On pleasant days — any day with blue skies, sunshine, calm winds, and moderate temperatures — the beaches of the upper Texas coast range from crowded to over-crowded.
When the weather turns, as it did this weekend, strong southerlies, roiling water, and cloud-shrouded skies empty the beaches. On Sunday, the Kelly Hamby Nature Trail beachfront was empty, apart from a few pelicans patrolling offshore waves and a flutter of songbirds sheltering behind the dunes.
It was, in short, a perfect time to visit its beach.
The force of waves reaching nearly to the dunes had washed the shore clean of debris. Only the heaviest logs rolled and tumbled at the water’s edge.
Covered by a thin layer of receding water, the coarse-grained sand reflected sun, sky, and clouds with a pearl-like sheen.
Pushed ashore by strong winds, receding waves carved shallow, intricate channels into the sand. Watching the movement of the waves, words from John Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flats came to mind:
Time is more complex near the sea than in any other place, for in addition to the circling of the sun and the turning of the seasons, the waves beat out the passage of time on the rocks, and the tides rise and fall as a great clepsydra.
54 thoughts on “Sunday Solitude”
It is the best time to visit the beach.
There’s no question about that. It was quiet (except for the wind and waves) and despite the absence of shorebirds, there was a good bit to see around the dunes.
The art forms carved in the beach by storm waves remind me of the Magic Slate of my childhood…there one minute, gone the next. Your images also bring back memories of the mesmerizing sounds of the waves that would lull us to sleep looking out the back of the open van doors watching the moon rise over North Padre Island. Well done.
I had one of those Magic Slates, too, and it never lost its appeal. There’s something about the ephemeral aspects of nature — disappearing sand patterns, ice in a spring thaw, the appearance of the earliest flowers — that’s both deeply appealing and poignant. They’re all a reminder that, in the end, we fit the category ‘ephemeral’ too, however much we’d like to deny it.
I’ve always thought that waves and fire are similar in one respect; they’re always changing, and yet always the same. I could watch a fire or watch the waves for a good long time without tiring of it.
Do I detect a harmony with Michael Scandling in your third picture?
The ydra in clepsydra is the cognate of our word water. A clepsydra is a kind of kleptomaniac that ‘steals water.’
Now that you mention it, that third photo does fit the category ‘minimalist,’ although I wasn’t trying for that effect. At the time, I was entranced by the transformation of our brown, grainy, not-so-attractive sand by that wash of water. The reflection of the sun and the hints of lavender and blue reflecting from the sky were obvious even at the time, and something I’d never noticed.
The history of the clepsydra as a time-keeping device was fascinating. I’d never heard of it until I came across it in Steinbeck.
It looks to me as though the name of the mythological, many-headed, water snake-like creature — the ‘Hydra’ — is related: at least etymologically. Maybe I’d better watch for more than alligators when I’m roaming the marshes.
As soon as I clicked the Post Comment button I realized I’d forgotten to mention the connection to the Hydra. The Greeks were frequent seafarers, and so would often have had to deal with rough water. In the worst cases, the sea seemed to be trying to kill them (and sometimes succeeding), so they mythologized the water, the hydra, as a great monster, the Hydra.
Hydra-headed monsters still are extant, I think; they’re just a little harder to recognize for what they are.
It’s an old truism amongst birders that bad weather for humans is great weather for birding. That is when we tend to go to the shore. For me a crowded beach with lolling humans, loud, garish holiday makers, people who can’t resist sharing their musical tastes (or lack thereof) with others at high decibels, and especially vehicles, dune buggies etc driving up and down, are anathema. It is the last place I want to be. I recently read of people taking their guns to the beach in areas where it is permitted. Gotta be ready for an attack by those killer fish I guess.
I confess I laughed as I read through your list of annoyances, David. I had a vision of you and your binoculars in a beach chair, waving your field guide dismissively and yelling, “You kids get off my beach!” In truth, this particular beach is always pleasant; it’s far enough from Galveston proper that the party crowd doesn’t show up. It’s much more likely to attract beachcombers and families with children. But days with no people? They’re special.
Oh, thanks for this! I haven’t been to the coast in a while and it’s nice to see it. I’ve never been a “beach” person, despite having grown up in Corpus, but seeing your photos filled me with a certain longing and memories: that soft sand between my toes, the warm, gentle water. My favorite time is near sundown. Sigh.
