Tag Archives: Surfside Beach

Birds & Broken Hearts, Pelicans & Productivity

(Top left clockwise: Least Bittern, Barn Owl, Starling nestling, Second year, Brown pelican, Ruddy duck female)

“Here I am. Here I am. Here I am. Here!” a Scarlet tanager announces every few seconds, yet remains hidden in the trees despite his blood-red body and coal-black wings.

I’ve strained my eyes for ten minutes trying to locate him in the dense oak, maple, and tulip trees to only catch the briefest flash of red as he dives deeper into the treetops.

Water thrushes pipe along the river and robins sing from low bushes. Red-eyed and Black-whiskered vireos chip and chirp their distinctive calls, little gray-green bundles of feathers forever in motion in the bright green leaves.

There are catbirds here also, yet another bird to add to my life list. I feel some guilt for calling one out of dense brush with a recording on my phone. He approaches in the open, echoing my phone repeatedly, concerned, it seems, as if answering a mate. I end the charade and seconds later, he dips back into cover.

Birds, not boys, were my first love. I wrote silly little poems about them as soon as I could string words together but before I knew or had seen their variety.

When I left Surfside Beach, I left my “puppy birds,” my beloved Brown pelicans. Probably the greatest joy of my life other than my child and grandchildren, was rescuing pelicans. I went to lengths most would not, stripping off shoes and socks and submerging myself into murky ponds or the wind-blown “old Brazos river.”

My first solo rescue. She was very hungry & very flea & mite infested. And I had no crate. She sat quietly while I drove her 20 miles. The fleas & mites were not so obliging.

Of all the things I left behind—a man, a job, beautiful sunrises, and amazing storms—the pelicans were my greatest loss. Some days I’m convinced it wasn’t the man that broke my heart, but these flying dinosaurs with their sweet demeanors and often desperate need for help. The man didn’t need me; the birds did.

Maybe that’s what it comes down to—my being needed.

I tried telling a friend, as I have tried telling many people in my life, I must have purpose and without it, I am flotsam. He said, “Purpose isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.” (Paraphrasing because — crummy memory)

My ex would say my purpose was to take care of him and his house.

My family would say they need me so that’s purpose enough.

My writer friends say my purpose is to put my art out into the void.

They’re all wrong and all speaking from places of value in this world. They have people and things for whom and which to care. My friend has family and a job that expect his care and effort. My ex has a job to which he endlessly tends. My daughter has her job and kids that need her. My writer friends have established writing careers and other jobs.

When I worked full time, I felt whole. I felt needed. I was rewarded for my efforts.

This society rewards “work” but it doesn’t reward saving birds. Two Surfsiders were kind enough to help me with a little money when I was spending hundreds on gas every quarter to save birds.

Society rewards only what it sees as “product,” some outward and obvious expression of usefulness. A bird, healed from a shark bite or parasitic infestation and released back into the wild is, “nice,” even admirable, but not a product. It doesn’t warrant pay and barely warrants praise.

Yet, all these songbirds I have been listening to and recording for the past two weeks as they fly through or settle in the mountains, are crucial to the workings of this planet. Diversity in animals is as important as diversity in humans. We let these things fall apart because of selfishness, greed, “capitalism,” and the mistaken belief that the more money we make, the more value we have. Pretty, wild things have no transferable value.

In my heart, I know that what I did for the birds of Surfside was of value. What I did deserved more than pats on the back and a few dollars in Venmo.

But my rational mind knows that the rest of the world will never understand that until it’s too late, if it isn’t already too late.

My rational mind still says, in order to be of value to this world, I must find my way to a “good paying job” that everyone else deems acceptable and productive. My rational mind knows that I can’t bear to live out my life not being “acceptable and productive,” because society has taught me without that, I am worthless.

But my heart is so tired.

In this valley off the grid with just the birds to entertain me, it’s easy to let my rational mind slip forever into nothing but bird song and isolation. It’s easy to be the catbird, realizing another bird isn’t there and in need, and dive into the safety of the brush and never come out again.

Night Shift: the Anxiety of Staying Put

Last night, the world was silent, still, and dark in the state park I camped in with Sammy, Blanche, and Betty.* So dark I couldn’t see the RV parked next to me just fifty feet away.

