No other activity that I can think of matches the de-stressing benefits of strolling lazily along a beach looking for seashells. Something about the intensity of visually searching the sand to the sounds of constant surf combine into a total escape. Beach time offers a great way to detach from the “civilized” world’s pressures and stresses, even if only for a few moments.
I always favor beach combing in winter months for the solitude and perspective. A sense of place and peace pervades my soul in the presence of the enormity and grandeur of the ocean. Last weekend I visited the beach at Galveston, which while not on anyone’s short list for beach beauty, does have the requisite surf, sounds, and seagulls that still combine for a pleasant time.
If you like brown, you’ll love Galveston beaches. For most of the year, the beach sand is a dark brown that perfectly matches the water, a lovely nondescript wet brown. I’ve been told by one person who witnessed the following phenomenon that a few times each decade or so a strange current overturning results in actual blue water along our coast. When it happens, it’s said to make you feel like you’ve been transported to a beach in Florida, where blue water is commonplace. But the rest of the time, we locals have to rely on the sounds and smell to create our beach experience. The water and sand colors are so close at times that when the surfs low and the wind still, you can squint your eyes and struggle to tell where the dividing line is between surf and sand.
You see all types of people at beaches, although in the preseason there are gratefully fewer humans than usual and those that do venture forth are either fishers or life contemplators simply walking a mind-clearing beach path. Some people prefer walking barefoot at the surf’s edge to enjoy the sensation of sand and surf in toes, but as the picture at the right revels, it’s not a good idea to go sans shoes! The Portuguese Man O’ Wars washed ashore were plentiful, and while most were highly visible, there were handfuls of these little guys that you’d never see until too late. The sting of this seemingly innocent ocean floater can be fatal, although by the time they’re washed ashore, much of their dangling danger has been knocked off by the pounding surf. And no, I didn’t personally test this theory, preferring to keep my sneakers on as I strolled the packed, dark sand.
Years ago our family rented a beach front house on this same stretch of beach (picture at right). Sitting on that deck late into dusk sipping a cool drink was heaven. And although not quite as mind-emptying as beach strolling, at least we kept out of the sun and didn’t have to hopscotch the man o’ wars or other sand dangers (broken glass is unfortunately another frequent, invisible danger). The currents of the Gulf of Mexico head towards the Texas Gulf Coast making this strip of sand at times the gulf’s garbage dump. You never know what you’ll come across walking the beach, from organic items to trash to ship parts to full tree trunks floating from some distant, far beach island. I always wonder about the provenance of things unusual I come across beach walking. Sometimes it’s a single shoe, or cover of a book, or bit of foliage that obviously is not from our area.
I like this particular strip of beach which is beyond the 18-mile road out of town, meaning that only serious surfers or fishers venture this far away from the beer-and-bait shops and other tourist trappings located closer to Galveston. Most of the younger set, being more concerned with who sees whom, play closer to town, which is find by me. Even with few people, people-watching is still in great form. And then there’s the dogs, or I should say, the puppies. Dogs love the beach, and it’s my theory that regardless of the dog’s age, when they hit the sand and can run semi-free, they all become puppies once again. I watched two small dogs, one terrier blend and the other a bit larger mongrel, jumping up and down in their human owner’s truck in their excitement to get out. Door opened and these two “puppies” bolted full speed to the surf, yapping, and jumping in circles and trying to do everything at once: bite the surf, chase the crab, oh wait, chase the seagull, no wait, another crab, ohhh smell this thing, and what’s that? oh look! a dead fish! And on, and on. Meanwhile dog mom and dad took their time getting ready for a stroll, trusting that the two dogs had enough to keep them occupied in the immediate area. As I sat in my beach chair watching this entertaining display, I marveled at how easy dogs can turn on the happy thought doing something this simple. A lesson all us old dogs could stand to learn.