Going with the Tide: The ACE Basin

10 October 2021

Cal Mitchell

On Sunday, our group headed about 25 miles outside of St. Helena Island to the ACE

Basin for a Kayak tour. Standing for the three rivers in the area, which are the Ashepoo,

Combahee, and South Edisto (ACE), the ACE Basin consists of 350,000 acres of incredible

habitat that embody the diversity of low-country ecosystems. The wonderful Jim and Teri

Pohorsky, founders of Beaufort Kayak Tours, led our journey up the Combahee River while

offering insight on some of the history of the land, details of the habitats, and uniqueness of this area.

Jim and Teri explaining the gameplan before our launch into the ACE Basin

Specifically, we looked into the history of African Americans and rice plantations along the freshwater estuary. A truly unique experience, our kayak trip offered so much in our pursuit of understanding culture, place, and the Gullah-Geechee people as the exemplar.

These wooden gates were used as ways for slaves to manage water levels for rice harvesting.

This activity certainly connected to the course concepts and general themes we have discussed in this class. Wallace Stegner, referencing Wendell Berry, writes in “A Sense of Place”, “If you don’t know where you are, then you don’t know who you are”. This certainly applies to a place like the ACE Basin. When looking at the aspects that go into a “Sense of Place”, it is clear that the disciplines of environment, economics, and history all play an important role in the history and identity of the ACE Basin and its surrounding areas as an entity. Further, the general theme of power definitely plays a role in the history of the Combahee River, and most specifically, the Cherokee Plantation. Sitting on 10,000 acres, the Cherokee Plantation profited immensely from the rice industry in South Carolina. Yet, on the website for the plantation, there is no talk of the profiting in its “History” section of the website. Here, we see economics directly affected by the environment. Because of its prime ecosystem, the South Carolina coast was a cash-cow for rice production. As history shows, plantations like Cherokee made their profits off the backs of African slaves, showing an obvious power dynamic that is not unusual in American history. As we can see, these disciplines and themes of power, economics, environment, and history all affect one another and are directly connected, and the ACE Basin Kayak Trip reinforced these ideas.

Upon reflection, I made a few discoveries both about myself and the way I interpret certain places. First, and most quickly realized, I found that I really enjoy kayaking! An activity somewhat new to me, I found great peace and serenity in slowly paddling through the estuaries of South Carolina and simply taking in the sunshine and fresh air. It is certainly something I plan on doing more and more after this trip concludes.

Padding up the Combahee River while taking in the beautiful day!

A little deeper, though, I found that I, like many others, often take for granted the history of the place because of its natural beauty. While paddling through the ACE Basin was extremely beautiful, I found myself forced to face a reality that I, knowingly or not, tend to avoid addressing in most circumstances. Perhaps, there is immense comfort in enjoying a kayak journey and taking in the environment, but the uncomfortable part, which is more important, forces a discomfort that most human beings, I believe, don’t like to face if they don’t have to. My main takeaway from this reflection is that there is an absolute necessity in addressing the history of any place, despite whatever discomfort may ensue from it. While it is extremely peaceful to take in the natural beauty of a place, others may not ever be able to enjoy that serenity because of their personal connection to a negative experience to that very place.