Hilton Head Island

Captain William Hilton

Born in 1605, he became one of the first settlers to explore the area around today’s Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. Hilton was born on June 22, 1617, in Northwich, Cheshire, England. His father came to the New England colonies in 1621, with infant, William Jr. and his mother following two years later.

His explorations of the coast earned him a reputation as an intrepid seafarer who often sailed into uncharted waters. He also made regular trips to Jamaica, which allowed him to bring back exotic goods and stories from his travels. His expeditions took him all over the east coast of America and to the Caribbean.

We depart for Hilton Head Island, South Carolina several days from now.  It requires very little stimulus for me to reignite my glowing interest in this part of the world. Reportedly the island has lately succeeded to quicken the curiosity of the black population as well, people whose ancestors (better known as the “Gullah” community) may once have worked as slaves or farmers of the oyster trade while living on the island.

Gullah | ˈɡələ | noun (plural Gullah or plural Gullahs) 1 a member of an African American people living on the coast of South Carolina and nearby islands. 2 the Creole language of the Gullah, having an English base with elements from various West African languages.

Just as the hint of Hilton Head Island bestirs my most evocative imagination I must confess it is as well the pinnacle of my greater ethereal obsessions; namely, the North Atlantic Ocean and sailing.  I realize those are broad categories but they are both deliberate.  For one, I prefer speaking of, and thinking about, the Atlantic side of the world.  Admittedly I know nothing of the Pacific Ocean (or any other ocean for that matter) but I can at least claim a modest degree of familiarity with the North Atlantic Ocean having crossed it by steamship twice and having lived aside it once.  I have in the interim revisited it twice. As for sailing I know even less of it apart from what I synthesized during the other experiences on the Atlantic seaboard. In the result my mania for both are predominantly poetic; perhaps partially literary arising from books I have read which include nautical allusions.  Overall I think it can be agreed that notwithstanding my diminished acquaintance with the ocean or sailing they are both subjects which lend themselves to an abundance of artistic rendition, graphic and literary.

Though I have repeated this anecdote many times, I unhesitatingly do so again because it captures that moment when I first saw Hilton Head Island.  I will be brief.  Approaching Hilton Head Island by land from Canada requires an abrupt left (eastward) 90° turn off Interstate 95 at Hardeeville along Hwy#278 in the direction of the North Atlantic Ocean.  Hilton Head Island is commonly known as a barrier island, among the others such as Tybee Island, St. Simons Island, Jekyll Island and Amelia Island before hitting Jacksonville and the northern Florida boundary where (roughly) commences the picturesque A1A coastal route to Key West.

As we travelled across the plateau of marshlands (adjacent Savannah National Wildlife Refuge and Palmetto Bluff) from the highway to Hilton Head Island the horizon noticeably enlarged. The majesty of the North Atlantic Ocean soon insinuated the entire geography. But the moment we traversed the bridge over Mackay Creek which leads directly from the ocean past Buzzard Island, everything changed. We entered upon William Hilton Parkway. It was as though we had entered another universe.  The traffic slowed, the Palmetto ferns were instantly conspicuous; the attention to quietude, design and nature was inescapable. And this was only the beginning, the mere periphery of the infinite detail and precision that was to follow. It quickly became apparent that the entire island was devoted to projection of a thoroughly compassionate alliance with an equally deserving ambience by the sea. This was no normal place.

It was a year later before we returned.  On that occasion it was outstanding for having been Christmas Eve.  This we have unwittingly discovered is not what by most standards would be considered a propitious time of the year to visit Hilton Head Island.  Aside from a dearth of local activity (including a very narrow window by which to secure our evening meal upon arrival) it was snowing.  Now, when I say snowing, that is tainted by the same juxtaposition by which Americans generally relate any similar hardship in a near subtropical climate; namely, there were snow pellets on the beach but everything melted the instant it hit the earth. As I strode along the beach in my typically Canadian fashion (practically with my coat wide open as though inviting the wind to do its best), I positively gleamed to be back, solely marching into the headwind, bent upon relishing the glorious greyish-brown colour of the sand being swept beneath my Top Siders, glancing into the powerful seas and crashing waves, alone in my universe of sublimity.