Sunday, December 6, 2009

Bellingrath: A garden of lights

I thought our visit to Callaway Gardens’ Fantasy in Lights would be our ultimate Christmas lighting experience of 2009, but Bellingrath Gardens near Mobile, AL, proved me wrong. A Friday, Nov. 4, excursion with my husband Walter, mother-in-law and her friend Carol put Bellingrath’s Christmas wonderland right up there with Callaway Gardens.

A blessing of retirement is the time to work in more visits -- long and short -- to fascinating places. The lighting displays at both Callaway and Bellingrath were dramatic and fun. But Bellingrath was truly a garden experience, and the differences were delightful. 

Beds of flowers created out of colorful lights bloomed everywhere. Unlike the Callaway drive-though, Bellingrath offered walking paths only, all handicapped accessible. The designers capitalized on opportunities for intimate tableaus, surprises tucked along paths bordered heavily by shrubs, and vistas across open spaces and the lake.

One of my favorite scenes was the ocean experience. Colorful and abundant sea critters lined the path. Above us were blue waves. Unobtrusive moving lights simulated an ocean floor dappled with sunlight filtering through moving currents of water.

Walking also encouraged congenial connections with strangers. The same groups would pass us, then we would pass them, trading observations and banter about everything from the absence of the predicted rain and snow to families. One little girl recognized Grandma Sugar as a sympathetic ear and struck up a conversation every time she was in range. It turned out she was missing her big brother, a Marine who would be away from home and on duty for Christmas.

Oh, and for me, an endearing Southern touch in the midst of the deer, raccoons and other forest creatures created out of lights were several armadillos, a little more attractive than the ones I suspect are the culprits attacking my vegetable garden plot.  

We made the trip into Alabama to honor a gift “coupon” we had created and given Grandma Sugar (Walter’s mom) a number of Christmases ago. Immediately after that Christmas, she faced more than a year of health issues. The coupon was mislaid and forgotten until it  resurfaced recently. Even though predictions of rain and snow created some uncertainty about our outing, Grandma Skupien is undaunted by mere weather. We all bundled up and headed out accompanied by Walter’s mantra “We will go as far as we can for as long as we can.” We were glad we did.

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