Thursday, December 29, 2005

Big Yellow Taxi

That’s right, why not pave over then entire beach like a parking lot and put up a boardwalk like Atlantic City and get rid of all those pesky dunes. Apparently, that’s what the Town of South Padre thinks, even though it professes to want a “continuous dune line” so as to help reduce impacts from giant Gulf waves that periodically batter our coast - and we haven't even had a true hurricane here yet.

Perhaps the powers that be are so timid around the developers and builders because they pump so much money into the economy and hire so many Mexican illegals, which is considered good on both points. [Note to self – we need a huge immigration wall there somewhere too, but not blocking our view or hurting our business.]

I’ll grant you that the Texas Dune Protection Act was written so poorly as to have absolutely no meaning, but the intent was to help protect the natural barrier in between us and the sea. That doesn’t mean the Town has to do the same oblivious thing – although it certainly seems to be that way. Let ‘er rip, Mr. Developer. Ka-ching!

But what the hay! Knock down all the dunes and put in a flimsy boardwalk and stuff in all the new condos and richy-rich-boy houses you can. All those nice structures will make nice storm stoppers for us mid-Island folks. I can’t wait until we have some of the richy-boys sitting out in the Gulf at high tide like Surfside, Texas. That’ll make dog walking so much more amusing.

That’s right, knock down all the dunes, keep raking the beach at least once or twice a day, and every two years pump a whole bunch of shit bottoms from the Brazos Channel to spew on the beach. Sounds like being a perfectly fine environmental steward to me in this political climate.

Yeah right.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Winter Birds on South Padre

Fig. 1. Mottled Bucyrus Erie Crane. It's a 1960 Model 25-B.

We’ve seen a few in the past, but the recent flock of cranes on the Island is quite impressive. Being so large, they have difficulty hiding in the brush. You may have seen large birds like the Roseate Spoonbill or the Great Heron or some real cranes like the Whooping Crane or the Sandhill Crane (real rare here), but the strange thing is that all bird lovers hate this kind of crane – in this case the Mottled Bucyrus Erie.

And they seem to be multiplying and Lord love a duck, evolving into towering sky cranes! Here's a couple caught 'in delictico.'

Fig. 2. Two Cranes Mating. Aren't they cute?

What kind of biological niche do these despised cranes inhabit? Well, they are mainly used for installing pylons in the dirt for hurricane protection for coastal homes. These pylons are blasted 12 to 20 feet in the dirt and then connected to the concrete slab so the hurricanes don’t blow the houses and structures out by the roots. “Hey honey, the house got nailed bad but heck, we still got those pylons in the ground and a good slab, yeehaw!”

See, the pylons are pretty useless unless they extend to the second story or higher. Our house was built with telephone poles in 1970 using the old style where the bottom level was a garage and the upper level was living area. In effect, the bottom was a “blow out zone” in the flood zone so why try to tame Mama Nature? So the telephone poles are tied down to the sill plate on the second floor. The new houses though, are not – and why I cannot figure. Their pylons stop at ground zero.

Fig. 3. Red Cockaded Link Belt Crane. Nice rack on this baby!

But I digress. And don’t get me wrong, I’m all for people making money and building a nice house and doing construction. It is just that our new flock of South Padre Cranes is a little overwhelming.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Fixin' New Orleans

The Mayor of New Orleans is asking and pleading with people to return back to their homes. A few did and a few didn’t like it and most stayed away. The people who work there, many living on real nice fat FEMA wages, all seem to admit that New Orleans is a hopelessly lost cause. It is not just some kind of traumatic social psychology from a hurricane, but also the fact the city is sinking and the water seems to be rising more and more, and will end up worse than parts of Venice, Italy. If you haven’t heard, many of Venice’s most beautiful buildings are starting to slip into the sea, the second stories doing under.

There are two parts to New Orleans worth saving. First the port, where the big ships and barges tie up: we need one heck of an improved highway truck and rail system, hopefully elevated. Not too many people know that the Port of New Orleans is the Number One marine port as to tonnage in the entire US. Our economy depends on that.

Second, I want the old part of town like the French Quarter, take your pick of the exact historical area, and jack that sucker up like 22 feet in the air just like how Paul Getty jacked up Galveston after the Great Hurricane of 1900. So raise that up like an island! Disney and the casino boys would love it but in my book they don’t get it. And for the rest, decontaminate it and level it and open back up the mighty Mississippi and Ponchatrain. Stop playing with the little levies, ineffectual pumps, and drainage gullies.

Let’s face it, folks, none of the plans we have on the table are worth a darn, like fixing levees and bringing in some insipid “New Urbanism” housing. Many of us taxpaying Americans are getting tired of the strange sense of denial and corruption emanating out of New Orleans. A great commercial port and a nice little historical district would suit us just fine.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Dune Project Update

Gosh, the power of the Blog! I never thought people would fear little ole Sammy here but I guess some people do stop by every now and then ... and I hear back about it from the town aldermen and all kinds of "big people" like that. "Oh that's Sam, the blogger man." So, I was asked if I'd update things to say the town WILL have a dune-Christmas tree project this year; it will be a pilot project so we don't need ten thousand trees. I'm happy about that! Way to go, folks!

I mean I've been called a lot of things in my lifetime ... for years I thought my name was Dammit Sam. In my electric guitar/band days I was known as "Texas-T." Now I'm an air quality consultant working for the EPA and various marine ports. But "Sam the Blogger?" That sounds like I have boogers or something, although they don't say it that way.

I must admit that although Blogging has it's scary moments it has been fun, starting with painting the old house (realtor puke beige) and moving to South Padre Island. And I intend to plow ahead ... sometimes in writing and sometimes with ... used Christmas Trees. Gosh can you believe it - sometimes things work out.
See you on the beach,

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


Well we did our research and decided that using some used Christmas trees would be a great way to rebuild some dunes along the town beach, many of which had been damaged by developers or hurricanes such as Katrina and Rita. Some of the condo owners don’t like the idea but after losing tens of thousands of dollars from flooding, many are coming around. Why spend thousands on tractors and dredges and such when you can recycle free trees and let the wind do the job for free?

Anyway, that was the concept, with some volunteers and some donated stuff and doing some pilot projects to show that the concept really worked as well as it did in Corpus Christi, Surfside, and placed all up on down all the coast of the United States. We even learned you had to stake the trees down so they wouldn’t wash or blow away.

But everything is so complicated these days. We had hoped we could find a few property owners, get with the town poo-bahs, and point fingers in a general direction and go. Oh no, not so easy. You need several kinds of blessings, permits, authorizations and resolutions, not to mention coordinating with the state and federal gringos. Naturally, the question comes up “Why not get one of our grants?”

Now, we had wanted to do this in mid-January or at the latest the end of January. Have you ever seen any bureaucracy, never mind ten of them, get anything done in one month? Over the Holiday Season? A grant takes six to 18 months. One official even said something like “Hey don’t start collecting the trees yet, Sam, we need to work all this out.”

Now this here fellow is really nice, but hey man, if you’re going to pay upwards of 30 bucks for a tree and maybe double or triple that much for a big one, you’re not going to throw it out on the beach before Christmas. Sometimes I just wish the government would stop trying to help us so darned hard!

Friday, December 02, 2005

The Electric Palm Tree

I remember
The sound of snow falling on the water
With big fat flakes
Hitting the water

Standing by the lobster dock
Staring out to the southeast
On the slippery wooden planks
With absolutely no wind

The sound of only the snow hitting the water
Hit my senses
A soft and cruel caress
In languages unknown

Then I snapped to attention
And looked at what I saw
And what I had heard
And smiled

Saturday, November 26, 2005


Down here the locals have a name for the huge condominium projects going up – the “hurricane prevention barrier.” Yes, it’s not your South Padre Island of the old days, with a few really ugly high-rises near the causeway. The ugliest has to be Bridgepoint, or some ghastly name like that, which was designed by a Texas architect to resemble a cowboy boot. Sorry, that’s what it is (maybe with a little help from the joy-juice or hippie herb) and its only benefit is that you can see it over ten miles out to sea, as a right handy nautical landmark.

But wait, more are coming! Hopefully not more boots, but condos of all kinds. Knock down a few old fishing camps from the 1950’s and call it progress. Heck, with commercial land over a million bucks an acre, that’s about the only way to make a buck. Well that’s not entirely true, as some of these folks bought land from or passed down through the original, Old Man Tompkins himself for maybe a few grand. But the condo-ization trend is rather disturbing to the locals to say the least. Florida-ization, and worse yet there is Californication!

We want a town, not a Condo City.

But first let me define the “we” here. We’re folks who wanted to move to a nice spot of paradise, retired, semi-retired, or even like myself and my wife, working. We own residential property and pay taxes and don‘t see much being done for the good of the community and its 2,000 registered voters. You’d have to agree many parts of the commercial development on the Island looks like crap. On the other hand you have the free market boys and girls who think extracting and exploiting the biggest buck out of South Padre Island’s property is a God-given right. Hey it’s a small town and we all love each other and rarely ever hold grudges - but do you feel the tension now?

So in the previous town election, there was a slight change in regime from the condo freebooters and those who wanted a sense of community. The most vocal group was and is known as SPIRIT. Admittedly, some of these folks live in McMansions of untold prices but their heart is in the right place. Why should we be supporting an economy of transitory visitors who trash the beach and trash the town, without really spending much money here? You want to build a park for these folks on my front yard? Well sign me up, Luther, maybe these SPIRIT people are onto something.

