The storm had passed us five or six days ago but the air was still thick and heavy as water. Breathing was hard. Living was hard. We had a generator, gas hot water heater and septic tank and well, so were in better shape than most. There was still no communication with the outside world or even the folks next door-unless you walked. It would be weeks until we had electricity and running water again and schools and businesses were closed. Hurricane Hugo had devastated our entire coastline from Charleston to Myrtle Beach and beyond. Thousands had lost their homes. We lived less than a half mile from the ocean and our home was literally untouched. It was a miracle!
The island itself had been evacuated and the National Guard was standing at the causeways to keep folks from going on the island. Folks who wanted to get their homes- to their things. It would be weeks before it was safe. The storm had come through the island with such a mighty storm surge that it literally cut the island in half, leaving another inlet, flowing rapidly through the south end along what we called “the spit’, the skinniest part of the island about 50 or 60 yards across between the ocean and the creek.
That heavy day I left my house on foot, determined to get on the island. My walk was about five minutes from the north causeway where I met the guardsmen. After talking with them a few minutes, they agreed to let me cross the causeway. At a little under five feet and 110 pounds, they suspected I was no danger.
The photos I had seen in the paper did not do justice to the devastation I witnessed: trees uprooted, houses completely gone and/or unidentifiable, literal sand dunes in the middle of the road, furniture, roofs, pieces of docks, entire houses and walkways floating in the creek made for a shocking scene. There further I walked, I noticed something else-perfect, exquisite quiet. I could not hear the chirp of an insect, the sound of a bird, no machinery, no voices, even the ocean was perfectly calm and soundless after the storm.
On the island are many live oaks that over time have grown twisted from the roots, leaning fantasy-like toward the ocean. These trees were bent backward toward the creek and broken and twisted off like a splintered bone. It hurt me to look at them that had been there-the same for maybe a hundred years.
As I was deep in thought at the sight of the oaks and looking at a quite large one, I saw standing not six or eight feet in front of me a huge lone stag beside one of the bigger oaks at a house named “Over the Rainbow” owned by the Boyle Family. The big buck looked me straight in the eye. I could not take my eyes off his. He was immense and beautiful. His rack was at least eight points, his eyes were large, swimming brown, his coat was grey/brown flecked. In this quiet, intense interlude, it seemed that an unspoken communication took place between the Stag and me. “What are we doing here? What has happened? Has our world been torn to pieces? Where do we go? Where do we find comfort? What has happened to our homes? Are you afraid? I am.” The last thing I got from this lovely Stag-my Stag was, “I have to go, I am sorry.”
As quickly as I saw him, he turned, trotted off south down the road, his hoofs tapping on the pavement. I could hear and see that his back left foot was injured. A few yards down, he plunged into the creek and began to swim toward the other side. I ran down the road chasing him, trying to keep up, to see where he went! The road curved and I saw him struggling up the bank on the other side of the creek and into the woods.
I have never forgotten my stag. I pray he made it home. He will always be in my heart and my best memories of those heavy days. He is almost too precious to share.