"Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?" - Anne Murray

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Brookgreen Gardens, South Carolina

Another new adventure made possible by a generous gift from the family! We loaded up in niece Sarah and her husband Michael's mini-van and headed up north Rt. 17, past Georgetown and Pawley's Island to Brookgreen Gardens.  The day was unusually delightful because of the company of family, especially our grandniece Caroline.  She took to Rick like peanut butter to jelly, which thrilled him of course. She and her parents are great fun.

First we had a yummy lunch in the Pavillion Restaurant. I had grilled shrimp and grits topped with she-crab soup in a large martini glass. That was fun and delicious. Afterwards we headed for the zoos, via the Lowcountry Trail through the old plantation ruins, wetlands and fields. Caroline was rolling full steam ahead all the way.

The zoo keeps a collection of native animals, and we followed the keepers as they provided afternoon treats to the animals.  They have a very full aviary with many kinds of herons (night heron above) and egrets (cattle egret below) that are habituated to humans, and so come very close during feeding time.  

They also have an active family of otters, plus foxes, alligators, bald eagles, vultures, and a selection of typical farm animals. 

As we viewed the foxes, we learned something new. The red foxes, like the one above, were sitting on the ground waiting for the snacks to arrive. And then we noticed several grey foxes sitting in the trees like squirrels! From the informative plaques we learned that grey foxes can indeed climb trees. Who knew? In fact, in one of my older animal guides I had read that there was no difference between red and grey foxes, and that they were just different phases of the same animal. Not so!

From the zoo we headed over for a quick stroll through the sculpture gardens, which Brookgreen is most famous for. At that point Caroline knocked off for a nap in her stroller and everything got much quieter.  The gardens were mostly dormant, but the sculptures were magnificent, and beautifully placed.

The gardens are decorated with lights and candles for the holidays. They have evening hours on the weekends called Night of a Thousand Lights that must be beautiful, judging by the extent of the lights arranged imaginatively around the sculptures, and in the ponds, flower beds...

...and trees.

The Oak Allee was my favorite place. These huge live oaks are truly awesome. If I could draw a picture of God, I think it would look like one of these massive trees, with its arms outstretched protectively and powerfully over her beloved people.

Wishing all our readers and fellow adventurers 
a happy and blessed New Year.

Rick, Lenore and Kona

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Middleton Place: Charleston, SC

We had a grand Christmas day with Rick's family. Several of our Christmas gifts this year were tickets to local historical and natural attractions, as per our request for experiences rather than things if folks wanted to give us anything. One of those gifts, from Rick's brother Bob, was a pair of tickets to Middleton Place, a plantation just north of Charleston. 

The day was sunny and breezy, but with a little bite in the air. The visitor parking lot is graciously laid out under tall pine trees, so everyone's cars stay cool in the shade, although that wasn't a concern for us. It might have been had we brought Kona along.  After checking in at the ticket booth, we had the option to ride in a carriage for a little fee, but we chose to walk.  The carriage drives through the open Greensward area, shown here...

and here, with a view of the house in the background. The unusual peek-a-boo brick fence in the foreground ran throughout the property.

Our walk toward the house, where we had a tour scheduled at 1:30, took us past the Reflecting Pool...

...and this lovely and gentile lady, who is at the moment without a mate.  (If you know a nice southern gentleman swan looking for a good home, please let Middleton know.)

To get to the museum house we passed over the ruins of the main house, which like many Southern plantation homes, was burned by Union soldiers or sympathizers after the Civil War.

The only building left intact was what is called the South Flanker or the Gentleman's Guest Wing. The tour took us through seven or eight modest rooms decorated in original furniture and artifacts of several periods of Middleton history. (No photography was allowed in the building.)

Surrounding the house are several large ponds, fields and outbuildings necessary for running a plantation of this size.  We strolled by the Spring House/Chapel... 

and peaked inside both. The lower floor is the Spring House where perishables were stored.

and the upper was the Chapel, used by the Middleton slaves.

Leading down from the main house to the river is a wide expanse of terraced lawn and two ponds, called the Butterfly Ponds, named for their shape. The Middleton website has some great ariel photos that show both of these more effectively than ground level photos can. Below you can see just a little of the terraces and one of the Butterfly Ponds to the right.

The large pond above is the Rice Mill Pond. The Rice Mill, below, is where, you guessed it... the rice was milled.

There are grassy banks lining all these ponds, and on one we saw our first alligator - a little guy about 3 feet long, warming himself in the sun. Most alligators in the area brummate during the winter, so one doesn't see much of them. 

The surrounding low lands were cultivated for rice, which required flooding several times a year, but most of those areas are now filled in as ponds. (Ponds are a lot more attractive than stumpy ragged dry fields.) The view below takes in the terraces, the Butterfly Ponds, the Mill Pond and in the distance, the flooded rice fields.