To make a long story short, I’ve asked some of the politicos for a one-year moratorium on all high-rise construction so as to allow time for developing a Comprehensive Plan. It will be interesting to see how things develop when everyone comes back from Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Premature Thankulation

Lot’s of folks start putting up Christmas lights and such the day after Thanksgiving. Isn’t that the “Black Friday” of retail shopping horrors? Me, I’m down with the lights because I’m a fanatic. It takes me an entire month to keep adding more and more, a little at a time, until the circuit breakers decide they’ve had enough. I moved five heavy crates of Christmas lights down here to our new digs on South Padre Island – and almost every one of those strings work.

But singing Christmas carols the day after Thanksgiving? That is almost a sacrilege. You carol on Christmas Eve, silly, not on Thanksgiving. All you need is some horns, clarinets, and some sheet music (the kind used for marching bands) and you blow your hearts out, since if you stop the mouthpiece could freeze to your lips. Oh yes, I’ve done that with my old tuba and sousaphone and people liked that.

And it was fun because you just start walking down the street and play in front of houses and people come out and start singing. We couldn’t sing because we were trying to keep our instruments from freezing up. And in some cases, we’d get quite a crowd. We’d play and people would sing until about midnight and then it was time for what we called a “hot toddy.”

My favorite was “Good King Wenceslas” because it had a nice mellow bass part. If you check up on the Good King, he was quite a character and a supporter of Christianity and the poor, back in the tenth century.

But the day after Thanksgiving? Good grief Charlie Brown, that is completely absurd.

In his master's steps he trod
Where the snow lay dinted
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed
Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing

Sunday, November 20, 2005

The Long and Short of It

Well I made it to November 17th before I needed long pants this year. That’s not too bad, but I sure hate wearing long britches. I suppose I’m still in denial because I can’t wear shoes – so sandals it is. Compared to the summer, folks, pants and shoes really suck.

I remember going to my first public meeting here on the Island and the dress code was a Hawaiian shirt, shorts, and flip-flops. I was terrified, since I was all slicked up like a preppie – heck, I even shaved for a change (I draw the line a men’s foo-foo though). So I came home, happy I could ditch the pants forever.

On the sandals I recall flying up to Connecticut one year, completely forgetting it might be rather cold around Christmas time. Now these folks don’t wear sandals in the winter, and were very concerned about my sanity. They had boots, galoshes, designer L.L. Bean shoes, hunting boots, work boots, and 15-pound mud stompers, but not a sandal in sight. Hey, it didn’t matter to me once you learned the art of how to slide on slush, snow, and ice. My feet were just fine by the way, with no frostbite amputations needed. Nope, I didn’t even notice.

But pants? I mentioned this to my buddy Captain Randy who was also at a meeting wearing long dungarees. He looked down with disgust. “Yeah pants, I hate ‘em. By the weekend I’ll be back in my shorts.” Then two more cool fronts came down with temperatures in the 50’s to 60’s with a 30-knot wind and cold rain and the Captain and I are pretty much fuming by now. I didn’t have the nerve to tell the Captain that when the temperatures get much over 50, the Yankees all put on shorts.


Monday, November 14, 2005


Yes, that’s my daughter Samantha and everyone calls her Sam. That’s her public defender there too! Anyway, she’s had a difficult go of it and most recently her plumbing in her apartment exploded, never a good thing. So, we’re getting Melia the public defender for a while. In fact, the wife went from work to meet her in Beeville, halfway from South Padre to Austin, to meet her, give her a hug, and get the dog. I mean, Samantha found the dog huddled on her bed, shaking with fear because the water kept rising and spraying like crazy. We’re talking a one-inch incoming waterline here. So you can’t bail out the house and replace sheetrock and move around sleeping on other folk’s couches with an American Pit Bull, right?

I know, you’re reaction is that Samantha has a killer dog but let me dispel and notions about Melia, a truly nice dog. Bad dogs are from bad people, and that’s a fact. Plus, my daughter deserves some protection, anyway.

Secondly, Samantha is going to be really pissed about this posting but I wanted to show we love her, are helping out with buckets of money, and sure, we’ll take care of her dog for a while. That’s what good parents do.

And yes, she can move down here if she wants, but that Samantha is hard-headed worse than any Wells I ever saw. She’s going to fix things up in Austin, go to community college, and get everything back together including her beloved Melia. Buckets of love to ya, honey, I admire that.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Sam's Non-Magic Shrooms

So I was walking Sheff the dog and I noticed something was growing under “Pinkie” the plumeria, right in our front yard. They looked ominous and evil. So I went upstairs and used Google to see what on Earth these things might be. Well, there were thousands of hits for magic mushrooms! So my immediate reaction was to run out there and tear them up before a hundred hippies came on over for lunch. Yikes!

After a while I found that these were really the common yellow houseplant mushroom, ‘Leucocoprinus birnbaumii.’ Apparently they thrive in potted plants with super-rich soil and warm humid temperatures. Sorry folks, they’re no good for eating or a good buzz. Fortunately they won’t hurt Pinkie. Cute little devils though, aren’t they?

Saturday, November 05, 2005

The Forlorn Guitar

So Lori went up to see the girls in Austin, leaving me a little mopey and out of it down here on the Island. That’s OK, when those girls get together they all cackle at once, shouting, crying, screaming, quiet, serious, pouting, guffawing (is that a word?), and laughing all at once – surely no man’s territory, and far too complex for us dummies of the duller sex.

And then I found my little honey, my old Spanish guitar, looking so forlorn, just like me. It is the second in a line of Willie Nelson-like guitars, the first being a gift from my mother – now quite old in the wood and almost falling apart. The newer one was brought back from Spain in something like 1974, a Grenada. I’m trying to recall the name of the gal I purchased it from, but she was a friend of Liza from Guildford, Connecticut. Thirty-five dollars is what it cost – similar ones today might be five to ten times as much.

Anyway, please forgive me if I talk about my guitar in personal terms, since my wife Lori doesn’t mind because that’s how she fell in love with me playing guitar, or so she says. I was making up impromptu songs like ‘The Bear Missed the Train’ and “Hippopotamus Blues’ and ‘Somebody’s Alter Ego Has Been Sleepin’ in My Bed,’ and I guess with those final three songs I was a marked man for life. I wish I could remember exactly what I played or sang, but it sure worked at the time.

I don’t have a name for my guitars, like Lucile or something. But I do talk to them, gently bending notes and stroking the strings and damping the buzzing sounds and getting that difficult G-string just right (I know what you’re thinking and it’s not like that!). If you’ve ever played one, the G-string is always going flat or acting up like a teenager. So I talk and whistle softly, like talking to a horse. That’s a good analogy. It’s almost like you have to reassure the thing you’ll be gentle and that you care, with loving strokes on the flanks and behind the ears.

But no, I’m no prodigy either, never had a lesson, and learned by playing “air guitar” to the real pros with lots of experimentation. I could care less about playing a real song. I listen to the guitar and wait for what it wants to say. And we talk, passing the night away, in blissful noises that are incomprehensible to most people, with difficult fourths and strange sevenths and improbable, jazzy elevenths, enjoying ourselves in the maddening silence.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Sand Castles in the Sea

Here’s a picture from our recent Sand Castle Days on South Padre Island. We had a little amateur team that did a lion and mouse along the theme of Aesop’s Fables, which was fun. I basically packed sand and water for the gals, got sunburned and sore, but had a wonderful time. Oh, and thanks to Char from Colorado for the picture of Captain Ahab here, or whoever it is. Thanks to the "Sons of the Beach" for this sand castle, by the way. I've always wanted to be a SOB.

Anyway, after some politics and frustrations, the event went off very well – so well I suggested to folks on Block Island that they should try such an event, too. You could hear that idea hit the floor with a dead thump, but hey, we’re talking sand castles at least 12 feet high here! Amazing international artists. Loads of fun. What’s your deal?

In the space of two weeks the Gulf water temperature had dropped from 86 to 73. There are not many people in the surf and we’re unpacking our boxes from the Austin move, looking for those heavy-duty wetsuits. Where oh where are you guys? But the beach is still fun. Later,

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Chrysalis

The chrysalis symbolizes my feelings right now, like an ugly striped caterpillar about to become a butterfly. Our friend Nancy showed us how to leave the native milkweed plants alone and not mow them, since they attract the caterpillars. On one little plant (no more than 12 inches high) we’ve had a crop of three, of which one attached to a giant yucca plant here in the attached photo. One day it will open up and a Monarch butterfly will emerge and hopefully fly down to Mexico for the winter.

Next year I’m going to farm those milkweed plants! They’re interesting to watch and I feel good about “making more butterflies” but jeez, those caterpillars can sure poop. You can tell if you have a hot milkweed plant because of all the black scat on the bottom leaves. Yup, just like babies. Butterflies, on the other hand, seem to gracefully sip nectar and don’t seem so messy.

If you Google the word “chrysalis” you get lots of Christian websites such as about rebirth but to me it is more like a changing of the guard. The smell of winter is in the north winds. The Island seems to be changing, too, not just with things natural but disturbing changes of growth, construction, and a new breed of day tripper. Personally I’m changing too, since for the first time since moving down here in July, our company has allowed me a million-dollar budget to study air pollution from ships. Not that I’d get very much of the booty, but frankly I’m honored to be the head honcho of something other than my lunch box!

Yes, a caterpillar turns into a chrysalis and then into a butterfly. It is time.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Hog Pen

It’s Bikefest weekend and we have something like 15,000 Harleys on the Island, or so they predict. Even inside you can hear the bathroom sounds they make, not that I mind it all that much – but the dog is confused and looks at me like “Did you just cut the cheese again, Dad?” She smells nothing, and is distraught.

