Carolina Bays: Wild, Mysterious, and Majestic Landforms

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By Jennie Meetze

Program Coordinator

The Colleton Museum and Farmers Market will host Southern Author Tom Poland on Saturday March 6, 2021, at 1 p.m.

Join Poland as he takes you from an aerial perspective of these unusual bays to an on-the-ground safari, from frogs that croak and bark and boom to skinks that skim across the water as if on skis, and on to squawking herons to black-and-yellow polka-dotted caterpillars. There are growling alligators and four hundred-year-old trees and delicate yellow-fringed orchids. Life is found in astounding abundance. There is a strange beauty at the heart of every mystery, and the mystery of the Carolina Bays is an enigma that is lushly, uniquely beautiful.

How did these odd geo-morpho-logical features come to be formed in the landscape in the first place, with their uniform shapes and matching elliptical orientations scattered across the Carolinas? There are many hypotheses but no definitive answers. Why are these inland phenomena even called “bays?” There is no clear answer to that either.

The best definitions of these features are “temporary, isolated freshwater wetlands,” variously described as “high or flat water ponds, wet weather lakes, or vernal pools,” often identified more accurately as “pocosins,” and they are ecological wonders, full of all manner of amphibians and reptiles, insects and birds, wildlife and plants—many of them exotic and rare. What also defines them is their uncommon beauty.

These wetlands are unique and almost immeasurably ancient; as is to be expected in the modern world, they are threatened by human intervention. Such diverse habitats and their rich, unmatched biodiversity call out for preservation and restoration. The bays are not only visited and documented by the authors; they make an impassioned case for respecting how important these singular formations are for the health of the planet. You could not find more able guides.

This program is sponsored by South Carolina Humanities, a not-for-profit organization; inspiring, engaging and enriching South Carolinians with programs on literature, history, culture and heritage. The mission of South Carolina Humanities is to enrich the cultural and intellectual lives of all South Carolinians. This organization presents and/or supports literary initiatives, lectures, exhibits, festivals, publications, oral history projects, videos and other humanities-based experiences that reach more than 250,000 citizens annually. South Carolina Humanities receives funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities as well as corporate, foundation and individual donors. It is governed by a volunteer Board of Directors comprised of community leaders from throughout the state.

Tom Poland is the author of fourteen books and more than 2,000 magazine features and columns.

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