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Hilton Head Island, SC

Updated: May 13

My balcony here on Hilton Head Island faces north, to the tennis courtyard and warm orange glow of peoples' apartment homes. Loud voices echo from somewhere down the lot; behind the apartments I hear the thicket of frogs, like crickets on warm summer nights when our parents would call us in. Above, a loud jet tears through the night to the tiny Hilton Head Airport, half a mile down the road. I never think about celebrities, but I wonder which ones are in the sky.


Every once in a while I cough; there's a sinusy burn in my throat from yesterday's cold Savannah wind. I'm drinking water to soothe it, to wash down vegetable wraps and a platter of Publix fruit and handfuls of Cheez-Its, too, the toasted kind that really crunch. I'm longing for the last quarter of carrot cake muffin I ate yesterday when I was too full, because I want that nutmeggy comfort and to feel the weight of it all on my fork: the icing that was as tall as the cake.


I spent half of today inside and half of today outside, away from the city streets, and that's the best I've done in months. I only had today to explore the wetlands, since my friends and I arrived Friday night to a weekend of intermittent sun and rain that we had to divide between beach and art and bakery, lighthouse and seaside dinner .


Saturday


We started our day late on Saturday, sleeping in from the 12 hour drive. After Publix we packed some snacks and drove to the popular Coligny Beach, where we circled parking lots and streets until we finally took an illegal spot in the shade. The sand was hard-packed and relatively clean, but full of dogs and kids and circling seagulls, especially where we lay; S told us this was her worst nightmare, that she walks the other way when she sees big flocks of gulls.


Our tanning spot was perfect for the 30 minutes we had sun; I took about fifteen of those minutes to play in the surf, striding deeper and sometimes unintentionally, flash-freezing my skin and then feeling its warmth, realizing I could survive the cold, if I really wanted. The water was still well under my bikini top when I dipped just my hair. I watched a group of guys ride in a wave and decided I'd do the same, hopping into the swell, but it slammed me down so that I got sandburn under my knees and saltwater in all my sinuses. Satisfactorily wet, I strolled back to S and X, flip-flopped on my towel and then stared down the ominous clouds. Within 15 minutes it was so cold and overcast we left and strolled to Pool Bar Jims, a beachside restaurant where we sipped frozen Mai Tais that were so generously portioned they came with an extra cup. S asked the bartender if he had any recommendations for nightlife and he essentially confirmed there was no night life on the island except for a place called the BarMuda Triangle? "Go there," he told us, but we decided to go to Savannah instead...



After finding free parking, we strolled into a bar that had a Winners & Losers vibe, PACKED full of college-aged kids in formal dresses and business suits. We downed a tequila shot and cranberry vodkas and S complimented a man's shirt and talked about cats and raccoons and how they can be cute and he said Hot take of the night, raccoons are cute, and then walked off. We left at some point and ended up at the karaoke bar next door, where we listened to bad singing and the DJ wobbled with glazed eyes.


Watching people karaoke is always fun, but my favorite thing was seeing a group of people dance to a hip-hop 'interlude' between the time slots--strangers sang the lyrics to each other like they were expressing their souls. Two of the women dancing were holding cups covered by napkins with only their straws poking through, and X wondered if it's so they don't get roofied, and I spent a long while imagining the lives of those two young and gorgeous women--how often they go out, and where, and how many of those nights they felt unsafe, adored, ignored.


We ended the night back where we started, this time on the dance floor, where groups of people crowded and then thinned over and over. The DJ alternated between old pop and rap; a really big dude booty-danced on his woman; an older drunk woman dropped it several times down lo' to the flo'; a lanky hippie dude set down his backpack and then accidentally dropped his FLIP PHONE onto the dance floor, which was thinning out again to reveal the pieces.


