Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Botany Bay Plantation, Edisto, SC. Part II

Entrance Let’s return today to Botany Bay Plantation on Edisto Island, South Carolina. This is the second post on that beautiful section of Edisto. Click here for Part I.

Botany Bay Plantation covers over 4,000 acres of the diverse landscape of Edisto Island and its ocean shore. Now, this isn’t 4,000 acres of unbroken Midwestern corn or wheat fields. It’s 4,000 incredibly diverse acres of Edisto Island. Around each turn in the road or trail something new awaits the alert visitor. Something different. Often quite unexpected.

So you can easily imagine that it’s impossible for me to offer a comprehensive description of the whole Plantation in this blog. Even if I knew enough about Botany Bay to provide one. Which I certainly don’t.

Edisto Alliance Those of you interested in more detail could do no better than to click on over to the website of the Edisto Island Preservation Alliance. Click here to go to their website. I know nothing about this organization beyond their website. But the website is chuck-full of interesting information about Botany Bay specifically, and Edisto Island in general. Text, photos, links to other useful websites. They have it all! So, have a look.

The best I can do here is offer glimpses of a few of the more interesting points on the Plantation as they appeared to me during my first visit. I’m scheduled to return to Edisto in early December, and certainly will visit Botany Bay again. At a different time of year. Probably for two or three days. More photos and description then. So stay tuned to this channel. Last visit I was scheduled for knee surgery the following week, and ended up hobbling around with the help of a cane. Yet, given the environment, I found it impossible to stay in the car. Next time it will be more comfortable!

Big Live Oak Speaking of glimpses, here’s one of the large live oak trees you’ll see as you drive into the Plantation. It’s larger than it looks in this photo. And has obviously enjoyed careful pruning over the years. It’s impossible to approach this majestic tree and not recognize its individual character.

As you drive from the entry gate to the tree above, be sure to drive slowly enough to watch both sides of the road. You’ll see living examples of agriculture in this part of the country. Very different from what I remember from OverHome in Northern Appalachia! Different soil; different crops; and different indigenous plants. I look forward to learning more about Low Country agricultural methods during the next visit.

Restored Ice House Drive on a bit until you approach some new metal fencing on the right side of the road. Stop at the gate and go inside. Before you is the Plantation’s restored ice house. An unusual building. Beautifully Gothic Revival on the outside, yet solidly utilitarian on the inside. All accurately preserved by the building’s restorers. Looking inside through the door on the back side, I found an old buggy, and, oddly enough, a mounted photograph of the main house at Bleak Hall. Probably taken some time during the 1920s. More on that house in a moment.

Gardener Shed Now, while standing behind the ice house, look to your left. There you’ll see this elegantly proportioned gardener’s “shed” pictured above. Go on over and take some time to look it over carefully.

Shed Wall Its walls are “tabby.” A concrete-like mixture of lime, sand, and oyster shells. Click here to read a comprehensive article on the origins and nature of tabby building materials by Dennis Adams of the Beaufort County Library. A fairly common building material in this part of the country during the 18th and 19th centuries. One I’ve not seen elsewhere. Didn’t even know the word before visiting Edisto Island.

Tabby Wall Detail Here’s a photo of a hole in the wall of a nearby tabby structure that gives a better idea of just how tabby looks.

For me, though, the first occupant of this gardener’s shed is more interesting than the building’s architecture or tabby walls. He is identified by the single name “Oqui” in the references I’ve come across to date.

Nell S. Graydon a noted author on Low Country matters, mentions him in her 1955 book, “Tales of Edisto.” There she describes “Oqui” as “an expert Chinese botanist.” Graydon, and other writers, say Botany Bay Plantation owner, John F. Townsend, was introduced to “Oqui” in Washington, D.C. where he’d been living after returning from Asia with the Commodore Perry Expedition. Aboard ship, “Oqui” helped care for the examples of Asian plant life the Expedition collected in Asia.