On the other side of the Museum House there are domestic and agricultural buildings, such a barns, wood shop, farriers shed, blacksmith shops, etc. This little brick house was one of several marked "Private Residence" so I don't know what it originally was. Perhaps the plantation overseer's.

A further stroll led us into the formal gardens and along the rice ponds. Everywhere there were the majestic live oaks covered with spanish moss, framing romantic views of the ponds. 

You may (or may not) have noticed that the pictures in this blog are a little different from my usual photos.  The light on the day of our visit was very harsh, it being a clear, crisp midday visit. When I viewed the photos later I was unhappy with the results. There was just too much bright, hard space around the edges of the pictures. 



So I experimented with some special effects in Picasa and ended up treating almost all of them with the shaded edging technique called "vignette" and another effect called "soften." The results may look a little Hallmarkish to some, but it felt more appropriate to the humid, historical and romantic feeling of the scenes, and the whole plantation milieu.

This statue, the "Wood Nymph" by Rudolf Schadow typifies the Romantic influence represented in the 19th century expansions of the gardens. The original pre-Revolutionary gardens are the oldest landscaped gardens in the USA.

In contrast with the formal character of much of the older gardens, my favorite details were the natural combinations of large, shiny magnolia leaves hung with spanish moss.

The visit gave us a feeling for these older plantations, that were built on slave labor, and essentially destroyed after the Civil War. The life was not as glamorous as Gone With the Wind, but was certainly larger (and much harder for some) than the life we live now.  Middleton, and the Charleston area is so deeply steeped with history compared to most the western USA, where we've been traveling for the past year and a half.  Tomorrow we go to Brookgreen Gardens, built on the remains of another plantation, up near Myrtle Beach.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Happy Holidays from South Carolina

We're in Mount Pleasant, SC for the month, visiting with Rick's family. Our days are filled with wrapping presents, baking cookies, taking new walks, eating out with different combinations of family members, and getting some essential self-care taken care of (dentist, haircuts, Kona grooming). Rick has a wonderful family and we always have a good time visiting.

I've been baking almost every day. It's fun to have a lot of people around for the holidays so I can make lots of different kinds of cookies and not have to eat them myself. I started with a favorite of my son Mark's, pecan puffs from the Joy of Cooking. Then successfully tackled one of Rick's grandmother's old recipe's for white sugar cut-out cookies. I'm also trying several batches of savory cookies for grown-ups: blue cheese pecan icebox crackers, cheddar cheese cranberry pecan crisps, "tango" lemon cayenne cookies, and basil cookies. So far so good!

Looking forward to Christmas Eve and Christmas day with the whole local family. The youngest is Caroline, who is the star of every gathering, as anyone who knows 1 1/2 yr. olds understands.  It's her first real Christmas, and she is enamored with and excited by all of it.

I remember it well, and it makes me miss my son Mark, who is now grown up and living in Boston.

Rick and I send our best wishes to all our readers, with hopes for beautiful, loved filled holiday celebrations, and a joyful New Year. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Two Great Gulf Coast Campgrounds

We're traveling along the Gulf Coast of Florida, heading for our South Carolina Christmas destination. Although traveling fast, we only actually drive about three hours a day, so that we have the time and energy to see where we are when once we park for the night.  We've stopped at two of the most remarkable state parks we've seen since we started full timing: Gulf State Park in Alabama and Topsail Hill Preserve State Park in Florida.  Gulf State Park is in Gulf Shores, near Mobile. It's a gigantic park with almost 500 full service campsites on the shores of freshwater Lake Biddle, just minutes from the Gulf.  It has a pool, tennis courts, playground, nature center, store, laundromat, biking and hiking trails, and more. Our site was an expansive  pull-through along the canal. 

A walk at sunset and again at sunrise yielded some colorful shots of the surrounding area. This is the canal with the resort beach area of Gulf Shores in the distance. The park itself is far enough from all the development to be very quiet and very dark at night. 

There are signs everywhere saying "Do not feed or aggravate the alligators." You can bet we tippy-toed around with extreme caution so as not to do so.  But we didn't see any alligators. 

Just a beautiful sunset from several interesting vantage points.

The next day we pulled out of Gulf SP and moved on to Topsail in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida.  We treated ourselves to four nights here, to catch up on groceries, laundry, housekeeping and a little rest and recreation.  I chose site 122 sight unseen, based on a good guess and the map on the reservation website. I think it was probably one of the only sites in which our TV satellite reception would work because of all the tall longleaf pines. We just got lucky. It's a large level corner pull-through, with a concrete pad, surrounded by grass, shrubs, trees and sand. 

