I have spent more than 40 years exploring the wonders of Congaree National Park. Much of my early exploration was devoted to learning the “lay of the land,” a difficult task in a trackless forest with few landmarks. Later exploration became somewhat more focused – searching for and measuring big trees, studying the park’s flora and fauna, especially its bird populations, looking for historical and cultural sites, deciphering the often bewildering array of guts, sloughs, ponds and other waterways that dot the park. Some exploration was recreationally-oriented – kayaking, camping, fishing, and hiking. Regardless of the “mission” trying to comprehend and understand what I was seeing, and hearing, was always uppermost in my mind.
Much of my time spent in Congaree could best be described as “wandering” and “just looking,” with no particular mission in mind except to see what was there. For most park visits, a good deal of ground was covered and progress was measured in miles and not feet. I eventually reached a point where I decided that such a complex ecosystem as the Congaree called for a much closer look with a slower pace than what I was accustomed to. So in 2014 and 2015 I switched gears and began focusing on a more methodical view of the park, one that involved taking second and third looks at the ground I was used to walking over and where progress was measured in the length of time sitting and observing as much as the number of paces taken. I soon became convinced that more could be learned about Congaree sitting at the base of a big oak tree for an hour than walking through it for half a day. And no doubt a great book on the ecology of Congaree National Park is waiting to be written by someone who never leaves the boardwalk.
This blog is based in part on the natural history diary I kept of those frequent visits in 2014 and 2015 but it also includes contributions from others who are passionate about the park. Interspersed within the blog are essays on specific natural history topics. We hope you will like it.
John Cely, late December, 2018