Early, gold hunters show up with wading boots, windbreakers, wide brimmed caps, sunglasses, their gold detectors dipped into frothy water.
The sky, water, and beach run together like a tightly edited film. Everything in this landscape moves but seems to stand still. Clouds blow past, waves roll in, seagulls take flight. A raven stops on a fence. Shell seekers prowl and the gold hunters are left alone with their devices.
They wear headphones that keep their ears listening for upticks, bleeps of sound, excited electronics. All movement cancels itself out, like white noise on a television. If you are still and look straight ahead, all you hear is the wind and all you see is the horizon – frozen in the moment.
Spanish galleons crossed these waters in the sixteen and seventeenth centuries taking gold from the America’s back to Europe. For as much as was lost at sea, many times more got safely back to vaults and banks and the King’s Treasury.The gold funded wars, New World exploration, luxurious court lifestyles, foreign affairs, palaces. Merchants became rich, pirates created legends, and their names were stolen by professional football teams.
While our prospectors move methodically, a middle aged surfer adjusts his gear and prepares for another trip out.
” Not very big waves, ” I suggest.
” They are big enough,” he smiles, ” I am a beginner. ”
Beginning in your fifties is something to write about. He shows me three layers of clothes under his black wet suit that helps insulate him from cold water.
Who is to say who is having more fun – those hunting gold, swimming, or riding waves on a surfboard?
It is a gorgeous day where land meets sea, whether you are on sand or in the water.
Sand is the most common material on the beach.
While we walk on it, draw initials or hearts with arrows through them, there are those who use sand to sculpt fantastic visions.
Outside Pier 19 in South Padre Island there is a sand sculpture. There is sand art in front of the visitor center on Gulf Shores Drive. Even some creations done on the beach ,by anonymous hands, take ideas further than a small bucket, a plastic shovel, and a kid’s hands and imagination can ever go.
There are those who say we humans are sand, but gifted with mobility, speech, and the breath of life. We are walking dreams, puffs of smoke, fireflies on a dark evening, mermaids doing the backstroke on a midsummer night’s swim. Shakespeare, as a writer using sand instead of words, would have built incredible sand castles surrounded by moats and topped with colorful flags. On the plains outside the moat would be raging battles ,and, in the highest towers ,huddled men would plot while women played lutes and whispered court scandal.
Sand in Michaelangelo’s hands would turn into lightning bolts flung from the hands of God’s.
This mermaid and porpoise make good companions. Flowing lines are always more peaceful than straight ones. This couple defines contentment and commitment.
They are waiting for the Sorcerer that froze them in time to relent.
Isla Blanca Park, at the south end of South Padre Island, is full of recreational vehicles that are more homes than campers.
Snowbirds come down here to the tip of Texas for months, unfold carpets in front of their rigs, set up lawn chairs, bring out plants and yard ornaments, and congregate with friends to talk about fishing, the direction the country is going, kids, and the past more than the future. The fifth wheels, motor homes, trailers are mostly new with multiple slide outs that gleam in the sun. On the drive down many acquire a coat of road mud, grime, and fallout from hundreds of miles traveling down from Canada, Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan.
This morning men clean one of our neighborhood Rv’s from top to bottom. After the wash, they hand wax and polish till this unit looks like it did when it came off its showroom floor.
Dave, who brought his Airstream trailer, contracts them to wash and wax his truck and trailer for a hundred and thirty dollars using a special Airstream wax. Three Mexican contractors finish it in half a day.
Like at the Happy Trails Resort in Surprise, vacationers are not concerned with the nationality of the men or their wives or girlfriends doing the job. They are here, ready to work, have tools and experience, and turn out service that gets them referred all the way down the street.
Rv’s, like boats, take hands on attention.
Being retired comes with responsibilities to do as little as you can for as cheap as you can get someone else to do it.
People love dogs.
Dogs behave as we humans should behave. They are loyal, patient, love unconditionally, and show affection.
Many retirees who pull their Rv’s to the Isla Blanca Park in South Padre Island, Texas do so because they don’t want to leave their dogs home with strangers or alone in a kennel with other dogs where they pick up a lot of bad habits. It makes economic and moral sense to take your dogs on vacation with you because dogs are family from the first day they adopt you.
This morning two adults walk two dogs. Even though leashes bind animals to their masters, one senses the leashes could be released, the dogs would scamper, but ultimately return to their masters sides where they belong.
This morning humans wouldn’t think about letting their best friends run away from their side.There is a $2000 fine if dogs are found running loose and the beach is patrolled by uniformed men in official trucks.
People love dogs more than money, but not by much.
Seagull Charley doesn’t come when you call his name.
Without a fish for Charley, he ain’t going anywhere and he won’t push tennis balls with his beak or do circus tricks.
This morning Charley strolls the beach watching for opportunities. What he catches is his and he will share only if he has a mind too.
There are eating opportunities on this beach all the way north to Corpus Christi and south to Mexico and when waves go out Charley quickly covers his little piece of real estate. He doesn’t own anything but his feathers but his basic rules are self preservation, having a full stomach, and taking care of Mama Charley and the kids.
When Charley leaves the beach and takes flight, this Padre Island strip of sand seems more isolated and less friendly.
In air, between sand and sea, Charley is free,and,oddly enough, it makes me feel free too as I watch him glide in the wind above me.
Wanting to fly has been a long time dream of our human species.
South Padre Island is accessible from Texas highway 100 via the Queen Isabella Bridge that connects Port Isabel, Texas on one end and South Padre Island on the other.
When you hit the beaches here you have miles and miles to walk and on most mornings men and women carry Wal- Mart plastic bags to hold their seashells. South Padre is a favorite haunt for Spring Break revelers as well as us retired folks.
