Thursday, January 21, 2021

The Hill We Climb(ed) Yesterday

  Capitol Hill. Inauguration Day of President Biden and Vice President Harris, unique in its simplicity. Every song, every speech — imbued with history, dignity, grace.

    There were many wonderful moments but I’ll share two of my favorites from this long-awaited day.

  The first took place before the inauguration ceremony even began. Two weeks ago to the day, the Capitol was the scene of one of the worst events in US history, an attempted coup. Unbelievable images of chaos, of desecration, betrayal, injury, and death were broadcast from this building, images burned into stunned American eyes as we watched.  

  Yesterday two short weeks later, on Inauguration Day, a hero walked here again.  
 On January 6th, Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman brilliantly and bravely led an armed mob of barbarians away from the Senate chamber and their intended victims.  

  On January 20, newly promoted Deputy House Sergeant-at-Arms Eugene Goodman led Vice-President-to-be Harris to the inaugural area and remained at her side for the swearing-in ceremony.  

 Another stellar moment for me was the marvelous performance of a young poet, Amanda Gorman, of her poem, The Hill We Climb.

 This skinny Black girl, as she described herself, knocked it out of the park! 
  So much responsibility on her young shoulders and she pulled it off like a wise old sage with youthful pizzazz. 
  Tasked with illuminating all that happened in the last four years and the last fourteen days so newly heavy on our hearts; with uniting a countryful of individuals screaming and yelling and even shooting at each other; with comforting families and friends of 400,000 dead Americans and igniting a flame of healing and hope in better days ahead ... 

 I leave you with some of her beautiful words.

Somehow we've weathered and witnessed
a nation that isn't broken
but simply unfinished
We the successors of a country and a time
Where a skinny Black girl
descended from slaves and raised by a single mother
can dream of becoming president
only to find herself reciting for one

“Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:
That even as we grieved, we grew
That even as we hurt, we hoped
That even as we tired, we tried

“It's because being American is more than a pride we inherit,
it's the past we step into
and how we repair it

“We will not march back to what was
but move to what shall be
A country that is bruised but whole,
benevolent but bold,
fierce and free
We will not be turned around
or interrupted by intimidation
because we know our inaction and inertia
will be the inheritance of the next generation
Our blunders become their burdens
But one thing is certain:
If we merge mercy with might,
and might with right,
then love becomes our legacy
and change our children's birthright”

Monday, January 18, 2021

Santee Coastal Preserve - Eldorado Plantation Ruins

  We often hike the trails of the Santee Coastal Reserve and one of our favorite trails is the one that leads down the traditional “Avenue of Oaks” to the ruins of Eldorado Plantation. 

  Deep in the woods, the ruins were nearly invisible for years and we walked by the site unaware that they were there. Last summer park personnel cleared the immediate area around the house, including the vista of abandoned golden rice fields along the South Santee River.

  Thomas Pinckney, son of Eliza Pinckney (who introduced indigo cultivation to the colonies), and his mother-in-law, Revolutionary War heroine Rebecca Breton Motte (photo below), inherited the 500 acre plot and built a grand plantation home there in 1797. 

  It was the home of Thomas and his wife Frances Motte Pinckney and owned by his descendants for over 150 years.  

“… situated on a sandy knoll, jutting out into the rice-fields, embowered by live-oaks with their outstretched arms and lofty magnolias with their glittering foliage,” “the spacious mansion, which he (Pinckney) planned and built with his own carpenters, is very suggestive of a French chateau, with its wide corridors, its lofty ceilings, and its peaked roof of glazed tiles.”  (Source unknown)

  The Pinckneys called their home El Dorado, “The Golden One”, for the buttercups (or according to another story, Golden pitcher plants) that formed a carpet of yellow around it in the spring. 


For many years El Dorado was another successful South Carolina rice plantation with 90 enslaved African field workers and house servants. Rice made South Carolina the wealthiest state in the country in the first half of the 19th century and in 1819 President James Monroe was a guest here at the Pinckney home.  

  In 1863 a Union gunboat traveled up the river during the War Between the States and shelled the house, knocking out one of the brick arches underneath. 

