Thursday, February 26, 2009

Springtime & the Dirty Crocks

It's funny but for us locals, Croc washing happens when the ocean water warms up. The surf here is fooling with the idea of 70 degrees. Let's just say that if you don't wear socks but you like life in them most of the time, your Crocs are going to look and smell a wee bit shabby. It's time to take my doggies to the beach.

Between the sand and the nice surf water - have to wade in for a few minutes and I like faking I'm "surf fishing" - the Crocs turn out pretty clean and the funkies are all gone. Now brush them outside using a little mild soap, scrub, rinse in the outside shower, and dry: that's a Croc's life for ya.

Now don't be leaving nice Crocs on the beach unattended. Last season some were growing feet and mysteriously disappearing, or possibly stolen. I'm sure that at over thirty dollars retail, they'd be worth at least five bucks in a garage sale. When "going nekked" meaning no shoes I bring my foulest, oldest paint-splattered, lawn-mowing, poop-scooping, offshore fishing Crocs, ones that could make a freight train divert to a dirt road. Trust me, they're still there when I come back from body surfing or walking. Just a suggestion, don't be leaving your brand new, prized Camo Crocs with the cool hunting colors down on the beach.

So spingtime rolls around again - we really didn't get much winter and knock on wood. I've tried the sink, buckets, and all kinds of ways to clean your Crocs but going to the beach and rinsing them really does the trick. I'm so happy I feel like another bonfire.

Monday, February 23, 2009

I Wanna Grouper Claypot

I really miss my fix of Vietnamese food sometimes, and nothing more than grouper claypot. Sorry for the rip-off picture, that looks more like chicken, shitake mushroom, and mung bean or some madness. Yeah you could even have vegetarian claypots and twice-fried tofu and it is wonderful, an essential ingredient of the mighty grouper claypot.

It's the king, the bomb, the best. I got to asking Hao the owner and chef how the heck he did those things. Aside from his wonderful brown sauce, a family secret, he said "it's all in the bowl."

And darn if he didn't show me. Those clay bowls have a snout at one end to insert a 2-foot wooden handle. The pot is lowered into a circular opening in stove top, like an old coal stove or something, sitting about a third of the way down. All of Hao's clay pots had brass wire on the outside: "Sometimes they crack or blow up and make a big mess," he says. Comforting, eh? Serving was a matter of bringing the claypot to the customer with a side of Jasmine rice, hopefully in non-exploding mode but still sizzling.

Basically it's just a vegetable stew with Chinese ketchup and some meat if you want it, I know, but I want one again. Interestingly, the mushrooms such as the Shitake, Oyster, and Morel came out perfect this way (I'm shakin' like Elvis). And I know, grouper is getting to be an endangered species, but there is none finer than a real grouper claypot.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The North End

That's a section of what I call the "North End," about two-thirds of the way between the Shores development and the end of Park Road 100. This piece of land is about exactly 6.45 miles long. The Gulf is on the right, with a white beach and then a skinny black line that is the park highway. To the left of the road you'll see some blobs that indicate large vegetated dunes, some mudflats, and weird stuff due to the resolution of the picture.

Except for a few high dunes on the beach side, the beach is about 600 feet wide between the roadway and the dark sand (see the little red dots?). The brilliant white color indicates a lack of vegetation except in small places, and most of those dunes are small coppice dunes or larger, shifting "air dunes."

I didn't get the best shot here but see that "fan" effect on the bayside at the very top of the picture? That's an indicator of a very large and powerful washover zone. So there are a lot of dangers and risks in building up in this area. Unfortunately, a complete Google Earth satellite view of the entire length of the island in dispute looks like spaghetti so short sections such as this picture are the only way to gain an appreciation for the area.

Let's talk set-backs from the wet sand now, a nice surrogate for the high water mark. We now have 600 feet to play with, and the vegetation line is nowhere near obvious. I'm not a coastal expert by trade but you can drive for quite a while and not see any continuous vegetation line anywhere. That's important because the area between the vegetation line and the waterline is considered a public beach.

Then you has a "building line" which is usually a setback from the waterline of maybe 200 feet to 400 feet depending on the area (the Shores went with 400 I think). That's interesting, since the erosion rate in this part of the island is about 10 feet per year! Does that mean in 20 years there won't be anymore public beach? Gee, I hope to be alive to see that one.

