Category Archives: nature

Adventures in Our Odyssey: Why We Drove to South Dakota

We drove for two and a half days, pressing on hard for our destination, with few stops along the way. So many miles–over 4,000 in all–with so much to do and so little time. We were a family on a mission, journeying from Georgia to South Dakota, trying to satisfy all our pent-up wanderlust in the proper, allotted vacation time like respectable folk. Sometimes I wish we were not nearly so respectable.

Crossing the Mississippi River

Our Honda Odyssey, aptly named, was jam-packed with enough clothes, snacks, books, CDs, camping gear, and supplies to carry our family of five through our 10-day adventure. An adventure that included camping in the Black Hills, hiking in the Badlands and around Devil’s Tower, traversing the Great Plains, and searching for diamonds in Arkansas. We did bring some entertaining electronics, but the kids were limited in their usage because–hello!–my husband and I wanted them to see and experience the trip. We did not embark on this journey so our kids could achieve new levels of video game expertise; we wanted them to experience this amazing world in a way that only a road trip can provide.

Buffalo Herd (yes, I know technically they’re bison, but I like the word “buffalo” better)

The open road has long called out to me, and my parents encouraged it with annual winter drives from New Jersey to Florida when I was a child. I loved the changing scenery, the quirky billboards (South of the Border in the ’70s, anyone?), the changing state signs to mark our progress (Welcome to North Carolina!), the truckers chattering on the CB radio. I loved the going and all that it entailed. The sheer joy of going somewhere away and different. I still love it, and I want to pass that on to my kids.

The road trip has its limitations, of course–like how far you can go on a 10-day vacation. But it also has benefits that flying to your destination just can’t deliver. The road trip provides continuity for your travels. You know where you start and where you’re going, and you get to see how everything changes in between. When we crossed two time zones between here and South Dakota, we changed our minivan’s clock each time. We knew when and where it happened; we didn’t just plop down in the midst of two hours’ difference.

A driving adventure allows you to really experience this great country of ours, both in the details and in the distance. If we had simply flown to South Dakota, we would have missed the winding roads and small towns, ButterBurgers at Culver’s in Iowa, the far-reaching corn fields, and very cute, little 13-stripe squirrels at a rest area in South Dakota. We might also have missed out on the realization of the great distance we had come.

His first ButterBurger

13-Stripe Ground Squirrel

 

The driving allows the places, the land, the experience to seep into your heart and soul. They become yours in a way that I believe flying cannot offer. We stopped to touch the waving prairie grasses, and admired the neat stacks of hay bales. The hot prairie winds pushed against us unrelenting while we marveled at the immense sky. We drove through towns that had been crossed by the Trail of Tears and the Oregon Trail, and learned a little about those who came before us.

Our kids were mostly awesome on our trip. Though I’m sure they had times of boredom, they hardly complained at all, so maybe they didn’t mind the driving too much. Maybe the driving was good for them. Maybe they will continue to grow in a love of driving and traveling and experiencing this great big world of ours.

The open road is calling…

Leave a Comment

Filed under fun, fun activities, higher things, kids, nature, parenting, travel

When It’s More than Just an Oyster Roast

The sun sinks low beyond the marshes as we gather under the canopy of trees in the cooling night air. Family and friends, old and new, swap stories, speculations, and pleasantries. And the fire crackles in anticipation of the oysters.

Men place the square metal table over the fire. Once the table is good and hot, oysters are tumbled on, ready to be covered in wet burlap. Ready to steam.

Not a fan of oysters myself, I’m here for the company, as well as the other food–Lowcountry boil; grits casserole with collards, broccoli, bacon, and secret ingredients; twice-baked potatoes; and more.

Our hosts are gracious and welcoming, happy to share the beautiful winter evening under the oaks with the whole lot of us. Adults mingle around the fire. Kids flock together, playing games. More than a handful of dogs patrol the area on the lookout for wayward food or just a good belly-rub.

Before long the first batch of oysters is ready, and an eager throng huddles around a long table, oyster knives in hand. A woman from Atlanta tries oysters for the first time, and declares they are worth moving to this area. I muster my courage to try one, and I don’t mind it, but I’m content to leave the rest for the more enthusiastic eaters among us. My husband can eat my share. Besides, he has a little help from our 10-year-old son who realizes he likes oysters alright, but he really likes opening them for his dad.

