Musings from Sapelo, and Some Good News

Hi, everyone! I have just returned from my two-week excursion to Sapelo Island, GA, which I wrote about a bit in my last post. During my time on the island, I mostly reveled in its natural beauty — soaking up the fact that I was in a wildlife refuge, surrounded by dense maritime forests, extensive salt marsh meadows, and pristine sand dunes.

What I did not fully realize, until I actually left the island, was how much the trip felt like an exercise in time travel. In many ways, Sapelo Island is a snapshot of the past. While there are a handful of paved roads — mostly restricted to the southernmost third of the island — the dominant creatures traversing them are retrofitted golf carts that have been brought back to life by the island’s go-to mechanic. Some of the trees on the island have seen dinosaurs, and it’s not difficult to imagine a time when beasts much larger than us grazed on the ferns and the Spanish moss draped like tinsel from the trees. Turkey vultures glide low in the sky, heedfully searching for a meal to scavenge. Their wing spans look ominously large from the ground. As on most barrier islands, the beach stretches on forever, like an interstate that sprawls endlessly across the landscape.

There is one rickety general store that sells beer, and proudly advertises itself as Sapelo’s “ONLY BAR”. The children from the Hog Hammock Gullah/Geechee community (population: 70, according to the community’s welcome sign) wake up at the crack of dawn to take the morning ferry across the water to go school. From the remnants of cotton, sugar, and rice production that continue to dot the landscape; to the still-imposing Reynolds mansion that was built by plantations-owner Thomas Spalding; to the small Hog Hammock community that remains the only 3% of the island not owned by the government, there are reminders everywhere that slavery prevailed in the not-so-distant past.

Cell phone reception is present on the island, but as an afterthought; it is highly variable with location, and even with Verizon, which is your best bet for getting service, you are hard-pressed to see your wireless bars climb all the way to their fifth step. As an AT&T user, I re-adjusted to living without the constant pull of cell phones and internet. More often than I used it as a mobile device, I wielded my phone as an illuminating beam to navigate the unadulterated darkness that cloaked everything come nightfall.

My time on Sapelo was remarkably peaceful, but the peacefulness was a double-edged sword – at once blissfully serene and achingly lonely.

It really wasn’t until we returned to the mainland yesterday — and I suddenly remembered that things like road rules, and top 40’s radio, and strip malls exist — that I fully appreciated how different things were on Sapelo, despite the fact that the island is only a 30-minute ferry ride from continental Georgia. Now, back in bustling, trendy Providence, I am seeing everything with a fresh pair of eyes.

When living in a city (even one as tiny as Providence), one often feels like one is living at the intersection of many cultures, perspectives, and livelihoods. However, I am reminded that cities are islands in themselves, in some sense as self-contained as if surrounded by water on all sides. Providence, though it hosts a diverse assemblage of people, still has a character and pace of its own that makes it feel worlds apart from the Georgian towns through which we passed. With just a short trip down the coast, I felt like I had traveled to unfamiliar terrain. With an even shorter ferry ride, I had jumped back a few decades. Being in Sapelo helped me remember that, even in our age of rapid globalization, our world is filled with pockets of unique cultures and environments.

Though these tiny communities may be slowly dying breeds, I could not help but notice that time does not seem to pass with the same urgency in Sapelo — that there’s no rush to greet the future as rapidly as possible. Perhaps the grains of Sapelo’s hourglass are trickling at a pace that is just a bit slower than the rhythm of time to which the rest of us are accustomed. In the end, I think that’s what made Sapelo so peaceful — I no longer felt like I was chasing time. The sky stayed blue for hours longer than I expected it to, people conversed without worrying about stealing one another’s time, and I felt perfectly content traveling around the island in our slow and steady golf cart, just enjoying the journey along the way.

Here are some photos from the trip!

In other good news, within the debris of information that bombarded me upon returning to the mainland, I received news that my short film, Trophic Cascade of the Purple Marsh Crab, won the award for Best Student Film at the Beneath the Waves Film Festival this past weekend. Thanks for everyone’s enthusiasm and support!

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