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Doing the Swamp Thing: Audubon Swamp Garden at Magnolia Plantation, Charleston, So Carolina

March 26, 2009 by · 1 Comment 


Swamp Garden, Magnolia Plantation

As a mom and grandmom, I  know infants and toddlers are challenging, yet fun. Sure, wails and meltdowns prove stressful, but big hugs solve many a tear. And, little children can be so adorable.

Move from tots to teens and the headaches multiply. My college hunting trip with Laura, our high-school aged daughter, proved downright dismal. The admission’s staff overwhelmed us with talk of SAT and ACT scores, GPA’s, essay requirements and application procedures.

Campus tours produced comments such as, “dorm rooms are too small; What? No cars for freshmen; campus is too big, too small, too rural, etc.”  Fairy godmother wand needed.

Frustrated, I decided to take a break from the pressure and explore a heritage site.  I chose a historic plantation that offered something I’d never seen before–a swamp garden.

To stay on my daughter’s and husband’s good side, I invited them to accompany me, but both declined.  So I was off on a solo escape; even better.

I drove about 20-30 minutes out of Charleston to Ashley River Road, stopping at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens.  I took the 30-minute house tour with a tour guide named Wanda.  She was knowledgeable and entertaining, quickly covering the 300-year history of the home and Drayton family.

I exited the back door, really the front door as it faces the Ashley River, and walked down a path to the landing through flowering azalea’s and lilac blooms. Live oaks hang their heavy branches over the river’s edge creating a genteel feel of the Old South (more on this beautiful place in a future blog.)

Afterward, I moved my car to the entrance of the 60- acre Audubon Swamp Garden, where the lot was near empty. Perfect, I thought, no crowds. I crossed onto a wooden boardwalk, which muffled the sound of my footsteps as I traversed over green-slimy water.  Later, I learned this floating botanic was duck weed.

To my surprise, I came upon a sign announcing, “Cell Phone Tour:  Dial 843 303-9665.” Now I’ve taken many audio tours, but never one via my cell phone. And…of all places, in an eerie swamp? I dialed up.

A woman with a distinct southern drawl welcomed me and began speaking about the wildlife. I must admit the experience seemed like listening to an in-person guide, but frankly, a little too woo-woo for the marsh. Wouldn’t a few signs have provided the same information?  Wasn’t this encouraging phone interruptions or obnoxious ringtones like Dixie or the American Idol theme song?

Fortunately,  no distracting telephones annoyed me, in fact, I was seduced by the calmness and tranquility of bird calls. Back and forth I heard twitters and tweets- the real kind from the ornithological species. I heard frogs croaking and crickets; but Mother Nature held her breath, not a ripple on the water or rustle of leaves.

Since it was after five p.m., I hurried along, passing a dawdling couple: the woman checking her bird book, the husband spotting a Nature Conservancy ball-cap. “Blue Herons,” he said, which I rather smugly knew, since I live in Florida.


An alligator suns himself in the Swamp Garden

Yes,” I replied, “splendid swamp.”

Egret flying

A Snowy Egret in the sanctuary of the Swamp Garden

An alligator sunned himself, perched on a man-made ramp in the middle of the blackwater. He resembled a monster from the deep wearing a pea green coat of duckweed. Across the way, Snowy Egrets nested in gum trees, amidst tangled vines. This spot is paradise for photographers and I happened to catch a few decent shots myself. As it was getting late, I meandered back, but allowed myself time to stop and smell a few camellias, enjoy the water lilies and let my imagination run. “The Swamp Thing,” starring Louis Jourdan and Adrienne Barbeau, was filmed here. But, I preferred to think of John J. Audubon, who came to paint, a friend of the owner, Reverend Drayton. I’d noticed some of his original art in the mansion.

I was happy with my decision to visit. This preserved habitat is a jewel of South Carolina, a magical wildlife sanctuary and an exotic slice of lowcountry. I surrendered to the swamp and it revived my spirit, freed my frustrations and let me return to teen tensions in a better mood.

