By Marilyn Jones
The days of only “pool, beach and fine dining” are over at destination hotels offering unusual and locally-inspired activities. Case in point: Wild Dunes Resort, Isle of Palms, South Carolina.
The resort, just north of Charleston, is a stop-off for me on a solo three-week road trip connecting sightseeing destinations with friends and family. I have long wanted to visit Wild Dunes Resort since I read about its pristine location and the activities offered here including indigo dyeing, an ironwork workshop experience, sweetgrass basket weaving, Kayaking, surf lessons and eco tours.
On previous trips to Charleston I admired the beautiful sweetgrass baskets for sale in markets and I am very interested in learning about the art. This curiosity led to signing up for a morning course and meeting a sweetgrass expert and artist – Sarah Edwards-Hammond.
Our classroom is by the pool in the shade of an awning with a light balmy breeze fluttering the materials Sarah has laid out before me: sweetgrass, bulrush, strips of palmetto leaves and long pine needles.
“The art of basket weaving was brought to the South Carolina Lowcountry in the late 17th century by enslaved West Africans. It has been passed down from generation to generation,” she explains.
“I started when I was seven,” she says. “My mother taught me, and I taught my daughters. Now I am teaching my granddaughters.”
She shows me the tool, a nail bone, used to make a hole in the sweetgrass to insert the narrow strips of palm leaves as the weaver makes the basket. She then patiently shows me what to do.
First to extend the sweetgrass skein, I have to push a new bundle into the existing sweetgrass. Then, using the nail bone, I push the tool into the sweetgrass making room for the palm leaf strip and pulling it through. The palm leaf strip binds the sweetgrass.
I sit with Sarah for several hours weaving the basket. We chat about our families, Charleston and tradition. Finally, when my basket is about finished, Sarah puts the finishing touches on the basket including an S handle.
Understanding the history, the art and the time-consuming process add to my already great respect for the basket weaver.
I am staying at the resort for two nights and one day, so I want to enjoy as much as I can while in the area. I decide to take Charleston Eco Tours’ blue crabbing adventure tour to enjoy some of the natural beauty of the area in the afternoon.
Wild Dunes Resort arranges the tour and my transportation to the dock where I meet John, a naturalist, who escorts me to a boat where Captain Mike and several other passengers await our departure.
Soon after we are underway, we see dolphins. All 16 passengers — six children, six parents and four grandparents — clamber to one side of the boat to glimpse the mammals coming to the surface and diving again.
Motoring along the Intracoastal Waterway, Mike stops and John pulls a crab trap up from the depths and onto the boat. Inside are stone crabs, blue crabs and plant life that John uses for show and tell – a ready-made marine classroom. John talks about each crab species, their impressive claw cutting and crushing pressure, and that the female lays millions of eggs over her lifetime. John also shows everyone how to catch crabs the old-fashioned way with a hand line and crab net.
Our destination for the afternoon is Capers Island, an undeveloped barrier island located about 15 miles north of Charleston. After Mike beaches the boat, we’re each given hand lines already baited with chicken necks, and a net for our crabbing attempts. Everyone is anxious to try our hand at crabbing, especially the children.
A beautiful feature of Capers Island Heritage Preserve is a beach known as the bone-yard. Its name comes from the old sun-bleached tree skeletons and stumps left because of erosion. The bone-yard and the otherwise deserted beach offers everyone a glimpse of what barrier islands looked like before beachfront houses and condos arrived.
The grand finale of the afternoon is the crab boil. Mike and John brought with them plenty of crabs for everyone to enjoy. When the time is right, and the crabs are perfectly steamed, Mike dumps them on two tables after adding Old Bay spice and arranges them around bowls of melted butter. John teaches everyone the proper way to crack open the crustacean to get to the sweet meat.
After returning to the resort, I take a walk on the beach and reflect on my day before dinner. My experiences add a new dimension to my South Carolina memories. I certainly hope to return to Charleston again soon.
If you go: Wild Dunes Resort offers vacation options including Boardwalk Inn, The Village, vacation rentals, condominiums and cottages. In addition to its many special activities, the resort amenities include a private beach, golf, tennis and Dune Bug Club activities for children. www.destinationhotels.com/wild-dunes.