Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Pleasure of Ruins

There is something about ruins that has always fascinated me. I was obsessed with the Pyramids and Chichen Itza and Maachu Picchu as a kid. If you had asked me where I wanted to travel when I grew up, every location would have been the site of famous ruins, Egypt, Greece, Pompeii. 

I can't quite put my finger on why these sites are so engaging for me. I am not really a history buff, although I do find history interesting. But it's walking through the remains of a history almost gone where I get that jolt of excitement. It's like a drug for me.

So when DK and I took a slight detour from the family reunion that my family was having in Hilton Head SC, to go Beaufort SC to celebrate our 22nd anniversary, I was expecting a "normal" get away of dinner out, cute B&B, a little shopping and some photo shooting. At least until our inn keeper showed us the book of local attractions. There are THREE ruin sites within 30 min of Beaufort! An abandoned fort, Fort Fremont, and two churches, the Chapel of Ease and the Old Sheldon Church. I tried to stay calm and present as we ate our lovely dinner, but it's hard for even the most delicious Fried Green Tomatoes and Dirty Rice and Flounder with fresh black bean salsa to compete with the prospect of going and mingling with abandoned buildings...

So I decided to gently bring the subject of chucking all our plans and going on a  photo safari to the ruins instead

Me: "So, you know how we asked the inn keeper to push back breakfast until 9, so we could sleep in?"

DK, suspiciously: "Yes..."

Me: "And you know how we were reading about those ruins?"

DK, now nervously tapping his foot and bouncing his knee under the table: "Yes..."

Me: "What if we just go home after this and go to bed, and then get up at 5 or 5:30 and go shoot pics at the ruins before breakfast? Doesn't that sound like so much fun?!"

This all comes out like one big long word, with no breaths in between. DK just stares at me like I have a frog climbing out of my mouth. An "early to bed early to rise" approach to celebrating his marital longevity is not what he had in mind at all. It is, in fact, quite the opposite of what he had in mind. He just keeps staring at me with his very effective poker face.

Me, trying desperately to be a reasonable human being: "Or....we could go to a movie and then sleep in. Is the new Star Trek playing?" 

Whew. that was a close one. Score one for being able to Control the Obsession. 

So we look up the local movie theaters. Nothing. Not one movie of interest. Not even at the drive in. 

DK, casually: "You know we can't get to all those sites before breakfast and still be on time. And I am not getting up at 5am."

Me, snapping to attention, hope surging: "So what if we just went to the two sites south of town before breakfast and then ate?" 

My heart is pounding at this point. I know that if I can get him to the two southern sites, he will go to the third one as well, just to have the whole set. And if he's talking logistics.....Eee hee hee! I might just have him!

DK, typing furiously on his cell: "The sun doesn't even rise until 6:50 am, so there's no point in getting up super early....But..."

Me, interuppting, and almost spitting food all over myself: "We could totally get to the fort and the church on the same road and get back by 9 if we left by 6:30!"

DK, looks up from his phone, sees how much I want this, and says: "Yeah, I think we could make that work. But we need some major bug spray."

Oh how I love that man.

So we drove around looking for an open drug store and found a Rite Aid that was open for 10 more minutes. And since it was the South, they had some pretty bullet proof bug spray options. We even snapped up our morning rations of Diet Coke and Coke Zero, so we didn't have to delay our adventure in the morning. We went back to the B&B, snuck them in the fridge, and went to sleep at some pitifully early hour.

It was a gorgeous morning as we drove over swamp and estuary, great live oaks covered in Spanish Moss waving in the breeze as we passed by. DK had picked up a CD of Ravel's "Bolero" at a thrift shop earlier that week, and we decided that was the perfect music for this little adventure. 

After the promised 20-30 minutes had elapsed, we were a good bit of the way down Land's End Road on St. Helena Island when we passed the Chapel of Ease ruins, a sign that we were very close to Fort Fremont, our ruin safari starting point. We saw the sign, pointing out that it was coming up, and then promptly drove right past the entrance. We had to go down a little bit more to turn around, but in that effort discovered this:

A tree, in a pond, in a pasture, covered with egrets, at the end of Land's End Rd., St Helena's Island. Definitely something you don't see everyday. Unless you live there.

Here's a closer pic.

Bird photos by DK.
So. Many. Birds. 

It really was so freaking cool. Now add in the Bolero music, friends. I have it playing right now, snare drums setting the measured pace for the winding sensuous music, under a sky slowly turning pink. Ooo! Gives me the a good way.

Needless to say, we made it to the ruins of Fort Fremont about 2 min later. 

Can you find DK? He's hiding, like Waldo, except in a photographic position.

Does anyone else get all geeked out about who may have walked up those stairs? Were they young? old? in love? Living with sorrow? Too inexperienced to worry about much? 

What kind of covering was on the cement? Was there a roof? Could they see the dolphins swimming by? Did they like the people they served with? Did they tell gross stories while keeping watch?

Those pits were about 8-10 feet deep. The guns for the fort were retractable, so they would load them in the pit, then hoist them up to fire. Up, down, up, down. Sink all the Spanish ships, as this fort was build for the Spanish American War. I think it said they could reload in about 1 min. It was pretty cool stuff. 

We walked all over that place, then got back in the car to our next destination, the Chapel of Ease. 

This site had a definite feeling to it, unlike the Fort, which had been surprisingly neutral. A sense of sadness, like old regret, floated in the air here. It wasn't dark, just a touch melancholy.  Some of the gravestones, especially those in the children's graveyard might explain that. That said, I also felt a beautiful sense of stillness and peace while I wandered. And a sense of lives lived hard, but lived all the same.

The Chapel of Ease was built to serve those who lived on St. Helena Island, so they didn't have to make the trek back to Beaufort to go to church on Sunday. I imagine it brought great relief to those who worshiped there. Remember, Beaufort was a 20-30 min drive at 50-60 mph. Imagine having to schlep yourself back to town on your one day off?

I need to do some more research about this mausoleum. It was so stylistically unique, almost to the point of being out of place.This piece reminds me of something Egyptian, like the Temple of Dendur at the Met in New York City. Maybe someone went there and decided it was the coolest thing ever?

And I love that so much of the architecture is tabby, a building material similar to concrete, made from the prevalent local oyster shells. Talk about up-cycling!

Can't you see the weddings here? Can't you hear the great sermons that give the congregation the hope they need to keep moving forward into another week? I could imagine the children running around the building while waiting for their parents to finish chatting with friends. This was a place that was filled with life, but the "for better or for worse" kind of the poor in the South.

Eventually, it was time to leave. 

"Bolero" was all finished an we had to get back for breakfast. 

And just in case you are wondering, we did go to the Old Sheldon Church ruins, but that's another post, for another day. You'll just have to stay tuned. And hope that school starts pretty soon, so I have time to write. 

Because I have so many great stories for you all. It has truly been a summer of wonders...

Talk to you soon,

CM Shaw

1 comment:

  1. What a breathtaking trip, in so many regards! Not only for the anniversary (yay 22!) but RUINS!!! And that photography!!! Annnd the egrets. Gorgeous. So glad you had such a full, amazing summer and so glad to be reading your writing again! XO