Rice and Ducks
Interested in how Charleston came to be the gorgeous and rejuvenating seaside haven that it is today? So were we. So we spoke with Lowcountry conservation historian and author Virginia Beach, whose most recent publication, Rice and Ducks, can be found on the coffee table in the drawing room at Zero George (when it isn’t in the hands of a guest eager to learn more about how the lands and waters of Charleston came to be saved).
Rice and Ducks is about the elaborate conservation movement that began when Charleston’s bird-hunting and bird-watching constituents—of both southern and northern heritage—realized that rice lands, grown decrepit and abandoned after the Civil War, provided invaluable resources for ducks and other wildlife. In the book, Beach emphasizes the partnerships among local and national organizations, including Ducks Unlimited, the Nature Conservancy, South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, Lowcountry Open Land Trust, Historic Charleston Foundation, state and federal resource agencies, legislators, local advocates, and many others, that made these conservation efforts so successful. She depicts the rice lands—the heart of the plantation empires comprising what is known as the rice coast—as they were developed by Europeans and enslaved Africans, lay fallow after the Civil War, and were renewed and preserved in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
In our conversation, Beach highlighted how the rice-planting era and the hunting and conservation culture that evolved in its aftermath have impacted the city of Charleston and its environment for the long term. As the cultural center of the Rice Kingdom, Charleston and its street-bedazzling mansions were the products of the wealth generated from rice cultivation and the slavery that enabled it. Moreover, the beautiful structures and streets of the Holy City—a cultural nexus for plantation owners and their families—bear the mark of the many skilled African American craftsmen living and working in Charleston at the time.
Rice and Ducks is Beach’s second book and the recipient of the Independent Publishers Association award for the 2015 Best Southeast Nonfiction. Her first book, Medway, is a history of a Lowcountry plantation. Her third, which readers should look for in 2016, will offer an in-depth look at the history of the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League and its partnerships with community organizers and advocates—partnerships that have changed the course of history in the protection of South Carolina’s ecosystems. When asked what inspired her to write about conservation, Beach mentioned her lifelong love of birds and bird watching, saying that “once you begin studying one aspect of nature, you start caring about everything. Throughout history, birds have more often than not been a catalyst for conservation.”
Stay tuned for Virginia Beach’s Top 5 Natural Areas to Visit While in Charleston, out next week, or find Rice and Ducks on the coffee table in Zero George’s drawing room.
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Images from Rice & Ducks: The Surprising Convergence that Saved the Carolina Lowcountry, by Virginia Christian Beach. Copyright @2014 Ducks Unlimited Inc. All rights reserved.