As much as I enjoy wildlife, especially birds, history and architecture also rate high on my list. In Beaufort, South Carolina, you can have it all.
After spending a month on Florida’s Amelia Island northeast of Jacksonville, my wife and I weren’t ready to head back to the northern winter climes. We rented an Airbnb for a few days with another couple. My wife did an expert job of choosing our place. It was located only three blocks north of the historic waterfront area of the quaint and bustling downtown section.
Beaufort (as in beautiful) is indeed beautiful. Its city planners clearly understood the importance of maintaining the town’s long history while making the scenic waterfront attractive and available to all, locals and tourists alike.
We had been to Beaufort before, but my wife and I never tire of seeing the old antebellum mansions surrounded by stately old live oak trees dripping with Spanish moss. The more famous ones are located west of downtown on The Bluff along Bay St. They overlook the marina on the Beaufort River where shorebirds mingle with sailboats.
They aren’t the only beauties to be found, however. We prefer to drive around on our own, stopping at our leisure to photograph historical architecture, lovely scenery, and whatever wildlife we happen upon. We meet friendly locals out walking their dogs on an evening stroll in the process.
The homes and historic buildings grabbed our immediate attention every time we turned the corner. Some were newer, built to fit into Beaufort’s style. Most, however, were well-maintained residences or upscale inns, where customers could sit on expansive front porches and enjoy the evening, tea, and genuine conversation.
Beaufort is a town steeped in history. Its iconic mansions shout that loud and clear.
Recently, I had the privilege of sharing with two different senior groups. They had asked to see a few of the many photographs I had taken.
Most of the shots I shared were captured within 10 miles of our home. I wanted to show that, though travel to exotic locales is nice, we don’t have to go far to see the real beauty in any season. That may be true no matter where you live.
I think I was preaching to the choir. Most in attendance were seasoned citizens of the kingdom, people who had lived through hard times, much more difficult than whatever the Great Recession has thrown our way.
You could see the joy in their eyes, hear the love of life in their queries and comments, and sense their genial concern and caring for all creation. These were good folks for sure.
Colorful landscapes dotted with farm animals and farmhouses predominated the slideshow. I threw in some family photos and shots of birds that frequent my backyard feeders for a change of pace.
I have to confess that I did it for effect, too. The close-ups of Eastern Bluebirds sipping at the partially frozen waterfalls of my garden pond, and the shocking size of the Pileated Woodpeckers that frequent the suet feeders created a few muffled sidebars.
The presentations were dominated by slides of our lovely rural geography. Some of the same scenes were shown during different seasons. An Amish farmstead was featured in winter and summer from the same vantage point.
The photograph that meant the most to me wasn’t a beautiful bird or a lovely landscape. It was the shot of my late parents at their 65th wedding celebration. It perfectly summed up my parents in one click of the camera shutter.
Dad wore a suit and tie, his usual attire for any formal social gathering, be it a family Christmas dinner or an anniversary remembrance like this occasion. An outdoorsman through and through, his pheasant patterned tie reflected his life’s priorities.
Mom was elegantly natural in her pose, too. Her eyes beamed what she longed to say but could not due to her advancing Alzheimer’s disease. She had long before expressed her appreciation for being in the world through her lovely landscapes and her abundant patience and compassion as a mother, wife, and artist.
I was sure to credit my folks for my passion to see things creatively and appreciatively. Dad gave me the love of nature, and Mom the ability to see it through an artistic perspective.
I never could paint the way Mom did, though she tried to teach me once. After several attempts, Mom kindly suggested I stick with writing and photography. And so I have.
I recognize that there are far better writers and photographers than me. Still, I am passionate about both, enjoying the attentiveness and inquisitiveness of people like these marvelous seniors.
My guess is their values and perspectives closely matched those of my folks. Familiar with several people in both audiences, I know they have and continue to share their gifts in their family, church and community.
These gathered folks formed their lives around the old adage, “It’s better to give than receive.” They gave me an opportunity to share, and graciously tolerated my lame attempts at humor during my presentation.
In both settings, these generous folks extended their warm hospitality around food. Food and friendship generate the best conversations.
