rivers Wateree and Congaree, rumbling south under willows thick with
blackbirds, had dumped tons of mud into the immense bulges of water that
mapmakers call Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie but which South Carolinians know
as the Santee-Cooper, a name derived from the two rivers that were dammed in
the 1940s to make the lakes possible. Ordinarily the water in the Santee-Cooper
is the color of weak coffee, neither opaque nor altogether transparent, an
intriguing in-between shade such as sunlight might produce if mixed with one
part shadow. Ordinarily minnows may be seen near the shoreline, congregating
over patches of sand, but nowhere else in either lake does the eye penetrate
more than a few feet beneath the surface. When I was last there, however,
following heavy rains up and down the eastern seaboard, visibility had shrunk
to zero, and even the minnows near the shore moved along in a fog of mud. The
surface of the water looked thick enough to walk across, and whenever a fish
was lifted out of it you could not be certain whether the fish had been caught
I asked Mrs.
Frances R. McKeethen, who runs a fishing camp on Lake Marion, the upper lake,
if she knew where the mud had come from, and she told me that in her opinion
every red ounce of it had come from North Carolina. "People call me on the
telephone," she said, "and want to know what the water's like. If it's
like it is now, I tell them not to bother coming up unless they don't mind
catching North Carolina fish. You know what they are? To catch a South Carolina
fish"—she pointed to a three-pound crappie mounted on the wall—"you've
got to wait for North Carolina to get out of the lakes."
will that take, Mrs. McKeethen?"
"Two to three
weeks, depending on the weather."
Carolina's a big state."
"But I won't
be here in two weeks."
When the water's right, those big rockfish will begin feeding in the cuts off
the canal and—"
Mrs. McKeethen. Just tell me where I can find some clear water now."
bays. You might find an acre or two."