Edisto Ethics

“See this?” Our tour guide swept his arm toward the salty marshes around us.

“See this land?” he continued, gesturing again to the marshes as a pelican climbed into the thickening clouds. It would rain soon, and hard, but several miles separated us from the dock. There were no houses along the banks—just salt water, grass, and the dolphins that had followed us for the past hour.

“See this land? This land been here thirty years ago, and thirty years from now—I guarantee you, if you come back in thirty years—I bet you this boat—” Here he rapped the bow of his kayak with his fist. “I bet you this boat that in thirty years it will still look the same.”

Laws had been passed in that area of Edisto Island, he said as we paddled back to the dock, to stifle development. The lonely cabins a few miles along the bank—those would stay. The docks and the restaurants a few miles away—those would stay. Even the giant blue houses with their yachts would stay. But if you wanted “y’all’s supermarkets and movie houses” you’d have to drive into town. There would be no expansion into the sandy forests or the marshes. This was dolphin land:

Sunrise at Edisto Island in South Carolina.

So what about the rest of the world? David Brower, founder of the Sierra Club Foundation and star of McPhee’s Encounters with the Archdruid, suggests, like many other preservationists, that we leave nature alone. Initially I thought this was too radical—we’re a part of nature; animals use it, so why shouldn’t we?

The problem is that we don’t know how to use it. Even Henry Beston, one of my favorite nature writers, admits that nature does not play by our rules. Brower emphasizes that we don’t know her rules (If we did, we wouldn’t need science.): “There isn’t enough capability in ordinary people to tinker with such a complicated piece of machinery.”

I have an odd hobby of collecting mud. I like to store seaweed and water in Tupperware containers and watch critters hatch out and interact. Every mini-ecosystem that’s lived in my room so far has gone through stages: some animal thrives, devastating everything else; then, suddenly, the water murks up and the flourishing species disappears. After a few bleak days the water clears again, another species dominates, and the process repeats.

Right now, we are that seemingly successful creature. We have already killed countless other species, and we’re on the verge of overwhelming our environment. But unlike the animals in my ecosystems, we know what’s coming, and we know how to stop it. We can be satisfied with the land we’ve already taken and we can leave the rest to the wilderness. We can control ourselves.

So far, at Edisto Island, it’s worked. There’s one small supermarket down the road. It doesn’t sell much, but it’s enough to live on. Movie theaters are an hour’s drive away, but most people would rather watch the sunset anyway. There aren’t any new houses, but there are plenty of old ones to move into. Edisto Island has been keeping things the same, and the dolphins—and people—are still here.


~ by science cow on December 14, 2009.

10 Responses to “Edisto Ethics”

  1. interesting post. You might enjoy following Edisto as we try to keep it rural and relatively undeveloped. http://www.PreserveEdisto.org Come visit again.

    • Thank you! I’m honored that you have visited my blog, and I will definitely be back. =)

  2. Crazy insightful. 🙂 Where does your preference lie, with Edisto or a city?

  3. Love imagining you in that boat with that guide…and imagining you watching mud hatch creatures! Love the link to Ray Bradbury, too. Beautiful, engaging writing!

    Very cool that you’ve attracted the attention of so many readers, especially a reader from Edisto!

    • Thank you for the compliments! (and sorry for the late response) “There will come soft rains” is my favorite short story in The Martian Chronicles and by Ray Bradbury in general.

      And yes, it’s amazing to be a part of a larger conversation. 😀

  4. Hehehe this has nothing to do with Edisto at all. But yeah, I first started attempting full-length novels in 2005…I think my longest was 12 chapters but still far from complete before I lost inspiration. 😛 Yep yep, sci-fi, and although it’s set in an entirely new galaxy, it’s ending up more like a high-tech fantasy novel instead…and of course I’m dying from school. 😛 You can totally ignore my fandom-related blog posts…that’s where I vent all my built-up drool. 😛

  5. Shoot, I’m so used to my web alias that I forgot to change it to Sherry. But you know who I am. 😛 And it seems like I’m using a different e-mail from usual because my comment is awaiting moderation…hmm. I’m really all over the place. 😛

    • That’s fine; it linked back to your site so I still knew who you were. =)

      I’m attempting a somewhat sci-fi-ish (but not really sci-fi, since the science I use is in no way fiction) novel. I’m not sure how far I’ll get with it, but I don’t think I could publish it even if I finished since it involves terrorism and could potentially give the wrong people the wrong ideas…. And I’m nowhere near 12 chapters yet!

      I’m starting to die from school, too, which is why I haven’t checked or updated this blog in over a month. Ick. =(

  6. Lovely photograph and portrait of Edisto. “In Wildness is the preservation of the world” is what Thoreau said. And to come from the city to this wild natural place is to feel that AH-Ha that you experienced. We all need a dose of this wildness from time to time, so this place is worth preserving. Please visit my blog: Charleston Through An Artist’s Eye. Cheers, Charlotte

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