Traveling with Phyllis: A New Context

Phyllis and I have been friends for a long time, starting in Rochester, NY, in the 1980’s where we both worked on the Women’s Fund at Rochester Area Community Foundation. Phyllis is a nurse by profession, a former UofR faculty member teaching  maternal and child health, and for many years ran the Perinatal Network — part of a statewide network of non-profit agencies dedicated to improving birth outcomes among vulnerable populations. Phyllis had both the professional knowledge and the calm temperament to bring together extremely diverse constituencies with different priorities, cultures, and agendas and make it all work.

After retirement she and Art became snowbirds, bought a home in South Carolina, and after a few years retired there full time. They’ve long raised show-class Old English Sheepdogs, and the last of the dogs, Maddie, is with them in South Carolina.

Part of staying vital with a friendship that has distance as a factor is seeing each other in  current context, so it was important for me to see Phyllis and Art’s new home, meet some of their friends, and visit Brookgreen Gardens, where Phyllis volunteers on a regular basis. I call her a master gardener — which she reminds me is an actual designation that she doesn’t hold. Designation or not, she’s a masterful gardener — was in Rochester, is now in her yard in a totally different growing zone, and is a valuable pair of hands at Brookgreen, which relies heavily on its skilled volunteers.

Unlike many of these large nature complexes which feature gardens, serve as bird sanctuaries, do environmental education and generally offer a tranquil and unique setting in which the general public can enjoy being outdoors, Brookgreen was founded in 1931 by Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington, people who valued the arts as well as nature. Anna was a sculptor, and the gardens feature many beautiful and original works of sculpture interspersed with the natural flora and fauna — some Mrs. Huntington’s pieces, some by other well-known sculptors. The value of the sculpture collection has to be approaching priceless.

Phyllis was my own private tour guide, and we spent several hours on Saturday touring the gardens, the zoo and aviary, and taking the flat-bottom boat ride through the waterways that served the rice plantations that once exported millions of tons of rice to Europe and other parts of the United States.

For all the beauty of the cultivated gardens, cisterns and ponds, blooming flowers and certainly the sculpture, the star to me was still the stately live oaks, many of them hundreds of years old and even more beautiful that what we saw in Savannah.

If you look closely at the river pic, the one with grasses and not the inlet with the taller trees, there’s an alligator toward the left of the shot, about halfway down — hard to spot, I know. The river is dark not because of mud but because of the tannins that leach from the cedar trees that grow right out of the water.

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