Dune grasses, mist. Isle of Palms, South Carolina.
A ten minute walk north, wave-bitten condos:
The ground floor: collapsed. Condos in the back of the building: still occupied, it seems.
Can sand bags and plastic pipes muzzle the chewing maw of the Atlantic? Now taking bets.
Just north of the foundering land-ship, the sea plays a few rounds on the golfing green and takes home some souvenirs:
On the eroding sand escarpments, plants trained by hundreds of thousands of years of beach life grasp their opportunity, then set seed and move on to the next shifting wave of sand. Here is Oenothera drummondii, Beach evening-primrose. The plant is in full bloom in December, as are other species on the island. A crazy-warm winter; the sea feels it too.
When the sea first exposes the roots of sabal palms, a fuzz of sand-gripping tentacles wiggles in the air:
Then, after the tree has been felled by beach erosion, the roots are snapped and abraded, revealing the butt of the palm trunk. This haircut reveals a curious structure at the very bottom of the former root ball, a curved trumpet of hard wood. The horn is narrow at the side, then widens as it twists upward into the center of the root mass:
These curved oddities are the remains of the palms’ first few months of growth. Unlike every other tree that I know of (other examples are welcome!), the palm germinates then grows down into the soil for up to half a meter. It then turns up its growing tip and sends young fronds to the surface. This burrowing infancy takes the sensitive growing tip down where it is less vulnerable to fire, drought, and herbivores. Botanists call the growth form a “saxophone”: a narrow down-pointing neck that splays as it curves back up.
The first toot of the sax:
Practicing riffs. Young sabal palms stay at ground level for decades, building a wide enough base from which the trunk will launch:
A mature palm, playing percussion in the wind, the early saxophone days buried in its roots: