Monday, November 25, 2013

The Latvian School of Chicago

One of the cornerstones of the Latvian society in Chicago is the Krišjāņa Barona latviešu skola (KBLS), the Latvian School of Chicago. The elementary and high school was founded in 1950 by Latvian immigrants who fled to the United States from Latvia after WWII, and moved to the present location at the Chicago Latvian Zion Church on Montrose Avenue in 1976. The stated objective of the school is to “involve children and youth in Latvian community life, and to provide interested families and their children a program of instruction in the Latvian language, culture, history and current events.” The school uses the American Latvian Association curriculum as a basis for its program, and there are a growing number of children who homeschool through KBLS in cities that don’t have Latvian school programs.

I graduated KBLS in 1998, after 14 years of Saturdays spent in the kindergarten, elementary and high school classrooms learning how to dance traditional Latvian folk dances, play the kokle (a wooden string instrument most similar to the zither), soldering silver jewelry with Latvian motifs and amber inlays, and making friends and connections that will stay with me for years to come. In a sense I am extremely lucky to have had the opportunity, as there are only 10 to 15 year-round Latvian schools in the US, in addition to the 3 summer programs and one or two preschools. However, none of these are in South Carolina, and short of starting up a program ourselves, Lauris and Mikus will not have this opportunity – which is why we jumped at the chance to visit the Lāčbērni preschool class while in Chicago.

Lauris sporting a Nīcas costume

It was like a French reunion as our friends from Chatenet, France were also in town visiting. All three boys spent the morning working on their counting and sorting skills, practicing their letters and phonetics, and learning about the traditional Latvian folk costumes. Lauris immediately recognized his old friends from the Biz Biz program he attended this summer in Gaŗezers, and even though Mikus preferred the train table to the school table I believe he did get something of value out of the morning’s lessons.

After lunch in the cafeteria we stayed on to bake some piparkūkas (the Latvian Christmas cookie), lending a hand with the community cookie bake. The results will be sold at the annual Christmas market, with proceeds benefitting the school. The next bake will be on December 7th, so I urge all you Chicagoans reading this to pencil it in your calendars and go pitch in; it was a fun time socializing over a cup of coffee and the cookie cutters, and everyone is welcome to join in.

Lobster claws!!!

Then snow pants, gloves and hats went on, and the three friends ventured out to the playground. The boys had prime spots to watch planes passing overhead on their approach to O’Hare airport, but soon even this couldn’t distract them from the cold wind on exposed noses and cheeks…

After helping decorate the scout and guide Christmas tree we watched folk dancing rehearsals, laughing at our polka memories as both of us moms had danced similar steps in the very same room many years ago. Another cup of coffee, more antics on behalf of the boys and soon it was time to head to grandmother’s house for time with family and a delicious dinner. A big thank you to the Latvian School of Chicago for so graciously accepting us into their fold Saturday, and maybe one day we’ll be joining the ranks of Latvian school students homeschooling with the KBLS materials.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Celebrating Latvian Independence Day in Greenville SC

For the second year in a row we’ve had the pleasure of hosting the South Carolina Latvians (and a few from North Carolina and Georgia!) to celebrate Latvia’s Independence Day. Where the previous year’s event was a bit hastily put together, this year’s fête was a good month in the making and all the bases were covered. The guests arrived bearing dishes to share and were soon snacking on homemade pīrāgi; we could have even had a taste-off, as two recipes were represented! The highlight was delicious smoked salmon and whitefish all the way from Atlanta Smokehouse Products in Marietta, GA; if you live in the Atlanta area I highly recommend this savory seafood for a special occasion, or even just dinner – delicious! (And for those elsewhere, they do ship...)
After a satisfying meal we turned our attention to the projector that Roberts had set up to broadcast the President of Latvia, Andris Bērziņš’ annual 18th of November address to Latvians living outside of Latvia. Short but eloquent, followed with the Latvian hymn and a toast to Latvia on its 95th birthday.
No Latvian party is complete without kliņģeris (the traditional Latvian saffron birthday bread) and a dessert spread, and we dove right in. With everything from Southern specialties like pumpkin cake and salted caramel-chocolate pecan pie, to a cherry-cream cake Kārumniece all the way from Latvia, by the time the last plate had been cleared we were all stuffed and sated.