Spring Blossoms in the Southeast Foster Wanderlust

March 21, 2009 by · Comments Off on Spring Blossoms in the Southeast Foster Wanderlust 

orange Blossoms

Orange Blossoms in the Spring

I wander outside my garage and greet the most glorious scent of spring. My own orange blossom serenade.

My nose twitches from the divine fragrance whiffing through the air; my eyes drawn toward the white petals juxtaposed against the glossy newborn leaves of the citrus tree. How heavenly.

I cut a branch of this aromatic wonder and bring it inside.  Now I’m dreaming oriental thoughts: cherry blossoms and teahouses, Memoirs of a Geisha, pagodas, China’s Great Wall and Forbidden City.  How I long to see these places.

In a few weeks, I’ll visit Atlanta where I have tickets to view a traveling exhibit of terracotta warriors from Xian.  Guess that will have to do.

Recalling St. Patrick’s Day in Belfast, Northern Ireland ~ March 2005

March 18, 2009 by · Comments Off on Recalling St. Patrick’s Day in Belfast, Northern Ireland ~ March 2005 

Scottish Ladies

Scottish ladies celebrate St Patrick's Day in Belfast

As related in a previous blog, my first trip to Ireland, a two-day adventure in Dublin, happened back in March of 2000.

In 2005, husband Jay and daughter Laura, then a 14-year-old, nabbed an incredibly low airfare to Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland.  (Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are two different countries.) Older son Steve was not on this trip, but we toasted his birthday as we landed– early on St. Patrick’s Day. This time we arrived at our hotel before the parades started.

In fact, this marked the first year, since the end of the “Troubles,” in 1995 that Belfast even sponsored a St. Patrick’s Day parade. It wasn’t a huge event, some floats and bands, but the mood was electric and a feeling of unity filled the air.The concierge suggested we lunch upstairs at the Crown Liquor Saloon, so we walked over. Built in 1828,  the National Trust of Northern Ireland maintains this pub which glows with a gas-light Victorian atmosphere: gilded mirrors, stained glass, old black and white photos, a tin ceiling, and walls that have heard it all.

We passed a seated group of laughing Scottish ladies from the Highlands.  They explained that they gather annually to celebrate, always in a different Irish city. They were imbibing in grand style and had donned hats, supplied when “a drop of black,” or Guinness was ordered. Our waiter topped  Laura with one, too. We ordered and devoured burger-like sandwiches served with “Champ,” a combination of mashed potatoes, cheese, and chive.

When we walked down the hall, I was stopped by a local woman who overheard my American accent. She made a point of welcoming me to Belfast. I liked that.

Then, we squeezed downstairs through cough producing smoke into a room crammed as tight as Times Square on New Year’s Eve, and just as noisy. Everyone turned toward a telly to cheer The Gold Cup horse race. The lengthy steeple chase race runs through mud filled ponds, over hedges and across grassy fields. Strangely (at least to me) the horse in the lead lost his jockey, but ran on. Rather wild compared to our Kentucky Derby. We hired a “black taxi” as suggested by a guidebook to see the West Belfast Political Wall Murals. First we drove to Shankill Road, the Protestant side. Here, the bricks of working class row-homes were painted with large symbolic scenes.

Bobby Sands

Bobby Sands Mural in Belfast

Our driver pointed out the Crumlin Road jail across from the courthouse, which required an underground tunnel for prisoners’ safe passage to trial.  He said cases were heard by one judge, no jury, during these violent times. Then we cut over to the nearby Catholic area, Falls Road. We stopped as I photographed the mural of Bobby Sands, famous for his hunger strike to death. Although we tried to comprehend, our emotions were disquieted by these neighborhoods.  I would find it difficult, to say the least, to live with all the reminders.

Our driver/guide spoke poignantly, recalling his childhood fear of bombs.  He heeded warnings not to talk to certain children or adults, grasping that this division was reality.  “Not a good way, he explained, “it simply was the way.”

Now, he was proud of his capital city, her economic growth and unification.  He envisioned a happy future for his daughter in Belfast and with sincerity, thanked us for visiting and asked us to spread the word. We left feeling grateful for the opportunity.

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