I’d post a picture of them but you know what a biker looks like, right? Most seem nice fellows and gals in the 50’s with lots of bucks to spend. Typical look. The town kind of handed over the keys on this one, allowing them to shut down the main road for a parade and – get this – a crazy dude that wants to do a motorcycle jump over 15 brand-new Hummers. I suppose the bikers bring in some serious revenue in the off-season but man, we sure bent over backwards this time. Poor puppy, stop looking at me like that!

At least the weather cooperated, with no bad red tide and temperatures in the 80’s during the day. Not bad compared to our compatriots in New England, who are bailing their basements from record flooding from a Nor’easter. (Editor’s note: can you imagine 15,000 hogs on Block Island, Rhode Island?) Two hurricanes put the kybosh on previous plans for New Orleans and Houston rallies, Katrina and Rita, so these guys are ready to party. I don’t blame them there.

One thing I noticed was that the bikes don’t backfire like I remember them; most of the Harleys seem to be in perfect factory shape, without short pipes. This is perhaps a sure sign that we’re dealing with an upscale crowd. Plus, the dog doesn’t like fireworks or loud banging noises. They still roar like ... if my dog could talk, she’d tell you.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Alligator Pie

Here’s a picture before my camera went bonkers but now it mysteriously works perfectly; I suppose the hi-tech lithium batteries helped. We were looking for a big alligator right THERE. There just hasn’t been much to shoot lately, and the red tide keeps us mostly inside. It doesn’t help the Gump-O-Meter, if you know what I mean. And woo, people seem grumpy, frumpy, and grouchy these days! Hey I’ve got red tide but I’m happy and I have my wife and my health and my newly-revived camera. I sure wish that alligator would come on out now. A ten-inch red eared slider doesn’t count near as good.

Perhaps people are just getting busy, knuckling down to the old salt mine waltz, and wish the good old days of summer – without all the freeping tourists – would hang on a little longer. Before you know it, it will be Columbus Day, the official end of Island summers. Sneeze and it will be Thanksgiving.

But you know there’s more to it, like our collective psyche was damaged by big hurricanes, high gas prices, and ineffective wars on terroristical whatevers. Then there’s the local politics, where you discover these people are really like eight year-old kids playing too rough during recess time at school – with millions of YOUR dollars. Stocks are down, prices are up, and it seems like the American Dream is going like the guy who wrote “By, by, American pie, drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry.” Come on his name was ….

Well that’s grumpy too so let’s get over it and cheer up. And I’ll be back to get a photo of Allie the alligator, just for you.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Red Tide is a Whimp

So many people are worried about the red tide down here on South Padre I began to wonder what the deal was. Sure, on a bad day the wind can carry some fumes, aerosol really, and you’ll cough a little. It still is a beautiful place and although it is an inconvenience, there are worse evils lurking around.

Consider cedar fever. We ran away from Austin because the mountain cedar released copious amounts of pollen between December and February, sometimes as high as 10,000 grains per cubic meter of air. It causes allergies, secondary lung infections, and migraine headaches. Folks, red tide it a wimp by comparison.

How about red ants? Folks on the Island here say there are fire ants, as we call them, and I say “let me see them” I stir up their mound a little and let some bite me on the inside of my wrist. If it was fire ants, there would be an instantaneous reaction of hives, blisters, and burning pain. It turns out they’re just piss ants and common brown ants. You don’t get hives, blisters, and burning pain from the red tide, folks.

OK, how about sea lice? They’ve got oodles of them over by Florida and the Bahamas in the spring. You go swimming and these little microscopic rascals, like chiggers (another bad boy), head right for the tender skin and burrow like little Chinese miners. About the only thing that helps is an ample supply of rum or vodka, both for the skin and the afflicted person.

Consider jellyfish ... naw, that's too easy because bad jellyfish hurt real bad.

Stacked up against all these bugs and things, and not to mention hurricanes, tornadoes, dust storms in Lubbock and Brownsville, and flooding, red tide is a mere whussy. That’s fighting words down here in Texas, but I guarantee that red tide after Rita is pretty darned tame. Gosh, you go inside the house and all the red tide symptoms vanish. Nothing even hurts. Get a life, folks, and as you know, South Padre ain’t for sissies, anyway.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Rita, Red Tide, and Cloudbusters

Rita, red tide, and cloud-busters – that’s a mouthful! First things first, Hurricane Rita ignored most of Texas and barreled up near Sabine Pass and pretty much hammered the area up through Lake Charles and Vinton, as you know; last it was up near Shreveport where brother Matt lives. Of course, the cell and landline phones are always down when you want all the gory details, and I hope everything is OK.

The red tide has been nothing short of incredible, the worst that the locals can every recall. Previously, I was hoping that the huge waves would send it elsewhere but I guess all the action stirred up the nutrients, oxygenated the water, and viola: instant gas-mask potential! I tried to drink a beer down at our favorite Tiki bar and after coughing, sneezing, eyes watering, and doing the “Gumby” dance, couldn’t handle it any more. Hopefully it will clear out because the post-Rita waves ought to clean up pretty good.

Cloud-busters? Well, those are waves to big you can’t see the clouds, like over 30 feet. Less than that size are mere “horizon-busters.” Apparently we had pro surfers from all over the world, like Spain, South Africa, and so on, but it was too rough except for the more suicidal ones with a crash boat. Tonight ought to be fun, and maybe Sunday will be better for the more sane types like me. By Monday the waves will probably be flat as a mill pond.

What do I want? Well, less red tide and maybe some more offshores. That’s when the wind is out of the north and west – mainly to drive the red tide fumes away. As luck would have it, the wind will be onshore out of the southeast on Sunday. But the heat! There’s not a breath of air and it is almost 100 degrees here. Tonight is our Rita Party but it looks like the porch is out of the question, with all the heat, no wind, and mosquitoes. Man, these mosquitoes have six-guns and spurs they’re so big! Make all that go away and bring on the nice surfing waves … and protect brother Matt in Shreveport … and I will be a very happy person.

By the way, the birds are back! Hundreds of them. Dozens of hummers, yellow-belly sapsuckers, Peregrine falcons, ruby-breasted thrashers, finicky finches, greedy grebes, and don’t forget the noble titmouse. I guess they have the Weather Channel too, and figured out the coast was clear.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Rita Taquachita

This girl Rita is a frightening hurricane already, with the third lowest barometer pressure of any tropical storm near the US. As of 7:00 p.m. the central pressure was 898 millibars and winds were Category 5. Lots of folks have been asking if we’d stay or leave but the action looks worse for the middle and upper Texas Coast, so we’re still in the wait mode.

A Taquachita is a small possum, or should we say opossum. Its name is usually used in conjunction with Rio Grande Valley conjunto music, which is slower than the kind you hear up in San Antonio. The slower rhythm has been compared to the taquachita because it is slower and more fluid than its counterparts elsewhere. So that’s my little prayer for all the folks along the Texas Coastline: Rita taquachita. Slow down.

I'm still trying to fix the digital camera, which decided to go bonkers at exactly the wrong time. But we'll be safe and if we do boogie, we'll be up west of Austin. The Rita party is still on for Saturday, with prickly-pear margaritas and all. The plywood still sets in the garage, hoping it doesn't need to go up again after Hurricane Emily in July. At least it it is numbered and pre-cut and I have all the logistics figured out.

I did notice that the birds, hummers, and butterflies stopped migrating through here the last several days. What's up with that? Sure, we've got dragonflies out the ying-yang, and little tiny bees all over the flowers, but whither the other winged ones? Even the ospreys and Perigrine Falcons seem to have left. Hot, calm winds, and haze - something's brewing out there, dark and sinister.

Rita taquachita.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Dies Y Seis

It was frustrating. I woke up and went to get the paper and there was a seven-inch lizard on my porch. So I ran in to the house and got the new digital camera and … no black lizard with a gold racing stripe down its sides. This was probably a rare find, I thought to myself. Pure black, snake-like, very timid, and it looked almost toxic if you touched it. I found its hidey-hole and talked to it. No dice.

Then in the afternoon, some real large fish hawks showed up, shrieking to each other. I’m thinking they were ospreys because they ate some fish out in the bay, dive bombing, although they did have some brown feathers. So every time I heard them I went outside with my trusty camera, only to see them as a speck on the horizon. I think they were like at least 40 MPH.

So there’s no signature picture today, even after consulting with the hummers. Those hummingbirds know when I’m packing a camera … when I’m not they come up and lecture me about getting too close to the feeder! The sheer unmitigated gall.

And then the red tide started its thing. Who asked all those diatoms to get frisky right now? It’s not all that bad yet except for a small fish kill but sheesh, one more for the Gipper. But the wife’s folks are in town and it is Mexico Independence Day and except for a few recalcitrant critters, all is good.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Gray Day

Hey look at that, some of the wet stuff! We’re about 7-8 inches behind on rain so this was good. It rather fits my dark mood today, with not much happening except for growling thunder and periodic rain squalls. Work is slow. The toads got flooded out of their burrows and are hopping around everywhere – I’m sure much more productive than me today. But a ton of work is coming and sometimes a personal sanity day is a good thing. So here I sit, hearing distant rumbles, wondering if another storm is headed my way. When the thunder wanes, you can hear the surf and the birds again.

That bush in the foreground has a real name I can’t remember it so it is the Brazilian Shit-wood Bush, as it is an invasive species related to poison ivy. It is starting to make buds and soon will be covered in tiny white flowers, which would become little orange berries. The hummingbirds roost there, along with the toads, maybe a possum, and hopefully our lost iguana. Butterflies love it but for some reason, very few seen today. For a while we had some yellow-bellied flickers in there but I think they migrated on to better pastures. My gardener friend tells me the birds get drunk on the rotting Brazilian shit-wood berries and it is quite a riot to watch later in the season. It might be a junky plant but is sure hosts a heck of a cast & crew!

