Had an absolutely wonderful time in Charleston, as I always do. And as always, it was really, really hard to leave (like checking out Zillow for a $500 shack I might be able to buy and live in there hard). Some highlights:
-Morning runs. I could just kick my past self for not being a runner when I lived in Charleston. Because it is such an amazing city to run in. I look forward to waking up early and running. When I'm on vacation. Seriously. Because this is what I see on those early morning runs, when the tourists aren't out in full force yet, and the streets are quiet and soft, and the air is cool but the sun is warm.
-Food. Oh so much delicious food. From an oyster slider (sweet home-baked roll, the most flavorful fried oyster, this out of control Asian sauce) that almost made me pass out at The Ordinary to some of the best chicken I've ever eaten in my life at Stars (that wood-fire oven is magical). From banana/peanut butter muffins at Baked to more oysters and beer at Pearlz. From morning coffee at City Lights to fried pickles and sparkling rose at the Bar at Husk, to finally, the main event, after so main failed attempts to get reservations, dinner at Husk, Sean Brock's restaurant that Bon Appetit called the best new restaurant in America when it opened in 2011. We had insanely good mussels and fried chicken skin for an appetizer, a skillet of cornbread for the table (I am highly skeptical of restaurant cornbread, because homemade is usually far superior, but holy wow, there must be a bunch of Southern grandmas in the Husk kitchen, because this was ridiculously good), and then I had trout and Carolina gold rice for my main, nothing crazy, nothing weird, just Southern food the way Southern food really is to anyone who knows it, all about great, traditional, local ingredients, from seafood to vegetables to rice, served to taste fricking amazing. I am positive I gained at least 5 pounds in Charleston. But it was so totally worth it.
-Kayaking at Middleton Place. I only went to Middleton Place once when I lived in Charleston, at night for a Spoleto concert, and I definitely never kayaked the Ashley near Middleton. But I'm so glad we did this weekend, because it was such a great way to experience my beautiful Lowcountry. Tidal marshes are always what get to me most about Charleston, more than that ocean or those rivers or the harbor. Maybe it's just me, but there's something rawly soulful about a tidal marsh, the way it ebbs and flows, rises and falls, carries things from the ocean and carries things (and manatees! although only in the summer darn it) back to it. Tidal marshes are unpretentious and quiet next to those big bodies of water all around Charleston, but they are without question its life blood. And they infuse the whole area, even inland, with that hint of salt, with that promise of wide, blue sea.
We had an awesome guide, one of those people who grew up in Charleston that I am so jealous of because they literally exude outdoorsy sedation. We paddled up river against a current so it was a great upper body workout, but still so relaxing and peaceful. We didn't spot any gators or dolphins (although we saw plenty of wild gators later walking around the grounds of Middleton, and plenty of dolphins playing in the harbor), but I could have cared less. I was surrounded by marsh and marsh grass and got to listen to a guide talk about Charleston area history (there is nothing I dorkily love more). It was heaven in a kayak.
We walked around the grounds of Middleton (or a tiny fraction of them, according to our guide it's still an 8,000 acre plantation, and that's a substantial reduction from what it once was), and I cannot think of a more beautiful place in this world. Yes, before you yell at me, I know Middleton was once the sight of slavery, and that's awful and horrible, and it should be remembered and not just glossed over because things are pretty. But being somewhere like Middleton, with such crazy physical beauty, you also are just fully in the present, appreciating the place for what it is now, not what it once was.
Spring is beginning to spring in Charleston, and the first hints of flowers were popping up around the grounds. Although even without the flowers, even in the middle of winter, this place would be stunning. Just because of the fact that the grounds are covered with some of the biggest, most ancient looking, out of control gorgeous live oaks I've ever seen. Even after all these years, live oaks and spanish moss make me weak in the knees.
Plus, gators! The big pond there was PACKED with these. Would have been more scared but our trusty guide told us there are about two gators attacks per decade in the Lowcountry. So I figured my chances were pretty good.
-South Carolina Aquarium. I am such a nerd for this aquarium. I think I took nearly everyone who visited me in Charleston to it. It's not the biggest aquarium in the world. It doesn't have the fanciest selection of water creatures. But I absolutely love it, because it does such an incredible job of being about local South Carolina animals and conservation. It was built on the harbor and even the building feels like an extension of the natural world around it. There is so much love and passion in the air there for these local animals, and I every time I go, I come away wanting to do everything in my part to protect sea turtles and fish. Which is kind of the whole point of aquariums, yes?
Since the last time I went they got an albino alligator. And I swear to God I had to stifle a scream when I turned the corner and saw this.
I am torn between being 99% positive that this is Satan incarnate, come to destroy the world, and feeling kind of bad for the guy, because apparently albino alligators usually don't live into adulthood in the wild because they don't have the usual gator camouflage. Which is pretty sad. Also alligators have to lie in the sun to get warm, and albino alligators get sun-burnt. Which is also pretty sad. So 1% of me feels sorry for him. The rest of me wanted to get a vial of holy water and start an exorcism.
On a much less demonic note, we took a tour of the sea-turtle hospital, which I've always wanted to do, because what is more adorable than a sea turtle hospital.
They were at capacity, because apparently there was a huge incidence of "cold shock" this year in more northern harbors (sea turtles swim up north somewhere like Boston harbor, the water gets really cold really fast, the sea turtles get hypothermia and really sick). The Boston Aquarium was full, so a lot of these turtles were flown down in private planes by very generous millionaires (take a moment to say aw). There were also turtles there who had been run over by boats (sad face), or gotten hurt by fishing lines or hooks (dear fishermen, according to the aquarium, if a sea turtle swallows your hook, do NOT try to get the hook out, cut the line and alert the proper authorities). There was even a turtle with a bowel obstruction who had really bad gas that made it hard for him to stay under-water.
(that's why they have weights on his shell, poor guy)
It is incredible the lengths this place goes to to save these turtles. They do surgery, start IVs, give medicine. The turtle with the bowel obstructions even got enemas (although to be fair, that's probably a much easier and nicer job than a human enema). They'll sometimes have these turtles in for years, but the ultimate goal is always to release them. They had all these pictures on the walls of the releases, of all these humans on a beach there to celebrate a sea turtle going back to the ocean. And the whole time I was there I couldn't help thinking how beautifully dumb humans can be. And I mean that in the best possible way. What other species would give up so much time and energy and resources (private planes people) to help another species? It's so immensely compassionate and lovely. It shows this vast wealth of decency and selflessness. There's hope for us yet right? If we're willing to do this:
I can't help but think that overall we're good eggs. We just need to work a little harder to be so heroic towards each others.
(Also, another public service announcement brought to you by the sea turtle aquarium guide, if you go to a beach where sea turtles hatch, at the end of the day level the sand (if you made a sand castle or buried someone), because baby sea turtles have to walk across the beach and if they fall in a hole or run into a sand castle they might get stuck and not make it to the ocean, which makes me want to cry, so I will never again leave a sand castle on a beach and I hope you won't either, also never leave a plastic bag on a beach, sea turtles think they're delicious jellyfish!)
But really that's why I love the SC Aquarium. I leave there wanting to save the ocean and rivers and ponds and all of their inhabitants.
There were of course so many other highlights, long, lovely strolls around the city, doughnuts from Glazed (oh if that had been there in college, actually thank GOD it wasn't), rooftop bars with heat lamps, some good live music at an otherwise quiet bar on a Monday night. The whole trip was one big highlight.
It was Charleston. How could it be anything less?