Pier 19 is a local restaurant and tourist center where you can have breakfast, schedule fishing or dolphin tours, buy in the gift shop, fish off the pier, look at photos and memorabilia from past decades.
Out front of this eatery is a huge shark caught by Captain Phil Cano on February 30, 2004. Its mouth is open, blood drips down the sides of its jaws, teeth are pointed and ready to bite again. You can see the monster from blocks away.
The problem is February 30.
Once the date is suspect it is easy to start questioning the rest of thIs fish story.
Truth doesn’t matter much in a place where weather changes often, time stretches, and you only need shorts, a T shirt, a ball cap and sneakers to be part of the gang.
In April, college kids arrive, prices escalate, parties go late into the night. Pier 19 will be booked solid and some libertine will hang a bra on the shark’s front tooth.
That will make a Texas size story, but, for now, this post is all imagination waiting for reality to catch up.
It is Weston’s idea to go see the dunes.
Passing through Midland on my way to the beach at Padre Island,Texas, I pay a visit to a nephew living in what some call ” the armpit ” of Texas.
Saturday we drive to the sand hills, take off our shoes and climb dunes. Sunday will be devoted to watching the Denver Bronco’s try to reach another Super Bowl. He is from Colorado and I wouldn’t expect him to support anyone but John Elway’s team.
Midland is a big small town in the middle of the oil patch. Around, and in, it’s city limits, are drilling rigs, unused casing, semis for delivering pipe and oil machinery, thousands of mud splattered pickup trucks, and metal buildings filled with oil related businesses
Women are, I am told, scarce here.
Finding a man that has a paycheck is a woman’s prerequisite for a long term relationship, so, with the downturn in commodity prices, many of the fair sex have moved to better hunting grounds.
Trekking up and down these baby dunes makes me believe it must be humbling to have to cross the Sahara Desert with a caravan of camels and only the stars to guide you.
This is a hard land to live in.
To survive here, women have to be tougher than the men who love them.
Leaving Roswell for Midland, Texas you start seeing oilfield pump jacks right off the highway.
There are no trees or bushes to hide them so they can’t be missed, look like grasshoppers, and have been shot with twenty two’s more than once. Some of the pump jacks are alone by themselves while others cluster in a circle the wagons formation with big collection tanks nearby. These fields have been producing for decades providing oil, jobs, tax revenues to the state of New Mexico and at least once a week a scruffy man in oil stained levi’s pulls his tank truck up and drains them of all the oil that came out of the well casings that go down deep into the ground.
The United States burns up millions of barrels of oil per day and oil has been pumped for a hundred and fifty years in this country to supply a modern world. Roswell and Midland is oil country and roughnecks is a word that doesn’t just describe men crawling around drilling rigs in oil stained coveralls, work boots and hard hats.
In this landscape, pump jacks work mechanically, without complaint, twenty four hours a day. The well sites are clean and not near as dirty as people’s back yards in Roswell or any of the small towns dying along the highway.
Pulling the handle off a gas station pump and sticking it in your tank is the last small part of a long chain of effort. It takes millions of years to make oil, months to make it good for our uses, and minutes for us to burn up.
When oil stops flowing, we see how uncivilized people can be.
Clines Corners is a travel center on I- 40 east of Moriarty, New Mexico.
It opened in 1934 at the intersection of what was then Route 66 and highway 85 going north to Santa Fe or highway 85 south to Roswell.
1934 was long ago, at the end of the Great American Depression, written up in history books, documented in stark black and white photos of dust whipped people with belongings piled into pickup trucks heading for California’s Garden of Eden. Some say those days are coming again, with great billowing clouds of mid west dust and stockbrokers jumping off big city balconies.
As you draw closer to the Corners, their billboards promote cheap coffee, clean restrooms, authentic Indian moccasins, salt water taffy, cheaper gas. Inside the center are trinkets, enough to buy five Manhattan’s. The postcards are catchy, the candy tempting, the restrooms clean. I don’t buy anything but linger at a rack of postcards that reminds me of Scotttreks, my digital postcard rack.
1934 is an eternity ago in a century of exponential change.
How do young feel when confronted with a generation of elders who grew up with black and white tv, rotary phones, Phillip Morris cigarettes, Schlitz beer, the Little Rascals and Post Toasties cereal? How will the young be looked upon by their children who will ride in cars that are driver less, have their moves documented by security cameras and do school on computers with a virtual teacher who never gets mad, always is prepared, and doesn’t have to deal with bad behavior or inappropriate clothes?
Even though we look amused at the past, we too are going to be in someone else’s rear view mirror.
Yogi might not have said “, It’s deja vu all over, ” but, if he didn’t, he should have.
The day after my trip to warmer climates is in bed, Mother Nature spreads her winter blanket and dumps snow on Albuquerque.
In the foothills, east of Albuquerque, snowflakes nestle between cactus spines, but, before noon, the sun will start to erase the white. Footprints ahead of me point up the trail and my eye catches a rabbit cutting out of a ravine and darting under a scrubby bush by a granite boulder. He might worry but I couldn’t hit him with two shotguns.
I watch as he freezes in what he believes is safety.
He is still motionless as I move again up the trail. His territory is more limited than mine but we both deal with Mother Nature, he with fur and me with a coat.
It’s winter, and, just back from a trip, I’m already packing my Toyota Sunrader again for a jaunt to Padre Island, Texas.
The last few years the only sign on my front door has been the one that says ” Gone Fishing. ”
It seems that I’m gone more than I am home and this, I figure, is as good a definition of deja vu as any.