However, according to Graydon, the Washington DC climate didn’t suit “Oqui.” So Townsend persuaded him to move to Botany Bay. Where he was commissioned by Townsend to create a Japanese garden. Probably the first genuine Japanese garden in North America. Graydon reports that “Oqui” introduced plants such as white poppies, yellow-blossomed Chinese tobacco, camphor, olive, and spice trees to the area. And also cultivated the Plantation’s orange trees, some of which survive today. According to correspondence Graydon cites, “Oqui” was still at Bleak Hall in June of 1858.

What a story! I hope to learn more about this remarkable man. Was he really Chinese? Okinawan? Or was he Japanese? Some sources describe him as such. If the latter, his name could have been “Ohki,” or “Ogui,” which would have been difficult for Americans to pronounce, explaining the peculiar Romanization.

Whatever happened to the mysterious “Oqui”? Did he live out his days at Botany Bay? Did he ever return to Asia? What happened to him during the Civil War?

If “Oqui” was Japanese, he was one of the earliest visitors from Japan to the United States. At a time when Japan’s late Tokugawa government prohibited its subjects from traveling abroad. On pain of death!

Whoever he was, “Oqui” must have been a remarkable person. I’m determined to learn more about him. Scouring the historical archives of South Carolina and Washington, D.C.

Should any readers have more information about “Oqui” of Botany Bay Plantation, please get in touch.

The ruins of Oqui’s formal Japanese garden are visible in the photo above, just behind the shed. Many plants there are unusual for the area. All overgrown today, of course. I hope to have a closer look in early December, and will report anything of interest.

Well! Enough of the mystery of “Oqui” and his formal Japanese garden. Next time we’ll move on to other sights on Botany Bay Plantation. With more photos. So stay tuned.

Click here for the next post in this series.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Botany Bay Plantation, Edisto, SC. Part I

Fairly alarming health problems have tethered me to the home computer for the past few weeks. So, why not use the time to present a few interesting places visited in the past?

(Click on photos below for larger images)

Digital image  Though I was able a few days ago to spend a couple of hours kayaking on Sesquicentennial State Park’s small lake. Featured earlier in the month. Click here for a peek. It’s just across the road, after all! Here’s a photo of a great blue heron fishing there. Just as I snapped the photo a large cautious turtle sunning on a nearby log flopped into the water. Didn’t bother the heron one bit. He just continued his stilt-based quest for lunch, ignoring his hard-shelled companion’s warning of approaching danger. Sign Now, Botany Bay Plantation on Edisto Island, South Carolina, has to be placed near the top of any list of interesting destinations. It’s a magical place, well beyond my descriptive abilities. You really will have to visit and experience the atmosphere yourself. Edisto Beach I wrote about Edisto Beach State Park during a camping trip there back in February. And about the Edisto area. If you’ve visited the South Carolina Coast and haven’t stopped at Edisto, you’ve missed a treat. It’s an experience quite different from Hilton Head, Myrtle Beach, or even nearby Beaufort.

And Botany Bay Plantation, at least for me, represents the very best of Edisto Island’s natural scenery. Driving toward the beach on Route 174 it’s easy to miss the left-hand turn onto Botany Bay Road. There are signs. But they’re unobtrusive, to say the least.

MapHere’s a map that may help. Start to watch for the turn not long after you pass the Old Post Office Restaurant and Gift Shop. They’re on the left-hand side of 174. Can’t miss ‘em. You’ll soon see the Allen AME Church set well back from the road on the left. And if you slow down, you can see the celebrated “Mystery Tree” out in the marshy field on the right. Click here for a photo and explanation of that Edisto phenomenon. After puzzling over the latest decorations on the Mystery Tree, make a sharp left onto Botany Bay Road, and follow the signs.

Road In The majestic arbor of live oaks you see in the photo above begins to prepare you for the Plantation itself. The dirt road is well graded. But drive slowly, taking your time, so you don’t miss any of those magnificent trees. Each one has a shape and character all its own.

