I’m too tired to do much writing, but my first day of the 2022 Texas Master Naturalist conference in Houston was really fun. What a pleasant and educational day.
The day started out with a trip to Sheldon Lake State Park. If you are ever wherever it is, go visit! It’s even free and very easy for people with mobility challenges to enjoy.
This whole park has been reclaimed to have native plants through hard work of volunteers. So much digging and planting! We learned a lot from the park ranger and two really cool volunteers. They showed us what they did, how they propagate plants, and the history of the place.
I spent a lot of time taking pictures of plants and pollinators for the BioBlitz. I even got to see a new butterfly! I sure love learning new plants and insects.
After we got back (I was able to carpool with two nice folks) I ran into friends from home. We decided to go check out Buffalo bayou next to the Omni Hotel we’re staying at. I have to tell you, wandering the weedy area on the other side of the fancy office buildings was as fun as any organized field trip.
Ann and Jackie are always lots of fun, and Ann is so good with plants! We saw many native trees and so many vines. And though not much was blooming, some daisy-like plants attracted entire hives’ worth of bees and wasps. We had a blast!
Once we were done I came up and rested, then met up with folks from our chapter for dinner and drinks. This hotel has great food. And we went to the “whiskey bar” later. We had great conversations in such a warm and elegant atmosphere. A good day!
Today has been fun. We’ve driven all over the area and seen many things. As we approached our lunch venue, we got to enjoy watching a drawbridge open, one of the ones that turns sideways rather than going up and down.
The bridge had a cool bridge house on it, too. It was at a crossing on the Waccamaw River, which forms the Intracoastal Waterway here. The road was called Dick Pond Road, which gave us the giggles as we imagined the pond full of male anatomical parts.
We had burgers at a restaurant that specializes in them, River City Cafe, and Lee got a ridiculously large concoction featuring two grilled cheese sandwiches as the buns, two burger patties, mushrooms and other things, cheese, and two extra-large onion rings on top. No, he did not eat it all.
After that, we headed past a cute private zoo with very happy animals and lots of screaming peacocks. We didn’t go in, but looked at lots from the car, including a very young baby donkey colored like Fiona.
Our destination was a cruise down the Waccamaw River, Socastee Creek, and nearby creeks. Its a nice change from condo world.
All these waterways have a canal running through them, built by the Army Corps of Engineers, because the natural waterways are too wiggly for the yachts and sailboats who use the Intracoastal. Here’s a map:
Before the boat ride, I wandered around the grounds of the docks, which are nestled in a beautiful swampy area with many native flowers, trees, and shrubs. I was delighted to see some flowers I’d never seen in the wild before. The partridgeberry flowers were tiny, hairy, and delicate, while the swamp leatherflower was a happy surprise to find hiding in the iris foliage. That’s one of the prettiest flowers I ever saw! The spiderlilies I’ve seen somewhere else before, but their delicacy always takes my breath away.
I enjoyed chatting with the staff, all of whom live on the property, one of them on his boat. I could stand looking at that scenery every day plus having a zoo next door (downwind).
I enjoyed ignoring Rick, the guide’s, dorky stories (I know it’s their job to tell them and entertain people, but I’d heard most of the jokes already) and looking through my binoculars at giant turtles, flowers, cypresses, and tupelo trees. We only saw three watercraft other than ours, so it was satisfyingly secluded. I think it gets more crowded with rowdy boat partiers in the summer, so our timing was good (only saw one boat full of giggling women). The weather went from sunny to cloudy to raining to sunny, so there were always varied skies. Do click on them to see them enlarged. The reflections and clouds are lovely. (Also, when people click on every image my blog stats go wild!)
We saw lots of nesting ospreys, flying swallowtail kites, herons, and egrets, plus one small gator. People liked that. We got to see osprey drama, with one catching a fish and others chasing and yelling at each other. I’ve always enjoyed ospreys since I was a kid and we’d see them nesting in Cedar Key, on the Florida Gulf coast.
A highlight of bird watching was finding a prothonotary warbler flitting around. It also thrilled the nice little girl in front of me. Our guide told me he had some nest in his other boat’s cupholder. Since I was nowhere near close enough to get a photo, here’s one of Rick’s along with one of the babies in his cup holder.
All in all, the trip was worth the cheesiness, though we definitely had the worst seats on the boat (next time, get starboard, Suna!), next to the bathroom. But, we were polite and let everyone else get on first, so whose fault was that? We got the bonus of enjoying Bella, the owners’ large Rottweiler-style dog, who has a huge joy of living. Watching her play brought laughter and joy to us all, as she ran, flopped, threw a toy around, and spontaneously dug.
