On Folly Beach **** by Karen White
I’m joining Jain with my Edible Book Review at Food for Thought, where pages from your book magically mix with the kitchen and your camera.
This was a beach read for me this summer, very different from Between the Tides, that I also read on our family trip, but enjoyable just the same. Folly Beach is nestled between the Folly River and the Atlantic Ocean, just a twenty-minute drive from Charleston. It was an engrossing read with two story lines and time periods the author weaves together~ one story takes place during World War II and follows Maggie, owner of a book store, Folly’s Finds, who is raising her sister Lulu, a bottle tree artist. The second, present-day story line revolves around Emmy Hamilton, a young widow, who has secluded herself in her grief working in her mother’s book store in Indiana. Emmy’s mother, with her own childhood ties and fond memories of Folly Beach, pushes her to start living again~ “Life should be a question, Emmy and you’re way to young to think you’ve already found all the answers.”
Through a box of old books her mother acquires, Emmy, with a master’s degree in library science, is drawn into the life of Maggie. . . by her of “joy of dissecting the past through the study of fading words and brittle paper”. With her mother’s encouragement, she finds herself on the small barrier island off the coast of South Carolina to start a new life. As she follows the messages she discovers left in various volumes of Maggie’s books, she slowly begins to become interested in her own future, by becoming totally immersed in the mysteries of Maggie’s past.
“The tree itself was an artist’s rendition of a tree trunk and multiple branches, upon which each end had been topped with a glass bottle in various rainbow hues. Slaves from the Congo had brought the tradition of the bottle trees to the American South, their intent to catch evil spirits inside the bottles before they could make it into their homes.”
“Still, the tree had become a point of point of refuge for her—a tie to a place she knew only in old photographs of her mother as a young girl, a place with an entirely different color palette from the flat Indiana farmlands of her home. Emmy had never seen the ocean, but as a child she’d liked to pretend that it was the sound of the ocean that lay trapped within the bottles. And if Emmy ever found the courage to life a bottle from its branch, she’d finally learn what it was that made her mother miss a place so much.”
“She closed her eyes again, listening for the footsteps but heard instead the soft sighing of a summer wind whispering inside the glass of her mother’s bottle tree.”
“The bottle tree stood as tall as Emmy, its metal trunk as thick as her arm. Delicate branches reached out toward the sky in no apparent pattern, their randomness adding to its beauty. Bottles in rainbow hues sat perched on each limb, affixed permanently on their branches, allowing the wind to visit without disruption.”
“Crossing over the Ashley River Bridge, with the pastel Charleston skyline punctuated by church steeples behind her…”
“…the docked shrimp boats announcing the proximity to the Atlantic Ocean.”
Emmy feels as if destiny pulled her to Folly Beach:
“She was too far to hear it, but she could see the ripples of waves outlined by the sun and shadow, see the line at the edge of the world where the ocean met the sky. She felt a tug somewhere near her heart, as if this strange new place meant something to her, as if the pull of the ocean was one more thing she’d been born with and she’d always known this place. It didn’t matter that she’d never seen an ocean before; she already knew what it meant to be able to see the ocean from our front door.”
“She’d seen oceans in the movies, and in her mother’s photographs, but now, standing in front of the great Atlantic, she felt the pulsing of the waves, felt the power and breadth of the water as it bled out into the horizon, endless and liquid like the earth’s lifeblood. It made her feel alive, unlike anything she’d shed felt under the broad, flat skies of home. As she stared out at the dark blue vastness, her veins seemed to pump with the ancient rhythm of the waves, giving her kinship to every person who’d ever lived by the water, yet at the same time making her feel very, very insignificant.”
“She watched as the sky over the marsh illuminated the walls of her room, infusing everything with a peach glow like the inside of a shell.”
“There’re always surprises to find here in the sand. When I was a boy, my mother told me that what you found on the beach was just reminders that we’re not alone in the world. That you’ll always find what you need if you look hard enough.”
“The tides and time had long since separated Morris Island from Folly, leaving behind a small creek that ran between the two islands at low tide. But when the tide rose, the encroaching water erased the land around the light like a vengeful finger, drawing in the sand until all that was left was a small spit of land only slightly larger than the lighthouse.”
“The lighthouse stood sentry in the distance, abandoned on its spit of land, caressed at each high tide by the same ocean that threatened its existence.”