With 37 of us (almost double the guests we had last year) we had a cozy celebration, and the kids had just as much fun as the adults, running around until far past their bedtimes. It seems that every year we discover more of “us” living here in the Upstate; this year we were joined by a Latvian and his wife that has been living here thirty years and thought he was the only one – “there are others!?”
I’m honored to have been able to host this gathering: an opportunity to celebrate our shared heritage, commemorate the 95th birthday of a country I so strongly identify with, and build on our own little corner of Latvia here in the Upstate. Sveiks svētkos!

Last year’s post on November 18th18. novembris Greenville

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Autumn in downtown Greenville

We love visitors, because they let us show off all of our favorite spots in Greenville and give us an excuse to revisit places we might not otherwise make it to as often as we would like. Day two with Daina (day 1 here) started off with pancakes (paldies Daina!) after which we headed downtown to search for the Mice on Main. We had obviously not been to this end of N. Main in a little bit because we really had to search for the first mouse; the open book that explains this Greenville scavenger hunt (along with Marvin the mouse) has been moved again, along with the boulder it was mounted on after being removed from the fountain prior to the remodel of the area. It’s just across NOMA square, close to Roost restaurant…

A pause with Mr. Poinsett allowed us to share another neat tidbit about Greenville with our guest; this first US Minister to Mexico introduced the poinsettia plant (known for its red and green foliage) to the United States in 1825. Nearby, the artificial turf in front of the Courtyard Marriot had been removed in preparation for the opening of Ice on Main on November 29th.

We cut through the Peace Center plaza to the TD Stage at the Peace Center, a relatively new part of Falls Park. I had never before seen the old grist mill with a tent inside, and my thoughts drifted back to a most romantic wedding dinner we attended there seven years ago (although sans tent). I prefer the structure as it was then, open to the elements with twinkling white lights strung about, but with the colder temperatures I can imagine the lure of having an enclosed structure.

Looping around we crossed Liberty Bridge before descending down to take a look at the enormous beech tree with exposed roots on Howe St. Although the top half of the tree had already lost its leaves, you would never know it looking from the bottom up. Strolling along the river and falls we admired the fall foliage and slowly made our way back to the splash pad across the river from the TD Stage. The shooting water jets had been turned off for the winter, but the fountains leading up to River Place were still flowing, with a vibrant yellow gingko tree standing in the center.

The afternoon was pleasantly passed doing some shopping in the West End, and before seeing off our guest the following day we managed to squeeze in a trip to the Greenville zoo and a stop at Swamp Rabbit Cafe & Grocery. Having a visitor made it feel like the holiday season is starting early this year, and the festivities continued with Monday’s 18. novembris celebration…

Monday, November 18, 2013

Sveiciens svētkos and another guest come and gone

Happy Latvian Independence Day! For a quick background, please read my post 18. novembris. Last year we invited our local Latvians over to celebrate, and the evening was such a success that we are hosting everyone again tonight; this means that as you read I am furiously scraping banana and oatmeal off the floor and vacuuming up cheerios from all corners of the house.

Brīvības piemineklis, the Freedom Monument in Rīga, Latvija
Last weekend was much more relaxed as a friend from the east coast was visiting, giving us the opportunity to play tourist in Greenville, do some shopping and eating out, and to take our usual tour of the Upstate. At our traditional first stop, Wildcat Wayside, we noticed several improvements have been made to the trails: in addition to informational placards and trail blazes, landscaping has drastically changed the formerly muddy slope at the base of the Lower Wildcat Falls. We hiked the loop to the Upper Wildcat Falls, enjoying the colorful foliage and fresh air. At the old chimney we learned from a brand new sign that this area was originally established as a Park during the Great Depression; the National Park Service was experimenting with small wayside parks along major highways utilizing a New Deal workforce and providing picnicking, fishing and hiking to newly mobile American.