I left a voicemail message for Elmer, a former elementary student of mine. I told him that I would arrive at his sugar shack between 9 and 10 on Saturday morning.
No longer the fourth grader I fondly remembered, Elmer was now a husband, father, grandfather and entrepreneur. I considered it a privilege to be invited into this unpretentious but productive workplace.
The process of making maple syrup has to be done in a timely fashion. When the sap’s running, it’s time to get busy.
Above the sugar shack, a billowy blend of steam and smoke filtered through barren branches and into the morning’s overcast, and signaled that Elmer and his crew were already hard at work. The smoke meant the wood-fired boiler was stoked. The steam said the sap was boiling.
Strands of thin blue tubing zigzagged downhill from maple tree to maple tree, converging at the weathered wood building. Lid-covered buckets marked the taps on the trees and served as junctions for the plastic tubing.
A lazy, little stream split the handsome, steep hillside farm fields on either side of the hollow. Even after all of the moisture we had had, the creek just trickled softly as if it didn’t want to disturb the bucolic setting. Near the entrance a small sign welcomed one and all to the Yoder’s sugar camp.
The annual effort clearly was a family affair, too. With my arrival, the close quarters of Elmer’s operation soon filled with curious family members. Some were there to work and visit, others, mainly to scope me out.
Grades of amber.
Into the tank.
Stoking the fire.
The sugar shack.
Buckets and beyond.
When he’s not making maple syrup, Elmer has his fingers in several other operations. He makes wooden slats for the interiors of utility trucks as well as nylon pockets for tools and electronic parts.
In addition, Elmer makes wood clocks in the shape of Ohio with each of the state’s 88 counties a different wood. Elmer has developed his own variety of sweet, tart apple. I can attest that they are delicious. Elmer is a multi-talented man.
As Elmer showed me the various aspects of his sugaring operation, I marveled at his ingenuity, and his acute knowledge. He talked while he worked, once using the hydrometer to check the percentage of brix in the bubbling solution.
Outside large stainless steel tanks captured the sweet liquid until it was pumped into the reverse osmosis system that made his sugaring operation so efficient and kept the finished product consistent.
All the while young sons and pretty daughters scurried about their tasks, too. They stoked the fire frequently to maintain the proper temperature to keep the boiling sap boiling.
Elmer demonstrated how syrup is graded by both flavor and color. Apparently, lovers of maple syrup have their preferences.
Soon more family members entered, including two that I should have recognized but did not. Sister Fannie, and younger brother, Harry, arrived just minutes apart. Like Elmer, I had taught them, too. I had no idea they were coming.
That’s when the stories really started to flow faster than the maple sap. They reminded me of events and interactions I had long forgotten. Their smiles told me they had waited a long time for this opportunity.
Teachers live for moments like this. To have former students chatter on and on in heart-felt contentment overwhelmed me with abundant joy.
The apples and syrup each had their own special sweetness. No instrument, however, has yet been made to gauge the sweetness of the hospitality shown to me.
My wife, Neva, and I had been asked to host the dessert portion of a progressive supper for our church’s small youth group. Given her gift of hospitality, Neva quickly accepted the offer.
The group had been to two other homes before arriving at our place for the 1960s themed desserts. Neva made finger Jell-O, Rice Krispies bars and pistachio cake baked in an authentic bunt pan. We added some 60s era candies that I found in a local store, and had Kool Aid to drink.
We wanted to get the kids in the 60s tempo as best we could by making the house look cool, you know. Neva loves to decorate, and she did a groovy job this time. In fact, I don’t know where she came up with all the 60s stuff she displayed.
Peace signs drawn on paper plates dangled from the dining room light fixture. Party balloons, secured in a paper bag festooned with smiley faces, and a smiley face Pez dispenser adorned the dining room table.
I found a magazine completely dedicated to Bobby Kennedy that I had sequestered. I also brought out an old black and white 8 x 10 photo that my late father had framed for me. It was a shot of a fellow Plain Dealer intern and myself dressed as hippies. That’s a 1969 story for another time.
