Beaufort Birthday

December 16 — I turned 51 today and a great day it was!  We’re still on the move south – leaving Charleston today and moving about 90 miles down the coastline to Beaufort – so we started out the day by doing our routine pack-up & move out activities.

Then to mark my special day, we decided on a visit to the Charleston Tea Plantation on Wadmalaw Island in the heart of South Carolina’s Lowcountry.  Incidentally, there is some symmetry to our tea time here (pun intended!) as back in Chicago I liked to mark birthdays, both mine and Moms, with high tea at The Drake, The Ritz, or a new favorite, The Langham.  So tea it was here, too.

While tea is grown all over the world, mostly in Asia, this is the only tea plantation in North America, so lucky for us that we were near it!  As it turns out, the climate here is perfect for propagating tea, so hundreds of thousands of tea plants (Camellia sinensis) are grown and harvested in the fields on this plantation featuring American Classic Tea.

Charleston  Tea Plantation

Grand Oaks at the Charleston Tea Plantation

Arching Grand Oaks greeted us as we approached the plantation, as did rows and rows of tea plants.  After tasting some teas at the Tea Bar, we took a very informative trolley tour all around the grounds, and learned lots and lots about tea.  I used to fancy myself as a tea aficionado – well now I really am!

Top on my list of ‘I didn’t know that…’ was that black, oolong, green and white tea all comes from these same Camellia sinensis leaves. The difference in flavor is where in the world they are grown (like wine; think terroir), the time of year they are harvested, and the processing method. Green tea, for example, isn’t oxidized at all. By contrast, black tea oxidizes for 50 minutes which turns it black. So green tea really isn’t ‘healthier’ as it all comes from the same tea leaves. And watch out for decaffeinated tea!

Field of tea plants, Camellia sinensis, at the Tea Plantation

The American Classic teas produced here are not decaffeinated as that process introduces really crappy chemicals to take the caffeine out of tea; the same goes for coffee. We were advised that if you don’t want that much caffeine (and there isn’t that much in tea anyway), brew then discard your first cup of tea, as 65% of the caffeine in tea is with your first dunks of the teabag or first use of loose tea. Your next cups will all have considerably less caffeine. Another interesting tidbit of information: herbal teas aren’t really tea as they don’t come from Camellia plants; they’re infusions of herbs or flowers or fruits. Interesting, eh? In case my enthusiasm isn’t evident enough in this post, we loved our tour and all we learned here – it was a wonderful place to spend my birthday!

Angel Oak Tree on Johns Island
Angel Oak Tree on Johns Island

Then moving on… our next stop was to see the old Angel Oak tree on Johns Island, and I mean this girl is old!  The tree, a Live Oak, is estimated to be around 400 years old, but it could be as old as 1,400 years old – nobody has been around that long to know!  That’s me standing in front of it in the picture above – old and big!  At 65 feet tall, the trunk has a circumference of 31.5 feet, and shades 17,000 square feet of area below.  Its draping limbs and wide spreading canopy present the aura of an angel, but the tree is actually named for Martha and Justus Angel who owned the property which dates back to the early 1600s.  It was humbling to stand beneath this massive tree and think of all that has taken place in the years that it has been growing.  Another highlight of my day….

But we weren’t done with the day yet!  In the late afternoon we arrived in Beaufort (BYOO-firt), another little coastal town we were really looking forward to visiting.  But with Charley towing Toad and the sun quickly approaching the horizon, we drove on through to Hunting Island – a beautiful, remote, unspoiled Sea Island in Coastal Carolina.  Unfortunately we pulled into our campground after dark, and while we couldn’t see the spectacular scenery around us, we could hear the ocean and we knew we were right next to it.   We quickly set up camp in the dark – we’re really efficient at this by now! – but not that enthused to drive the 15 miles back into Beaufort, we decided to find the nearest dining establishment which turned out to be a very unique seafood joint about a mile up the road and across the bridge.

Stapling our dollar at the Johnson Creek Tavern in Saint Helena Island, SC

The Johnson Creek Tavern on Saint Helena Island was the site of my birthday dinner, and what a site it was! Fred and I were two of about 10 people there in total, and that counted the waitress, the bartender, and likely about three people in the back kitchen. This was fine, though, as it just gave us the opportunity to wander around the place. While it was too dark to see the surrounding marsh and creek, there was plenty to see on the inside.

Make that between 35,000 and 40,000 somethings – $1 bills! Stapled everywhere. Written on. Drawn on. Folded into shapes like flip-flops. It was gimmicky for sure, but it was lots of fun to see people’s creativity all around this seaside restaurant. I had to get a ladder (can’t see it in the picture) to find some blank space way up high on one of the walls to staple the Fred & Laura dollar bill. My salad and basket of fried shrimp hit the spot – washed down, of course, with a couple glasses of vino. A piece of chocolate cake with chocolate frosting for dessert – could a birthday get any better than this??? I think not….

But my birthday was made all the more special as all throughout the day I got calls, texts, emails, and birthday well-wishes from many friends and family members.  [But no cards yet; we won’t get our mail from our mail forwarder in South Dakota until next week.]  As I get older, I’ve come to appreciate that that’s the best thing about birthdays – hearing from and talking to the important people in your life on your special day.  I am blessed beyond belief to be on this two-year road trip with Fred seeing and experiencing all that we are seeing and experiencing on the road, but I am equally blessed to have such amazing people in my life who are supporting me with love and light and prayers as we are away.  I love you all…!