The small falls above Lower Falls on the left, and Upper Falls on the right
The views from Bald Rock were different as well, the forests below dressed in the bright colors of autumn. The post Zinta and the Blue Ridge Escarpment explains the geography of the area for those interested.

A quick walk through Devil’s Kitchen (the long crevice that leads from the overlook on Caesar’s Head to the view of the park’s namesake rock feature) and a break for lunch at one of the picnic tables at Caesar's Head State Park left us refreshed but slightly chilly.

There was a bluegrass festival occurring at Table Rock State Park. Daina and I took the rare opportunity to view the interior of the lodge, one of the CCC built structures within the park. The second floor was packed wall to wall with bluegrass aficionados, but the first floor was completely empty, leaving us free to explore. This lodge is the first place I’ll reserve when we organize a family reunion here in SC; everyone can stay in the park cabins and come together in the lodge: drinking coffee on the deck, rocking in front of the giant fireplace or sharing meals in the beautiful pine dining hall.

A quick stop at the Visitor Center and lake, then on to Pumpkintown, after which we headed south back to Greenville and a huge dinner at Henry’s Smokehouse. We still had plenty to show our guest, but it would have to wait until the next day.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Veterans Day in Greenville

"To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…" - President Wilson upon proclaiming November 11th as Armistice Day in November of 1919

Although the end of World War II only came with the Treaty of Versailles on June 28th of 1919, November 11th is generally considered as the end of the war, as the armistice between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. On June 1st, 1954, after WWII and the Korean War, Armistice Day became a day to honor American veterans of all wars, not just the first World War.

While living in France, Veterans Day coincided with our visit to Normandy one year. I was pregnant with Mikus, and Lauris was too young to understand the meaning of the memorials and cemeteries we visited. Last year we talked also about Lāčplēša diena, the Latvian commemorative holiday marking the anniversary of the Latvian national army's victory 94 years ago today, but it was still too soon. This year, coming soon on the heels of a visit to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island (while I was viewing Frank Lloyd Wright’s Auldbrass Plantation), once again the topic of Veterans Day was brought up, this time at the Greenville County Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Lauris seemed to understand the concept of a memorial this time, although I believe there will be more questions in the coming days.

Located in Cleveland Park just south of the Greenville Zoo, the memorial reminds me a little of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC, which Lauris and I visited last year around this time. Adjacent are several more plaques and stones: one in honor of those who served in Grenada, Lebanon, Panama and the Persian Gulf, another dedicated to veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam, a bench commemorating 63rd Troop Carrier Wing (H) and a Garden Club tribute to the Armed Forces of America.

Set near an often-used hiking/biking trail, just next to a quiet brook and mini-park, I am sure hundreds will pass by this Veterans Day weekend. I wish for all to have the chance to reflect on the sacrifices by our veterans and those defending our country and way of life, as well as the sacrifices of the families of our soldiers and veterans. Thank you - not only on this day of commemoration, but every day; may we prove ourselves worthy of your sacrifice.

-There will be a wreath laying and flag retirement ceremony at the memorial at 1pm today, for those in the Greenville area.
-An article published in the Fayetteville Observer detailing one Latvians military career: From Latvia to Fort Bragg, Charles Brigis had a remarkable military career. According to his grandson, the report omits "that he was a champion US marksman for the International Force in occupied Austria, (that he) found (his) son in Europe after believing he was dead, (and that he) earned a second Purple Heart in Vietnam."
-This educational infographic helps explain the significance of Lāčplēša diena and the events leading up to it: What is Lāčplēša diena?

Friday, November 8, 2013

Auldbrass - the Frank Lloyd Wright plantation

One of only two Frank Lloyd Wright properties in South Carolina, Auldbrass is the only plantation designed by the famous architect. The sprawling project near Yemassee is among the largest and most complex he ever undertook and Wright worked on it, off and on, from 1938 until his death in 1959. Currently owned by Hollywood producer Joel Silver, the property is opened to viewing once every two years… and I was so lucky as to obtain a ticket to tour this famous estate on my birthday.

