I’ve always been drawn to the trees in this region. Mighty guardian statues that mark the passage of time with wise knowingness. Their giant limbs spreading into the sky and stretching over the southern landscape. I admired those old guys, draped with their mossy beards that lined the driveway as we slowly drove under the alley of boughs to reach the greeting center for Mepkin Abby.
We had made the drive out to the property on a hunt for farm eggs and exercise and discovered that, instead of having to take the dog somewhere out into the forest, we were welcome to walk the property with our bouncy boy. With map in hand, we strolled through the vast gardens that sat along the Cooper River, just northwest of Charleston.
The gardens were developed in 1936 by Clare Luce, the wife of the publisher of “Time and Life” magazine Henry R. Luce. She had plenty of room and money to let her imagination go wild. The monks have been taking care of her creation since they moved out here from Kentucky in 1949. Their numbers have diminished over the years, only eighteen still live on the property. I guess there isn’t a big calling to become a monk nowadays, even though I could see the draw. The simplicity of knowing what you’re doing every day. No bills or distractions from the development of self. A fascinating lifestyle of the original minimalism, devoting your life to prayer, spiritual study, work and hospitality. All of us are so addicted to our gadgets, luxuries and distractions that the majority would probably not know how to function without them.
The monk we had the pleasure to meet who was manning the store was helpful and happy. The store was filled with everything from rosary beads and religious information to handcrafted pottery, great smelling natural soap and the fruits of labor of monks across the country contributing honey, steak rubs and candles. The local guys grow mushrooms and have developed a rich compost for an income now. No eggs for us from these monks. I guess the old guys got busted by PETA for using old school methods and decided it was wise to work with something that didn’t have a heartbeat.
I loved being enveloped by the peace of the area. It was easy to release my tight shoulders. I wanted to grab my yoga mat out of the car. Instead, we hit the Labyrinth. I told my boyfriend about how I had learned about Labyrinths being made for meditation and problem solving. Just a little gem of knowledge locked away in my noggin. I suggested, “As you follow the paths that fold back on themselves, you should try to quiet your mind and breathe deeply”. I took my own advice and trailed his footsteps around the well beaten trail. Running my fingers over the dark brown tufts of dead flower and admiring the winter vegetation with its cool yellows, copper and dark purples waist-high around me. I took a moment to reflect on my journey so far with this man in this city and warmth spread from my core. We paused when we arrived at the center of the path and sat for a moment to take in the steel-colored sky with only the bare, black limbs of the trees that were scattered across the property to break up the solid horizon. I felt grounded and purged of the mess of the metropolis. It’s great to “find yourself” in the middle of nowhere.
No matter what higher power you seek, the Mepkin Abbey is a great opportunity to get out of town, turn off your phone and enjoy a contemplative stroll or the quite companionship of another. The gardens are open to the public daily and they have tours during the week. This summer the fields of flowers will be amazing. Pack a lunch, grab your dog’s leash, shimmy on your yoga pants and enjoy a day away from it all.
Contributing Writer: Tatiana Fisher
Special Thanks to jerrysphotos.us for the photos