Entrance Too soon, it seems, you’ll arrive at the entrance to Botany Bay Plantation. Sign in at the kiosk on the right, and begin your adventure! Stay tuned for more photos of this enchanting place.

Click here to see Botany Bay: Part II

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Sesqui State Park, Part III The Lake

Click here for the first post in this series.

This is the third post introducing Columbia’s Sesquicentennial State Park’s outdoor recreation opportunities.

A couple of blog housekeeping notes. I’ve added a search window in the left-hand margin, just below the personal profile. See the photo below. Use it to find earlier posts that mention particular places or activities more conveniently. It searches every word in every post.

(Click Photos for Larger Images)

0Gadgets Also, for those of you interested in adding this blog to your list of blog subscriptions, just below the search window I’ve added a “subscribe to blog” feature. Just a couple of clicks and you won’t miss a single post. I use the Google Reader for all of my subscriptions. But there are dozens more out there.

Sesqui Bench, Table, Tree Enough housekeeping! Back to Sesqui. Let’s take a look at the 35-acre lake right in the middle of the Park. This lake is a real treasure. It’s not very deep. With the exception of a few spots. Such as around the old diving platform. For me, at least, its charm is in the diversity of its shoreline. From impenetrable swamp at the northernmost end, to beach-like sand in three places toward the southern end, and everything in between.

Digital image  Though at times during the spring and summer large parts of it suffer from an over-abundance of plant life. Here’s an example above. Too bad the Park budget doesn’t cover removal of these pesky plants. Click on the photo to see the great white egret taking off near the center of the picture. I sat watching him fish for fifteen minutes or so. A magnificent bird.

0No Swimming Sign When I first visited Sesqui many years ago, swimming and wading in this lake were popular activities. Especially for children. But swimming isn’t allowed these days, as the sign above explains.

Digital image  The elaborate concrete diving platform now is used only by the the geese. Maybe improvements in the Park’s budget will allow all of this to return one of these days. The children would love that. And that would increase Park attendance.

Beach House at Sesqui Once again this elaborate bath house and changing facility you see in the photo above would be put to better use. We can only hope.

Digital image  Still, even without swimming, there’s plenty to do at Sesqui. Most days several groups can be seen fishing from the bank. The spot in the photo above, on the east shore of the lake, is popular with regulars. As is the spot in the next photo. Right under that beautiful tree.

Digital image  Non-fishing members of the group can sit and provide advice from the comfort of the nearby bench. The wooden bridge on the left is another popular spot. As is the water just beyond the falls pictured below. Though I’ve never seen fish taken from there.

The Run-Off at Sesqui Thoreau was right. Fishing really isn’t about catching fish! Well, unless you’re very hungry. He had friends in a nearby town to visit ….

0Geese Abound This lake attracts all sorts of wildlife. The first species every visitor will notice is the Canadian goose. There seem to be dozens of them making their permanent homes here at Sesqui. Walking up and down the shore. Boldly panhandling visitors for handouts of food. Rushing off wildly at the approach of a barking dog.

Digital image  The geese nest on a small island in the middle of the lake. Nesting real estate must be at a premium there, given the number of tenants. The geese behave defensively around their nesting area. But they’ve become accustomed to my kayak, and rarely bother to leave the area when I paddle by. Of course, I’m careful not to pester them during their egg incubation season.

Digital image  Canadian geese aren’t the only big birds here. I’ve already mentioned great snowy egrets. I’ve seen several pair. Great blue heron are even more numerous. This is a terrible photo. Taken from too far away, with a waterproof camera that doesn’t have a very powerful lens. The herons are more wary than the geese. And I don’t like to disturb them any more than necessary to take photos. A telephoto lens would be nice. But then, most telephoto lens-equipped don’t take well to water.

