A couple more stops, then home

We decided to come back a different way, heading inland instead of hugging the coast. We spent one night at Lake Marion, SC KOA and the next night near Rocky Mount North Carolina.

Lake Marion KOA was quiet and peaceful and pretty. The Rocky Mount KOA was also quiet and peaceful but very plain and isolated. We went into the town of Rocky Mount expecting to find some thing historical or interesting. Unfortunately, all we found was a lot of broken down houses and sad looking people. It was the most poverty either of us have seen in a very long time. And it kind of took the wind out of our sales for a few hours.

I didn’t take any pictures in Rocky Mount simply because it didn’t feel appropriate. But a couple hours later, we drove up into our driveway and this is what we saw

And because you can never have enough plants or flowers, the next day we went to our favorite nursery and got a few more.

Now it’s time to go back to work! Spring time is the best time in my opinion to travel. But the garden always calls me home.

The last day at the beach

We saved these last few moments at the beach for our final evening since we wanted to avoid crowds and the heat of the day. Well, there weren’t many humans out because it was pretty windy, and cloudy, and cold. And a storm was coming. But we dragged our chairs down there anyway for one more dose of ocean air and rhythmic waves. We sat for a few minutes by the water and I gathered a few more shells that I don’t need, until the clouds started seriously coming our way.

Oh well. It will still be here next year right?

Magnolia Gardens: Preserving Nature and a Little History

This is another long one, but it was a long and eventful day.

Magnolia Gardens is the oldest public garden in the country. It is still owned and run by the same family who made their fortune growing rice in the 1600’s. Rice was the biggest cash crop before cotton in the south and it was the Barbados slaves who brought with them the knowledge of how to grow it in the muddy swamps of the Lowcountry. It made European immigrants rich while breaking the backs of slaves.

Perfect land for growing rice.

Originally, (1676) Mr. Drayton had 2,000 acres of land that was given to him as a wedding gift by his father. (What a wedding gift, huh?) The Draytons previously lived in Barbados and brought their slaves with them to the wide open state of South Carolina. Most of the rest we already know. Same old story, right? Anyway, when the Civil War came around, the nouveau-riche good old boys down south invested in confederate bonds, supporting the army and trying desperately to hang on to their pleasant lifestyle. When they lost the war, they also lost most, if not all of their investment money and land, and their giant houses were burned and looted. So, many of these plantation owners went from rich and genteel, to poor and barely scraping by.

So Mr. D. decided to open up what was left of the beautiful gardens (less than 500 acres) to the public and charge them for it. “People would pay a pretty penny to ride on a ferry from Charleston over here just to see the gardens,” according to the tour guide. And, other than the ferry ride, that’s the way it’s been for the last 400 years.

View of the Ashley River. Reminds me of my bike riding days in Beaufort.

Today, Magnolia Gardens is worth the fees and the mosquitoes and humidity, and all the walking. The staff are friendly and obviously love what they do, and the whole place is user-friendly. Our tour guide focused on the wildlife–alligators, deer, herons, egrets, owls, snakes and squirrels, and threw in some history now and then. There was a small zoo, which I will get to in a minute, but the place is so natural and open and wild. And something is always blooming there. We saw lots of irises and snapdragons and a few calla lilies as well as red amaryllises growing naturally out of the ground. Azaleas were either just finishing their bloom or getting ready.

There is a “main house” but it was under construction and probably looked like a lot of other fancy southern aristocrats’ homes that we’ve seen more times than necessary. Then there was the pretty white bridge where everyone who wants a selfie goes to pose. Nice bridge. Sorry, no selfie. Just a few older women trying to figure out how to take a selfie.

So we rode on this wagon/train thingy with a very enthusiastic guide who knew a lot of trivia about this or that animal. For example, did you know that turtles can breathe out of their butts? Well, it’s true. She explained it but I was busy taking pictures and didn’t listen. Something about a different form of hibernation where their metabolism slows down and the only air they need comes in and out of their rear ends. (see reconnectwithnature.org for more details if you’re interested.) A few minutes later I did hear her say that red tail hawks can catch mice so easily because they see in infrared and mice “relieve themselves” (pee) while running from place to place. Messy little creatures, huh? So, their urine creates a fluorescent trail which the birds follow and grab a quick meal. There was a lot of potty talk.

