Life has been upheaving left and right lately.  This site is far from dead, just very neglected.  It will remain so for a few days as March Madness takes over my eating and sleeping habits.  And until the other half of this masterpiece adds some photos for use.

That would be you, Suz.

Go Cats.

First Signs of Spring

The birds are chirping.

The bees are buzzing.

The leaves are budding.

The flowers are blooming.

The sand gnats are, unfortunately, emerging, as evidenced by my insanely itchy right forearm.

You can wrestle with the mainsail on a blustery day on the water without raw hands and cumbersome parkas getting in the way.

There are girls in swimsuits sunbathing in open park spaces in 60 degree weather like it isn’t a ridiculous thing to do.

Spring is upon us, Charleston!

As we took in the exhibits and demonstrations for the SEWE Saturday at Marion Square, I couldn’t help but continuously think of a solitary phrase: “What a difference a year makes.”

A year ago from Saturday, Suzanne and I were standing at the bottom of her entry staircase on Wentworth Street, the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics paused on DVR, as we marveled at a winter wonderland developing outside.  Downtown Charleston was blanketed in 1-2 inches of snowfall in one of those strange scenes you sometimes see at local restaurants that depict such an event occurring in like 1935.  The organizers of SEWE had a little bit of reorganization to contend with, not to mention a few jittery hours of attempting to project how much the cold temperatures would affect attendance.

This Saturday, the sun shone brightly, creating a near-80 degree picture of perfection for throngs of wildlife and outdoor enthusiasts to absorb the products and messages of vendors, interest groups, and magazines enveloped in what basically constituted a zoo considering how many different types of animals were gracing the square.

Speaking of animals, a year ago we stood over a pen at the Grateful Golden’s post, gazing happily and, truth be told, warily, over the…lab…puppies that were crawling around therein.  For some reason, the volunteer organization didn’t have golden retrievers the day we went but the effect was still the same, as we were a mere two weeks from adopting Finley.  I remember feeling particularly antsy that day, carefully observing the behaviors of all the dogs and their owner men/women as they traversed the crowds amidst the intense amount of stimuli that threatened to wrest the dogs from their grasp at any moment.  I was doing my homework.

This Sunday, we took our own wresting dog on an exhibition for attendees to do their homework on how NOT to control your dog in a crazy situation.  To her credit, she’s been worse–way worse.  To our credit, well, we get no credit, besides maybe sympathy points for putting on a free clinic/comedy hour.  She wasn’t the worst behaved hound in the place by a long shot though and even if she was exuberant, it was only in the name of getting an up-close and personal look at the golden/lab mix puppies gracing the large enclosed tent.

She was doing her own mentoring.


Mountain View

What I would do to wake up to this view each morning…on this porch…in this house…ok, stopping before I depress myself. Images like this are the reason my first trip to Biltmore left me feeling both exhilaratingly inspired and extremely poverty-ridden. I had never felt so poor in my life.

We’ll be taking in all that the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition has to offer this weekend, particularly the Dock Dogs competition at Brittlebank Park.  Get out and enjoy a very spring-ish weekend, Charleston!

Olmsted at Biltmore

An essential component of the majesty of the Biltmore Estate is the immensity of its grounds, a virtue supplemented by never-ending vistas, carefully manicured gardens, a shrine to conservation and cultivation of indigenous and non-native plant species, and the mature forests and pasture lands that cover the rolling hills surrounding the house.  But these latter features are not exactly what they seem and, for my money, constitute the most fascinating part of the estate.

What appears to be natural is actually far from the case.  Stands upon stands of trees and acres upon acres of pristine pastureland that seem to be the handiwork of centuries of natural processes are, instead, very much the vision of Vanderbilt himself, a vision that manifests itself today as the complex forestry plan devised by Frederick Law Olmsted.  It was Vanderbilt’s desire to transform a landscape scarred by the over-wrought agriculture activities of man into a glimmering emulation of sustainablity and regality so common on large estates in Europe.  Olmsted was able to translate this desire masterfully.

Being of the planning profession, I have become so accustomed to landscape plans for streetscapes, master plans, or parks containing mathematical feet-off-center calculations and rigid, almost thoughtless linear patterns for plantings that simply being immersed in such a different philosophical scheme at Biltmore completely mesmerized me.  Olmsted’s superior understanding of the life cycles of, individually, species of flora and, collectively, their natural progression into true habitat formation is evident here.  The visitor does not realize they are standing amidst the results of a large-scale landscaping plan because the execution of the plan and the thoughtfulness that preceded its culmination have guaranteed naturalization.  The forest replenishes itself and will for centuries afterward.

