I arrived in front of the Inn at the Daufuskie Island Club & Resort and was stopped in my tracks by the antebellum splendor of it all. I stood slack-jawed for an embarrassing length of time. I had come by plane, rental car, ferry and, finally, a shuttle bus ride from which there had been no warning--Daufuskie, on the road in from the ferry dock, was wild, not grand, the pine-and-oak forest was impenetrable, the dirt road was narrow and bumpy. Then the van stopped before manicured gardens, a sweeping crescent driveway and a canary yellow plantation-style hotel with two stories of broad verandas borne by stout white pillars. Gone With the Wind with air-conditioning. My wife, Kath, searching for words, settled for "Wow." The graying shuttle driver pointedly cleared his throat and nodded toward the main entrance. "You check in there," he said, too polite to mention that I was standing in front of his van.
It's tough to be cool when you're suffering from culture lag. Only a couple of airline connections removed from northern urban angst, we had landed in the sweet spot of the low country. I had come for the golf, but my first inclination was to while away the hot part of the day with a cold drink and a wicker rocker on the veranda.
It had happened quickly. It is about a forty-minute drive from the Savannah airport to Hilton Head, where we boarded the hundred-passenger Daufuskie Clipper 1. Regulars aboard were content to read their morning papers, inured to the captivating scenery. At the dock, a heron fished for minnows while a mostly submerged gator looked on. And it was a glorious day--the heat, wilting on dry land, was cooled by the salty breeze as the boat motored out into the deeper blue of Calibogue Sound. Dolphins surfaced alongside.
You don't see a lot of that in the big city.
Most of the passengers were day-trippers who, as soon as the boat docked, headed out to play the Nicklaus-designed Melrose course. Who could blame them?The course is fabulous. But Daufuskie is no place to hurry. The island lacks shopping malls, supermarkets and nightclubs and is inaccessible by car. Instead, Daufuskie is a place to undo the knots that stiffen the neck--to eat, sleep, play golf, read and nap in a hammock.
In some ways, the island's pace does not seem to have changed much from how it was described in Pat Conroy's 1972 novel, The Water Is Wide. The book dramatizes the author's real-life experiences as a teacher at the island's two-room schoolhouse. Conroy has since written better known books--The Great Santini and The Prince of Tides among them. But I especially liked his first. Locals say the book didn't always stick strictly to the facts about Conroy's tenure at the school, but it ably conveyed the harsh reality of life on an island that, then, was dying. Pollution from the Savannah River had spoiled the once-renowned Daufuskie oyster beds in the late 1940s, destroying the livelihoods of many islanders. Most of the young people moved away.