Tag Archives: Gulf of Mexico

Happy Trails, Part 183: Sweat triggers early Texas memories

ATLANTA STATE PARK, Texas – A jaunt to this lush Piney Woods forest with our fifth wheel in tow triggered some memories for me.

Our family’s Texas journey began not terribly far from this corner of the massive state. I took a job in Beaumont, which is a bit — about 335 miles — due south along the Texas-Louisiana border, in March 1984. My family joined me in the Golden Triangle later that summer.

We learned quickly to become climatized to the intense heat and humidity in Southeast Texas. Our boys graduated from high school in the early 1990s. In January 1995, I took another job way up yonder in Amarillo. My wife and I moved there and spent the next 23 years enjoying gorgeous sunrises and sunsets and getting acclimated to the distinctly different weather patterns presented along the High Plains. We can attest to the truth of the saying that one can see all four seasons of the year in a single day in Amarillo.

The journey made its final stop in 2018 when we moved to Collin County.

I tend to reminisce when we return to regions with which we have some familiarity. I did so when we pulled into Atlanta State Park.

It’s the tall pines jutting out of the thicket of broad-leaf trees and assorted greenery. Then we had the downpour, followed by rising steam and, oh yeah … the humidity!

We have lived in Texas for most of our lives; that would be 36 years for me, as I am 70 … while my wife is a bit younger than I am. We’ve enjoyed the warm Gulf of Mexico water, the Big Thicket and jaunts to cities such as Houston and New Orleans; we took our belongings to the Panhandle, where we marveled at Palo Duro Canyon and watched a tornado develop less than a mile from our house in the southwest corner of Amarillo. We now are getting used to our new digs in Princeton and enjoying additional time with our precious granddaughter.

This retirement sojourn, though, does take us back to sweaty regions that remind me of what we endured way back when we were much younger and decided to pursue a new life in a part of the world we barely knew.

I remember it as if it just happened.

That was quite the storm!

I took a job 35 years ago in what I suppose you could call Tornado Country.

We moved our young sons from Oregon to the Golden Triangle of Texas, a region prone to hurricanes and the twisters that spin off the storms as they crash ashore from the Gulf of Mexico.

Then my wife and I moved to Amarillo, which also has experienced its share of tornado-induced misery since the beginning of recorded history. My wife and I once watched a funnel cloud form about a mile west of our house while baseball-sized hail pummeled our dwelling and destroyed our roof.

Then a year ago, my wife and I moved to Collin County in the Metroplex.

Tonight we had our first tornado “experience” since moving to Collin County. All is well and good. The storm passed south of us as well as south of our son, daughter-in-law, our granddaughter and her older brother. Our son’s extended family is safe, too.

However, this is the kind of thing — even after living in Tornado Country for 35 years — that still gives me the heebie-jeebies.

The local weather forecaster broke into a program we were watching to alert us of thunder storms. Then came the “tornado warning,” which means they had spotted a funnel cloud on the ground.

The storm chasers provided some gripping video to go along with the near-frantic commentary coming from the meteorologist. One of them caught a picture of a heavily damaged pickup stalled on Interstate 635; the driver of the truck then gave a thumbs-up to the TV crew that was taking pictures of the damage done by the storm that had roared through the area.

Our son informed us they had storm sirens blaring in Allen. Ours in Princeton stayed silent. We did, however, receive a lot of rain.

The storm has passed on. My hope is that our neighbors to the east stay safe.

How will I sleep tonight? Probably not well. Tomorrow, though, is another day. We’ll see what it brings.

Gator alert: Stay away from this site

SEA RIM STATE PARK, Texas — We have just been advised that we are living for a couple of days among one of God’s more fearsome creatures.

A Texas Parks & Wildlife ranger informs us that this state park, right on the Gulf of Mexico, is home to at least one alligator.

She described him as a 5-footer — with three legs. “Do you suppose he lost his leg in a fight with another gator?” I asked. She didn’t know.

It doesn’t matter. I am going to presume the gator still gets around just fine. He inhabits a certain RV campsite, No. 10. “He’s there sometimes,” said the TP&W ranger.

Good to know.

So, with that I’ll inform you — and we’ve already told Toby the Puppy — that we ain’t going anywhere near the site. We’ll stay close to our fifth wheel for the time we’re here.

The gimpy gator — and those who park their RV there — can have it all to themselves.

Worrying about New Orleans all over again

I know I’m not the only American who is worried a little more than normal tonight about what might occur in the next couple of days in New Orleans, La.

Tropical Storm Gordon is pounding South Florida. The storm is heading into the Gulf of Mexico and is drawing a bead on the Big Easy.

Why the worry? You know what I mean.

Thirteen years ago, New Orleans fell victim to the deluge brought ashore by Hurricane Katrina. The levees that were supposed to protect the city’s residents failed. Water poured in over the city. The tragedy became a worldwide story as residents fled their homes for places far inland, away from the danger.

