Purple Cows on Parade

It was, as they say, a ritual. Sunday meant church, a change of clothes and a relaxed dinner.  Sometimes it meant football and other times a bit of yard work but always, if the weather allowed, it meant a drive in the country.

Even without a visit to nearby grandparents, there were excuses to be out and about. There was growing corn that needed checking, bittersweet to be cut from the ditches, fresh gravel to be tested. In spring, we looked for the first robin. In autumn, the last leaves swirled and scudded like vast, colorful clouds while we counted the bundles of snow fence waiting along the shoulders of the road. “They’ve got more fence out than usual,” my dad would say. “Must be expecting a hard winter.”

On the rare afternoons when corn, cattails or bittersweet failed to entertain, we’d read the Burma Shave signs or “collect” out-of-state license plates. There went “Minnesota”, a common enough sight. Here came “Illinois”, a reminder of far-away relatives.  “But look!” I squealed from the back seat. “Montana!”  We might as well have discovered a Bedouin galumphing through Iowa on his camel. (more…)

Feeling Crabby?

Stitching its way through the fabric of my world, Clear Creek draws together water and sky, grasses and trees into patterns of exquisite beauty. Traversing coastal Texas on an oft-hidden journey toward Clear Lake, its tangled flow provides a miles-long haven for wildlife and birds. Emerging from the lake, it tautens and slows, rising and falling in rhythm with inland-creeping tides until it eases into the open waters of the bay, diluting the ocean’s salty tang with the freshness of earthborn water.

Dredged into a channel at the entrance to Galveston Bay, the creek sometimes seems little more than a prop, a backdrop for tourist snapshots and Chamber of Commerce brochures. Nearly hidden behind a facade of interchangeable restaurants and bars, it no longer tastes of life on the water but feeds a growing appetite for profit. Weekend boat traffic is heavy. The boaters themselves tend to become loud and boisterous, demanding attention as they cruise past envious, land-locked crowds.  Tossing popcorn and bread to equally raucous gulls, weekend visitors miss the silent tern, the motionless heron, the patient grebe, watching and waiting for them all to be gone. (more…)

Published in: on September 1, 2012 at 12:26 am  Comments (83)  
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The Pleasures of Pelecanus Poeticus

Whether Eleanor Johnson had the pleasure of meeting a pelican during the course of her lifetime, I can’t say. What I know is that, had a pelican plummeted into our 5th grade classroom and perched atop her desk, the first words out of Miss Johnson’s mouth would have been, “Children! Quick! Get out your pencils! Let’s write a poem about our unexpected visitor!”

One of my favorite teachers, Miss Johnson guided us capably enough through lessons in arithmetic and social studies, but her first love was poetry. Obsessed with verse, she clearly hoped to inculcate that same obsession in her little charges.  She would have poured poetry into our heads with a funnel if she’d been able, but lacking direct physical  access to our distracted childhood brains, she did the next best thing – nagging, cajoling, insisting and assigning until we nearly collapsed under the weight of her enthusiasm.

We read biographies of poets, memorized stanzas and recited sonnets in front of the class until until we thought we were going to throw up from the anxiety of it all. When we were assigned our first written theme, an unhappy exercise meant to answer the question What is poetry? groans of disapproval and resistance echoed down the halls. I remember sighing as I examined the new burden she’d imposed.  The essay was to be no less than two hundred words!  My distress was eased only slightly by knowing I already had one answer to Miss Johnson’s question, an answer I suspected she might approve.  Poetry, to my way of thinking, was fun. (more…)

Published in: on August 10, 2012 at 11:37 am  Comments (101)  
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Come Fly With Me!

It was Saturday. A friend and I had planned to go into Houston for a concert, but we hadn’t planned on such a change in the weather. It was beautiful, warm and sunny, and we had a choice to make. We could spend the day tending to chores and then drive into Houston, spend a few hours sitting inside a community center and drive back home in the midst of Saturday night traffic. On the other hand, we could find something to do in the sunshine and fresh breezes of the afternoon.

It was an easy choice. Just after lunch we set out, with no destination in mind and no real idea of what we wanted to do.

Halfway to Galveston, I asked, “Have you been to the Texas City Dike?” My friend hadn’t. Neither had I. I’d passed it innumerable times while sailing to and from Galveston and listened to plenty of fishermen extol its virtues, but it doesn’t make the news much, except for occasional summertime drownings, and I’d never found reason to go.

Suddenly it seemed unforgiveable we’d never been there, or to Boyd’s One Stop, by reputation home to the liveliest bait and freshest table shrimp in six counties. So, we turned toward the water, stopped by Boyd’s for a little refreshment and headed out to the dike. (more…)

Published in: on February 18, 2011 at 9:17 pm  Comments (15)  
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The Beauty of Substitute Stars

 

I’d been sailing aboard Isla for weeks. She was my first boat, her captain my first sailing instructor. They were a good pair who fit together as naturally as port and starboard.  Both were sturdy, dependable, unpretentious and made for cruising.

We didn’t just sit around,Tom, Isla and I. We cruised from the beginning, undocking and docking at Tom’s equally unpretentious home on Galveston’s Teichman Road. He was an old-fashioned sort who believed boats were meant to go places, and that anyone setting foot on a boat needed to know everything there was to know about getting a vessel from Point A to Point B without running aground, sinking, losing crew or disrespecting the sea and other sailors.   Being able to communicate with Cajun Captains in the ICW and knowing how to tear down an engine were as important to him as being able to program a GPS although, in those days, there were no GPS sets to program. In fact, there were far fewer electronic gadgets of any sort on most pleasure craft and none at all on Isla, unless you counted the VHF radio. (more…)

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