Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Us Islanders

I have lived on several islands and visited man in my days, and each was very provincial. You really had to be BOI - born on the island - to be considered a true "islander." Up north, some islanders can trace their local genealogy back 340 years, the families named Dodge, Littlefield, and Rose. Same for parts of the Bahamas where the Loyalists fled during the Revolutionary War - there were five settlements in the Abacos populated by families with names such as Albury, Lowe, Malone, Pinder, and so forth.

Here on South Padre, being an Islander doesn't mean a long genealogy or even being born here. It simply a state of mind, something that appeals to me. The truth is, most babies were hatched elsewhere anyway, Brownsville or Harlingen at best. But when I come to think of my friends, and what an islander is, I have the same positive thoughts. Not only do I know folks who live here year round, but I know a bunch of those folks who return like lemmings every so often, so great to see them after a long absence. We have out weekend neighbors and folks from Minnesota, Nova Scotia, Colorado (of course), Mexico, the Dallas area, and ... well all over the place, even a sand sculptor from Singapore.

In fact some folks ask if I am related to the Wells family on SPI - which I readily deny (actually there were two long-time Wells clans before we even got here). I just like the island, don't care for the mainland, and really love it here. That's what an islander is here. Short-timer, part-timer, or living here every day, it makes absolutely no difference. You can tell by the smiles.

I won't go into whether anybody else even would consider me an islander in their estimation, and frankly I don't care. But here's a kink: some people who have lived here for years ... well, they really just make it seem like they're not islanders. I don't know any personally, to be honest, although they seem to multiply like rabbits on the Internet forums. They claim to be "smart" but are negative, down, criticizing, dogmatic, and always in a black mood. Who are these strange people and why are they here?

Well they certainly are a minority and for now I am 100 percent blessed with all the good kinds of islanders. Spoiled rotten, more like. But for you newbies, if somebody looks troubled we always head to the beach, listen good, make eye contact, and say "I don't think it's all that bad." It works, never failed yet!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Sand Boils

Sand boils are defined as underground seepage that rises to the surface, and is oftentimes associated with levee failures (see this Corps of Engineers document). It turns out they are not uncommon down here on SPI, although perhaps the physics is a little different.

The simplest description is when a water main breaks and the water shoots upward to the surface with a pressure called "hydraulic head" (cool name for a pound puppy?). It's a powerful force that can blow asphalt and even concrete roadway apart. When sand and clay rise to the surface in a slurry like that, it is called a sand boil. The first sign of a sand boil is many pencil-sized dribbles of water leaking to the surface. Every year our water district gets about a half-dozen water main breaks, each resulting in a sand boil.

There are several spots on the bayside up the island to the north known as being "quicksand." Yes, quicksand is just another kind of sand boil, where water is rising up from the depths. We almost suspect that the Leaning Tower of Spizza might have been built on a sometimes sand boil.

To explain, there are various strata of sand which a large clay deposit fittingly known as Rio Mud. Under this layer is some unconsolidated sandy/shelly/shale and salt formations, not solid rock. OK, there is a shallow water lens on top of the Rio Mud, water is trying to seep from Laguna Madre towards the sea, and saltwater from the Gulf is invading at the lower levels - all the reason why water wells do not work here on the island. Given the differentials in clay strata and rising or falling water levels, sand boils can routinely occur at any time. So now you know why piers are put down as high as building it tall! We're floating on what is basically ketchup.

And just like ketchup, you never know when that buddy is going to pour out all at once.

If we lived along the Rio Grand or Arroyo Colorado one might be concerned about sand boils and levee damage, so here it is more of an occasional thing that is natural - unless the dang water main breaks again. Interesting phenomena, and if I see a good one I'll snap a picture for ya.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Best Sand Castle Days Ever

What a wonderful day, after a cool front and dreary rain earlier in the week and mid-week. I'd say that the 21st Sand Castle Days was a roaring success, in spite of all the stupid hurricanes and souring economies.

Above, a shot down a whole bunch of sand castles. Those in wheelchairs could see the stuff perfect from the sidewalk. Those piles of sand used to be about 10 tons and now look!

Two of my favorite artists, Sandy Feet and her fellow friend sand sculptor, Kirk. Those aren't fake smiles there.

