Open Prairie of the South

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by Lunden Herron

Never before have I felt so alone in Charleston, South Carolina. And it was like a breath of fresh air. For those of you who have the luxury of a damp trail nearby in the deep woods, I envy you. Some days the only thing that would make my 40-hour work week bearable is to lace up my running shoes, and head for the trees. However, living in the heat of downtown Charleston doesn’t always afford me that after work. I have often grieved and yearned for the solace of absolute nature after a busy week of handling customers. A few weeks ago I got my wish, and for the first time discovered the open prairie of the South- The Marsh. Namely, undertaking the 5 mile paddle to Bull Island, a protected island off of the Charleston coast.


The trip started out as all good trips do, while it was still dark. We set out on the water in our Hobie boats just as the sun was rising above the marsh, like a great big blood orange low across the sky. For what seemed like the first time in my life, Charleston had a cool breeze going. That alone would have made me a happy paddler. We reached the point where we turned our boats toward the sea and headed away from anything man made, when a pair of dolphins came to the surface. A mother and her calf. Thinking that the trip was all but as good as it was going to get, we paddled further, spotting Bonnethead Sharks and Great Blue Herons. Egrets lined the waters edge, eyeing us warily as if we were going to eat them for a midday snack. It was quiet, and we were alone to the animal sounds. After (several) short breaks to consume granola bars and cheap cracker snacks along with extensive drifting when our arms tired, we finally saw in front of us: Bull Island.


The Island had a plethora of intact, beautiful shells. Hermit crabs littered the beaches, little kings to their own shell microcosms. Tiny schools of fish darted along just under the water, and big blue crabs made threatening advances to any of us if we came in the water. We all heeded the warning. Walking several miles along the coast, there was no one in sight. Miles of empty beach is a rarity for summer in Charleston. We turned back, starting to feel the slight burn of the sunscreen wearing off from the constant sun, and the memory of the PB&J’s I made for lunch coming back into our minds. If you love doing things outdoors, you know there is nothing better than a PB&J sandwich after exerting yourself for hours. Extra PB, please. At last, after all the crumbs had been accounted for, we headed back to the world. At this point the boat traffic was picking up and we had visitors on the beach. It was time to go.


I think that paddling back was even more beautiful than the morning paddle, if you can believe it. The marsh was a totally different place, and everything was in motion. The tide was high, making the grass and the water seem like one waving being. The sky looked like the hide of a milk cow, with great big cumulous clouds coming in from the west. Not threatening, yet. Suddenly, a massive turtle head came up to surprise us. Just for a little peak before going back into the safety of the depths. Besides the occasional promise of a dolphin encounter, the rest of the paddle was uneventful in wildlife sightings. Probably typical for that time of day, with high traffic on the water. The water itself was mesmerizing now, with each of us taking lengthy breaks just to drift with the tide and take in as much as we could of the endless marsh grass. Before we knew it we were back at the dock, and the spell was broken. With the boats on the cars, it was back to the reality of traffic and loud music and too much talking. I now know, the southern marsh is a magical, restorative place.


Photo Credit:  Gregg Lambton-Carr


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