“Hey Hudson, what’s good to see in South Carolina?”
But I was interested in locations from a photographers point of view, and I remembered the instructor for a photo workshop I attended in the general Portland area had done workshops in South Carolina, in the Charleston area. So I hit him up.
He made general recommendations but had one main must see.
Beidler is a rare old growth Cypress swamp, maintained in its natural state by the Audubon Society. The only concession to tourists is a 1.75 mile boardwalk, with checkpoints that give information about particular aspects. Audubon’s web pages for the location suggested a forest swamped in several feet of water, with plenty of critter opportunities if you kept your eyes and ears open.
Between my photographer friend’s recommendation, Beidler’s website, and just the idea that Audubon runs it, it sounded wonderful. I figured it could be the highlight of the trip and was excited to see it. And I didn’t even have to get my feet wet.
When we checked in to pay admission, the staffer told us that due to a very dry summer, the swamp was almost dry. We’d get nearly to the end of the boardwalk by the “lake” before we’d see water. Not good.
But we were there, and it was off the beaten path just getting there, so we did it anyway. Here’s what we found.
Nice enough, I suppose. It was still a quiet walk through a forest. Maybe a little too quiet. As much as I kept my eyes peeled and my ears cocked, critter sightings were few and far between.
As for my visions of cypresses, knee deep in water, reflecting the overhead canopy, with the occasional ripple from a bird, snake, croc, or even frog?
Like the mirage of an oasis, once I got close to the “swamp” that vision dissolved away.
But the cypresses did have knees.
What looks like a bunch of pointy little stumps is really part of the trees. They don’t know for sure what the function of a cypress knee is, except that it’s related to the presence and depth of water. The deeper the water, the taller the knee. Maybe they’re like snorkels or something.
And if they were tall and eroded enough to support a hive, you could have a tree’s bee’s knees.
Nearly all the walk looked much like the shot above; dry muddy looking forest floor, cypress and gum trees throughout, and enough knobby knees poking out to populate a junior high school prom. But eventually, we saw a little water here and there.
You’d think, despite the overall lack of water, we’d still be seeing and hearing birds. It is, after all, an Audubon site. But apart from hearing the occasional call high in the treetops, we didn’t see a single bird. It was a warm, muggy afternoon. Perhaps they were hunkered down on their respective bird porches, doing the occasional wing wave to generate a breeze, and sipping tweet tea.
Eventually, we arrived at the observation platform at the end of the boardwalk. There was water here, presumably the “lake” we were told about. It gave a sense of what I was expecting to see for the bulk of the excursion.
Except for the lack of wading birds, stealthy crocodiles, and chorus of bird song of course.
And as for the lake? More like a river, methinks.
At least we weren’t completely skunked when it came to critters. Small fish bobbed up for air or perhaps a bug, and reptilian tanks cruised in to inspect us and each other.
While it was a letdown from expectations, it wasn’t a total bust. I’m sure that if we were to return at a different time of year, or maybe even a different time of day that we’d see and hear more. That dark, slowly flowing water and its dark reflections would abound. That the mysteries of a southern swamp would reveal just enough to make us go, “what was that!” and entice us to come back, once again, for more.
And could you imagine this place in fog?