Love of the land. Virginia Beach's "Rice & Ducks" and Dana Beach's "Deveaux" are very different works that do the same thing: evoke the ardor that is the heart of the Lowcountry's unparalleled conservation ethic.
How to find the books
Proceeds from sales of both "Rice & Ducks" and "Deveaux" go to benefit conservation causes. For more information or to order:
"Rice & Ducks." $100, $250. eveningpostbooks.com.
"Deveaux." $39.95. scccl.org, www.sc.edu/uscpress/.
That's to be expected from the couple who have become stalwarts of the environmental movement that has protected more than 1 million acres along the coast.
What's unexpected is that these two "polar opposite" books, in Dana's words, dovetail so succinctly that it's hard to imagine one on a coffee table without the other by its side.
Dana Beach is director of the S.C. Coastal Conservation League, maybe the best acknowledged regional advocate of the conservation cause.
Virginia Beach has worked with advocacy groups such as S.C. Sea Grant Consortium, Lowcountry Open Land Trust and The Nature Conservancy. She wrote "Rice & Ducks" at the urging of and underwritten by more than 50 conservation interests, spurred by Ducks Unlimited.
Her book chronicles the "surprising convergence" of Southern plantation interests with moneyed Northern sportsmen in the wake of the Civil War. The unlikely association preserved the rice culture landscape that makes up so much of the wide open, wildlife-rich landscape that the Lowcountry is today:
"Hunters shooting in the Winyah Bay and Santee Delta areas, in particular, repeatedly described winter waterfowl populations in the hundreds of thousands (in the early 1900s). The term 'hundred duck days' ... became a trademark of Georgetown County and elsewhere in the Lowcountry. ... Observers used phrases like 'black cloud of ducks,' 'wildfowl darkening the skies' and 'the roar of wings.' "
"Deveaux" is a toes-in-the-sand pictorial portrait of Deveaux Bank, an overwashed strip of island sandbar near Edisto Island that is a vital shorebird rookery on the Southeast coast. Dana Beach accompanies strikingly intimate photographs of the place and its birds with an intimate reverie:
"(The bank) has a hypnotic magnetism about it - the screams of gulls and the screeches of terns, the grunts of pelicans and the barks of skimmers ... the aerial ballet against water and sky ... the smells of birth and life and growth. ... Deveaux is the stage on which the urgency of the biological moment unfolds against the backdrop of eternity and nonexistence."
"Rice & Ducks" is published by Evening Post Books, which is owned by the parent company of The Post and Courier.
"Deveaux" is published by the University of South Carolina Press.
Each of the couple is intellectual and spiritedly passionate at the same time, more excited to talk about the other's work than their own. Ask either one about her or his book and you find yourself in conversation with both. Their natural collaboration fed the complementary nature of these "opposite" books.
Q: "Rice & Ducks" could have been controversially premised to claim wealthy Yankee sportsmen saved the Lowcountry environment by preserving large tracts of land in the late 19th and early 20th century. How did you avoid that?
Virginia: As the subtitle implies, the "Surprising Convergence That Saved the South Carolina Lowcountry," that's really what it's all about. It was a convergence of several (Lowcountry) landowners and Yankee sportsmen, certainly. I don't think it's so simple to say "the second Northern invasion saved the South." Obviously, the arrival of Northern wealth funded so many aspects of the South's recovery. (But) you had Southerners collaborating early on in the railroads, phosphates, timber and then the hunting plantations, and the whole era of "the New South." These were Southerners, former Confederate generals, who embraced Northern industrial wealth down here.
Dana: The other fascinating thing about it is, (what happened) was complex and multidimensional. Where did the (land conservation) ethic come from?
Virginia: In addition to all the money. That's something I wanted to explore in my book.
Q: "Deveaux" is much more revealing than a lot of nature photo essays. Did you try for that?
Dana: I had all these pictures of Deveaux Bank, and I thought it would be nice to have an "eye book," to inspire people. We think about ways to inspire people, a lot, in the work we do. ... The more I thought about the specific concentrated distillation of life on this one little sandbar and the meaning it has for the rest of the coast of South Carolina, Georgia, the Southern coast of Argentina, the more excited I was about being able to tell that little story.
Virginia: Those birds have such personalities; it's a very intimate look at them. The photographers who manage to capture that spark and that life are the ones who manage to connect with their subjects somehow. I feel that's the case with Dana and those birds out there.
Q: Dana Beach is one of the conservation figures you had to chronicle in "Rice & Ducks." That must have been a little weird. Did you collaborate on each other's book?
Virginia: It was kind of interesting to be trying to write objectively about Dana as part of this story. I tried to assume the same voice and attitude toward Dana as I did about the other conservationists who played key roles. Some people might have accused me of ignoring him too much in the book. Just kidding (laughs). It was very helpful to have someone who participated in the modern conservation movement in the Lowcountry at my elbow.
Dana: Virginia is a great person to have say, "Does this sentence structure look right?" She would read the text for me. It's always good to have somebody read the text, but having someone who is a writer is even better, to have someone who really knows what she's doing.
Virginia: Certainly, Dana would call me over to the laptop and I'd give my opinion as I looked at the 100th (black) skimmer photo and said, 'This is a little heavy on the skimmers.' I had to be very careful that we didn't duplicate anything. Dana has about 18 photos in my book.
Dana: I'm not so much a proofreader. It was more the arc of the narrative I looked at. ("Rice & Ducks") is a big story and there are so many parts to it. I think it was harder for me to provide any substantive input not having all the pieces together. After being involved with this stuff and watching it for 25 years, and not seeing anybody tell the whole story - Where did this ethic come from? Who were these people? What was their motivation? What were the challenges they faced? - there is nothing else like it. And, there's nothing more compelling than the trajectory of that story from the 1900s to today. You can't help but be enormously impressed by the accomplishment and swept up by it.
Q: These two books, particularly because they are so visual, are very approachable. And they complement each other depicting the Lowcountry. Were you aware of either while working on them?
Dana: ("Deveaux") is much more of a personal reminiscence and a personal reflection on that one little tiny place. Virginia puts that whole century in a historical context and also in the context of the preceding centuries.
Virginia: (The) desire (working on "Rice & Ducks") was to make it appealing to the layperson, for sure. Then it would reach, perhaps, a broader audience. The art work, whether the 17th-century painting, the 18th-century maps or the 20th-century photography, it ended up helping us focusing and fleshing out this story much more than we realized. The desire to tell the story visually as well as verbally and textually prompted us to go this way.
Q: What's the takeaway?
Virginia: We're now at a turning point. We're in a different era now for land conservation. The old 20th-century movement is over. It was good timing to record, reflect, understand exactly what happened in the 20th century in order to think about how to move forward. These easements now are not coming as easily as they did 25 years ago and it is taking a more complex collaboration among private landowners and counties and the state and wetland regulators. It is a passing of the torch from this generation that brought us this far; I guess we're at 1.2 million acres permanently protected in the Lowcountry of South Carolina now. It is a challenge to pass the torch to the newer generations coming up.
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