Doors leading from the living room to the pool patio
My affinity for Frank Lloyd Wright architecture is based on two factors: growing up near Oak Park, Illinois, (with the world's largest collection of Frank Lloyd Wright designed buildings and houses, 25 structures in all) and studying architecture at the University of Illinois. I finished with a degree in in forestry instead, but the love of Wright’s ground-hugging, straight-lined architecture never left me. Upon researching another Frank Lloyd Wright home in South Carolina I discovered Wright’s only plantation is a mere 3 hour drive from Greenville.

View of bedrooms from direction of gardens
We spent the weekend in the area, exploring Hunting Island State Park and Beaufort on Saturday. On Sunday, after stopping at the Old Sheldon Church ruins, the boys dropped me off at the geometric gates to the plantation where a crowd had already gathered. At exactly 10am the gates swung open and I joined everyone in walking down the linear, crushed red brick roadway leading to the main house.

Looking in direction of main house from entrance
In 1938 wealthy industrial consultant C. Leigh Stevens convinced Frank Lloyd Wright to design him a southern plantation, one that would stay true to The South while addressing issues of contemporary use and economics. He had pieced together 4,253 acres in the lowlands of South Carolina including the Old Brass (or Jackson) tract that eventually gave Auldbrass its name. Construction began in the fall of 1940 but was soon put on hold as World War II and the materials shortages afterwards brought things to a halt. In addition, the unusual design proved to frustrate local builders, and mounting costs and additional demands by Stevens complicated the project immensely over those two decades.

Plan of Auldbrass, borrowed from tour booklet
However, progress was slowly made, and Wright christened the project “Auldbrass”, a nod to the “Old Brass” tract that had been incorporated into the property. He worked on it up until his death in 1959, and Stevens died three years later leaving Auldbrass half unfinished. When Stevens’ daughter sold the estate to a hunt club twenty years later it fell into disrepair, and despite being added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, by the 1980’s it was almost in ruins.

Road leading between caretaker's house (right) and the sportsman closet
Abandoned and overgrown, the property was purchased by Joel Silver, producer of such movies as The Matrix, Lethal Weapon and Die Hard in 1986 for $148,000. After retaining Eric Lloyd Wright (the grandson of Frank Lloyd Wright), Silver set about to rebuild and restore Auldbrass to the original vision. By 2002, all of Wright’s surviving buildings were restored as originally intended, and the Wright-designed buildings that had been destroyed and altered were rebuilt. Silver hoped to realize Wright’s original plans by finishing the remaining projects as envisioned by the architect, and finally to add necessary, new buildings in a complimentary way that would not intrude on the original. On my visit I was able to visit one of the three new guest cottages, and plans are supposedly in place to build Wright’s design for a guest house and a floating dining barge.

Covered walkway along pool leading from main house to site of future guest house
The lines of all the buildings are reflected in Wright's logo for Auldbrass, a stylized arrow; his nod to the iconography of the Yemassee Indians who inhabited the area before the arrival of the British. The motif is cut into panels under the eaves, is painted on the Auldbrass fleet of vehicles (which are the same shade of brick red Wright had all his cars painted) and is even reflected in the shape of the swimming pool.

I started my tour in the main house, understanding that the lines would only get longer. After donning booties to cover my shoes we were allowed into the living room in groups of 12-15, from which we emerged on the deck of the swimming pool. The rest of the house – kitchen, dining room and bedrooms – we could observe through the windows, and as no photography was allowed in any of the buildings, I have little to show you in terms of interior. I suggest finding a copy of De Long & Gilson's Auldbrass: Frank Lloyd Wright’s southern plantation, which was instrumental in my research and has beautiful photographs of all aspects of the structures and grounds.

Living room windows from Cypress Lake side
The hexagonal pool, octagonal hot tub, geometric diving board and shaded beach chair area were perfectly inviting. Built recently to Wright’s specifications (except only half as deep, as the Southern soil wouldn't allow for the originally intended), the outward sloping walls of the pool make the pool appear twice as deep.

