For 30 years, "Tideland Treasure" has served as a paperback bible for understanding the creatures, plants and marshes of the Lowcountry shoreline.
After about a dozen printings and sales in the six-figure range, the University of South Carolina Press has just released an expanded edition of Todd Ballantine's classic book. It's the all-time second-best-seller for USC Press and is a staple in homes all along the Atlantic coastline.
The new edition has color illustrations of the most common mysteries of our shores, from the sluglike sea cucumber to the bony deadman's finger sponge.
It adds a glossary of tideland terms, to teach the difference between flotsam, jetsam and plankton. About pluff mud it says: " 'Pluff' is said to be the sound of yanking your foot out of salt marsh mud."
The book has deliberately never been a scientific tome, but the new edition includes an index of common and scientific names of tideland species to aid further exploration.
It outlines an easy-to-achieve conservation ethic for individuals.
And it has a colorful cover for the first time, featuring one of the great conservation success stories of our era, the formerly endangered wood stork.
But the core remains illustrations of stuff you see and wonder about, along with hand-drawn text to quickly answer the question.
The format came to life in the 1970s on the pages of a Hilton Head publication called Island Events. Ballantine first came to the Lowcountry in 1963 and lived on Hilton Head for many years. He still does work here, but lives in Colorado.
The book's drawings are similar to ones Ballantine used for a weekly opinion column in The Island Packet called "On Earth." And the style shows up on his interpretive signs at the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, and on Hilton Head at the Newhall Audubon Preserve and the Whooping Crane Pond and Cypress conservancies.
But "Tideland Treasure" did not truly come from sketch pads or printing presses, Ballantine said. It came from the hearts of people, particularly families with children, who came to the Lowcountry and were enamored. Its energy springs from the tens of thousands of visitors Ballantine led through the wetlands, woods and oceanfront of Sea Pines over 15 years. He tried to quench their curiosity, but then the old Montessori educator reached for something larger.
"What really enlivens it is this 'awakening' that takes place when people make this connection to the nature all around them," Ballantine said. "And if you're connected to a place, you'll never give up on that place. You'll fight for it."