Digital image  Even more wary are the white-tailed deer that come down to the edge of the lake to drink. Here’s one, photographed last May. Beautiful animals, safe here, of course, from hunting. Though they’re still jumpy, and impossible to approach very closely, even in a kayak.

0Paddle Boats Boating on the lake also is popular, inexpensive, and quite safe. The Park rents a variety of boats to visitors for a reasonable all-day fee. That fee, I believe, includes use of the boat, a paddle, and a PFD, or life jacket, for each member of the party. Click on over to the Park official website to check current rates and conditions.

0Canoes Kids on Shore The big, brightly painted paddle boats in the earlier photo are very popular. Especially with visitors who have no boating experience. But don’t overlook the other offerings. Such as that sturdy and serviceable flat-bottomed aluminum boat you see above. It’s ideal for fishing. And those red and green canoes. They even have a couple of small hard-shell kayaks for the more adventurous!

Digital image  I’ve come here often to paddle the waters of this small lake. But never have rented one of the Park’s boats. I’ve always brought one of my inflatable kayaks. The ones often featured in this blog. Indeed, this small lake at Sesqui is where I first put a kayak in the water. I promptly turned it over getting in the first time. To the delight of nearby observers. But after a couple of dunkings, I was able to learn the basics of kayak paddling on this attractive lake. The boat pictured above is a Sea Eagle 330.

The Sea Eagle was a great kayak to learn on. An excellent confidence builder. Though soon after the photo above was taken, I bought an inflatable 13-foot Advanced Elements Expedition kayak that has proven almost as stable, and is far easier to paddle for long distances.

0Kayakers Here are two kayakers out near the island in the center of the lake. They too brought their own boats, and proved to be very experienced paddlers.

One day in early May of last year one of the outdoors shops downtown sponsored a kayak demo day at the Park’s lake. They brought a dozen or more kayaks and encouraged visitors to go for a paddle. I had only started paddling then and didn’t have the courage to try in front of so many people. Wish I had!

Oh, and a participating Hobie company representative brought what I think he described as a Mirage Adventure Island kayak. Pictured above. It had outriggers and a sail. You can imagine the attention it attracted as it glided effortlessly around the little lake. Then the demonstrating fellow furled the sail and peddled the boat. That’s not a typo! He peddled! Didn’t paddle. Peddled! And at quite impressive speeds. Incredible.

So there you have it. A beautiful little lake smack dab in the middle of a suburban park oasis. What a resource!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Sesqui State Park, Part II Hiking and Cabin Renovation

Click here for the first post in this series.

Last time I presented an overview of Sesquicentennial State Park here in Columbia, South Carolina. Just minutes from downtown Columbia.

[Click photos for larger images]

0Trail Head This week, let’s explore some of the hiking and walking opportunities this 1,500-acre suburban park has to offer.

Before that, though, a few comments and photos of the 1756 cabin restoration I mentioned last time. It seems I’m not the only one interested in old buildings. Well, old for our part of the country, anyway. Quite a few e-mails about this building.

Cabin Renovation Front Here’s a photo I took late yesterday afternoon of the restoration work. After the work crew had knocked off for the day. Lots of modern equipment, with an emphasis on safety.

Note just how comprehensive this restoration project is. Roof repairs; windows re-framed; new doors; and a brand new porch. The earlier porch was little more than a roof over the front door.

Chinking Progress This photo shows more clearly some of the challenges facing the restoration crew. In this case, chinking. The logs toward the bottom appear to be completed. Those about half-way up the window, and above, have lath backing tacked up from the inside to support the chinking material when it’s applied from the front. This is highly skilled work. Much more to it than just slapping a cement-based mixture in between the logs!

Log Gaps This photo shows just how far some of the logs in the walls have separated over the years. They’ve been serving a while! Requiring even addition of separators to keep the building somewhere near square and true. Now there’s a Class One chinking challenge awaiting attention! I’ll keep an eye on it and report progress in subsequent posts.

