Driving along the southeast coast now it would be hard to understand the enormity of the changes that have come about due to the population shift southward and the resulting development as people made new lives in this region. Just in my lifetime I have seen the quality of life on several fronts improve greatly as new ideas and money from the north helped to enhance health care, education, and the general infrastructure of the south. As development increased new opportunities in the form of high paying jobs lifted many poor black and white folks out of poverty giving the children of these families a better chance at life. Yes, over the last forty years the south has benefited from all the people that have moved down here and the changes that came with them to what was once a hot, humid, backward place.
However, like all good things once you have too much of it at some point a line is crossed in which you begin to spoil, then destroy, the object of your affection whether it is a person, place, or a thing. As time has passed the development that lifted many of the locals out of poverty has strangely reversed and now forces many to leave the coast and near coastal areas because the building of high priced McMansions has raised property taxes and insurance costs beyond the reach of many. Families that have lived for generations on the coast making their livings from fishing, farming, or other enterprises are uprooted and sent elsewhere as condos, outlet malls, and golf courses take their place.
The local environment also suffers as residents seek to recreate miniature country estates with perpetual green lawns thinking nothing of the chemicals they spray and how it leeches back into the water and into the swamps, marshes, then the ocean. Swamps and marshes provide a much needed, but overworked these days, filter of what we in ignorance dump into the ocean and expose to the base of the oceanic food chain which always finds its way back to us. A recent study that aired on the Discover Channel made a connection between Bull shark attacks on humans and the pollution in those shallow waters which either drove away or killed the local aquatic life Bull sharks eat.
As construction for homes, golf courses and the likes have moved into lower lying areas such as swamps and marshes there has been an increase in how far tropical storms can move inland and retain their strength causing greater damage to lives and property. One of the factors that needs to be understood is how swamps and marshes provide a buffer against extreme weather. As a storm moves ashore they absorb much of the destructive surge of water as it moves further inland stealing much of its energy.
For these, and other, reasons I haven’t been real thrilled these last few years at the billboards, television commercials, or bright glossy magazine ads that proclaim the construction of another grand condo or plantation development, golf course, or outlet mall. In 1990 while driving to college on the highway that connects Conway and Myrtle beach, South Carolina that then was hugely undeveloped I saw a young black bear come running out of the woods. He or she stopped right at the edge of the highway, looked both ways like some child getting ready to cross the road then thought better of crossing and ran back into the swampy woods he or she had just came out of without looking back. On a trip to Myrtle Beach a few years later after moving to Columbia I saw that the same road was covered with Burger Clown clones, convenience stores, strip and outlet malls, motels, and of course entrances to several “professionally designed” golf courses. Aghast at how each establishment butted up against the other I wondered about that juvenile bear and if the road itself sent in scurrying back into the woods then what in the world would all the multiple redundant businesses that seemed to sit atop each other do to it now? That is if that bear is even still in the proverbial, but shrinking, woods and not occupying some gray concrete chamber in some seedy zoo. While nature seems to be on a permanent retreat unable to stem the tide of civilization in the form of real estate agents, golf pros, or outlet store managers I do remember one incident in which nature at least fought it to a momentary standstill.
My in-laws had migrated down south themselves in the very late 80’s from Richmond, Virginia in search of the “easy life” after all their kids had left the nest for work and college. After searching several locations, including my hometown strangely enough before I had even meet Dragonwife, they settled at some plantation development (glorified over priced subdivision) just off Hilton Head Island and had purchased a small retail business located on the island. By 1994 Dragonwife and I were married and often came down from Columbia to see her folks and for several complicated reasons my wife liked to help at the retail store her parents owned. That left me able to amble around the island, usually at the beach, when Dragonwife didn’t have some chore for me to do.
During one visit in the summer of 1994 Dragonwife had volunteered to mind the store on a Saturday but wanted me to pick her father up from the golf course he was playing at around noon so we all could go get some lunch. I was to meet him at the bar located at the end of the golf course and when I walked into the place I knew I had made a slight mistake. I had spent that morning at the beach and while I had dropped by the in-law’s place to clean up and change I was still just wearing baggy shorts, an old surfer t-shirt, and sandals. Everyone else in the place was wearing fashionable, if not outright chic, golfing clothes. I don’t think a leper, a chain saw carrying psycho, or even worse for those already inside a progressive liberal Democrat would have drawn more stares or gasps as I did walking into the place. Never the less I made my way to the bar, ordered a beer, and began waiting for my father-in-law.
