Tag Archives: Gulf Coast

Long Night on the Beach

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I don’t know why I thought it would be fun to camp on the beach on Labor Day weekend. I hate the beach–the sand, the lack of shade, the crowds–but Sheff and Kel talked me into it.

It was hot as Hades in Texas that summer, so I supposed they were hoping for some cool relief. Also, Sheff and I were meeting Kel in the middle, halfway between her home and ours, and the Texas Gulf Coast fit the bill.

I don’t remember it being crowded out there. We had plenty of room for a camp near where Sheff’s truck and Kel’s Jeep were parked. Since we arrived late in the afternoon, the sun was low in the sky and didn’t beat down on us so terribly. There was nothing to do about the sand, so I just tried to pretend I wasn’t up to my ankles in it.

Let’s set up the tent, I said soon after we arrived.

Let’s play in the water! Kel and Sheff said, so we did. The water was a relief, even though it was bathtub warm. The waves bounced us as we talked.

Let’s set up the tent, I said when we got out of the water. The afternoon shadows were long, and I knew darkness would surprise us with its swiftness.

Let’s eat dinner! Sheff and Kel said, so we cooked our veggie burgers. (Did we build a fire? Did we use a camp stove? The memory is lost.)

Let’s set up the tent, I said when the food was gone.

Let’s drink a beer! Kel and Sheff said, and I cautiously agreed one beer would be ok.

Let’s set up the tent, I said halfheartedly when my bottle was empty.

Let’s have another, Sheff and Kel said, and I knew all was lost. I knew we weren’t going to set up any tent that night.

During our beer drinking, the sun went down, and the mosquitoes came out. At some point during my second beer, I got my hands on a can of insect repellent and accidentally sprayed its foul contents into my mouth. (Thanks goodness I hadn’t sprayed it in my eye!) My mouth was tingly for a while, then numb the rest of the night.

Where are we going to sleep? I whined when the beers were gone. We had some concern about Alligator Headalligators (not an unfounded fear on a Texas Gulf Coast beach), so Sheff suggested we throw our sleeping bags in the back of his truck and stretch out there.

Earlier in the day, Sheff and I had talked about mosquitoes. He claimed they never bit him. I don’t know, he shrugged. I guess they just don’t like me.

The mosquitoes certainly liked me that night. Despite having the taste of insect repellent in my mouth, mosquitoes were attacking me with vigor.

I got fully into my sleeping bag in an attempt to discourage the bloodsuckers. Unfortunately, I had a winter bag rated for about 45 degrees. It was probably at least 85 degrees out there, even after dark. I spent several hours trying to stay completely covered by my bag so the mosquitoes couldn’t bite me, but that led to me growing unbearably hot. I’d throw off the sleeping bag until I could no longer stand being eaten alive, then I’d get back into the bag. It was an uncomfortable cycle that didn’t allow for much sleep.

Kel gave up first. She abandoned the back of the truck and sought refuge in her Jeep. Later Sheff admitted he was getting bitten, so he scooped up his dog and his sleeping bag and retired to the truck’s cab. I thought I’d tough it out, although I’m not sure how I thought I’d be about to stay outside if Sheff was suffering so much he had to leave.

I didn’t tough it out for long before I was in the Jeep with Kel. She’d already claimed the passenger seat, so I squeezed in behind the steering wheel.

I thought the night was never going to end. I was exhausted, but I couldn’t sleep. I was hot, and I was itchy. My body was uncomfortable, my neck at a funny angle, and I was cramped because I couldn’t stretch out. It was one of the longest nights of my life.

Finally, the sky lightened a little, then there was a bit of pink. The sun rose a perfect red ball in the sky. I unfolded myself from the driver’s seat and went for a walk along the water’s edge. The last few hours had been awful, but I’d survived.

Body of Water Near Brown Soil Under Blue Sky during Sunset

Photo of aligator courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/alligator-head-151354/. Photo of beach by Robert Villalta from Pexels https://www.pexels.com/photo/body-of-water-near-brown-soil-under-blue-sky-during-sunset-128458/.

