Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Big City Buzz in Charlotte


 In 1941, sick and confined to bed, unable to stand at an easel and paint, it seemed Henri Matisse’s artistic life was over. Critics had labeled him the “wild beast” for his startlingly bold colors.  Now he was a broken man.  But Matisse was not bowed.  He began each day with poetry which he compared to oxygen, “just as when you leap out of bed you fill your lungs with fresh air.” From his bed he began “painting with scissors”, cutting out huge color-saturated shapes and arranging them with the help of his assistants and grandchildren until they filled his room. “You see, as I am obliged to remain often in bed…I have made a little garden all around me where I can walk… There are leaves, fruits, a bird.”  He continued to create for 13 more years, pushing his art further than ever.  He called it his “grace period”. He even attached a piece of chalk to a long pole and drew the faces of his grandchildren on the ceiling so he could look up at them while he went to sleep.  “I am deeply contented, happy,” he said.
           Christopher Lawing, Vice President for Programming and Research for the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, enthusiastically recounted this inspiring story as we toured the light-filled galleries where 80 framed prints of these collages are on display through Sept. 7 as part of the exhibition The Art Books of Henri Matisse.  Jazz is the most famous with its imagery drawn from the circus and music halls.  It’s considered one of the greatest illustrated books of the 20th century. Christopher pointed out Matisse’s masterful use of positive and negative space, how he “riffed on philodendron” and his preoccupation with color and light that fueled his intense joie de vivre.  (A two minute narrated video of the exhibit is here.)  Mario Botta, the museum’s architect also “curated light” in the diminutive building where soaring windows frame skyscrapers. Christopher explained that critics responded with shock, amazement and occasional laughter to Matisse’s work, but “we need artists to shock and awe to move us forward.”  We speculated together on which contemporary artists were moving us forward now.   I left inspired, full of new ideas.

           Charlotte is a big city full of the vitality and creative energy, where history combines with modernity.  The Dunhill Hotel is a stellar example.  Built in 1929, the ten-story hotel has been fully restored.  The independent hotel is an Historic Inn of America.  Its refined architecture with neo-classical embellishments adds character to Charlotte’s modern big-city shape. But it is decidedly a 21st century luxury hotel with all the modern conveniences in its 60 well-appointed guest rooms.  As downtown Charlotte pulses and hums around it, the Dunhill is a quiet, elegant oasis right in its center.  We parked our car upon arrival and never needed it again.  Within walking distance are many attractions:  the Mint Museum, the McColl Center for Art, Discovery Place, the Blumenthal Performing Arts center, the Bank of America Stadium, the Time Warner Arena, Spirit Square, the Levine Museum and others. The Dunhill offers a package with the Bechtler with discounts and amenities. 
The exhibit was a perfect introduction to
  In 2014 the hotel challenged Chris Coleman to come aboard and create a fresh, new Southern concept that would put its restaurant The Asbury on the A list for discerning culinary travelers.  A devout locavore, Chris sources from about 40 local farmers, fishermen and food artisans. His inspirations are the bounty of the region, his grandmother and his sense of humor.  “I like to mix it up a little.” He tops deviled eggs with cheeky fried cornichon,  He decorates plates with colorful nasturtiums and serves a cast iron skillet of Maw Maw’s biscuits with sass-worthy Bacon-Onion. “When the world seems crazy and nothing much seems to make sense anymore, turn to Bacon Jam.  It makes comfort foods comfortable…Watch your cares magically melt away.” 
  Creative sparks were also flying up the street at 5 Church where the hostess Mercury Arteaga explained, “I love this restaurant; It’s more of a museum.”  The entire book Art of War was inscribed on the ceiling!  Sea-creature-inspired light fixtures, undulating sculptures and ironic murals gave the space a funky, lively vibe as a young crowd toasted brunch with mimosas and ate sunny-side egg pizzas.  Word on the street is that this restaurant is opening on Market Street in Charleston. Outside the windows teams of crazily speeding bicyclists were racing a course through cordoned off streets.  The big city buzz was electrifying.
            I’ll return to Charlotte again, perhaps for a girlfriends’ get-away, NASCAR, a Panthers or Hornets game, concerts or culture.  A few days in a big city of skyscrapers and vitality is like a Red Bull for the mind and Charlotte is only 3 ½ hours away. In a cab after a long night out that included Margaret Cho at the Comedy Zone followed by late night blues at the Double Door, we were happily satiated by our big-city experience. 
If You Go:
The Dunhill Hotel:
The Bechtler Museum of Modern
5 Church Restaurant:

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Unforgettable Festival Moments


             If all the Spoleto and Piccolo Spoleto Festivals did was provide us with entertaining ephemeral moments it would be enough.  Moments of joy, harmony, insight or beauty:  enough.  Strengthen our economy with tourist dollars:  enough.  Fill our streets with more colorful and artistic visitors hauling musical instruments, painting in the parks, leaping onto stages:  enough. It would be enough to spend an evening out, see a great show, enjoy ourselves and go home to soon forget it all.  Many of life’s best moments are this fleeting.  But sometimes there’s more.  Sometimes the festivals rock our world. 
             It could be the timing.  In 1993 Lynn Riding was finding her foothold in Charleston after emigrating from England.  On a balmy Charleston evening walking with new friends towards Marion Square she began hearing the Drifter’s tune “Under the Boardwalk”.  As they got closer she choked up.  The songs she had danced to as a teenager were playing in her new hometown. “I couldn’t believe it.   It was a moment of pure happiness with new friends that said to me “everything is working out.”
            It could be a glimpse at art’s cutting edge.  In 1988 my children and I emerged from a piano lesson at the College of Charleston and noticed a cherry picker looming in the Cistern.  It had been transformed into a giant ant puppet.  Of course we had to go watch this rehearsal for “Warrior Ant”.  What a spectacle! Music critic Daniel Webster described the show as “An ant becomes a god, and all kinds of mock obeisances are performed. Singers improvise, drummers frisk and …the stage becomes a town in the rain forest.” There were actors perched in the Cistern’s trees and a Caribbean procession that led the entire audience to dance in the streets. 

            In 2012 when Theater Company 1927 performed “The Animals and Children Took to the Streets”, it was a revelation for Lila Trussler.  “It was an entirely different art form than I had ever seen.  There were so many different things going on at once.  It seemed brand new.”  It was dark, edgy, innovative, creepy and unique.  Anne Birdseye was captivated by the 2008 “Monkey:  Journey to the West” that combined a circus of cartoons, acrobats, Chinese music and a tribe of monkeys flying among bamboo poles. Not the kinds of thing you can see every weekend in Charleston but exactly what the festivals bring to our doorstep.   “It was very engaging.  I like things that are so different, that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to see,” said Anne.  Long time Charleston improv impresario Greg Tavares said, "I have so many memories from Piccolo over the years. The one that sticks with me is the first time I saw The Cody Rivers Show at Piccolo Fringe.  They are a two person sketch/physical comedy duo we have had come a couple times.  Their work changes how I saw comedy and what I thought was possible." 
      Then there’s the star power.  Like many  Charleston women, I’ve delighted in extemporaneous hugs from Charles Wadsworth.  I became embarrassingly tongue-tied upon being introduced to Jean Yves Thibaudet.  I once mustered my courage to approach Gian Carlo Menotti in a parking garage, tell him he was my hero and that I’d studied his opera “Amahl” in grade school.  Barry Goldsmith who was the director of arts instruction for Charleston County Schools for many years said, “For me, the most exciting part of Spoleto was, because of my position with the school district, getting to know Gian Carlo Menotti….I admired him and could not have imagined I would one day work with him to develop programs for students.”
              Twenty years ago Corday Rice was playing the recorder and became transfixed by a Renaissance opera record she nearly wore out until she learned to play the motifs.  She and her mother Beth went to that opera and then to many more in a yearly mother-daughter tradition that they cherish. Our son Philip and his friend Derek Cribb still talk about the Latin band Bio Ritmo they saw twenty years ago at a Piccolo Finale.  “It was monumental,” Philip recalls “A whole new musical language.”  They both grew up to be professional musicians.  The festivals have given our children the foundations to build their artistic lives.
            Most of all it’s the transcendent moments that grab our hearts.  These we remember most.  “I was at a Chamber Music performance several years ago, and Charles Wadsworth was introducing the piece about to be played,” Nancye Starnes recalls. “He told us that the composer was very much in love but restricted by her family from moving ahead with the relationship. So, he wrote a chamber piece to express his love. As I sat there listening to the work, I could feel, actually physically feel, his desire, his agony at not being able to be with her, how heartbroken he was. Tears were streaming down my cheeks. I've not had such a reaction to a composition since.........but since I'm still attending the Chamber series--there's always hope!”
            Have fun, be entertained.  That’s enough.  But art can change lives.  It’s happening right now, right here in Charleston