Moving on….Here are a few little scenes from the nature trail:

Our guide was such a good teacher and obviously loved her job. She was full of little known facts so it was hard to keep up with her. Then, as she was telling the story of how some slaves “just stayed on the land because they had nowhere else to go,” we were turning the corner in front of the slave/sharecroppers’ quarters, and suddenly the back end of our little wagon slipped off the road into a groove that you might call a small ditch. No one fell out or got hurt but it was tense for a minute or two. Sam and I were sitting on the off-the-road side in the back, about to be slapped in the face by a magnolia branch so I stood up and started waving my hands at her. She was chattering away….in her element…..

People started yelling, “Hey! We’re off the road back here. Hey! You need to stop!” And finally a guy behind us gave one of those sharp, shrill, fingers in the mouth whistle. That got her attention. She stopped and, with great concern, made sure everyone was ok, then decided this was a problem for someone with mechanical skills and gathered us all up to wait by a tree for the rescue train. (Note to self: I want to learn how to whistle like that, just in case I need to in the future.)

While we were waiting, I took these pictures:

In the end, for me it was all about the flowers and trees and animals, so that little “hitch” in the process quickly faded in to the background.

OK. Less history and drama, more pretty and cute.

How do I choose from the 100 or so photos of this gorgeous plantation? Here are just a few.

Then there was the zoo: Deer and a goat and a pig and a couple of noisy peacocks wandered around waiting for people to give them the treats that the place provided for a couple quarters. And chickens, several bossy chickens wandered around claiming territory, then moving on. In the fenced areas were turtles and owls and a white squirrel and snakes and a sleeping alligator. Lots of snakes, which I chose not to photograph.

So, bottom line, if you’ve gotten this far, Magnolia Gardens is a great place to visit, especially in April. Bring your camera or a smart phone, a good pair of walking shoes and an open mind. There is beauty here, attempting to make amends for the past.

Now, on to the next stop, then home! With all these images and memories I’m sure I’ll feel saturated for a while.

Wilmington, We’ll be back.

We only had one night in Wilmington, so I didn’t take any pictures on this trip. (I did borrow some from Google though.) I was expecting more of the same hurricane destruction as we saw in New Bern. But, this was a different story.

Wilmington and New Bern are both situated near rivers that empty into the Atlantic Ocean, so we assumed there would have been equal amounts of damage from Florence. The hurricane sat over the NC coast for several days in September of 2018 and caused $22 billion in damage, mostly due to storm surge.

As compared to New Bern, there was a lot more recovery going on in Wilmington. Power trucks, cranes, landscapers, painters, huge three story homes wrapped in black plastic while the workers transformed what was underneath. Wilmington has a nice waterfront with lots of shops, benches, gardens and piers….

We got there on what was a beautiful day. After some unseasonably cold weather, it was so nice to see the sun and be in a place that seemed on the upswing. We drove through the downtown area and knew immediately that we wanted to come back when we could spend more time. It was like a tease through the windows: nice neighborhoods, well-established gardens, people sauntering from place to place.

“We could live here,” both of us said at the same time. “Except for the hurricanes,” we hurried to add, again at the same time. It’s good to know the person you are spending your life with!

Then there was “the key issue.”

When we were getting ready to leave the next day I realized that I could not find my keys! I can count the times I’ve lost keys on three fingers, so this was deeply disturbing to me. When it is time for us to leave a campground, it is my job to drive the car up behind the RV so we can “hook it up.” Well, that was when I realized that I did not have my keys. I looked everywhere, three or four times, almost cried because “I never lose my keys!” The last place I remembered holding them in my hands was in New Bern. There was a heaviness and a sadness over me like a dark cloud, taking away all the sweetness of the day before in beautiful Wilmington….

I admitted to Sam that I felt humiliated, embarrassed and angry with myself. Of course, he said that was ok. Everyone makes mistakes. I know that, but it was nice to hear him say it. Finally I let it go, sort of. Every now and then I went back to some of the same spots I had already checked. No keys. By the time we got to the next campground we decided it was a good time for a shower.

