This is the old road. This is the narrow, two-lane road that winds and loops, rises and falls. This is the road they call Ocean Highway. It transports me from Georgia to South Carolina over a bridge that is crowded by marsh, its greenness almost psychedelic in the August heat.
Just over the bridge, I see a sign announcing the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, a place I didn’t know existed. Slowing down, I am struck speechless — or as speechless as one can be when one is alone — and I move my head side to side to absorb — to the extent that any human can — the immense beauty of this humanless place.
There are reasons we take the old roads.
I have left one gathering of friends on one island to go to another on another. I am slowed by nostalgia and urged forward by anticipation. I am in no hurry, but I can hardly wait to get there.
One of the friends I have just left was with me the first time I saw the ocean. The moment that the awkward, eager 13-year-old me stood on the flat white sand and felt the arms of the Atlantic embrace her, heard the waves whisper, “See? All of this is for you.”
About 20 miles into South Carolina, State Highway 170 merges into U.S. Highway 17 – four lanes and more traffic, a good portion of it pulling boat trailers — and I grimace. Then, almost before I can grieve the loss, 170 veers off, un-merges and I am back in a tunnel of oak trees.
There are reasons we must not be too quick to mourn.
About an hour and a half after starting, the GPS on my phone announces, “You have arrived.” The old road did its job.
Over the next couple of days, my friends and I will do what women do at the beach. We will sit in the sun and talk. We will walk along the beach and talk. We will stay up late playing word games at the kitchen table in our condo and we will talk. And laugh. And cry.
On the last night, we will walk along the beach at sunset and watch the sky explode in pinks and oranges and purples that will never find their way into a Crayola 64-box. We will watch the explosion spread across the horizon as though smeared by a giant hand. And we will turn our heads to see the nearly full moon ease its way out of the ocean and hover across the way from the setting sun like a tennis partner awaiting serve.
Then, as the sky darkens and the only light is that of the moon and its fluttering reflection in the water, we will sit on the lifeguard’s box and sing to each other songs about the moon.
In the days to come, when all the things we put aside temporarily in order to be here, in this numinous moment, rise up demanding attention, we will remember the flaming sunset, the shimmering moon, the sound of our voices mingling with the salt air and falling on our heads like a blessing. And in the memory will come the strength, the patience, the will to carry on.
There are reasons we look up. There are reasons we sing.