Hilton Head Island

Summer 2005 CSANews Issue 55  |  Posted date : May 20, 2007.Back to list

Why Hilton Head beats the Sun and Shine-ola out of – anywhere else.

Among the greatest of America's writers, and the world's, Mark Twain once said: The difference between the right word and almost the right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.

If he could pass today through the Eden that is Hilton Head Island, feel the dappling light through the canopy of trees that rim an ocean the color of blue silk stockings, steeping that white suit and piquant wit in the sweetness of the truest and best of the American South, Twain might say – "I'll swat nary a solitary bug anywhere, long as I can raise my feet in this paradise."

True, other places offer great spreads of balmy weather. America holds back its deep-tanned arm of contiguous tropics. That's the problem.

Other resort communities spend millions spraying the great secrets of themselves to the world, and then never take care of themselves. They're like the fellow who asks a dozen girls to the dance, then doesn't know what to do with the half dozen who say "yes." So he puts on the gaudiest shirt he can find, too much cologne, and hopes the girl he loves won't notice the other five crowding onto the sweaty vinyl seat of his father's borrowed car, whose top he left down in the white-hot sun.

Attention Canadians: We have found the resort girl of your dreams.

On Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, the dream of a man named Charles Fraser spreads like a lush lawn just above Savannah. He wanted her kept just so, gardened and nurtured not by saws and machinery but by the same sun and water and warm salt air so magnetic to the human soul.

On Hilton Head, great resorts nestle in old trees that still seem to breathe the very breath of good days long past and youthful laughter, fine memories never quite gone. Spanish moss drapes about the shade as though this island is a bride in the sweetest part of her waiting.

This is, simply, one of the most beautiful parts of the world. A grand lady, always in full bloom.

Oh, she bustles some in summer, but always in good taste. Even the signs that decorate her storefronts and the lines of her thoroughfares ring with style – understatement, elegance – all the marks of a modern Southern lady who knows where she comes from. Gaudy is not a word she wants to know. She will not speak of it.

She is no simple girl – wears the history and greatness of the Gullah culture alongside grateful tourists and some of the great sportsmen and creative souls of the world. They come for the water, for the shade, for the easy way of this place. Golf so often draws them here, as if this were the very back yard of the art and sport of it, and when the links and the surf, the cycling trails and powdery beaches lie behind them, the food draws them on. Shrimp and grits at little bistros along the canals that run past homes gardened by celebrities and graced with the vision that divine nature grows the best garden of all. That the music of her local heart is unique in the world. Hilton Head is a lady who can talk joyfully with everybody. She makes everybody feel right at home.

Great yachts float at ease in her harbors and along the great Savannah River, where the smallest dinghy and the humblest fisherman find equal solace. No one dwells this island shadow. The sun rises in her blue eyes, sets on the graceful lines of her back, and all day long Hilton Head Island beckons – come, be well here.

So many resort communities evolve upward, rising high and hot with dance halls and hell raising. This lady that is Hilton Head knows how to have fun without losing her head, or her reputation.

Little clubs invite the visitor to learn how the locals came here, why they stay, and what makes the real American South such a fine beauty. Within easy reach, only minutes away, the guests often find their way just south of the beaches to soak in the shade and glow of Savannah's old squares, gnarled with trees and ghosts and antebellum brick-and-mortar history and charm. Hilton Head keeps the best of company. She is as good for the mind as she is for body and soul.

The famous and the anonymous, who find their way here, find the same fellowship. They find the ease Papa Ernest Hemingway so loved when he wrote to the quiet sounds of a kitchen busied with the evening's meal. They discover what a songwriter craves when that single magical note eludes. In the state of South Carolina, Hilton Head Island is a verdant little state of the very best mind. Dolphins about her water, a breeze across her limbs, and somehow the sense everyone who gets to know her, takes her as a friend for life.

Twain, had he flirted with Hilton Head, might have said – "Hand me my pad and my pen, sweetheart. The stars are out. The sea is warm. The lightning bugs will come soon. Rumors of the death of paradise have been greatly exaggerated."

But Hilton Head keeps her beauty, long after the tans tend to fade. To live here is to watch her change with the seasons – easing into colors of fall, draping serenely and warmly into a winter tableau, always early to the colors of spring. The island's weather keeps a simple dress code: Shirt sleeves and shorts nearly always welcome. Bathing suits, never far away. Part of Southern charm means never turning a cold shoulder on a visitor "or" family. Warm welcomes happen here all year. And Hilton Head has welcomed the world.

This is an island full of dialects, flush with cultures, yet somehow it unites them into a sense of family. It is as though the island is a matriarch, comfortable with her role as a mother to the world. People come here for the beauty, for the smell of the sea and the colors of deep forest mingling with tropical palm, but they stay because of how this island makes them feel. People who live here are not just residents. Such a word is far too chilly for the warmth of this place. They are part of something far greater. Living not only "in" a community, but "as" community. One that celebrates great art, for example, and the greater art of caring. Charity work thrives here. Philanthropy holds sway. Albert Camus taught that humankind cannot live without meaning. Hilton Head might as well have that mantra carved into every beautiful old tree that graces her. But that might take a thousand years.

As for me, I'm just a television anchor who craves and needs the perfect getaway. I am a writer who has found the best of his creative soul in the surround of Hilton Head's balmy tides and family manner. Having grown up in a cold place, where the ground is frozen too long, I have proven the worth of her tonic. Canadians, hear my voice – welcome. Speaking for the island who knows how to give a warm Southern hug – come, rest in the shade, feel well, be well, all is well here.

Prove me apt to Mister Twain – those words are just right.

by Michael Cogdill
Humbly submitted by a fan of this 16 Emmy Award-winning journalist.