There they are! Right where I left them!

So, I’m in this clean but very tight shower stall, looking into my bathroom bag for my shampoo, and guess what? Right there on the bottom of the bag, underneath my pretty pink glasses case, were my keys. Just sitting there, like that was where they belonged. I might have cursed at them for a second and then gave my forehead a light thump.

Truly letting it go now I got my shower and all was well in the world again. I no longer felt like I was having premature senility, or just plain clumsiness.

Life sure does give us plenty to work with, huh?

The beach!

What a perfect day for the beach. Isle of Palms, SC.

All the pretty flowers!

The KOA we stayed at in North Charleston was kind of old and worn out, and it was pretty far from all the fun stuff in Charleston proper. But these flowers made all the difference.

Sometimes beauty is right in front of your face. I admired these flowers individually every morning on my way to the shower. I even deadheaded a few as a sign of respect for my gardening friends. Today, as we were packing up to leave, I decided to take another walk around. I’m so glad I did!

Plant-life in the Lowcountry

Live Oaks: Unlike regular oaks, live oaks are (mostly) evergreen, meaning, they drop their leaves all year long instead of just in the Fall. They can live more than 200 years. Although the Angel Oak, which is a tourist attraction on James Island, is thought to be more than 400 years old!

Spanish Moss: (above and below) is not really moss, and certainly not Spanish! It is really an epiphyte, kind of like orchids, and lives on the moisture in the air and the minerals in the bark of the tree, usually a live oak tree, and usually in the south. It is not harmful to the trees and has been known to make pretty good nests for local birds. This “moss” was called Spanish because the Native Americans or the English, or maybe the French who laid claim to the area were reminded of the long scraggly beards of the Spanish conquistadors. This is according to two different tour guides. Besides, it sounds better than epiphyte.

And that brown/green fern-like plant on the branches? Well, that’s called Resurrection Fern because it turns brown and crunchy when it has no moisture for several days, then miraculously turns bright green again once it rains. Isn’t nature amazing? (See top and bottom left photos above.)

Oleander: (Below) I call this the South Carolina highway plant because it divides the highways. Mile after mile. It must be pretty hardy because it seems to be everywhere. And Oleander is poison to small children and pets. It comes in all shades of pink and red, sometimes short bushes and sometimes as tall as trees. All the nurseries around here sell them as potted plants.

Palmettos: The South Carolina state tree, and prominent symbol on the state flag. They grow wild here and you can see them on the beach, in the forest, in people’s yards, and randomly on the side of the road. I remember collecting the palms for Easter and Palm Sunday and making little crosses out of them.

Magnolias: (Below) I know. Magnolias (and most of the plants I’m highlighting here) grow in other places besides the south. But they are all so prolific here! Tall and stately, large, thick leaves, the Magnolias almost compete with the live oaks. But Magnolias have those amazing flowers. Not even a 300 year old oak tree can top that!

Azaleas: (below) Either they had already bloomed or were waiting for warmer weather. We didn’t see too many flowers showing off, but thought this one (top, left) was a nice color. The one in the middle I borrowed from Google. I do remember riding my bike through town when I was young and seeing huge rows of azaleas growing into each other, competing for space but somehow managing to do so gracefully. We don’t bother with azaleas in our yard now because the deer will devour them as a single early morning breakfast.

Jasmine: (below, with another southern favorite—a rose.) For the majority of our visit the scent of jasmine lingered in the air…everywhere. The yellow jasmine is the SC state flower, but we mostly saw the white ones. If you’re ever down south and you wonder why the air smells so sweet, it’s probably the jasmine. How delightful!

SC's State Flower Yellow Jessamine

SC State Flower – Yellow Jasmine
Photo by James Baker ©

One more little group.

These were at the nursery in Magnolia Gardens displayed as shade plants. Hydrangeas, Coleus and Hostas. They look good together, but, once again….deer food in our neck of the woods. We keep a few in pots on the deck, but it sure would be nice to have them lined up underneath some Magnolia tree along with a few more azaleas!

