Summer Vacation on Kiawah Island, South Carolina

Dawn on Kiawah Island

On Saturday, July 7, Linda and I flew to Charleston, South Carolina.  We landed at 5:30 to a greeting party of Dylan, Carson, and Robin.  Picked up a new blue minivan, stopped for a bite at Wendy’s, and motored east 30 miles to Kiawah Island, a beautiful (and seriously upmarket) resort on the Atlantic.  Linda had rented a condo for a week, and we moved in.

The view from our balcony

We fell quickly into lazy-vacation routine Sunday, ambling a few blocks to a great new kids’ pool.  Lunch, naps, games, dinner.  Repeat.  The antidote to indolence was a lot of rides on rental bikes, a bulky one-speed cruiser, but still a two-wheeler perfect for workouts.  Each morning I rose about 6 and pounded out 13 miles, east and north to the end of the island, past lagoons with paddling alligators, marshes full of ibis and gulls, and some really big vacation homes.  In the afternoon, I sequentially strapped Dylan and Carson into a kid’s seat behind me and took off for a four- to six-mile round trip.


On Tuesday afternoon with Carson, I experienced one of the most remarkable faunal encounters in a half-century of being in nature.  We were pedaling slowly along a bike path that paralleled the island’s main road when we came upon three white-tailed deer, a small doe and her two fawns.  They did not scamper away.  When we arrived, one fawn was suckling.  We stayed for perhaps 30 seconds, and were only four feet from them.  It was a remarkable encounter.  As we pedaled away, Carson said simply “Mama,” and I replied “that’s right.”  When we got home 25 minutes later, I asked her to tell Linda and Dylan what she saw.  “Mama deer,” she replied.  It was really sweet.

The view from the lobby at the Sanctuary Hotel

After dinner that night I drove back to the airport and picked up Jack, who joined us for the rest of the week.  The next afternoon we drove into Charleston.  Sadly, we lacked a plan, and ended up spending way too much time in the world of retail commerce, which made your scribe a bit testy.  King Street, the main shopping artery, is slowly being remade into the equivalent of a suburban shopping mall, the local stores giving way, as they do, to Victoria’s Secret and Brooks Brothers and the rest.  Things improved swiftly at six, when we entered the Hominy Grill just north of downtown, a place first visited in 2009.  It was the exact opposite of King Street retail homogeneity: here was a place comfortable in its own skin, showcasing the best local dishes from the Low Country, as this area is known.  We did some serious eating: as I did before, I couldn’t resist the variety in a vegetable plate: collard greens, cheese grits, okra and tomatoes, and cole slaw.  Buttermilk pie for dessert, and a couple of glasses of rye pale ale from the Terrapin Brewery in Athens, Georgia.  Oh, my.

Library, King Street, Charleston

Detail, Art Deco facade, the former Kress dime store

The Hominy Grill, Rutledge St.

The last two days passed quickly, trips to the pool, naps, finished the 900-page Pillars of the Earth (which had been on my list for years), started John Grisham’s quick and poignant Calico Joe.  As we did three years earlier, on the last night we motored to the end of the island and ate dinner on the porch of the Ocean Course clubhouse, with stunning views of the links and the sea.

I drove Robin, Dylan, and Carson back to the airport on Saturday morning.  The week flew past, and I did not want them to leave.  Back to Kiawah, load up, then into Charleston.  We had six hours until our flight, and visited Middleton Place, one of three restored plantations on the south bank of the Ashley River.  Established 1741, it was newer than its neighbors, and claimed the oldest landscaped gardens in America.  In midsummer there were not a lot of flowers, but the grounds were still lovely, and the historical interpretation first rate, including honest narrative on the essential role of slaves.

Pond, Middleton Place; in the background is the rice mill, just above the Ashley River

The Middleton family home

Rice field, Middleton Place

The plantation had a broad collection of domesticated animals (and some wild ones, too — we spotted a young alligator in a pond near the house)

Indigo was a valuable cash crop on South Carolina plantations; these leaves are pressed and pressed again, producing the blue dye that gives denim jeans and other textiles their color.

Cooper and woodworker making a rake; 200 years ago the job would have been done by a slave.

Interior of the cabin of freed slaves, restored to about 1880

From a 1769 poster, a grim reminder of the basis for plantation culture and much of Southern prosperity

The Saturday bonus was a late brunch back at Hominy Grill: fried green tomatoes to start, crab cakes and grits, and coconut layer cake for dessert.  It’s one of my favorite restaurants in the whole world.  I am contemplating a day trip just for the collard greens and other vegetables!  We were filled up, headed back to the airport, and flew home.   It was a delightful trip; Kiawah Island is such a beautiful resort, tranquil and verdant.

Hominy Grill triptych: fried green tomatoes, crab cakes, coconut cake. Yum!

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