Spanish moss drapes down from the branches as laughter rises up with the smoke to the wide Southern sky. Like a prayer of thanksgiving for the blessings of life. Somewhere through those branches above, the nearly full moon oversees the winding rivers and marshlands, impartial as a judge or a jewel set in the crown of this night.

My daughter and I sit a while at a picnic table, as my younger son fills up on crackers, cookies, and cake. My girl and I are eating Lowcountry boil when she announces we should do this more often. This oyster roast gathering of friends and family and food has made a good impression on her, and she’d like some more. And I think of how this is hers, in a sense, as it is ours.

This whole January-oyster-roast-with-friends-around-the-fire is part of the beauty and magic of the coastal South, an inheritance of tradition that mingles with the land. This land that clutches its treasures of history from Native Americans to Revolutionary War, through the Civil War to modern times, all cloaked in pine needles, acorns, and this sandy soil, and wrapped up in the distinctive scent of the salt marsh.

This is our inheritance, for those of us who call it home. Even for me, an adopted daughter of the South, raised here since the age of 12, the age of my daughter now. Here the hospitality is served with sweet tea, shrimp or blue crabs from the local river, oysters steamed outside on a chilly winter night, and good home cooking. Here we greet strangers, and hold the door open.

Though the heavy heat of summer drags on forever, and the sand gnats attack when the weather turns fine, still there is something special. The easiness in the sway of the Spanish moss in the breeze carries over into our easy manners, generous attitude, and good-natured stories. And our run-ins with alligators and snakes and flying palmetto bugs the size of your palm make for some great stories.

The evening draws to a close, and most of the crowd is gone by the time our family says our goodbyes. We load up in the minivan, and make our way down the dark dirt road sheltered by stretching live oaks. It’s time to head back to the paved roads and our usual daily routine. But we carry a little piece of the magic with us. It’s always there, just below the surface, a part of this unfolding story of our land, our region, ourselves.

Back at home, when the breeze blows just right, the scent of the salt marsh drifts down our street, reminding me of this privilege, of this inheritance, of this story we become.

3 Comments

Filed under fun, higher things, kids, nature, parenting, travel

Be like butterflies

IMG_3691

Recently there was a monarch chrysalis on our garbage can just before trash day. Concerned about its fate with the garbage truck, Jon and I carefully removed it, clipped it to an office clip, and taped the clip to hang down from the top of our butterfly habitat in our house. A chrysalis is pretty delicate so we were not sure if this butterfly would live or not, but we hoped for the best.

A few days later, there was a butterfly in the habitat, clinging to the empty chrysalis. It was a male, flexing his wings to prepare for flight. And I did something I had not done before. I decided to release it by myself. Alone, with no kids. Just me and this butterfly rescued from garbage truck disaster.

Releasing butterflies has always been a team event in our family, complete with kids, excitement, attempts at photos, and figuring out whose turn it is to release the butterfly. This time it was so simple.

We went outside to the patio where Mr. Monarch fluttered his excitement as I unzipped the habitat top. Politely, he stepped onto my finger. I lifted him out, and away he flew. Up, up, up. Circling and gliding and fluttering.

He seemed joyful, exuberant as he flew. It occurred to me that this was his very first flight. And I wondered what a thrill it must be for a lowly caterpillar to awake from its chrysalis sleep to fly for the first time.

To fly.

This previously creeping, crawling, leaf-eating bug. Now a beautiful, delicate, flying creature embarking on an epic journey, soaring above the plants he had once munched.

I watched him fly all the way to a high branch of a pine tree where I presume he sat for a while as monarchs often like to do upon release. And I wondered how I had missed it before, the joy of first flight. But I saw it this time – the start of the journey, the deep joy of doing the long-awaited thing you were created for. My heart soared with my monarch friend, sharing in his joy, wishing him well.

I want to be like that. Transformed to soar, bold and brave in freedom, compelled to move forward into my purpose. Joy-filled for my part in history, regardless of the risk. Not content with a small and safe and sheltered life. Flying free and strong on my epic adventure.

May we all be like butterflies.

Leave a Comment

Filed under higher things, nature