If I walked to the edge of the lake, lights from small-town enclaves pierced the darkness at the lake’s perimeter and stars punched holes in the sky, but to see the ground in front of me required a bright flashlight beam. Thus far, parks and roadside campgrounds have been blessedly light-free.

Trees in Lake Whitney

Tonight, I am “camped” outside a business in a suburb of Dallas. (Permission of the proprietors) Brilliant security lights make reading possible through Blanche’s largest window and freeway traffic noise is as constant and thunderous as a storm day on the Surfside revetment. But I have power, a full water tank, and safety, and I am only a thirty-minute drive from my grandchildren.

I appreciate this brief way station and the reduction in costs it allows. Dallas isn’t exactly a haven for campers. Campgrounds I might have chosen were either priced higher than I prefer to pay currently or had, shall we say, issues. Add to that the significant distance from my family and the idea of setting up in those places was unappealing at best. Nor would Blanche fit comfortably, even for a short time, in East Dallas neighborhood streets.

So here we are, listening to the traffic storm and looking at the patterns in the ceiling carpet.

Ok, so there’s no pattern. It’s just beige carpet. There’s not much to look at, it turns out. Sleep would probably come if I were actually sleepy.

Sleep might come if I could shut my mind off and stop worrying:

  • About all the things I cannot do and have not done. 
  • About all the people I have disappointed or have disappointed me.
  • About time and the cruel forward motion of it. 
  • About his moss agate eyes.
  • About how none of this really matters. Not him. Not time. Not my failures or that of others. Not traffic noises in a lot behind a business. Not stars nor darkness nor silence. 

None of it matters. When I am dust, I will simply be dust. 

Cheerful meandering, eh?

I awaken to brilliant North Texas sunlight and blue skies, a brisk breeze, and the kind of space within which I can take care of life’s tasks that get set aside on the road: my old phone needs attention, Blanche had an injured turn indicator, I need items from shops not available in tiny rural towns that have only convenience stores and local diners.

My mood shifts slightly if only because to survive, to keep going yet another day, I have these things to do: little errands that hopefully won’t smack my bank account too hard.

It isn’t being alone that strains me or even lost relationships or love. Those are the rocks and potholes on the road. It is the inevitability of failure drummed into me since I was a child: “Come on, baby. You’re smarter than that.” “You’re intelligent. You just have no common sense.” “Darling, you forgot x again.” “You’re so intelligent. Why aren’t you more motivated?” That last while putting constraints on how I could use my education.

It isn’t the road I’m on that beats me down. It’s the road that came before.

I’m exhausted from the voices of my past. The voices of my future don’t stand a chance.

Unlike all the people around me lecturing me on how to move forward and how to find strength, I can’t quiet those voices. I try every day with new efforts and goals, but every night the darkness (no matter how well lit by security lights or stars) reminds me I am still me and I have only come so far and have so far to go with yet so little time left ahead.

I want to end this entry on some pithy, upbeat note. Some motivational preciousness that will redeem my mood for those of you who will tell me to put on a smile or “let go and let God.” Compartments, again.

I am, perhaps, a writer for the very reason that I can’t do those things. I can’t pretend I have no discernible income. I can’t pretend my heart isn’t scarred. I can’t pretend I believe I will survive despite staring down the barrel of 60 and having nothing to show for it save a higher education and a dog companion.

So I wrote this and y’all just have to take the agonizing posts with the pithy and hopeful.

*I’ve finally named my bicycle: JT (based on the brand and model). Now all pets and vehicles are officially named and as such are dependents that require I keep going.

Moon Jelly Tide

A few days ago, we walked the beach on a cool, cloudy day. Moon jellies lay splattered about every fifty yards: flat, clear, mostly-harmless blobs in the sand.

Spring is approaching and the tides are bringing in spring things. Warm days lie ahead with increasing numbers of visitors appearing on the beach on weekends while weekdays remain quiet. Birds of prey are scooping up fish and field critters as the chills of winter fade and breeding season ramps up. Brown Pelicans are gathering again, drifting in from Central and South America to form ever-larger squadrons along our spit of land called Follet’s Island.

The wind is in its March wilding, blowing the house into shivers and rumbles. Day to day, the Texas coast simply can’t decide what season to express: Forties one day, eighties the next, sixties yet another.

