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Become a castaway for a day on a wild and remote barrier island
Six years ago, I scored free passes for the ferry trip to Bulls Island. And for six falls and six springs (prime time for island tripping), I thought about tromping around the undeveloped barrier island, imagined exploring Boneyard Beach, a place where sand and dunes birthed a driftwood garden of bleached maritime oaks and palms. So on a recent sunny Saturday, I finally made the 45-minute drive up Highway 17 to Awendaw’s Garris Landing to catch the ferry.
As I loaded into the small, weathered boat operated by Coastal Expeditions, one of my fellow passengers made a feeble ha-ha about a “three-hour tour,” since we were to be gone from 9 a.m. to noon. Our Gilligan’s Island cast included my friend Stacy, a high school English teacher and actress; a German family of four (stereotypical tourist parents with two leggy teens in short shorts); a wayward explorer who told how he was left behind the last time he came to the island; and the dude’s pigtailed West Coast gal-pal, who said she’d just been on Rachael Ray’s show for her fledgling cookie company. Not exactly Professor material, our lot.
During a rundown from the naturalist, we learned the island is part of the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, a 22-mile spread of protected shoreline, marshes, and islands brimming with fish, birds, oysters, crabs, deer, gators, snakes, and everything in between. We were given maps and then let loose.
I have no idea where the Germans hightailed off to, but they later met us with an album’s worth of gator photos. The perky couple bopped southward, as far from us as possible. Stacy and I wandered through Jurassic Park lagoons (complete with dino-slash-gator tracks) to the dunes. Then we headed toward Boneyard Beach. But the thing was, we were both wiped from health stuff, family stuff, work stuff, life stuff. So as soon as she suggested we sit for a while, I splayed out as though I’d melted on the spot. We used a palmetto log like a pillow, stared out at the water, read books we’d brought, talked, and offered the sea gods our troubles. After all, that’s the sort of thing you do on a deserted island, right? Bare yourself to the elements? Unload?
With Boneyard in the near distance, no one else in sight, and nothing between us and the crashing Atlantic, I yelled to the waves about being worn the heck out. Then I asked for good fortune and grace for myself and others. So cathartic was the whole affair, Stacy and I didn’t exchange a word the entire boat ride back; surprisingly neither did our fellow shipmates. Everyone simply sat with faces turned into the salty wind, the no-bull island at our backs.
Photographs by Marc Epstein