Yes, the birds are busy now, fattening up for the fall. Purple martins dash around at invisible bugs at break-neck speed. Grackles feed in the flooded grass like pigs in tuxedos and the seagulls police the street for stuff the garbage man missed. More hummingbirds arrived. Two mockingbirds work the backyard, a little darker and less aggressive than the ones I remember from Austin; at least they don’t dive-bomb the cat.

The sun comes out for a brief moment, causing the cicadas to make their obnoxious noise, like a teenager’s cell phone. Another thunderstorm cell announces itself loudly and all the birds fly away. A giant heron yelps and flies over the water like a B-52 bomber, with mullet and baitfish jumping in its temporary shadow. It is quite a show.

Monday, September 05, 2005

All out at sea

There’s my boy, Eric, posing with a nice haul from the snapper banks on a recent Labor Day weekend outing. Now before you jump to conclusions, that little aquarium fish in his left hand was NOT mine, as he would have you think! It is a perfectly legal & real tasty Lane Snapper. How relaxing … perfect conditions except for a rogue thunderstorm. The boat also caught three King Mackerels in the 25-50 pound range. They fought good but yuck, those Kings are lobsta bait as far as eating. We ate the trigger fish and spadefish last night, baked/broiled with lime & butter.

Behind Eric is the newly installed hummingbird feeder, which unfortunately was not occupied at the time. We’ve got several pairs of them swarming there, running each other off, but they never pose long enough for ole Foggy Eyes here to snap a picture. Well, I’m going to get one or two more and see what the devil happens at the feeders. I bet that old bull hummer will be busy now.

It’s the last hurrah for the Island before things start closing down. There is quite a debate about whether the gas prices have affected tourism here but it looked like it was rocking on Saturday and Sunday. The exodus is starting as I write this post on Monday morning. Happy Labor Day, all.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Katrina in South Padre

I started out wanting to talk about how crazy surfers were, since they always seem to want gigantic waves so they can do their artsy suicidal thing. I still think they’re slightly off their bonkers, but have a new-found respect for them. See, the lower US Gulf of Mexico is not like the Atlantic or Pacific because there is no clean “long period swell.” Instead, the whole area, maybe half a mile out to sea if not half the Gulf, turns into a foam washing machine. There are three, hour, and yes, five sandbars and getting out to the “mack” waves is so brutal. So, bless their hearts, they surf around and inside jetties when the hurricane waves come. And the locals seem real safe and have crash boats because they know surfers can get rolled bad in 20-foot stand-up waves.

Hurricanes Cindy, Dennis, and Katrina sent some nice waves down here but being a body and boogie surfer, I wait until it has cooled down a little, like below six feet on the beach break without all the riptide and blown white/brown foam. Right when the surfers bemoan having no waves and the fun is over is when I head down to the beach, knowing I’ll get some rides over 80 feet long. Some of these waves are so powerful that I literally eat sand when I stopped on the dry beach! Just don’t tell the surfers that, because they’re more into “art” than distance.

Using a digital camera and not really knowing how to use it resulted in a poor picture, which is why I shot more beach than surf. But suffice it to say the water was up to the dunes and there were some interesting gully-washers and riptides – those waves on the horizon are probably over 15 feet tall. Pretty awesome.

P.S. those little waves in front of the camera were from the riptide coming off the beach and are not related to the waves crashing on the shore ... about 300 feet out where it looks all calm in between. Your humble photographer was standing in three feet of water and almost got swept off his feet with the undercurrent.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Pinkie the Plumeria

One of my favorite islander blogs, other than here on our sand-spit, is up in Rhode Island. She posted “Friday is love letter day” because everything was getting too heavy. You know, the dog days of August tend to make one grumpy. So I’m going to leave y’all with Pinkie the Plumeria.

Most plumerias flower for maybe a week or two, but Pinkie here has been at it since mid-May … and getting better each day. I wish I could bottle the smell and send it to y’all. Imagine that, a blog with a delicate frangipangi fragrance! Enjoy.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The Bay Behind the House

As a student of local stuff like geography, I decided to write about a stinky old muddy bay. One of the more interesting geologic formations in the US is the Lower Laguna Madre Bay near South Padre Island, Texas. It is the only hyper-saline bay system in the US, at least from what I’ve learned so far. In theory, the environment would be so harsh that nothing could live. However, from Port Mansfield down to the town of South Padre Island, there are more fish per acre than about anywhere. It is trout and redfish heaven, with reports of catching over 100 per day not uncommon. What’s the deal?


OK, that’s a mouthful but think back in school when they said that the simplest cell that could make photosynthesis was “blue-green algae.” Gosh, this turns out to be a complete misnomer, because cyanobacteria are simple bacteria, not algae. It is present in most waters but down here in the Laguna Madre it is the ruler of the ecosystem. The nice thing about cyanobacteria is that is can convert nasty things such as ammonia and nitrate into nitrogen and oxygen. The nitrogen is “fixed” so aquatic plants can use it and the oxygen is dissolved so fish can breathe it. When oxygen gets low the fish start dying, as has been recently seen to the north of our area. But we have our cyanobacteria. We don’t have that fish-kill problem except during heavy freezes or during red tide.

The only bummer is that the boogers form dense mats of their stuff, some of which dies and some of which is eaten. The result: black nasty mud. The more I learn about this the more gross and complex it seems. The black sediment forms a layer under which other chemical reactions occur to release stinky sulfur compounds, which is why low tide usually smells so bad.

But back to the story, the cyanobacteria are even more important because the average depth of the Laguna Madre is only about two feet. The entire bay system is over 30 miles long and varies between several hundred yards and three miles wide. Except for a few shipping channels and dredge spoil islands, it is almost flat as a table. A truly remarkable landscape, I intend to keep studying it. Some fish for dinner would be good, too!

Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Boogie Report

We just joined a group called Surfriders; in fact we were there for the first meeting of the South Texas Chapter. The name obviously infers that surfers would be the main emphasis, although we had people more known for beach walking, sand castles, swimming, kayaking, kite boarding, and boogie boarding there. Surfers tend to be an aristocratic lot, where everyone else is considered a “sponger.” Well, I am sure Surfriders will accommodate us spongers, since we have the same preservation goals and don’t mind a get-together party every now and then.

Myself, I like body surfing and boogie boarding because big waves are relatively rare down here on South Padre Island, and if they are big, they’re too choppy and dangerous. Plus, the place where we usually go swimming is called Bougainvillea Circle, or more simply “Boogie Circle.” Thus the Boogie Report.

The surf predictions were 1-2 feet today, which I can see if you’re a snobby surfer. But lo, when we got out to the second sandbar we had some 4-6 foot waves. It was incredible, with at least some 40-foot rides, one maybe 60. One wave was so powerful I lost my jams (my bathing suit), which fortunately had not floated off to the nearby ladies. I didn’t bring along my boogie board, more technically known as a body board because of its design and 45-inch length (and not to mention expense), although I wish I had.

All in all, it was a perfect boogying session … until the kids all showed up wanting to do the same thing. I don’t know what it is; my wife tends to attract all kinds of stray cats, dogs, kids, and even bugs. Not a good idea to spear some kids coming off a 5-foot wave going 20 MPH. About 45 minutes was enough work-out, anyway. In all fairness to the surfer reports, you really can’t tell the entire day’s surf at eight o’clock in the morning, with all the shifts of wind and current. But it rocked today!

Thursday, August 11, 2005

A Trashy Pilgrimage

The wild end of South Padre Island is to the north. The town is located on the southern 7 miles of a 34-mile beach. So get out there you drive up Route 100 and get on the beach at County Access 5 or 6. Work was slow on Thursday so I hooked ‘em out to the wild beach with my new digital camera.

My, how the beach had changed over the years. It used to be a suicide run to get through the loose sugar sand and then down by the dark, compacted sand next to the surf. In the old days there would be an old man in an old truck, sitting there grinning, waiting for yet another car to haul out of the sugar sand - $20. Well, all that is changed now. The county uses heavy machinery and water trucks and has paved miles and miles of beach like a two-lane highway. No, not as in paved with asphalt, but there absolutely no chance of being stuck anywhere. Plus, Hurricane Emily has sculpted the beach in a very strange manner, creating a berm just next to the shore.

The easy driving made it easy for my main target of inquiry, trash, as in beverage containers, plastic bags, shoes and sandals, old tires, restaurant wrappers, and so forth. I did see some cool birds and need to get better with the camera because every time I’d sneak up on them they’d poop and fly away. That’s a tune for a different day, since I was on a mission from God just like the Blues Brothers.

First thing is that the area between Access 5 and 6, about 2 miles, is actually groomed very well. It was obvious that beach rakes on tractors were used to clean up the mess. “Not too bad” I thought to myself. There were hundreds of vehicles parked in this area and it didn’t look all that bad in the least. I was surprised. Acting on “the call of nature” I stopped and headed up to the dunes for a pee. That’s where I discovered that every plastic bag on the beach had blown up into the dunes, like tinsel covering a Christmas tree. It was so quiet you could hear the bags – Walmart blue, HEB white, and all kinds – rustling in the wind. This was not a happy discovery because blowing plastic is one of the most difficult things to remove from the beach. And, one could not fault the County for not policing several hundred acres of dune that may or may not have blowing plastic.

After passing Access #6, where the road is currently blockaded on Route 100, things kind of deteriorated because there were no more trash cans and the beach raking stopped. The road was still good, though, so I pressed on another 6 miles. From what I saw, trash was very spread out and not dumped in piles anywhere. There was much less plastic up in the dunes (OK, I had to go the kitty box after driving another hour). My impression was like one piece of trash every 10-20 feet or so – a sandal here, a dead soldier beer there, some trailer trash over here. It would have been nice if people dumped in one nice fat pile instead of using the broadcast method! I think all the wind and waves had something to do with it though.

