Sunday, August 28, 2011

Low Tide, High Tide, and Hurricane Irene

 Approximately every thirteen hours, low tide turns the marsh on Wilmington Island, Georgia, into a vast expanse of what first looks like nothing but mud and grass.  On closer inspection, the mud is riddled with holes and crawling with tiny crabs the exact color of the mud.  The crabs are many, well-camouflaged, and in such constant motion on the surface of the mud, it looks like it's boiling.  They're all over the boardwalk, too---on it, under it, and between the slats.  At first it seems impossible to avoid stepping on them, but they scurry fast at the last second before footfall.  No wonder the green herons and the egrets, both great and snowy, hang around at low tide.  And no wonder they wait so still and long.  It requires a swift silent stab to surprise a crab. (No rhyme intended, but I'll take it :-) These crabs are about the size of a nickel,  gifted at eluding shoe or camera, and don't stand a chance against beak of egret. 
 (See comment from Mike B. on my last post  re: the blood vessels in the egret's neck when it so stabs---and while you're at it, check out Mike's blog---some amazing nature photography.  You can get to it by clicking on his name in the comment box.)

High tide comes about six and a half hours later, when the marsh fills with water deep enough for kids and dogs to splash in.  It was about waist high the day I saw two young brothers having high adventure hiding from each other in the tall grass.  I kept thinking about the crabs under their feet, and had to ask their father.  They wore special shoes, he said, and the "mud" is not actually mud.  It's fairly solid clay which explains why the water was remarkably unmuddy, even where the boys stirred it up.

Ordinary high tide on Wilmington Island looks like this from the boardwalk:
 Enter Hurricane Irene---well,  more like pass at a safe distance--- but close enough to make herself known.  Nobody played in the high tide that came with Irene.  The storm was intense, if short-lived.  The trees whirled.  Massive sheets of rain whipped over the marsh.  The lights went out.  It came and went in less than an hour, followed by the proverbial calm after the storm.  But the power stayed off and the water crept higher, until the marsh looked more like a lake.

Here's Irene's high tide, taken from about the same spot on the boardwalk:
By the time the water got to within ten yards of the house,  I became a bit concerned, but like the crabs, it reversed its direction in the nick of time.  This shot is from the deck on the back of the house:
Unlike the crabs, it retreated slowly.  Within another six hours came the mysterious hollow popping sounds I've heard before at low tide.  I think it's the crab holes opening up as the water drains back to the ocean.   I'll ask three locals and let you know what I find out.  dkm

Tomorrow:  John Muir, on the eternal grand show of nature.   


Jane Robertson said...

Hurricane Irene has led our news here for some days. So glad it passed without too much harm, at least on Willmington Island. I'm not surprised you started to feel concerned by the proximity of the water!!

I've just googled Willmington Is. My first reaction was it's not an island - but on closer inspection I see it is - fascinating!!

dkm said...

It doesn't really feel like an island, either, because it is so overbuilt---except for having to go across a bridge to get there. It's one of the "barrier islands." The back deck of the house faces the marsh, but the view from the front porch is like that of suburban America---except for the palm trees and spanish moss, which are beautiful----and the mood is a lot slower. This house is on the west side of the island, looking back toward Whitemarsh Island, and then Savannah, so it also gets nice sunsets---but it does require a bit of belief suspension to call it an ISLAND.

Jane Robertson said...

Thanks for this Deb - really interesting. I noticed the proximity to Savannah. Loved the marsh shots. I feel a blog about islands coming on...

Anonymous said...

My nana lived close to an estuary and I would spend hours as a child playing there. Catching crabs and wading through the muddy water. The smell was yummy.

When I was a teenager I told my canadian friends about my estuary adventures. I wondered why they kept laughing at me. To them I was pronouncing estuary as 'easteregg'. Strange people!! hehe

dkm said...

Your Canadian friends would have laughed at me too--not because of my pronunciation--but because I wouldn't have had a clue what an estuary was in the middle of Kansas! Too bad your lovely NZ accent doesn't come through the keyboard. I'll just have to imagine it---

Crosby Kenyon said...

Irene left many stories behind. Nice to read yours.

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