When you live in a Southern Coastal state- the Spring rising of Sap in Southern Pines, the Budding of Magnolias and the Pull of Tide draws us to our Sea Soaked Cities….circling down the powerful Atlantic Ocean- around the Gulf of Mexico, the migration begins. Cultured beauties give way to ocean drenched dives- dress shoes yield to boat shoes, silk slippers litter closet floors in favor of flip flops- Fishing Vessels pull out of winter storage and Sailboats slip away from docks, soft melodies shift to beach music or jazz.
The Sea Soaked Cities of the South draw us like moths to a porch light. We ignore the heat and humidity in favor of a cobbled street crawl,relish the comfort food, sip tall frosted glasses and speak with slow southern drawls.
- Charleston’s culture and sophistication with her bubbling fountains, South of Broad mansions where no woman would be caught dead sitting on the front porch in housecoat and curlers to magnificent church spires of the Holy City, folks are drawn in carriages or mesmerized by soft sea grass baskets, lured by creamy brown pralines or shrimp and grits- but it is the Battery or harbor with it’s sea-going vessels that tug at our hearts.
- Savannah’s Squares, wonderful Historic Town Homes with lush gardens, the whispers of posh garden parties or Midnight’s Good or Evil enchants us- the sight of the water ultimately pulls sea searching souls to haunts on the wharf and huge cargo ships which still the hearts of mere mortals. The Atlantic pulls folks to barrier islands, marshes and beaches.
- Key West’s Sherbet Painted Ladies and Ocean Drinking Dives, Street Performes, Tall Ships and gasp worthy Sunsets soothe the soul.
- Mobile has her own sophistication amidst azaleas, southern genteel ladies and gentlemen with unfailing civility; across Mobile Bay- beautiful Bay Houses with names like Restoration overhung with massive live oaks sporting long gray beards; small towns with quaint cottages in Daphne, Fairhope, Point Clear and Magnolia Springs.
- White Sugar Sand Beaches on the Gulf of Mexico pull us out of our winter doldrums from spring to fall. Ocean Drenched Dives, the promise of warm sunshine draw us to Gulf Shores, Perdido or Orange Beach.
- New Orleans’ Garden District is genteel, yet it’s the black lace balconies in the French Quarter, the smell of chicory coffee and fluffy beignets near the Waterfront that draws folks into a different state of mind.
What is it about the presence of a large body of water that heals and renews? There is a powerful spiritual energy at work in the Sea Soaked Cities of the South. Is it the presence of long lost spirits or the tidal magnetism? More than a dozen years ago, in the pointed boot of Texas’ own Sea Soaked City- Galveston- I found these Old Men of the Sea tossed like conch shells on a dusty shelf in a Nautical Repair Shop near the ocean- with no idea what I would do with them I had to have them- Dried Bamboo Roots with Carved Bearded Faces. I mounted them inside the round frame like a porthole to remind me of my own love of the seashore.
I rarely remember a summer of my life without at least one trip to the Beach- building sandcastles, stooping for shells or tiptoeing in the edge of the ocean- ever aware of undertow warnings or the way it felt to have sun tipped shoulders or new freckles on my nose. The salt air settles into our minds; like mystical memories there remains the longing to go back and back- to the gulf’s bounty of fish, oysters, blue crab and pink shrimp made a hundred delectable ways, swimsuits damp with sea water- bright umbrella-ed beach chairs with her giggles shared or beach books read; the glimpse of a glimmering dolphin, the tiny translucent sidewalking sand crabs or a long leg-ged white egret standing silent on a dock ; the soft pungent smell of salt water, the life restoring sea air, the feel of sand between my toes. Ocean Drenched Dives and Sea Soaked Cities of the South with her bayous, bays and beaches seem as
- Confessionals and Cathedrals
- Altars and Alcoves-
- Shell Crusted Grottoes with Screeching Sea Gull Pipe Organs
We slow down, contemplate, let our minds go blank for a spell. Just let me start getting out summer beach bags and there will be errant grains of sand and an inevitable seashell- rubbed between my fingers, mindlessly looking for the sharp broken hinge. Ridiculously, I let myself think that the other half of the seashell or an errant piece of myself might be found if I return to the shore. Always convinced- it’s that pull of the tides, the magnetism of foamy waves ever running toward to the beach and back out toward the shimmering horizon that gives me a longing for the Sea Soaked Cities of the South. I’m heading there soon…
Love y’all, Camellia
*Old Men of the Sea Photographs are mine- Jeremy Miniard’s Mobile Bay photograph is wonderful! And the phrase ‘sea soaked cities’ and ‘ocean drenched dives’ was inspired by Charleston’s own Josephine Pinckney who wrote a book called ‘Sea Drinking Cities’, slightly scandalous in her day- I look forward to reading her books.