That's Fred's sculpture, another good friend, international sand carver, former alderman, computer guru, and boat tinker-er. He's standing in the very left of the picture as well. He won one of the top prizes, forget which one.

I can't do justice to the day I spent there because my camera batteries went kaflooie. There were several dozen cabana tents, an area for children (even 50 year old ones) to learn sand castles, vendors, food, art, and even a spot so you could adopt a dog from the humane society (we won't talk about the "puppy mill" mistake in another tent, which should have not been allowed). Gosh what can I say - it was fun.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Time to Bloviate about the Economy

I was born in 1956 and my parents have only distant memories of the Great Depression when they were children. But what has happened recently is remarkable - not a real depression, something maybe like a recession but not yet, but nonetheless ... interesting. Let's go over the last month or so, when all the "bail-outs" occurred:
  • Bear Stern
  • Lehman
  • Merill Lynch
  • Freddie Mac
  • Fannie Mae
  • AIG
  • Washington Mutual
  • 700 Billion US Congress Bail-Out
  • 250 Billion Federal Reserve Bail-Out to Partly Nationalize Nine Banks
Impressive list, eh? I think I left a few out, including money used to shore up European bank trusts, maybe another bank or two, or to back some bank merger collateral. I can't say if it is good or bad, just that I am mystified by what is probably one of the largest transfers of wealth that I've ever witnessed.

I'm sure people will write books about it, when it's all said and done, with expert opinions, theories, insights, and the veil of sounding authentic. To the man on a little sandbar in South Texas, it sure sounds rather baffling right now.

But do you remember when this all started, and the bloggers got all over the Lehman bail-out, saying 85 billion should not be paid by the taxpayers, and doing so would be a socialistic, un-American thing to do; not only that, it would promote bad morals by rescuing a company that lost its butt, clear and simple. Free market, laisezz-faire economies envisioned by Ronald Reagan and most every American means personal responsibility. Government was supposed to be small and not intrusive. Gosh, now we have big government and some really big nationalized banks. And by the way, these nationalized banks and trusts are good for us! Been doing it since the days of George Washington!

Well I guess it beats working for a few bucks a day in the potato, rutabaga, and onion fields but gosh, that's an incomprehensible amount of moolah. That's a good question: if we didn't save this global banking community from their brand of wayward capitalism, would the economy be so bad we'd all have to become proverbial field workers?

I think the answer, as always, is "it ain't all that bad, Sam, but sorta."

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Best Fajita Award

Well there's a ... well that's really a tacos al carbon. Many people haven't a clue what real fajitas are since it became a mainstream Tex-Mex food. It's just meat on a warm tortilla, nothing more, and for Pete's sake no onions, pico de gallo, cheese, and all that trash. The best I've ever had were from the Falcon Brothers up in Austin. It is pure heaven.

Real skirt steak is incredibly tough and comes in four parts on the cow: the outer skirts from the diaphram fore quarters, and two skirts from the outer flank of the hind quarters. The Falcon Brothers only use the front skirts (more taste, less tough). These are about 18 inches long and about an inch thick. The skirt is carefully trimmed and butterflied in half so you get 1/2-inch skirts.

What Sonny "the Fajita King" Falcon does it is to pound the steaks but no marinade is used - horrors! That tenderized meat using the "poking machine" is worthless garbage. Marinating and poking the meat usually ruins the taste and makes them like a wet sponge. Only a hot fire should be used, about 6-8 minutes per skirt steak, and repeatedly turned so it does not get any grill marks. No seasoning or anything.

These are allowed to cool for a minute and cut extremely thin with a razor-sharp knife, against the grain and at a slightly slant. It is served with a warmed flour tortilla and all you get is some salt and some fiery hot sauce. This style is fairly close to the true vaquero dish of the 1930s called "arracheras."

Meanwhile, another restaurant in 1969 owned by Otilio Garza opened a shop in Pharr Texas and began serving what we know today as fajitas with all the fixings, sometimes even sour cream and (yipes) corn. An outfit later known as Ninfa's used the same approach (Houston, Ninfa Rodriguez), although careful enough to call them "tacos al carbon" because that's the real name. At least Ninfa's was honest about it.

