Missing What’s Gone

A a small squadron of brown pelicans glides inches above the water, their reflected images so close to touching their bodies that their movements seem perfectly choreographed. As the birds seek their early morning breakfast, an occasional splash of a fish breaking the surface disturbs the glassy bay, sending gentle ripples across the still water.

I remember that scene. Or, rather, those scenes. I saw scenes like that—with those birds and their brethren—dozens, if not hundreds, of times when I was a kid and, later, when I was a young adult. Those quiet moments when the glowing morning sky and the water seemed to meld into one helped shape who I would become. Who I am, even now, I suppose. My experiences on the Texas coast imprinted on me.

Fifty years after leaving the water’s edge, I still miss the sounds and odors of the salt water coast. There’s something about early mornings on the coast that can’t be replicated anywhere else. Humidity, as thick as syrup and carrying the unforgettable aroma of salt water and creatures who live along the shoreline, was not oppressive back then. It was the natural way of the world when I was a child. I’ve long since forgotten exactly how to bait the hooks and cast the lines, but the sights and sounds and smells of the coast remain embedded in my memory. I don’t know why, but lately I long for those sensory experiences. I crave them, I think, the way an addict craves drugs. There’s a need deep inside me that nothing but time, alone, on a salty coastline can fill. No, not alone. I want privacy, not isolation. The privacy of sharing—with good friends and the woman I love—the deep connection I feel for the shoreline. If all goes according to plan, I will feel that deep connection in early November and will share it with people who matter to me. That’s when I will join people I consider members of my “tribe” as we make the trek to Galveston and experience the coast the way it’s meant to be experienced. Not as tourists, but as appreciative explorers. I can hardly wait.

The coast has changed, of course, since I was a kid. South Texas beaches are no longer empty, pristine places. Condominium projects and chain restaurants and convenience stores have invaded both the northern and southern tips of Padre Island, where I spent time as a teenager. Even the clay cliffs a short walk from my parents’ last Corpus Christi house have disappeared, replaced by sloping, grassy entrances to a manicured city park. The natural order of casual waterfront life has morphed into a more formal environment in which appearance counts for more than experience. But there remain places, I am sure, hidden from developers and overactive city planners and the like, that will recall the days of pure enjoyment of the way things were. I hope so, anyway.

For some inexplicable reason, I feel deeply sad this morning at the realization that I simply gave up on the coast so very long ago. Without giving it a second thought, I abandoned the coast and all the memories it had packed into my brain. The allure of bigger cities and their amenities seemed so much more appealing, then, than the charm of quiet isolation and the shoreline smell of a sandy beach. I did not realize, then, that much of the attraction of a desolate beach was the desolation; that the seduction of the seaside was as much its lack of “attractions” as its physical beauty. Barnacle-crusted boats and piers attached to the seabed with smelly, seaweed-laden posts were—and remain so in memory, at least—so incredibly appealing. They were part of the fascinating appeal of the water’s edge.  I gave it all up for something; I just don’t recall exactly what replaced my childhood.


I may need some time to write and remember things that have long since escaped by porous brain. I’ve forgotten so much; I’d hate to forget the rest without writing it down. Documenting one’s recollections can be an important contribution to the future, if only people can be persuaded to read the drivel that spills from the memories of the aging and the old.  Most people seem to prefer fiction to fact; I think I’m among them. Reality is too harsh and glaring and painful. Life is more tolerable when we can manipulate its effects on our minds and bodies. “Tolerable.” We should embrace life, but we don’t always value it as much as we should. It is all we have, yet we tend to take it for granted, as if it will always be available to us, to do with what we will. We know otherwise, of course, but we sometimes choose to behave as if it is limitless. Yet our actions sometimes suggest we recognize just how important it is. When we hug one another, I think that’s a tacit acknowledgement of appreciation and value that we might choose not to (or my be too embarrassed to) openly express in words. So we hug. Hugs should last longer and be stronger. They should be embraces that require external efforts by third parties to pull the parties apart.


Here’s a hug for those who actually read my mental spillage, especially those who read it today. I would appreciate a hug in return. I could use one this morning, as I mourn a lifetime away from salt water and sand.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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