my heart.
With all the trees gone, it was easy to see that a huge, elliptical-shaped bay had dominated the land north of The Indian Camp Road, and a smaller bay was located just south of the road. The road had traversed the high ground between the bays.
Geologists can not explain how Carolina Bays were formed. They are a mystery to science. There is another bay just north of The Indian Camp in Sumter County. Bush Bay is heavily wooded and has a natural drain to the north into Bush Branch. Many bays have been cleared and drained for agriculture. Woods Bay in eastern Sumter County is one of a few that have been preserved and protected.
The camp has been farmed for years, and ownership has changed many times. In wet years, water stands in the lower places, in spite of the canals. Deer, turkey and other wildlife have ranged freely across the land.
It was my childhood dream to own some property, and I worked hard and made sacrifices to realize that dream. I bought land that joins The Indian Camp. My brother Matt, my son Clayton and I have picked up pieces of pottery and arrowheads left behind by those ancient people. I love this land.
Aldo Leopold was considered by many to be the father of conservation in this country. Among his best ideas is a "land ethic," which calls for an ethical, caring relationship between people and the land. He told us it was right to love the land, to use it wisely and to live in harmony with the community of nature.
He did not stand against progress but advocated responsible use. Timber harvest, farming and wildlife management were considered compatible uses for rural land. I have shared those views my entire life.
I have never owned The Indian Camp. It is not my property, but it is a part of the community of land that surrounds me. I have watched it in my lifetime change from a wild woodland to managed farmland and now to be a high-tech industrial solar farm, surrounded by a 9-foot-tall chain-link fence. It will produce electricity that we don't need and nothing else.
Farmers have a saying about the land when it goes out of production and is developed. It is called "the final crop." And it breaks my heart - again.