12 March 2011

Among the big trees

Tal and I have long talked about visiting South Carolina's only national park. Today with camera, binoculars and a picnic tucked into the back seat we set out for Congaree National Park, a 24,000 acre track southeast of Columbia, designated in 2003. To quote the National Park Service brochure "it encompasses the largest contiguous area of old-growth bottom land hardwood forest remaining in the United States."

The low boardwalk through bald cypress and tupelo. Though
difficult to see, small, pale green leaves were beginning to emerge.

It was a bright, warm day. The park was very busy, the visitors ranging in age from about six-months to ... well, old, from young families to black leather clad Harley riders. We took in the Harry Hampton Visitor Center and chose the 2.5 mile Boardwalk Trail, one -- and the easiest -- of the six opening up the center of the vast park.

Tal standing at the base
of the national champion
loblolly pine
-- 167 feet tall,
14.5 feet in circumference.

Both of us have something of a past with this park. We visited together while I was in seminary when the destruction after Hurricane Hugo was at its worst. It was a national monument at the time. As a young man in his 20s, Tal used to fish and to hunt for turkey in the swamp with Harry Hampton, a newspaper editor in Columbia and the long-time driving force behind the eventual protection of the tract. My father, in the late 60s or early 70s, camped in the swamp, working with Mr Hampton to begin measuring trees and to estimate the number of champions on the property. Although the park truly is a marvel, the plants, animals and acreage too much to take in, it was those old connections that gave the day its distinct quality.

The brightness of the day made photography a challenge, but I liked this one.
The bald cypress and their knees, thought to be both anchor and oxygenator,
in this part of the swamp were very thick.

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