Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Hunting Island S.P. Part IV. Tour of Beaufort, S.C.

Click here for the first post in this series.

Standing water here is nearly all gone, as we expected. And weather has warmed a little. But nowhere near what it would take to coax me out onto the water in the Advanced Elements kayak. Which, at any rate, is at home.

Kayak Two women camped in tents across the road proved far more adventurous. Tent camping at this time of year is adventurous enough. But above you see one of them punching through the waves directly in front of the Aliner. And the other well out beyond the surf.

Ah, it’s tempting …. But they appear to be much more experienced, and they’re certainly better equipped! That’s my excuse, anyway.

Instead of venturing off in the kayak, I drove back over to Beaufort today. For a general look around and a horse carriage tour of the Historic District.

Library Statue First, though, a detour to the Beaufort County Public Library. Above is a snap of the nice sculpture at the Library’s front entrance. It’s entitled “Helping Hands,” and is the work of Norman Mannson.

At the Library I met Mr. Dennis Adams, author of the article on Tabby mentioned in an earlier post, and dozens of other Low Country topics over the years. And visited the South Carolina History Room, where Ms. Seabrook helped me find sources that might be of interest.

Everyone at the Beaufort Library was most helpful and generous with their time. But it’s clear that I’m searching for information on the illusive Oqui and his garden in the wrong place. The libraries and historical societies in Charleston are more likely to have any materials available. So, on to Charleston in the not too distant future. Stay tuned.

Beaufort MapBeaufort is an incredible place. There’s so much to see, and so much to learn, that it’s impossible to offer even a superficial treatment of the whole town with just a few paragraphs and photos. Again, you’ll have to experience it for yourself.

The town was preserved from destruction during the 1860s Unpleasantness by occupation of Union troops throughout the War. Immediately after news of the defeat of Confederate forces at Port Royal reached Beaufort, the white population fled in what has become known as The Great Skedaddle. Leaving houses, property, and even food on the table, in some cases. More on this in a later post.

Bay Street Well, where does one start? Usually by parking the car [there’s ample parking most everywhere] and walking up and down Bay Street a couple of times. That’s the southernmost street you see in the map above.

Lots of interesting shops, galleries, and even restaurants. Plenty to see. But don’t forget your wallet. This isn’t the bargain basement part of town! But neither is it “touristy,” in the negative sense of that term. Visitors certainly shop on Bay Street. But so do the locals.

So, have a look around. You’re bound to find something you simply can’t leave Beaufort without. The Bay Street Trading Company, by the way, offers an excellent selection of books on Beaufort and the surrounding area. Including hard-to-find historical treatments.

Debbie and Doc After the shops of Bay Street, an excellent way to get an informed overview of the historic section of Beaufort is by joining one of Walter Gay’s Sea Island Carriage Company tours. Here you see Ms. Debbie and Doc awaiting a new load of passengers.

Building 1Mr. Gay and his large family have lived in the Lowcountry all their lives. And for many generations. I spoke briefly with him about this latest enterprise as he passed by. He requires his tour guides to know what they’re talking about as they clop along Beaufort’s historic streets. Knowing how to handle a horse and carriage isn’t enough.

Building 2 Mr. Gay agreed to do a recorded interview about Beaufort and the Sea Islands one of these days. Should be interesting! So stay tuned.

Church I was lucky to pick a tour conducted by Ms. Debbie. In a carriage pulled by “Doc.” You saw both of them in the photo above. Doc has an air of resigned docility that makes him ideal for his daily task. He’s seen it all!

Doc pulled steadily and never hurried. Giving Ms. Debbie time to explain the background of the historic sites we passed, one after another, on Beaufort’s streets.

Then, about two-thirds of the way through the tour, we learned that Ms. Debbie actually lives in one of those historic houses. One that belonged to her grandmother. No wonder she knows so much about the the area! It was an enjoyable and informative tour.

That’s all we have time for today. The rest of Beaufort and its remarkable history will have to wait for another visit and other posts. So stay tuned.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Hunting Island S.P. Part III. Quick Trip to Beaufort

Click here for the first post in this series.

Park Drying No more rain here at Hunting Island State Park. Standing water has drained away from many, but not all, of the campsites. Another day or so and it all should be gone.

Shrimp Boat Shore Weather is ideal, at least for me. Chilly, with hazy sunshine. Outside it was 36 degrees earlier on this morning. Glad to be camping with the Aliner rather than a tent! Note the shrimp boat on the horizon in the photo above. Talk about chilly work!

