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Rockport's towering, twisted oak trees (the town is built on aptly named "Live Oak Peninsula") are a welcome sight. It's the weekend of the 38th Annual Rockport Art Festival, and we breeze past the tents and pavilions, knowing we can come back later.
Accommodations here are plentiful: bed and breakfasts, RV parks, chain motels, waterfront campsites and '50s-era cottages, aunts and uncles, cousins, my brother and his wife in the next town over. We opt for the latter.
As we drive through Aransas Pass, I see Capt. Dean Thomas' truck out front of the Kayak Shack. The building that houses his business, Slowride Guide Services, is a gathering spot for the laid-back, minimalist crowd of kayak anglers and paddlers in the area. Dean shows me pictures of a "new" critter he's discovered in the marsh: a giant blue land crab. Turns out Aransas Bay is at the edge of the animal's tropical range. It's one of the reasons I love this place so well -- there's no telling what will show up. Some years it's manatees in the harbor; others it's a pair of flamingos, up from the Yucatán, on the back bay.
Dean's wife, Jennifer, quizzes me on a bleached, gothic assemblage sitting on a shelf: "OK, Nature Boy, what's that?"
I pick it up and hold it in my hand. "I'd say ... dried macroalgae."
Jennifer nods affirmatively. Dean demurs: "No, it's a sponge. I can show you a lot of them growing out on the flats."
We make plans to paddle the Lighthouse Lakes in a couple of days.
The next morning, Tamara and I drive out state Highway 361 and onto the ferry for the short boat ride to Port Aransas. Our plan to get the kayaks in the water and start paddling early is derailed as I show her the sights: the World War II gun emplacements overlooking the Gulf beach and channels (German U-boats were active in the area early in the war); the University of Texas Marine Science Institute and its modest aquaria; and The Tarpon Inn, whose lobby walls are covered in trophy tarpon scales dating back to the beginning of the 20th century.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt fished here, and a signed scale and photo grace the walls. One of mine is up there somewhere, too.
Finally, with the sun low in the sky, we paddle across the channel to Harbor Island and hunt for Pleistocene-era fossils and seashells along the beach. When the ship channel was dredged to make it deeper, the rocks from the bottom were scooped into piles along the shore, revealing a treasure trove of fossilized bones, selenite and seashells -- fighting conchs, lightning whelks, bonnet shells and sundials.
Food. We need food. There are several fine restaurants serving fresh, local seafood down by the harbor. A late start on a summer Friday night guarantees they'll be packed. We opt instead for the Shrimp Stop, a taco stand on Alister Street. It's where the cabbies and cops stop for a late-night snack -- always a good sign.
We park and walk up to the window. Tamara orders a tuna taco; I get grilled shrimp. We chat with a man from Fort Worth, down for the holiday weekend, who has ordered for his group of six. The food comes out and we eat at the picnic table in the parking lot. Tamara's tuna is a generous portion covered with black pepper and perfectly seared. My corn tortillas are stuffed with shrimp, cilantro and avocado. They're delicious.
At The Back Porch we pay the $5 cover charge and order cold beer at the open-air bar. Mingo Fishtrap, an Austin-based soul-and-funk band, takes the stage. Mingo falls into a tight, funky groove punctuated by the band's horn section. Overhead, stars peek from behind the high clouds; behind us, sailboats and sport-fishing boats glow above submerged lights.
Sun and surf, music and food; good friends and
the glory of an unwinding road. Sometimes going home is more
than a time-out, it's time-out-of-time.
August 19, 2007