The Edisto Island Open Land Trust held their annual “Back to Nature” celebration this weekend, a remarkable event reminiscent of a native American tale where all the people go to visit the homes of their animal, insect, plant and avian neighbors, paying homage to the natural beauty, resources and wilderness in which they all partake.
Indeed, the Land Trust itself hearkens back to an earlier time when people and the land existed in intimate relationship, and people cared for land, not as an inanimate thing, but as a living companion in the work of survival. And as the Back to Nature event proved, the landscape of Edisto Island is gloriously alive and thriving, thanks in part to the good work of the land trust.
All day Saturday, South Carolina’s renowned naturalists guided field trips on the family farms under easement. In one such trip, Dr. Dennis Forsythe led an eager group all over the island in search of butterflies. The first stop was a giant clump of ligustrum, warming in the sun along a sandy road, alive with butterflies and bees as thick as scent. Everyone gathered around the buzzing bush, pointing and craning necks, following tiny winged creatures all around the thicket. Coupling excitement with expertise, Dr. Forsythe pointed and exclaimed with the group, identifying the oak hairstreak, buckeyes, the silver-spotted skipper, the palamedes swallowtail (a butterfly whose fate is uncertain), and whirlabouts, also of the skipper family, who take off from a blossom in dizzy upward swirls.
“The American lady,” said Dr. Forsythe with a smile, “has wide eyes and an open mind,” a statement that works as an astute character sketch and, in this case, to distinguish the American from the painted lady, still on her way from South America. At a nearby farm, the group walked through rows of zinnias, whose flat tops are ideal nectar gathering places. Under the antics of purple martins, they inspected the ditch weeds -- vervain, false nettle, winter cress -- and spotted a sleepy orange sulfur and a pair of red admirals. Fascinated, they watched as one lay eggs, dodging a dragonfly with every other flutter.
All day, the excitement of an island teeming with life continued as others scouted birds and fish over land and seascapes protected by the land trust. Subscribe to this column to learn more about these adventures, the EIOLT, and individual SC naturalists.