Recently, I spent an afternoon with an 80-year-old Lowcountry native.
She was dipping her toes into local rivers before I was a sparkle in my parents’ eyes. I enjoyed hearing her talk about this place and how it has informed her well-lived years.
One comment this octogenarian made continues to replay itself over and over in my head. “As kids, we didn’t have watches,” she said. “We measured our time by the rise and fall of the tides.”
Imagine being so in tune with the cycle of the tide.
The effects of the tide are apparent throughout the coastal Lowcountry. Wide expanses of sandy beach indicate that the tide is low. Very little-to-no beach signals high tide. In the saltmarsh creeks, we see the differences between tides and we can usually smell it too.
Pluff mud exposed at low tide releases its natural gases, availing us of its earthy aroma. At high tide, the same scene appears awash with water, with only the tops of the grasses visible above the surface.
Whether you’re a visitor or a resident, it’s smart to know the rhythm of the tides.
The time between high and low tide is roughly 6 hours and 12 minutes. What may appear as a totally flooded landscape in the early morning will appear rather devoid of water by early afternoon. Return again in the evening and the same landscape will appear much the same as it did in the morning.
By the next day, the cycle will repeat itself with an incremental shift in the actual time that it occurs. On a grander scale, the lunar day is roughly 24 hours and 50 minutes.
Imagine exploring the saltmarsh in a kayak.
Head out on Monday at high tide and traverse the flooded grassy areas while you observe foraging redfish, blue crab and oysters beneath your boat. Notice periwinkle snails ascending blades of cordgrass, slowly but surely, and wading birds plucking juicy morsels from small pools trapped in the high marsh. Return on Friday and find the areas you explored earlier in the week are still high and dry, awaiting the rising tide.
The flora and fauna of the saltmarsh depend upon the ebb and flow of the tide. Through experience, I’ve learned that the people who make the Lowcountry their home feel that same connection to the tides.
My friend tells me she never referred to tide charts.
She knew the tides intuitively. Perhaps you too can learn to measure time by the rise and fall of the tide.
Come explore with us in July. Get Outside!
By Capt. Patte Ranney, S.C. Master Naturalist
For more than 30 years, Outside Hilton Head has provided personalized adventures for all ages. Kayaking, fishing, nature and dolphin tours are ongoing. We also offer kids’ camps history excursions, family outings and stand-up paddle boarding. 843-686-6996 or www.outsidehiltonhead.com.