A year ago this month I discovered a white, spherical flower growing beside a narrow creek. Seven months later I bought a used kayak, and now I meet buttonbush all the time along lakes and rivers.
The island above wasn’t the first destination. But during that first trip to Lake Hartwell back in early May, it was the most curious.
Before throwing the kayak on the car and driving to the Georgia/South Carolina border, this satellite image (later doctored somewhat) offered an aerial glimpse of endless nooks to navigate. The image was captured during the 2012 drought, which is why every verdant land mass sports a tan outline.
Most public access areas around Lake Hartwell were designed and constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers, including the upper and lower incisors of the Pac-Man shape to the west gobbling-up islands dotting South Carolina’s shore to the east. The plan was to paddle from Long Point Recreational Area (Pac-Man’s maxillary central incisors), to Elrod Ferry (mandibular central incisors).
After an hour’s drive through pastoral Madison County, I spoke to a man sitting on a log at the water’s edge between two arched fishing poles. Pointing across azure chop, I asked, “Is that Elrod Ferry?”
“Yeah, just across there.”
“And the South Carolina border?”
“See the dam? South Carolina’s on the left. Georgia’s on the right.”
It took around forty minutes to reach Elrod Ferry. Once across, I looked back at the man on the far shore and thought, “Why not paddle across state lines for the first time on water?”
To the naked eye (and novice paddler), the distance between Elrod Ferry and South Carolina was a bit misleading, but clear water and tangerine shore made the trip well worth the energy.
Buttonbush sentinels (sans buttons in early May) took root around the slippery bank. I hiked inland through a stand of pine, then up toward the dam.
Couples and extended families with panting dogs walked along the dam under blue sky. A bearded man encased in a black leather vest like a sausage below a matching wide brimmed hat prosthelytized to a group of bikers seated on granite boulders repenting and sweating in the sun. Three red tailed hawks spiraled above the strangled Savannah River below. I walked back to shore.
After stacking, the nearest island was next.
Former downy residents’ homes proved spring renewal.
Violent fauna left manufactured remnants.
Three weeks after the paddle to South Carolina, I returned to the lake and put in at Hart State Park Outdoor Recreational Area (not the most creative name, given that the county, lake, town, dam and outdoor recreational area are all named after Nancy Hart, who assasinated seven men during the American Revolution – why not “Gallows Park,” or “Whig Dump Woodlands Boat Ramp?”).
A tiny chunk of land occupied by mica, sweet gum, buttonbush and five abandoned goose eggs rests a few hundred yards from the boat ramp.
Geese, hawks, great blue herons, striped bass, crappie and bream share Lake Hartwell with drunks on jet skis, pontoon and bass boats during spring and summer months.
Let’s hope the Canadian avian couple who produced these perfect orbs seek more privacy for their babies next year.
Click here to watch a TED talk by Gavin Pretor-Pinney, The Cloud Appreciation Society’s founder. Keep looking skyward…