On the way back down the beach I planned to stop at two places. One looked like a landfill near an area of high dunes about 2-3 miles north of Access #6. It turned out to be just a bunch of stuff washed up from the beach, including some major hookey that looked like it belonged on a shrimp boat. The other site was a pile of what the beach rake had collected, much closer to town. As would be expected, most of the pile was seaweed mixed in with beach sand. But there was is significant amount of trash in there too, since obviously the backhoe operator can’t hand-pick all the trash out of his load (they rake it until it gets to be a big mess and then use the front bucket to pile the stuff up). Not much was visible, however until you started rooting like a pig. And yes, I did get some weird looks! I was glad the cops didn’t catch me like that.

I covered a little les than half of the 26 miles of beach at the wild end of the island. At my average speed of 15-20 MPH, even my short jaunt took several hours, including several stops for pictures and the nature thing. It was a mixture of fun, relaxation, and disgust.

Friday, August 05, 2005

The Screamin' Whistling Bug

There’s a kind of bug down here that whistles like nothing I’ve heard – you can hear it for miles. I’m thinking maybe the cicada but I’ve heard a ton of those up by Austin and elsewhere. No, these sound like those whistling firecrackers or a very high “C” note, maybe about 90 decibels.

At first I thought it was a car alarm or a smoke alarm gone freaky. “Why doesn’t somebody unplug the poor thing” was my first reaction. Then on started up in the field next to our house: click, click, click-click-click weeeeeeeeeeeeeee. Another down the road joined in, making a surreal sound in otherwise quiet South Padre.

Well if anyone has any ideas please let me know, since it’s obviously mating time for whatever it is, and it’s driving me crazy.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Crystal Clear Green-Blue Waters

Clear, blue-green surf today. Many of the surf reports have been saying “clear green-blue waters” for days but today you could see your toes and the shells five feet down. There was a little eel grass left from Hurricane Emily but otherwise the beach was immaculate. No jellyfish or seaweed. Sure, the forecast said 1-foot waves, but we were catching 3-4 foot waves on the second and third sandbar. We were catching 30-foot rides just body surfing. It was a blast!

This only happens during the dog days of summer, when the tides and winds and riptides are so gentle and there is no mixed-up turbidity. The funny thing was there was no bait in the water, since it was so gin-clear. Clear, green-blue more like.

On a positive note, the current appeared to be setting from north to south, which means the Mississippi Current might be starting – maybe bringing back oodles of big fish, hopefully. It was just a touch but you could feel it. Usually the Mexico Current goes from south to north the rest of the year. Anyway, that’s what the guys at the Texas Invitational Fishing Tournament (TIFT) would like to hear – the largest fishing tourney in Texas for 63 years, bay and offshore. Solid bluewater is only 18 miles out and closing back in, which is great.

But I could be mistaken, since last year the current budged south for a few days but then it was ripping at 3-4 knots the other way, even worse 20 miles out to sea. But for now, the luxury of having Mediterranean waters will do just fine. South Padre green-blue, that is.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Dead End Streets

This is about many of the bayside streets on South Padre, which is where I live. My question is "What happens when all the lots are sold? See, these empty lots are used for big trucks to turn around, the the power company to service the telephone poles, and so forth. The easement for water, sewer, electricity, cable, and telephone is out back. But there's no alley there. So what happens when a transformer blows up and you need a 6-ton truck with a boom crane back there? Bulldoze down a house?

I got to thinking about this because there were some electrical failures and one pole was totally out of the way because of some new fancy houses - it took all day (with no power for me) while they figured out how to put a new pole in the ground. Most residential service re-do's should only take 2-3 hours! I'm starting to wonder about how the island was laid out a little.

And the real estate is so hot down here there's a continual procession of prospective home buyers ... turning around in our driveways. Gosh, some of our concrete driveways are getting black from all the tire wear. I don't mind it too much, including the dog-walkers that crap all over (hehe, I didn't quite say that right, did I?). But when all the houses are sold and all the driveways are full I think we'll have a problem with big cars, SUV, and trucks backing up all the way to Laguna Drive. The garbage truck has to do that some of the time already.

I won't even go into plans for access to the bay at the end of the street. But there are locals who wind surf and kayak (me too!) and their kids play down there so it would be nice to fix it up a little. It's pretty much a construction landfill right now. Maybe our little dead-end road is the exception to the rule rather than the norm, but it's got my attention now.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Citizen Sam

Well call me Citizen Sam now, the mayor of our small banana republic just appointed me to the Ad Hoc Bay Area Task Force. I told my wife Lori it was more appropriate as the Bay & Bait Committee, but she said to chill and not make no waves. Heck she’s right, there aren’t even any pisser clams like up in the Northeast. But there’s plenty to do and I’ll let y’all know what shakes. [Note: those kind of clams are called "steamers" and that is an ancient Yankee term for them.] Not bad for being here only three weeks, eh? Moving, a hurricane, and now this: life is good. I'll get a haircut and meet some folks and see what good I can try to do.

Monday, July 25, 2005


My heart goes out to the folks down in Mexico just south of here that bore the brunt of the storm named Emily. It hit square on San Fernando, a city of about 60,000, and took out three fishing villages closer to the coast. According to our local paper, little has been done since then except for some ham sandwiches - apparantly, the US is not allowed to help down there unless you donate to the Mexican Red Cross or something like that. Since that time, several large thunderstorms and then tropical storm Gert went over the same track, making things worse.

Sure, here in lucky South Padre Island we had a little rock'n'roll when Emily came on, but it was nothing like what happened 80 miles to the south: twice the wind, five times as much rain, and a storm surge of at least ten feet.

That's yet another reason why I don't write momentous tales about what happened here on our lucky little sand spit of an island, during a hurricane warning.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Fishing Before Emily

I’m sitting here watching the leavings of Hurricane Emily and am now thoroughly bored. So I’m not going to write about storms, but about the hilarious boat trip my brother and I took a few days ago, when he was down from Louisiana. I’ll tell you what, right off the bat, those fishes know to stay away from Matt’s boat or they’re dead meat. That plus the impending hurricane are our main excuses, although we did give it the ole college try: the fish simply went deep and weren’t hungry.

We set out on a nice, sunny, South Padre Island day. We push off from the dilapidated dock and head out to sea in a 24-foot muscle boat. Lots of prelims like getting the CD player on, getting beers, lighting cigars, futzing around, not paying any attention to where you’re going. This is important, to appear nonchalant and unconcerned. “Oops, we’d better not take out Louie’s, Matt,” I helpfully offer. So he let me drive the boat out the jetties because he was looking for the Intracoastal Waterway on his GPS, thoroughly baffled, while I simply headed out like the charter boys do.

Along the way he nailed the boat, I mean hit the throttle and went like over 45 MPH. Scientifically, this is called the “bibbety-bibbety effect.” The beer blows sideways out of your can. Your kidneys want to migrate somewhere in the Deep South. Your brain bounces. Now, this is part of the male ritual, too, like if you can’t handle it you’re supposed to fuss and complain. So I hung on for dear life, and wondered where the life jackets were. Fortunately, he slowed the boat off the jetties when he took over. That was because there were eight-foot waves coming from all different directions going up and down like monkeys.

That’s when it’s time to “rig up,” which is a gentlemanly way of saying to select a lure or bait, tie some strange knots – and try not to get hooked in an embarrassing place. Somehow I passed the test, after being admonished for grabbing the frozen bait and selecting a particularly dangerous looking artificial lure which was pink. Some brother. In fact, this guy has suitcases of lures, maybe a bazillion bucks a bag, having everything except for dynamite – which we wished we had. Crank up the CD, put the engine into slow forward, and troll. Man, we grazed those jetties up and down, with no luck.

So, my brother decides it’s time to head out to sea, like blue water and 80 feet deep, maybe 10 miles. I tried to explain the Gulf was basically a desert and we had to find a canyon or reef. Heck, he just headed out to the northeast. Fortunately, there were a few shrimp boats anchored out there and I wisely suggested fishing off their sterns. So we picked one and circled it several times, with a good hit on my ballyhoo bait. We got real close (the crew appeared to be asleep) and we saw some ling or shark under the stern so I chunked the pink lure – and caught the shrimp boat. Circle again, and this time I got the 20# test line caught in the propeller, which was a neat way of really catching a shrimp boat. Matt frowned, but I pulled and the bait popped into the boat and the out of the propeller at the same time. I was grinning ear to ear.

But then I looked up and a huge thunderstorm had blown up from little fluffy clouds in no time. “We’d better head back in, Matt.” So he steers for Florida, using his little GPS. “No Matt, Padre is that way.” After a few more circles I gave him a nice pink cloud to steer for and we were on our way in … into a freaking hailstorm. “I think that could be hail,” says Matt. “It is,” I respond, shaking with the cold ice. One thing I found was that sunglasses are great at keeping the hail out of your eye holes. So we got out of the storm and warmed up and then Matt started looking for “dirty water” near the breakwater. We trolled, chunked, jigged, and did everything right. Nothing. “I think we’re beating a dead horse,” as Matt fires up all 225 horsepower.

Matt did good on the way in, just like the charter boys do. We even slowed for the No Wake zones. But I had to pee and Matt got to working on the several radios, GPS, and CD loaders again, a big mistake on both our parts. We sort of ended up in 4 inches of water and three feet of mud. “Shit, I let her get away for one minute,” Matt says. So he raises the outboard and gives her a good blast. “No kidding, that’s some serious shit, bro!” The entire back end of the boat and most of us are now brown with mud. After a few more strategic bursts we were clear, having learned a lesson about South Padre at dead low tide.