They eventually drained the water out of New Orleans. They buttressed the levees. They say the city is protected better than it was in the summer of 2005.

But … is it?

TS Gordon might grow into another hurricane. Or it could make landfall as a tropical storm as it churns across the Gulf of Mexico.

And, yes, I’m going to worry about New Orleans residents who no doubt get the heebie-jeebies whenever the summer season produces these storms every single year.

I’m sending them all good thoughts and positive karma as they await this latest unwelcome visitor coming in from offshore.

Be strong.

This place is for the birds

HIGH ISLAND, Texas — I’m officially mad at myself.

My wife, sons and I lived on the Texas Gulf Coast for nearly 11 years and we never visited this place. It’s the Smith Oaks Rookery on High Island, about 40 or so miles from Beaumont.

It also is one of the premier “birding” sites on Earth. That’s right. One of the best in the world! People come from all across the world to see this place.

My wife and I visited this oasis with friends; a couple of our friends visited briefly with a visitor from Maine, who happened the know the species of a particular bird that caught our eye. She’d never been to Smith Oaks, but knew the bird’s identity.

The rookery stood in the path of Hurricane Harvey this past summer. It suffered some damage. The fresh water turned brackish because of the storm surge that swept ashore from the Gulf of Mexico.

On this day, though, it was full of birds. Herons, spoonbills, cormorants, egrets. They were everywhere. This happens to be the nesting period. Birds were building nests. Some were tending to and feeding young birds.

What a wonderful sight to see!

If you look at the picture I posted with this brief item, you’ll notice an alligator at the water’s edge. The beast looked to be about a 10-footer. He was one of two prehistoric creatures we saw lounging in the 70-degree sunshine.

The rookery is sponsored by the Houston Audoban Society. You pay a small fee to enter it. I’ll just say this right here: It is money well spent.

I need to ask myself now: Why in the world did we never visit this place when we lived just down the road?

I suppose it isn’t that uncommon to take for granted nature’s treasures that sit just beyond our doorstep. So, we had to drive here all the way from the other corner of this huge state to take in a natural wonder.

Harvey’s impact will be felt for a long time

BEAUMONT, Texas — Here’s the buzz my wife and I are getting while visiting friends in the Golden Triangle: Hurricane Harvey left a lasting — but not indelible — impact on this region.

We’re hearing that many neighborhoods remain under repair. The Northwest Forest neighborhood west of the city is “like a Third World country.” Streets are under repair. We noticed huge slash piles of brush stacked up under tall timber along Interstate 10 as we entered the city.

But the city will fight its way back.

Hurricane Harvey stormed ashore for a second blast in the late summer of 2017, dumping a record-setting 50 inches of rain in a 24-hour span of time. It deluged the city water system. Two of our friends told us of being without water for more than a week, while the electricity was restored in short order.

“Riverfront Park is destroyed,” we were told. The park used to be a site of outdoor activities next to the Civic Center along the Neches River. It’s now gone.

We all have read about huge fundraising efforts ongoing to assist the folks in Houston, about 80 miles west of the Golden Triangle on Interstate 10. Houston Texas all-pro defensive end J.J. Watt has become an iconic figure in the Bayou City for his work raising more than a quarter-billion dollars to assist in the repair of Texas’s largest city.

Yes, Houston needs help. The state and the federal government have stepped up to lend disaster assistance.

The pain stretches a good bit beyond the big city. Beaumont is feeling the pain brought by the storm’s rage.

I have no doubt that our friends in the Golden Triangle will recover. They will triumph. They will get on with their lives.

I’m betting, though, they’ll never listen again to the sound of rain with the same serenity it used to bring.

Time to tap that limitless prayer well … once again

It’s a good thing that humankind’s wellspring of prayer knows no limit. We can pray forever. For eternity. Until the end of time.

I now shall do so yet again, just as I did for our friends and the millions of others along the Texas Gulf Coast as Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey bore down with all its rage and savagery.

The recipients now are those who sit in the path of Hurricane Irma.

Oh … my. What awaits them?

Irma is churning across the Atlantic Ocean. The storm has drawn a bead on South Florida. It’s a Category 5 monster, with sustained winds of about 185 mph. Have you seen the traffic moving north, away from that monster? And have you wondered — as I have — about the few motor vehicles one sees on the news video heading south, toward the storm’s Ground Zero?

We don’t have many friends in South Florida. But I worry specifically about a former colleague and friend. She’s a journalist who lives in Fort Lauderdale. I am going to pray extra hard for her and her loved ones’ well-being.

While all this has occurred here in Texas and what is about to occur along the Florida coast, my hometown of Portland, Ore., is choking from the smoke and ash being deposited from that hideous Eagle Creek fire just east of the city.

The fire started on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge, but it has jumped the big river and is now burning forestland in Washington. I read today that firefighters are beginning finally to contain the blaze — and that the weather might be about to turn in the firefighters’ favor with shifting wind and some rainfall expected over the weekend.