If You Go:
Piccolo and Spoleto Festival USA are May 22 to June 7:

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Interpreting the Forest


            “Take a guess.  What’s that thing for?” Joel asked while pointing to a telephone- pole-size, wooden post shaped like a giant 7 stuck along the gravel road in the Nantahala National Forest.  “A nesting place?  Maybe a roosting spot?” I guessed.  “No, the park service built if for flying squirrels to cross the road.”  From anyone else, this tidbit would have made us skeptical.  We’d have asked how the squirrels knew to cross at that particular place.  And why do they need it since there’s almost no traffic at all?  Also, flying squirrels?  Really?  But hiking with Kathy and Joel Zachry is like having translators in a foreign country.  They speak forest fluently.  You could attribute it to his 30 year career as a college biology teacher or their 50 years of combined experience hiking and leading trips.  But it’s their passion for the natural world that really distinguishes them.
            When Joel retired in 1999 he anticipated missing the field trips he’d taken with his students.  So he and Kathy, a medical products company vice president, started their company GOAT (Great Outdoor Adventure Travel).  Its name refers to the couple’s pet fainting goats.  “They just pass out and fall down when they’re scared,” Kathy explained with obvious amusement.  It also refers to the animal’s sure-footedness.  Each year the couple leads hikes and workshops at a variety of venues including at J.C. Campbell Folk School, The Swag Country Inn, the Arrowmont School and even to Alaska where they've been over 25 times.  They also lead multi-day hikes on the Appalachian Trail and are particularly proud of their work with the Smoky Mountain Field School.  That 30-year old, award-winning program offers one-day and longer programs on various aspects of nature within the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.  As the program directors, the Zachrys help arrange the 60 classroom and field offerings taught by a diversified host of experts serving over 700 students a year.
            “Look at the hillside,” Joel said while gesturing across a steep slope. “Notice there are no tall trees.  They were all harvested 50 to 100 years ago.”  He led us to imagine how that was accomplished in those days:  miles of cables strung across the rocky terrain, mammoth rolling logs careening to the river, the impossibly strenuous work and the arduous lifestyle it required.  Another stop was along the gravel forest road that had recently collapsed and been repaired.  He wanted us to admire the engineering work.  They are thrilled with the emerging trillium that are sprouting despite  the recent snowfall. “There is a greater diversity of plant life in North Carolina than in all of Europe,” Joel pointed out.  They seem to know the name and medicinal uses for most every one of them.
 They make us stop to examine droppings.  “Notice the hair in it, “Kathy says as she prodded the poo with her walking stick.  “What animal was it and what did it eat?” They point out the symptoms of the disease challenges facing the piney forest and the Joyce Kilmer nearby.
            I joined their entourage during my stay at Snowbird Lodge in Robbinsville, N.C.  It’s one of several places where the Zachrys offer daily hikes and evening naturalist talks as an amenity.  I was surprised to learn that many of the inn’s guests had come not knowing about the free hikes.  For me it was the selling point.  Their promise of safety, maximized enjoyment and minimized worry had attracted me. Their familiarity with the dozens of hiking trails eliminated my having to do any research or to bumble around looking for trailheads.  The March weather varied like a light switch:  spring to winter, warm to cold.  This early in the season, trails were obscured by leaves and not recently used.  I would have thought we were lost without their confident strides ahead of us as we walked across the frosty, rocky terrain one day and to the sunny foot of a waterfall the next.
         The Zachrys are also experts on bears.  In fact they've written a book about it, Bears We’ve Met .  Although there are about two bears per square mile in the Smoky Mountains, “Black bear rarely attack humans with fewer than 60 human fatalities within the last 100 years …” Joel writes.  When they’re startled, they chomp, huff and snort which are merely anxious blusterings and not signs of imminent attack.    So he advises to make yourself as large as possible by spreading your arms, to back away slowly and to not run which triggers a pursuit response. “They have very little interest in eating us…of course there are always exceptions to that.”  Fortunately the only anxious blusterings  I heard were the hikers trudging uphill as we marveled at spring emerging in one of the most beautiful parts of our country.   

