Spring has sprung

 
Azaleas in McClellanville

Azaleas in McClellanville

 

Admittedly, spring has never been my favorite season.  I've always preferred the warmth of summer, the colors of autumn, and the coziness of winter.  A lot of that has to with the springs I experienced while growing up in Illinois.   They consisted of a mix of chilly temperatures, sleet-filled skies, and soggy sidewalks.  Just as I would feel a glimmer of hope, seeing grass blades poking through the snow, a fresh blanket would come hurling from the sky like a cruel joke.  Spring (as we think of it with blooming trees, green grass, and mild temperatures) didn't arrive until late May.  And when it did it lasted but a fleeting moment.

In the past few years I've learned a simple rule: if you want to experience autumn at its finest, head to New England in October; if you want to witness the definition of spring, visit the South in April.  Mind you, spring in the Lowcountry is not without its own set of challenges.  We have an enormous amount of tree pollen.  Everything (and I mean everything) is coated with layer of chartreuse dust.  Also, warmer weather means the awakening of many unwelcome creatures, namely alligators and snakes.  However, the beauty of blossoming azaleas, fragrant jasmine and wisteria, and bright green bursts of leaves push these minor inconveniences by the wayside.

This year in particular, I have been greeted each day by colorful surprises dotting our rustic roads:   

 
Johns Island, SC

Johns Island, SC

 
Azalea, Hampton Plantation

Azalea, Hampton Plantation

Wisteria, Johns Island

Wisteria, Johns Island

 
 
Spring has a beauty of its own which we would not exchange for that of summer.
— Henry David Thoreau, March 23, 1859, in his journal
 
 

Around this time of year, everything in the late afternoon takes on a hazy, golden glow.  The light filters through newly formed leaves turning rustic farms into charming retreats.  Weeks ago, what was just a haunted barn standing in a bleak, grey landscape now becomes an enchanting playground....the red wood siding contrasting beautifully with its surroundings.  Dirt lanes, peaceful creeks, and moss-covered fences highlight the joys of simple, country living. 

 
 

Soon, our mild temperatures will give way to thick, humid afternoons.  Strolls through azalea-lined lanes will be replaced by long walks on the beach.  And cool, quiet nights, will yield to steamy evenings filled with the melodious conversations of crickets and frogs.  Until then, with a new-found appreciation for spring, I will enjoy the abundant, colorful April days that I am lucky to experience in the Lowcountry.

Botany Bay: The Land

(Follow up to Botany Bay: The Beach)

Inland from the water, a driving trail leads visitors in a loop around the woodlands.  The first stop on the map is the 1840s Bleak Hall Ice House.  Botany Bay is the result of a 1930s merger between a Colonial-era plantation, Sea Cloud, and a late 18th century plantation, Bleak Hall.  Though many original structures have not survived, the Ice House remains a well preserved example of the Gothic Revival architecture used throughout the latter estate.  

 

The Gothic-style Botany Bay Ice House with gingerbread detailing.  Click to see full screen.

 

When you step inside the building, you notice a basement where the ice was kept.  The walls are constructed of tabby (see image below) to keep the space cool and sturdy.  During the 1800s, southern ships headed north to collect large ice blocks.  They were insulated with sawdust on the journey to the Carolinas.  Upon arrival at the plantation, the blocks were placed in the cool cellar of the ice house and, again, insulated.   

(Fun Fact: According to SCIWAY, "Legend suggests Sea Cloud received its name through the marriage of a member of the Seabrook family to a member of the McLeod Family.") 

The Botany Bay Ice House.  Click to see image full-screen.

Tabby construction was a combination of oyster shells, lime, sand, and water.  Seen here is a wall from an original structure thought to have been used as a barn.

Tabby construction was a combination of oyster shells, lime, sand, and water.  Seen here is a wall from an original structure thought to have been used as a barn.

After passing the various structures, visitors head, by car, into the dense forest.  Now, it may seem counter-intuitive to drive rather than walk through nature.  While it's well-documented that I enjoy a stroll through the woods, at Botany Bay I'm fine with remaining in my vehicle.  Mind you, I do get out to take the occasional photograph.  In one of the first areas after the Ice House stands a grove of live oaks.  There is quite enough room to pull over, roam a bit,  and snap an picture.  A little further down, however, in a much narrower area, I tried the same thing and ended up walking right into a sticky spiderweb.  

This brings me to why I find driving an acceptable method of exploration:  there are quite a few dangerous critters lurking about the property.  I made the mistake of reading a webpage full of warnings after visiting Botany Bay.  The creatures to look out for are snakes, alligators, poisonous spiders, disease carrying insects, and ticks.  The page included all of the aforementioned and warned that with its remote location and spotty cell service, help does not come quickly to Botany Bay.  So, if you are hell-bent on encountering a snake, I recommend visiting the Edisto Serpentarium located just down 174.  They have anti-venom.

 
 

As evidenced by these images, beautiful sights can be observed through the safety of your car window.  It makes one think about the intense challenges colonists must have faced.  Imagine traveling by boat all the way from Europe and landing upon this dense, primitive landscape.  Even then, it was filled with foreign reptiles, animals, and insects.  I'll never stop marveling at the colonists' perseverance, and the wisdom and ingenuity no doubt possessed by our Native American brothers and sisters.

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Driving path through the woods.

Driving path through the woods.

Botany Bay: The Beach

Botany Bay Plantation is not your typical tourist attraction.  Located on Edisto Island along the Atlantic Ocean, this Wildlife Management area features a maritime forest, historical structures, a picnic pond, salt marshes, and a shell-filled beach.  It also happens to be the filming location of the Gullah village/wedding scene in The Patriot.  

Your first taste of natural beauty comes as you thump down dusty Botany Bay Road.  Sun filters through the dense trees lining each side of the dirt lane.  Spanish moss hauntingly drips down from the branches above, like ghosts inviting you to discover this secret sanctuary.  As you slowly approach the visitor station, you already feel transported to a primitive world.  

 
Botany Bay Road

Botany Bay Road

 

The park volunteer gives you an interpretive driving map that provides informative tidbits about the sites around the Plantation.  Although marked as the last stop on the tour, many people choose to visit the ocean first.  After a short walk on a path through the wetlands, you approach the water's edge.  Aptly referred to as a boneyard beach, this particular sandy strip is littered with uprooted trees and beheaded palms; a result of beach erosion.  

 
Boneyard Beach

Boneyard Beach

 

Nature and man work side-by-side to shape artistic displays.  Weathered roots and branches create ever-changing driftwood sculptures.  An abundance of seashells provide ornamentation for pruned palms.  At high tide, the sparkling blue sea encloses the withering trees.  It makes one imagine that a fantastical Atlantis lies just below the water's surface.

Naturally created driftwood sculptures

Naturally created driftwood sculptures

The sea-shore is a sort of neutral ground, a most advantageous point from which to contemplate this world.
— Henry David Thoreau
 
Nature creating driftwood sculptures.

Nature creating driftwood sculptures.

 

Stay tuned for the next installment where I'll explore Botany Bay's historical structures and woodlands.