Tuesday, February 27, 2007


It's true that time flies when you're having fun, and I've been having a lot of fun lately. Texas Independence Day looms, though, as does the official launch of the TSJ Kayak Safari.


Friday my buddies Ken Larson and Dean Thomas will join me on the last beach in Texas and we'll push our boats into the sluggish current at the mouth of the Rio Grande, point our bows north and start paddling.

I'm looking forward to it. I'm also just a bit nervous.

This will be our shakedown cruise ... only about 60 miles -- a little less than 20 percent of the entire coastwise paddle -- but maybe the most important. It's the 60 miles that will tell me if this nutty idea I've been nurturing since the dawn of the millineum is truly crazy, or inspired.

It's the 60 miles that will let me know whether my daily mileage estimates were accurate, and whether a 16-foot sit-on-top kayak really can easily carry everything I need for a couple of unsupported days on the water.

It's also the 60 miles with -- potentially -- the best fishing.

We've had a warm week and the snook should be moving up onto the flats again. Trout and redfish will be feeding actively and there's always a chance we'll run across some of the Lower Laguna's resident tarpon even if the migratory schools of big fish are still vacationing in Mexico.

We'll catch up to them -- or they'll catch up to us -- toward the end of the trip, farther north on the coast.

Ken sent me the weather forecast yesterday and noted that winds this weekend are forecast to be blowing out of the north around 13. That's barely breezy for the Texas coast, but coming from the wrong direction. Highs in the mid-70s, lows in the mid-50s.

I think it will be pleasant, weather-wise. Aside from paddling into the wind. But, you know, if this was an entirely easy thing to do, I probably wouldn't be that interested in doing it.

Maybe I should be more wound-up about this -- everyone else seems to be -- for months I've been reassuring everyone from my editors to my paddling partners: "We can do this."

I've thought long and hard about why I'm not more concerned. I guess part of the reason is that I'm comfortable on this water; this, for me, is a return to my youth and dawn-to-dusk explorations in a 13-foot sailboat.

And we're well-equipped, if not for absolute comfort, at least for safety. A GPS unit will tell us where we are and VHF radios will allow us to tell the Coast Guard should we need to do that.

The first three nights we'll be in sight of the towering condos on South Padre Island. The last two nights we'll be almost within sniffing distance of Shirley Shuler's fantastic home cooking at Getaway Adventures Lodge in Port Mansfield. I probably won't be able to smell the cold beer in Cappy's cooler, but I can sure imagine it. That's powerful incentive to keep paddling.

The two friends who are joining me for this leg are experienced paddlers, fine anglers and -- importantly -- entertaining. It's going to be fun, and that, really, is the point.

I'll be sure to let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


I do a lot of it. Never been one to let a couple hundred miles of asphalt stand between me and ... whatever.

And really I don't mind. It's good thinkin' time, and sometimes I see some interesting stuff and I get to know my CDs really well. I'll come back to all of these things in due course.

It's 187 miles from my front door to the center of Rockport (my hometown) via U.S. Hwy 183, Texas 239 and Texas 35. I've done it so many times it's as if my car's on rails. Lockhart-Luling-Gonzales-Cuero-Goliad-Tivoli ....

Saturday I drove south to spend some time with my friend Kendal. He'd had a lousy week, I'd had a lousy week ... he has a fully stocked bar and satellite TV and lives right on the water. We figured that, somehow, some combination of those things would improve our collective mood.

On the way down, I got to thinking about the things I've figured-out all on my own while driving. Sadly, it's a pretty short list, but feel free to marvel at my, uh ... powers of observation. Or something:

  • Highway maintenance contracts are awarded by county. Notice: most often, when you cross a county line, the road surface changes. It's the only explanation I can come up with.
  • There's no such thing as a "canola." Canola cooking oil is actually made from rapeseed, not a marketing-friendly plant.
  • When someone gives you two reasons for disappointing you, it's usually really only one or the other ... or maybe a third reason entirely that you're not hearing.
  • Goats' tails point up, sheep's tails point down.
  • Old roads follow even older tracks; US 183, for instance, follows the path of the old Indianola-Bexar stagecoach route for a good part of its length in the southern part of the state. That's why old roads are so winding and interesting. New roads, like IH-35, were surveyed with the express intent of getting from Point A (Laredo) to Point B (Detroit?) in the most efficient manner. That's why new roads are so straight and boring. (okay, I actually had some help with this one from an historical marker)
  • The outside heel of my left shoe is always the first thing to get worn down because I walk funny. I mean, I must walk funny, right?
  • If you mostly throw just one type of lure, that's going to be your most productive lure. A corollary is that if you stop fishing after you catch a fish, you will have caught that fish on your "last cast." Fishermen like to say: "I caught that big sucker on my last cast," like -- "what luck!" -- what luck indeed.
  • Vodka tonics are not effective aids to weight loss. I used to think they were, but then I figured out that really it was all the dancing I was doing along with the drinking. This, by the way, is an excellent example of using science in everyday life. A dozen vodka tonics per night + six hours of salsa x 20 nights = weight loss. A dozen vodka tonics and no dancing = weight gain. It's all about adding and subtracting variables. Either way, though, you're pretty well protected from malaria.
  • The sun and the moon, when close to the horizon, appear so large because ... oh hell, I haven't figured this one out yet. The question is: why do the sun and the moon on the horizon appear so large, yet appear so small higher up in the sky? You can test this by looking at that big ol' orange moon as it rises, then taking a photo with a lens equivalent to about 50mm, and compare. It looks nothing like what you see with your naked eye. This is apparently an abiding mystery, and I'm not the only one still wondering. Seriously. Theories have ranged from atmospheric distortion (greater magnification by looking at the distant object through more or thicker atmosphere) to an optical illusion caused by one's mind comparing objects (like trees or buildings) of a known distance and size to an object (like the moon) of an unknown distance and size.
The astronomical body on the horizon question leads me to things I've pondered while driving but have yet to understand. For instance:

