Reflections on my first year on Daniel Island
We moved about a year ago to Daniel Island from Boston for a lifestyle change. My husband was initially unsure about living on this 4,000-acre island with gorgeous old oaks, miles of walking trails, picturesque water and marsh views, with one beautiful house after another. It all screams perfection, with not a blade of grass out of place.
Let’s be honest, Daniel Island looks like a movie set and could easily be compared to “The Truman Show” or Walt Disney World. On any given day you see folks of all ages pedaling pretty light blue bikes on the extra-wide sidewalks, families in their golf carts with dogs on laps, and landscapers with leaf blowers making this place even more spotless. There’s no reason to cross a bridge and venture elsewhere as this community has everything one needs, and more. It’s not total perfection, but it comes pretty close.
This idyllic master-planned community between the Wando and Cooper rivers, with around 12,600 residents, the average age being 34, has the brightest and prettiest areas to live, is only 15 minutes to the airport and less than 30 minutes from Charleston’s historic district. While some folks we’ve met (who don’t live on Daniel Island) think it’s too far away from everything, we think it’s just far away and close enough.
A few days after moving in, I was impressed and grateful to experience the famous southern hospitality and friendliness I’ve always heard of. Perfect strangers in Publix or passing on a dog walk smile and are happy to carry on talking past “Hello” and “Welcome to the neighborhood.” I thought it was acceptable to say “hi” and move on. Quick salutations may not go over in the Lowcountry as easy as up north. Then again, northerners move so quickly to get in from the cold, there’s no time for a longer chat.
I’m still adjusting to some things here, like the wildlife. I was prepared for bugs, big ones. I wasn’t prepared for the prevalence of reptiles, amphibians, birds of prey and coyotes. I’ve been affronted by a band of bullfrogs hopping towards me on a leisurely evening walk around Smythe Lake. I still scream out loud when green lizards come out of nowhere and scoot past me. Days after moving here, I took a break from unpacking and went out on my balcony for some fresh air and found a giant bird perched like a statue on our neighbor’s balcony eyeing the baby birds in their front tree. I ran inside and called to my family to see it. We watched for 20 minutes as the mama and papa bird from the nest took turns crashing into the hawk that didn’t even flinch. Knowing what was coming, we couldn’t watch anymore.
I’ve realized with killer weather, you have killer creatures to share it with. There seems to be loads of creatures great and small lurking around every corner. A month after we moved in, we hired landscapers to help with some clean up outside. They informed us they weren’t able to take away a pile of leaves near our gate because of snakes. I responded “Snakes? Plural?” I immediately sat down and Googled “snakes that live in SC.” Up popped “Common Venomous Snakes of SC.” There are five types of venomous snakes here. FIVE! That night I startled my husband screaming in my sleep. He woke me just before I was bitten by a cottonmouth. I immediately scheduled a pest control visit that morning.
If you live close to a pond, no doubt you’ve seen a sign that reads “DO NOT SWIM, Alligators May Live Here.” While on a walk last summer, I spied a medium-sized gator gliding in one. I stopped a woman walking by and asked, “Is that an alligator?” She said, “Oh yes, but he’s a small one. I saw a monster gator last week over there, about 8 feet long.” She informed me gators won’t be removed unless they’re aggressive, and then went on her merry way. When I got home, I again sought out Google to see if alligators could climb fences and stairs and was shocked to see that really big ones actually can.
A year in to life on this island, I love seeing the pretty white cranes and blue herons perched on the shore of ponds, the pelicans diving to catch fish, and the turtles here and there. I enjoy the butterflies and giggle at the bright green frogs that suction themselves to the outdoor areas of my house, even pillows. I enjoy seeing fish jump out of the ponds and the funny looking squirrels that look part raccoon. I am left feeling very unsettled, however, after reading months back about coyotes jumping 6-foot tall fences stealing cats from my neighbors’ yards. And not too long ago on the morning news, I stopped dead in my tracks to hear the newscaster say traffic was stalled in North Charleston due to a very large alligator in the road.
While living with animals large and small practically in my backyard has taken some getting used to, there’s something much more unsettling come June. We’d only been here three weeks when Hurricane Florence came racing toward the Carolinas. Being newbies to Daniel Island, we battened down the hatches, booked a dog friendly hotel and got out of town as neighbors waved us goodbye. We returned when the highway reversals ended and Florence was downgraded to a tropical storm. One would think that when the governor mandates an evacuation, people leave. Not so here on this island. After riding out Dorian this summer, I vowed to leave if the next projected hurricane is graded above a Category 2. Fingers crossed that never happens.
Now that it’s winter I find myself exclaiming everyday how much I love this weather, especially when I see snowstorms and freezing temperatures forecasted back in Boston. Who knew winter would become my favorite season? I expected spring to be with the perfect weather, warm ocean water and the blooming trees and flowers. I was unprepared for the heavy yellow cake-like dusting of pollen like no other I’ve ever seen or sneezed from. Pollen here is “Bird Box” pollen. You have to shut all your windows and doors for fear of breathing it in and setting off an allergy attack. Instead of covering my eyes like Sandra Bullock, I’d hold my breath outside moving quickly from point A to point B to get back inside. It took me weeks to find the right dosage of eye drops, nose spray and Zyrtec to battle it.
What used to be my favorite season up north is definitely not my favorite season here. This past summer I found myself saying a phrase I’d never said before, “It’s hotter than blazes.” I now know to expect frizzy hair, air conditioning everywhere, to bring a sweater to the grocery store, and keep a couple hats in my car, just in case shade isn’t available where I’m headed. I’ve also learned to expect thunderstorms.
This past July Fourth, my neighborhood hosted a golf cart parade with a band, food trucks and fireworks in the 98-degree heat with 100% humidity. Doesn’t that sound like fun? Just before leaving for the parade, I was distracted by what I thought was a small plane hovering over my house. After intent listening, I realized it was thunder that seemed to be thundering continually. I texted my neighbor and asked if this was normal here and she said, “Yes it is, now hurry and meet us at the park.” I never made it because right after my text, the rain came pouring down. I did see the spectacular firework show from my covered balcony along with Mother Nature’s show of lightning. Not even Disney World could have produced that.
Even with the alligators, snakes, hurricane scares and summer humidity, there’s something to be said about friendliness and sunshine almost every single day. I find my neighbors are also very happy here. I drove home last night from an errand to Publix. While waiting for the green light, I looked out my window at the beautiful sunset of deep orange and pink. Distracted and smiling, I realized the light had turned green and not one car behind me beeped for me to get moving. It was just another reminder about why I enjoy living in such a special place.