No Man is an Island (But He Can Live on One)
Author: Kent Thune
When I was a young boy and living in Tennessee, I recall my parents announcing that we were going to Hilton Head Island for our annual vacation. Too young and too far away from the coast to know exactly where on the map this place could be found (but old enough to proudly display my knowledge of landforms), I said, “Wow, I’ve been to Florida, which is a peninsula, but I’ve never been on a real island, which is completely surrounded by water!”
Our family vacation was fun and relaxing, but the experience, from a young tourist’s perspective, was not much different than that of any other coastal destination I had visited: There was plenty of sand, salty air, and seafood—everything one might expect on a vacation to a beach—which is to say I enjoyed the visit and would welcome a return trip.
My next visit to the island would be about 10 years later, when I returned with a beautiful, native Hilton Head Island girl that I had the fortune of meeting back in Tennessee. I was already in love with her, but the island experience she shared with me made the love grow even stronger—for her and for the island. For example, before coming to Hilton Head Island with her, I thought the definition of a beach was nothing but sand, ocean, and lounge chairs with tourists sipping cocktails, building sand castles and playing bocce ball.
But the moment I stepped onto Dolphin Head beach, which is on the north end of the island in Hilton Head Plantation, the image of a beach was changed forever in my mind. A real beach is one that is created by nature, mostly undisturbed by humans. And instead of seeing tourists, cocktails, and bocce ball, I discovered old pieces of driftwood bleached by the salty air and sun; I counted many more dolphins than people; and I had my first close encounter with a bald eagle. It was nature at its finest. I was still a land lover with no plans of living on the island. But I now had a wonderful place to visit, at least whenever I could tag along with my island girl on her trips home to see her mother.
A few years later, I married that beautiful island girl. The wedding was on a warm spring day on Hilton Head Island, and we celebrated with local food—Lowcountry boil and oysters, which was strange but delicious to me and my mainland friends and family. After our honeymoon, my island girl and I returned back to our home in the hills of middle Tennessee to presumably live out the remainder of our happy lives together.
We would enjoy many visits to Hilton Head Island over the years to come, and my fondness for this treasure of a place continued to grow. I would expand my repertoire of Lowcountry terms, such as pluff mud, Gullah Geechee, she crab soup, Spanish moss, and palmetto bugs; I would see more real beaches, such as Mitchellville Beach, and other wonders of nature, such as Whooping Crane Conservancy and the Sea Pines Forest Preserve; and we made friends who would take us out on their boat to see the striking beauty of the island from the saltwater perspectives of Port Royal Sound, the Atlantic Ocean, and Calibogue Sound.
It was becoming increasingly difficult to leave the island. After each visit ended, and as we approached the edge of Hilton Head Plantation on Whooping Crane Way, just before merging onto Highway 278, we would pass a little sign on the right shoulder of the road that had on it the three words we dreaded seeing: “To the Mainland.” The silence in the car by this point was deafening. Even our dog was silent as she longingly looked out the window at the palmetto trees and Spanish moss-laden oak trees passing out of our view. By the time we hit the summit of the bridge crossing the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, I would look over at my island girl and see tears welling up in her eyes. As any loving, dutiful husband would do, I always said, “Don’t worry, Babe. We’ll be back again before you know it.” But in a way, I was also trying to reassure and console myself with those words.
After five years of marriage and at least a dozen more visits to Hilton Head, we found a way to get about 400 miles closer; we moved to Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. We loved the beaches and the Lowcountry charm of the greater Charleston area. We started a family, and I started my own investment advisory firm, named after the Atlantic Ocean. However it still wasn’t Hilton Head Island, and our paradise still seemed far away. But at least we were close enough to visit Hilton Head Island much more frequently and we were able to show our two little boys what it was like to be an islander, just like their mom and their grandma.
A few years later, my island girl’s mother passed away. The profound sadness of losing her was compounded by the lingering question of when and how often we could return to the island. I was self-employed with two young children in school. Would it be possible to uproot our lives and make that leap over to the island that we loved so much? That 100-mile distance seemed farther away than ever before.
But through the years, I had become wiser and more philosophical in my thinking. I was in my 40s, which is a time when one is old enough to make responsible choices but still young enough to pull up the not-so-deep roots and transplant them into more fertile ground. I wondered what some of the great philosophers I read or wrote about would do or say in my position.
I heard some warnings, such as John Donne’s famous line, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”
But the one gem of wisdom that spoke directly to me was from Henry David Thoreau’s epic book Walden, or Life in the Woods:
“…if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”
My island girl, my two young boys, and I were “castles in the air” people! And these castles would not be the conventional kind but the kind made of sand, the kind that could be built and rebuilt only on an island—Hilton Head Island—and we could then build our foundations under them.
Yes, Mr. Donne, no man is an island unto himself. But he can live on one! And now, on any given day, when my beautiful island girl, Angela, and I are traveling with our two boys to the end of Hilton Head Plantation, where we now live, and we see that sign that says, “To the Mainland,” we are not sad but comforted instead: We are turning the other way and living the life of our dreams on Hilton Head Island, where we belong.
Kent Thune has been living on Hilton Head Island for two years, and is about to celebrate the 20th anniversary of marriage to his beautiful island girl, Angela Beyhan Thune. When not spending time enjoying the real beaches of the island or coaching Hilton Head Rec soccer for his two boys, Kent is working with clients of his investment advisory firm, Atlantic Capital Investments, or busy writing his first book.