Looking towards main house, site of future guest house to the right
Circling around to the gardens I admired two of the Sprites on property, reproductions from Wright’s Midway Gardens in Chicago. The topiaries were true to Wright’s form, long diagonals and low-lying lines.

Gardens, with covered walkway and pool beyond
The patio area also had evidence of Midway Gardens; the chairs were obviously Wright replicas. I loved the decorative elements that had been placed on the tables; cypress knees with succulents, which reflected the beautiful trees on Cypress Lake in miniature form.

Patio next to living room on Cypress Lake side
My very first impression of the property was of opposites, as the angled roadways and linear structures are in great contrast to the sweeping live oaks and dripping Spanish moss. But a minor feature has effortlessly tied everything together – the downspouts Wright designed represent that same Spanish moss. As copper was difficult to find after the War, regular drainpipes were used in construction. Since they visually ruined the effect of the cantilevered overhangs, Wright designed wood pendants to hang at the corners, but it was only recently during Joel Silver’s renovations that the intended copper downspouts have truly brought the house into harmony with the giant oaks scattered about the grounds. With true attention to detail the grates under the downspouts are Wright designed.

Standing outside bedrooms looking towards living room and adjacent patio
I continued on to the stables, kennels, offices and multimedia room (caretaker's house) complex. The same low roofline, diagonal elements, copper downspouts; local cedar was used in all construction, and the mitered corners and hexagonal motifs guarantee that right angles are hard to find – all the walls are slanted inwards at an eighty-one degree angle. The multimedia room was formerly the caretaker’s house, but now is a showcase of Joel Silver’s industry. One entire wall is devoted to movies, and the rest of the room is littered with props and memorabilia from various films. A grand piano, comfy seating, a projector and enormous pull-down screen complete the set; I’m not sure what Wright would have had to say about the modifications, but replicas of his built-in furniture work perfectly with the modern…

Office and laundry, with caretaker's house at far end, visible walkway leads to workshop
From the stables I could see the paddock, which currently held a pair of beautiful horses and zebras; Silver’s collection of exotics include pygmy hippos, long horn cattle and scimitar Oryx. A Siberian lynx passed last year, I would have loved to see it. Even though the zebras didn’t quite fit in, not with the Southern aspect of the plantation, nor with the Frank Lloyd Wright design, the animals didn’t bother me as much as the sculpture collection.

Silver selected the pieces that currently adorn the lawn between the main drive and the pastures, and although there are one or two that fit in such as the reproduction of a lightning standard designed by Alfonzo Iannelli for Midway Gardens, and Adelin Salle’s golden rooster (1930), several others baldly stood out; the Hungarian Communist Party’s celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the runner carrying the hammer and sickle… I found the Italian arm wrestlers and replica of the Augustus Saint-Gaudens sculpture of the goddess Diana (which once topped the tower of the second Madison Square Garden in Philadelphia and now graces the Great Stair Hall of the Philadelphia Museum of Art) interesting, but the biggest treat was The Old Thinker by Henry Clews. One of two casts (the other is in Brookgreen Gardens), there was a slew of symbolism – this site seemed to have a good handle on some of it.

From left: Adelin Salle's rooster, M Del Chiaro's sculpture from Italy, goddess Diana, lightning standard, the two communist pieces and "The Old Thinker"
Between the sculptures and the main house was the aviary. Built recently but as Wright envisioned, it is an open, screened enclosure that houses exotic birds. The hexagonal structure mirrors the floor panels of the home, outbuildings and guest cabins, and was topped by the same copper roof.

Close to River Road are two guest cabins, currently used for staff. Stevens had convinced Wright to move them, as the three in Wright’s plan were located off beyond the stables. Silver plans on adding those three in addition to the guest house, which will be at the end of the swimming pool off the main house. One of the staff cabins was open, and as I stepped in the diagonals practically made me dizzy – a first despite all the crazy angles all over the property. The cabin had two main areas, a screened porch living area separated from the sleeping area. The narrow quarters were overwhelming, I couldn’t stand straight as anywhere I turned everything was on angle. Where the main house and other buildings had the diagonals, they were less obvious; maybe because the long, ground hugging form pulled the eye out and around. But that’s enough of me critiquing the famous architect – I’ll let the guest cabins slide, just this once...

