As a doctoral student at The University of Georgia in the Marriage and Family Therapy program, it was highly recommended that I become a member of the Georgia Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and attend their state conference. The conference was held at The King and Prince on St. Simons Island, neither of which I had ever heard of before. Ever the dutiful student, I registered for the conference and made reservations to stay at Epworth By the Sea, another completely unfamiliar location.
It was early spring, 1987, when my husband and I, along with a dear friend and fellow graduate student, first laid eyes on what are so aptly described as The Golden Isles. At that time, the entrance to St. Simons included a toll road and a drawbridge. The anticipation was almost unbearable. For the first time in my life, I experienced the feeling of coming home to a place I had never been before.
For the 31 years since, we have sojourned to St. Simons on a nearly annual basis. The years we were unable to visit always felt incomplete. The elder of our two sons made his first trip at the age of five weeks – the younger was fourteen months. From time to time we toyed with the idea of vacationing elsewhere, and occasionally professional obligations demanded we travel to other shores, but inevitably the thought of not seeing our beloved island diminished the desire to go anywhere else.
If anyone were to ask me, “What is it about St. Simons that keeps you going back? Is it the great places to eat, the variety of accommodations available, the flora and fauna, the beaches, the wide range of activities, or the history?” My response would be, “Yes, all of those reasons and more.”
St. Simons is more than a vacation destination. It is a lifestyle. From the moment our car tires roll onto Kings Way, a calm washes over us. Our burdens are carried away by a receding tide and left behind at the other end of the Torras Causeway. Our breathing slows. The rhythm of the island seeps into our bodies. Our minds open to the natural beauty surrounding us. On St. Simons, anything seems possible.
One of St. Simon’s most attractive features, to us, is that it is a residential island. It is a place where real people live. There is a palpable sense of community. For one week out of the year, we have the good fortune to experience life on their island. We get to walk their beaches; bike their paths; explore their history; watch nature unfold along their shores, in their marshes, and maritime forests; eat their delectable cuisine; shop in their uniquely diverse stores; and enjoy the work of their gifted practitioners of all art forms.
In exchange for the marvelous hospitality, generosity, and patience demonstrated by the actual residents of St.Simons, we endeavor to abide by, not only the official rules and regulations governing the island, but also the rules of common courtesy and decency we would expect from anyone visiting our home. Committed to assisting in the preservation of this island treasure for future generations:
- We dispose of trash properly, separating it into the designated garbage and recycling receptacles.
- We make sure to retrieve everything we take to the beach, since the ocean is not a giant garbage can, leaving behind only footprints in the sand.
- We collect only shells that are no longer inhabited and return living creatures to their natural environment after observing them.
- We…well, if we had a dog, we would only walk it, leashed,on the beach, before 9am and after 6pm, because we would not assume that everyone wants our wet dog running up to them. And we would clean up after it because we are certain no one appreciates stepping in dog waste while barefooted or in flip flops.
- We observe the posted speed limits. After all, we are on island time. Since the roadways are shared by vehicles, bicycles, and pedestrians, we are especially cautious not to drive as though we are on the interstate or a racetrack.
Change is inevitable. Over the thirty plus years we have been visiting St. Simons, we have witnessed considerable change. Some welcomed, like the dissolution of the toll road. Some natural, like the shoreline. But some troubling, like the increased amount of trash and personal items we see left on the beach; the increased presence of pets on the beach throughout the day; and the increased number of recklessly driven vehicles. The lack of consideration for the inhabitants, both human and non-human, whose home St. Simons is year-round, is frankly, disturbing. The prevalence of a theme park mentality seems antithetical to the natural picturesque serenity that St. Simons embodies.
Whether we get to call St. Simons home for a week or two, a month, or longer, our unwritten covenant with the natives is to leave it as we found it, or better. Practicing proper island etiquette seems a small price to pay for the privilege of spending time in this extraordinary place. A place that has motivated our younger son to become a marine biologist. A place that rejuvenates us and inspires us to do more of what makes us better versions of ourselves. A place with the power to transform the burdens awaiting us on the mainland into more bearable loads.
Straining to catch a final glimpse of our treasured island getaway, we turn right at the end of the causeway. Recharged and ready to resume our off-island lives with lighter hearts and clearer minds, we bid farewell. The memories we harbor, like the sand in our shoes, will lure us back to St. Simons again and again.