The man in Beaufort who got stuck in pluff mud last week may think it sucks.
And it does. He got sucked in up to his belly button by the Lowcountry ooze when he went into the marsh to get his dog. If an 8-year-old girl had not heard his cries for help, Beaufort/Port Royal Fire Department and Beaufort Water Search and Rescue squad members may not have pulled him out before the tide came in.
This happens a lot. Three to five times a year, volunteers with the search and rescue squad act as the hand of God in the mud vs. man trauma.
And it’s not always man.
One of Walter Gay’s horses that was used for carriage tours through downtown Beaufort almost gave up the ghost in the marshes of St. Helena Island. Old Doc, a 2,000-pound beast with two blue eyes, got himself so stuck it the pluff mud that it took a fire hose and almost 20 people more than an hour of coordinated “Pulls!” to free him.
She plunged off the bridge some 30 to 50 feet into the marshes of Broad Creek.
“No kidding,” the headline read. It took a slew of people the rest of the day to rescue the stuck goat, every inch covered in slick, black pluff mud.
Lowcountry watermen know to watch for falling goats, but I still think we should put up warning signs for tourists.
Visitors call our marsh the swamp. It’s not. And they say it stinks. It doesn’t.
It is the nursery for our three main food groups: shrimp, crabs and oysters. Bathed twice a day by the salty tides and held together by waves of Spartina grass, our marsh is the most fruitful land on earth if we would just leave it alone and quit draining it, diking it, dumping waste into it and chopping down the underbrush at its edges.
The marsh’s sweet aroma has the pull of home to people sophisticated enough to appreciate mullet and grits.
Our own Pat Conroy called it the smell of the South in heat.
And there is a love affair between pluff mud and the people of the Lowcountry.
Dock-diving children — and some frisky adults — have always liked to rub their whole bodies with pluff mud.
We slurp it down whether we know it or not at the Bluffton Rotary Club’s annual oyster roast as the setting sun turns the May River orange. And a new batch of newcomers learn the wisdom of the bumper sticker: “Pluff Mud: Tastes Better Than It Smells.”
Then there are those who venture out into it. They find that pluff mud eats flip flops like popcorn shrimp, and sucks down tennis shoes like crab legs.
But if you find yourself sunk up to your underwear, do as the experts tell you to do and crawl like a fiddler crab.
Charles Seabrook, who grew up on Johns Island and became a journalist of the scientific and natural world, wrote the book on the marsh that should be required reading for everyone in Beaufort County.
In “The World of the Salt Marsh” comes this advice from his experiences of being waist-deep in sneaky pluff mud lying like black mayonnaise by a small drainage creek in the marsh:
“I struggle to extricate myself. The mud is gripping my legs, and my old sneakers are about to slip off my feet. For a fleeting instant I panic, fearful that I might sink deeper and become irretrievably stuck. But I have been in this predicament before. I bend over and lie on my stomach in the mud. This somehow gives me leverage enough to wiggle my legs free, and I belly-crawl in the mud to the edge of the creek, where the mud is firmer. Thank goodness it’s low tide and no water is in the creek.”
That’s how we roll in the Lowcountry.