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.
Yes,” I replied, “splendid swamp.”
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.