High Water

Sand, sky, birds, and water everywhere

After a winter in Georgia, we were ready for some warmer climes. We managed to book up a month of beach time at some South Carolina State Parks. Everything came together well, weather, work, and bus repairs. Like we did nearly three years ago, we split the drive down into two days. This time we stopped off for a night at a tiny state park on the Edisto River.

This part of the country, and upriver of here, has out-rained even the pacific northwest so far this year, and it showed. The river was ten feet over flood stage. It was difficult to even tell where the river was, it looked more like a lake. Another three feet and the campground would have been underwater. There wasn’t much land to explore, we settled for an early fire and some marshmallows.

The next day we headed the rest of the way out to what I still think of as the edge of the continent. Edisto Island is remote, for the east coast anyway. It’s true, Charleston is only an hour and half away, but somehow Edisto still feels like the edge of the world.

Civilization falls away as you drive. The road winds through alternating stretches of muddy marshland and deep stands of gnarled oak trees, bearded with Spanish Moss. Chain stores and strip malls disappear, replaced by crumbling no-name gas stations, fish shacks, cinder block garages, old single story motels.

It’s not some idyllic world out here of course. The land and people here are abused like they are everywhere. Environmental destruction and the deep, unsolvable poverty that follows it linger everywhere in the shadows. The ruin of modern systems is always more obvious out here at the leading edges, the places where the supposed benefits never quite reached, just inexhaustible desires. These are the places from which life was extracted to enable comfort in some other place.

There’s a divide. I notice it every time we come down here. You cross a high bridge over the Intercoastal waterway onto Edisto Island proper and everything after that is magically fine, derelict buildings hidden away, poverty pushed off the main highway to some backroad most of us will never take.

Life here is different let’s say. And we’ll leave it at that.

Humans are latecomers here anyway, newcomers to this world of sea and sand and muddy marsh. This is the time of year that other migrants are passing through. Every morning we get to wake to the tea-kett-le, tea-kett-le of Carolina wrens, the chip chip chip of cardinals, and the more elaborate songs of the warblers headed north to their summer homes. I can’t think of a better way to wake up than lifting your head, looking out the window, and seeing a Carolina wren staring back at you.

Our time at the beach here is starkly divided. I am a sitter. To me the beach is a place to come and watch the sea, the sky, the birds. For much of the rest of my family it’s a place to hunt for treasures from previous worlds. While I relaxed, staring up at the blue veil of sky, occasionally given depth by a passing gull or brown pelican, Corrinne and the kids wandered up and down the shore finding fossil shark’s teeth, bones, bits of black, fossilized turtle shells, and thoroughly modern seashells.

The temperature always hovered on the edge of warm, usually tipping over by late afternoon.Most days you could find a small depression in the sand to stay out of the breeze and it was warm enough to relax in shorts. Sit up though and the temperature dropped considerably.

I did a lot of staring at the sky. I’m not sure if it’s the act of lying down and looking up, or the actual view of the blue sky, or warmth and light of the sun itself, or some combination of those things and more I haven’t sussed out, but there is something wonderfully cathartic and healing about staring up at the sky.

I did it every chance I got, which alas was not quite as much as the last time we were here. But things change, morph, I wouldn’t want them to stay the same. If they stayed the same it never would have warmed up enough to coax me off my back and out into the water.

The water was cold, biting cold when the wind hit you after you came up. But you have to get in. And not just when it’s easy, not just when everyone is swimming.

You have to get in even on the days when you don’t want to. Even when it’s so cold your teeth are chattering before you even get your shirt off. Those are the times when you have to reach down inside and find some way to get out there. The ocean pulls me in, it’s part of an understanding I’ve reached with it, with myself. There are certain rituals that must be performed or the world stops working. And so you get in. When it’s cold. When it’s not. It doesn’t matter. Just get in.


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