In my next post we will go to Magnolia Gardens, which is the oldest public gardens in SC. This was definitely a highlight of our trip for me. The internet connection has been sketchy as usual, so sometimes I have to post these little adventures piece-meal. And we are heading back north tomorrow with a couple more stops. I miss my yoga practice and my yoga students! And I miss my own garden. But these trips invigorate my imagination and give me a lot to wonder about. I hope you are enjoying coming along with us.

Boone Hall Plantation: Really just a working Farm

This is a long one…maybe a full chapter….

Boone Hall was not quite a botanical garden, but it gave me a lot to think about. This plantation was like many others in SC, large, pretentious main house with several “servants’ quarters,” which, according to the tour guide, were quite nice…other than the fact that they were the size of a modern mobile home and housed at least 10 people in each one. No matter how beautiful the landscape is, or how grand and stately the main house is, this is always a sad story in the end.

We rode on a large wagon with other curious tourists of all races and skin tones, and it seemed like everyone felt the weight of the history.

Because they had nowhere else to go, the former slaves became sharecroppers who could only earn fake money (script) that could only be spent at the plantation store. Even after they were freed, they could not even physically go into the store, but had to stand at a window and tell the clerk what they wanted.

For a while the slaves and sharecroppers made bricks from the clay just beneath the marsh. In the winter time, when the fields were bare, adults went into the marsh and gathered the clay and dragged it up to the kilns in wagons. The actual bricks were formed by children because they were too young to work in the fields…and, God knows, every body had to work!

For all its beauty, this is still a very sad place, once you know the whole story.

Reminiscence:

I grew up about 80 miles south of Charleston in a small town named Beaufort. (It means “beautiful fort.”) I loved the giant moss covered oak trees along Bay Street which was lined with old civil war era mansions. I used to ride my bike down there and just sit on the ground, staring out at the Beaufort River. I loved the grand old homes and the gardens, and the grandmothers who tended them. Sometimes early on a Sunday, I’d ride my bike through town and hear the shouting and singing and “Praise Jesus” coming out of the windows of the small AME church in the poor part of town.

When I was in high school I started tutoring a little girl who lived on the island across the bridge. Her name was Lilly Mae. She needed help with her reading and spelling. Then, a little later in high school I got a paper route on those islands. That’s when I saw the shocking reality. Long, muddy, narrow roads lined with trash and wild birds and dogs picking through it. “Houses” made of plywood, barely standing up. In front of one shack was a nice new Cadillac and a guy sitting in the yard surrounded by beer cans.

Until recently I thought that everyone “got along in my town.” I never felt any racial tension or disconnection from my classmates in school or at my first few jobs. It was a “simply southern” existence. Now I know I was just blind to the inequalities.

This trip has helped me to see with new eyes. People are still friendly and “get along,” but for me there is a sense of regret that I did not understand sooner. And that is why traveling is so important. Like Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to bigotry, prejudice and narrow-mindedness.”

Amen, Brother!

New Bern, NC: In Recovery

sunset on the Neuse River, 2014

We stayed in New Bern several years ago when we were on our BIG ADVENTURE from California to the East Coast. We had storage sheds on both coasts, friends and family on both coasts and only a loose plan for the future. Now we know that we were in transition back then, and, honestly, that was one of the most significant and memorable times in our 30+ years together. We had just learned how to use a GPS, but GPS was not as sophisticated as it is now. When we arrived in New Bern, the main bridge was under construction, but the GPS didn’t know that and could not give us any other instructions other than, “continue straight….” Finally, we gave up and used a map.

Same place, 2022. One of the naked trees must have suffered at the hands of Ms. Florence.

The town was (still is) cute with all its Victorian mansions, wrought iron fences and oak lined streets. Downtown was charming, people were friendly and our three dogs enjoyed walking through their historic neighborhoods way back in 2014. This time the ambience was different.