Emmy is introduced to ospreys~ nesting on a platform:
“Starting in August they begin migrating south, some to Florida, some all the way to Cuba or South America. But they’ll be back in March to lay their eggs. They’ll come back to this same nest—the same couple, too. They mate for life. Although when they migrate they might go to completely separate continent, they’ll always return to the home they share together.”
“Emmy thought of the large birds leaving their nest and each other, secure in the knowledge that they’d see each other again in the nest they shared.”
“As a child, she’d spent hours on the beach, watching the crabs and the oddly elegant black skimmers with their red-and-black beaks as she and her mother searched for sea glass, turtle eggs and other watery treasures given up by the sea. Her memories of her mother were strong here, the in and out of the tide like her mother’s breath.”
“May through August, the large loggerhead turtles lumbered from the ocean and laid their eggs on the shore before disappearing into the sea.”
We were lucky to see these tracks on our early morning walks during our week at Harbor Island. Folly Beach has a turtle watch program & site where you can see loggerhead turtle nest details with counts of hatchlings :-)
“Ahead in the near distance, she spotted the telltale dips and sways in the sand and followed them up to the deeper sand of the beach. Kneeling, she placed the basket next to her and began to gently brush the sand away with her hands until she came to the round pearly-white eggs piled on top of one another by their mother and waiting for the call of the moon and the pull of the tides.”
“A group of skimmers hovered over the water swerving and dipping, calling out to one another like morning greetings over a back fence.”
“She existed in a black-and-white world, as if she’d suddenly been struck with color blindness. Even noises seemed muted, tastes dulled. She imagined that life underwater must be like this, looking up toward the filmy surface from a liquid cocoon, and seeing the rest of a world that she was no longer a part of.”
I chose a passage where Maggie packs a picnic with Fried Chicken, Cornbread & Blackberry Iced Tea for Food for Thought. . .
“Her grief was a silent thing—an invisible virus that gnawed at her from the inside but somehow managed to leave the rest of her unscathed. Her reflection was a surprise each time she saw it, expecting to see something withered and gray, or a black hole where her face had once been. Grief became to her like breathing; she couldn’t rise or go to sleep without the pressing feel of it against her heart, the weight of it like a suitcase she didn’t know how to unpack.”
“Emmy found fleeting relief in the stacks of books in her mother’s store. The silent words on the written page comforted her just as they had when she was a child, and she welcomed the forced solitude of sorting and shelving books.”
“The unfamiliar sounds of the marsh sang to her like a lullaby in a foreign language, the tune recognizable but the words untranslated.”
“Heading down the beach again, she walked near the surf, searching for sea glass. Her mother had called the bits of old glass washed in by the tides the ocean’s jewelry—a treasure hidden in the sand and waiting to be found.”
Blackberry Iced Tea, recipe courtesy Southern Living, here.
“Emmy thought of the migrating ospreys and the sleeping marsh and the way the colors of the cord grass had begun to change from green to yellow as its seeds clustered, then blew at the whim of the wind, and she realized she hadn’t missed the flame orange and russets of the trees she remembered from childhood.”
“Carefully, she replaced the bottle, then stood for a long time in the wet, sandy grass under the starry sky. The scent of the marsh at night comforted her like a shawl as she wrapped her ghosts around her, not yet ready to tell them goodbye.”
“She shivered again as the breeze blew through the open French doors, bringing with it the pungent smell of the marsh and a whisper of music through the bottles in the bottle tree. They sang a song of unknown origin—a tune that tripped Emmy’s memory and made her want to dance and cry at the same time. Emmy moved to the French doors and closed them, shutting out the marsh, the music, and the odd sensation that the world was conspiring to teach her steps to a dance she didn’t want to dance.”
“Migrating geese called from the azure sky, making their annual trek from the north in an age-old ritual of following an unknown sense of home. The wind rustled the tall grass, making each reed whisper so the whole marsh erupted with conversation. Emmy thought of all the time that had passed since Ben’s death, now knowing it as her waiting time, and she gave a silent thank-you to Lulu and Maggie for teaching her how to know when it had been long enough.”
I especially enjoyed the Bottle Tree aspect of this book~ I had family members helping me hunt for them while we were on vacation & reading this book made me want one of my own :-) To see some truly amazing bottle tree creations, you can visit Southern Gardening expert and author, Felder Rushing’s photo collection here.