Sunday

Sunday morning we left the AirBnB around 11 and ate brunch at The French Bakery in Hilton Head. We got the best table in the house, right in front of the baked goods-- decadent cakes and pastries--and tucked into a corner with only a couple other tables. Smooth jazz played overhead as we ate our respective and incredibly overpriced foods--my $20 Croque Monsieur (ham swiss sandwich) was indulgently buttery but had so much swiss cheese I scraped most of it off, and our service felt rushed and half-assed--a comment echoed by a couple sales associates later that day when we asked for food recommendations. Still, the place was a jolt of European memories--all the times I listened to smooth jazz on cold overcast days -- and it also reminded me of Mom, of color and warmth and comfort and the smell of baked bread from when we'd drive to the Bellevue Bread & Co. when we were little.


After the cafe, we went to Starbucks to get S a coffee and then drove a few minutes down the road to a local art gallery; the room was so small it only took us about ten minutes to breeze through everything. Every time I visit galleries like this I remember how difficult it is to actually create GOOD AND POWERFUL art; so many of the pieces I see feel unoriginal, uninspired, or not well executed, but the artists charge hundreds or even thousands of dollars for their work. Austin and I talk a lot about this, of valuing your own art, but it's hard for me to appreciate that sometimes.


From the art gallery we drove about 30 minutes to Bluffton, a town on one of those inlet rivers. It was a charming little place with many boutiques, live music from one of the pizza restaurants down the road, plenty of benches to soak up the sun (the forecast had called for cloudy cool weather), and so many churches per square mile that S started counting them all. X added that the whole town had sleepy relaxed vibe, less busy than Hilton Head even though HH also is beautifully sprawled and manicured and slow--the demographic here skews way older, and people don't speed.


After Bluffton we drove back to the AirBnB, where we freshened up and then headed back out to the far side of the island, into the ritzy "Sea Pines" resort area -- where they charge you $10 to get in (reimbursed by the restaurant we went to)-- to visit the Harbour Town Lighthouse. The views from the lighthouse were pleasant--overlooking an incredibly green golf course--but the wind was blustering and I was ready to leave after one lap at the top. We ended up about 10 minutes late for our restaurant reservation at Coast, which was fine, except we'd requested originally to sit outside but they didn't have heat lamps and it was so cold that we then had to wait extra time to get a table indoors. We killed time at the outdoor bar, where I ordered an only okay mojito (X said it was really good; I think I've lost my taste for them, maybe, since the last time I had a mojito I thought the same thing) and imagined the place in the heat of summer, how incredible a warm breeze would feel rather than the frigid gale that nearly slammed down X's wine.


The food at The Coast was so good--maybe the appetizers more than my pan roasted shrimp cavatappi, which was tossed in a white wine butter sauce so light that it didn't quite hold it all together. We shared ICE COLD oysters and delectable crab dip and S let me try her Mahi Mahi, which was also really good. S shared stories about $5 date man and I felt a little buzzed from my drink and I was indulging in our big round table in the corner--good seating really can change your whole experience of a place--and I was thinking how the three of us are all so different and in different places in our lives--X with her five-year-old daughter at home, S on the dating scene, me living with Austin. I guess I don't quite remember what we toasted to, but I remember wondering if that was the last time we'd do that, the three of us, just like I do whenever it's the last night of anything with friends. There's a certain energy of a last night that I always love, the way it softens things, stills time for a little, makes you appreciate things more.



We came home that night to a door debacle--our front door decided to pop a screw just enough to where it stopped proper closure--so I had to arrange for the host to come by. X moved into the big bedroom with a lock, so I moved from the couch pull-out to the small bedroom and slept so well.


Monday


We dropped X off at the airport at 9 am on Monday morning, and then S and I drove to downtown Savannah, parked near Forsyth Park, and spent the next five hours exploring the city--we walked around the park first, then to the South Historic District where we ate INCREDIBLE peach cobbler waffle at Mirabelle, a TINY little coffee shop, except our appetites were ruined when a toddler decided to spit up on the floor near our table, and we watched the parents awkwardly communicate and the dad finally step into action after a ten minute delay. I thought a lot about that couple throughout the day, and how they loved each other--if it was a relationship built on passion or logistics, on love or on practicality, just a man and woman coming together for a child.