If you Go

Sunday, March 29, 2015

A Beach Vacation without the Crowds

            If your vacation calls for a detox from the debilitating effects of modern life, if you’re craving a big dose of nature, you’ll be happy to hear that your remedy is only a 20 minute boat ride from the Isle of Palms.  Step aboard the hourly ferry and exhale.  You’ll feel like the King or Queen of the Nile as you cruise the Intracoastal Waterway to the parallel universe of Dewees Island.  No traffic lights, just trees; no cars, just golf carts; no noise, just birdcalls and lots of peace and quiet.  Over 95% of the 1,200 acre island is in its natural state with only 64 secluded houses flanked by one of the most pristine and private beaches in the country. 

            In 1989 Hurricane Hugo decimated the coast and left Dewees Island’s habitat in tatters.  Two years later John Knott surveyed the damage and claimed that "the environment and development are natural allies." He envisioned building a community with environmental considerations as the cornerstone. Dewees’website brags that “all the rules of traditional beachfront real estate development were broken,” in a “process driven by restoration, preservation, not destruction and removal.”  Private boat docks, golf courses and manicured lawns are prohibited.  Homeowners are required to use indigenous plants, natural surfaced driveways and energy- and water-efficient designs.  Dunes were renourished using boardwalks, sand fencing and the requirement that all houses be built away from the shore.  The result is a self-selected group of environmentally attuned homeowners.  About 12 families live full time on the island.  Two or three even send their children to school on the mainland, commuting by ferry. The kids’ unique perspectives are derived from a combination of learning with their peers and running barefoot in the freedom of their island home.  Luckily, many of the homes are available for vacation rental.
    Some of the allure of visiting Dewees is the proximity of Charleston, especially for those who live elsewhere.  But many locals take advantage of the destination for romantic weekends or extended family gatherings. Often there’s a matriarch or patriarch who has the means to be the host and the desire to create priceless family memories.  “Kids love it out there.  They feel like Huck Finn,” says Emily Watson of Dewees Rentals.  Readers who’ve envied the lifestyle of island children growing up in the 1950’s as described in Josephine Humphrey’s Sullivan’s Island will find it here.  Kids can run around unattended, crabbing and fishing and exploring without danger.  Family time might include hitting the beach at sunrise with the island’s turtle team to identify nests or help hatchings scamper to the water.  Kayaks sit ready to grab and explore for alligators and birds in the marshes. The resident naturalist and two summer interns lead programs like creek floats, fishing, crabbing and a colorful golf cart parade.  Adults can enjoy concerts, art shows and happy hours in the beautiful Huyler House community room.  A salt water swimming pool, tennis courts, game room with ping pong, a nature center, fishing and crabbing docks and picnic tables on most beach boardwalks add to the fun. 

            Every house is unique.  Right beside the Huyler House community room are one-bedroom condos that adjoin the pool and can comfortably sleep two for under $2,000 a week.  The top of the line Ocean Retreat provides three bedrooms (two are master suites), a gourmet kitchen, exquisite artwork, sprawling screened porches and an ocean view for $4,000 per week.  Most houses have a few staples in the kitchen but vacationing on Dewees requires planning and simplifying.  Few clothes are needed but packing the food is tricky.  Ferry passengers are often hauling carefully packed bins knowing they can’t run down to the corner for milk or juice. There are wheeled carts at the boat Summer rentals fill up fast, often six months in advance. 
docks to help load the luggage and two hospitality interns are on hand during the summer to greet new arrivals.   Once on the island, all transportation is by golf carts which are included as part of the house rental fee.  Bicycles are also a great way to experience the island and can be transported on the ferry.  One guest remarked, “The lack of automobiles alone brought me back several shades of sanity.”
            The inconveniences of the location have been minimized as much as possible.  In the case of emergency, there are fire and medical responders on the island and a helipad.  Trash and recycling is handled by barge. Some things just require patience.   I’ve often seen painters and plumbers on the ferry headed to do repairs and barges of building materials, even bulldozers, en route.  But Dewees visitors and residents happily accept these obstacles as the trade-off for the simplicity, luxury and seclusion of Dewees. 

