Mackeys Meander the Magnificent, our Junior Ranger Adventures.
I’m going to keep this one short and sweet…kind of like a visit to Congaree National Park! When we plan our family road trips, we are always sure to include multiple opportunities to get outside and play, of course! This trip was no different. Here’s our hit list:
Living in the Midwest has many benefits. The ability to visit so many wonders of the Nation in just a car ride or two is number one! (Tied with not getting eaten or poisoned by the animals and critters you encounter! Love living in the mostly safe zone in regards to wildlife, too!) We had been at it for well over a week when we finally made it to Congaree. Our plan really only allowed us a day to pop off and enjoy the park. We thought a couple of hours would be enough…boy were we wrong! Congaree is an eye-full. It has the feeling of deep south swamp forest that, because of the many beams and reflections of the sun on the water, has been occupied by fairies or sprinkled with magic. And, that’s just at first glance.
The elevated boardwalk made this a very easy on the feet hike.
Not that we stayed on the enormous forest pier the whole time. There were ample opportunities to peel off and explore other natural trails. We are all suckers for a good scavenger hunt and our Junior Ranger booklet provided some moving targets for the tracking. Track we did! The stationary items like the cypress knees and crawfish chimneys were easy marks. (Plus, having a husband/dad from Louisiana had really broadened our collective ability to spot the gnarly roots of cypress tree from a distance!) Whenever we see critters like snakes, turtles and owls on the list, our crew starts to get a little skeptical. Most of these friends really like to hide. This park proved our skepticism grossly unnecessary! It was, literally, crawling with life…it was as though the floor of the forest was alive itself…which I suppose it is!
We didn’t see one turtle on log, we saw about twenty! We didn’t notice one snake curled up in a ball hiding away, we saw a family of snakes slithering openly without a care in the world. The sun made it easy to spot the spiderwebs and the size of the spiders themselves made the need for squinting (or close inspections!) a mute point. Not only did we complete our little hunt in record time…we spent record time at each stop watching these amazing animals in their natural habitat fearlessly doing what they do. I’m sure the lift of the boardwalk provides the animals the security they need to go about their lives unobstructed the same way it provides we humans a birds-eye-view to watch them indefinitely.
Did I mention we needed more than a few hours?
Stuck in the mud
Was probably the commute. We really needed to plan in this stop because it is so far off the beaten path. If you are not intentional about going there…you’re assuredly going to miss it…and that would be a shame.
What did we dig the most?
The obvious answer seems like it would be the magical (ENORMOUS!) trees, but the history of the place is what stands out. As taken from our trusty Jr. Ranger guide, “The first known residents of the area, the Congaree Indians, lived across the Congaree River from what is now the park. They used the floodplain for hunting and fishing, often crossing the river. Maroon Communities of enslaved people seeking freedom lived in floodplains, like Congaree, and swamps throughout the South. These areas, often unexplored due to flooding, wildlife,
and even cypress knees, were a safe hiding place. Although Maroon
Communities offered freedom there was still a threat of the militia breaking up the community or returning the residents to bondage.” Learning about history as to not repeat history isn’t lip service. It seems like with each new day we are still learning something that we really should have already known better these days. The information doesn’t have to be in your brains when it’s in your bones…but it sure does help! I knew there was a reason our little family has been drawn to the river and feels safest there over all other places. Not that we will live in fear, nor should anyone else. We’ve seen fearing others result in pain and misery enough right? Our takeaway is to keep our hearts and homes wide open. Invite in the unknown and uncomfortable and learn the good ending of rewriting the same old story
Learning isn’t about hearing something once, memorizing and retaining it. It’s about experiencing that same thing in a new place. Immersing yourself in the sights, sounds, tastes, smells and stories of that new thing. There were some learning firsts on our trip to Congaree National Park, and those were awesome. But the many learning seconds, thirds and beyonds – this is what strips these lessons from being novel and turns them into our own lived experience…our own history if you will. We don’t know about the cypress knees because we connected the dotted line from one side of the worksheet to the other. We know about them because they’ve tripped us in our tracks many times. So when we see the tall the slender heights of this coniferous giant, we’ve learned from our bruised bones to look down, not up. Until you stop, that is. Stop where you stand and just take it all in.
Here are the up to date details. Have fun!