The visitor aka “Denis Secundus”

For what I believe is the first time in the past twenty-eight years of our confederacy, we have a visitor for several days (the actual length is as yet not determined). The visitor is the nephew of my partner. He (Denis is also his name by coincidence) arrived here from Toronto last evening at 5:30 pm following what we understand to have been on the whole a non-stop expedition. Impressed as we were with palpable intrigue and buzz in anticipation of our visitor’s arrival we rallied outiside our gated community at Watusi Café on Pope Avenue then proceeded under my vehicular direction to our digs in Sea Pines.

The beginning of Hilton Head as a resort started in 1956 with Charles E. Fraser developing Sea Pines Resort. Soon, other developments followed, such as Hilton Head Plantation, Palmetto Dunes Plantation, Shipyard Plantation, and Port Royal Plantation, imitating Sea Pines’ architecture and landscaping. Sea Pines, however, continued to stand out by creating a unique locality within the plantation, called Harbour Town, anchored by a recognizable lighthouse. Fraser was a committed environmentalist who changed the whole configuration of the marina at Harbour Town to save an ancient live oak. It came to be known as the Liberty Oak, known to generations of children who watched singer and songwriter Gregg Russell perform under the tree for over 25 years.  Fraser was buried next to the tree when he died in 2002.

A brief tour of our residence ensued; and moderate refreshment. Then with stick in hand I, my partner and our visitor trooped in darkness from South Beach Club along the corridor of Palmetto ferns to nearby Salty Dog lounge and restaurant on Braddock Cove.

In the mid-1740s, the South Carolina provincial half-galley Beaufort was stationed in a cove at the southern tip of Hilton Head to guard against intrusions by the Spanish of St. Augustine. The point and cove are named after Captain David Cutler Braddock, commander of the Beaufort. Captain Braddock was a mariner and privateer of note in Colonial times.

Our relaxed dinner enabled us to chat, assemble background information and set objectives. We each ate different meals but we all had dessert.  Interestingly to me was our collective ambition for breakfast this morning at Lowcountry Produce Market & Café.  I mention this because the celebrated item on the menu is the freshly made glazed and cinnamon dusted donuts about which we amusingly engaged in prolonged and vigorous discussion.  We accordingly succumbed to the delectation this morning as predicted. The donuts were divine. Our guest conceded the donuts were reminiscent of his erstwhile favourites; namely, crullers.

a small cake made of rich, sweetened dough twisted or curled and fried in deep fat. ORIGIN early 19th century: from Dutch kruller, from krullen to curl.

As a result of having exceeded my personal limits yesterday morning at Lands End, I have this morning willingly relinquished my bicycle to our visitor for his introductory tour about the beach and island. Over breakfast he asked me to characterize what it is about Hilton Head Island which by my own admission so captivates. I had difficulty doing so.  Not because I deny the enthrallment; rather because the allure is enigmatic. I began by distinguishing the island from Daytona Beach Shores where for example one may also bicycle upon a beach.  Perhaps it is that the beach on Hilton Head Island is vast, appearing to be less travelled and seemingly less populated (the beach houses here are universally set back and partially hidden by sand dunes and coastal vegetation). I also alluded to William Hilton after whom the island is named.

Hilton Head Island is named after the English explorer Captain William F. Hilton, who in 1663 surveyed the island while sailing from the Caribbean island of Barbados.

The island has always been associated with the strict preservation of its many natural beauties, including for example limitation of evening lighting so as not to disturb the turtles in pursuit of moonlight for hatching its eggs on the beach and thereafter recovery of the sea. Some other details may be of interest:

  • Hilton Head is fewer than 5 miles wide and 12 miles long, but the island has more than 100 miles of bicycle trails
  • Hilton Head has fewer than 40,000 year-round residents, but 2.5 million visitors a year
  • before the Civil War two dozen plantations on the island grew famous Sea Island Cotton

My information is that the island was formerly the home and workplace of a black population which harvested many of the coastal and marsh products.

The island has a rich history that started with seasonal occupation by Native Americans thousands of years ago and continued with European exploration and the Sea Island Cotton trade. It became an important base of operations for the Union blockade of the Southern ports during the Civil War. Once the island fell to Union troops, hundreds of ex-slaves flocked to Hilton Head, which is still home to many of their descendants, who are known as the Gullah (or Geechee). They have managed to hold on to much of their ethnic and cultural identity.

One of the predominant attractions of the area is golf. The draw is so fluid that it heralds for us winter sojourners the date of departure to escape the burdensome island traffic.

The Heritage Golf Classic was first played in Sea Pines Resort in 1969 and has been a regular stop on the PGA Tour ever since.

One of my personal badges is the denomination of Hilton Head Island as a barrier island.

The terrain of a barrier island is determined by a dynamic beach system with offshore bars, pounding surf, and shifting beaches; as well as grassy dunes behind the beach, maritime forests with wetlands in the interiors, and salt or tidal marshes on the lee side, facing the mainland.

These few words about Hilton Head Island capture the nautical and oceanic features which speak to me so volubly. Over the past 28 years we have visited many of the other notable barrier islands including Tybee Island, St. Simons Island, Jekyll Island, Fernandina Beach and Amelia Island.  All of them we’ve relished but none as broadly as Hilton Head Island.

Meanwhile we strenghten our conviviality with our visitor. His manifestation has rendered to us that much vaunted element of youth and novelty. For the moment at least our hackneyed expressions are revitalized by his presence.