One thing I learned fairly soon after moving to Southeast Texas is that its Gulf Coast beaches ain't the white-sand Southern California Eden of my childhood-vacation memories.
Oh sure, there's sand, seashells, lapping waves and the occasional fabulous sunset that turns the whole sky the color of a new copper penny.
But there's also silt-clouded water -- part of the "dead zone" from westward-drifting Mississippi River disgorgement -- and rotting clots of crunchy seaweed that don't exactly beckon you to stroll at sunset, more mosquitoes than seashells, an unsettling stink, and enough garbage to choke Florida. In short, many of our beaches aren't quite ready for their Baywatch close-up.
Itching to get away from yardwork and sloth this weekend, my friend Mary and I trundled my dog Cagney into the car for a few hours at "the beach." We drove east along the stretch of shore from the rust-tinged petrochemcial 'burg of Port Arthur into Louisiana's hurricane-wrecked Cameron Parish -- so no beach-comber in his right mind would be expecting a Tahitian paradise anyway.
But this place is a God-awful mess. One stretch of beach unfurled beside the denuded foundations of beach cabins, swept away by Hurricane Rita last fall. Some rebuilding has begun, but mostly the shore is haunted by ghosts of another time.
As we traveled along this 25-mile shore, the actual strand of sand often looked more like a county dump than a beach on a great sea. We pulled off the highway at several spots, each time walking a mile or so along the beach, gathering cans and the occasional shell, pointing out oddities that had washed ashore. The dog began to want to stay in the car. Besides the usual beach detritus, we found countless glass and plastic bottles; a few pounds of aluminum cans (which we gathered to haul home and recycle); children's toys that included several small, naked dolls miles apart; about four dozen mismatched shoes, boots, sandals and flip-flops; four hardhats (likely fallen from off-shore drilling rigs that disrupt the horizon); several milk crates (which we used to lug some of our aluminum-can treasure); several industrial-strength rubber gloves; several dead fish (into whose mouths we shoved the little naked dolls); and what appeared to be a couple large formerly underground storage tanks rusting peacefully on the sand. There's so much crap, it's difficult to imagine these beaches being reasonably clean again.
But most oddly, we found a bowling pin and about 100 unbroken lightbulbs scattered the length of our journey. We'll never know the Tale of the Bowling Pin, but I wondered, how did all these light bulbs survive their travels, past the breakwaters, to come to rest unbusted on these beaches? I'm not sure if that's a lesson in hope or in the indestructibility of modern garbage.
I came here from Colorado a couple years ago, and I'm struck by the difference in environmental consciousness between my two most recent homes: Coloradans are downright anal about protecting their landscape from any fouling, while Southeast Texans seem to have surrendered to their pollution, reasoning that it's just a by-product of a hard-working coast.
It saddens me. On the way home, I began to think about organizing some friends for a clean-up day and sunset cookout. Maybe we could stake out a few miles of beach one Sunday, scavenge whatever recyclable materials we could and haul the rest to the dump. Then we could build a fire, roast some food and enjoy the beach the way it should be enjoyed.
PHOTO ABOVE courtesy of the EPA