  The family’s rice mills were torched by the Yankees but the home itself was spared destruction by the timely arrival of the Confederate Cavalry.  

  After the war, the property remained in the the Pinckney family but when the enslaved workers were freed, the grand lifestyle of a rice plantation was over forever. 
(Photo of river gunboat from Wikipedia)


On May 10, 1897, fire broke out in the chimney of the house. 

The chimney had apparently been damaged in the earthquake of 1886 and someone built a fire, not realizing that it had cracked. They were unable to control the fire and the house burned to the ground.  

 In the late 1950s the property was purchased by the Santee Gun Club, the ruins of El Dorado settled under hundreds-of-years-old oaks, giant magnolias, and dense tangles of vines and undergrowth. 

  It’s an eerie sight now to round a bend of the trail and see the remaining chimney standing tall over the rubble, to pause and imagine the grand house, the busy plantation bustling with workers, two rice mills, a whole village of slave houses, gardens, and animals, all overlooking the rice fields as far in any direction as one can see.    

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Fungus Fun-Facts and a Feast for our Feathered Friends

This warm, wet winter we are having is producing more fotogenic fungus in the woods than I’ve ever seen. I hope you aren’t tired of my fungus finds!  

We came upon these new-to-me Stinkhorn Fungi on a hike, and they were just everywhere over a half acre of recently cleared forest.

Stinkhorn fungus seems to come in many shapes, sizes and colors, including the bright red and brown ones we saw. The ones below were each about 5 inches long.  

They grow fast —  four to six inches an HOUR, and with such force they have been known to break through asphalt!  That’s really amazing because the one I touched (you know I had to touch it!) was so soft and fragile it felt like pudding.  Wet, slimy pudding that melted in the spot where I had put my finger.  

Once they mature they give off an odor that smells like manure or rotting flesh. Not nice for human noses, but attractive to flies that eat the slime that forms on the end and then carry off the spores to new locations. Fortunate for us with so many around, these were too young to “stink”.

Two more fungus blooms from our hike, names unknown.  

With the mild winter we have had so far, the birds have been abundant. This holly tree was loaded with berries on Saturday.  On Monday afternoon a large flock of robins discovered it and nearly stripped it of berries!  

We keep a feast available in our wooded backyard for our visitors. This is our set-up, with tasty treats for all.

The blue hanging bowl holds grape jelly for the orioles, and on the ground is a pile of sunflower seeds for the mourning doves and squirrels. 

In this feeder are black oiler sunflower seeds, a finch seed mix, meal worms, and suet peanut nuggets.  

  It’s a busy place most of the day!

  Yesterday’s visitors: 
cardinals, mourning doves, pine warblers, Baltimore orioles, eastern bluebirds, tufted titmouses, white-breasted nuthatches, chickadees, house finches, chipping sparrows, purple finches, brown thrasher, downy woodpecker, ruby-crowned kinglets, Carolina wren, redwing blackbirds and cowbirds. 

Saturday, January 2, 2021

JANUARY - New Year in the Winter Woods

  This long-awaited new year - 2021 - dawns, infused with our most timid hopes and wildest  dreams.

Three hundred sixty five days, 
8,760 possibility-infused hours.

           Christmas Wreath Lichen

Turkey Tail Fungus

A hugging tree

  We all offer up our heartfelt hope that we can travel, embrace loved ones, see strangers’ faces, expect health and security, kindness and civility.

Ice forms on a pond

In January

Let your fields lie fallow, for seeds must rest before life returns.  

Pause your busyness to 
                     Dream. Imagine. Plan.

Rest and refill your cup.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

DECEMBER 25 - Love Came Down at Christmas

 Two thousand years ago in a world as beleaguered as ours is today, a little brown-skinned baby was born in the Middle East to poor, working class parents.  He came to Earth with a job: to teach human beings how to love each other. His message, the one he lived and died for, was so simple: Love everybody, especially the ones you find hardest to love.

  Love them like you love yourself. Like you love your grandchildren, your mother, your puppy.  