Half-Wild Beach Cows

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When I was in middle school, my parents went on a camping kick.

I suspect it was my dad who decided the family should go camping. Why would my mom want to camp? It only made extra work for her: making sure everyone in the family had packed everything s/he needed for the weekend; packing every ingredient for every meal, as well as appropriate pots, pans, and utensils; listening to the children complain; gathering and packing necessary bedding and towels; washing sand out of everything when we returned from the beach.

It was to the beach we went on our first few camping trips. This beach was not a white-sand beach in Black White MosquitoFlorida or the ruggedly beautiful coast of Oregon. No, the beach we frequented was the nasty oil-slicked beach of the Louisiana Gulf Coast where the water was brown, trash washed up on the sand, and the mosquitoes were huge. This beach was ugly, but it wasn’t very far from home, and camping there was free.

Our first camping shelter was an old-school canvas tent. I suspect my dad got it, like so many items from my childhood (scratchy wool blankets, BAND-AID® brand adhesive bandages in bulk, Mercurochrome) from a discard pile of mythic proportion from his days in the National Guard.

After a few trips to the beach, my dad liked camping so much, he decided to buy a tiny camper to pull behind the family truck. He bought the camper from an old couple, and it was only after he got it home that he discovered the pressboard it was made from was mostly rotten. My father dismantled the camper down to the frame, then replaced every bit of wood and every scrap of insulation before putting it all back together again.

As far as I was concerned, he could have saved his energy. I had no desire to camp. There were no showers at the beach, no hairdryers, no flush toilets. To young teenage me, the beach was barbaric.

I can’t remember how many times my family went camping at the beach in our refurbished camper. I only remember the night of the half-wild beach cows.

A friend of the family had come with us. She was in her 60s, flamboyant, liked board games, and was patient with my sibling and me. I have not idea why she wanted to spend her weekend at the beach.

The family friend was supposed to sleep in the screen ten, but my dad built the campfire too close to it and melted the screen. No way could she sleep in a tent with a huge hole in it; the mosquitoes would have carried her away. Instead, she had to sleep in the camper with us.

It was already tight quarters in the camper at night. The kitchen table folded down into a double bed; that’s where my parents slept. My younger sibling slept in a bunk that folded down from above the table. (My mother was afraid my sibling–a tween at the time–would  roll out of bed and meet death on the camper’s floor, so she crocheted a huge net to stretch across the bunk.) I usually slept on the cushioned bench across the front of the trailer, but on this night I was relegated to a pile of blankets on the floor so our elderly guest could have what barely passed for a twin bed. If I was uncomfortable–and I was–I wonder how our rather large friend managed to stay on her narrow bed.

animal, black and white, cattleNo one was sleeping well when the commotion started outside, but we were soon wide awake. We heard animal noises and hooves hitting the ground, and it was all very close. It was so close, we began to hear and feel thumping on our camper. The camper swayed and rocked as one or more big somethings bumped it.  In the distance we heard humans yelling. What could possibly be going on out there?

My dad must have grabbed a flashlight and shined it out the window in order to report: cows. They were half-wild beach cows, let loose to graze, I suppose, although there wasn’t much in the way of tasty grass where we were parked. It must have been open range out there, and the cows were allowed to move about freely on the beach.  We had come into their territory, and they seemed none too happy about it.

I don’t remember how long the attack lasted, but we couldn’t get back to sleep after the cows moved on. I don’t think any of us got much sleep that night.

In the early daylight of the next morning, when we emerged from our little trailer, we saw the aftermath of the visit from the cows. Tents and temporary clotheslines had been knocked down. People must have spent a long night in cars to escape mosquitoes and marauding bovines. What else can you do when half-wild animals knock your tent on top of you while you’re sleeping in it? My family had been lucky to have a sturdy camper to keep us safe.

 

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/black-white-mosquito-86722/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/animal-black-and-white-cattle-close-up-551618/.