Late in the morning, I drove out Route 21, across the bridges, and on to St. Helena’s Island to gain WiFi access at the County Library Branch. Thanks to the Library for providing the free access!

LowCountry Store Then on to Beaufort for a quick look around. As happens so often, however, the attractive Christmas display of the Lowcountry Store pulled me across the road for a look inside.

There I met retired businessman and photographer extraordinaire, John McCormick. John provided interesting information about the region. From the perspective of an observant transplant resident. One who’s lived many years in other places. And, he showed me some of the stunning Low Country photographs that he and his wife, Maggie, have taken.

As impressive as the photos themselves were the innovative approaches to photographic display the McCormicks have devised. It goes well beyond photos affixed to coffee mugs! Though they have those too. When you visit, ask to see one of their 3-D-like treatments. Their work far surpasses run-of-the-mill tourist attraction fare. You’ll just have to see it for yourself.

Yet the McCormicks have managed to keep their prices low enough to allow even retired folks like me to buy them. If you can’t manage a visit to the store, e-mail them at magsmugs@comcast.net and ask for more information.

Leaving the Lowcountry Store I headed toward Beaufort again, determined to improve the quality of my own photographs.

Beaufort Bridge And what an ideal place to begin! Here’s a shot of the long graceful bridge that feeds right into downtown. Well …. This photo isn’t all that impressive. But you’ve got to admit: the bridge is beautiful!

Downtown Beaufort, South Carolina, seems as if it were designed to be photographed! Though it was late and light was fading by the time I arrived yesterday. So I parked on the main street, and just walked around aimlessly for a half-hour or so.

Beaufort Street Scene Emerging from an arcade-like row of shops, I glanced over to see this typical downtown Beaufort yard. Click on that photo and look closely at the trees. And how well they go with that porch. Natural, unaffected elegance. What a sight!

Beaufort Throne Then, back toward the water, past the shop where tickets for Walter Gay’s horse-drawn carriage tours are sold, I stumbled on this eclectic throne-like construction. Also a well-known part of the Beaufort scene. Though “natural, unaffected elegance” doesn’t quite seem to apply here …..

There’s so much more to see in Beaufort. I’ll try to visit again on Tuesday. So stay tuned!

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Hunting Island S.P. Part II, and More on “Oqui.”

Click here for the first post in this series.

A couple of administrivia notes. Remember to click on each photo to view a larger image. And, if you’re so inclined, click on the “subscribe” menu in the left-hand column near the top to subscribe to this blog. That way you’ll receive each post as soon as it hits the air. I find the Google Reader a convenient means of keeping track of the blogs I read regularly. But there are many other readers. Most of them effective and free of charge. Take your pick!

Several readers have asked for an update on the search for the illusive “Oqui.” Well, he’s still alluding me. Though Samuel Eliot Morrison provides a few more details in his entertaining 1967 biography of Matthew C. Perry: “Old Bruin" Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry.

Morrison describes Oqui as a “Chinese gardener boy,” and “China-boy gardener,” hired to help Dr. James Morrow care for botanical specimens the Perry Mission collected during the voyage. Most of them from China. More on Morrow in a moment. The specimens, he writes, were “some three hundred living plants, trees and ornamental shrubs of Japan and China.”

They were carried aboard the USS Lexington, the vessel sent from the United States after Perry’s departure with supplies and gifts for Japan’s emperor.

USS LexingtonMorrison calls the Lexington an “old and notoriously slow corvette,” “now converted into a steamship.” Here above is a drawing of the Lexington made by a Japanese observer during Perry’s second visit to Japan. Old and slow it may have been. But it was the vessel of greatest interest here to us, since it carried our Oqui to the United States in 1855.

The Lexington, Morrison writes, presumably with Oqui aboard, arrived from Japan at Brooklyn, New York, on February 16th, 1855. Oqui and Dr. Morrow had been able to keep nearly all of the plants alive during the voyage, in spite of their exposure to salt spray and the burning sun encountered at sea.

Morrison writes that the plants then were transferred to another Navy vessel for transport to Washington D.C. Oqui must have accompanied them. Though Morrison writes that he could learn nothing of Oqui’s whereabouts after his arrival in Washington. We know a little more, but not much!

In Washington the plants were stored in a greenhouse near the Capitol. Morrison further speculates that some of the plants now at the Botanic Garden in Washington are descendents of those Oqui and Morrow brought from Asia in the mid-1850s.

