Astronomers and meteorologists may not agree, but what we had Tuesday was a good four-barstool tide.
That's how far into the room the waters of Skull Creek crept inside Hudson's Seafood House on the Docks before cresting beneath the Guccis of a pickle salesman from Toledo. The restaurant built in one of Hilton Head Island's old oyster factories has its own quirky definition of waterfront dining.
But I've never seen a higher tide than the one Tuesday morning.
It's not that I've been hanging around to measure every tide for the past 40 years. But when a shrimp trawler glides by the French doors of our hermetically sealed homes, maybe it's high time we sit up and pay attention.
With our flyovers and supermarkets the size of Chicago, we sometimes forget that we live in a place appropriately called the Lowcountry. We live on slivers of sand jutting into the mighty Atlantic, but act like we're in suburban Kansas City.
They call the "king tides" of this week -- topping out on the charts at 10 feet -- the result of the Earth, moon and sun lining up in such a way to pull water to places we've never seen it go before.
But when I talked to old Lowcountry salts, every one them said something else is involved: rising sea level. This week's tides give us a glimpse at the future.
Retired waterman Woody Collins of Sheldon said he's seen a higher tide in Beaufort County.
It was in 1979, the best he can figure, and he was bobbing in Calibogue Sound on opening day of shrimp season in a 30-foot trawler called the Dough Girl. He couldn't see enough marsh grass to tell where he was. "It looked like a lake," he said.
Retired charter boat captain Eddie Carter, now living on the marsh in greater Coosawhatchie, remembers what they called a "moon tide" higher than this week's tides. "It kept coming in, kept coming in, and never went out," he said. It flooded the road to Point Comfort on Hilton Head. What he couldn't figure out about Tuesday's tide was that it was still rising 2 hours after the chart time for high tide.
Third-generation waterman Larry Toomer of Bluffton said he hasn't seen a tide this high in 57 years on the water.
The shrimpers know that the higher the tide, the greater the chance for spectacular catches when the water comes rushing back out of the creeks and rivers, pulling the shrimp with it.
St. Helena Island native Pierre McGowan had a scientific term for this week's tides. He called them "humdingers." He said saltwater flooding your yard will kill centipede grass but not St. Augustine.
Retired architect Doug Corkern of Bluffton said how Lowcountry oceanfront homes used to be designed for floods. Structural walls ran perpendicular to the ocean so a rising sea could burst though the sliding glass doors and roar out the back door. "You can clean that up," he said.
They put the more valuable stuff -- like the living room and kitchen -- on the second floor and the bedrooms on the flood level below. It was called "upside down living."
In the old Lowcountry, before air conditioning, people lived in sync with the moon. They knew the had to get home before high tide flooded their low, dirt roads. They had to know what the wind was going to do to the tide.
They didn't build mansions by the sea. They didn't spend fortunes on insurance. They built back what the tide came and took.
And to the old salts, rising sea level is not something to argue about in letters to the editor, or the fourth bar stool from the door. It is something they've seen with their own eyes over the past half century.