So managed to get back into the right slip, after a few feeble tries elsewhere, and began the ritual of cleaning the boat, which was yellow and white but looked a tad poopy shade by now. So I’m offloading a case of empty beer cans and this Mexican dude walks up and said something like “Basura,” flashing his hand three times to indicate it would cost $15. Matt and I didn’t know what in heaven he was talking about, thinking maybe he wanted to have sex with our boat for 15 bucks. We nodded neutrally, a little worried he might be fetching a donkey or something, being so close to old Mexico and all. He shows up with a scrub brush, some cleaner, and some serious sponges. “Oh, no, amigo, no basura today” I offer, finally figuring out we weren’t going to get a Boys Town show today.

But as I was talking I not only hosed Matt but all those bazillion-dollar fishing bags, which were conveniently open. I wasn’t going to quibble about details, since HE put the brown shit all over them, anyway. So I lay out what must have been hundreds of dollars of fishing equipment on the dock, having to swim for some because of the darned high wind that blew packages into the drink. By golly, we hosed that boat and all that gear back to their proper colors in something like an hour. No fish, but it sure was a heck of an adventure!

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Really Digging It

The plumerias are back. In fact, Chris from Fort Worth who saw this blog helped us unload them … he just popped by and we had a beer. Lori had just driven back from Austin with a load of ten; I think we gave away another ten but kept the good ones. So, now they go in the ground, which is basically dirty sand. Hey, we are on a sand-spit in the ocean, right? Daughter Samantha drove down last night with her two pit bulls (sweetest things, they are), and will help. So off they go to Wally World for some things for her and some mulch for the plumerias. And maybe some stakes in case the wind gets up.

OK, I played the girls too hard in the surf today, 3-4 foot waves on the second bar (wish I had my new Blaster 45” body board). They well, fell asleep for a big nap about 5:00. Tomorrow for planting, then. There’s a law you can’t mulch after 5:00, right?

In the meantime I dug four holes in the ground for the largest plumerias. It was hot and heavy going, with not much progress. The soil was hard as concrete. Here I come all the way from Limestone City and gave away my six-foot digging bar and I wished it back sorely. I darn near passed out making four starter holes about 5-8 inches deep. “What the f@&$#!,” says I to myself, “this was supposed to be pure sand.” I was dripping with sweat.

OK, there was some heavy clay in there, like bay silt or Rio Grand Mud. So I got smart and watered each hole with the hose, all the way to the top and then more again. Time for a relaxer brewsky and a cool-down. So after the break I go back out there with my sharp-shooter shovel, on the attack. “Baby I’m a-comin’ home” I yell as I plunge the shovel … almost halfway up the handle. I’m trying to extract said shovel out of the hole, which is now buried in like gluey quick-mud, when the neighbor who is a house builder drives down the street.

What else to do but lean on the shovel just like a state highway worker? Yup, I buried this shovel on purpose, dude! He gave me a friendly wave and looked as if to say “Wow, nice shovel plant you got there, son.” Using the other shovel to get the first one out of the hole I quickly saved face and scooped the poopy mud out of the holes in no time at all.

It turns out it hasn’t rained here since May. I can see why the landscape looks a little fried. And nope, my son can keep that darned digging bar!

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Settling In

The R&R lasted a few more days, and swimming in the surf healed all my cuts, bruises, and aching muscles and bones. Then we started doing things, like putting in a dog run, getting more services like satellite TV, getting a spare bed for guests, having a newspaper delivered and so on. Gosh, we already have folks wanting dibs on the guest room: the son, the daughter, and my brother from Louisiana with the boat. I even painted the front doors, since they were magenta red, like a Boy’s Town whorehouse or something; now they’re Army Camo Green (wife’s orders, not mine).

All these early-season hurricanes made me wander into the first floor garage to examine things in more detail. Basically, the house was built in 1970 on large telephone poles set 20 feet into the sand. There are garage doors in front and hardy board walls on three sides, looking suspiciously weak. “Oh,” says the fence builder who knew the house well, “that’s so the walls can blow off in high winds and floods.” Gee, what a concept, I bought an exploding house. All the other houses have cement block walls downstairs. But other than some boxes and a washer & drier, there’s not much to lose down there. OK, so I’ll think about putting in a little concrete reinforcement around the bottom of the walls, at least so it won’t IMPLODE in a high wind. I just couldn’t handle that.

Then I got to looking at the upper part of the house and noted many cracks not sealed, so I’m off to the local hardware store for a bunch of tubes of exterior caulk. It looked in pretty good shape except for the front and rear overhangs – hey is that stuff asbestos? So if I caulk everything I guess that is foreplay to a paint job, if you can call that foreplay. Didn’t I already do this at the last house we sold? Hah! But you have to seal the cracks or the water will blow right through the walls and around the windows. One local tells a story of “hurricane dust” which I guess is micro-fine sand that gets in every crack and corner of the house. Sounds like Lubbock in a sandstorm. Um, you do not want to experience either Lubbock or a sandstorm there, by the way.

Fortunately, the inside of the house is real fine, the main selling point. Nice tile, new double glass windows, glass blocks (over $20 per), generous trim, and a new-fangled kitchen island with a reverse osmosis water maker (they tend to over-chlorinate the water down here). The previous owners stopped short of finishing the master bedroom, but that’s a down-the-road project. It is perfectly fine right now. One thing I noticed is that the guy put in over 15 light switches in just the living room. It truly is baffling, since one switch turns things on but go across the room and another can turn it off – or halfway dim. You never know what will come on if you play with those light switches; I always brace myself in case something goes “boom.” Perhaps I need an electrician with a little college psychology background?

Lori is in Austin this weekend attending a wedding and getting the last of the plumerias and tropical plants. We were going to rent a Chevy van but the silly folks (not to mention names, but a national chain) rented it to someone else, so we’ll see how many leaves and flowers make it down here in the back of my pickup truck. Hey, didn’t I just pay my son to deliver that pickup down here? Oh well, the beach heals all wounds, and time does not. Until next time!

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

On The Beach

As predicted, we made the drive just fine, although it was more like 8 hours instead of a little less than 7. Lori had three pets, two of which made it just fine – Sweetie the iguana decided to play escape artist so we only had one MIA. I drove a six-ton Budget rental truck. I was a little nervous at first put it actually drove better than my pickup truck. With such a big load and a strong SE headwind I could only push about 60 MPH. You had to be careful to watch the road because the wind could cause you to change lanes real fast, considering the truck was 13 feet tall. So, I couldn’t watch for Mexican eagles, javalena, or chupacabras unless they were in the middle of the road. I guess sight of an obviously overloaded truck made everyone and everything get out of the way.

Packing and unloading the truck was a different matter. I’m still sore four days after those ordeals. Some real nice friends helped us cram the last of the house into the truck, saying I resembled a ghost by midnight. Well, they made me toast every room in the old house with champagne and beer so I was a little loopy by then. The bed went on last, first to come off when we hit South Padre Island. Best idea we ever had, that and the idea of packing a suitcase with some clean clothes and toothbrushes and whatnot. The realtor met us at the new house with keys and had already turned down the A/C, a true godsend.

It took two days to load the truck and about 6 hours to unload it, not including the bed. I had gravity and a giant first-floor garage, maybe about 1,100 square feet. Ninety percent of our goodies are still down there. Returning the truck was a trip … a trip to Brownsville, Texas, which is more like driving in Matamoros or East LA. The darned Budget Truck rental place didn’t have a sign so I burned another 10 bucks of diesel ($2.29 a gallon) looking for it – it turned out to be a blue shack with no sign. The clue was two little teensie, rusted trucks with the Budget logo.

Driving back to the Island put me in a better mood, after getting rid of six tons of diesel truck. I could actually look around without having traffic tunnel vision. My thoughts about Brownsville improved. The Port seemed to be real busy, with quite a few ships being unloaded and jack-up rigs being repaired. The shrimp boat fleet was all at dock, a bad sign since they should all be fishing for brown shrimp these days but the diesel is too high and the shrimp prices are too low. We drove past an incredible dust storm on the flats in between the Port and the Island; apparently the Corps of Engineers decided that draining the huge swamp was a bad idea and they’re going to flood it soon. We made it home, ate some dinner and passed out, sore and tired as heck.

Since then we’ve been on R&R. We’ve been swimming, surfing, walking, and saw the Friday night fireworks. A little shopping, some minor things like arranging for postal delivery and trash, shopping for some food, as all we’ve really done. We found out a little about how permitting works, since we wanted a small dog run installed with cyclone fencing. Gosh, how many agencies had to review this? There was only 75 feet of fence, for goodness sakes, but it had to be licensed, bonded, approved twice, stamped, sealed, and platted. You’d think I was building a restaurant in a downtown Block Island or Nantucket historical district or something! And no, I’m not putting up white Colonial picket fencing for some stinky ole mutts in the back yard.

The neighbors are great, even the old man next door who staged a fall in order to get some attention. More on Arnold later as that’s a different story. Everyone’s looking for Sweetie the iguana but I need some more kids and rewards to sweeten the deal. There are lots of realtor signs on the street. I can’t blame them, since they probably doubled their investment in five years. But we’re happy. My son is driving down my pickup truck today and it will be good to see both. Well, I’ve got to put on my makeup (lots of sunscreen) and head to the beach.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Last Post Before Move

This is probably the last posting before we make the Big Move on Tuesday. Gosh, it’s been over six months since I started this blog thingy about moving to South Padre, and it’s been fun and “it ain’t over yet.” Nope, there’s moving the daughter into an apartment, actually driving a huge load down to the Island, and figuring how on Earth I’m going to haul all that crap upstairs to the second story. Let’s just say a lot of it is going straight into the garage, so it had better not flood right away. So if you see us asking teenagers if they can help us move boxes and couches for 20 bucks, no we’re not pervs, it’s just that Lori has a bum foot and we have a turn-around staircase to the second story.