Dewees Island rentals:

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Misadventures in Paradise


            This was not the greeting I expected as my husband and I checked in at the Charleston airport for a long awaited trip to St. Lucia. “I’m not going to be able to issue your boarding passes because your passports expire in less than 90 days.” 
            “But we’re only going for a week.  We’ll still have more than two months remaining on them when we return,” I said.
            We insisted; we cajoled; we pleaded.  The plane left without us. 
            “I can’t imagine being more disappointed than I am right now,” I said as we sat in the cafĂ© fuming.  I’d spent months securing a writing gig at a luxurious hotel and arranging for complicated family responsibilities.  We had just finished 11 days of hosting over 20 family members during which the image of the St. Lucian hotel room, perched on a mountainside overlooking the ocean and twin peaks, had sustained me.  We had to fix it.  Even though it was barely 7 AM, we began making frantic phone calls:  trip insurance (no claim for this), the St. Lucia hotel, passport offices, the governor’s office (they’d help but it would take a few days) and American Airlines (they’d had our passport expiration dates since I’d booked the tickets months ago). 
The room we never saw. 

            This was not our first misadventure.   Twice we’d booked hotel rooms in far-flung places and bailed when we got there.  The remote beach and rocky shore in the Cayman Islands was unsuitable for our family with young children.  It only took one look at the garbage-strewn shore and dirty water in the Dominican Republic for us to rent a car and drive elsewhere. It had even happened closer to home at a chain hotel during the Savannah Jazz Festival.   The room reeked of cigarettes so we complained to the manager who said,  “If you think that room smells bad, you should come to my house.  It’s much worse.”  Uh, no thanks. 
            Mention misadventures and everyone has a story.  Two people told of missing trips abroad because their passports had too many stamps in them.  Not enough empty pages!  One of them was trying to leave on an expensive African safari he’d bought in a charity auction and lost thousands of dollars. 
            The worst misadventures involve the police.  We were stopped by two policemen in the Caribbean who showed us their radar gun indicating we’d been driving 2 miles over the speed limit.  It was a shake-down.  We gave them enough cash to buy themselves a nice lunch and drove off.  Our friend Jay wasn’t as lucky in New Orleans when a driver cut in front of him and his wife as they jogged across the street.  “What are you doing man?  You almost hit us!” he yelled as he swatted at the driver through an open window.  “I’m arresting you for assault, that’s what,” said the policeman in the unmarked car.  Instead of a weekend at the Jazz and Heritage Festival, he stewed in jail awaiting bail.
            Some misadventures require the police.  My widely travelled friends Steve and Laurie only found out afterwards that their cruise ship on the Nile had been fired upon by bandits from the shore while they slept. My friend Randy tells about taking a cab from La Guardia with an extremely agitated driver who continuously yelled into a cell phone while obsessively clawing with a back scratcher and repeatedly stopping in the middle of the expressway.  She dialed 911, poised to hit “send”.  Her son said later, “Sounds like a meth addict”.             
            Often misadventures end well.  My friend Ed recounts, “We took a red-eye and landed at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport early in the morning. Our brains were half-asleep.  Before we got out of the airport, I went to a money-changing kiosk to cash in dollars for Euros to rent a lovely apartment in Anne Frank's neighborhood.” He exchanged $1300 and took a cab across town to pay the landlord but discovered that he only had the equivalent of $650. “I took a cab back to the airport, talked my way through security, and got to the kiosk. I told the lady that I was a total idiot, but that I had walked away without checking my money. ‘I never make mistakes,’ she said, ‘but I will count today's cash.’ In another minute, the supervisor appeared with $650 in Euros. I instantly fell in love with the Dutch people.”
At Copamarina Resort in Guanica, Puerto Rico
            Back in Charleston I was very discouraged.  “I have bathing suits and flip flops in my suitcase. We are not going home.  We’re going somewhere warm!  Today!”  I insisted.  On the phone with American Airlines my husband asked the essential question, “Where can we exchange these tickets to go today that’s warm and doesn’t require a passport?”  Within 24 hours we were wading in the Caribbean in Puerto Rico.  “We fixed it.”  I sighed.  It had paid to be flexible and proved once again that the difference between a trip and an adventure is when things don’t go as planned. 

