Finding your beach
Edisto Beach, South Carolina – I will never forget the pictures. The day after Hurricane Matthew plowed through — and plowed up — Edisto Beach last October, I found a series of photographs someone had taken of the devastation along Palmetto Boulevard, which was no longer visible underneath a deep layer of sand and debris. Beachfront decks had been reduced to heaping mounds of kindling, street signs snapped like match sticks slanting this way and that, the twisted and jagged remains of patio furniture and wind-blasted beach umbrellas resembling giant, metallic insects, various and sundry decorations that had once adorned quaintly-appointed residences, now strewn haphazardly across the landscape like toys in a child’s playroom.
I felt a cable snap inside me, and my heart fell through my chest like an elevator down the shaft of a high-rise hotel. For a moment, I literally could not get my breath. When I did, I sent my wife a text message with a link to the photographs. We’ve been coming to Edisto for 10 years and dream of someday owning a condo here so that we can visit several times each year, and maybe even live here part-time. Over the years, we’ve learned just about every bike path and shortcut there is to be found. We have our favorite places to eat, our favorite spots to watch dolphins dance in the twilight and pelicans fly in shifting formations over the surf, even our favorite beach access.
Even in the icy grip and short, dark days of January when we are back home in the mountains, we can close our eyes and drift lazily down Jungle Road or Palmetto Boulevard, and feel instantly warmer, cozier, more relaxed. Above all other things, Edisto Beach is a place to relax, a place to lie in a hammock with a cold drink and a good paperback, a place to slow down and be present in each moment with little temptation to look either forward or backward.
Our years seem to scream past us like a roller coaster at the bottom of a steep drop, the faces of our children flashing by us so fast that all we can do is try to capture the moment the best we can. In a photograph. In a memory. The baseball games, the band performances, the grade reports, the sleepovers, all of it a blurry whirl, each week packed tight with practices, deadlines, commitments, games, homework, schoolyard dramas, teetering alliances, makeshift meals wolfed down at 9 p.m. We live on a rigid schedule because we have to, racing from one thing to the next, one hour to the next.
No wonder, then, that our trips to Edisto are like stepping out of time. When we are on the island, no one thinks or cares about what time it might be. The beach itself is like a place out of time. No chain restaurants. No chain hotels. No red lights. Nothing except the cars people drive to indicate whether it is 2017 or 1957. The time doesn’t fly — it minds its own business, and we mind ours. Nothing flies by here but the pelicans.
After Matthew roared through and tore Edisto apart — my wife’s text back to me read, “Oh my God” — we wondered whether we would be able to book our vacation, even though it was eight or nine months away. But the local officials and citizens put on a brave and chipper face, promising to rebuild. Within a few days, bulldozers had scraped most of the sand off of Palmetto Boulevard, and in the weeks and months to follow, construction projects began to rebuild those shattered decks as well as the beach itself.
So, we booked our vacation for late July as we always do, wondering what changes were in store for us and whether we would notice much of a difference so many months after the hurricane.
When we arrived on Tuesday afternoon, the first thing we did was take a drive down Palmetto Boulevard. We could see the gleaming new decks on many of the beachfront homes, and yellow tape stretched along the shoreline to keep people away from areas where the erosion was the worst. Several of the beach accesses were closed, still under repair. We got out of the car next to the Pavilion, one of our favorite spots — usually the first glimpse of the ocean we get when we come here — and were shocked to see how little of the beach was left. Up and down the coast, the storm surge had eaten the beach in massive gulps, devouring almost all of the sea oats and sand fencing along with it. Long gentle slopes had been replaced by abrupt, sharp declines. We also noticed that many of the homes were now for sale, with real estate signs up and down the boulevard a fairly common sight.
Otherwise, to our great relief, Edisto was still Edisto. The Sea Cow restaurant is still here, with the best French Toast you’ll find anywhere. People still line up over 200 deep every Tuesday and Thursday at the Lion’s Club to play bingo. You can still get an amazing key lime pie at the King’s Market. You can still read a paperback in a hammock without the slightest interest in whether it is 4 o’clock or 9 o’clock.
Our tenth anniversary trip here is like visiting a family member in the hospital recovering from a terrible accident, bruised and battered, but still vital, intact, and alive. On our first full day, we load up and head for beach access 21, tooling down the boulevard in our Subaru.
“Play Bob Marley, dad,” my daughter says.
“Yeah,” my son joins in, breaking into song. “I shot the sheriff, but I did not shoot the deputy.”
When I turn on the CD player, Marley sings, “Don’t worry about a thing, cause every little thing is gonna be alright.”
I turn it up, and everybody sings along.