Posted by: jeanne | July 17, 2012

my summer vacation

hunting island state park, south carolina.  it used to was the settler families’ island for going over to hunt on.  it was 4 miles long, beautiful white sandy beaches and littoral forest, tons of wildlife, endless ocean views.  they put a lighthouse on it, then they had to move it because the island was quickly eroding (a hundred years ago).  then it became a state park, and they built a bridge, and a road, and dredged a lagoon, and built a campground near the lighthouse at the north end, and a mess of private family cabins grew up on the south end of the island.  sort of in that order.

my sister and i have been meeting here for a week, every year since 2008, and i’ve been coming here for about a decade. this is one of those barrier islands that the rising tides and changing currents are washing out to sea, and i’ve been privileged to see it go. when we first started coming here, there were a dozen park cabins and a bunch of private cabins on the south end of the island.  now there are only 2 habitable structures, and the rest is washed out to sea.  there is a nobility in decay and death, and it can be a blessing to participate in it consciously.

this is how the cabin looked like last year, with the steps finally beginning to be exposed to the effects of high tide.

this is also from 2011.  that year there were a bunch of downed trees littering the beach out front.  it was impossible to swim at high tide for all the rolling palm trunks.

this is the picture i took this year.  a second set of steps has had to be added to reach the beach, which has washed out at least 3 feet from where it was a year previously.  and all the plants on the new verge are dead.

the reeds are piled up in front of the newly cut dune.  these reeds washed in when the new high tide mark was cut during the retreat  of tropical storm debbie, when the area got 5″ of rain and there was a whole bunch of beach erosion.  this was only the week before we arrived.

at least 300 yards north of this cabin is a sign nailed to a dead tree saying there are no in-situ turtle nests beyond that point.  that’s because beyond that point there is no more natural dune, and the ocean is eating into the littoral forest, where the turtles don’t want to dig.  while we were there, a turtle had come up to the high tide mark and deposited her eggs in the sand, within 30 yards of the cabin.  the turtle patrol people came along the next morning and moved them to a spot above the high tide mark, beyond the reeds.  the picture above was taken at a  possibly in-situ lay, some quarter mile to the north, right beyond the first groin where there appeared to be bunches and bunches of nests.\

the newly fallen palm tree used to shade the cabin, but fell toward the house during the last storm.  you can see how the root ball is just a round end of the tree.  the whole thing will roll amazingly easily when it’s caught in the tide, making it really dangerous to be around.  i’m just saying.

this is all that’s left of the house that used to be next to the cabin we stayed in.  it’s the place we stayed in 2009, and it was getting knocked around by the flotsam every high tide when we stayed in it.  the owners tried to slow the progress of destruction by piling up fallen trees around the house, like a pallisade, but it only worked so well, and in tropical storm beryl, in may, the whole house came down off its stilts and landed on the beach in front.  i read this in the guest book where someone witnessed this.  it took them a week to tear down the house and load it into dumpsters with bulldozers.  you can still see where the driveway was, because they’ve piled up a bunch of downed trees to stop people from driving on the beach.  the house was a hundred yard walk north thru a wooded trail, and the place where it was is marked by 2 metal bands around a newly dead but still-standing tree.  there is nothing to be seen of the house at that spot.  and the interesting thing about this is that the bricks and pipes and cinderblocks that are all that’s left is slowly being pushed north along the beach.  the rubble you see in the picture above is 300 yards farther north than the house was.

these are the roots of cypress trees.  the white parts are the actual trunks that were, and all the spready-out bits are the roots, still buried in the mud.

it’s a beautiful place.  but note all the roots of trees to the left, and the steeply etched bank to the right.  all the plants along this newly cut short are dead from salt exposure, and all the roots of the trees further inland are being poisoned by the rising salt water encursion.

i’m never sure whether these trees were originally this far out, or whether they’ve been moved by the tide.  i assume they’re all slowly being washed out to sea, but the beach is receding so quickly it’s really hard to tell.  landmarks just don’t stick around…

the weather was perfect.  the water temperature equalled the air temperature most days, and at around 9 am it was always the same – 83 degrees air, 83 degrees water.  and no jellyfish!  it is, of course, the warmest i’ve ever seen the water.  for the first few days we had a persistent high pressure area over the atlantic, so there were no thunder storms.  but as the week went by we began to get those lovely offshore storms that form and just sit there for hours, sparking lightning late into the night.  and when there were no clouds, there was the milky way.  omg.

the river of mud you see is called slough mud, and is what the roots of everything on this island are dug into.  it’s the same squishy dark mud that you find in the lagoon and estuary marshes, it’s got holes where the roots of the rushes used to was, and embedded clusters of clams and oysters, and holds great roots of trees, and now that it’s exposed, it’s washing out to sea.  this mud took thousands of years to develop out of the living marsh, and here it goes out to sea, in a cycle that gets repeated over and over, as the sea levels rise and fall.  it just takes much much longer to build up than it does to wash away, that’s all.

look at this art.  if you chopped off the inconvenient trunk that still pins this piece to the beach, you could crane it into the back of a flatbed, cart off to some large-floored gallery, paint it with gold and black spray paint, and sell it for $250k.

they say pelicans always fly in odd numbers.  i find this to be true after careful study.  any stragglers can be folded into the next group that flies over, keeping the numbers correct.

a huge live oak at the south end of the island, which is washing away the fastest.  the trees are dead before they fall, salted into greyness.  and then a storm comes along, and a dozen of them go pitching into the sea.

cabin road.  last year i had a similar picture, of a stretch of cabin road that is only bare sand now.  the waves come up and beat the hell out of the tarmac each high tide, and it just breaks apart like brownies in a pan.

this appears to have been a 12″ sewer pipe, still joined up, and pointing out to sea.  gross.  i still wonder what they do about sewage for the remaining cabins – septic tanks don’t seem practical when you’re a foot and a half above sea level.

another magnificent oak tree.  fun to play on even still.

and this is the famous blue house on stilts in the middle of nowhere.  it used to be that low tide stretched on for millions of miles  past this, out way into the inlet where there was a sandbar you could get to.  but now low tide runs 20 yards from the cabin.  and the inles waters are visible just another 20 yards beyond the end of the pilings.  so no matter how deeply set those pilings were (they say 25′, which if so only gives another couple of feet below the surface), they’ll be undermined soon just by the shifting of the sands.

so that’s what it looks like on hunting island in the beginning of july 2012.  the place on cabin road might make it for another couple of years, depending on hurricane activity.  it’s available if you’re interested.



  1. Thanks so much for putting this together. Well done.


  2. Thank you for posting! Such a waste of what was once heaven on earth!


  3. “there is a nobility in decay and death, and it can be a blessing to participate in it consciously.”

    This is so true. My children — who visited HI each summer from the time they were born 17 and 14 years ago until last summer — have had a front-row view of time-lapsed geological history. We’ve witnessed a natural process obviously accelerated by human influence as the south end of the island built up … only to be washed away in a few short years when the groins stole the sand for the public beach.

    Watching the beach and the tidal pools change each year was exciting. Seeing the cabins wash away one by one was a reminder of how temporary our time is on earth — and also of how powerful human influence can be on one tiny outpost of the globe.


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