Hurricane Earl never got close. And so early in the morning with mist still shrouding parts of this federally protected forested landscape that defines the wonders of Congaree National Park - a place where the average height of a tree is over 130 feet - I headed out to the accompaniment of the music of pileated woodpeckers on to the boardwalk trail to discover her secrets while the river was low.Within seconds I knew this day was not for the arachnophobic! I was the first visitor on the elevated trail and orb weavers had been busy all night. Spiders against my face. Spiders on the arms. Spiders all around: the most beautiful being the spotted forest orb weaver. After my three hour stroll, barely enough time to have even a taste of this bottomland floodplain forest- although the mosquitos had plenty of time for a good taste of my flesh - I headed for the visitor center to chat. Interpretive Park Rangers Corinne and Kathleen upon hearing of my spider adventures smiled and they knew I was the first human on the trail this magical morning: the point man. We talked of the park's 16 story tall loblolly pine (the second tallest in the nation), giant sweetgum and tupelo and of the bald cypress knees emerging from flood waters and mud flats and other towering giants downed by Hurricane Hugo in September 1989. And we chatted about the invasive wild boars (I encountered one along Sims Trail) and of bear reports and snakes and river otters, bobcats and mysterious creatures that move like ghosts. And they told me of canoe trails on Cedar Creek and barred owls calling into the night and the establishment of Congaree National Park. And when the rangers shared tales about primitive backcountry camping and the miles and miles of backwoods trails I knew at that moment I would return to explore and become closer to the Congaree, for it is the river and her seasonal floods that are the creator and caretaker of this wilderness in the midlands of South Carolina. For more information on Congaree National Park go to www.nps.gov/cong
and you just may discover a new meaning for the timeless words of John Muir, "Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike."
Congaree is such a place. A 24,000 acre publicly owned place of mystical quality--with spiders and more.