The Magic is gone. The haunting beauty of the enchanted bone yard at Hunting Island is gone, erased, stripped clean, cut up, pushed into piles of rubble, leaving nothing but stacked pyres and an empty expanse of sand.
Gone are the hundreds of beautiful, bleached and drowned relics of trees that lay in the sand as testimony to the ancient maritime forest that once covered this island. Gone are the white, skeletal forms, roots unearthed, toppled, tangled, tethered together, whose presence evoked wonder and captivated any who walked within their fold. Gone is the elegant grace, the treasure, the soul of Hunting Island.
The eerie beauty of this enchanted seascape, the otherworldly feeling that transported us far from the contrived world left behind is no more. This forest of gentle, white giants felled in storms and ocean currents lay as silent witness to the ebb and flow of the tides, greening the island and nourishing all life within their fold. These steady sentinels kept vigil over everything of import here, patient onlookers to countless pilgrims, poets and pirates. They imparted a knowledge like no others, their exposed roots intricately entwined like lovers, speaking an invisible, hidden language few have understood, a language that connects all trees together, a language that we are just now beginning to understand. Some still stood upright, bare rooted, spreading their dignified branches, tenaciously unyielding even in death.
No more crabs will scurry beneath them. No more urchins and whelks will seek shelter in their tidal pools. No more coquinas will huddle in the safety of their tangled roots. No longer will they offer protection for the forest and dunes that lie beyond. I weep at their passing, for they were the keepers of secrets and mysteries that have gone before us. They have endured the passing of time and all forces violent and calm. They have witnessed uncounted sunrises and sunsets, kept watch over ships, fisherman and island people, sheltered shore birds, and been home and food to hundreds of estuarine creatures that sustain us.
For twenty-five years I have walked within their hallowed presence struck by their perpetual constancy. Even in their colorless, encrusted form, they have greened our spirits, been respite from the weariness of life, and reminded us of the unbroken bond of trees and humans. For we could not exist without them. They have been muse and inspiration to my life’s work as an artist and sculptor.
In our zeal to preserve and “re-nourish” the beach, not only did we compromise its awe and beauty, and change forever this special place, but I fear we may unknowingly be compromising the natural world of this barrier island. It is said that the land is resilient, that it will recover from the scars of human abuse. But the wound may never heal. For we cannot save what we do not value.
Above: Before and After photos of Hunting Island, taken by the writer.
Carolyn Schretzmann-Jebaily is an artist/sculptor who worked in conservation before moving to St. Helena Island two years ago. She currently manages Beaufort Art Association Gallery.