  • Why the hell do so many trucks in Texas have "FISH" emblazoned on the trailers? This applies to refrigerated 18-wheelers and fish farm stocking tanks alike. I've actually asked TxDoT about this and they don't know. I understand HAZMAT placards ("Hey, this sucker could explode."), but ... fish?
  • If synthetic materials (like polyester and polyethylene -- Nylon and bowling balls) are made from oil, what is "synthetic oil" made from?
  • Is there an afterlife?

Some things just aren't observable. Or easily testable.


Of all the cool things I spy while driving, birds usually top the list.

  • It ocurred to me this weekend that vultures really are disgusting creatures. I know they fill an important niche in the ecosystem, but I'd like them a lot more if they'd draw the line at skunks. They're amazingly engineered, though. Did you know a vulture's vent is positioned so that it shits on its own feet? Vulture shit, as you might imagine, is pretty caustic stuff; so caustic, it kills the bacteria the birds pick up by wading around in dead stuff.
  • I saw another pair of marsh hawks this weekend. The males are a very distinctive gray, and both males and females have white rumps. Unlike other hawks that soar or perch for a "birds-eye" view, harriers (properly, these birds are "Northern harriers") often hunt in pairs by gliding just feet over the ground. I frequently catch sight of a pair or more on Texas 239 between Goliad and Tivoli. I'm actually not much good at identifying raptors, and I saw several others; an American kestrel perched on a power line was the only other species I could identify for sure.
  • I often see Rio Grande turkeys on this stretch of road as well, and sometimes geese this time of year. This trip the only large game birds I saw were sandhill cranes flying low in a ragged vee. They're impressively large animals with a distinctive, honking call that always puts me in mind of a brisk, north wind.
  • I saw a couple of Belted kingfishers between Rockport and Aransas Pass. They habitually perch on the old telephone wires near the DeGussa refinery. While not exactly uncommon, kingfishers always get my attention in a way that seagulls, pelicans and whistling ducks don't. But I did see scores of those, too.


Typically, when driving to Rockport, I can pick up The World's Best Radio Station (KTXN-98.7 FM, they stream at http://www.texasmix.com/) south of Gonzales. I usually listen all the way into town.

This trip, though, I kept cycling Jon Dee Graham through the CD changer. Partly because it fit my mood, partly because I'd seen him play at the Saxon Pub the night before, partly because I can be a little bit obsessive .... mostly because it's just really, really good stuff.

I've often found my favorite music at the intersection of my experience and the songwriter's sentiment; somewhere just north of blues, south of hard rock and a little east of country.

This is no great Eureka! discovery; plenty of other people already know about this guy, but his music is new to me and it just bowls me right over.

Thoughtful, wry, hopeful, a little heartbreaking sometimes, outright funny others, Jon Dee's songs are mostly about standing somewhere in the middle of your years and checking the traffic in both directions.

My favorite tracks so far, from Full, his most recent CD:

  • "Swept Away" (Jon Dee said in an interview he considers Mexico his "spiritual home." It's my ancestral home, and I've ... well, I've actually sorta done the swept away thing. Once.);
  • "Holes" I haven't quite parsed yet, but I keep going back to it;
  • "Remain" (my sis and her heck-of-a-good-guy boyfriend of seven years really needed to hear this one Friday night. Glad they were there.); and
  • "Beloved Garden" (a retelling of Genesis, Chapter 3 ... didn't really expect to like this one, but it's a great song).
The title track from The Great Battle rocks.

  • "Robot Moving" continues the meditation on ... well, just keepin' on, I think, and includes one of my favorite lines from the CD: Everybody says put one foot in front of the other/'Course the irony is that's the only way feet work/What luck/Now what am I supposed to do about that?
Anyhow, check him out.

Jon Dee plays most Wednesdays at the Continental Club, usually on a double bill with James McMurtry. You can catch him at the Saxon Pub about once a month with his band, and every Sunday there with The Resentments. I think all of the songs on his MySpace page are from The Great Battle, but his Web site (http://www.jondeegraham.com/) includes samples from Full.

That's it, man. All I got today.