Nowadays, little being sold in the restaurants is really skirt steak, and many even have the audacity to sell chicken and shrimp as "fajitas." Flank and shoulder and other cuts are often sold as beef skirt. I'm going with the Falcon Brothers approach - but if you like the fixings like my wife does, well enjoy!

Oh and for the vegetarians who find all this meaty talk a little repulsive, I'm working on a new guacamole recipe. Nicaraguan style, with radishes and mint ... ooooh.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Is Global Warming For Real?

There's a fascinating blog article by the Sci Guy today about Roy Spencer, a noted global warming skeptic. As I've said before, global warming is something to be concerned about, but it a fresh breath of air to hear somebody question the prevailing wisdom that we're going to fry in the next century, and the oceans will swallow half the continents. Not so fast, Roy might say, a bunch of what is happening is a completely natural thing.

I appreciate being a skeptic about anything, since we have all these quasi-religions of group-think these days, fed like pap from the media. Let's start with the basics, that Roy thinks that we've only had good, reliable measurements of the Earth's surface temperature for about the last 7 or 8 years, with a couple of satellites for coverage. The old data cannot be extrapolated as to "mean global average temperature" because we didn't have satellites that could record temperatures covering entire swaths of the planet several times a day. Ouch, he's right on that one.

Then, over the last 7 or 8 years, his analysis can't find any global warming. This is to be expected because one really needs perhaps 20 or 50 years to really figure mean global warming. After talking about some technical mumbo-jumbo, Roy cuts to the chase: too many people are making money off global warming and it was one heckuva sales job. It takes several million dollars to create a slightly faulty model to predict future temperatures - but the naysayers might only get a thousand bucks or so for printing a skeptical argument in a professional paper or a few hundred for printing in a hack media outlet. So the people who get the millions of dollars have a vested interest in proving that their theory was right. You have to admit, Roy has a point here.

Ouch again!

So once more I have to rethink all this, although don't mistake that climate change can be a very, very serious thing to be feared. "All it takes is a 1 or 2 percent change in global cloudiness and you can get this warming and cooling for decades upon decades, for a century." Yep, he's right on target there.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Beware the Attacking Dragonflies!

It's that time of the year when it seems like some of the dragonflies go berserk. I think they get old and might be dying, after all that reproducing and egg laying. You may have seen them flying around the porch lights at night, banging into everything like a crazy Kamikaze. Normally the most graceful fliers in the sky, you can actually hear them go "splat" against the side of the house. But they keep going.

So we were at our favorite gourmet deli last night, a riotous good time, and one fellow says he tried to help one particularly wayward fellow out. He grabbed it ... and the dragonfly bit the sh!t out of his hand! It drew blood!

It turns out that the name "Damselfly" is completely inaccurate and the more colloquial "mosquito hawk" is a much better word. Indeed, the Latin species classification for Odonata means teeth or mandibles, as in "flying mouth of teeth." Yipes, I bet that hurt.

But there are so many here on the Island, and they truly help keep the skeeter population down. They only seem to go crazy about this time of year, fortunately. And uh ... don't try to catch one with your bare hands, even though you can now.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Down the Road

Well so much for my poetic abilities. I wrote exactly two good poems in my life and that wasn't one of 'em. Oh well.

Other than the mosquitoes, the weather is perfect and the water is cleaning up. The road was still blocked off at County Access 4 going north, so I haven't been able to check out the Ike trash. On out beach here in town, a dock floated up on last night's tide. I'm not kidding, a dock! Should be interesting to see what's up yonder.

You might see a total mess but I see opportunity! We'd clean up some bad trash and have one heckuva bonfire for the scrap wood. I haven't had a bonfire this year, and used to do one every month.

Please notice my restraint as well. I did not write about the caterwauling economy, the fishy politics, or how bad the fishing season was. I didn't even peep when I found out that the lawsuit against the proposed development of our 400-acre Isla Blanca park took a serious turn for the worse.

Maybe it's Beerman's leftover homebrew and BBQ ribs? That'll put a smile on your face. And in these semi-dark times, a smile is exactly what one needs. And yes, I'll post some photos soon!