Porch Addition Oh, one final photo that shows the new porch addition from another angle. Who knows? Maybe the building originally had a full porch clear across the front! It certainly will make a nice place to sit on an autumn day. Hope they include some vintage rockers here for weary Park hikers!

0Trail Map Speaking of hiking, this post is supposed to be about hiking opportunities in the Park. The photo at the beginning shows the trailhead for one of the Park’s more charming [read easy!] trails. That going all the way around the 30-acre lake at the center of the Park. You can follow the trail around the lake in the photo of the map if you click for the larger image.

As you see on the map above, the lake trail is only one of several through the Park’s 1,500 acres. It probably isn’t the most popular with serious hikers or joggers. It’s convenient, though, well maintained, and only a couple of miles from beginning to end. Most important, it traverses some of the most interesting parts of the Park.

0Steps Down Trail Throughout, Park personnel have done everything they can to make this trail accessible. Here are wooden steps just down from the trailhead, for example. Though the grade isn’t steep at all.

0Tracks on Trail Somehow, bike riders too manage to navigate this trail. As you can see in this photo of tracks in the sand. Lots of boots. But also unmistakable bicycle tracks. While walking the trail it’s not unusual to see single bicyclers, and even whole families, peddling along. Some pulling young babies in little trailers behind their sturdy bicycles! Can’t imagine doing it myself. But to each his or her own. Our daughter and her husband regularly pull their twins along in that fashion.

0Trail Marking Oh, and no chance of getting lost on this trail. Or any of the others, for that matter. Here’s an example of the clear trail signage, and how it appears to the first-time hiker.

Walking Trail at Sesqui As in most parks like this, the Rangers change the course of the trail from time to time to avoid over-use in one spot. But the little white arrow signs are always there. For much of the way, the trail looks much like the photo above. Inviting even the Elder-Hiker to continue on to the end.

Welcome Bench on Walking Trail at Sesqui And, when it’s time to rest, benches pop up along the way. The bench in the photo above is at just about the half-way point of the trail.

I mentioned that this trail around the lake is especially interesting. That’s due, in large measure, to the large section of swamp just north of the lake. Well, I guess we no longer use the term “swamp.” Wetlands, or whatever the appropriate term is these days.

0Swampy Area Anyway, lots of standing water, aggressive plant life, dead trees still reaching for the sky. Spongy, mucky earth. That’s right. What we used to call “swamp”! This terrain attracts all sorts of wildlife, both on the ground and in the sky.

0Improved Walkway Over Wet Oh, and in case you’re concerned about stepping in the muck and getting your feet wet, don’t worry. Park personnel have installed – and maintain! – wooden walkways that keep the hiker high and dry while enjoying the flora and fauna of the swampy -- ‘er, wetland – area. It must be a lot of work. Work that has to be done under something less than ideal conditions.

0Big Nest Here’s a photo of a large bird’s nest up in the branches of the trees at the edge of the swampy area. I’m not enough of a bird watcher to identify the species. But it has to be a pretty big bird! Park personnel told me earlier this year that they’ve seen a pair of bald eagles back in this area. Though I have yet to see them myself.

0Moss on Log Before and after the swampy area north of the lake, this trail offers all sorts of interesting sights to the attentive walker. Here, for example, is one of many moss-covered decaying logs.

0Mushroom on Trail And here a fairly large – and brave – mushroom that just popped up in the middle of the trail. Won’t be there for long, I’m sure.

Nicely Pruned Live Oak at Sesqui The last section of the trail takes the hiker across a nice wooden bridge that spans the outlet creek at the south end of the lake, and on toward the Park’s picnic area. Here mature live oak trees have been beautifully pruned and maintained.

Sesqui Bench, Table, Tree And benches – some with backs! – placed to give the weary hiker a beautiful view of the lake. And a good enough excuse to sit and relax a while.

Speaking of the Park lake, I hope to provide some photos and commentary about paddling opportunities on this diverse body of water. So stay tuned.

Click here for the next post in this series.