Check document requirements and find help abroad here:

Friday, January 23, 2015

Boogie (Half-way) Down!

            What happened to my generation?  We joyfully danced in the mud at Woodstock and in the street with Martha and the Vandellas.  I hope we’re not getting stodgy and leaving all the fun for the younger music lovers.  There are plenty of chances within a half day’s drive of Charleston to jump back into the conga line.  Heck, we may even enjoy it more than we used to.  Age does have its advantages.  For example:   
  1. We don’t have to sleep on the ground, in the rain.  We’re totally comfortable insisting that comfort matters. At the Lake Eden Arts Festival in North Carolina you can make a pot of coffee and sip it on your bunkhouse porch as you listen to the music begin down the hillside.  At The Spirit of Suwannee Music Fest in Live Oak Florida you can even buy a park cabin to stay in. Or get really comfy at a B&B like Virginia’s Ambrosia Farms where breakfast comes right from the garden and Floydfest is just up the road.    
  2. Or we can sleep on the ground in the rain but not hassle with setting up. Strap your gear to a wagon and slide it onto the nifty trailer pulled by the shuttle buses at Floydfest.  They’ll dropyou right off at the campground ready to go.  Or drive your RV and make new friends.  Or check out any of the 8 Southeastern festivals where Dancin’ Dave’s Festival Camping “takes the rough out of roughing it” by setting up a first class campsite including everything from tents to portable showers. 
  3.  We can pay to play now. We may have been hippies or yippies or yuppies.    But now we can be VIP’s.  Ante up to sit on the stage, share a toast with the performers, get special parking, check in early and enjoy the swag of privilege.  Floydfest’s high rollers get benefits ranging from fully catered meals and bar to backstage massages.  At the Hangout Festival in Alabama, VIP’s can even enjoy the music from a stage-side hot tub.   We’re big shots now. We earned it.

4.  We invented “get your freak on”.  We embarrassed our children for decades and furthermore we’re old enough to not care what anyone thinks of us.  What’s in the back of your closet?  Tie-dye, gauze skirts, kilts and a belly-dance outfit? Glitter?  Feathers?  Why not?  Now post that photo on your Facebook page and tag your kids.
5.  It’s not just about the music.  There’s kayaking and fun runs, stand-up paddle boarding and bungee jumps, journaling and slam poetry, craft making and yoga. And that’s just what’s offered through many festivals.  Nearby there are fine restaurants, antique shopping, historic sights and wineries.  Explore, take a breather.  No one’s the boss of you.
6.  We've been there and done that so we know that the best moments at festivals are not always among the hordes. At the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival where the crowds at the headliner stage are the size of our hometown populations, we escape.  A few steps away, in the smaller tents, transcendent musical moments await.  Or we pick a smaller festival to begin with, like MerleFest in Wilkesboro, N.C. We can see Bruce Springsteen better on TV anyhow.
7.  We have an app for that.  We may have learned from our kids but now we’re adept at downloading the schedules to our cellphones, using Youtube to plan the bands to catch and buying music online afterwards.  We help each other by sharing earplugs and giving advice  such as the wife in front of Floydfest’s main stage that was overheard telling her husband, “You might want to take out your hearing aid for this band honey, it looks like it will be a little loud”.
8.  “Be Here Now” is our generation’s motto.  We know where the off-switch is on our phones.  We don’t watch the world through a viewfinder.  We don’t need to tweet, text and tantalize our friends.  Hush; be still, we’re listening to the music.
9.  We have more fun when we’re not vomiting.  We were young too.  We have a repertoire of stories of stupid things we did while we were high or drunk.  But now we have the wisdom gained from experience.  We calibrate our intakes for maximum enjoyment.
10.  We’re like Buddy Guy.  Many of our musical heroes crashed and burned early, leaving only their nascent music behind.  Then there are the ones who we’ve grown older with. They’re the soundtrack of our lives. Our own dance party.  When Buddy Guy sings, “I’m 74 years young and I still know how to have my fun” we aren’t  too shy to shout “right on”.
If You Go:
Find a festival and go at

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Afternoon Adventures to Do This Year

