I’ve spent nearly half a month in Columbia, South Carolina since the start of last fall, totaling the five long weekends I’ve visited. For someone who admires very little about Southern culture besides its mouth-watering, eventual heart attack-inducing cuisine, I must admit that I’ve enjoyed my time there and feel like I’ve gotten to know the town fairly well.
My restless personality makes it exceedingly difficult for me to sit still and pass the time by doing the same activities in the same places over and over again. Thus after arriving into town on Thursday night, I was very much looking forward to waking up the next day and doing something the meatball and I hadn’t done much of since our visit to Harpers Ferry last summer – enjoying the peace and tranquility of nature.
Congaree National Park, located just twenty minutes or so outside of Columbia, is one of just 59 such protected areas in the United States to receive that designation. It is the second-smallest park by area in the continental United States, covering over 26,000 acres, and preserves the largest tract of old growth bottomland hardwood forest left in the country.
|The pose of a true outdoorswoman|
I can’t tell you how relaxing it was to listen to the sounds of nature, even if we had absolutely no idea where they were coming from or what was responsible for making them, and how gratifying it was to see an environment left to itself and not artificially shaped by man. We were two of handful of people in the park that day, and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. For a fleeting moment, we spotted a family of wild hogs scampering across the woods not too far from us, a reminder that we were part of their world, not the other way around.
Later that evening we went out to a bar called Pinch in Five Points, one of the two main nightlife districts in Columbia, and the music there was just as on point as earlier in the day. I hadn’t heard ‘90s and early 2000s songs in a good long while, at least not since my iPod ceased functioning with any regularity several months ago, so I was comforted by the likes of Good Charlotte, Avril Lavigne, and Lou Bega. Somehow, two very intoxicated (and almost undoubtedly underage) people wearing Carolina Panthers jerseys thought grinding to “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” would be the appropriate thing to do, so I had no shame in taking pictures of them without making the least effort to hide what I was doing.
We continued our physical exertions at South Carolina's palatial on-campus gym, which charged me an extortionately high $5 as a guest to gain admittance to its facilities. We made thorough use of the practice basketball courts, playing spirited games of one-on-one, around the world, and horse. If we would've played two more classic games, knockout and 21, my flashbacks to youth basketball would have been complete. Then we moved over to the ping pong table downstairs, a workout in itself just to get there in this place, and pretended to be Asians for a while. It was all good fun.
|Another missed shot, I'm sure|
Our Saturday night was positively wild. You can’t have had a crazier night than the one us party animals had. Through the miracle of Apple, we FaceTimed with Gina’s dad in New Jersey for a while, and were delighted to hear that her brother Cameron had taken a break from lighting his girlfriend Jaime on fire long enough to be accepted to Penn State this fall, though is undecided if he will attend. We also made plans to move Merlin, Gina’s cat, to her dad’s house until Gina gets a place of her own at some point this fall and will be able to take her big boy back for good. Then we watched my ultimate man crush, Justin Timberlake, fail to act his way out of a paper bag alongside the beautiful and talented Mila Kunis in a movie I have a secret soft spot for, Friends with Benefits. We also had Ben and Jerry’s chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. I’d say the night was definitely a win.
Before my flight back to Baltimore, we ate and were merry at Mellow Mushroom and Marble Slab in downtown Columbia. There are positives and negative to the immediate proximity of delicious pizza and ice cream places, I suppose; far more joyous and satisfied in the moment ranging to the despair and stomach pains afterwards. It was tough going from the beautiful, 60-degree weather of South Carolina back to the freezing temperatures of the mid-Atlantic, but we’d had yet another successful visit and are looking forward to the next one in a couple weeks. More then.