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.

Hampton Plantation

Whether you have traveled to Charleston or have an interest in early United States history, it is likely that you have heard of the Horrys, Pinckneys, and Rutledges.  The latter names appear on such documents as the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.  They also interrelate at Hampton Plantation.  Now a state historic site, Hampton passed through the Horry-Pinckney-Rutledge line from the 1700s until the 1970s, when it was sold to SC.  The plantation house, a Georgian mansion, was carefully restored prior to the sale.  Visitors can tour the home and walk the vast acreage of the property.   

Below are images of the house and grounds including a small family cemetery.

 
 

While steeped in Colonial and Antebellum history, the chapter of Hampton's story that interested me greatly was its last.  The final resident of the estate was Archibald Rutledge (1883-1973), first poet laureate of South Carolina.  I discovered his writing shortly after moving to the Lowcountry and was instantly impressed with his lyrical recollections and observances.  Rutledge spent his boyhood at Hampton, however, many of his adult years were passed while studying and teaching in the north.  Upon his retirement, he returned to his homestead.  With the help of his beloved African American comrades, Rutledge restored Hampton Plantation to its former glory.  He detailed the process in his book, Home on the River.

 

George Washington was a visitor to the plantation during his presidency.  It is rumored that the homeowners were concerned that the oak tree in front of the mansion was blocking the newly constructed portico.  During his stay, the lady of the house asked the President for his opinion on the matter.  He urged her to leave the tree where it stood.  Since then, it has affectionately been called the George Washington Oak.
(Image captured with an infrared filter.  Click on photo to view larger)

 

My favorite of Archibald Rutledge's works (though I confess I've only read a handful) is Life's Extras.  It is a book of thoughts and meditations that establishes a deep connection between nature and spirituality.  It describes some things, like shelter and water, to be necessities; while others, such as sunsets, stars, and colors, to be life's extras.  I can relate to this philosophy as I view the world through a similar lens.

I find that physical and mental activities are necessities for any living creature.  For me, the best place to exercise the mind and the body is in the forest.  Walks in the woods help me clear my head, reconnect with nature, and find inner balance.  To feel spiritually revived, I am reliant upon life's extras, for those are the elements that impart the most profound effects.  Sunshine filtering through tree branches...a back-lit leaf illuminated in a soft halo... a babbling stream flowing over roots and rocks...the swooping shadows of an overhead bird cast upon the forest's floor.  Though simply natural occurrences, to me these are sensory poems which invigorate the soul.  

Luckily, at Hampton, there are plenty of paths that wind through the forest and along the Santee River.  On my last visit, I took one such stroll through the wooded sanctuary.  The following are photographs from the day:

A cypress root in swampy water.  It reminds me of floating on my back in a refreshing pool on a summer's day.

A cypress root in swampy water.  It reminds me of floating on my back in a refreshing pool on a summer's day.

Cypress swamp.

Cypress swamp.

 
 
A babbling brook.

A babbling brook.

An illuminated sapling.

An illuminated sapling.

Recommendations:

  • If you're in the Charleston area, drive out to Hampton Plantation.  The grounds are free!
  • Take the home tour.  I have not yet had the opportunity to experience it as it was not offered on the days I visited.  Check the SC State Park website for times.
  • Stand under the vast canopy of the George Washington Oak
  • Take a stroll to the cemetery to pay your respects to Archibald Rutledge
  • Lose yourself on an enchanting walk through the woods
  • For an extra special experience, read Life's Extras and/or Home by the River by Archibald Rutledge prior to your visit

Graces of Winter

The midlands and upcountry were blasted with an early bout of winter weather on Saturday morning.  Record snow fell as far south as Columbia, coating trees in a thick, white blanket.  Growing up near Chicago, I was never a stranger to unpleasant meteorological systems.  Whether one contained damaging hail, violent winds, or a debilitating amount of snow, it was an expected consequence of Midwest living.  In fact, one of my reasons for migrating south was to enjoy a more temperate climate.  However, Saturday's unusual weather phenomenon reminded me of one I experienced last winter right here in the Lowcountry.  

At the end of January, the state was hit with a dangerous ice storm.  Inland, massive, ice-coated tree branches fell, compromising roads and downing power lines.  Thankfully, along the coast, we suffered only minor damage, most of which was evident once the spring arrived and the plants failed to resuscitate.   The lack of incidence was also attributed to excellent storm preparation.  Charleston and the surrounding areas, in effect, completely shut down.  Businesses, government agencies, schools, and essential bridges and roadways were closed.  People relinquished control to Mother Nature, allowing her to decide when normal life would resume.

The first coating of ice on my palm tree. (Taken late at night with a flash.)

The first coating of ice on my palm tree. (Taken late at night with a flash.)

The storm came in the inky darkness.  All through the night I heard the pinging tones of ice drops pattering upon the roof above me, as if it was made of tin.  When I woke the next morning, I was greeted by the peaceful silence that often accompanies a fresh snowfall.  I looked out my window and was amazed to find fine white sparkles dusting the surface of the earth.  Everything above ground was paralyzed in an icy glaze.

Breathing in the crisp air, I walked outside among the trees surrounding my house.  Camera in tow, I was thrilled to capture the effects of this unique experience.  It looked as if nature was putting on a lovely ballet that was halted mid-performance.  Leaves were elegantly arranged in a motionless arctic dance.  Sheath-covered pine needles formed graceful arches and curves.  Suspended water droplets clung to vines creating a crystallized corps.  

 
 
 
 

The following day, the curtain was drawn on my ballet as the Lowcountry began to thaw.  Fleeting as it was, I will not soon forget that enchanting spectacle.  Reflecting on the storm, I am reminded of a quote from Emerson's Nature: