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Natural amenities

Want to get back to nature? Take a 12-mile canoe trip to a treehouse in a wildlife refuge. Forget about electricity and running water. Refresh in a quiet, pristine setting.

By LARA CERRI and TED McLAREN
Published June 19, 2005


CANADYS, S.C. - It's the kind of place you find out about only through inside information. It's too remote. Too different. Too beautiful to find any other way.

A friend who is a park ranger in San Diego told us that he had found a special getaway all the way across the country - a furnished treehouse, on the Edisto River in South Carolina, about 90 minutes from Charleston. He and his wife had reserved a weekend. We were invited to come, too.

There was only one catch. We had to paddle a canoe 12 miles to get there.

That was a big part of the allure - a place so private, so pristine, that you wouldn't bother to take a cell phone there because there probably wouldn't be service.

Besides, who wants to talk on the phone when you can enjoy the silence of nature while gliding past live oak, black willow and bald cypress trees?

Nor would you have a socket to plug in the phone's battery charger: The treehouse is without electricity. And without running water, for that matter.

But staying in the treehouse is not entirely primitive: A employee of the outfitter that rents the treehouse uses a four-wheel-drive to deliver "room service" every morning. The cooler is filled with eggs, sausage, biscuits, orange juice and fresh fruit. Renters cook their meals on a three-burner propane stove.

Over the past 10 years, Scott Kennedy and Anne Goold have built two treehouses deep in a private wildlife refuge on the twisting Edisto. This site is unspoiled by any development other than the tree houses, and they are not visible from each other.

We caught the first glimpse of our wooden "sleeps 4-8" chateau, on the 12th mile of our leisurely paddle. The small structure, about 16 feet above ground, stood among a tall stand of sweet gum, holly and laurel oaks, some that had lost leaves from the cold weather that preceded our late-November visit.

We pulled the canoe on to the bank and climbed a wooden staircase to the structure, which is not actually built in a tree. We crossed the deck and inside was a large wooden table with six chairs. Here we would eat our camp feasts and play board games by oil-lamp light. Nature books, wooden flutes, Scrabble and playing cards lined the room's shelves.

Next to the table was a futon couch, and around the corner from that, a truly rustic, narrow kitchen, stocked with canned goods, peanut butter, olive oil, tea bags and spices left by previous visitors. It also had cooking utensils, dishes and silverware.

A ladder led to the loft, where all the heat from our propane stove would rise, keeping us warm in our sleeping bags. The two tree houses share a log cabin-style outhouse.

The next morning, the early sun warmed the air as we walked a 2-mile path that loops through a bald cypress swamp. For the rest of the day, life was stripped of its complexities. Cooking became a communal act. We played board games, hiked, took pictures, sang around the campfire, even made conversation.

Indeed, the most satisfying part of the treehouse adventure was again learning, in the company of friends, how to listen as well as how to appreciate the quiet.

IF YOU GO

GETTING THERE: Carolina Heritage Outfitters, which rents the treehouses, is in South Carolina, 3 miles from Interstate 95 at Exit 68. This is about equal distance, a 90-minute drive, from Savannah, Ga., and Columbia and Charleston, S.C.

ARRANGEMENTS: Treehouse costs are $105 per person for one night and two days. Additional nights are $52.50 per person. This includes canoe rental and shuttling guests to the canoe put-in site, plus breakfast delivery. Guests paddle back to the put-in site.

Sleeping and sitting is on futons. There is a deck that holds a propane grill and has room for chairs. The windows are screened. There is a campfire-style pit on the ground.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Contact Carolina Heritage Outfitters, Highway 15 in Canadys, S.C. 29433. Call 843 563-5051 or go to www.canoesc.com