New Bern was seriously affected by Hurricane Florence in 2018. In fact, the KOA campground we stayed at was under six feet of water during the hurricane. The actual downtown waterfront was flooded as well. What we saw this time was evidence of a very slow recovery. Some of the waterfront homes looked untouched by nature. Still grand and sophisticated with their pillars and storm shutters and manicured lawns. Others looked like they had given up their will to exist, as if that storm took the last bit of life right out of them.

Downtown New Bern is like many others with lots of tourist shops, some in need of repair after Hurricane Florence.

We ate at a very small, very noisy, very good seafood place on the Main Street. NO ONE was wearing a mask. Sigh. I’m glad we’ve had our 4 shots. I sure hope that’s enough.

Our first look at Spanish Moss. Somehow it seemed out of place in this Episcopalian church yard.

Here’s my artsy photo for the day:

Leaves.

Yet Another Heroic Journey

The Beach Buggy in her relaxed state.

Every time we decide to take the Beach Buggy out for a trip it’s all excitement and expectation. “Let’s spend time on the beach, and go see some botanical gardens, and eat seafood!” It all sounds good, and, in the end, it is usually, mostly good. But there is always, every single time, some situation that requires patience and deep level brain power. Here’s how it has gone so far on this latest “vacation.”

We prepare for the trip two weeks ahead of time, making reservations, knowing that a trip which Google says takes 3 1/2 hours will end up being about 6 hours if we’re lucky. OK. We know that, so we plan for it. No big deal when you have two weeks to go 500 miles. Today it was sprinkling when we started the loading of stuff. But it was unseasonably cold and windy. OK. No big deal. We were ready, mostly, by 8:30 a.m., and that is unheard of in our travel history. Then I remembered that I hadn’t eaten. And Sam wanted to rest for a minute.

By 9:30 the time had come to face “The Hill.” (I wish I had taken a picture of this so you might understand the gravity of the situation.) We park the Beach Buggy on a pretty steep, gravelly hill next to the house. It’s Sam’s job to slowly inch it down the hill when we are ready to leave. It’s my job to guide him down the hill via his rearview mirror, making sure he doesn’t slide off into the ditch or hit one of the hundred trees on either side, or run into the shed, or run over me. It’s tense. But we’ve done it at least ten times by now and, once the Beast, I mean the Beach Buggy is on a flat road, we both start to breathe again. A few more steps and we’re on our way….

Rain. All the way to New Bern. Sometimes light and barely noticeable, other times enough to make us wonder if the roads might flood. But, as the passenger, I get to stare out the window, at whatever catches my eye. Today it was the distorted images of houses and barns through the rain-streaked windshield of the RV. Without the rain, they would be just plain old NC houses with all their history hidden inside. But captured by my iPhone while driving by at 45 MPH, they become art. I might frame them when I get home.

Anyway, it rained a lot, and it took us 5 1/2 hours to get to New Bern after being misled by our friend Ms. GPS. She always wants us to go through the middle of the smallest towns and neighborhoods. She doesn’t realize we are in a 35 foot bus pulling a large SUV behind us. But that’s not her fault. We really should just download one of those apps for RV’s. So, we end up in the middle of downtown Whaleyville, or Vanceboro, or driving down some farmer’s lane through fields of hay and scrub brush. Eventually, we find our way back to the main highway and vow never to listen to Ms. GPS again, at least until we get a proper app.

And the last challenge for our first day of vacation was when the tow car would not start. By then it was raining with some force. And the wind still howled. Sam and I both shook our heads. “No gas?” “Did someone steal our gas?” “I just filled it up the other day.” We detached the almost dead car, left it by the campground bathroom and parked the Beach Buggy so at least we could have a warm dry place to problem solve, again.

Good thing we have AAA. We have used them more times than I can remember. And the guy came within 30 minutes. As soon as Sam sat in the driver’s seat and turned the key, the damn car started! Sigh. The AAA guy smiled and said it happens a lot. Then he said it might be a fuel pump. Or it might not. Fuel pumps go out gradually, or sometimes suddenly. So, that gives us something to think about for the rest of our “vacation.”

On the bright side, here is our view from the RV…for now:

That is the Neuse River in New Bern, N C.

Tomorrow is another day. Yeehaw! Bring it on!