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Gardening: A trip on the Edisto River is quarantining in nature

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Tony Bertauski and his wife, Heather, did a two-day canoe trip on the Edisto River in mid-March. Provided 

Nature has a healing effect. It calms the body, disconnects us from the news and imparts general well-being. Even a short hike through the woods can be restorative. Horticultural therapy is in your backyard. Many hospitals are well aware of this impact. Just take a visit to MUSC’s urban farm.

My wife and I recently explored nature on the Edisto River.

Sometimes referred to as a divorce boat, we took a canoe 23 miles down the river. The seats are 6 feet apart, which is proper social distancing. The water, however, offset whatever marital challenges the canoe presents.

The Edisto River is one the longest free-flowing blackwater rivers in North America. It’s spring fed by two main tributaries and runs nearly 250 miles through South Carolina to the Atlantic Ocean. Four Holes Swamp is another major contributor, which itself is a magical swampland. The river water is as black as tea, dyed with tannic acid from decomposing leaves and branches, and lazily flows between towering cypress, oak and pine.

It is one of the most peaceful places in the Lowcountry.

We started 23 miles north of Colleton State Park. Despite very little rain in previous weeks, the water was high because of rain in the Upstate that takes a couple of days to reach the Lowcountry. It’s not uncommon for the Edisto River to flow out of the main channel into surrounding swampland. At times, the flow basin can be a mile wide. These are nature’s flood controls, the water percolating through the soil instead of into storm sewers.

We took this trip in mid-March. In summer, the water tends to be lower. Despite the river’s high level, the water was moving slowly. There are no rapids. During most of our trip, the water was flowing into the trees. There were very few places to stop. We spent our time drifting in the current, but there were parts where trees had fallen across the river. It can be a challenge deciding the best way through them. I couldn’t help but wonder how we would get ourselves upright if the unfortunate happened without a shoreline.

Over two days, we spent eight hours listening to birds and water trickle from our paddles, herons gliding over us as quietly as our canoe cut the water. Alligators tend to stay in the swamps and didn’t venture along our path.

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Thirteen miles downriver, we stopped for the night at the Edisto Treehouses that were built by Scott and Ann Kennedy. The location is so remote that he transported the materials on two canoes lashed together. There is no one around. We were quarantined in nature.

Because the river was high, water surrounded the treehouse. The quarters are 16 feet above ground, enough to handle an Edisto River flood. In the summer, however, there are trails to explore. We were content to sit on the porch and watch the water.

There is no electricity or running water, and there’s an outhouse. We had packed necessities for one night. We had adequate cell service, but it’s an isolated experience. It’s not glamping, but it’s not sleeping on the ground, either. The insects were tolerable. At night, with the windows open, we listened to barred owls and the turbulent water find its way through the trees.

On the way to the treehouse, we had passed only one boat. On the second day, we saw two. The rest of the time was just us and the river.

This is truly a Lowcountry wonder to be experienced. Having someone with canoe experience in the back is preferable, but the challenges are infrequent, especially in the summer. Dress for the sun and stay hydrated.

Carolina Heritage Outfitters ( owns the treehouses. Contact the owner, Chris Burbulak, to book a stay. He provides the canoe and takes you upriver. Children need to be 11 years old. Your trip, the next day, ends where you park.

Tony Bertauski is a horticulture instructor at Trident Technical College. To give feedback, e-mail him at

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