Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
~Robert Frost

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Greetings from Hilton Head, SC!

How lucky I am to have relatives living in Hilton Head, South Carolina--otherwise, I may not have had the chance to introduce my son to the wonders of Spanish Moss, pine-needled trails, and the 'greenness' of the Saw Palmettos, a lovely sight for Ohio winter weary eyes.  We traveled from Cincinnati to Hilton Head during the week after Christmas to celebrate the holidays and visit with my Mother and Father-in-law.  I know what you are thinking:  "Must be nice..."  And you are right.  It was very nice--not shorts and tank tops nice, but I got by without my winter coat.  These folks raised their four boys in Buffalo, New York before retiring to Hilton Head, so they have certainly put in their time for crappy winters.  I made the journey from Cincy to Buffalo a few times before my husband and I were married and that was plenty for me!

Len and Mares live on Hilton Head Plantation, a gated community near the entrance to the island.  The trail featured in this blog post is within the Whooping Crane Pond Conservancy which is maintained and owned by an organization named the Hilton Head Island Land Trust.  I do not believe the trail is open to the general public, but if you happen to have friends or relatives living in this plantation, it's a very peaceful place to take a stroll and the kids will love the boardwalk.  Let's take a look!

We start our hike at the beginning of the Nancy Cathcart path which is well marked with a sign:

Nancy Duane Cathcart was a naturalist on Hilton Head Island and published a book about the region in 1981 titled The Natural History of Hilton Head Island, S.C.: a field guide.  I'm assuming this path was named after her.  My son, Marshall takes the lead and we head down the trail--a carpet of pine needles edged with waving Saw Palmettos:

Not too far into the walk, we approach some boards that cover a wet spot and Marshall takes a moment to rest and examine some pine needles up close:

I'm wondering if we can fit enough of these in our pockets to use as mulch in our yard back home... I know my father-in-law would gladly be rid of a few thousand of these needles which fall onto his lawn each week and require constant raking.  At least he never has to buy and spread mulch for the garden beds, he just rakes them in!  Of course, this being a nature preserve, we look and touch, but leave behind the needles and forge ahead into the more forested part of the preserve.

My mother-in-law, Mary Ann (Mares) is an avid gardener and knows a lot about plants.  She belongs to a local garden club, called--you guessed it--The Avid Gardeners.  In the next picture, she is showing me a diseased red bay tree.  The red bays in the South have apparently been dying out over the past few years due to a disease known as Laurel Wilt Disease which is spread by the Ambrosia Beetle from Asia.

We see many of these, mostly young saplings, during our hike. This reminds me of the problems we are having with the Emerald Ash Borer in Cincinnati and all of the Northeastern U.S. and of my fear that one day, insects will take over the world.  

Another point of interest is a small section of the woods that suffered a brush fire in February, 2009.  You can just see the charred bark hiding behind the Saw Palmettos in the following photo:

It seems the area is recovering well, especially when compared with a photo of the damage when the fire occurred.  

After about a fifteen minute stroll, we finally reach the main attraction of the preserve, the Boardwalk.

The boardwalk allows us the chance to become immersed in the ecosystem of a freshwater swamp without getting our feet wet (hopefully)!  Marshall can't wait to take off running and scare the bejeezus out of me.  Images of him falling into the water and being consumed by a massive alligator enter my mind.  

Fortunately, he is my more careful son and I am thankful my two year-old wild child is taking a nap back at the house.  The swamp is beautiful, filled with the tall, straight trunks of the Tupelo or Black Gum trees that make up the forest.  With the sunlight filtering in and the still, dark waters reflecting the scene, it's quite a peaceful, beautiful place to take a deep breath and contemplate life.  Seeing my reflection in the water as I gaze over the wooden rails with all the tree trunks rising up behind my silhouette, I am reminded that I desperately need a haircut and would be smart not to take a photo at this very moment.  Rather, I shoot some of the trees instead:

and the Spanish Moss:

and the cute hand-made signs describing the plants:

and the Boardwalk from the middle of the swamp after I have fallen in:

Just kidding.  This is taken from another portion of the boardwalk that forks from the main one.  At the end of the boardwalk, you get to look out over a wooded area that is wonderful for bird watching.

We hear more birds than we spot on this day.  That was the only disappointment, not seeing much wildlife.  I did get a glimpse of Ohio's state bird, a red cardinal.  So much for exotic southern waterfowl.  But a red cardinal is lovely anytime and probably much easier to spot. 

After making our way back down the boardwalk and toward the parking area, Marshall finds a perfect resting spot:

The Whooping Crane Pond Conservancy is very-well maintained by people who love and appreciate this natural area and I am grateful for their hard work.  Although we don't get to Hilton Head as often as we would like, I appreciate being able to re-visit this trail each time and make good memories with my family.  I also appreciate my in-laws for taking such good care of us when we come to their beautiful home!

I'd like to mention some other natural areas on and near Hilton Head Island that are open to the public for those of you who may vacation there.  Following are links to info about the places I have visited personally and think are well worth the trip.

Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge is just off island:

Sea Pines Forest Preserve:

Stoney-Baynard Ruins:

If you have any recommendations for other places to hike on Hilton Head, let me know!