One of two guest cabins
I was disappointed that the tour did not allow for visitors to circle Cypress Lake, as I had hoped to see the canal and boat dock Joel Silver has been working on, as well as take in the view of Auldbrass from across the pond. I settled for a contemplative moment lakeside overlooking the cypresses wearing their fall foliage with the backdrop of brightly colored hardwoods. Turning around to the view of the main house up on the hill I could feel it; Auldbrass belongs there.

Cypress Lake
The gates were to remain open for another two hours, but I had already spent four rambling the grounds. I can only imagine what it must be like to wake up in the bedrooms overlooking Cypress Lake or take an summer evening dip in the pool, but this I know for sure; Auldbrass is extremely lucky to have found so careful a benefactor in Joel Silver. The Frank Lloyd Wright legacy is richer for this one-of-a-kind treasure to have survived, and I am blessed to have been able to explore the plantation in celebration of my thirty-somethingth birthday.

The backside of the main house which faces Cypress Lake
De Long & Gilson, D. (2003). Auldbrass: Frank Lloyd Wright’s southern plantation. New York, NY: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc.

Lee, Matt & Lee, Ted. " Auldbrass Wasn’t Rebuilt in a Day." NY Times Magazine. 30 Nov. 2003.

The horse stables, looking towards the workshop

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A day in Beaufort and area

We drove the three hours southeast on Friday night, the last two through pouring rain that didn’t seem to bode well for the weekend ahead. Having chosen a hotel central to the various destinations of the weekend, we only had an hour to drive the next morning to reach Hunting Island State Park. On our way there we stopped at a rather interesting art gallery, Red Piano Too. The building, built in 1940, was for years a co-op. One-quarter mile from the National Historic Landmark Penn Center, it was the first store in South Carolina to pay people of color with money rather than barter for goods. Renovated in 1999, the gallery has been at the location for over twenty years selling the art of over 150 artists.

We need not have worried so much about the weather, it could not have been much better. After a beautiful day spent on Hunting Island we retraced that morning’s route west to Beaufort. The second oldest city in South Carolina (the oldest being Charleston), it is famous for its antebellum architecture and military establishments: Parris Island, U.S. Naval Hospital and the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. We started our tour in the downtown historic district “The Point”, of which 304 acres have been designated a National Historic Site. Homes like “The Castle” with a massive live oak in the front yard and accompanying legend (Mr. Johnson buried his valuables under the outhouse upon Yankee advance, and returned home just in time to dig them up and pay his back taxes), and Marshlands (used as a hospital during the Civil War) are hidden on small back streets close to the Beaufort River. We saw the Edgar Fripp House (built in 1856 by the wealthy planter for whom nearby Fripp Island is named) and the Francis Hext House, which is one of the oldest structures in Beaufort, dating back to 1720. With the southern culture, live oaks draped in Spanish moss and palatial mansions, it is no wonder the city has often been featured in movies and books: Forces of Nature, Francis Griswold’s A Sea Island Lady, The Big Chill and The Great Santini, to name a few.*

The Rhett House Inn, Beaufort SC
After seafood tapas and a glass of wine at Emily’s we strolled the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park. Built in 1980, the park stretches along the Beaufort River and has a nice mix of walkways and greenspace. We tried out the swinging benches overlooking the water while a wedding party was busy taking photographs in the garden behind us, and then watched the sunset from the playground near the bridge while the kids played on the jungle gym in the shape of a Victorian house.

Beaufort has all the charm of the South Carolina lowcountry, and with its friendly and inviting downtown I hope we have the option to return for further exploration. After a day spent on the beach and exploring this old city, with our stomachs full, we knew it was time to head back to the hotel. The next morning it was a short fifteen minute drive to the Old Sheldon Church Ruins, the historic site of a church originally known as Prince William's Parish Church. The Greek Revival style building was constructed between 1745 and 1753 and then burned by the British in 1779 during the Revolutionary War. Rebuilt in 1826, it once more suffered damage in 1865 during the Civil War. Gutted for materials to rebuild homes burned by Sherman’s army, there has been no roof for 150 years.

