Retreat for the decline of my life

There are several models of a small vacation community which have had their appeal to me.  I reckon it is no accident that I prefer the bijou-size stopping places, just as my landing in Almonte forty years ago was not without both its internal and external influences and confluences. My introduction to the miniature getaway vernacular was the Town of Provincetown in Barnstable County on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  I first visited the Town about 1978 on Labour Day Weekend, an event which became a subsequent annual trek. Like many of these peculiar resorts, Provincetown was at the remote end of the Cape but it thereby succeeded to embrace the unique natural geographic features of the area, notably its towering sand dunes and completely unspoiled and uninhabited beaches.  Its history harkened back to the early Portuguese fishermen who populated the Town when whaling was popular. It was a mark of my absorption into this tiny community that I had the privilege to walk upon the floor boards of King Hiram’s Masonic Lodge which was chartered December 12, 1795 by Paul Revere who was then the Grand Master from Boston.

In the winter months I discovered that the natural southern extension of Provincetown was Key West, Florida. It was not uncommon to encounter people in Key West in February who had worked in or visited Provincetown in the previous summer months. Once again Key West was a remote location being the southernmost point of the United States of America.  Getting there represented a small challenge if one didn’t care to take the time to motor for four hours across the very extensive bridge connection with the mainland. Flying there from Miami was assured to be a step back in time reminiscent of what I call Air Casablanca. The Key West airport, like the Provincetown airport, was tiny  and one simply stepped off the plane into the terminal. Both venues were ornamented by the writings and anecdotes of Tennessee Williams in particular his “Letters to Donald Windham (1940 – 1965)“.  Earnest Hemingway played out his extraordinary private life in Key West as well.  Even the early beginnings of Pan American Airlines has a notoriety for having used homing pigeons to fly from Key West to Miami with SOS reports of current weather conditions. The Key West site of the Pan American Airlines office once housed a restaurant called Pigeon House.

My imagination about maritime resorts was for years epitomized by my hopeful dream to have what I endearingly called a “salt box” on a rocky precipice overlooking the Atlantic Ocean in Nova Scotia.  I suspect this fabrication was the product of two recollections; namely, the small and strictly utilitarian structures which passed as cottages on the outskirts of Provincetown and the regular visits I had made on Saturday mornings to the sparsely populated Village of Lawrencetown outside Halifax, Nova Scotia while attending Dalhousie Law School.

Charles Lawrence c. 1753

While I have only recently abandoned the prospect of having a pied-à-terre on the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia, I continued for the longest time to fuel the goal when watching Two Fat Ladies (Clarissa Dickson Wright and Jennifer Paterson) running about the charming fishing villages of England on a Triumph Thunderbird and coincidentally preparing delightfully rich meals for the local people whom they visited.  The coastal villages of the United Kingdom are of course famous and many of them, aside from being quaint, are exceedingly posh.

This infatuation was magnified by E. F. Benson in his Mapp and Lucia series of novels featuring humorous incidents in the lives of (mainly) upper-middle-class British people in the 1920s and 1930s, vying for social prestige and one-upmanship in an atmosphere of extreme cultural snobbery. Several of the novels are set in the small seaside town of Tilling, closely based on Rye, East Sussex, where Benson lived for a number of years and (like Lucia) served as mayor.

My wishful thinking has now acquired a decidedly more substantive (though nonetheless perpetually whimsical) characteristic. Over five years ago during a casual luncheon engagement in Chelsea, Québec with family friends, we heard of Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.  Every year since then we have visited the Island and have now adopted it as our winter residence from November to April.


Even the Islanders acknowledge that they are beyond the regular channels of communication and for years it was uncontested for example that wireless service and mail delivery was frequently sporadic. Our hibernation on Hilton Head Island is normally quiet and unhurried.  The tourists don’t begin to arrive until mid-March at the earliest and it is nothing for us to travel on our bicycles on the beach for miles and see no one.

Although I am by nature a confessed bore who is hopelessly committed to routine, with some gentle persuasion, the novelty of a new destination is not entirely abhorrent. Our current leaning is towards Tybee Island, Georgia.

Situated a mere 18 miles from Savannah, Georgia, Tybee Island can also be seen from Sea Pines, Hilton Head Island.  Tybee Island is another of the barrier islands on the Atlantic Ocean.

In the late 19th century, at the height of the Industrial Revolution, residents in large, polluted cities frequently sought out remote beaches for summertime getaways. Clear, saltwater breezes were believed to be remedies for various ailments, including asthma and certain allergies. Steamships began carrying patients and tourists to Tybee Island just after the Civil War. In 1887, the Central of Georgia Railway completed a line to Tybee Island, opening the island to a wave of summer tourists. The railroad built the Tybrisa Pavilion in 1891, and by the end of the decade, several hundred summer cottages dotted the island.

We are currently in the throes of communications with estate agents on Tybee Island with a view to the 2016 -17 season.  Considering the Island is only about 3.2 square miles in total (an insignificant portion of which is under water), we acknowledge that wintering in this resort (which has a permanent population of less than 3,000) is guaranteed to provide every imaginable element of retreat one might desire. Our dedication is to cycling (which is apparently a common pastime on the Island) and the views of the Ocean and the beach (which is extolled in all that we have read).  Naturally we are hunting down a place which is immediately adjacent the Ocean where I, for example, intend to indulge myself in the pleasures of my writing, photography and piano (I will bring my electronic keyboard).  We expect there will be ample opportunity to practice the culinary arts (lots of seafood), bathe in the sunshine and doze whenever we care to.  Our decision to downsize from this upcoming year’s 5-bedroom house on Hilton Head Island is a deliberate move calculated to lend a degree of reasonableness to our adventure.  It also signifies a philosophic departure from the unquestionable Republican flavour of Hilton Head Island to the more rustic and Bohemian character of Tybee Island.

“When I contemplate the common lot of mortality, I must acknowledge that I have drawn a high prize in the lottery of life.”

Excerpt From: Edward Gibbon. “Memoirs of My Life and Writings.” iBooks.