Book helps Beaufort appreciate the art of 'goin' down the river'

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comNovember 15, 2012 

Buddy and Zoo might have been surprised to hear one thing Thursday at the Beaufort Historical Society's talk about the new book, "Goin' Down the River: Fish Camps of the Sea Islands."

Those two men went down the river so many weekends to their rustic camp on Pritchard's Island that a Beaufort County public boat ramp is now named for the late A.B. "Buddy" Lubkin and C.H. "Zoo" Von Harten.

In a panel discussion about Janet H. Garrity's book and the ancient Lowcountry ritual it celebrates, Pierre McGowan said that when Buddy and Zoo went down the river they liked to eat sea turtle eggs raw, thinking they were aphrodisiacs. In one of his own books about life on the barrier islands, McGowan says Buddy and Zoo operated their camp on a precise mathematical formula: one case of beer per man, per day.

Gibbes McDowell, one of the panelists, begins his foreword to the book:

"It's 6 p.m. on a cool October Friday afternoon in the Lowcountry. The setting sun is about to surrender the day with its final pink and orange painting of the western skyline. A fall moon rising in the east and pushing a nine-foot tide has the marsh hens cackling as I back my boat down the ramp. Deep draughts of cool salty air quicken my anticipation of the weekend to come."

Historian Larry Rowland said that nails it. "I was taken down the river when I was a kid and I never quite got over it."

He said the first written reference he has found to the tradition is from the 1760s. McDowell said Native Americans left enough relics in the sand -- everything but the poker chips -- to let us know we're still going to the same places to catch the same breezes on the same tides, to soothe the same human soul.

Former Beaufort Mayor Henry C. Chambers pointed to McDowell and said, "His daddy and I camped so much together, my wife called him 'Sweetheart.' She'd ask, 'Are you going camping with Sweetheart this weekend?"

Chambers started paddling a bateau to Goat Island with a group of boys at age 10 or 11.

"Our parents didn't know where we were, what we were doing or when we would get back," he said.

In the spring of 1944, he was with a group that skipped the Beaufort High School junior-senior prom to go down the river. They didn't know the beach was used as target practice by war planes, and the strafing they survived only "added a little spice to it."

Buddy and Zoo would understand all that. But they might not have realized their fresh mullet were like the Metropolitan Opera.

"One thing that drives people down the river, though they won't admit it, is the aesthetics," Rowland said.

"This is their symphony, their art, their opera -- being out there with the sky, the birds, the fish, the life in the marsh."

Related content

  1. Living off the Lowcountry: tales of fish camps
  2. "Goin' Down the River: Fish Camps of the Sea Islands"

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