A small handful of people really come to personify Lowcountry living; Alice Burke is one of them. It's no wonder, really, as she's lived her whole life in the Beaufort area, in what she calls "the heart of the Lowcountry." And indeed, her life as a self-described "river girl" began almost from birth. "My father loved the great outdoors, and probably had me in the river before I could walk," she explains, and she credits him with giving her the childhood experiences that made her the river girl she is today. From the time she was quite small, she was fishing and crabbing. Today, some of her favorite water activities include boating, kayaking, and gigging, a form of fishing she describes as both "sporty and primitive" that uses a pronged spear to hunt fish.
Growing up on the Whale Branch River also fostered Alice's deep love for the water. Within minutes of starting to tell me her story, she has me laughing about her childhood escapades of crabbing and subsequent meal preparations with her grandmother and cousins, and her tales of fishing today for what she'll eat tonight have me riveted. With straightforward narrative and detailed descriptions of the river's night beauty, she brings her world to life.
On a professional level, Alice's resumÈ includes multiple sales positions, and she's also worked for several veterinarian practices, including Holly Hall Animal Hospital. She tells of her love for dogs in particular, and animals in general, and says, "I was on cloud nine among all those animals." After her son Mark was born, she focused the largest part of her time on raising him, and teaching him "the things I learned along the way."
Twelve years ago, Alice began working for Bay Street Outfitters, a store she describes as having "everything I've been interested in." Her current responsibilities include retail sales, being part of the management team, and being a buyer for ladies apparel and anything else that might fit with the store.
After working at Bay Street Outfitters for a while, the owner asked Alice to take a fly fishing class. So she did, learning about casting and its rhythms, and added fly fishing to her repertoire of outdoor sports. It was also during this time that a colleague took her kayaking for the first time. She'd had spent her whole life on boats, but kayaking gave her a new perspective being so close to the water. After only one trip, Alice says she had to go out and buy one. She jokingly refers to her "fleet of three" kayaks she now owns as she explains the uses and advantages of each one.
When I comment on the beauty of her Facebook cover photo, a professional-looking black-and-white photograph of live oaks draped with Spanish moss canopying the road beneath, she says, "Oh, yeah, I do photography too." This, of course, is coming from the woman who started our interview by telling me there wasn't much to tell about herself. She especially enjoys landscape photography. I poured over many of her pictures, fascinated by her eye for detail and her knowledge of our area.
As our interview ends, I find myself suddenly longing for a life I, until now, didn't realize I wanted. To say that her devotion to her way of life is contagious seems like an understatement. Alice is so down-to-earth and forthright that the only challenge in talking with her is getting her to speak about her many accomplishments. Time and again, she deflects her answers back to the river and the outdoors and the beauty of the Lowcountry, reflecting, "We're surrounded by all this water and the smell of the pluff mud and all the palmetto trees. Once that gets in your veins, you can't leave. Where else would you want to be?" In the end, however, I realize something: by talking of the water and the land and all the surroundings, she is, after all, talking about herself.
Family: She's married to Mike and has a grown son named Mark. Her son, a graduate of The Citadel and The Charleston School of Law, is currently serving in Kosovo with the National Guard and is due home this June.
License plate: RIVRGRL, short for "River Girl"
On food: Alice typically orders a steak if she goes to a restaurant, because "I know I can have the best seafood at my house," since it'll be fresh from the river, of course.
On dogs: Alice's two dogs are Huspa, an English cocker spaniel and Raisun, an English lab. Her father jokes, "If anything happens to me, I want to come back as a dog," in reference to how well Alice takes care of hers.
Best fishing spots: When I ask, she laughs, and answers, "People aren't supposed to tell where they fish. Then you might find other people there."