Coming to South Carolina in mid-February, I expected to see daffodils and crocus, maple trees budding out, azaleas and the flowering trees that speak of spring in southern climes. But not this year.
Temperatures have been much lower than normal, so low that ponds have frozen. It’s only a skim of ice. But it is ice all the same.
Even so, there is much to see when you look. And in an unfamiliar landscape, you don’t have to look that closely. Sights that are commonplace for people who live here are wonders to me. The patterns of palmetto palms, for instance, and the way the colour lightens in the centre, as if the sun is always shining through.
The marks left by waves on the shore…
thickets of tangled branches — these ordinary sights are sights of wonder to someone accustomed to colder beauty.
Ponds and canals weave their way through Kiawah Island, much of which is a protected conservation area. In marshy areas, where birdlife is abundant, water and reeds are constantly posed, smiles at the ready.
But best of the unfamiliar sights is the beach.
I can’t identify any of the shells I have seen there, although I am certain that each has its proper names. But I can say this: each is properly gorgeous. Simple stripes give this shell a business-like dignity.
The colours of the incrustations on this shell are beautifully subtle, even if the assembly is rather menacing.
Life on the beach leaves hints of danger. What do you think happened here? The shell is a sand dollar that doesn’t look like itself — I am familiar with sand dollars only in their bleached white porcelain incarnations. Here the shell looks red, but a short time later it looked green. Does this mean that minutes before I took the photo something inside was alive? Did gulls fight over the contents? Did the creature put up a struggle?
Beach combing has resulted in a collection of shells. I’ve arranged them multiple times, trying to highlight the strengths of each: the green of the sand dollar, the texture of the pin-striped scallop, the subtle tones of the conch, the pugnacious face with the deep black eyes.
But no arrangement matches the trackless simplicity of the beach itself. Sand, water, sky. Going on, it seems, forever.