Camping Out By the River Called Time

As the heat rises and summer torpor overtakes the land, a small fleet of Sunfish, Optis, and Lasers splashes its way into Galveston Bay. Sailing camps are in session, and even the smallest skippers are eager to begin tacking their way toward competence.

From my vantage point on the dock, I watch and smile. Older campers look and act like any other group of teens. Studies in calculated cool, their swagger might seem a little too self-aware, but there’s no mistaking the meaning of the jostling and sideways glances that mark their passage through the week. They’re as interested in the social seas surrounding them as they are in the waters of the Bay, and they’re learning to navigate both. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

A Restless Goose Chase


In Starting Over, Simply, I spoke of my evacuation for Hurricane Ike and my increasing eagerness to end that evacuation, returning home to confront the realities of a post-hurricane world. As I said,

I’m even more anxious now to be home. As power is restored, communications become more reliable and people begin to make contact, the desire to SEE what has happened is almost overwhelming. Today I’ve talked with people in San Antonio, Phoenix, Dallas, Little Rock and Tulsa – all waiting to come back, preparing to come back, longing to come back…. to our home. With Mom safely tucked into the heart of the family, it’s time to turn around and head back, to find out what needs doing, and do it.”

Now, it’s time to begin the story of that coming home, and my first experience of “what needs doing”….

Wednesday, September 17

Even by Kansas and Missouri standards, it was nippy this morning. Still, I couldn’t help myself. With my first cup of coffee in hand and a liquid moon shimmering in the haze of first light, I kicked off my shoes and dug my toes down into the bluegrass that hadn’t been mowed in days. There’s nothing like it in Texas – long, luxurious grass with a fragrance that doesn’t even need cutting to fill the air. Bermuda and St. Augustine are fine grasses, but they’ll never compare to a silky midwestern lawn. Standing there, I suddenly heard a sound I hadn’t heard for a year or more – the cry of a goose. Looking around, I saw it immediately. Coming straight out of the north, it was quite solitary and honking with the enthusiasm of an out-of-control trucker. Flying low and straight over the rooftops, it headed due south, never varying its speed or direction. As far as I know, it’s still going, and probably will beat me to Houston.

I’ve always loved geese, and one of my favorite childhood songs was Frankie Laine’s Cry of the Wild Goose. It came to mind this morning, as did Gordon Lightfoot’s Restless, another paean to the wandering spirit so often portrayed by images of geese. Watching the goose this morning and hearing the music in my mind, I realized I was restless in a new and utterly unexpected way. It’s the restlessness of youth, of anticipation, of eagerness for a future that’s yet to be revealed. One of the basic choices rebuilders face is whether to attempt to re-create what was, or create something fresh and unexpected from the debris left scattered about.

In the most basic sense, the question is whether those pieces of debris belong to a jigsaw puzzle or a kaleidescope. Is the task to make everything fit together seamlessly, despite damage to the pieces? Or, might it be to twist and turn the lense, letting the pieces fall into a new and more beautiful pattern as they will? It’s a question I’ll be pondering tomorrow on those final miles home.

Thursday, September 18

When I left Tyler this morning, I had no idea what to expect of the day. After stopping in Nacogdoches for the little pile of “things” I’d left there, I headed off into an amazing tangle of wires, downed trees and scattered limbs that stretched alongside the road for miles and miles. It wasn’t constant, but it was clear that Ike’s winds had barely calmed as he worked his way through East Texas. The power crews and tree trimmers were doing their work, though, and here and there a stoplight worked, or people were pumping gas.

As bad as the wind damage was, the surge was worse. Coming across the Hartman Bridge from Baytown, I couldn’t see the location of a marina I’d always enjoyed, but I knew that it was gone. Closer to the bay, the debris still left beside the road was unbelievable.Before I reached my home, I made a swing through one of the closest marinas and was completely dumbstruck. In one pile of debris, the wheel of a Lexus pulled from the water was nearly covered by planks and sheared pieces of boat hull. Two huge fuel tanks floated in the water, and the metal gangways to the docks had been pulled off, twisted like gum wrappers and thrown up onto the grass. One boat had been dismasted, and then was pierced by its own mast. The stench of diesel, rotting garbage, sewage and decomposing plant life was overwhelming.

And then I came home. I’ve never won a lottery in my life – until today. The building was standing, and without damage. The electricity was on, and the water running. The palm leaves, occasional shingle and flotsam from the water rise had been cleaned up. Even the bottom apartments didn’t receive any water damage. Neither Mom’s apartment nor mine was damaged in the least – not even by wind-driven rain. The stray kitty I grieved over so came running to meet me, and my neighbors had kept her food and water bowls full. The plumeria and cape honeysuckle I’d finally just shoved into a corner of the breezeway and abandoned were perfectly fine, and every plant on my balcony looked precisely as it did when I left, if just a bit thirsty.

It’s the most unexpected and utterly unbelievable thing I’ve ever seen, and I am grateful beyond words. There will be work to do, for sure. The power has been off, and the refrigerators will have to be emptied, cleaned and restocked, and there is some work to be done with the plants, but after a good houseclean and unpacking, life at home will be just as it was – even better, with that good housecleaning finally done!

Work will be something else. There is unbelievable damage. I’ll be meeting tomorrow with several of my customers and surveying some of the marinas. Boatyards here will have limited capacity for repair work, at least for the time being, and I may be traveling for a while. In another week, I’ll know which customers I have left, and a schedule can be developed. It’s not going to be easy, but at least the first steps can be taken as early as tomorrow, and I’m eager to get on with it.

It’s time now for some supper, a hot shower, and another call to Mom. We’re working out some plans for her return, as well, but that will be a bit later, once I’ve done the out-of-town work that I’ll need to be doing.

I am blessed beyond belief, and after getting settled can begin to find ways to put all these blessings at the disposal of others who weren’t so lucky. I simply don’t have any better words than “astonished” and “grateful” to describe my feelings. It’s going to be an interesting few days!

To be continued…



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