No words more befit the spirit that inhabits the people and the place of Dewees Island than those of Pat Conroy. Just talk to Betty Yearout of Island Realty, Arla Jessen, Dewees Island’s resident naturalist, Chip Naramore, President of R S Custom Homes, a Dewees Island builder, or to anyone who lives there or has been there. Their words may come out differently, but they all got that island “religion.” This place called Dewees is surely inhabited by the spirits of Huckleberry Finn, Swiss Family Robinson and maybe even Robinson Crusoe. Indeed, it is the seductive passion of discovery and the promise of adventure that draws us irresistibly to the magical world of islands.
In a time when master-planned communities, residential golf course developments and town center villages are the lifestyles of popular choice, Dewees Island proposes a radical alternative. The chief attractions are the uninterrupted percussion of the surf on a beach left to itself and the predictable turn of the tides in a creek embraced by broad swaths of spartina uninterrupted by docks. For those who are attracted by it, Dewees is a refreshing reminder that nothing man ever mettles with can surpass the designs of nature.
Acknowledging the dominion of its divine landlord, Dewees Island is one of those special places we can only borrow for awhile. It could almost be said that the island is the real property owner and the property is the soul of those who have come to visit and to stay. Regardless, what is so important for those who cherish this “singular geography” is that this phenomenal place is not unique among the Carolina and Georgia Sea Islands. Indeed, it is the intelligence behind the effort of preserving it that is a profound rarity. Of course, there are many well-planned communities that have responsible environmental approaches to the spaces they occupy and that meet the needs of residents who choose to live in them. The point worth making, however, is despite the attractive virtues of our coastal areas; they are limited and vulnerable to our very enjoyment of them. The beauty that we all appreciate is greatly diminished by all that we do to make them habitable. What the Dewees Island “experiment” has demonstrated and proven is that, with an informed approach, these treasures can be cooped into our culture in such a way as to provide a non exploitive methodology for “developers” of such treasures. The results of such an approach allows us to enjoy the extraordinary pleasures we seek without destroying the resources that provide them. And the results are magnificent.
Quite naturally, the only way to visit Dewees, or any real island is by boat. That’s a good thing. It provides an opportunity to decompress. The demons of the mainland flee of their own accord while aboard the ferry Aggie Gray upon approach to Dewees. This beautiful island soon appears before you cradled in the protective palm of the mighty sea. Deciding to go there, you realize without pretension, Dewees is not for everyone.
There are no grocery stores, no restaurants, no golf courses, no lawns, no landscaped yards whatsoever and no internal combustion transportation (i.e. cars, SUV’s, pickup trucks for all those who worship at the steering wheels of those chariots of progress). When nature and man come to an intersection, nature is given the right of way. It is a world ripe for those thirsting with curiosity about nature in its most approachable and enjoyable forms. Age becomes a non-issue, as children and their parents sublimate into the selfless pleasures of mutual re-discovery. You might say that everyone there becomes a child, no matter his or her age.
On balance, despite all that has been said, Dewees is not a Robinson Crusoe lifestyle. The needs of the island are balanced with the needs of its residents, strictly on a win-win basis. A most agreeable symbiosis between man and nature has been established that allows for an unprecedented lifestyle for those who love islands without any imposition on the environment. There are walkways to the Beach through the Dunes, there are community docks to allow access to the creeks, and there are many low-key conveniences to permit access and enjoyment of all the pleasures the island offers. The homes there are magnificent thanks to builders like Chip Naramore with RS Custom Homes, who like everyone at Dewees, knows how to ply his craft in such places. His company makes a sincere effort to blend into the community making the construction process as unobtrusive as possible.
And then there is Arla. Arla Jessen is Dewees Island’s resident naturalist. She is a true scientist that contributes to the ongoing projects and studies of native and migrating birds, mammals, and marine species that inhabit and visit Dewees Island. Arla is a scientist with a soul who will introduce you to her Nature Center and some of her friends who live there, like Oscar the Spiny Lobster, or Ernie the Eel. She’ll take you crabbing or casting for shrimp and introduces you to any number of the 225 species of bird life you’re liable to encounter there. She is available to accompany you on marshwalks, shelling expeditions or to guide you through some of the most intriguing and informed interludes of nature on the island. There are programs and activities galore for everyone to enjoy. What is sure is that time spent with Arla is always fun, informative and worth its weight in gold.