I live close enough to Galveston beach that I can be there in under an hour. I feel a calm when I gaze out into the water that appears to continue infinitely. I often find myself wondering how many people have sailed from far away places into the harbor. I know that my grandparents once did just before the outbreak of World War I. There are also stories that German submarines may have stealthily navigated nearby in World War II. A bunker looking out into the sea still stands as a reminder of the dangers of that time.
Mostly though, the beach near where I live is a place for swimming, fishing and fun. We don’t have the soft sand dunes of the Pacific coast nor is the water clear and shades of blue like in the Caribbean. Instead there is only a narrow strip of sand that has to be replaced periodically lest the beach disappear altogether due to the massive seawall that protects the city of Galveston from the wrath of hurricanes. Therein lies a lesson in history as well.
Whenever I visit Galveston my thoughts always turn to the many souls who lost their homes and their lives in the 1900 hurricane. Before that fateful day in September Galveston had been one of the fastest growing and most prosperous cities in the United States. It had been described by some as the Wall Street of the south while also being a kind of heaven on earth, but nature asserted itself and literally tore the place asunder leaving it to become mostly a tourist town and eventually a port for cruise ships.
I have grown up understanding the power and danger of hurricanes even fifty miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico. I have great respect for the power of wind and flooding rain. I know the story of Galveston by heart and the resilience of the people who chose to stay there even after enduring so much loss. I admire the courage of people who so love the beach that they are willing to risk the possibility that another hurricane may one day take aim at their property. Luckily these days most of them understand that they must leave until the danger is over, so the loss of life is rarely a consideration.
The people of Galveston are a hardy lot. They enjoy celebrating life and they do so with great joy. They plan celebrations like Mardi Gras and Dickens on the Strand. They know the incredible beauty of the gulf waters in the cold of winter when it seems that only the most dedicated souls walk along the beach. Most of them have caught a kind of sea fever that keeps them tethered to the sunrises and sunsets that have to be seen to be believed.
I prefer to be a visitor, an interloper who appreciates the beauty and the soul of living near the sea, but in the end I am a landlubber who seeks higher ground. While I understand those who feel a visceral attachment to the seaside, I am not one of them. Nonetheless I feel the pull of the tides and a need to smell the salty air. I want that vista that seems to meld the earth with heaven. I feel the healing essence of sitting quietly on the seawall doing nothing but gazing into the magnificence and power of the water.
My father often dreamed of living by the sea. He was drawn to the water as though it had a magical power over him. He was happiest when he sat on a pier with his fishing line bobbing up and down. I literally felt the joy radiating from his soul whenever he was near the ocean. I suspect that some speck of daddy’s DNA landed in my brother who has lived in Galveston for many years now. He found a bride who shares his love of living with the water in his backyard. Together they have created a pleasure dome of serenity, at least until the storms come.
My personality is perhaps more reserved. I would not mind living by a placid lake or on a mountain top. I don’t want to have to worry about moving when storms brew offshore and threaten to come in my direction. I won’t even stay in my inland home when such threats are dire. I head for the Texas Hill country and enjoy a sojourn there until the danger passes. I often wonder why I became this way because the history of my family is one of adventurous spirits, not careful over-thinkers like me. Perhaps it is my caretaker personality that causes me to want to keep myself and my family safe.
The only person whose way of doing things seemed to align with mine was my grandmother, Mary. Once she crossed the ocean and settled into a tiny house in Houston, Texas she never again wanted to move. In fact, she did not even have a desire to leave the house. She was perfectly content to live out her days caring for her children and tending her garden.
I am somewhat more balanced in that I love to travel and I continue to work outside of my home even in my retirement years. Still, it would not take much for me to spend more and more of my time simply enjoying my home and the neighbors around me. I feel quite comfortable and safe here. I don’t feel the need for excitement. I prefer the quiet of living a routine life.
I am able to hop in my car and travel to the sea on any day. I can spend as much time there as I wish and then go home knowing that the worst a hurricane may do to my home is toss a few shingles off of the roof or take down my fence or one of my trees. In fact, I know that my city is the metropolis that it is because of that hurricane of long ago. When the winds devastated Galveston the progress and commerce moved inland. Houston was far enough away to take advantage of the shift. They built a ship channel and used bayous and railroads to grow a city in a fairly unlikely place.
Now it is my home and I love it, but I am beginning to worry. As the climate changes and storms become stronger I have witnessed the devastation of flooding more often than I like. So far I have been spared, but my cautious nature makes me uncertain. One day I may feel compelled to move north to higher ground.