What to see when the flowers aren’t in bloom.

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.

 

 

This tree was flowering when we arrived. But it is the only one I've seen.
Ok, I did see one flowering tree — this one. But until yesterday it was the only one  I had seen.

 

 

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.

 

Ice makes the water in this pond on Kiawah Island doubly reflective.
Ice makes the water in this pond on Kiawah Island doubly reflective.

 

 

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.

 

 

South Carolina isn't the Palmetto state for nothing.
South Carolina isn’t called the Palmetto State for nothing.

 

 

The marks left by waves on the shore…

 

Waves leave rippling patterns in the sand on Kiawah Island.
Waves leave rippling patterns in the sand on Kiawah Island.

 

 

 

colourful bark…

 

 

The colour of the bark draws the eye, and the patchwork patterning of the crape myrtle keeps it.
The colour of the bark draws the eye, and the patchwork patterning pins it in place.

 

thickets of tangled branches — these ordinary sights are sights of wonder to someone accustomed to colder beauty.

 

 

I think these are young live oak trees. I could easily be mistaken.
I think these are young live oak trees. I could easily be mistaken.

 

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.

 

 

Water wanders its way through the marsh and out to the sea.
Water meanders its way through the marsh and out to the sea. Who could design a more pleasing pattern?

 

 

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.

 

I'm sure this shell has a name. Pin-striped bivalveus?
I’m sure this shell has a name. Pin-striped bivalveus?

 

 

The colours of the incrustations on this shell are beautifully subtle, even if the assembly is rather menacing.

 

 

I'd call these incrustations barnacles if the word wasn't so unappealing.
I’d call these incrustations barnacles if the word wasn’t so unappealing.

 

 

 

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?

 

Clearly birds were involved here.
Clearly birds were involved here.

 

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.

 

A collection of shells, all nameless. Unless you can provide the names???
A collection of shells, all nameless. Unless you can provide the names???

 

But no arrangement matches the trackless simplicity of the beach itself. Sand, water, sky. Going on, it seems, forever.

 

Kiawah beach-010