Ossabaw. Say it out loud. It will start with a rumble at the back of your throat, a rumble that reminds you of when you sat in front of your grandmother's oscillating fan and ah-ed into its blades for as long as your breath would allow. It will slip into the cave of your mouth where the air slides through your teeth with a hiss like a tire going flat. It will end with a burst, your lips separating abruptly as the whole word escapes into the universe, lifting and floating, dipping and diving like an osprey over the waves.
Ossabaw. Live oaks dripping Spanish moss, vines as thick as a man's arms winding like cobras up the trunks of loblolly pines, garden statuary hidden under green grown thick and high. The mansion, majestic even in its decay, doors thrown open to catch the breeze off the marsh and to welcome the guests who move slowly, reverently through its rooms. In its quiet and somberness it exudes a different kind of magic.
I am here, in this place cordoned off from the rest of the world, through the generosity of a friend. I want to sit silently on the trunk of one of the fallen trees and stare out at the marsh, flashing gold in the autumn sun, and simultaneously walk as fast as I can down every dirt road and trail and hallway I can find, breathing in the stories that I am sure are lingering in every crevice.
When it is time to eat, time for roast pig and cheese grits and sweet tea, we sit at big round tables scattered across the front yard. I pull a journal out of my backpack to take notes, to scribble down the things I do not want to forget.
We, all and each of us guests, came over by boat, the only way to get to Ossabaw. There is no bridge, no airfield, no helipad. I stood at the bow of the powerboat, beside Captain Joe, and watched the water split in front of us, rolling back like a liquid zipper. Three or four times we passed other boats going in the opposite direction and each time Joe pulled back on the throttle and turned the boat just slightly so as to meet the other boat's wake at an angle.
I write that down and stop mid-sentence. It is a metaphor for something. I don’t know what yet.
Hours later, sated with roast pig and cheese grits and sweet tea, I am back on that same boat, leaving in my own wake the Sicilian donkeys, the Peter Pan Garden, the tabby houses, the catalysts for what I can tell already is a difference I will feel for a long time before I name it. Dark clouds are advancing quickly; Captain Joe makes a quick announcement: "Hold on. It's going to be choppy."
And it is. Standing at the bow again, I can see that he never pulls back on the throttle. He never turns into any of the choppy waves that keep us company all the way back to the marina on the mainland. He drives us straight ahead and into the waves. We beat the rain by about five minutes.
It is days later that I figure it out. The metaphor. It is not nature of which we must be afraid. Not dark clouds or rain or waves created by either. It is people and their machines and the wake they leave behind.
Whether it is magical Ossabaw or the hurricane-ravaged panhandle of Florida or my own heart, it can withstand the seasons, the tides, the storms. But none of them is immune to the malicious act, the intentional injury, the conscious neglect of human beings.
If we are to be stewards, then, whether on behalf of ourselves or the people and places we treasure, we must learn when to pull back on the throttle, when to turn into the wave.