Perhaps I'm being Captain Obvious here but it is clear to me we have major problems just figuring out how to plan that part of the island. I would prefer if nothing was developed up there but that just isn't going to happen. What would you do?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

SPI Bees

Okay, not my best picture with $99 automatic but that was supposed to be a close-up of my Meyer's Lemon bushes which were - until I got close - were covered with all kinds of bees. There were at least five kinds of bees. I discovered that aside from a typical honey bee or bumble bee, I had no clue about the bees down here.

But I think you get the message that a bunch of stuff is flowering, including my lemons and some Huisache trees, and when it gets over 75 or 80 degrees the bees are quite active.

There's little teeny bees of several kinds, regular bees, bees that look like wasps, brown-black bees, and a huge black bee that looks like a flying B-52. My online sources such as Wiki, Google, and the Texas Handbook of Insects are totally useless. They like to talk about regular honey bees, some carpenter bees, and the dreaded Africanized bee, which we know are really from Brazil. Useless!

I find it fascinating to watch all these bees play on the flowers, some incredibly small and some large as a nickel in size. Maybe somebody knows? Until then, let's sing along with some Frank Sinatra:

Do bee-do, bee do bee,
Do bee-do, bee do bee do ...

Thursday, February 05, 2009

More Beach Graphs

Here's something I believe we need more of down on SPI - beach transects. Imagine if you sliced the beach due east and measured the distance to the beach as well as the elevation. This transect was done in 2005 or so on a place called "SPI02," which I have no idea where that is. But with the new dredge stuff, constant erosion, and probably storms, it's nice to graph these over time and see how things are changing.

In this graph, the sea wall is where measurements are taken. You'll see a hump for a nice dune or two, and then a hump in the middle called the fore-dune. The vegetation line is on the right side of the fore-dune. The rest is all public beach down to the water line.

The horizontal scale is not perfect because I'm a dummy with the new Excel software but that's 300 feet from the condo seawall (historic building line) to the waterline, not bad. Note that this was before the erosion events that occurred later in 2005 due to Katrina and Rita, which would be cool to compare.

I also backwards engineered this graph to show that it is almost exactly 7 feet from the waterline to the top of the seawall - usually the survey numbers are negative and in meters, which are a little tough to read. The 300 feet is a magic number though, as erosion will cause that to dramatically shorten.

Think this is tough stuff requiring professionals? They have students trained at Point Isabel High School who do this all the time!

Monday, February 02, 2009

On Building Dunes

click the pic to enlarge

For the record, I am not a coastal biologist, scientist, or engineer although all three interest me, so be careful about using my words against anybody else. But I think folks may have lost a bit of common sense about "how to build a sand dune." And to learn how to grow dunes, you have to learn how the winds affect the shifting piles of sand.

So that ugly picture is a wind rose from Corpus Christi - the closest one I could find - that show wind direction, wind speed, and wind speed frequency. This one was for a 30 year average of days in January. What you see are two long barbs going to the northeast and the southeast. Other months such as July only has one barb to the southeast because there are no cold fronts with north winds in the summer.

But this means something, chiefly that building a "continuous dune line" will be frustrated from winds coming both directions, not at once of course but that significant dune shifting will result in the winter months, always eroding the face and creating a long slope behind the lee side of the dune.

To me this has two implications: that a "herringbone" type construction is needed instead of a linear one, and second that the idea is to build onto already existing humps, coppice dunes, and mature, vegetated dunes rather than piling sand and seaweed. In other words, any new dunes must grow naturally.

The herringbone construction is essentially a "vee" that slows down the wind from the northeast and southeast during the critical winter dune building months. Either wind direction, the project design works. Other designs, either laterally (north-south) or perpendicular (east-west) will both fail from either wind direction!

But human nature being what it is, folks want to "fill the gaps" with artificial dunes that to me, just won't work. All dunes have a certain wind flow around them and we will never have a true "continuous dune line" no matter what we do - and the air effects around tall buildings makes it even worse in the urbanized part of South Padre Island. We will always have dune gaps and wash-overs - and as long as condo roof drains are allowed to drain onto the Gulf side (a violation of the Clean Water Act), we'll have a horrible problem.

Not many people see things the way I do. I'm not going to get into what did and didn't work so hot. But using some common sense, one can build onto robust, mature dune and make them move up and down the beach. I'd use a ton of railroad vine roots and clippings, is my idea.

Finally, I wrote this because of an article in the Island Breeze which mentioned something like "if we don't vegetate the dunes, we'll get horrible hurricane damage." What a crock. Vegetated dunes were cut down like a butter knife by Hurricane Ike waves. The idea is just to slow down the damage a little bit. All I want is to bring some common sense to the table, no rocket science.