People who have a dog that nice can’t be all bad, so I’m glad we could contribute to their small business!
A Very Short Whine
I’m really trying to get to all the things I have to do, but I just crashed when I got home today, which may explain why I originally published the blog post full of typos and a missing paragraph. I have things to write, figuring out my social security and retirement plans, change over my email address to a boring personal one, and other riveting activities. But, after the stuff that’s been going on at work and home, I’m running on fumes.
I’m sorry I’m so behind on my volunteer work, but I’m wiped out by worry, disappointments, and frustrations (none of which you will read about in this blog or hear about in the podcast). I just wanted to remind you that not everything in my life shows up here. Which leads me to remind you and me both that we all have our unspoken struggles, so let’s choose kindness and patience, even when it’s a struggle.
Since we are all rested and wanting to see the eastern part of the USA, Lee and I decided to go to Pawley’s Island and Brookgreen Gardens today. I just had a hankering to see the island, since I’d read about it a lot, and you know, they make hammocks therethey make hammocks. Sure enough, it was small and cute, and consisted mostly of vacation homes that were quaint and nice. I enjoyed looking at the estuary and the marshes surrounding the island, but there weren’t really any places to get out and explore.
We instead found a nice little hamburger stand, and enjoyed a delicious burger and fries that were not fast food at all. That got us strengthened enough to head down the road to Brookgreen Gardens, where we hadn’t had a chance to go last year. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten to charge my watch, so I missed 6,700 or so steps. Dagnabbit.
That did not deter us from having a wonderful time, though. Just driving into the place we saw a cool black-headed squirrel and a brown thrasher. A real highlight though, was a brand-new exhibit in their galleries, which was devoted to American sculptures and other art featuring wildlife and domestic animals. You don’t see many sculptures of good ole dogs, so it was a real treat.
There were also beautiful sculptures of horses (they have LOTS of horses), birds, foxes, otters, and all sorts of animals, plus some great drawings and paintings. We enjoyed the small gallery of items from the people who had owned the land when it was three rice plantations. I was impressed to see a few depictions of where the enslaved people lived, and that they were labeled as such. And I give credit to the families who deeded the land to everyone to enjoy.
The outdoor part of this garden is immense. It’s certainly too big to see everything on the property in one day, so it’s good your tickets can be used for a week! We will come back later to see the zoo, labyrinth, and other areas we missed as we wandered from beautiful spot to beautiful spot, finding little hidden sculptures in niches, and grand sculptures in beautiful settings with ponds and fountains.
This is the 90th year of the gardens, and you can tell, because there are lots of imported and exotic specimen trees that have grown huge. There were many evergreen trees I’d never seen before, plus a couple of deciduous ones, like a very, very large swamp chestnut oak, festooned with gray Spanish moss. You could live under that thing.
I can see why this garden has won so many awards. It’s designed to provide new vistas everywhere you turn, and must be spectacular when azaleas and camellias are blooming. I found one camellia blossom.
It was funny how I kept flipping back and forth from wanting to take photos of some of the pretty cultivars of decorative plants to wanting to take photos of the views and native things. Thus, there are a lot of photos in this blog post.
There was wildlife, too! We found turtles, an alligator, geese, a very friendly cardinal, a black-and-white warbler, plus brown thrashers. We heard even more birds. This place sounds fantastic, so blind people could enjoy it (by the way, it is also very accessible for people using canes, walkers, or wheelchairs).
Of course, my favorite part is what they call “beyond the wall,” which is a creek and swamp where the rice fields used to be. I’m so fond of swamps, that my heart got racing as I found sedges, rushes, wild irises, and beautiful cypress knees. The path was just perfect for a swamp lover like me, but, I realized when I ran into a fellow using an electric wheelchair, that it was totally accessible to all (if you’re careful)!
After a quick trip to the gift shop, where I got a t-shirt and commemorative mugs, we headed to shop at Publix, which is kind of like a tourist attraction for people from the South. It’s just the nicest grocery store chain. I got some flowers for our room and the vitally important coffee filters for the condo. Whew. We’re all set now!
Tomorrow I’ll be hitting the beach early, working, then probably relaxing in the evening, but we’ll find ways to enjoy being in a new location, even when working. Since Lee brought his giant iMac, he’s able to record his receipts instantly and keep track of Hearts Homes and Hands’ finances almost as well as he can at home. And I’m all set up, just with my laptop screen. We can do it!
I hope you enjoyed the photos. They sure were fun to take!