It’s hard to see the gradual ebb and flow of nature caused by climate change. It’s not dramatic, like autumn leaves changing color or a hurricane. But here at the seashore in Botany Bay on Edisto Island, South Carolina, the gradually rising sea has killed a forest of live oaks. Beneath the trees, seashells litter the beach. Fossil shark teeth two million years old lie buried in the sand.
The twisted trees remind me of a poem by Robert Bly:
“The bare trees more dignified than ever,
Like a fierce man on his deathbed…”
People come here and wonder.
Botany Bay is a nature conservancy. Its rules forbid collecting any natural objects, especially seashells on the beach. So visitors pin and prop seashells on the dead trees – conchs, periwinkles, and razor clams – like flowers on a grave.
Why do they do this? Perhaps they want to remember coming to this strange and beautiful place. Perhaps they want others to share the beauty they found. Or perhaps, in an unconscious way, they mourn the collective sin of climate change.
Of course, it’s also a pleasure to sit among these trees and listen to the sea.