Inside the ruins of the church lie the remains of Colonel William Bull, who helped General Oglethorpe in establishing the physical layout of Savannah, Georgia. Other scattered gravestones bear dates past and recent, with some that date before 1700. Set amongst majestic live oaks dripping Spanish moss, the ruins were a sight to see in the early morning sun. How lovely it would be to attend the annual Easter service! As we walked the grounds a couple with a baby showed up for a newborn photography session, and the Beaufort County Open Land Trust was setting up for a barbecue picnic later that day. Nevertheless, there was a pervading sense of calm and quiet that remained with me the rest of the day at nearby Auldbrass, Frank Lloyd Wright’s only plantation. Stay tuned...

*Pat Conroy, the author of the Great Santini, spent many years in Beaufort and his works are largely influenced by the southern lowcountry life. I was excited to see he has a new book out (The Death of Santini), and a local bookstore was advertising a book signing this Sunday, November 10th. If you're in the area...

Monday, November 4, 2013

Hunting Island State Park

It was back to the coast this weekend for a once in a lifetime opportunity (well, more like once every two years, but more on that later), and we decided to make the most of the opportunity and hit the beach. In addition to a three-mile stretch of sand, Hunting Island State Park has a historic lighthouse and was not too far a drive for us - so off we went!

Watching for alligator at the Hunting Island visitor center
Attracting over a million visitors a year, Hunting Island SP is located 30 minutes from Beaufort, SC. With a campground and one cabin to rent (book a year in advance!), it is a great summertime destination for those looking to get away from it all. After a quick stop at the visitor center to get our gator fix for the day we headed to the lighthouse, hoping things would warm up a bit and temperatures would climb out of the “chilly” range for some time on the beach.

Halfway between Savannah and Charleston, the lighthouse served as a gauge for vessels between the two cities for many years. Constructed in 1859, it replaced a lightship on the shoals of St. Helena Sound, but a mere two years later was destroyed by the Confederates so that the Union couldn’t use it. By 1873 a new lighthouse was under construction, one that could be moved inland if the shoreline changed, and in 1875 it was complete. As soon as 1889 the lighthouse had to be moved; it took four months and $51,000 to move it 1.25 miles. In 1933 the lighthouse was decommissioned, although the tower does currently have a functional light in its tower (the light is not used for navigation). For $2 visitors can climb the 167 steps (175 if you include the 8 steps into the lighthouse) for a fantastic view of the Sound, beach, Hunting Island SP and the ocean.

Being November we had expected to have the place to ourselves, but were surprised to find North Beach (adjoining the lighthouse) crowded, as a 5k was just finishing up. The waves could hardly be heard over the loudspeaker blasting music and race results, and so we headed south to find solitude. South beach was just the place, other than a couple other groups enjoying the sunny day on the beach, we were alone. The boys didn’t seem to mind the temperature of the water, although it was a tad cool for me. One enormous sand castle complex later extremities started to get cold, and so we packed up and headed even further south.

With almost ten miles of trails, the State Park provides plenty of opportunities to observe wildlife and explore the nature of Hunting Island. We opted for the Marsh Boardwalk, which ended with great views of the marsh to the east.

At the very south end of the island just before the bridge to Fripp Island, is the fishing pier and nature center. We checked out the snakes, turtles and other aquarium wildlife at the nature center and then walked out on the pier. Extending 1,120 feet out into Fripp Inlet, it’s a popular spot to catch drum, bass, spots, trout, shark, whiting and croaker. A dolphin surfaced not even twenty feet from us, catching me unawares and making me laugh. We peered into a few buckets to see what people had caught, but soon came time to head inland to Beaufort for dinner. As we crossed the miles of marsh back to mainland South Carolina I watched the sun and wind play over the grasses; the sand and surf had brought on a healthy appetite that I was looking forward to satisfying in Beaufort that evening…

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...