Two years ago, the Ragsdale family lost their home during a flood in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. This is the fourth chapter in a five-part series of VIE Magazine articles about their rebuilding process. The Ragsdale’s new home will be featured in VIE Magazine’s “Architecture and Design” issue (July / August 2016) and in a series of features on 30A.com. New to the story? Click here to get started with Chapter 1.
BY MIKE RAGSDALE
I once took a personality test in which I was asked to describe myself in a single word — not the word that I aspired to be, but rather the one word that most accurately and honestly captures my very nature. The word presented itself almost without effort. And while it took me by surprise, I also knew the word contained inescapable truths about me, both good and bad. The word was “restless.”
Restlessness inspires wonderful things like travel, exploration, entrepreneurship and creativity. But left unchecked, it can also foster discontentment, regret, anxiety and exhaustion.
Like so many others, I’ve been spiritually drawn to the beach as far back as I can remember. In high school, if I had been asked to describe my perfect future, I would have said something along these lines:
“I’d like to live at the beach. Nothing fancy. Just an old house by the water, with a hammock and palm trees. A place where I can spend my days lounging in the sunshine with my friends.”
I don’t remember aspiring to accumulate riches or an executive office or a McMansion or fancy sports cars. Friends. Sunshine. Water. Those were the things I craved in my young adult life. And yet, I somehow lost touch with those simple aspirations along the way. Even though I instinctively knew my happiness was directly influenced by a proximity to water, it took me years to listen to that nagging voice and navigate my way to the coast. Eventually, subtle and not-so-subtle life choices made that vision a reality. But why did it take me nearly two decades to act on something that’s clearly integral to my happiness?
Truth be told, we moved to the beach to escape. While Angela and I have enjoyed a few business successes, we’ve endured ten times as many failures. Occasionally someone will say to me, “Man, everything you touch turns to gold!” I certainly understand why it might appear that way. I’m a PR guy after all. By nature, I speak often of my successes, and rarely about my embarrassing failures. Those failures are real and many, but as painful as some of them were, they proved to be essential stepping stones for our family’s southern migration.
When we first arrived in South Walton, my brain was almost totally fried. I didn’t have a job. We didn’t know a soul. Prior to the move, my world had been governed by an endless avalanche of email and a Blackberry that rattled mercilessly across my nightstand at all hours of the night.
After shuttering two failed businesses in rapid-fire succession, I no longer had any employees to orchestrate, no conference calls to dial into, nor any emails that I cared to read. Moving to the beach was akin to punching the eject button.
I totally unplugged, physically, mentally and emotionally. I canceled my mobile phone plan and stopped checking email. I paced aimlessly around our yard for a couple of months, until finally, my mind decompressed. Only in this newfound state of rest did I unlock a profoundly peaceful existence on the bay — a level of true contentment and happiness that I’d never known before.
Life on the bay is very different than life on the beach. Even though the Gulf’s sugary white sands are just five minutes away, bay life seems even less frenetic and more personal. When a giant red sun silently pierces the morning sky over Choctawhatchee Bay, I feel like I’m the only person in the universe — that God has whipped up a special explosion of color, just for me. When the dolphins glide past our dock, they roll on their sides to glance my way, clearly just as curious about me as I am about them. At night, the Milky Way admires itself in the calm bay waters, rippled only by the occasional mullet dancing along the shore.
I would sit on the dock in a rusty old lawn chair for hours at a time, gazing across the waves. Sometimes I would fish, just to pretend I was doing something. I never wore shoes and only rarely a shirt. Once I saw my neighbor in a local restaurant, and he exclaimed, “Wow! I almost didn’t recognize you in clothes.” It was awkward.
Perhaps for the first time in my life, I felt like I was precisely where I was meant to be — that the remainder of my days would be played out minus the stresses of cubicles and suits and meetings and contract negotiations and leases and passwords.
The gentle flotsam and jetsam of the bay seemed to temper my restless spirit, giving me a proper sense of pace and priority. I had somehow stumbled into a true state of contentment… one I thought I might just enjoy forever.
It’s been two long years since the flood that forced us to leave our life on the bay behind, and I find myself restless again. Every morning, I drink my coffee staring at a laptop instead of a sunrise. I spend more time on conference calls than I do in conversations with friends. I wear shirts. The rust from my old lawn chair has seeped into the crevices of my mind. Our sudden and prolonged withdrawal from the water’s edge has weathered on my personality and my priorities. I worry if I’ll be able to find that same peace again when we return. Will the dolphins even recognize this person I’ve become?
Soon, I promise myself. We’ll be home soon.
The sights and sounds of a sunrise on the bay:
Watch for the final chapter of the story in the July / August 2016 issue of VIE Magazine. For more information about the project, visit 30A.com/modern. Sincere thanks to our partners:
Rolen Studio – Modern Residential
Cassidy Lyons Pickens (Lovelace Interiors)
Joey LaSalle (Lovelace Interiors)
Fusion Art Glass
Flooring / Tile:
Not Too Shabby Boutique
Master Bathroom Custom Cabinetry:
Classic Design Stone / Caesarstone / MSI
AVX – Audio Video Excellence
Glass / Mirrors:
Seaview Glass and Mirror
Terra Firma Landscapes
Green Earth Landscape Services
Cox Pools Sales and Service
Pool and Patio Furniture:
La Place USA Furniture Outlet
3D Home Tour:
Finnleo Sauna and Steam
Kitchen Work Station:
Interior and Exterior Paint:
1300 County Highway 283 South
Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459
Painter / Contractor:
Kitchen Appliances: Builder Specialties (BSI), Destin (850-650-9092)
Home Security: Planet Secure (850-278-6226)
Custom Window Treatments: Concept Blinds and Design (850-797-6819)
Custom Closet Design: Alpha Closets and Murphy Beds (850-516-8827)
Doors and Windows: Southern Windows and Doors (850-546-1773)
Pool Paver Installation: Flamingo Hardscapes (850-974-0819)
Insulation: Mid-America Insulation and Supply (850-312-8400)
Electrical: Xcell Electric Inc. (850-865-3254)
Plumbing / Gas: SSE Plumbing and Gas Contractors (850-441-3458)
Gutters: Architectural Gutter Systems (850-226-6207)