The wind blows cold from up the beach at Padre Island National Seashore in late December. Dunes beyond the reach of the tides are obscured by salt suspended in a fog created by the pounding surf. Few venture onto the smooth sand in what is one of the coldest winters in recent memory. The tide retreats leaving behind the sea’s dead; blowfish, starfish, sand dollars and a myriad of shell fragments slowly being ground to flour.
I walk in my bare feet in spite of it, not wanting to return home without the memory of soft sand between my toes, washing away with the rising tide. A deposit of rainbow sea foam sticks to my ankles.
“But January is the worst month,” says Bob the Fisherman.
The waves wash over Bob’s hip waders, insulating him from the chill brought by the unusual but not unseasonable cold.
“Fishing’s not so great either,” he tells me while my bare feet numb with each wash of cold seawater. Not at all what I was expecting on the Texas Gulf Shore. I credit my thick Canadian blood for being able to bear it. My first cold weather barefoot beach hike was in 2009 on the National Park beaches of Price Edward Island. My husband convinced me I would regret it if I left my shoes on. Every beach must be felt to be truly experienced.
Bob’s solitary fishing rod was stuck deep in the sand, stuck nearly straight up as if looking to heaven to send some fish. But it was Bob’s company that drew my attention and led to me striking up a conversation with this 74 year old widower, content to be fishing anyway.
A great blue heron stood on one leg with his back to the wind a mere 15 feet from Bob. He looked a little worse for wear, his feathers resembling a teenager’s bed head after a long night of partying. Bob would toss him a shrimp and he’s extend his graceful neck to grab it before “Buddy” the sandpiper got a hold of it.
A former truck driver, Bob has been all over the country and has been wintering in his trailer at Padre Island for 10 years. The heron, “George” has shared each one of them with him. George is happy to help him with his catch. Happy to help him eat it, of course. George was injured at some point in his life and the leg which doesn’t seem quite right is the way to identify him. Bob keeps George in shrimp for when the catch is non-existent.
I stood still until George decided we were all OK. He lingered, always watching, but less hesitant as the conversation went on. My feet were sinking in the sand as the tide overtook us and, finally, the bones in my shins began to ache. I said my good bye. Bob told me he was always here, every winter and to come visit again.
“Just ask for Bob the Fisherman! ”
I walked backwards for a few minutes, waving, hoping movement would bring the blood back to my frozen feet and, as the rush began to return with an ache, I could feel the soft flour like sand build on my toes.
Continuing with the experiments in mixed media… Edited to add a couple more photos of the piece under different light to see how it varies.