The first time I set foot upon the beach on Hilton Head Island - over six years ago - it was a cloudy day. I shall forever recall that day as I celebrated our arrival and wandered on the beach by the roiling sea eagerly absorbing the sights and sounds of the Atlantic Ocean. My immediate reaction was paradoxically that the colours - particularly of the muted sand - were vibrant. Today was another grey day and a similar experience. The colours of the beach on a cloudy day are always the same, grey sand, grey sea and grey sky. And yet there is is nothing washed out about the appeal.
The colour naturally engenders a softness, a mellowness. But there is also a richness to those relaxed qualities. It requires concentration to discern the subtlety of grey. It certainly doesn't shock the way bright sunshine does or the way the water glitters on a sunny day. Instead of closing your eyes to shield them, you must become intent and focus on soaking up what you see if you hope to derive the essence of the colour. Just as sunshine spills into its surroundings, so too does grey. It overflows everything within its reach, seeping through windows and doorways to insinuate the inner habitations, the very cracks of the wooden railings.
We decided to take our first meal of the day today (the Vernal Equinox) at Hudson's on the Docks overlooking Skull Creek (an inland tributary which connects to Caliboque Sound and then the Atlantic Ocean). The restaurant is unquestionably casual. The food is reliable. The place is popular. As we settled into our window seats and awaited the arrival of our server I was moved by the fertility of the colours as I gazed onto the abandoned patio.
When our young server arrived we were treated to a minor exhibition. His name was Hart and he clearly had a "routine" which he intended to share with us. His performance included judicious employment of those well known South Carolinian features - motherhood and "Y'all". Hart began to press upon us the virtue of soft-shell crab. The last time I had had crab was in Fort Lauderdale several years ago when I made the mistake of ordering Alaska King Crab legs. While the meat was a delight, it was an exploit of Olympic degree to get to it! The nut crackers supplied for the purpose were about as useful as a pair of tweezers. A hammer would have been preferred! Hart however assured us that the soft-shell crab was already out of the shell. We subsequently deferred to his marketing skills though nothing would deter us from the standard starter which we had in mind, a dozen Bluepoint oysters from Connecticut.
After we had finished our meal (which was amplified to include variation on the theme of soft-shell crab and She-crab soup), Hart invited us to see the tanks in which the soft-shell crabs were performing their ritual molting. He led us from the main dining room through the adjoining bar to an area which would normally be off-limits for the public. Hart gave us an animated description of this natural process.
When we had regained our condominium digs I decided to chance the cloudy skies to take a bicycle ride on the beach. I didn't exert myself but my legs felt the effect of even the modest effort. Nonetheless I completed my customary tour to Coligny Park and back. It was as usual a two-hour affair from start to finish.
Out of habit I retired to the poolside to stretch on a chaise longue, convinced that I could still catch some sunlight in spite of the cloudy skies.