It was a long-term vision, one in which both Vanderbilt and Olmsted knew, if done correctly, would take decades to accomplish, well beyond their life expectancies.  It’s because of this dedicated commitment (something that in the profession can seem so rare in a day where projects approved due to their ‘sustainability quotient’ are actually not very sustainable at all) that we are able to enjoy the Biltmore’s grounds so much today.

One Stately Estate

Visiting the Biltmore was part of my destiny.  Not exactly in the case of fated destiny, stars aligning, and all that jazz but more of a coerced destiny created by interested parties.

Like my grandmother, who, upon discovering that I had never been to this grand home in the Blue Ridge Mountains, was so aghast at the notion that she threatened to ‘kill me’ if I didn’t visit.  (True story.  That really happened.)

And like Suzanne’s mother, who was similarly dismayed when she learned of my apparent transgression.  Instead of threatening to kill me like my dear old grandmother, however, she purchased season passes for us.  That seems a little more rational.

This is probably only the second time that I have had a season pass to anything in my life, the first being a swim club membership in 6th grade that I obtained solely to have the opportunity to talk to a girl from class who wrote “can’t wait to see you at Splash this summer!” in my yearbook.  Guess what?  She wrote that in literally everyone’s yearbook.  Stupid circa-1995 Chris.  Anyway, I did feel somewhat cooler holding my newly minted Biltmore identification card and was immediately filled with wonder as to what exactly being a season pass holder entails.  Turns out, it’s a lot.  And after seeing the house, I can’t wait to partake.

Suzanne’s mother wanted a photograph of my reaction when I first came upon the house after emerging from the wooded approach.  We didn’t end up snapping one, but if we had, my expression would have been somewhere between “you got three numbers and the powerball on your lottery ticket” and “that girl REALLY did want to talk to you at Splash all summer.”

The Biltmore is awe-inspiring.  The sheer size of the place is only dwarfed by the immensity of the grounds it sits upon.  It doesn’t seem real at first.  It’s hard to wrap your mind around the thought that someone actually lived in this place.  It isn’t a Disney castle.  It was a highly functioning, highly innovative working estate home, serviced by scores of maids, cooks, butlers, and the like.  The history of the inner workings of the house is legendary and I will touch upon it in good time.

There is so much to tell about our experience within the house and on the estate itself that one post cannot do it justice.  We’ll have a couple more coming this week.  For now, I just hope that the accompanying photos give at least an inkling of its grandeur. I can’t wait to experience it in the spring.

I just realized that our photos from Biltmore aren’t yet ready for public viewing (aka I have no idea where they are), so in lieu of Gilded Age Smoky Mountain grandeur, I present to you a filthy mongrel, fresh off of a digging fest in a baseball diamond, enjoying a sunny afternoon.

Speaking of hearts, valentines, and love in general, I have a new favorite place to add to an ever-growing list of great locales:  the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC. Thanks to Suzanne’s wonderful parents, I transformed from never visiting the Biltmore in my life to holding a season pass for 2011. My initiation into the Biltmore fraternity was made official by the snapping of a ridiculously awful photograph of myself to put on my brand spanking new identification card.  I wanted to place my thumb over my face every time I presented it.  If you’re lucky, I’ll post the whole thing on here sometime.  Just know that you will probably be unlucky.  And know that you would ultimately thank me for that.

Being swanky season pass holders afforded us 4 free grounds/house passes through the end of February for guests of our choosing, so we were able to explore the wonders of this great estate with a couple good friends from Kentucky, Jenna and Jon.  A departure from Holy City content for a couple days of Biltmore posts is forthcoming.  The place is worth every minute of the measly 4 hour drive and is a perfect for a short getaway from Charleston.  But more on that later.

Wrought Iron Love

Paris may be ubiquitously known as the City of Love but the Holy City of the South may give its a run for its money.  Even the casual observer strolling through Charleston cannot help but notice the multitude of hearts that are etched into the everyday fabric of the city’s built environment and its creative concoctions.  Many take up residence as elements of the several hundred wrought iron gates that guard the ingresses to many of the spectacular homes in the old walled city and beyond.  In the days leading up to that one holiday that most guys seem to dread and girls say they don’t care about but honestly do, we’ll be demonstrating some of these symbols of love and blood circulation. Meanwhile, I will be sitting here….dreading*.

*Joking, Suz.  I think.