We sign the papers on this old house on Monday, after being somewhat scared the investor would back out at the last minute. Yup, we’ve been through it the hard way, not my favorite method to lose weight but we’re maybe a little tougher for it. Tuesday morning we start early because I think those rental trucks have engine governors on them so I’ll have to go slow. Boring! I always set the cruise control on at least 72 (except for the speed-trap towns, that is). Somebody reminded me that I’d be paying for the gas, too. I think they measure these big trucks in gallons per mile instead of miles per gallon. That might be an exaggeration but I’ll be down at the last truck stop before King Ranch drinking gas like a thirsty cow.

I’m leaving a ton of little details out, like what to do with three adopted wild field cats. Hey, they even have little pointy hairs on their ears like real bobcats. I don’t think we can move them; last time we had to put doggie-downers in some canned tuna bait just to get them to the vet for spaying. It was quite an ordeal and I have the scars to prove it. Thank goodness we’re not taking pit bull dogs with us – can you imaging moving into a tourist/retirement community with (very loveable) fighting dogs known for eating children? BWAHAHAHA. Forget that, baby, I put down my foot and said “no way, Jose.” One domestic shorthair and one Heinz 57 about 14 years old. Oh, and an iguana. The kids figured out how hard it was to rent a place with dogs over 50 pounds! Thousands of details, like making sure the plumerias didn’t have ants and termites (I had both in some of the 22 plants). Shame, the plumerias are in bloom and I’ll probably knock a bunch of limbs off.

Time to unplug this old computer hummer. The next update will be from on the Island. No telling when the DSL will be turned back on – they say they have to “test” the line, which is techno-speak for “gee, we just don’t know.” And then, hehe, the fun starts! I’ll give one hint: some of the locals want me to join the political fray. Heck, I’m not even a resident and they want to elect me for Alderman? I need at least a year to decompress, get back in shape, cut out some bad habits like smoking, lower the blood pressure, and make some denero to pay for all this moving and higher mortgage payments. Pretty nutty, I’d have to agree – perhaps they’ll settle for a Little Oak Man for a while.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Yes We're On Our Way!!!

I may have confused people in previous posts because things have been SO difficult for us, but YES we are on our way to our new house on South Padre Island. The 28th or so.

Now we do NOT want a bazillion people coming over with casseroles and pies when we arrive. No, we want to sneak in silent as church mice, and get the feel of the Island first.

It is as if the Lord wanted me to write a slightly more complex, convoluted novel instead of a short story about "moving to South Padre."

But yes, we're packing right now.

One Down, One to Go

One down and one to go. We signed the papers for the Padre Island house on Saturday. Everything conspired to make it difficult but we did it. First, we get the FedEx package late, at almost at 11:00. Then off to a bank to sign a bazillion papers and get them stamped by a Notary Public. [What a name, the stamp notes for a fee?] Get a certified check and throw it is a FedEx envelope … and try to find somewhere to drop it off.

There was a brief hiatus while we met the in-laws for Dim Sum lunch. That’s like Chinese weekend brunch, if you will, a favorite for us even if many think it is Chinese for “bait.” I sure will miss Dim Sum on the Island.

By now it is getting close to 3:00 and we discover that all the little mail stores like “We B Mailboxes” had already sent out their FedEx and UPA packages. We call the main office and they say “Oh, you’ve got to do downtown to the main FedEx distribution plant by 5:00.” So off we go, like a Herd or Turtles, or judging by our growing frustration, a Turd of Hurdles.

Plus, everyone in Austin had recovered from their hangovers and decided to fire up their SUV’s and drive around in circles. Austin’s traffic woes are legendary, a combination of aggressive Texas macho and sheer dumb-ass mentality. Fortunately I decided to listen to a good radio station that kept us informed. “Highway 183 closed due a pickup and trailer with a boat that rolled and caught fire.” So we opt for Plan B, taking the north route about 20 miles out of the way, passing three more rollover accidents. It seemed like every major intersection had at least a fender-bender, with heavy construction in between each one.

But we rolled up with 5 minutes to spare and the FedEx guy was funny and made us feel better. “Oh, South Padre Island, I see. Can I get you a bigger box so I can ship myself down there?”

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Saved by the Bell!

We got a contract on the old house up here in Leander at the last possible minute. We are on the way now, with lots of things to write about – and a lot less angst. Better late than never.

By now I’ve got electricity and water coming on the new house on Oleander Drive. The gals down in the Valley were great hooking me up but the white boys selling insurance and Internet were … well, let’s not cuss while we’re celebrating. There are multiple closing dates, so as to make life more fun. Our idea of fun is holding hands on the beach or making a sand castle or swimming in the surf, but we can handle all he paperflow now.

It happened fast, and then all our friends had to have us over for dinner. Heck we even has an Alice’s Restaurant Thanksgiving dinner. In June! Thank goodness we don’t have any cousins or kin in Arkansas. The neighbors, the cool old hippies with the pontoon boat, are half pissed and indicated they want to sell right away. They’re totally convinced that some butt-heads will move in. Other than that, all these folks are making us gain weight with all these go-away parties and we can’t wait to run on the beach. Like a railroad locomotive, you can put your ear next to the rail and hear us coming …

Thanks for all those positive thoughts!

Wednesday, June 08, 2005


I was going to entitle this post “Despair.” I decided on the word “Dauntless” instead. That means “to persevere fearlessly.” Chin up, old boy, we can’t let the monsters in our minds make us miserable, just because a silly old house can’t sell. Plus, I need to be a good influence on Lori, my better half. I’ll be the first to admit this is like a month of visits to the dentist, with anxiety, nervousness, sleeplessness, and no stomach for food, but dammit, we’re dauntless. Fearlessly persevering!

The moniker has quite a background going back to the Revolutionary War. The first ship built by our fledgling nation was the Oliver Cromwell, a 24-cannon ship built at the Dauntless Shipyard in Essex, Connecticut. The name was reserved has a hallowed history that includes the schooner Dauntless (1866-1915), the Navy torpedo dive bombers of WWII (circa 1943), and one of the most famous Coast Guard cutters (WMEC 624, currently in service in Galveston). There’s a certain patriotic pride that goes along with the name Dauntless. It means when the chips are down, drive straight at the enemy and stare ‘em right in the eyeballs.

I just wish everything wasn’t on hold. Heck I can’t even drive much of anywhere! I can’t even rent a moving truck because I don’t know the when and if. So here I sit, work being slow, attempting to be “dauntless” and doing chores for Lori and rubbing her back (muscles like banjo strings) and making diners and trying to be upbeat.

I hope it works.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The Move 10 Years Ago

Hopefully our move to South Padre is a little less eventful than the last move we made 10 years ago. Part of what follows is an accounting of it, along with lessons learned – and a great deal of poetic license as suggested by Sandy Feet and her deep thought: “Why am I hearing the theme song to the Beverly Hillbillies?” On that artistic theme, though some of it very true:

Ten or eleven years ago I had a junky old pickup truck and went down to rent one of those trailers you can get for $20 a day. I paid the money and then backed up – and heck, nothing to hook the trailer up to. The ole redneck says “Don’t take this personal, son, but your truck doesn’t have any balls.”

I did sorta take it personal but with that special energy that comes from moving, I went to the closest Auto Zone and bought some very discrete equipment, which they promised would never fall off. If I had a torque wrench. Well, with large pliers I was able to sorta tighten the 1-7/8” ball and hook up the trailer.

Back at the house, mama was using a garden rake to gather up all the kids toys on the carpet, which was actually quite a challenge because the kids kept busting it out all over the floor again. This was the final load, with the beds, the broken laundry machine, and whatever was left on floor. By golly I had both the pickup and trailer loaded about 12 feet high in the air, with the most complex ropes and strings you ever saw. We had the dog in the back of the pickup but unfortunately, the goat had to stay.

As I took a final gander at the old shack I said “Gee, that’s not too bad, we ought to get our rent deposit back no problem.” I dropped the truck into first gear and the muffler fell off. It was smokin’ and hot so I did sorta leave it there, hoping the landlord would cut me just a wee bit of slack on that. But loud, lordy, this truck all the sudden had those elusive balls, I tell ya. The backfires were especially impressive. Boom! Mama and I looked at each other, smiling. She pulled my finger and it did it right on cue. Blam!

We did pretty good until we got almost to Leander, a little cedar-chopper town northwest of Austin. See, there was some roadkill in the middle of the road with a bunch of buzzards on it, so I had to swerve. I suppose I got a little nervous and threw a cigarette butt out the window, too. Bad move, but we composed ourselves. As I looked in the rear view mirror, I noted that when we swerved, we left a little hillbilly trash in the road so I pulled over the side of the road. That’s when I noticed I had set the blankets and dog on fire with my darned cigarette … and the cop with the bubble-gum machine and siren.

So here I am, gathering up clothes, plastic buckets, toys, and putting out dog fires with a can of Old Milwaukee, when Mr. Johnny Law parks behind us. The blankets were still smoking from some mysterious origin I couldn’t find. Of course, the kids started wailing like banshees and the dog was sorta barking and looking a little rabid, I suppose. The engine was steaming from somewhere, too, probably the radiator - again. The cop walks up about half way to us and stops, throws his hands up in the air, and leaves, spinning out gravel all over us.