Sunrise and sunset both are beautiful, but, like you, I enjoy the evenings more. Galveston’s lost much of its laid-back vibe, and Hurricane Ike wiped out most of the affordable beach cottages on Bolivar and the west end; now, mega-mansions and tourist hotels predominate. It’s good for cities like Galveston and Corpus, but thank goodness for the hidden getaways that still exist.
Ah, so peaceful! Glad you got out and about this weekend! I meant to edit a photo to share for a single post today but didn’t have the energy when we got home yesterday. It’s a weird one!
I can’t wait — I do love your weird finds. My real weekend treasure isn’t exactly weird, but it certainly is uncommon, and I found the plants blooming in two widely separated places. Like you, I still have to edit the photos, and cull them. A hundred photos of one plant might be excessive, but I know me — at least two-thirds will go to the great cyber-graveyard.
All so lovely, and I learned about a new word, “clepsydra!”
Isn’t that a fun word? I certainly didn’t know it when I first ran across it. I looked it again this morning, and in the Britannica technology section, I found this:
“Clepsydra, also called water clock, ancient device for measuring time by the gradual flow of water. One form, used by the North American Indians and some African peoples, consisted of a small boat or floating vessel that shipped water through a hole until it sank.”
I guess you only could use that version once — unless you refloated the boat and started over.
Pictures much appreciated with all the noise and chaos going on between elections (the endless back to back commercials by a certain rich elite) and virus.
At the shore perspective. Thanks
It’s not only the national candidates who can be annoying. There are a couple of local races whose candidates seem to have more money than good sense. Four airings per hour is a bit much; I’ve heard people say, “If I could vote for [that person] I wouldn’t, just because I’m so sick of their commercials.”
At the beach, it was blissfully quiet, except for the waves and the wind. I’d forgotten what the air looks like when that much salt and sand are blowing onshore.
Such gorgeous photos, Linda — thank you for posting them. They remind me of long, sunny days walking Gulfport’s sandy beaches — and make me certain I need a beach vacation real soon!
It’s always the right time for a beach vacation — especially over there, where the sand is so pretty. I did think it was interesting that you were posting about pearls at the same time I was admiring the pearlescent glow of the water-smoothed sand on the beach. That kind of luster is pretty no matter where it appears.
I do miss the beach having grown up with a vacation home on the west end where we spent weekends and summers. we sold it 15+ years ago. I realize that the Matagorda beach is only an hour away but I’m just not in the habit anymore. and for about 10 years, rivers were my body of water preference.
The west end’s changed a good bit over the years, but there still are interesting places to visit, and they’re doing a wonderful job of developing the natural resources there. Across the bluewater highway from the Hamby Nature Trail there are some kayak put-ins that seem to be pretty popular, and the paddling trail on the bay side is extensive. I like Matagorda, too. It’s nice having both the Colorado and the Gulf, although it can get a little crazy when the fishing’s good.
When I was younger, I spent a lot of time at the beach – much of it just daydreaming!!
Beaches are especially good for daydreaming — they’re one of the places you can enjoy without having to do anything. Of course it’s fun to swim, or look for shells, or fish in the surf, but there’s no need to do any of that. It’s often quite enough to have a nice cold drink and just watch the water.
How beautiful, you make me wish that I too was there.xxx
Because our beaches come without dramatic cliffs, or rocks, or interesting tide pools, it’s the water that often provides the show. I went down to the Gulf this weekend knowing that the very strong winds would have things stirred up — and so they did!
The solitude looks so inviting there, Linda. The mood captured in your wonderful imagery reflects this solitude perfectly.
It’s a lovely stretch of beach, Pete, and on better-weather days there can be quite a bit of bird activity. Shelling isn’t so good, but it won’t be long until the plant life on the dunes begins to stir, and there are some very pretty flowers to be seen.
I agree. A great time to visit the beach and have the rolling waves and sand all to yourself.
Steinbeck’s quote is perfect for this post.
I would have stayed longer, but the wind came up so strongly that there was a good bit of salt spray in the air, and then it began to rain. Neither bothered me, but I feared for the camera, so I called it a day. I’d hoped to see a few birds, but they were hidden away. Next time!