While I had nothing in common with the other customers other than breathing air and as far as they were concerned being a member of the same Hominidae family if scientific classification was an interest, the bar itself was pretty nice. It had lots of wood paneling with many of the tables in semi-private alcoves and with the booths offering outright privacy due to the way the paneling almost surrounded them. As it would be expected the lighting was muted giving the place a sense of mystery and secrecy. As I looked around I could tell there were several couples taking full advantage of the privacy offered by the booths with sensual female laughter and stifled male giggles coming from some every now and then. Closer to the bar I was sitting at a common area had several tables arranged around a large television mounted on the wall. Groups of people were sitting at the tables watching a golfing tournament completely engrossed in how the little white dimpled balls were finding their way into tiny cups with the aid of men with grossly expensive clubs that probably cost more than my car.
The bar itself held just me in front sitting on a stool and the African-American bartender working behind it. The bartender was always doing something, either rearranging the vast collection of bottles on the counter behind him or wiping down the bar. I, at least, had the luxury to do nothing and just to stare out the huge tinted plate glass window just above the back counter that held the collection of bottles the bartender rearranged and over looked the final segment of the golf course. In the distance I saw several ancient oak trees that had been incorporated into the design of the course. Long oak limbs from the trees lying close to the ground draped with Spanish moss gave me the impression of weary old ladies wearing lace. A little further off you could see a small segment of the marsh and thicker native vegetation standing on either side of that small segment almost standing guard against the bulldozers and developers with their dreams of endless condos. By sheer happenstance overhearing conversations on previous visits I knew that at one time the golf course and the bar I was in was once a “dark, nasty swamp full of snakes and gators.” With that knowledge I was already predisposed to see the excellently manicured grass of the golf course as an alien invader out to conquer all that was right and true on the Earth. Nevertheless, even the course itself held some aesthetically pleasing qualities as it rose and fell creating ridges and valleys with a couple of sand and water traps placed around the final hole marked by a tiny flag flapping in the breeze. Increasing the alien nature of the course lying just out of one of the water traps was a gator sunning himself.
Minutes later if the medium sized leftover saurian lying close to the water trap noticed he was under attack by a collection of small white dimpled balls he gave no indication. Two of the three balls landed closer to the tiny flag sticking out of the cup but one rolled to stop right next one of the gator’s legs. Looking further down the course I saw a golf cart with three men aboard approaching the gator and what I’m sure were the golf balls they had just sent down range. They stopped a decent distance away from the gator and seemed to be discussing something. The three guys were obliviously in their later years in life (certified old farts) and were dressed in stylish golf attire that I’m sure matched all those around me in the bar in expense. At some point the three golfing buddies came to some sort of decision concerning the golf ball almost resting between two of the gator’s claws. They began walking toward the reptile waving their arms and apparently making sounds that I couldn’t hear in an attempt scare the gator back in the water. Despite the assumption I usually make concerning the wisdom of older people, trying to scare a gator for whatever reason is never an astute move. Wally Gator allowed the three to approach very close before he strung to life raising his head and showing off his fine collection of sharp white teeth. Mere seconds later I saw the gator swing his tail around in an attempt to contact one of the three hairless, but finely clothed, primates bothering him. I don’t believe the tail contacted with anyone but one of the guys did fall down on the grass but his buddies quickly dropped everything grabbed the fallen comrade and left clubs, the golf cart, and the greater portion of their dignity behind.
I appeared to be the only one in the bar who had noticed the latest clash between the orders of Crocodilia and Primates with the latter and all their vaulted intelligence and opposable thumbs coming up short. The bartender, ever alert, must have heard me chuckle slightly and came up and glanced out the window then asked if “Charles” had been disturbed by the golfers. Assuming that Charles was the gator who was still in the same place next the water trap maybe wondering if his kind would out live the primates like they had the dinosaurs I told the bartender yes, that it seemed Charles didn’t particularly care for them playing through. The bartender laughed himself and without asking handed me another beer and said it was on the house. Minutes later the three guys came in the bar with one of the three looking for me. My father-in-law didn’t look to bad except for the slight grass stain on the rear of his pants he got from avoiding the gator's tail and as we left and got in the car I didn’t even begin to ask how his game went and he sure as hell didn’t tell.