Intruders in the Dust


Unbidden, unwished-for, they appear: blossoms and tendrils alike awash in sunlight and rain — growing, grasping, greedily seeking to establish themselves in territory reserved for another.
Intruder, thy name is Weed.

As the eldest son of Swedish immigrant parents who met and married in this country, my father surely didn’t teach me the verse. It’s even less likely that my grandparents introduced me to it.  Perhaps I heard the bit of faux-history-in-a-ditty on a playground, or from one of the Norwegians in town who wasn’t averse to a bit of ethnic humor.

But, in truth? I probably learned it from my mother. She never criticized my grandmother — her mother-in-law — openly. Still, a certain tension flared between them occasionally, obvious enough in retrospect to make me believe that a slightly peeved daughter-in-law just might have introduced her own daughter to this bit of oblique commentary on Swedish national character.
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The Sentinel

Down at the cut, beyond the banks of the sullen, dark-flowing river and its silent, receptive bay, silt-heavy waters tumble and settle into the ocean’s spilling froth.

Anchored by chains of sea-grass, dunes drag and shift in the wind, while along a sepentine ribbon of hard, reflective sand, treasures abound.  Portuguese Men of War, sargassum weed and a sea bean or two lie covered in spume.  Shells and echoes of shells move in tandem with the waves –  angel wing, bay scallop, lightening whelk and coquina – often worn, more often broken after crossing the bars which parallel the coast.

When the tide recedes and sandbars lie exposed, less common treasures invite a second look – sand dollars, an embossed candle, sea-glass in shades of pistachio and almond.  One day I noticed a bit of amethyst flashing in the sunlight – a tiny dot of brilliant, intense color. Assuming a shard of plastic or a broken fishing lure, I bent, and saw the truth. It was a shell – a tiny, perfect snail. (more…)

Follow the Muddy Dirt Road

Question: What do you get when you combine Italian immigrants, a bag of Louisiana acorns, some determined folk in a historically-minded Texas town and a California native who (along with his crew) moves trees with all the pride and competence you’d expect from an ex-Marine?

Answer: A feel-good story of the first order. Read on…

League City, Texas is growing. In the year 2000, the U.S. Census found 45,874 residents in the just-slightly-sleepy little town I call home, By 2010, I’d added myself and my mother to the new total of 83,560, and plenty of others have done so since.  Homes, schools and churches are popping up everywhere. New business is coming in, traffic is becoming an issue and we’ve earned the distinction of having the third-worst intersection in the Houston-Galveston area.

Road construction is a fact of life, particularly since so many streets no longer are traveled only by the people who live along them. Plans were well underway to convert such a street, Louisiana Avenue,  from an open ditch, rural roadway to a concrete-curbed storm sewer thoroughfare when some observant citizens realized a tiny obstacle stood in the way of all that progress – an uncommon and historically significant tree, the Ghirardi Compton Oak. (more…)

Transocean, Titanic and the Law

As a child, I rarely spent time on the water, but I knew a thing or two about boats.

In my child’s mind, boats were child-sized. Imaginary boats made of paper or leaves skimmed rain-filled gutters in the streets. Plastic boats fitted nicely into bathtubs or backyard wading pools. Even real boats were small. Fabricated from metal or wood, they crossed our rivers and lakes in tiny, buzzing swarms. You could fish from a boat, or go water skiing. Sometimes, you just filled it with people and drove it around, for all the world like taking a Sunday outing in the car.

On the other hand, ships were big. Ships lived on the ocean. They carried things, or fought wars. My great-aunt Fannie adopted Louisiana as her home, hung tire swings from her moss-draped oaks, rocked on her gallery until she became bored and then traveled to Europe on ships. So did great-aunt Sigrid, a mysterious woman whose accounts of her travels were equally mysterious; she wrote her postcards in Swedish. (more…)

A Little Nash Ramble

The guy running the front loader couldn’t have been nicer. “Look at this,” he said to his wife as she wandered up, shovel in hand, trying to shush the dogs. “She’s got the same danged map as that other guy.” Handing the map to the woman, he gave me a look generally reserved for well-intentioned but slightly dim folk. “Around here, we don’t call it a prairie. We call it a hay field.” 

“Well,” I said, “whatever you call it, I can’t find it. That map says it’s supposed to be twenty-six miles north of Highway 35. When I got to County Road 18 I knew I’d gone too far, but I sure hadn’t gone twenty-six miles. I decided I’d better stop and ask somebody who’d know.”

That made him smile. It made his wife smile, too. We stood around for a bit, grinning at one another while the dogs snuffled around my ankles and bumblebees trundled through the rising heat. Finally, he pushed back his hat and said, “Tell you what. Go on back down the road a piece, past the old Gibson place. Pass by the goat on the right and keep a-goin’. If you get to the substation, you’ve gone too far.”

Deciphering directions in Texas can take some skill, but there was no questioning the importance of “goat” and “substation” if I wanted to find the prairie. “Down the road a piece” and “over yonder” never translate into miles. If I’d asked enough times about the old Gibson place, I might have discovered it’s the Kutchka place now, or that the columns out front that made it recognizable aren’t there any longer since the Gibsons tore them out when they bought it. But, I might not have discovered any of that, so “goat” and “substation” it would have to be. (more…)

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