            After you've visited the greatest-hits that every nature loving Charlestonian should know, a wealth of destinations remain to be enjoyed in just an afternoon.  Hopefully you’ve been to Middleton and Magnolia Plantations, Cypress Gardens, Mepkin Abbey, Brookgren Gardens and our wonderful county parks.  Now get off the beaten track on these couldn't-be-closer road trips.    
            A walk in the woods.  Stretch your legs at the informative and nearby I’On Swamp Trail in the Francis Marion Forest.  Just a few minutes north of Mt. Pleasant, this one mile walk is easy enough for children.  The well maintained path crosses embankments built by slaves in the 1700’s.  Interpretive signs tell of when South Carolina produced 90% of the country’s rice and the Charleston Gold variety was world renown. Today, the area is home to river otters, a myriad of birds, alligators and turtles.  It’s free and always open. 
        Up for something a little longer?  The most beautiful trail in the forest begins nearby at the Awendaw Canoe Launch at the end of   Rosa Green Road in Awendaw and runs seven miles to Buck Hall Landing.  Take out of towners here if you want them to move to Charleston. It’s a walk right into a Pat Conroy novel.  You’ll enjoy extensive vistas of the marsh as the trail undulates through the forest and back towards Awendaw Creek.  Trailside benches invite quiet contemplation.   The Buck Hall end has the advantage of bathrooms and a picnic area but the Rosa Green end is closer to Mt. PleasantThis Awendaw Passage is seven miles of the Palmetto Trail which extends over 400 miles from Buck Hall to the S.C. mountains and has many segments that are worth exploring.  Buck Hall charges a small user fee and the trail is open all year. Trail map.
            The perfect bike ride:  About an hour out of town, just north of McClellanville, is the Santee Coastal Reserve.  If you have a mountain or beach bike, it was made for this place.  A bird watcher’s paradise, the 24,000 acre reserve offers trails on the former rice fields and through maritime forests bordering the Intracoastal Waterway and South Santee River.  It couldn't be easier to ride or walk here.  It’s flat, gorgeous and huge enough to provide a full day of enjoyment.  The is no entrance fee but check their website for the few days it’s closed for hunting each year.
            A sunny winter day is perfect for a trip to Lake Moultrie and a walk or bike ride upon the dike.  Looking across the open lake vista, you might imagine you’re in Italy or somewhere else exotic but a few miles later you’ll be back in the Deep South at Bonneau Beach enjoying a great seafood lunch.  Start at the Canal Recreation Area off Hwy. 52 north of Moncks Corner where you’ll go through a short stretch of pine forest before you scramble onto the dike. Simply ride or walk along as far as you’d like and circle back.  Maps for the Palmetto Trail.
            Or explore from you car.  Fifty miles south of Charleston is Botany Bay Wildlife Management Area.  Whether you drive, bike or hike the scenic 6 ½ miles you’ll transverse forests, agricultural fields and coastal wetlands while stopping at the fifteen points of interest described on a map given at the entrance.  Learn about the history and agriculture and stroll the surreal driftwood covered beach.   Highlights include the grounds of Bleak Hall Plantation with its picturesque ice house and tabby shed. Volunteers man the entrance and beach path, making sure no one takes any seashells but there’s no entrance fee. 
            Water adventures are plentiful too.  My favorites are with Coastal Expeditions which offers guided and independent kayak excursions from Shem Creek and the spectacular Bull’s Island Ferry trip which is not to be missed.  Or check out Barrier Island Eco Tours which leaves from the Isle of Palms.  Marine scientists will introduce you to new discoveries on the way to Capers Island or scouting for dolphins. 
          Watery highlights for me this year were my boat trips with Captain Richard’s Fisheagle Tours A relaxing and informative day of cruising Lake Marion was a perfect summer outing.  The views were wonderful and Captain Richard shared his extensive knowledge of fish, birds and history with us. In October I cruised through the Pinopolis Dam and up the Tail Race Canal with him.  What a spectacle to go through the locks on a boat!  A bonus was that the tour leaves from Gilligan’s Restaurant in Moncks Corner where we had a great waterside lunch afterwards.
               Many of these day trips require very little planning.  You can wake up with some time to spare, check the weather and go.  Most are free.  You don’t need a hotel reservation and you can drive yourselves there.  So what are you waiting for?  There are adventures at your doorstep.