Morrow The father of the Perry Expedition’s “agriculturalist,” Dr. James Morrow, it turns out, owned a plantation in South Carolina. There young James dabbled in botany before beginning his medical education. Another lead to check out.

Morrison also says that Morrow established a medical practice in Charleston, South Carolina, after returning from Asia. And that he served as a physician for the Confederacy during the War.

See a caricature of him by a Japanese artist at the time. With special attention to his stylish hat. Probably not regular Navy issue ….

Morrow and Perry were to quarrel over the custody of the botanical samples collected. It seems unlikely that Oqui would have been involved in their dispute. But it may have complicated his life somewhat.

Morrison also mentions that Commodore Perry, himself an enthusiastic amateur botanist, communicated with Francis Lieber, at what would become the University of South Carolina, about the plants he brought back from Japan, and expressed his hope they would be adopted by American horticulturalists.

So it’s nor surprising that John Ferars Townsend, owner of Botany Bay Plantation in South Carolina, would have learned of the illusive “Oqui” and his botanical charges soon after Oqui’s arrival in the United States. Either from Morrow’s father, if still living, from Morrow himself, or from Francis Lieber. Lots more research to do on this interesting topic. Stay Tuned.

Click here for the next post.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Hunting Island State Park, Part I

Table of Contents for This Series

  1. Drive down, arriving at a soaked campground.
  2. More information about 19th century Asian gardener “Oqui” at Botany Bay Plantation.
  3. Quick visit to Beaufort, S.C.
  4. Touring Beaufort, S.C.

On the road again today for another five days -- or nights -- of camping. Weather here in South Carolina, like the rest of the East Coast, has been wild for the past couple of weeks. Though ours, fortunately, came in the form of rain and wind rather than snow. Serious rain. For several days. Including a heavy soaking yesterday. Flood warnings all over the place. So I didn’t know what to expect this trip upon arriving at Hunting Island State Park.

By 11:00 a.m. all was packed and connected. Then down I-77 South to I-26 East. Again, I avoided I-95 and its frenetic traffic by following 26 east nearly to Charleston. Then south on Route 17. You can see the difference on the map below.

Route 1I’ve mentioned Route 17 before here, if memory serves. It has the disadvantage of quite regular construction projects here and there. But it’s far more interesting to drive. Both natural and social scenery abounds! And traffic is nowhere near as frenetic.

The more pleasant drive comes at a cost, however. It takes just under an hour longer to reach Hunting Island from Columbia than does the I-95 route.

Weather was pleasant and sunny for most of the trip. Temperature by 1:00 p.m. or so around 60 degrees. So maybe, just maybe, Hunting Island’s campground will have avoided the soaking the rest of us experienced.

No serious road construction delays this time. In fact, no delays at all until downtown Beaufort. There, for a mile or so, traffic inched along on the main route through town.

Beaufort Map This turned into a treat, though, rather than a frustration. Since the stop-and-go pattern gave more time to look at the interesting houses and shops along the way through town. Click the map above to see the route.

Beaufort is a beautiful historic town. During this trip to Hunting Island I hope to make time to visit Beaufort for some good old-fashioned sight-seeing and photo taking. So stay tuned!

Too soon, almost, the last light before the bridge turned green and I was on the final leg of the trip, on Route 21 across the various islands to Hunting Island and the campground.

Soaked Campsite Well! Much of this beautiful campground was soaked. Campsite after campsite, so carefully maintained, now looked more like small ponds. Talk about sites right on the water!

Reservations are fairly heavy even at this time a year at Hunting Island State Park. One can imagine the disappointment of folks arriving with the hope of a few days’ camping at South Carolina’s most popular Park. Having made their reservations months in advance.

AND, the difficulties faced by the check-in staff as they tried to find alternative accommodations for those disappointed campers. I was pleasantly surprised to find the desk staff as cheerful and helpful as ever. Even after having spent what had to be a hectic day.

Swamped Trailer However, their problems shrink to insignificance when compared with those of campers already set up on their sites before the rains came! This poor soul, for example. In a nearly-new shiny Airstream with all the bells and whistles. He had to go buy high-topped rubber boots just to get back and forth to his tow vehicle!

Site # 39 Site # 39, my favorite here, is just a few inches higher than many of the other sites. So it was dry and inviting. This site also offers an ideal view of the ocean, as well as pull-through convenience.

Its only disadvantage is an irregular, sloping surface. Which requires the BAL leveler at set-up. You can see that handy RV camping gadget under the driver-side tire just behind the blue water tank if you click on the photo above.

