Our trip to the South Carolina Botanical Garden at Clemson University highlighted one of the best, happiest days I have had on this journey. We are truly living our dream, yet the days of pure joy have been hard to come by. It took me 9 months after Little Bird’s birth to seek help for depression and an additional 9 months to genuinely feel like myself. Until a few weeks ago, I would have a day or 2 each week where I felt good. Where happiness came naturally. However, it was right around Little Bird’s 18-month birthday where I decided I wanted to genuinely feel emotions for more than 28% of each week. After trying 3 different medications over the last 9 months, I said no more. The side effects were weighing more heavily than the perceived benefits, which were sometimes hard to identify. And while the medications certainly helped get me from where I was in February to now, feeling all the feels has never felt so good.
We set off on our first morning in South Carolina without a definite plan. We knew we would take a drive through the campus at Clemson, maybe stop to see the Centennial Oak, see what else was in the area, and then hit up Target on the way back to the campground (we were scarily low on diapers, which is a very dangerous game to play).
The drive from our campground to the campus was through a maze of back country roads that were peppered with homes surrounded by huge oak trees. I have had a hard time envisioning what and where I want our life to go after this grand adventure, and this was the first time where I felt a spark. It was all about the huge oak trees, so now I have a place to start.
We pulled into Clemson and onto the campus and, as we kind of expected, it was dead. We saw maybe a dozen people on campus total. It was surreal. I assume they are doing online learning or maybe did the hybrid schedule that ended the semester before Thanksgiving. Regardless, it was empty.
We drove around various buildings and were really impressed with the campus. We stopped at Tillman Hall and then made our way to the Centennial Oak. As we followed Google’s directions, we were skeptical that we were going anywhere other than a parking lot, but we turned one final corner, and there she was.
The Centennial Oak is the largest bur oak in South Carolina, and it is truly impressive. It is clear the university is going to any lengths necessary to keep the old gal alive and well, and we appreciated their efforts as it is really a sight to see. Of course, Little Bird was beside herself picking up all the sticks and running every which way around the tree.
By this time, it was close to noon, so we picked up some lunch and headed to the South Carolina Botanical Gardens for a tailgate lunch and an afternoon exploring the gardens.
Tailgate lunches are fast becoming one of our favorite parts of this lifestyle. We have a small camp chair for Little Bird with a tray that works perfectly. We typically pull a blanket out for Daisy, and she enjoys hanging out on the tailgate next to Bird and taking advantage of any “treats” that may come her way while keeping an ever-present eye on those darn squirrels.
Once we finished our lunch, we made our way into the gardens. Within the botanical garden, there are quite a few smaller gardens that highlight a specific species (like the conifer garden), a general vibe (like the Celtic garden), or a specific function (like the pollinators). Within these gardens are many gifts from different graduating classes from Clemson. For example, we started our exploration at the caboose that was gifted from the class of 1939. Bird LOVED exploring the caboose, and we had to go up and down all of the stairs on either end. Even though we had the backpack with us, we let Bird run free for the most part, and she had an absolute blast.
I love nothing more than watching Bird learn and grow, but when I was on medication, I was exhausted and felt so run down that I would count down the minutes until I could end an activity or put her back in the backpack or stroller. I would feel completely overwhelmed with the whole experience that I would wish those moments away. As I have withdrawn from the medication and started feeling more and more like myself, I have found it to be so much easier to live in the moment and get down and see things through her eyes. Yes, I was still tired at the end of our adventure (I chased a toddler for 2 hours, so it was legitimately earned), and yes, there were times I felt overwhelmed (there were hills and ponds and stairs and she is still developing her depth perception and sense of danger), but those feelings did not make me want to cut our trip short and my patience was still intact when we returned to the truck.
There was so much to explore in the gardens, and looking at the map, we know we only saw a portion of the property. Even in December, with only a few flowers blooming, the place was beautiful and so well done. A favorite of all of ours was the pollinator garden. In addition to some interesting facts and information on bees, there was an active honeybee hive where you could sit and watch and listen to the bees at work. We initially walked past this garden as there were other visitors there, but when we walked back by, we were the only ones there and took advantage of that time. Bird would wander through the garden or play on the patio but continued to return to the hive to watch and listen to the bees. It was also in this garden that Bird went to pick up a leaf that turned out to be a lizard’s tail, and I honestly do not know which of the 3 of us was more surprised!
As we started making our way back to the truck, we put Bird in the carrier as there were more people around, and it is hard to explain social distancing to a very social 18-month-old (we had met an equally social 17-month-old earlier, and it was so hard to keep them apart when all they really wanted to do was look at the same garden light). However, by having Bird in the carrier, it allowed me to slow down and reflect on the day and all the fun we had exploring the gardens.
It also allowed me to pray. In addition to simply feeling more like myself, I have found myself praying without even consciously thinking about it. Last month, I struggled to pray when I wanted to, so finding myself praying spontaneously has been a true gift. As I walked with Daisy through the Celtic garden, enjoying the sun streaming through the trees above and glinting off of the water passing under the bridges below our feet, I found myself thanking God for my happiness, for my renewed energy, and for the peace I finally feel after 18 long months.
Needless to say, our afternoon at the South Carolina Botanical Garden was one I will not forget anytime soon. Knowing how incredible this experience was in December only makes me want to return when everything is in full bloom, and I hope we get the chance to come back in the future. We cannot recommend this place highly enough. It was an unexpected treat.
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