Everybody Loves a Beach
All around the world, people are attracted to beaches. Sandy, rocky, accessible, private, alongside oceans, lakes, rivers, these strips of land are irresistible to locals and tourists alike.
In one travel agency, vials of sand were on display. Thinking of a trip to Acapulco or Waikiki or Miami Beach? Check out the sand. Is it pink, white, beige, or gray?
Did we really care?
The beaches of my childhood, the ever-shifting sandbars in the Herb River, narrow slivers on the tannin tainted waters of Pine Harbor and always a favorite, Tybee on the Atlantic Ocean, all formed and encouraged a love for lands that teased and promised. Since they determined availability, we became experts on tides. Low tide promised a clear beach, at least for a little while. The high tide teased us into believing it would soon leave and uncover our playground. Always loved the story of my friend Wilton who bought a marshfront property. Now Wilton, a retired Army JAG, didn’t know much about tidal waters and on the first night in their new home as he was admiring the view, he called his wife in alarm. ‘Christine, come look, the water is advancing.’ After that, as far as we were concerned in our family, the tide never came in, it advanced.
By the late 1940s, our family was happily spending summers on Myrtle Island in Bluffton.
Graciously replenished by a lovely yellow sand from an ever eroding bluff, the beach in front of our cottage was reached by a steep set of stairs. Every five years or so, we attached a chain to the stairs on one end and a car’s bumper on the other and pulled the whole thing back to more solid ground always keeping our fingers crossed the bumper would hold.
By the time we wised up and tried to stop the erosion, a lot of real estate had washed down and away. The lack of sand renourishment revealed a mud base where marsh grass and oysters flourished. The final blow to our beach was the building of docks and we began the trek to the Maye River sandbar.
In those days of the 1940s, there were so few people on the river, you could have the entire sandbar to yourself.
It was special.F or those hours during low tide, it was a marvelous beach, but it wasn’t a beach on the ocean. There wasn’t the boom of the waves crashing, or the thrill of riding those waves to shore; there wasn’t the grainy sand that made spectacular drip castles or the constant ocean breeze that tricked you into forgetting the burning sun; there wasn’t the endless horizon that encouraged a dreamlike state, or the rustling made by branches of palmetto trees that clutter the landscape beyond the dunes and lull you into dropping your book and resting your eyes; there wasn’t the excitement of finding a deserted horseshoe crab shell or watching periwinkles sweep in by the thousands on an incoming wave and bury themselves in the sand or discovering a pair of angel wings or a conch shell or chasing a ghost crab or scooping up handfuls of foam after a storm whipped up the sea like meringue and there wasn’t the race to the water, to dive headfirst into the waves.
There is nothing like a beach on the ocean, any ocean, but for us summer people in Bluffton, it was the beach at Hilton Head Island.
Encouraged by his mother, the dream of Charles Fraser was to treat this island with respect, to manipulate it so that visitors and residents could all enjoy the natural beauty of this maritime forest. And beginning with the development of Sea Pines Plantation, he did, setting an example of conservation and adaptation of housing to nature that would be copied internationally. His enthusiasm reached talents far and wide.
Native born North Carolinian Edward Cooke McNair heard the call and in 1971, ‘Ned,’ and his wife Judy left what she considered her ‘dream home’ in Charlotte to come to Hilton Head and work with Fraser’s Sea Pines Company.
Ned and Judy were used to the attractions of Myrtle Beach, a favorite destination for the young folks of Charlotte. There was a boardwalk, carnival rides, cotton candy and hot dogs, all the hoopla usually found at the beach, including miles of hotels lit by neon. And there was beach music, dancin’ that slow and lazy barefoot in the sand version of the jitterbug, we call ‘the shag.’
Nothing could have been more different from Charles Fraser’s concept. He pictured a place of retreat where visitors and residents alike could indulge in all sorts of activities but in nature’s bounty. No gutters on the street, they should resemble country roads, homes should blend into the landscape and the architects came up with the novel idea of
upside down houses where living quarters were upstairs so you could see the ocean over the dunes. There was to be a harbor, golf courses and tennis courts, bicycle, and hiking trails and there was the beach, a wide friendly beach that ran the length of Sea Pines Plantation and continuing on for miles until it dissolved into the Intracoastal Waterway. a yellow sand beach enticing young and old to come, to appreciate, to enjoy this gift on the Atlantic
With Fraser leading the way, Ned along with Glen, Jim, Edgar, Doug, Joe, a group of talented architects, builders, graphic designers, ad men, they came from far and wide, and formed a new sort of beach life that we know today as Hilton Head Beach. No honkytonk, no blatant corporate signage, an emphasis on the natural landscape. And it worked. Some of those originals are still with us, some shaking their heads at the extreme changes in what was for a good while, a small intimate community where ‘everyone knew everyone’ and has become a town threatened by the demands of growth.
Ned shared with me a quote by French born American René JulesD ubos, humanitarian, environmentalist, and Pulitzer Prize winner for the book ‘So Human an Animal.’
‘Without some awareness of nature and experience of its divine mysteries, man ceases to be a man. When the wind and the sea is no longer a part of the human spirit, a part of the very flesh and bone, man becomes a cosmic outlaw, having neither the completeness and integrity of the animal nor the birthright of true humanity.’
Whenever I feel overwhelmed, there are always the photographs Ned McNair shares with us, pictures of Hilton Head beach that he takes on his early morning walks. Amazing pictures that tug at your heart, of the people who walk there and the birds who fly over, of sunrises over the ocean’s horizon and most especially, he reminds us of the glory of it all.