DARIEN – After a weekend here, I came away with new friends and an insight into the life and times of a seaside community which has experienced the vagaries of life—some good, some bad—but now appears headed for headier times.
Darien will be a place to visit for a variety of reasons. You can come here to commune with nature. You may choose the seat of McIntosh County for unsurpassed scenic beauty or to hunt and fish. Premier golf courses in the area are as prevalent as boat docks.
For sure, if you haven’t done so, you need to take a respite here for the blessing of the fleet the third weekend in April. That would be the annual blessing of the shrimp boats which ply the Atlantic for some of the healthiest shrimp on the Eastern seaboard.
The influence of the University of Georgia Marine Institute on Sapelo Island is a “world renown field destination that supports research and education in costal ecosystems.” The institute has set high standards for those dealing with the harvesting of fish, shrimp, and oysters. Pollution is enemy No. 1 for the Institute. UGA is one of the few land grant and sea grant colleges. Research by the Institute is often headline making and enhances the economic wellbeing of those who work and play in this part of our diverse state. These and other positives are making Darien attractive to business and development. “The future of Darien,” says Art Lucas, who has invested in real estate here, “is very bright. The town is about to experience an upswing in positive growth. There is energy in Darien’s step.”
With Art’s upscale “Oaks on the River” boutique hotel as an anchor, early morning rising habits connected me with Jeremy Clark, Bishal Singh and Tom Wood, all bent with genuine hospitality which enhanced the atmosphere of our home away from home on the Darien River.
An extended conversation with Wood when he offered me a much-needed cup of coffee—it was 5:30 a.m. and I had been up for an hour—made my day. A liver transplant, brought about by a heredity influence, has extended his life; if anyone has permanently accentuated the positive, it is this jack of all trades (and master of all), motorcycle riding, internet junkie who will find an app that will inform you how to operate a locomotive or a giant crane or how to fix a flat bicycle tire—if such is needed.
He is so intrigued by how such things work, that he connected with an app that allowed him to simulate a jetliner cockpit that allowed him to pilot a jetliner from LaGuardia In New York to London Heathrow. When he isn’t satiating his curiosity with such as that, you might find him jumping in the kitchen and help wash the dishes. The maintenance man is a Renaissance man—one who, with his wife Stacey in tow might ride off to Greenville, S. C. “for a burger and fries.” As he says, “just ridin” makes their day.
At the counter at Art Lucas’ handsome bar, which is made of cedar from the family farm, our conversation was pleasantly interrupted by Doris Nelson and her husband Selwyn. He is from Trinidad; she grew up in McIntosh County and they have lived in New York for years. They have “come home” and wanted to thank Art for his commitment to enhancing life on the banks of the Darien River. Art thanked them for their endorsement and gave credit to his General Manager, Bernard Sarme, who has “managed five-star hotels all over the world.”
At breakfast one morning, soon after a memorable sunrise over the marsh, Steve and Paula Lloyd took an adjoining table, soon disclosing that she was born in Athens, and he is a UGA graduate. They are overwhelmed to be free from the issues of high-density traffic in suburban Atlanta. “Coming here has changed our outlook on life,” Steve said. It has changed Colleen Conley’s too. She is from Boston but settled in nearby Pine Harbor for two primary reasons. “I don’t like the cold and the politics up North.” Her comment made me recall an assessment of New England by a former owner of the Red Sox, Haywood Sullivan, who was from Ft. Myers, Fla. In a taped interview he once said: “Ever hear of anybody retiring and moving up North.”
On the day of our departure (parting was such sweet sorrow), a rabid Bulldog fan drove up from Waverly for breakfast. A mutual friend, Jason Payne, had facilitated an introduction to Brandon Chonko, who is the grandson of a former Bulldog lineman, Bill Chonko. Brandon’s Bulldog heritage makes him do things like commencing to cry when Kelee Ringo scored against Alabama in Indianapolis last January.
Brandon farms 31 acres, growing a variety of things including hogs which give off tasty bacon. He has a creative bent, too. He writes a column for the Camden County Tribune and Georgian and has a radio show on WBQO in Brunswick. How ‘bout this pig farmer? Stay tuned.