In less than an hour I was set up, looking out the front window at the ocean, enjoying a good cup of tea. Almost ready for dinner. The rain is over, according to the NOAA weather radio. Soon the sandy soil of Hunting Island will absorb the extra water and we’ll be back to normal.

Click here for the next post.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Return to Botany Bay. Part II. Another visit to the Garden

Click here for the first post in this series.

I couldn’t resist another visit to the gardener’s shed and presumed site of the formal Japanese garden said to have been created near Bleak Hall.

Shed 1 DNR has fenced the area as unobtrusively as possible, and has installed gates to discourage entry into vulnerable or dangerous areas.

Shed 2 This tabby-walled shed is said to have been used by “Oqui,” the gardener or botanist John F. Townshend recruited from Washington after Oqui’s return from Asia with Commodore Matthew Perry’s mission in the mid-1850s.

I’ve been looking for more information about “Oqui” since learning about him. Was he Japanese, as some sources describe him? Or was he from Okinawa, China, or Southeast Asia? All are possible. The spelling of his name gives little clue. How long did Oqui live at Botany Bay? Did he die here? If not, where did he go from here? Was he still here during the War? Did he leave any papers or personal effects? All questions to be answered.

Shed 3 Only the tabby walls and floor of the shed seem to me likely to be original. The roof you see above, and other wooden portions of the shed probably have been replaced more than once over the years. Older Edistonians who recall visiting Botany Bay report that the shed in their time was used as a smoke house rather than as a gardener’s shed. Probably after Oqui had either moved on. Or passed on.

Shed 4 Shed 5 Botany Bay Volunteers have removed the more recent trash and debris from the shed since the last time I saw it. Above are a couple of views of the inside walls and the woodwork of the roof. I seem to recall a ceiling from the last visit. Which could well have been a later addition.

Shed 6 Also, now that vines and plant growth have been cleared away, we can see that low tabby walls extended out behind the shed. Was this another storage area? A plant potting area? Or something else entirely? The area enclosed by the low walls is about the size of the shed itself.

Well 1 Here, not far from the shed is a well. Perhaps used by the gardener to water plants and trees he brought in for the garden.

Well 2 Looking in through DNR’s protective grate, you can see the precise brick work of the walls. I heard one well resident plop into the water when I looked in.

Garden 1 Botany Bay jealously guards the secrets of its past. Formidable vines, bushes, and even trees quickly cover foundations. The rich soil and undergrowth provides ideal habitat for all sorts of insects and reptiles. Indeed, I was told the exact site of Bleak Hall, the Townsends’ grand house, has yet to be identified. As well as the site of the formal Japanese garden created and maintained by Oqui.

Garden 2 Edisto’s December weather discourages much, though not all, of Botany Bay’s insect and serpent life. So I ventured into the presumed site of the garden along an ill-defined path behind the shed.

Garden 3 The plant life there looks to me to be incredibly diverse. Though I lack the expertise necessary to identify what belongs, so to speak, and what doesn’t. That is, to identify any descendents of plants brought in by Oqui to create his garden.

Garden 4 I hope one day to return in the company of a botanist. One with both the required expertise and an interest adequate to brave the plant, insect, and reptile challenges of the site. All work for another day. Now, for a look at Botany Bay’s beach.

Click here for the walk to the beach.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Return to Botany Bay, Part III. The Beach

Click here for the first post in this series.

Botany Bay Plantation includes considerable ocean front beach footage. It’s one of the first places most visitors want to see.

To Beach 1 Last visit, pre-knee operation, I was unable to see the beach area, since it requires a fairly long hike along this road built through the Plantation’s marshy fields.

To Beach 2 It’s a walk, though, that takes even the casually observant visitor along a remarkably interesting route. The photo above may give you an idea of how the banks of the roadway have been maintained over the years. The effort still goes on.

To Beach 3 Here you can see islands of solid ground rising from the level of the marshy fields, and the trees and other vegetation struggling to survive there. Its a fascinating sight, quite unlike anything I’ve seen further inland.

To Beach 4After a few minutes’ walk the marshy fields on both sides of the road give way to more solid ground. Part of what must be a larger island on the way to the ocean.

To Beach 5 The plant life here looks to me more like that found in other parts of the Plantation.

Bench DNR has taken pity on those of us for whom walking is more of a chore by providing benches here and there for rest. Sit quietly here for a while, even if you’re not tired. You’ll be amazed at what you hear and see.