My eight year old son was impressed. “Cool!” I winked at mama and said “I think they like us here.” Even the baby girl stopped bitching about needing to pee, and smiled. We pulled into that brand new house and backed up the driveway, turning off the engine with a final “kerblooey” back-fire that dropped what was left of the exhaust system onto the concrete. The neighbors were impressed, I can tell you that. We were home.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Crowded Beaches!

Over the last year I’m been reading how other beaches have banned certain water sports, simply because there simply were too many people in the water. Certain parts of New York and California beaches are designated such as “no surf boards,” “no jet skis,” “no fishing,” “surf board only,” and so forth. South Padre Island hasn’t quite gotten as bad as Jones Beach in New York or Huntington Beach in California, but on high season days like Memorial Day and the 4th, it is getting close. I’m not proposing any special rules or anything; it is just something we could give some thought.

To my knowledge, nobody on South Padre has gotten walloped yet – but at times I’ve been fearful about these flying machines. The operators of the banana boat rides are very good but there again, I’ve seen drunks on their personal watercraft almost running folks over. The kite boards scare the poop out of me, since they’re looking at the waves and the kite – not us. The surfers are probably the safest as a group but sometimes I like to grab the same waves – and they think they own them (hah, you stinking body surfers and boogie-boarders!). Put all three of them together on a crowded day with some nice surf and you have a recipe for disaster.

My thinking is that all water craft should be banned except for the banana boat vendors and any emergency craft (of which we have none, it appears). I’m thinking like 200 yards from the beach.

Kite boards are a big “extreme sports” fad these days but it would be nice to have their competitions when there aren’t thousands of people in the water, since they like to swoop the whole beach. Otherwise, perhaps they could stick to the northern end of the beach, such as between the Island Inn (Wanna) and Beach Access 5 or 6.

As with the kite boards, surfers should be allowed to compete wherever they want but on crowded days they could work out a couple of areas on the crowded parts of the beach where they could surf, so as to reduce conflicts. The Isla Blanca jetties would be a fine place because the waves break way out, far away from the swimmers.

I’m not saying that there is a big problem or that the city and county needs to get in the water police patrol business. Perhaps an analogy would work here: what if a group of shark fishermen show up in the thick of the crowd and start chumming the waters with dead bait and chicken blood? That would not be cool, right? Think about it, as South Padre becomes more and more popular, with more extreme sports, something will have to give down the road – it usually takes a death or two to catch people’s attemtion. Why wait?

Monday, May 23, 2005

Full Steam Ahead

The house up here in Leander is not selling but we’ve decided to go forward with buying two houses so we can get one on an island - the Island. We close on the SPI house in mid-June and move a week later. Perhaps the house will sell by then, at which time we’ll pay off most of the 20% note on an 80/20 financing deal. Scary times, these are!

This old house must have some bad juju or something, since some are selling but ours sure ain’t. We’ve scrubbed, painted, added new carpet, and cut down scruffy trees. I even went as far as eradicating the burr patch, planting Bermuda and religiously watering every day (these plus-90 degree days are not helping). We have all the classic good luck stuff like the lucky candle and the little statue in the front yard. Lori even bakes cookies for the open houses. I mean come on, what do folks want – free beer, cokes, hotdogs, and Willie Nelson?

I talked about this with the realtor and she was sympathetic but said something like “Sam, you have a starter home, and most folks starting a family can’t qualify these days, which is why they go for the builder’s zero-down deals and then go bankrupt.” To me this was a shocking statement. First, I never considered my $125,000 house a “starter kit.” Second, I never would have thought all these yuppie bankruptcies would level the market to below $100,000. “Oh yeah,” she says, “You can pick up a house like yours for sixty to seventy cents on the dollar in the monthly courthouse auctions.”

Plus now the neighbors are getting weird. “We told you that you can’t leave, Sam.” We’re always watching out for each other, hauling out the garbage can, house-sitting the dogs when gone on business or vacation, mowing each other’s lawns, and cooking BBQ together. All the sudden these folks are getting real friendly! “Let’s go out on the patio boat again next Saturday.” “Sam, come on by and see my new power-joiner woodworking thingamabob.” “Hey you got some brush piled up there – can I take it to the recycling center for ya?” Even the mean ole grandmas walking the block with their doggie-whacker golf clubs smile and stop for a chat.

This only makes Lori even more resolved. “Will we miss the downtown music and arts scene? Heck, we haven’t been downtown in about four years – and you haven’t either!” See, Austin is so big now that “going downtown” is like going to a different country. The 25 miles takes about an hour and a half, what with all the congestion and construction. [This must sound hysterical to people living on an island.]

She’s close to getting a job down there and I’m checking for a high-speed Internet connection for a low-speed cost. Why do those silly little electrons seem to cost more on an island? Now for questions like moving company, rent a deuce-and-a-half truck, or get one of the shipping container “pods”?

Just don’t tell the neighbors how good it will feel on our last, long-assed ride from Austin, when we cross the causeway and see the blue waters of the Laguna Madre. We’re home!

Monday, May 16, 2005

The Dredge Story, Part 1

Dredging. Some folks have walked the beach and said “gee, this beach re-nourishment thing sure was sort of a mess.” Folks up by the Port of Mansfield are is a high dither because their 20-foot deep channel is only seven feet deep now. A few charter boats have had to be hauled and have their propellers and shafts straightened already. The Port of Brownsville and the Intra-Coastal need a hundred million bucks to widen, deepen, and straighten the shipping lanes but all the Corps of Engineers money is going to the War on Iraq. One of the contributing factors to the tugboat collision with the Queen Isabelle Causeway was because of shifting sandbars on a dangerous 70-degree curve.

Dredging is one of the nastiest professions around, although it made US ports so important for this global economy. It is a relatively new technology, with steam dredges being used after the Civil War, many until the 1960’s when they were converted to diesel. The main technologies are the crane, sand-sucker, and dust-pan. Most folks understand cranes OK, which may be clamshell buckets, drag-lines, or hydraulic excavators. Ladder bucket cranes were used in construction of the Panama and Suez canals but had the same idea. The sand suckers were a little different, where spoils (the stuff on the bottom) was sucked into a pipe and deposited elsewhere. This rapidly evolved into the cutter-suction dredge we know and love today. The “cutter” snout loosens the spoils but basically it is still a pipe; its origins date back to the Gold Rush days such as the Klondike gold boats. The dustpan is pretty new stuff, evolving in about 1930 and invented for use on the Mississippi River. It is essentially a big vacuum cleaner, about as wide as the boat, maybe 30-40 feet, which is lowered to the bottom and pulled like a shrimp net. Water jets at the edges loosen the spoils. A huge pipe in the middle sucks the loosened spoils up to the ship. Now days, the dustpans are called “hopper dredges” that more resemble ships.

All three have been used at or around SPI. The cranes were used to deepen the small craft channel running from the Causeway past Louie’s up nearly the Convention Center. The cutter-suction dredge was used to maintain the Brownsville Ship Channel, especially Brazos Santiagos Pass. This is where we got the spoils from the recent “beach re-nourishment.” Dustpans were used in the past to reduce the sandbar off the jetties. Interestingly, a study was conducted ands they found that the offshore sands were much better for beach re-nourishment. A case study showed that dustpan dredges could dump their loads close to the shore, in about 14 feet of water, and that these underwater berms actually reduced erosion rates over several years, by providing a nice stockpile of high-quality marine sand a quarter-mile off the beach.

The US Army Corps of Engineers is mandated to keep commercial ports open, which is why Brazos Channel gets dredged but Mansfield does not – the latter only supports recreational fishing. Unfortunately, one of the persistent things about Mama Nature is that the channels will silt up. This silt can be similar to beach sand but will contain higher amounts of clay and organic fines. In addition, the local geology shows that there is a stratum of Rio Mud in the area of Brazos Channel. This was why I jokingly called the dredge a “clay turd machine” in a web forum. However, the SPI area is blessed because there is little or no hazardous material, except maybe for some way up by Brownsville about 17 miles up the Ship Channel. Hazardous material such as dioxin and PCB contaminated areas near Houston, New York, and Providence RI must be dumped in special landfills on land.

Most ecological studies do show major disturbances when dredge scoop up the spoils and then dump it somewhere else. How could it not? However, after about 4 months the sites usually restore themselves. In some cases there may be positive impacts. For example, the “spoil islands” along the channel create an ideal site for birds, new eel grass beds, and in some cases, oysters. As to beach re-nourishment, if sand was not periodically emplaced on the beaches, the surf might be up to the bulkheads, such as at the Iverness. The northern end of the city beach is where the beach sand is needed.

For this reason, I recommend using hopper dredges to shoot clean marine sand on just the northern parts of the city beach, maybe from north of La Quinta to somewhere near Suntide II. For a small amount of money, Texas A&M or UT could be hired to investigate if the sand is needed, and if so when the sand would be needed, and finally where the sand is actually needed. I’m a proponent of creating offshore sandbars, although the hopper dredges can actually pipe sand to the beach itself, where it can be used to create dunes or flattened to make the beach wider. Or try all three and see which works best!

Benefits would be a less invasive technique having higher quality sand that is more consistent with the native beach sands – and no need for seven miles of pipe on the beach. I am not sure about the costs, which is why you want a reputable study before making future decisions.

There is some anecdotal information that beach re-nourishment over the years has changed the beach ecosystem. The conventional method using Brazos Channel spoils seems to affect the ghost crabs on the beach, the blind shrimp in the surf zone, and near-shore the crustaceans, crabs, and baitfish. I am not sure if these patterns are part of a larger decline which might be common to the entire Gulf coastline, but there sure seems to be less shell on the beach.

At some time in the future, something will have to be done because of the high erosion and depletion rates at the northern end of the island’s city beaches. A few good tropical storms and it may become a necessity.