One of my all-time favorite things to do is get up fairly early on a weekend morning, load up my camera gear, jump in the car, drive until stopping feels right, and just wander…this past weekend, Sunday morning was just what I needed. I woke around 9:00, made some breakfast, and as I was cooking, I noticed that “The Goonies” was on. Most anyone who has seen the movie can understand the significance it holds to children of the 80′s. So, of course, I cooked up my ham and eggs, got a big glass of OJ, and proceeded to watch the entire movie.
Shortly after the final scene, when the Goonies have saved the day (with pirate treasure) and One Eyed Willy’s ship is sailing out to sea, I started thinking about adventure, exploration, and most importantly, discovering a story. I thought about making a run up to the Francis Marion National Forest, which is beautiful, but decided it was a bit farther (and more dull) than what I was looking for…downtown’s always nice, but would be packed, same for Fort Johnson & Sunrise Park, Charlestowne Landing, Pitt St. Extension, etc….I wanted something more secluded, and none of the regular parks were getting me stoked. Seeing “The Goonies” that morning inspired me to revisit an old favorite pastime from my youth. Trespassing. I *needed* to be somewhere that I wasn’t supposed to be, away from the crowds, away from the tourists, just me and a few fences to hop, some barbed wire to duck…I headed straight to Folly Beach, where the County Park is still completely shut down due to the damage from Hurricane Irene. I hadn’t seen it myself yet, but had seen a few pictures, so I figured it would would be a perfect chance to get a glimpse with my own eyes, and document what I found.
I parked at 5th block West and started my way over the dunes, jumping from the third last step of the access with such force I temporarily lost a shoe…the weather was perfect, the beach wasn’t crowded, mostly a few happy looking couples enjoying each other’s company, kids getting their last swims of the season in, seagulls all around…and proceeded to head myself south, towards the end of the island where Kiawah is easily visible. The vibe of the small, sparse bunch was peaceful but energetic, as if we all were walking around with a secret, each of us knowing that the other was in on it, exchanging knowing glances as we passed each other, understanding that we were sharing in something really special. Kids ran past giggling wildly, fishermen were setting up their spots to cast out and spend several hours drinking beer, many of them destined to catch little more than a buzz, couples paused as they strolled leisurely along, stealing kisses when they thought no one was looking…just a beautiful scene to behold, enough to make me laugh out loud on several occasions and continue along with a grin, taking it all in as I made my way south…
As I got closer and closer to the County Park line, I kept a sharp eye out for park rangers as I passed the first orange on black “KEEP OUT!” and “For your safety, the County Park is closed to visitors” notices. The signs of erosion were remarkable…where there had been 20-25′ high dunes, with wooden stair accessess and free standing structures, there was little or no sand supporting them, looking eerily like what I’d imagine some leviathan’s skeletal remains would resemble . Where the large but gentle dunes had once eased their way down towards the shoreline, there were now sheer cliffs between 10 and 15′ high, losing more sand each time the wind would pick up, even startling me a couple of times as huge pieces of solid earth fell to the beach. When I got down to the old clubhouse, which will be lucky to survive another strong northeast storm, much less another hurricane, I thought about how futile the efforts we make to dominate nature really are, and how nature’s brutal indifference proves this over and over again. It’s happened thousands of times, for thousands of years, and it will happen thousands more.
As I was walking around the structure, scoping things out, I caught my first glimpse of a blue-shirted ranger, clearly in charge of keeping folks from continuing on down towards the inlet. Over the wind, I could barely make out his trying to yell something down to me, but he was a good 200′ behind me, so even if I’d wanted to, I couldn’t have heard him…when he did notice me looking in his direction, he took the opportunity to wave his arms in the air at me to get my attention – to which I responded with a sincere wave back – more of a “Hey man! What’s up? See ya!” than anything else. Nothing personal, of course, I just had to keep moving. There was treasure to be found…I turned and walked further down the beach until I could no longer see him.
And I continued my way south. The sand was wet and felt great between my toes, and as there was little beach to make use of, I rolled up my jeans and hoofed it on down towards the inlet. The debris strewn across the south end was amazing – everything from parking space dividers and electrical conduit to barbed-wire fencing and cinder blocks…remnants of the best laid plans for the park’s boardwalk strewn everywhere among the mix of shells, horseshoe crab remains, washed up flip flops, sunglasses, and dock pilings.
I passed two separate sections that appear to be new inlets forming, and as the tide rose, the amount of water coming over what had been at least 5-6′ above sea level (at high tide) on my last visit was amazing, particularly the speed of the incoming current as it passed through the fresh gulley and over the sand into the spartina. It was a great glimpse into the origins of the many inlets that break up the barrier islands up and down the coast.
One of the reasons the surf has been so good around the Washout (consistently referred to as the best surf spot in South Carolina, which is really like saying Cataloochee is the best snowboarding spot in Georgia) is that the Atlantic Ocean is using a deep channel to try and create a natural breach at the Washout, effectively splitting Folly Island in two through a combination of tidal forces from the marsh on the backside of Folly Island and the swell push towards the beach from the Atlantic. Every few years, the city conducts a beach re-nourishment program, pumping sand in from offshore onto the beach to help slow erosion. Problems with this (and there are quite a few) are the expense, disruption of natural habitats for local wildlife, and the fact that if you look at the results over a long enough period of time, it doesn’t really work. As with other examples of trying to control our environment, Nature’s pretty good at winning…and has been doing it well for quite a while.
I came upon a solitary tree at one point, struggling, alive but still standing in a just a few feet of water, waves lapping all around it, and saw the whole scene as a metaphor–sometimes we’re the tree, standing alone, battered by wind and waves, with our strength being deeply rooted and firm, but not visible at a glance, while other times, we’re the ocean–the sum of all of the changes, experiences, friends, hopes, dreams – our own existential ecosystems. Though the two aren’t mutually exclusive, when I saw the scene, the duality made sense to me, and seemed to represent both independence and unity at the same time.
After walking along some more, I came to the southernmost point on the island up from Stono Inlet…which strangely enough, didn’t look much different than the last time I visited the area. There were some amazing shells that had washed up, and a few folks on a nearby boat out shrimping with a cast-net…I was working on trying to get a good shot of a bird hovering patiently for scraps when I noticed that, quite suddenly, I’d been almost completely surrounded by butterflies. Big ones, too. Hundreds of them flitting around in all directions, seeming to be wandering, just like me. I stopped for a couple minutes and watched them, and realized that they were feeding on these large clusters of bright yellow flowers, so I scoped out the area, found a good concentration of the same flowers on the far slope of some large dunes, completely shielded from the prevailing winds. Although there were only a few straggler butterflies at this spot when I sat down, after I’d been sitting for a couple of minutes, they began to congregate around this sweet spot. I was lucky to be able to get my camera within a few inches of several of them–it was one of the more beautiful things I’ve seen in my life.
I spent about 30 minutes getting shots of the butterflies before packing it in to head on back up the beach, and had traveled maybe 500 yards or so before I realized I’d inadvertently made a mistake I pride myself on being super aware of most all of the time – I hadn’t checked the tide chart before I left, and as a result, found myself crossing long sections of “beach” that were not only underwater, but under about a foot and a half of water with 2 foot seas on top of that. Not huge by any stretch, but enough to be cause for concern with the camera equipment I was carrying along…fortunately, I was able to maneuver around some of the some of the holes and debris without too much trouble, but I definitely walked the post County Park section of the beach back to the car with some wet pants. And it was totally worth it.
Here are a few shots from the day’s walk…