Nature Unplugged

21nov2011_1__dsc7226My husband and I went camping last weekend when the temperatures were in the freezing range. Our neighbors wondered out loud if we had perhaps neglected to note the arrival of colder than normal weather, especially when they heard that we were going to Galveston Island State Park. Somehow in their minds it seemed rather strange to head to the beach in low thirty degree conditions. I suppose that most people would agree but that’s because they haven’t tried it.

We covered out plants before leaving and took the more delicate potted ones inside. We kept our smart phones tuned to the Weather Channel and equipped the trailer with our warmest blankets, lots of hot chocolate, coffee and tea. We made sure that we had coats, gloves and hats and that the propane that runs our heater was in full supply. Mike even had foam insulation to put around the hoses that provide water for our convenience. We were as well prepared as a bevy of Boy Scouts.

It was grey and rainy when we arrived at our campsite. We had a grand view of Galveston Bay which was anything but tranquil. The thirty mile per hour winds created enormous white caps on the waves that churned the water. It was a glorious site that we enjoyed from inside the cozy comfort of our trailer whose walls were buffeted by the storm. We listened to music and had the rare privilege of simply enjoying the scene around us without interruptions from phones or unexpected solicitors at our door. We felt as though we were in a warm cocoon hibernating from stress and it was wonderful. We had neither the need nor the desire to venture outside because we were surrounded by the serenity and bounty of nature.

The marshlands between us and the bay were teeming with exotic birds doing their best  to hunker down until the environment became less hostile. They were magnificent and I felt as though I was being given a rare treat because I doubt that they would have been so bold if the other humans that were in the park with us were walking about. Since all of us stayed indoors we had a rare peak at what goes on inside such an ecosystem. I most enjoyed the pelicans who somehow appear graceful in flight despite their bulkiness in physique. There were cranes and seagulls and grumpy blackbirds that attempted to take control of the area but were generally ignored.

After dark we watched a movie while wrapped tightly in our blanket with the heater warming all of the corners of our tiny home away from home. We sipped on chai tea and hot chocolate and munched on bowls of popcorn. I couldn’t imagine a more perfect evening.

The sun eventually came out and we ventured over to the Galveston Seawall where the water was crystal clear and shining like brilliant jewels. Nobody was swimming but many sauntered along in their heavy winter gear just enjoying the sound of the waves and the lack of big crowds that usually cram the beach. It was actually far more beautiful that it is in the heat of summer and I began to think of all of the secrets of the sea and wonder what the waters had witnessed during the course of history.

We followed Seawall Boulevard all the way down to the end of the island where huge ships were entering the bay. I wanted to know from whence they had come and where they were going. There was a virtual traffic jam of tankers, barges and tug boats. Along the shore fishermen quietly cast their lines in hopes of landing dinner for the evening. It was isolated and felt like a private  tour of places on the island that I had not before seen.

We drove to the historic Stand and braved the cold to walk among the shops and browse the wares. The clerks were happy to have customers and the time to tarry in conversation. I learned that many people come from other parts of the country just to live in Galveston during the winter season. Most of them had neglected to bring their cold weather clothing and so they had to make do with layering on that very cold day.

It was Galveston Restaurant Week and so we stopped at one of our favorite haunts, the Gumbo Bar. It was good to find some warmth and a special menu in honor of the festivities. We enjoyed oyster po’ boys and bread pudding and then drove to the ferry that goes across the bay to the Bolivar Peninsula. There were more ships and hundreds of birds as well as offshore oil rigs to keep our attention in the short trip across.

I had not been to that area in a long time. I had heard that there had been grave damage when Hurricane Ike hit several years ago. It seemed to have recovered rather well but as always it is a quieter side of Galveston Bay without nearly as much of the tourist trade. It’s a paradise for fisherman and those who want to catch a few of the blue crabs that inhabit the waters. I noticed a number of RV parks hosting snowbirds from northern states, people who come each year to avoid the snow and months long cold of their homes.

By the last day of our mini-vacation the temperature was hospitable enough for us to take a long stroll along the beach. We bundled up and brought a bag to use in collecting the many shells that had been left behind by the storm. I found some beauties but mostly enjoyed the fact that we were the only people anywhere. I felt a contentment as we walked silently from one end of the beach park to the other with the waves whispering their welcome to us. I didn’t need to enter the water to feel a sense of joy. I only desired to observe all of the wonders of nature that graced us in our solitary little haven.

We reluctantly left for home driving for one last time along the seawall. There were more people braving the cooler temperatures to walk on the wall built by people attempting to tame the wildness of the sea after the ocean swallowed Galveston in a hurricane of 1900. The waves were asserting themselves as if to remind us all that they are ultimately in charge. Their power is breathtaking and my last glance at them left me with a lovely memory whose image I draw upon for comfort and serenity.

Those who believe that there is nothing to do in Galveston on a freezing cold day in January have never been there to see what we did. It was one of the loveliest camping trips that I have ever made. It’s delightful to visit a place without the sometimes intrusive footprint of other people crowding the view. Go there in the winter. Linger in the quiet. Enjoy nature unplugged.