To Beach 6Depending on tides and weather conditions, you’ll begin to hear waves crashing against the shore. The ocean must be right around the next turn in the road. Well, it turns out to be several more turns. But this surely is the right direction.

Beach 1Finally we’ve arrived! This shoreline is quite different from that in front of the Aliner at Edisto Beach State Park.

Beach 2 More wild, in a way. Maybe more natural. Certainly less regular, and less predictable. Or so it seems to me. In the photo above you see one of the hardy Botany Bay Plantation Volunteers walking the beach, ready to answer questions. And this was a windy, rainy day!

Beach 3 This is quite a different view of the Atlantic Ocean meeting South Carolina’s shore than I’ve seen elsewhere. Hard to describe. But somehow uniquely Edisto Island. You’ll just have to come to see for yourself!

Well, long before I finished my visit to Botany Bay Plantation’s beach it began to rain again. So, I high-tailed it back to the car waiting in the parking area.

Birds The scenery, though, in this area simply doesn’t allow high-tailing. Look, for example, at this! Long-legged, long-billed water birds digging through the marshy field for a late lunch. Right beside the road. Now, who could walk by this scene without stopping to watch their antics. The heck with the rain!

Botany Bay Plantation is by no means a one-day project. If this sort of thing interests you at all, you should plan to devote several days. Even then there will be more to see, and more to learn. We’re fortunate indeed to have access to this remarkable resource. When I find out more about the illusive “Oqui” and his formal Japanese garden, I’ll let you know. So stay tuned.

Return to Botany Bay. Part I

Back again this week at South Carolina’s Edisto Island Beach State Park for five days. Right on the shore of the Atlantic. Literally! Site # 19.

Aliner I’ve written about this Park before. Have a look by clicking here. So I won’t go on and on today.

Front Row But the campsites facing the ocean really are remarkable. As close to the incoming waves and tides as one would want to be. Close enough so no lights are allowed at night when the turtles come in to lay their eggs.

These sites are well known, and must be reserved months in advance. I made this reservation in late October or early September, and was lucky then to find it open.

Weather this week hasn’t been to everyone’s taste. Rainy, chilly, and quite windy. In fact, Park Rangers toured the area this morning warning campers to roll up their awnings, and to tie down anything that might blow away. This little Aliner, with its external wind straps and internal bracing pole in place, is comfortable in winds strong enough to drive larger motor homes out of the Park.

Bookstore After quick, darting trips to the beach yesterday, as much as possible in between impressive blasts of wind and rain, I ventured out this morning to the WiFi link at the Edisto Bookstore on Route 174. I’ve also written about that remarkable bookstore in past posts.

Emily Grace In attendance today were Ms. Dixie, and, of course, Ms. Emily Grace, thought by some who haven’t been formally introduced to be just a cat. Ms. Emily Grace simply ignores such people, and denies them her invaluable advice on book selection. She’s never wrong when it comes to books about Edisto Island.

Ms. Dixie arrived at the Bookstore early this year. She too is a delight, and provides great information and advice on books. She also volunteers out at Botany Bay, and advised me to visit there today, since the Plantation would be closed for deer hunting throughout the rest of the week.

Mains MarketGeorge Pink So off I went. Driving out Route 174 past Main’s Market and that colorful sign for George and Pink’s Vegetable emporium, to the Botany Bay Road turnoff.

BB Sign The Botany Bay Road sign is small and easy to miss for those without benefit of GPS.

Maybe one of these days DNR will find the resources to erect larger signs along Route 174.

Tree The celebrated Edisto Tree simply is not reference enough.

Speaking of volunteers, Botany Bay Plantation has a terrific Volunteer Program. All I have met have been well informed about the Plantation itself. And about Edisto Island overall. They’re a dedicated group of folks who care about and for this remarkable place. Providing much of the labor required to keep it running.

Such effective programs don’t just happen. This trip I had the opportunity to meet the Coordinator of Botany Bay’s Volunteer Program, Ms. Bess Kellett. She’s one of those unusual people who somehow persuade others to offer to help out without even being asked.

During our conversation I heard a great deal about what the Botany Bay Volunteers have accomplished, and next to nothing about what she herself has done. She also emphasized the importance of training, and of having a good time while volunteering. DNR’s lucky to have her in that position.

Shed Just before meeting Ms. Kellett, I took another look at the gardener’s shed built for Mr. Oqui, and the presumed site of the formal Japanese garden he created there in the mid-1850s for John F. Townsend, owner of Botany Bay Plantation. More on that in the next post.

Click here for the next Botany Bay Visit Post.