July 25, 2008

New Book Tells the SC Coast’s Many Tales

By David Lauderdale, The Island Packet, Hilton Head Island, S.C.

Jul. 25--Suppose for a moment that you lived on a barrier island and didn't know the difference between an ebb-tidal delta and a Pleistocene upland.

You would have a hard time understanding the shifting sands and boggy mush we live on -- which makes it harder to appreciate it, love it, fight for it and protect it.

That explains the importance of a new book by two scientists who have spent more than 30 years studying our coastline. Miles O. Hayes and his wife, Jacqueline Michel, have just published "A Coast For All Seasons: A Naturalist's Guide to the Coast of South Carolina."

Naturalist Rudy Mancke and geologist Orrin H. Pilkey say that the team that knows the coast best has produced a comprehensive, scientific treatise that can be understood by the masses.

I'd say it is a good companion to Todd Ballantine's two books that should be required for citizenship here: "Tideland Treasure" and "Woodland Walks."

Last week, I asked the regional head of the Coastal Conservation League to tell me his greatest challenge.

He said it is public education.

Hayes and his wife -- with scores of photos and illustrations by Joseph M. Holmes -- set out to give an introductory understanding of coastal processes and land forms.

Then they tell what's interesting to see and why things look the way they do, island by island, inlet by inlet, sound by sound, estuary by estuary.

Each ripple and burrow on the beach has a story to tell, but too few of us are literate enough to read that story.

The book does not take things too seriously. It is not a "the-end-is-near" tome predicting that we will sink into the sea.

"A Coast For All Seasons" even includes a literary glimpse at the subject, quoting from Beaufort County's own Pat Conroy in "The Prince of Tides":

To describe our growing up in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, I would have to take you to the marsh on a spring day, flush the great blue heron from its silent occupation, scatter marsh hens as we sink to our knees in mud, open for you an oyster with a pocketknife and feed it to you from the shell and say, "There, that taste. That's the taste of my childhood."

Hayes told me scientists have an obligation to "get everyone attuned to what's going on."

That includes telling things we may not like, things we've done wrong, things we've done right -- and the alarming facts about rising sea level.

No one can afford to live in ignorance -- especially when our castles are built on a Pleistocene upland guarded by an ebb-tidal delta.


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