Over the past five years, I’ve developed two traditions I plan to never break. Come March and come May, I drop everything and head to three places so beautiful they compel me to visit them. Hence, the title of this column, “The Pull of Beauty.”
I hope the beauty of the outdoors pulls on you and that you have similar traditions. If you don’t I encourage you to study the calendar, pay attention to nature, and make it a tradition to see this beautiful land when she shows off a bit. It’ll do you good.
When March arrives wrapped in cold mornings as it is, I don’t let the cold discourage me from driving over into peach country. I hear a lot about Washington, DC’s cherry trees, but the peach trees over in Edgefield and Saluda Counties hold their own. I leave before dawn so as to get there when early light bathes those pink blossoms in gold light. It’s a spectacle, and later peaches form giving those low-slung trees a delicious if heavy burden. That’s when I find myself drawn to roadside fruit and vegetable stands.
Come May, I head west to my home county and the close by wild, rocky, Chattooga-like shoals known as Anthony Shoals. It’s there that nature puts on another brilliant show, the deep green and snow-white rocky shoals spider lilies.
Anthony Shoals holds a special place in my heart. When I was no more than five or six, I went to a fish fry on the banks of the shoals with Mom and her clan. I still see Uncle Carroll showing me how to clean a black cast iron frying pan with sand. He scoured it until it was clean as a whistle. Each time I return to the shoals I try to determine where we picnicked that day but all these years later, it’s grown over with tangles of vines and bushes. I see it in my mind best. But I know I follow my people’s path.
Come May, I also visit Stevens Creek in McCormick County for it too has a colony of rocky shoals spider lilies, and Stevens Creek is more like a small river, rocky and wild. In one afternoon I drove to the lilies at Anthony Shoals and Stevens Creek, in less than an hour. That’s remarkable when you consider that the rocky shoals spider lily is under consideration as being listed as endangered. It deserves protection. Big dams wiped out entire populations across the Southeast. What beauty we lost.
Of the rocky shoals spider lily, Garden & Gun magazine wrote, “Each three-inch-wide blossom unfurls into pointed petals that resemble an exploding star. ‘I’ve seen little old ladies weep at their first sighting of this plant,’ says Dr. Larry Davenport, the foremost expert on it.” You see them once and you’ll go back each spring I predict. Such is the pull of beauty.
Bees and butterflies love the rocky shoals spider lily, gleefully pollinating it. You’ll love Hymenocallis coronaria too. It is a sight to behold. As are blooming peach trees. Spring and summer down South. How blessed we are. Establish your own traditions wherever you live. Take a camera with you and, if you are so inclined, try painting these places where the pull of beauty pulls hard.