Life feels upended.

Life is revealing its rough edges as harsh and unpredictable days often keep me from wandering the island while howling, ghostly nights keep me awake with the racing thoughts of my history, my future, and this precarious, ever-present grief.

Springtime. Beach houses. Dogs. New cars. Jewelry. None of these things patches a hole in a grieving heart or solves a personal problem. One simply feels a moment of appreciation of a new bauble, or a few months of joy in the glow of new adventures. In time, the newness becomes the reality of life the way it always was and one returns to routine. The glow gives way to the same internal and external battles.

Certainly, the beauty of the beach and its inextricable partner, the sea, is as soothing as anything can be. Stand at the shore on any given day—be it a calm day with a shore break so gentle that the sand seems to whisper in surprise when a wave falls softly on it, or a raucous, red-flag washing-machine before a squall hits—and one can find awe-inspiring peace.

Can. In theory.

Some days, clearing the mind and reaching over the water for that peace is like reaching across the sky to grasp the moon. Some days, life is upended and you are upended with it and all you can do is teeter at the water’s edge and listen to the whispers or the raucousness and hope to be set upright again.

On those days, I often don’t listen to the sea at all. I put in earbuds and listen instead to music made by landlocked humans. My mind’s eye sees things that aren’t in those restless waters: memories, dreams, past and current hurts. Some would say that is one of the greater of my many flaws. I am not letting the sea heal me like I should but am running from that healing much as I have run from my Faith in the last several years. In the end, I am little more than the jellyfish, lying on the beach, deflated and dying, having traded the healing music of the sea for the music of the unforgiving land.

But, that might just be okay, for now. Processing only what I can process on this Moon Jelly tide might be all that should be required of me right now.

When my husband and I bought our first home, it was with the conviction that it was our last home. “This is where I will grow old with him and die,” I told myself.

When the economic growth of the area accelerated and he decided he wanted to sell and move, I was devastated. After a childhood of upheaval, I sought stability and needed to believe my home could remain an island of such in the madness growing around me. In time, I realized it could not and accepted the move.

Our new home, twenty miles south and three hundred square feet smaller, was just a house:  nice enough, comfortable, but not that space that said, “Forever.” It was, however, an island. It sat on one of the highest lots in the neighborhood and when Hurricane Harvey struck last fall, the water crept up to the curb but never truly threatened us.

It was quiet, as well. Despite being in a small city that is embedded in the Greater Houston area, in fall and spring, when the air conditioning doesn’t run, it’s almost too quiet to sleep. I often found myself listening anxiously to my heartbeat in the early morning hours.

It was a social island as well. If one has children in such a neighborhood, one socializes. If one is “older” and beyond child-bearing years (like we are), one just smiles and says hello or maybe occasionally shares a dog anecdote or two.

If one were to ask me to describe my dream home, it would not have been this little house near the bayou.

Ah—but the bayou.

bayoutree1a

I do love it. It is called a creek, but it is a bayou. You can call it a creek and you can even call it by its official name, Clear Creek, to make you feel better about the breen, silty flow that eases and oozes its way ever so lazily around Brazoria and Galveston county—but it’s a bayou.

I love it, in all its bayouness, along with the rest of this sometimes perilous swampland that is Southeast Texas. I love the birds, bats, bugs, and plants that take refuge in it. I love the year-round greenery, the mild winters, the Gulf breezes that smell of salt cedar and seafoam on stormy days. I love the signs warning of alligators and other dangers in the parks.

gators2

And yet we have left the bayou behind in recent weeks. We’ve said goodbye to that reliable little house where Harvey tried but failed to harm us.

We have moved to where the bayous knit together and trail into the sea. We have landed on another island, one of salt marsh and seagulls and “Oh my God! But what about Global Warming?!” Now, I sleep soundly in a house that I truly love, listening to wave susurrations. I truly hope this will be my last home, but I can accept that it may not because my life has simply never been about permanence.

The bayou remains within reach. In truth, there is a shadowy bayou just up the road—just not “my” bayou. I am not far from Texas live oak, hackberry, chip-chipping cardinals, and complaining crows. There are new plants and birds to meet there as well. Perhaps I will leave this space here for a little “new bayou” chatter.

Nonetheless, watch this space for a new page link; this new island is just as chatty.

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