David Lauderdale

We could all do with a dose of Charles Fraser's optimism

To hear people tell the story today, Charles E. Fraser walked on water.

The creator of Sea Pines was the visionary behind the era of modern development that transformed Beaufort County's economy and helped change the way America looked at retirement, vacations and the environment.

We all know that Fraser couldn't walk on water. But I recently stumbled onto some of his words of wisdom that indicate he was willing to try. That is, he saw a sea of opportunity where others saw only sea foam.

It seems to me we could use a dose of Fraser's effervescent optimism.

Surely, it could help as we wonder who the next visionaries will be and what new economy they can put in motion.

Fraser is gone. He died in a boat explosion eight years ago. But we should still appreciate how he thought.

I found Fraser's words in a $3 used book. I got it at the store run by the Friends of the Library volunteers at the Hilton Head Island Library. The "$1" penciled on the first page indicates it had already been recycled once at the Bargain Box thrift store.

To me, it's a real jewel. It's a green hardback called "America's Inland Waterway: Exploring the Atlantic Seaboard." It was published in 1973 by the National Geographic Society. Allan C. Fisher Jr. was the writer, and James L. Amos was the photographer.

It chronicles a 2,000-mile voyage in a 34-foot sailboat along the entire Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, from the wake of whaler country above Boston to the lazy sun of Key West.

In our neck of the creek, the adventurers ease up to the dock in downtown Beaufort and gasp at its beauty. They glide across Port Royal Sound with dolphins frolicking alongside. They show us pictures of Andrew Kidd tossing oysters into a bateau "with the flick of harvesting tongs," and three young boys on Daufuskie Island riding in an ox cart beside a weathered church.

From Hilton Head Island, we see a two-page panoramic view of the sun setting over Daufuskie, across Calibogue Sound beyond the Harbour Town Yacht Basin. The photographer was standing at the marina, near where Fraser is now buried. A plaque by his grave lists some of his accomplishments but urges anyone who really wants to understand Fraser's legacy to simply look around.

It's no surprise to read in the book that Fraser wowed his guests. They called him an unusual man whose sprightly dinner conversation darted from the tales of his collection of old maps to environmental problems.

He embraced their venture and showered them with ideas.

"Now traffic on the Waterway is largely limited to people moving great distances," Fraser told his guests. "But it's much more manageable and practicable to enjoy the Waterway over shorter distances. Why not take people down interesting sections of it in houseboats, in convoy, rather like a covered wagon train? Have cassettes aboard that they can turn on at certain channel markers and hear about what they are seeing and its history. Have them go ashore at various places for lectures about the ecology, field trips, cookouts. That could develop into a whole new activity."

Fraser had given all these things great study, as his planned village of Harbour Town proves to this day. Since he said those words, many ways to get people out on the water have come to life.

But what he's really doing in that passage is defining our DNA. Clues can be found there for anyone grasping at the future.

Fraser is telling us that we cater to the curious, not necessarily to the masses.

We walk on the good water God gave us; we don't try to be Atlanta with its huge airports and malls.

We plan activities.

We get outside. We find joy there and indigenous stories, food, music, sport and nature.

We immerse ourselves and our guests in beauty.

We exercise our brains, bodies and imaginations.

In our future, we don't have to walk on water. But we shouldn't let Beaufort County be better appreciated by the National Geographic Society than by us.