Let it rain! As a friend of mine pleaded, we need to send some of that Texas deluge north to the Pacific Northwest. If only one could do such a thing.

Hurricane Irma is being called the monster of all storm monsters. It’s stronger, windier, larger than any storm in anyone’s memory. Hurricane Andrew in 1992 was a pigmy compared to what Irma is expected to deliver. That’s pretty damn scary, given the damage Andrew brought to South Florida and then to the Louisiana coast.

I guess I should ask those who read this blog to join me in some prayer for our fellow travelers over yonder in Florida and along the Caribbean. Keep praying, too, for those along the Texas coast who are trying to cobble their lives back together. And, yes, please pray that firefighters extinguish the Eagle Creek fire sooner rather than later.

Just remember: Our prayer source is infinite.

Happy Trails, Part 38

I think I’ve just made a command retirement decision.

My wife, Toby the Puppy and I are not going anywhere near the Gulf or Atlantic coasts in August or September.

Hurricane Harvey crashed ashore twice along the Texas coast as a Category 3 monster. First it hit Corpus Christi and Rockport. Then it backed up over the Gulf of  Mexico, downgraded a bit to a tropical storm, then wiped out Houston and the Golden Triangle under 50-something inches of rainfall.

OK, then. The Gulf Coast is out.

Now the nation is awaiting Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 hurricane that is reportedly the most dangerous Atlantic storm ever formed!

Miami and Miami Beach are in Irma’s bulls-eye. Sustained winds are at 185 mph. Residents are starting to flee.

You know what that means? It means we aren’t going that way, either in late summer … not ever!

Climate change is making these monster storms a more frequent occurrence. Do not bitch at me about climate change! I won’t be dissuaded from what I believe, which is that Earth’s climate is changing. I won’t argue with you today about whether it’s manmade or whether it’s part of Earth’s “normal cycle.” The cause doesn’t matter in the context of this decision.

Earth’s climate is changing and that means — for those of us in our household — our happy trails are going to lead us elsewhere at this time of the year.

Nature’s awesome power shows our human frailty

The ongoing drama playing out along the Texas Gulf Coast reminds me of what we all know already.

It is that no matter how we seek to control Mother Nature, she ain’t going to be controlled. Period. No way, not no how.

Beaumont utility officials built those detention ponds designed to catch rainwater runoff. The rain came as a result of Tropical Storm — formerly known as Hurricane — Harvey. Except that it came in volumes that far exceeded the detention ponds’ capacity. Houston got inundated first. And before that, Rockport and Corpus Christi felt the rage of storm surge and heavy, killer wind.

The storm has trudged on. It is doing damage now in Louisiana and I understand that Memphis, Tenn., sitting on the east bank of the Mighty Mississippi, if facing potential trouble.

No matter, though, how frail we humans appear to be as we face Nature’s awesome power we do have this capacity to rally and to band together to help our neighbors. My heart swells with pride as I watch first responders answer the call. It swells even more when I watch neighbors helping neighbors, offering valuable assistance to those first responders.

I watch Navy and Coast Guard pilots getting hugs and heartfelt expressions of gratitude from victims they have rescued from rooftops, attics and porches.

I’ve even watched media representatives — yes, those alleged “enemies of the people” — sloshing through muddy water to pull people and their pets out of harm’s way.

We humans cannot control Mother Nature’s awesome force. We try to build levees, dams, detention ponds. We erect sandbag barriers and seawalls along the beach. We hope for the best when Nature unleashes her fury, but also always must expect the worst.

When this storm arrived with its fury and rage, we got the worst — by God!

As the water recedes ever so slowly, though, we are delivering our best. It cannot prevent the destruction, but our best efforts do manage to lift our hearts.

That is no small feat.

Setting the record straight on Harvey commentary

It turns out some social media friends and acquaintances have been bickering among themselves over the nature of this blog’s commentary on Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey.

Some of my acquaintances have accused this blog of being overly negative toward Donald Trump. Others have said that’s not so.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have attached a link to all the posts I’ve put out there about Harvey.


It’s all right there in the link right above this sentence.

I would like you to take a look at it.

This story has many diverse facets. We have the human suffering; there’s the political story relating to government’s response to it; we can discuss the quality of the first response; we can examine whether the cities and the state were sufficiently prepared; we can talk about the federal government’s role.

High Plains Blogger hasn’t yet touched all of those elements.

In my own defense — and I’m allowed to defend myself, correct? — I haven’t been totally negative, snarky or “bitter” (as one critic keeps reminding others) about certain elements of this on-going tragedy.

My family and I have a bit of skin in this game. We used to live in Beaumont. We all have friends who are suffering. We love them dearly and we wish them all the very best. We also wish we could pick everything up and go there to lend a hand — but the state highway department is telling us way up yonder to “avoid travel to the Texas coast.”

Just want to set the record straight. So there. I’ve done it.