That, my friends, is one of the most magical places on earth.
It's called Boxwood Manor, and it's located in Pendleton, SC. Back in 1790, Boxwood began as a one-room shack, hand-built by the relatives of one of my favorite people, Annette Buchanan. Her family has been there ever since, adding rooms and charm and outbuildings to some of the prettiest land I've ever had the pleasure of walking. I met Annette when we both worked at the Anderson County Arts Center, and I miss seeing her smiling face every day. I also miss her famous chocolate pound cake.
This little wagon was Annette's great-great-grandfather's bachelor car. Notice how there's no room for a chaperon? Her family is known for a gorgeous line of Tennessee Walkers out of a famous stallion named Midnight Sun, and I've ridden a few of his descendants. They were the most amazing horses I've ever known, Shine and Kharma especially. I even got to help birth a gorgeous mare named Elektra. These horses-- they're huge and beautiful with big hearts and fluid natural gaits. Like riding on the wind. And those horses began here, in the pastures of Boxwood.
This is where I stayed, upstairs in the attic. When Annette refurbished the home in 2008, she didn't just slap another layer of wallpaper over what was there. She called in experts on historic building, bricks, and clay, and they lovingly restored the house to its original beauty. It's amazing. When you walk barefoot, you can feel the tradesmen's marks under your skin. You can run your fingers across handprints in that little fireplace.
And Annette's grandfather died on the pretty, swoopy little chaise.
It was strange, falling asleep alone, in the pitch dark, with windows open to the Carolina night. It was cool, but the crickets and cicadas were out there, somewhere. I was curious to see if I'd be haunted, because when someone's been living in a house since 1790, you know a lot has happened there. But Annette's family must have been as warm and happy as she is, because it was simply peaceful.
Here I am, getting suited up for the Steampunk Victorian Gala thrown at historic Woodburn Plantation by the Pendleton Historic Foundation. There's something giddy about primping in front of an antique vanity, the mirror slightly muddled and the light warm in your eyes.
This barn. Oh, this barn.
Remember those moments of mercy I talked about? I had one here.
Back in 2002, I needed good pasture for my horse, and Annette still had a few horses on her land, so she was kind enough to let me bring Chantilly out here to fatten up. My little mare fit right in, and some of the most golden moments of my life were spent out at Boxwood, alone for miles, walking in waist-deep grass and swinging a halter, calling my filly and hearing her whinny as she galloped to me. I would ride, bareback with a rope halter, past the remains of tractors and the idyllic lake. I would eat blueberries off the bushes and pecans off the ground as she grazed. And sometimes, I would open the door of that barn and sit inside, my saddle next to antiques covered in spiderwebs, watching the sunbeams pool on a dappled brown mare and sketching her in my notebooks.
And I would think, "This is all I ever wanted."
I was wrong. But it was close.
In addition to the amazing work she's done inside, Annette has turned Boxwood Manor into a prime wedding spot. I've seen some pictures, and it's gorgeous, what can be done here. The old well was redone like a wishing well and works as a buffet. The 200-year-old boxwood tree rules over everything like an aging queen. And you can hire a horse and buggy to carry you away. There's a company with drum horses in Pickens, one with Haflingers in Pendleton.
Please allow me to geek out over history for a moment.
See the dovetail joints on the left? The ones on the bottom all have an upward slant, which means they were created by Scotsmen. And then, halfway up, just above the chiffarobe, the dovetails go rectangular, which means they were made by Englishmen.
When you touch these boards, you can feel the care that went into them. No Home Depot here. Just Annette's ancestors with axes and adzes, hand-fitting a house where dozens of children grew up. The last time I saw Boxwood, everything was covered up in wallpaper. But this is so much better.
Remember when phones were pretty?
Annette calls it "the little bathroom", and I called it "the creepy bathroom".
It's fascinating. All these tiny dolls, carding combs, a miniature sewing machine, a spinning wheel. All things found in the house or attic or buried in the barn, artificats that hadn't seen the light of day in decades, sometimes centuries. Until Annette found them, cleaned them up, and made them shine.
She's really good at that.
This piano is from 1836.
It still plays.
I want Casper to play it...
Boxwood Manor was the basis of SCRITCH, the middle grade book that I was querying when I found my literary agent. It was about a little girl who lived in an old country house that matched Boxwood to the best of my memory-- except that it had creepy rat goblins and hidden rooms in the attic. That book didn't sell, but I can still see it in my mind.
And oddly enough, certain elements of Boxwood show up in my Blud books. For example, see those tiny demitasse cups? They're almost exactly what I describe as the serving for blood in WICKED AS THEY COME and WICKED AS SHE WANTS. That lavender one especially.
Except I'd never seen the cups or the piano until this weekend.
One of the things I love about Boxwood is that there's beauty hidden everywhere. This cane is just sitting in a corner, minding its own business. But it's beautiful. It was a gift to Annette's father, hand-carved. You can see the love the carver had for Arabians, the set of the mouth and the carefully dished face. That isn't *any* horse. That's one horse in particular.
I love old houses. So much. Everything here feels so real, so purposeful.
So genuine, just like Annette.
It was hard to leave Boxwood Manor again.
I got in my car at sunrise, driving by the cemetery on the hill and pulling into the fog, windows down so I could smell the tilled fields next door. The air is so clear here, especially on horseback or motorcycle.
I miss the hell out of it.
I'm not a religious person, but the closest I've felt to a higher power was trail riding in South Carolina. The way the sun falls through the trees, the possibility in the air, the feel of mountain laurels brushing across your face as you barrel through the woods and fly over logs. The hitch my mare used to get when she saw turkeys or deer and took to the chase.
I used to just want horses and painting.
Now, I want horses and writing and golden fields and the feeling of being in a place that calls to me.
* * *
Thank you, dear Nanook, for inviting me into your home. And if anyone is looking for a beautiful place to visit, enjoy a Southern luncheon, or get married in upstate SC, here's the Facebook page for Boxwood Manor. Annette also has a gorgeous cabin in Highlands, NC which she sometimes rents to lovely people.