Everywhere we travel there are new things to learn. That is, after all, a big part of the attraction that travelling holds.
Here are some of the things we learned during our winter in Myrtle Beach.
Singular vs. Plural
Y’all is singular. All y’all is plural. All y’all’s is plural possessive.
It looks like ordinary shiny mud. It smells “uniquely Low Country” in the way that driving past the pig farms in Ontario smells “uniquely Perth County”. It is ubiquitous in the low-lying marshes of South Carolina, looking like innocent wet mud until it goes into action. Vehicles can’t be driven on it, no matter how big their wheels, since their weight will suck them down. Horses cannot cross it without breaking their legs. If you’re wondering where I’m going with this, a 150 lb. person walking on pluff mud might only sink in ankle – or knee – deep. For sure, you can say goodbye to the shoe that remains behind when you finally extricate your foot. Remember, though, that in the 1700s until emancipation in 1863 this whole area was rice plantations. Those plantations were created by clearing all the native vegetation, including the massive bald cypress trees, out of the pluff mud-filled marshes. All that labour was done by hand over 7 years, and all of it was done by enslaved Africans. It will never cease to amaze me what people will do to other people for money. Through unpaid African labour, rice made Georgetown County the richest county in the COUNTRY. To top it off, other than what slaves grew for their own use, all the rice grown here was exported, considered “poor people’s food” by those who owned the plantations.
The pluff mud was not the only thing that stank about that system.
For the very best description of pluff mud, here’s the link to a wonderful article written by Buff Ross for Charleston Magazine https://charlestonmag.com/features/pluff_mud. In his eloquent words, pluff mud is “an oozy, viscous, dark-brown miasma. The origin and the accompanying smell is the rare confluence of abundant life and death.”
With a texture that is a cross between polenta and cream of wheat, grits are actually boiled cornmeal. South of the Mason-Dixon line they are treated with the respect that Europeans reserve for risotto, and can be adapted to every meal. Combinations range from the sublime (shrimp and grits) to the everyday (a side dish of cheese grits – mild or spicy) to what in my mind is both incomprehensible and just plain yucky: grits topped with sausage gravy. A personal aside: pale cream-based sausage “gravy” is also a good way to ruin biscuits, which are otherwise the best Southern food ever.
Who even knew this was a thing?
As we travel in the U.S., we often see signs on bridges, dams or roadways indicating that they were projects of the U.S Army Corps of Engineers. This winter we got to see one of those projects being completed, in the form of “beach renourishment” along South Carolina’s Grand Strand. Those of you who follow us on Facebook have seen lots and lots of pictures of the ships, pipes and earthmovers involved in doubling the size of the beach where we stayed. The huge job of bringing sand in from 3 miles offshore and adding it to the shoreline is done on an 8 to 10 year cycle here, in an effort to counteract the erosion caused by tides, hurricanes and storm surges. This year’s project involved 1.4 MILLION cubic yards of sand over 14 linear miles of beach, and was budgeted at just under $35 million USD.
Palm vs. Palmetto
Before staying in Myrtle Beach, I thought palm trees were just palm trees! Then we noticed that South Carolina license plates say “The Palmetto State”, but have a picture on them that looks like a palm tree….. so what’s up with that?
It turns out they are different “shrubs” (imagine something that big being classified as a shrub!) . We now know that if we see “leaves” that look like perfect fans, with individual wide fronds radiating out from a central stem, that’s a palmetto. Trees with leaves where the fronds are lined up along each side of a central stem like feathers are palms. Plus, if a coconut from a palm falls on you it will hurt….. if a palmetto berry hits you, you won’t care!
Live Oak Trees
Nope, not the same as Canadian oak trees at all. “Live” has nothing to do with living vs dead, but is actually part of the tree’s name….. and they are one of the biggest and most beautiful trees I have ever seen! Unlike the oaks we are used to, the Southern Live Oak is an “evergreen” (not in the true sense of keeping its leaves year round, but the new green leaves actually push the old leaves off, making it seem ever green – hence “live” – although still with fallen leaves to rake). Like our Canadian oak trees it does have acorns. A “typical” live oak is 50 feet tall with an 80 to 100 foot diameter branch spread and HUGE trunk – absolutely awe-inspiring. It’s one of my favourite things about visiting Brookgreen Gardens here, beating out all the competing trees and flowers with the exception of the magnificent 80 foot tall magnolias when they are in bloom.
Sadly, Spanish Moss (neither Spanish nor a moss, but a variety of bromeliad and an epiphyte – an “air plant” that does not need soil) loves these trees, and often grows so thickly that it chokes out the tree’s own leaves and slows its growth.
One of The massive Southern Live Oak trees at Charlestown Landing Historic Site.
Jasmine vs Jessamine
South Carolina’s state flower is the beautiful Yellow Jessamine, which is PRONOUNCED in the lovely South Carolinian drawl exactly the way we Canadians pronounce jasmine. Given that the jessamine is yellow and has very little fragrance, it took me a long time to figure out exactly what was going on.
Conch vs Whelk
We found lots of wonderful shells this year and, if I had not downloaded the South Carolina Shell Identifier, I would have thought I was finding conch shells….. but no. What I was finding were whelks, identifiable by the direction of their opening as Lightning Whelks (left opening) or Knobbed Whelks and Channeled Whelks (right opening). Unlike conchs, whelks are CARNIVORES! I did find one very small intact Florida Horse Conch, but it turns out that is actually not a conch OR a whelk! Geez.