Southern Exposure

Earlier this summer I took a quick 5 day trip to Charleston, South Carolina.  After twenty hours of transit, I arrived to a heat wave that had the residents complaining of the temperatures and humidity.  Last I checked, 65F = shorts weather, so I didn’t have much to prepare me for the 90+ days with high humidity.  Nor, and I would say even worse, for the –15 air conditioning at the hotel/conference center where I stayed.  I was in Charleston (to be correct, it was North Charleston (and a strip mall)(2 miles from the airport)(not that I’m complaining)) for the River Network’s annual River Rally.  This year was no less inspiring than 2009 in Baltimore, and I’m ever-grateful for the opportunity to spend a couple of days with hundreds of professionals who dedicate their lives to saving our rivers, our fish, and our wildness, for our children and our collective sanity. 

The conference was great, but so too was the exposure to the South.  In many ways it felt like traveling to another country.  I saw and felt very little of my cultural and daily life reflected around me while there.  I took one day and strolled downtown, taking pictures, trying to not pass out from the heat, and generally loving the different-ness of it all.


I started the day at Waterfront Park, at a fountain full of gleeful children, surrounded by hot and resting parents.  There is something so special when the temperatures are extreme, in one way or another, and people come together to cool off or warm up.  City parks are fabulous for people-watching, and in the heat of summer, people-watching opportunities abound.


Of course, you should be aware of the park rules while people-watching, or cooling off in the fountain.  Specifically not permitted is “running, boisterous, or rough play.”  Lest we become too boisterous in the fountain.

If you’re feeling too boisterous, you might consider getting an Italian Ice.  From the Italian Ice girls, of course.  On nearly every street corner there was an Italian Ice cart, staffed by an attractive 20-something offering free samples.  This boy in the red shirt is partaking in an Italian Ice, and from the other side of the street I felt I was witnessing an integral part of downtown Charleston summer culture. 


Charleston is really old.  My hometown is also really old, and it was so enjoyable to read plaques on houses, street corners, and in the parks that told some snapshot of a long-ago history relative to that place.  Executed and buried gentleman pirates in the nearby salt marshes was one of my favorites. 

The houses were HUGE.  I mean really really large and excessive.  An often quoted statistic from this area is that along these streets are the highest property values in the country.  I wanted so badly to see a resident from one of these places.  Just see them, maybe carrying in some groceries?  Or going out to the movies?  Who are these people?  What is it like to grow up in one of these places, to come home after a trying day, or after a romantic date or after just another-day-at-the-office to a 10+ bedroom home? 

Apparently you don’t need a normal bank.  You need “wealth management” services.  We’re not in Kansas anymore…P6050320



As best I could see, peering in the gates and being as nosey as I dared, the gardens and yards were incredibly well manicured and lush.  The churches, which were plentiful throughout, offered an opportunity to stroll through some of the backyards into the cemeteries, which were similarly maintained.


But then I found the Unitarian Universalists.  If I weren’t buried on a hilltop, on a mountain or by a free river, this is the kind of place I’d want to be buried.  Beautifully wild and cared for, with love around every corner.  Here may have been as close as I felt to home as anywhere on the trip.