Friday, January 9, 2009

Exploring the Coastal Lifestyle

written Friday, January 09, 2009
Rockport, TX

The coastline here is made up of a series of large shallow bays. Corpus Christi Bay is south of us. Aransas Bay is where Rockport is situated, the bay we see from Sandollar Resort. Just to the north of us is Copano Bay, where we took the pictures of the dolphins the other day. To the north of that is San Antonio Bay. And then there’s Matagorda Bay. All these bays are behind a series of long, thin barrier islands, which tend to form along the coast after many years of tidal and flooding activity. These islands provide the area with some protection from the open waters of the Gulf during storms. It’s been many years since Rockport or Corpus Christi was hit by a major hurricane. People who live here know it’s only a matter of time but they also grow lax and begin to think about the future on the basis of the recent past. A lot of recent construction has been built too close to the water and will surely blow away when a Katrina or Ike happen along some day.

We took advantage of the first-class weather on Wednesday to make a driving exploration of the coast about 50 miles to the north along Matagorda Bay. The land here is flat, some of the flatest land I’ve ever seen. I don’t know how it could get any flatter. I’ve mentioned before that Texas is pretty much tilted toward the Southeast and almost all major rivers flow from the high-country in the north and west to the Gulf in the south and east. These rivers brought silt loaded with nutrients and deposited it here over many years. Today those nutrients are used to grow cotton and other crops on extremely large fields.

We stopped at the little communities of Seadrift, Port O’Connor, and Port Lavaca. There isn’t much to see in any of them but we did meet some interesting people along the way and generally added to our knowledge and feel for the area. There’s a nice bird sanctuary along the Formosa Wetlands Walkway in Port Lavaca but there weren’t many birds that day. The locals say there’s more during the summer.

There is a stark contrast in the way people live in these coastal communities. On the one hand there’s what might be called trashy squallor… the product of casual, laid back, coastal living in a moderate climate where being close to the water is more important than having a nice place to live. Because these dwellings are very small any stuff they have to augment their coastal lifestyle — boats, fishing gear, surfboards, appliances, and just about anything else you can think of — ends up outside in the yard. There are few jobs here that pay more than subsistance wages and if being here is important you’ll adjust your lifestyle to match your income.

On the other hand — the other extreme — there are newer up-scale areas with very nice and very large homes. These people have the same need to be near the water and to live the casual coastal experience, but with one big exception… they’ve already made their money and don’t have to work. There are retirees and there are the wealthy. Many of these homes are 2nd homes or vacation homes, so the owners are only here a few weeks a year. Others live here year ’round.

The contrast between the two groups is stark. And there’s not much in the middle. We did find a number of new up-scale housing developments in various stages of completion but with very little recent activity. Apparently the recession is having an effect on these people as well.