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Published: November 1st 2016
Sorry for the week-long absence. Long travel days finally caught up with me, and I have spent the last week recovering. Ya, just laying around, you know me, lol! I can't seem to leave the pain behind, as much as I try. Anyway, back to normal for me again, so thought I would finish this post.
We left Colleen and Greg in Myrtle Beach last Monday after a wonderful couple of days with them. Our plan was to travel down the east coast - it's pretty much a straight shot to Vero Beach. We stayed on highway 17 for a while, then angled over to through Charleston, SC to the 95 which was a little inland but with less tourist traffic. It should have been a nice 8-hour day, but it turned into 10 or 11 hours due to road construction and traffic. But, I'm glad we stayed on the 17 for a while, as we were able to make a couple of interesting stops along the way. I kept seeing little huts alongside the road where usually one or two women sat, weaving baskets. I wanted to see what this was all about, so we stopped at Mazie's Sweetgrass Baskets.
Mazie, it turns out, is a 72 year old retired RN, who is trying to keep a tradition alive. Slaves brought the art of sweetgrass basket making from the West African countries of Ivory Coast and Senegal. Just as her ancestors have done for generations, Mazie Brown spends hours each day perched in the doorway of a frail shack along Highway 17 carefully weaving coils of green sea grass and brown pine needles into exquisite baskets. In the planation days, the men made huge baskets for storing and winnowing grain and for shipping cotton and indigo. A few of the large 16th- and 17th-Century baskets are museum pieces. After the Civil War, the art of sweetgrass basket making died out except in Mt. Pleasant, the area we stopped in South Carolina, where it continued as a family tradition. "I have been weaving sweetgrass baskets since I was 8," says the basket maker whose mother and grandmother were also named Mazie. "My mother taught me, and her mother taught her, and it goes on and on for generations in my family. But she says that her kids are not interested in doing this anymore. It takes a long time, it is
tedious work, and considering the time it takes to make each piece, it doesn't really pay all that well. "It's a dying art", she told me. "Pretty soon", she said, "the only baskets you will be able to buy are the ones made in a factory in China."
The sea grasses, especially sweet grass that grows on southern beaches behind the second dune line, are becoming difficult to obtain because of resort development along South Carolina's coast. And shopping centers, condominium communities and other new landowners along Highway 17 have forced some basketmaking families to remove their stands. Now, she says, they even have to get a permit to gather up the pine needles that fall to the ground around their stands. It seems like she is right; this is a dying art form, for more than one reason. I felt like I wanted to support her in some little way, and I also wanted to get one of those beautiful baskets for myself. It feels like I now own a piece of history. I know, it sounds goofy, but it made sense at the time. And, she takes credit cards!
Our next stop was for free samples
of fruit cider. How could I resist? Cherry cider, Peach cider, plus jams, fruit butters, and all manner of fruity and nutty goodness, straight out of South Carolina's lowcountry. Here's what Wikipedia says about the lowcountry:
"The Lowcountry ... is a geographic and cultural region along South Carolina's coast, including the Sea Islands. Once known for its slave based agricultural wealth in rice and indigo that flourished in the hot subtropical climate, the Lowcountry today is known for its historic cities and communities, natural beauty, cultural heritage, and tourism industry."
I remembered what I saw at the park we had gone to with Colleen and Greg the day before, where we listened to stories of the African slaves who worked the rice fields that were flooded each year from the rivers, as part of their growth method. True to this picture, the land on either side of the road was often swampy, and often with clear water running in rows up and down in between the marshes - used by boats to navigate through the otherwise grassy swamp. It's hard to describe, and I didn't get a good picture, but hopefully you get the idea. Apparently, this land
and climate is good for growing fruit, nuts, and cotton, as well as rice. Strangely enough, I bought some stems of cotton, with the cotton bolls open, but still full of cotton. I thought it was pretty, and could be used to put together a true, Southern Christmas bouquet when paired with red Poinsettia (which also grows like weeds down here). I like to discover different things, different traditions in different countries and different areas. It's part of my late-in-life education that I get from travelling. So, after those two shopping stops, our car was packed to the brim. You can see the cotton stalks in the backseat of the car. I bought ciders and fruit butters for gifts for friends and neighbors here, and of course, some for us too. I was told that I couldn't buy anything else, because there was no more room. lol!
Down below you can see the rest of the pictures. I also threw in a couple of pictures of sunset across the water (from Colleen and Greg's place before we left), and the open sky with pretty clouds that is typical of Florida. The deep blues of the sky and the whites
of the clouds contrast so prettily with the green foliage on the ground. And believe me, everything is really green here. It's one of the reasons I love Florida.
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