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It all begins with the land

LOCAL Life asked Mr. Palmetto Bluff (aka Jay Walea) to share his thoughts on what it means to be local. Walea is the director of the Palmetto Bluff Conservancy, an organization founded in 2003 with a mission of protecting the forests and creeks that define the exclusive resort.

LOCAL SINCE 1980 – Jay Walea is the director of the Palmetto Bluff Conservancy. He has worked on the property for more than 29 years.

1980. That is when my love affair with the Lowcountry took root. I am a Savannah boy, born and raised, but from the age of 10 I have considered myself a “Lowcountry” native. Although I rested my head in Savannah, most of my young life was spent at Palmetto Bluff, which is now an incorporated portion of the town of beautiful Bluffton.

For 31 years my father, Jimmy, was an executive for Union Camp, which was a former owner of Palmetto Bluff. In December 1980, Dad brought me to the annual Father-Son Hunt. That was the day I fell in love with the majesty and diversity of Palmetto Bluff. That was the day the steadfast live oaks laden with Spanish moss, the pine flatwoods covered in bracken fern, and the marsh, that smell — that glorious smell — stole my soul.

It was during those early years coming to Palmetto Bluff that set a lifelong goal of mine to one day become a part of that very special “place.” Fast forward to 2019. I have lived my dream for the past 29 years, spending more time in the South Carolina Lowcountry at Palmetto Bluff, than I have spent at my home in Savannah.

“It all begins with the land.” That quote is what being a true local, a native of the Lowcountry, means to me. 

The forests of the Lowcountry have an alluring effect on a “local.” No matter what season, the woodlands and marshes have their own smells and textures that once observed can never be forgotten. Springtime in the Lowcountry brings the smells of dead leaves from the winter and an emergence of new growth that can only be explained as a fresh succulent smell that, woven together in the morning breeze, becomes a magical scent that has to be experienced to both understand and appreciate.

During the summer, the pine flatwoods are covered with the blooms of the Fetterbush plant. These small pink blooms fill the air with the fragrance of honey. Fall in the Lowcountry has the crisp smell of newly fallen pine needles on damp soils. This smell has a calming effect on locals and when witnessed makes one feel as if they were truly home.

The winds of winter on the coastal plain bring the amazing vanilla fragrance of the deer tongue plant. When riding the two rut trails through towering longleaf pine stands the sweet smell of the deer tongue helps usher in the holiday season. These simple pleasures might become sensory overloads to one who doesn’t live here, but to a local it comforts them and lets them know they are home. A true Lowcountry local, no matter where they might be at any given stage in their life, dreams of the live oaks, the Spanish moss, the pine flatwoods and the marsh, yes the marsh, that smell of all smells, and when they awake they long to be back in that “place.” LL