“When I was young, my grandparents would travel from Louisville to Charleston (West Virginia) each summer on their way to the coast of Maryland. They would surprise us (though our parents knew) and would come late at night, let us pack, and then we’d leave very early in the morning. (My pappaw didn’t want to catch any traffic crossing the Chesapeake Bay.) We would get to the bay bridge around 6:30am and would be able to see the sun rise over the water before we entered the pine plains on the other side.
We would usually arrive at the beach around 8:00am. We’d put our bags in the house, which was small – just a kitchen, family room, and a hole where a bathroom should be, plus a large, wide sleeping porch. Before my grandparents would let us go, my grandma would say, “Be right sure that y’all sign you’s name in the sand.” Then we’d run down the path through the marsh, out onto the sand with one thing in mind: the ponies.
The fondest memory I have that is taking that same trail through the Maryland ‘low country’ out to the tip of the land, where we would then trek through the waist-high water from one sand bar to another, until we would reach Assateague. The journey out took about 45 minutes, if we were able to catch a time without a high tide.
If we went any time before September we would be able to see the wild mares and colts in the dunes. We’d hide behind sand drifts until a large group of horses would run across the dunes – and then we would try to race them across the beach. We’d name certain horses – specifically the ones that we thought were the prettiest. And when we needed a break from running, we would take a look around and find a big empty spot to write our names. We’d write my name, and they’d write their names, and then we’d write every person’s name we could think of in big long lists. We’d even write the names of the horses we met that day. And when we were done writing we’d go and run some more.
Though we never beat the mighty fast animals we never stopped and never lost hope that we were as wild as the horses – even if we looked like lunatics to other people.
In my young age I never stopped to think how unique it was to be able to interact with creatures so wild, yet so docile.
My grandparents have long since passed away and the house is no longer there. It has been replaced with giant beach houses that tower over the beach. Even most of the long leaf pines trees that towered over the house no longer stand. The sand bars that used to speckle the distance between there and Assateague Island are now much fewer, and the distance seems to have gotten longer – probably due, in part, to the hurricanes that have since come through.
Now, my family comes up from Memphis and drives through Kentucky to get to West Virginia. We cut through Annapolis and meet my sister and her husband, round up their children, and we all make the long journey across the bay. And then the short journey to the beach. I’ve tried to present to my children the same exact path that I used to take to get to the ponies, but now it requires a boat.
So many things have changed. We have to stay in a big house that is disproportionate to the land. And, as they’ve grown up, my children have begun to prefer to go to Ocean City to visit their friends during the summer. But once I get them away from the new, we can take the journey to see the ponies.
And once we get to the island, you can hardly see any of the built-up mainland across the wide sound. And the ponies are still there running just as they used to do. And chasing them is still just as fun. And before we go back, we make sure to write our names in the sand.”
Big thanks to Chuck, who sent us this email sharing his favorite Coastal South memory. Photo via SkydiveOC.
Photo via Instagram @raleigh9kitch
When I was little, I was told some Coastal South folkore about the creation of Spanish Moss. The story is set several centuries ago, before the invasive moss covered our coastal trees and the native tribes still reigned throughout the region.
As the European explorers settled the Coastal South, a Spanish man met a young native woman. He liked her, but she refused him. The much older Spaniard did not take the rejection very well, so one day he attempted to corner her alone.
The indian girl ran and ran, and eventually found an oak tree that she could scurry up. The Spaniard followed her up the tree, so she went out on a limb -- as far as she could manage. Just when she thought the Spaniard had trapped her, he lost his balance and slipped out of the tree. However, his long gray beard got caught in the branches and ripped from his skin.
After this nasty fall, the Spaniard died. However, the story claims that his beard continued to grow on the tree, and with it, his spirit continued to search for the girl. Spreading from tree to tree until it covered the entire Coastal South.
Local dolphins in the St. Johns River have been spotted with severe cases of skin lesions, indicating their immune systems are compromised. In these photos, a newborn calf is covered in lesions and also appears to have an orange algal-type mat growing on its rostrum (face) and dorsal fin. Unfortunately, this does not bode well for his/her survival. A similar algal-type mat was observed on resident adult dolphins at death.