I also saw a resemblance in the third image to Michael’s minimalist seascapes. My favorite though is the first as it gives fine sense of solitude. I also like to have places to myself and this beach was visited at just the right time.
One of the most interesting details in the first photo is one you wouldn’t have known about. The bottom step at the end of the boardwalk stairs has been nearly buried in sand. It’s amazing how much can be moved by water or blown by wind. Depending on the conditions, the highway can be covered by water at high tide, or by blowing and drifting sand — even little dunes — when the wind is strong out of the south. The county workers have to flip the signs from “water on road” to “sand on road.” Never a dull moment.
It’s rare to see the beaches here so smooth and pristine. Usually, seaweed, broken shells, jellyfish, and human detritus are around. The sea itself had wiped away the clutter this time: Nature as minimalist.
I am not surprised by the sands moving. On the east coast the Capes, Ann and Cod, have probably contributed a lot of their sand down coast to the Outer Banks and other barrier islands.
Thank you for a beautiful walk along the shore. I loved the colours and the solitude.
It was a beautiful day, and despite the photos, not entirely bereft of color. I found one perfect beach primrose blooming, folded away in the dunes where it was a bit protected from the wind and cold. Bright blue skies and sunshine are wonderful, but all of the soft greys were equally appealing to me. If you could have been here, I’d have shared the solitude with you, and happily.
I would have loved that and the primrose, too.
At least you’ll get to see the primrose!
A fine pairing of photography and prose
Finally, I have some watery photos to share with you, Derrick. I’m glad you enjoyed them. If only I’d found a pony on the beach!
Or even a donkey.
With apologies to Joyce Kilmer:
I think that I shall never see
a donkey wading in the sea;
a critter who, despite his bray,
would never, ever swim away…
I miss walking along the beach. But spring isn’t far off and with it the chance to get back to the coast…what joy!
It was warm enough this week that I kicked off my shoes at work one afternoon. Working on boats doesn’t provide many side benefits, but that’s one! I hope you can enjoy the coast soon, with or without shoes.
Working on boats sounds interesting…
It is interesting, although it’s like any other work: sometimes boring, sometimes frustrating, sometimes rewarding. At least the weather is turning! It’s much less fun when it’s really cold or really hot.
I think at the beach one is more aware of the general ebb and flow of life in general, the waxing and waning of plant growth through the seasons, the waxing and waning of the light through the sidereal year, the circling of the moon and its pull upon the tides. I like Steinbeck’s reference to the clepsydra — a Greek form of water clock. Especially in the epoch of sail, one kept time by the tides, for they were what controlled the coming and going of ships.
I still pay attention to the tides on a daily basis. There have been times that an exceptionally low tide has brought my work to a stop since, even if I could drop down onto a boat from the dock, there’d be no way to get off until the tide came up. And more than a few times I’ve waded down water-covered docks, or driven water-covered coastal highways, all because of the tides.
There are a lot of sailboats in marinas around here that can’t go out in winter: not because of temperatures, but because there isn’t enough water. As you say, the tides control the comings and goings of ships — even if it’s only a pleasure craft and not the square-riggers of old.
One of my favorite poems involves tides, too: “The tide rises, the tide falls…”
Your water shots are truly fabulous, Linda. Great camera work — you stop it in its tracks!
Blue skies are pretty flowers are so appealing, but they’re easy to notice, and appreciate. To take a gray day and a significant lack of color on the dunes and still see something takes a little more time and effort, but I had a fun day while looking.
Great images and thoughts. Steinbeck is one of my favorites too. I remember the Gulf (from Florida) being much more tranquil when I saw it a few times.
The Gulf is interesting. Because it’s so enclosed, it can act like a washing machine at times. Then again, it can be as smooth and placid as a bathtub. I actually prefer it a little stirred up. In the summer, with no breeze and only a slight swell, it can be unpleasant on a boat. And sometimes, when conditions are just right, the blue water can come very near the shore, and be absolutely beautiful.
We have found winter to be an excellent time for walking on California’s beaches also when we were visiting there. Beautiful photos, so peaceful.
Some of the most beautiful beaches I’ve seen were in northern California. spending time on them can be a wonderful experience — I’m glad you had the opportunity. Their coast is quite different than ours, but a beach is a beach.