After Mirabelle we went to the Savannah College of Art and Design Museum, which, like the local art gallery, had some questionable "art" but was still enjoyable to see/comment on. We were there for less than an hour, then oriented ourselves in the direction of the river and we walked, finding some ancient cobblestone and incredibly gorgeous architecture set against the luxurious Savannah trees--oak trees draped by Spanish moss--plus plenty of little boutiques and several churches, too. We walked and walked and walked until I was starving and parched but not motivated to do anything about either of those things--I knew we'd be heading to the car around 3 pm and I had a fig bar in the car.



I dropped S off at the airport around 4 and then drove the 30 minutes home, where I ate some veggie wraps and worked on on a custom project that popped up (the day before I left for this trip) until after midnight. The AirBnB hostess came at midnight-thirty to fix the door, so at least I slept with it locked.



Tuesday

I woke up today around 8:30, got out of bed and worked until the 11:30 meeting, where we found out one of our smartest/best analysts just put in his two-weeks, which is a shocker but at the same time totally makes sense, and then I worked a couple more hours until close to 2 pm and then finally left the house--I put on my hiking shoes for the first time since being here and drove across the island bridge to Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge.


I needed it--the rolling grass, the vibrant ponds and salt marshes. I think wetlands are one of my favorite ecosystems--that and deserts, strangely, but deserts because of my dad, because of his backyard and all the wildlife I've seen out there, from scorpions to donkeys to rattlesnakes and desert mice. I think the contrast of life in an arid place adds to the allure and whimsy of it all, how there can be so much character in an otherwise "empty" place.


As for the wetlands, they were anything but empty, with vibrant greens contrasted with snow white ibis and egrets, those elegant birds with plumes. There were herons of all sizes, and turtles, too, from tiny little ones to those that took up half a log. The warmish breeze rocked the tall grasses around the pond as I looked toward the middle of the pond and spotted, tucked between lots of green, my first alligator outside of a zoo!!! I should have spent most of my time at Ibis Pond, considering it had the most wildlife, but I walked for a few miles around other trails (mostly a gravel road) and ended up spotting TWO armadillos foraging in the woods! That also made my day, considering I've spent hours staring at armadillo photos for the sticker I've been working on, and I finally got to see one sort of up close, in the WILD, and not just crossing a road or dead on the side of one in Nashville.



I spent a lot of time thinking how it was my first time alone in four days, but how instead of just being by myself TRULY, I was still connected to my phone, texting my friends and family pictures. When I got back to the apartment, I packed up a few things for the trip home and then decided to walk from the car down the parking lot to the beach--without my phone. I felt lighter--the phone is such a heavy object, a thing I always have to mind, most of the time a distraction device. I walked around for about 15 minutes and almost immediately wished I had my phone for pictures, yes, but mostly for my notepad--words swirled around in my head that I wanted to remember, so I walked back to my apartment.


By the time I came back, the tides were drawing closer, water rushing in from the ocean and swallowing up the sand. Sea foam collected in rivulets that poured into the next tide pool until all the mollusks and hermit crabs were deep underneath, their little bodies still fighting for their turf. Above water, the barnacled boulders crackled. Underfoot I couldn't tell what was shell and what was bone--what was foundation and what was form. I couldn't tell what was alive and what was dead. I swatted sand fleas and watched two slender black birds raise their heads to the sky as the tides kept coming in, pushing closer and closer.



I thought about this primal sense of time--time in the context of tides, and how dramatically the shoreline can change in just a few minutes, while I'm still in bed, or in a crowded gym, or in front of my computer, or staring at my phone.


I remember attending a laser eye vision lecture once and the eye doctor said to move your eyes from the computer to something in the background every once in a while to practice "adjusting" your eyes. I realize that nowadays I'm only ever seeing staticly, in one place, with prescribed and predictable form: digital assets, or my walls, or the cars ahead of me on the highway. Austin is the only variable form in my house, other than a few plants. The rest exists permanently as it is, or decays.


I prioritize nature during my trips for this reason alone, to remember how much life exists where I'm not looking--how much energy bursts forth in colors and sounds and novel shapes. How just beyond my screen there's original inspiration.




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