Neva hung a few clothes we had saved from the 60s, including a lacy dress and a checkered sports jacket. I also resurrected my senior year high school letter jacket. It still looked like new, while I don’t. But I can still fit into it.
Neva also exhibited a variety of purses she had from the 60s along with a few pieces of china. She also found an old dress pattern in its original package.
The center of attention in the living room was a treasure trove timeline of 60s items. Included were some Archie and the Gang comic books, popular children’s books from the era, a Winnie the Pooh bear, and of course a small collection of Beatles record albums. It was a shame we no longer had a record player on which to play them.
The real treat came when the 10 teenagers arrived. Most were dressed in cool clothing from the 60s obtained at thrift stores. Psychedelic T-shirts and paisley dresses and shirts were suddenly back in vogue, if only for the evening. One savvy dude somehow found a brown checked suit that perfectly fit him.
We briefly explained the reason for the dessert offerings, and the food was quickly consumed. Other Baby Boomer adults also attended to help share their growing up experiences.
It was during that time that the real spirit of the turbulent 60s was revealed. The kids seemed spellbound by the personal stories. And well they should. The 1960s were a tumultuous, passionate time of change, drama and societal conflict. Reliving those long forgotten moments seemed to energize everyone in attendance.
Of course, one of the adults, no names mentioned, went a little long. Nevertheless, the kids courteously listened to what was said, and their attire certainly helped everyone feel in the mood.
Oh, yes, I forgot to mention my skinny knit tie, white shirt, white socks, mohair sweater, and rolled up blue jeans that I wore. Other than the hippie outfit, it may have been the only other time in my life that I was considered cool. Or were they just being kind?
The visitors came from near and far. All were treated to a good measure of holiday hospitality during the first Candlelight Church Walk held in Millersburg, Ohio on Dec. 10.
Five Millersburg churches were chosen for their close proximity to make it easy for people to walk from stop to stop. At each church, visitors were kindly greeted with a combination of church history, tours, Christmas displays and holiday refreshments.
Visitors were given a map to follow to guide them from church to church. They were heartily greeted at each church, which was festively decorated according to its own holiday traditions.
Yet, many common elements connected the quintet of denominations. The candlelight segment of the walk came in the form of luminaries that lined the front sidewalks and guided visitors into the individual sanctuaries. The luminaries were unique to each church, giving visitors a foretaste of what was inside.
Jim and Kim Sabo drove three hours from Bridgeport, West Virginia to do the tour. The Sabo’s consider the area their second home. When Mrs. Sabo happened to see the church walk mentioned online, they didn’t hesitate to do the tour.
At St. Peter’s Catholic Church, a couple that had retired to the Millersburg area for the peace and quiet found it in the sanctity of the walk and the people they met along the way.
Visitors to the Faith Lutheran Church marveled at the handmade decorations on the lovely Christmas tree at the front of the church, and rested at tables in the fellowship hall to enjoy homemade cookies and punch.
A live nativity scene brought a respectful hush over those who passed through the Millersburg Christian Church sanctuary. The nativity actors, all attired with period costumes, filled the pulpit area.
At First Presbyterian Church, visitors enjoyed refreshments upon entering the foyer, and could inspect the decorated sanctuary at their leisure. Louisa Erb, of Mt. Eaton, said she had always wanted to see the Presbyterian Church but never had.
“I like architecture and the church is very nice,” she said.
Several members of Millersburg Mennonite Church provided visitors with seasonal music that included various musical instruments. Each church provided a variety of refreshments.
Friends Lisa Lawhead, of Millersburg, and Cindy Funk, of Shreve, met at a local restaurant, and then decided to do the tour. Lawhead echoed a comment heard at nearly every church.
“I have been by this church many times,” she said, “but had never been in it until tonight.”
Others, like Bill and Barb Roderich and Tom and Pat Albu, of Canton, made the drive to do the tour at the invitation of friends. They said it was more than worth the drive. The evening ended with caroling at the First Presbyterian Church.
Lead organizer Kate Findley, who attends the Presbyterian Church, said she and the other planners were pleased with the turnout.
“We hope to do this again next year,” she said. “We really thank all the people from each congregation who made this event go so smoothly, and of course thank those who chose to take the tour.”