 Love them with your hands and feet, with forgiveness, service, sacrifice, a kind word, with your casserole dishes and your snow shovels, with itchy masks and Walmart gift cards.  

 His name was Jesus, and it’s the day we celebrate his birthday.  

  Paul and Cynthia

Friday, December 18, 2020

DECEMBER 18 - Christ-fall-mas

  While a huge snowstorm dumped tons of snow on the New England coast north of us yesterday, we were out hiking in a forest that is at the peak of autumn color.
  Coastal South Carolina might be the only part of the U.S. there is that gets to experience the beauty of fall and Christmas at the same time.
What a treat!



  We picked some berries and boughs and brought armloads of the fall color and pine scent home to deck the halls ...


        and the porch ...



     and the fireplace.

    There are so many of the beloved annual Christmas traditions that are out of our reach this year because of Covid. We can’t dwell on those, though.  Better to find delight in the ones we still can!  

Thursday, December 10, 2020

DECEMBER 10 - Good Books, Good Friends

  The ability to read has probably brought me more hours of delight than any other single thing in my life.  I remember opening my first “reading book” on my little desk in first grade and galloping through every word like a runaway horse.  The system of combining letters into words and then ideas made complete sense to me and reading came as natural as breathing.  I have no idea how it happened; I just “got it”.

  The series I learned to read from were the Alice and Jerry Books, written by Mabel O’Donnell. 
The books were yellowed and well-worn by the time they reached my class of first graders.  It didn’t matter.  Brother and sister Alice and Jerry and their small dog Jip had adventures that lured me far from the grubby dog-eared pages, the classroom smells of paste and wet mittens, the droning voice of Mrs Bastian, into worlds I could now access without asking someone to read to me.  I was in control and I was unstoppable.  I was chastised often for that  great sin ... Reading Ahead! 
  We were divided into reading groups, six of us at a time who came to the front of the classroom and sat at a round table to read aloud together like a Greek chorus.  I would control myself for a while, my voice in synch with all the others, but then my eyes couldn’t resist flying ahead to find out What Happened.  And there I would be, no longer with the choir but forging ahead on my own.  Only to be scolded once again for Reading Ahead.  

 My reading group was called the Bluebirds. I don’t remember the other group names but they all involved a color.  And everyone knew the Bluebirds were the best readers.  The other three groups were on a scale that sank down to the sad little bunch of readers having serious difficulty, the Brownsomethings.

  I loved the simple stories that grew more complex as we became more adept.  I loved the characters, the funny little dog Jip, the things they did just like I did, like jump in the leaves and roller skate.  I loved the illustrations, soft watercolors of children and situations completely familiar to me. 

  Looking back, I realize there were children in my class whose home life was nothing like Alice and Jerry’s, whose parents didn’t take care of them like mine did, whose clothing was inadequate, who smelled bad, who had little in common with Alice and Jerry and the kind adults in the books.  I wonder if those children were the ones who made up the Brownsomething reading group.

 Alice Fairchild was my first school friend. We shared a double desk that had two cubbies between the seats. I thought Alice was the luckiest girl in the world because she had the same name as the girl in our Alice and Jerry Readers.  Alice’s cubby was on top, mine on the bottom. On special occasions (I think this might have been the day before Thanksgiving) we were each given a treat, a Dixie Cup — a little paper cup of vanilla ice cream with a tiny wooden spoon that, when you licked the ice cream off of it, made the ice cream taste like a Christmas tree.    

 Sweet Alice, unbeknownst to anyone but herself for several hours, decided to save her Dixie Cup and bring it home to a sibling.  Unfortunately she squirreled it away in her cubby above mine and when I reached into my cubby for something later, all the ice cream had dribbled down and made a sticky mess of my crayons and Big Chief tablet, my pencils and my reading book.  The teacher was very upset but Alice and I remained fast friends until third grade when she moved away.  

  Reading has allowed me to satisfy my curiosity and learn new things, to travel to other places and other times I could never go.  Reading has made me laugh, cry, empathize, think, rage, commiserate. I almost lost my sight twice, two detached retinas repaired with emergency surgeries. I’m grateful every day I still have the opportunity to read.