I do realize that plenty of people would think this is hell rather than paradise, but each time I get to go to Hunting Island I feel so grateful for the privilege of being there.
I can’t describe to you, really, how amazing it is. But I can tell you that the house we stay at now (since the other one washed away) is not a secret and has open dates to rent. As long as you’re willing to haul sheets and towels and food and toilet paper and pillows and blankets and Scrabble and every other thing you might possibly need, load it into a mildewed old golf cart, and bounce 15 minutes through the woods to what is increasingly an indoor camping facility. Phone’s been gone, there’s no gas now, and when the electricity goes off — which it does do — you’re pretty much end of the line since you’re one of about four houses affected. I swear I’ve seen a big orange extension cord running about a mile down the island that I suspect is connecting us. Now the county’s after the owner because the water is approaching the septic tank, but this is outrageous. First of all, the water’s nowhere near it, and second … the beach is littered with concrete septic coffins.
I can tell you that as long as there’s plumbing, I’m there.
I can tell you that there’s no goofy golf or gocarts. In fact, there’s not a commercial establishment on the island. No restaurant, no store, no souvenir shop. Actually, there is a little state park store down at the public campground that sells staples and trinkets. From the house, it would take us an hour to walk there or about 30 minutes to get there by golf cart then car. We might as well drive to the Publix in Beaufort.
For cooking, Lyta’s Easy-Bake Oven is no longer functional (gas), but you have a hot plate and a microwave. (The toaster oven doesn’t seem to work anymore.) This year, the fuses kept blowing, and the kitchen sink wouldn’t drain, which was pretty nasty. But at least there are only spiders, and not Palmetto bugs, in this cottage.
Who cares? My kids have witnessed a barrier island completely transformed in the span of about 10 years. That’s geological comprehension that I didn’t get until I was about 35. By the time they see the Grand Canyon, it may just be a big yawn after watching the Atlantic lap up an entire island during the course of their childhood. It has to be pretty obvious to them, after watching palmettos fall and seeing the ocean take away houses they’ve live in, that nature is much bigger than tiny ol’ mankind.
Who cares? My dog gets to run as fast and as far as she can, chasing flocks of hundreds of birds. I’ve gotten to watch the pelican population grow from a handful to a squadron of about 40. We’ve seen the sea turtle nests build from a rare few to scores of roped-off mounds every summer. We’ve rescued stupid ol’ starfish and prehistoric horseshoe crabs, cut up hammerhead sharks, and fed mentally deranged deer. And my kids get to wrestle and roam and catch crabs in the mud and throw sand at each other all day long with no one complaining. Because there’s no one else there.
On a crowded weekend day, you might see 10 other people. Used to be these were rednecks (not that there’s anything wrong with that) who hauled their stuff from the public beach or one of the rental houses across the street. (Last year, those houses were beach front. Now they’re pretty much gone.) All of a sudden, though, since the road washed away, it’s athletic nature types who must be staying elsewhere and daytripping by car/bike/hiking boot to see some wildlife. The trail puts them out right by our house, since it’s the only dry place on the island at high tide now.
In fact, I tend to get really incensed if other people pollute my view at all. In recent years, we’ve taken to sending the kids out to be as obnoxious as they can if anyone is dumb enough to stop for a few minutes within eyeshot of our front windows. I can tell you that this is a role at which teen and preteen boys truly excel.
I can tell you that I’ve learned more about trees here than just about anywhere else. There are three basic and very different types: palmetto, live oak and pine. The palmettos are fragile … the fall when the sea reaches them and wash up as logs to protect what is left of the beach. The live oaks go down hard because their wide root system doesn’t support them in the sand. But their hardwood skeletons live forever in the salt and surf and are more beautiful than I can describe. The pines (I don’t know what kind they are, but they’re big) have an entirely different root system. Their tap root holds them upright longer. It’s really a group of roots that have grown together to support what’s above. When they are overtaken by the sea, their tops disintegrate quickly, but their roots hold fast. Even if they fall, the roots stay pliable and seem to take much longer to rot than what was previously above ground.