There have been several recent reports on the east coast (in addition to the Gulf) of people spotting dolphins, manatees, and other marine wildlife with growths and fungi on them. These growths are attributed to red tide, which is an algal bloom that produces toxins that can kill marine organisms, taint shellfish, cause skin irritations, and even foul air. They can also cause respiratory issues in children and elderly.
Algal blooms naturally occur, however, scientists, fishermen, and outdoors-people have noticed that they have been increasing in size, intensity, and persistence in recent decades. This is attributed to the increase of foreign nutrients in coastal waters – which causes the algae to grow at an unnaturally fast rate.
I wanted to share some simple tips on identifying the algae and what you can do to help!
If you spot an algae bloom (like the one pictured), you can quickly report it by dropping a pin on the App “Water Rangers” https://app.waterrangers.ca/
Create a River Friendly Yard.
Whether you are in your car or boat or on foot, pay close attention to what is going on around you. Is dirt running off a construction site into a creek? Did you spot a fish kill or a broken pipe? Is someone illegally-dumping trash or pollution into a storm drain or directly into a river? Report these issues to your city works or state environmental agency (they should have a hotline).
Most importantly, keep children and pets away from blooms. Wash thoroughly if you have come into contact. And do not eat fish caught in bloom areas.
After the twinkling lights and ornaments have been packed away, most of the nation settles into a deep hibernation – where social obligations are few and rarely spent outdoors. However, coastal residents continue to celebrate the season with a knife in one hand and a glove on the other. In the Southeast, it’s fair to estimate that a mention of a bushel of oysters is met with greater enthusiasm and attendance than any given warm-weather party (no matter how many kegs or slip’n’ slides are advertised).
Oysters have been a part of the local diet even before the arrival of Europeans. Pre-colonial mounds (AKA middens) of oyster shells can still be found scattered across barrier islands and throughout the Lowcountry. In fact, historians believe that the oyster roast as we now know it most certainly has Native American roots. Native Americans also used the razor-sharp shells for a variety of tasks.
Early settlers made use of the leftover shells, burning them to extract lime then mixing it with sand, water, and more oyster shells to create a durable type of concrete called "tabby." Tabby is known for being able to withstand the elements (even fire), and it was used in the building of houses and other structures, some of which are still standing.
Oysters continued to gain significance throughout the colonies and it is even said that Charleston’s old social calendar was purposely aligned with the season for oyster harvesting. However, most Charleston socialites didn’t originally shuck oysters, but poached them for soups and sauces. One of the most ubiquitous of these dishes was creamed oysters or "chafing dish oysters." Ladled over toast or pastries, creamed oysters were almost as important to a ball as the champagne... (Read more below.)
You may have noticed these same fences on almost all beaches, both here and in other parts of the world. The sand fences look thin and flimsy, but they’re actually serving a great purpose. The fence is made of wood slats that are deliberately spread apart. These openings allow for sand to be blown into the fence, but then accumulate naturally in that area. These simple fences help restore sand dunes in populated areas and prevent future erosion. Gulf State Park is currently undergoing a $135 million dollar project to install these fences, which will be paid for by the 2010 BP oil spill funds.
The dune pictured below stood around 8-9 feet high. Much of Florida’s panhandle used to be bordered by similar dunes. As you move away from the beach, you can see ancient dunes that resemble hills, growing pine and oak trees. Though these have become rare in Florida (due to development), in recent years residents have realized that dunes provide an extremely effective and cost efficient barrier against erosion and storms. Now, dune restoration has become a popular cause in many coastal communities.
You may have noticed that beaches on the gulf are well known for this ultra-white, sugary appearance. This is because the sand is almost entirely made of quartz. Ironically, quartz is not a naturally occurring part of the Gulf Coast -- so how did all this white sand get there?
These quartz particles are originally from the quartz rock in the Appalachian Mountains. At the end of the last Ice Age when the world temperatures began warming and the ice caps began melting, large rivers washed down the mountains and carried the sand to the ocean. The quartz sand that is in the Gulf of Mexico can be traced up the Apalachicola River, which rises in the Appalachians.
Posts are a combination of my own research, visits, and conversations, plus various information found around the web. I try to provide sources, but if you have specific questions, feel free to ask!