Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Escaping Winter

It has been a long, cold, dark winter here in southern Wisconsin. This past week a new snowfall of around 15 inches has caused all sorts of school cancellations, traffic woes, and frayed tempers. This winter has broken all records for total snowfall, and more is on the way.

That's why I am glad we planned to be out of town. We flew to Houston, then Brownsville, Texas. Then we rented a PT Cruiser, and drove to South Padre Island. My husband likes to plan everything, and he found a wonderful bed and breakfast called the Brown Pelican Inn, shown in the picture above. It faces Laguna Madre bay, and from our second story veranda we could watch laughing gulls, brown and white pelicans, cormorants, herons and other birds. In fact, we were the only people staying there who were not dedicated birders, but everyone was friendly and helpful. The breakfasts were wonderful, served on the deck on mornings it wasn't too windy. Chris, one of the owners, served fresh fruit and juice each day, and alternated egg dishes with things like pancakes or crepes. I fell in love with her homemade orange marmalade.

We became casual birders. Really, we had no choice because there are birds everywhere. One of my favorite memories will be sitting watching the bay and seeing a heron spear a large fish. I didn't believe there was any way that bird would swallow that fish, but it did, much to the disappointment of a nearby pelican. Being by water we saw mostly shore birds and gulls, but there were lots of smaller birds I didn't recognize. At the Laguna Atascosa Wildlife Refuge we saw some rare hawks, and a green jay that was as colorful as a parrot. We also saw the biggest snake I have ever seen outside a zoo (an indigo snake), and one large alligator (pictured above). These creatures convinced me that staying on marked paths was a wise thing to do. We also saw quite a few birds close up on a boardwalk outside the SPI convention center.

We got in our share of beach combing. It looked to me as if every snowbird on the island went out each morning and paraded up and down the beach. People walked alone, in pairs and groups, with and without dogs. They rode horses and even drove on some parts of the beach. They fished in the surf and from chairs. They lounged, flew kites, and blew bubbles. One white-haired gentleman did some tai chi exercises. They collected shells, flushed out ghost crabs, built sand castles and all looked serenely happy. One morning my husband rented a bicycle and rode the beach while I found a sand dune and painted.

We got into the habit of ordering drinks by the bay, and playing Scrabble as the sun set over the water. A couple of margaritas, some shrimp nachos, and a game made the end of the day very pleasant indeed.

We did some other things, a sunset dinner on a catamaran, a movie (Atonement), visit to a group who rehabilitates injured sea turtles. We both brought books to read, and I tried to sketch or paint each day. But mostly we just relaxed and enjoyed a break from dark days and snow. I think now I'll make it to spring.

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