We have complete privacy and a nice big "yard." State parks are usually not our favorite places to park, as of yet, because they're a little unpredictable. You might not have a sewer connection, or 50 amp service, or a long enough site.  And with extra vehicle charges, and reservation fees, they don't turn out to be a significant savings, if any savings at all.  But this place, and Gulf Shores, were totally perfect.

The campground is nestled around several ponds with more alligator warnings. Poor Kona really wanted to swim, but there are no dogs allowed on the ocean beach and certainly not in the fresh water with the alligators!

The park has an extensive trail system, some of which is paved for a tram. There is no car access to the beaches or anywhere outside the campgrounds. The tram trail is great for biking and goes right to the beach and to a large lake.

The park is typical Florida Gulf Coast vegetation - tall long leaf pines with saw palmetto undergrowth.

At the end of the beach trail, a boardwalk takes you through and over the dunes and out to the sugary white sand and the ocean.

The first night we got there just at sunset.

Everything was glowing in pastels.

Even this man-o-war jelly fish washed up on the sand.

We watched flocks of sanderlings (or plovers?) skitter along the flat, wet sand...

...and stayed as along as we could, then said goodnight to the beach.

The four days here were filled with peaceful visits to the beach, bike riding and fun exploration of the nearby beach communities along Route 30-A.  Oh, and those chores.   Tomorrow we leave for four more days of travel through Florida and Georgia.  I'll come back to the blog when we get to South Carolina. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Cut and Shoot, TX

Now we are really on the road, heading for South Carolina as quickly as we reasonably can. We'll be staying only one night in most places we stop, except for a four day break in the Florida panhandle. I won't bother sharing every place we stop, because not all will be memorable, but we have stayed in two towns that are so rich in local color that I just have to post a bit about them

The first is Cut and Shoot, TX. How's that for a name? The town is in the eastern part of the state, just north of Houston. As usual, we try to skirt around the big cities. I found a little campground called Country Place RV Park, that got tremendous reviews on RV Park Reviews. (I don't think I've mentioned yet how heavily I rely on that excellent website to help me select campgrounds along the way. We haven't been misled by their reader generated reviews yet. I've posted a link to the site in the righthand column of this page, in the Links to Live By section.)

Whoever owns this place must really love it. It's landscaped around several naturally shaped ponds, with tall pine trees and grass. On the ponds there were several kinds of ducks, including these black-bellied whistling ducks.  This is the first time either Rick or I have seen these. They are slender, have an upright standing posture, make a kind of whistling sound when they fly, and males have bright orange beaks. The bird guides say they are not usually this far north in Texas.

In back of the campground there are 20 acres of labyrinthine nature trails mowed out of the piney woods, which are marked clearly enough with numbers that even a child could follow them.  Kona and I walked them several times in our short stay. 

(We've crossed over into a humid, green, and often rainy world, in contrast to the desert we've been traveling in for months. Fog!) 

To top off all this lovely property, they've lighted the front part by the road with Christmas decorations that match any I've ever seen for fun and good cheer. 

They seem to especially like snowmen.

Funny how folks down here in the south, even when it's hot, like to create winter scenes to bring on the holiday spirit.

The next comment-worthy stop we made was Poche's (say "poshay's") Fish-n-Camp in Breaux (say "bro") Bridge, Louisiana.  This place is in the heart of Arcadiana, or Cajun swamp country.  Like the Country Place RV Park, the sites are arranged around several ponds, but these are huge. They look to be some kind of man-made drainage or irrigation ponds that are also now fishing ponds. The area is heavily agricultural with rice, sugar cane and cattle.

Above is our long pull through in a corner of one of the ponds. Below is the office, looking like a swamp shack, only nicer. 

The town of Breaux Bridge has many Cajun eating establishments, and calls itself the "Crawfish capitol of the world." There are also many specialty meat shops selling boudin (a sausage) and cracklins (fried pig skins). Since we were going to be here only one night, I tried to find some experience we could have to really get the flavor of the place. Pont Breaux's seemed to fit the bill.  It serves Cajun food, and has live music and dancing every night.

Now you may notice that the place looks empty. Well, so did we.  First of all, it was pouring rain, and the streets were close to flooded all over town. Then, the singer supposedly called in sick, but everyone in town must have known, because there was really nobody there. Or maybe the rain kept them away. Or maybe no one goes on week nights. We were disappointed, but had a good supper anyway. I had gumbo, Rick had a steak, and they gave us free bread pudding to make up for not having a band.

Tonight we are in Tickfaw State Park, near Springfield, Louisiana, in the middle of a swamp. And it is still raining, so there is water everywhere.  Very nice frog sounds all around our campsite.

We did get out during a break in the rain for a couple of hours this afternoon and walked two boardwalk trails through the cypress swamp.

We had fantasies of seeing alligators, but all we saw were cypress knees...

and swamp monsters!

Thank goodness, we got away with all our toes and fingers to travel another day.