More than most places, the Lowcountry is defined by its nature. When development came to our area, it came with an eye on preservation. Ours was a duty to build alongside nature, in the hopes of keeping the shores, rivers and forests as undisturbed as possible, even as more and more people came to call it home.
The philosophy is reflected in the people who call this place home. To some, nature is a way to connect with the greater forces that shaped it. To some, it’s a bounty of inspiration. To some, it’s a home for a wide diversity of creatures that holds endless fascination. It’s our own uniquely preserved piece of the natural world.
LOCAL SINCE 1999
ROBERTO RODRIGUEZ IS A CERTIFIED PERSONAL TRAINER AND MUSHROOM HUNTER. HE WAS BORN IN ARGENTINA, THEN MOVED TO URUGUAY WHEN HE WAS 11 BEFORE MOVING TO HILTON HEAD ISLAND 20 YEARS AGO.
This personal trainer hunts for wood instead of animals.
For Roberto Rodriguez, going out into the wild and bringing back its bounty has been a lifelong passion. It’s just what he brings back that has changed. Growing up in a family of butchers in his native Argentina, he had long grown used to seeing animals die. Tromping out into the field with a slingshot, he thought nothing of the wildlife he’d mow down. By his own admission, it was a hobby born of ignorance.
“I grew up and started hunting bigger game, going after hogs with dogs,” he said. “A few years later, I was having mixed feelings. I saw dogs being killed by hogs and I saw a lot of suffering. I started thinking, ‘Why am I doing this?’ I discovered I was doing it because I was prideful. So one day I kneeled down and I prayed to God, promising I wouldn’t hunt again. That was very much the end of that.”
“NINETY PERCENT OF THE WOOD I FIND HAS POTENTIAL.”
But the end of his hunting days brought a void into his life. He still yearned to head out into the woods, but without game to conquer there was little reason. Until a YouTube video changed his life. “I watched a video of a guy from New Zealand transform a piece of wood into something beautiful. I thought, ‘I can do that.’”
Today, his works litter the grounds of his small work shed, tucked away in the woods off of a dirt trail that snakes out to S.C. 46 on the far fringes of Bluffton. There are shelves upon shelves of bowls, their shapes and edges predetermined by the contours of the living wood from which they were carved. A towering sculpture, flowing with the grain of a felled tree, stands there. The beginnings of what will be a bathtub, hewn from a mighty trunk, is underway. Through his company, Wild Wood Rescue, he sells these works at Palmetto Bluff Provisions and online.
“It’s wherever my imagination takes me when I look at a piece of wood,” he said. “Ninety percent of the wood I find has potential.”
The key there is “find.” Rodriguez is ever cognizant of the destructive role man plays in nature, so he prefers to source his wood from felled trees or larger hunks of driftwood he comes across. Just outside his work shed is a stack of planks destined to be a floor, milled by hand on the far end of his complex and drying out in stacks. They came from a massive red oak, torn down by a heavy storm a few weeks prior.
And it’s not just trees he finds in his sojourns. Rodriguez also has become an expert on the edible bounty our forests produce – everything from wild garlic and chickweed to purslane and chanterelle mushrooms are out there growing freely.
“We can walk through the woods for an hour with a basket and we can come back with it full,” he said. “Plus, it’s free, organic and better for us than what we buy in the store.”
If you want to know his secret foraging spots, you need only ask. “To begin with, it’s not my spot. God allowed me to find this; I don’t mind sharing.”