Monday, July 5, 2010

What I Did This Summer...

(Blog Warning: Longer post than usual.)

Like your family, each summer brings an opportunity for our family to skip town and find a nice place to vacation for a week. Over the last ten years, that place has usually been somewhere in the mountains. We’ve traveled to New Mexico (towns like Cloud Croft, Ruidoso, or Red River) as well as Colorado (Sulphur Springs or Colorado Springs). I’ve enjoyed every bit of it.

Have you ever reached a place and suddenly felt like it was the home you’ve always wanted? Well, the mountains are that place for me. Especially during the summer. I love the smell of pine in the air, carried along by the cool breeze soughing through their boughs. It sounds like waves rolling ashore. I love the way the temperature drops in the night and how cool it feels in the morning—just the right thing to go with your wake-up cup of coffee.

I enjoy the wildlife. The way deer materialize in the morning mist, like ethereal spirits gliding through the valley. I love the way you can hear the hummingbirds flutter through the woods, the chirp of their wings sounding oddly like cricket songs in the night. And as strange as it may sound to you, I even enjoy watching bears lope up the mountainside, moving as fast as I would on a downward slope. The bears I enjoy watching from a distance though.

Personally, I would like to go to the mountains in the winter, too. I want to try my hand at skiing. I want to ride snowmobiles and buzz through the woods at break-neck speeds. I want to ice skate on a frozen pond, fall on my rear, and laugh with those laughing at me.

This year, however, my wife wanted to go to the beach. To give the kids something different, she said. Reluctantly, I agreed. So, we planned and mapped and did the math. (And no, my dear friends, I did not whip out a spreadsheet this time) We decided to visit South Padre and do it with a camping trailer.

As many of you know, when giving someone a critique on their story, it is customary to give the good before you give the bad. Yin, Yang, I-Ching and all that stuff. So, let’s lay out the good right now. If you’re into the beach scene, South Padre Island has much to offer, both for the adults and the kids. I enjoyed walking out along Pier 19, a seventy-yard boardwalk out into the Laguna Madre. I enjoyed smelling the air, which reminded me a little of what you’ll find walking into a Red Lobster or the seafood area of your local grocery store. I enjoyed the brilliant sunsets (as you can see above). I enjoyed spending an afternoon at the Schlitterbahn water park and riding on a tube in the lazy river. I enjoyed being on a boat out in the deep water, feeling the sudden lifts and drops of the bow as the waves rolled underneath. Though I’m not ready to sign up for "Deadliest Catch", I do like the feel of the ocean. I also enjoyed sitting under a canopy and reading a book while the wind blew in off the coast. Below is a picture of me safeguarding the canopy, the food, and the shade. Somebody had to do it.

There are things I didn’t particularly enjoy, though. First, the sand. Like a pet cat, it gets everywhere. And into everything. You want to enjoy a nice string of licorice? I hope you like a little grit to go with it. You want to go to bed? You had better take a shower first, or you’ll end up sleeping in what will probably feel like a box of kitty litter (thankfully, minus the clumps). You want to take a blanket to the beach to sit on? Count on this: the darn thing will feel like sandpaper against your skin before it’s all over.

I didn’t like the sound of screaming kids who totally ignored what Daddy had to say about leaving the jellyfish alone. Then, I didn’t like it when my wife had to tend to the kids, escorting them off the beach to treat the boo-boos with vinegar and meat tenderizer, which left me alone with the unpleasant task of carting all the stuff across a hundred yards of blistering sand.

I don’t like mosquitoes. Personally, I’m not sure why God created them. In fact, I’ve placed it on my list of things to ask. At elevations of eight- to ten-thousand feet, you don’t have to worry that much about the darn critters. It turns too cold for them. Along the coastal shores, however, where for every beach you’ll also find a marsh (or two), mosquitoes are a way of life. Sure, you can use bug spray, but then you’ll have to take a shower every night for that, too. After all, who wants to go to bed smelling like Raid on a Stick?

But the fishing, you say. Think of all the fishing. You can fish in the mountains, too, in case you didn't know it. They have wonderful little edibles called Trout, which you can fillet and fry up in corn meal and eat without worrying over the bones, which are as soft as the bones you might find in a can of Starkist. Out in the ocean, however, the critters are like prison wards, with bones like steel shanks, each one ready to make you bleed.

And finally (I have more, but I’ll wear you out) I didn’t like all the crazies. I don’t know what it is about the beach, but it sure brings out the loons. Like the old guy who decided to sit down on the shoreline with my wife, his wife in tow, to have a pleasant afternoon conversation. “Yeah,” he said. “We went to Hooters last night and had a real good time. And our waitress was something else. And if you don’t mind my saying, ma’am—” nodding at my wife “—you and her have something in common.”

Of course, I’m under the canopy minding my business and reading a book, oblivious to all of this. It is only when my wife comes back shaking her head and muttering something about “that dirty old man” that I finally realize the couple weren’t just two people being friendly. Well, he was. More friendly than most people really care for.

So, that was my vacation this year. We didn’t have a television in the trailer, nor did we listen to the radio. I had to come home to Lubbock (over 700 miles away) to find out that Hurricane Alex was whipping up an attitude out in the Gulf. It finally slammed ashore this last week, and the streets of South Padre Island are now under a foot or two of water. I can’t say I’m surprised. After all, it is only a sandbar off the Texas coast.

I can’t say it was all bad though. As a family, we had plenty of good memories. And I am thankful that we were able to take a vacation away from home; not everyone is afforded that opportunity. Besides, there was one additional point worth noting: in the process, I even came up with an interesting story idea complements of Mr. If-You-Don’t-Mind-My-Saying.

Next year, however, I’m arguing for a return to the mountains. Bring on the hot cocoa, the flannel blankets, and the s’mores.

Until next time…


  1. My comment will be as long as your post... :)
    I lived by Lake Tahoe for 3 yrs.
    The downsides:
    Even though it was only at 4500 ft I slowly developed altitude sickness and had constant migraines

    The deer are beautiful but depressing when I saw more dead ones than live because they leap in front of cars

    The mosquitos and bugs were worse than here in Florida

    The deer eat everything but rocks. If they don't like the taste, they still tear it off and spit it out

    We got 80" of snow a year and went through 7 cords of wood a year just so we wouldn't freeze to death

    A mountain lion decided to take up residence in the crawlspace under our house

    We couldn't open our windows at night in the summer because the swarms of gnats were smaller than the spaces in the window screens

    The ice scaper that drove by every night screeching left a lovely ice berm in front of our driveway that we had to chip away in order to leave

    I could go on but you get the picture. :)

  2. I prefer the mountains over the beach too, but like 'em both. I'll miss the beach this year. I'm not going to the conference I usually attend in San Diego, so no opportunity for after hours beach bumming. I'll miss it.

  3. Family vacations can be stressful no matter where you go, but at least they give families some time together. As you mention, they are a chance to make memories with our loved ones.

    The only mountains I've seen are the Appalachians, which are beautiful from a distance. I kept my eyes closed when we were actually driving through them as I am seriously afraid of heights. Some day I'd like to visit Alaska, but I'll be satisfied to see it from a cruise ship.

    I've enjoyed driving along the shoreline of the oceans but have no interest in lounging on the beaches. I'd miss my air conditioning.


  4. I wondered about y'all when Alex was blowing in and I'm glad he came after y'all. It if very scary to wake up and being surrounded by water as you slop outta bed. I only like to go to the beach about once a year for about a day and then 3 hours home to our own wonderful bed.

    Sorry to heard about the old geezer, just wondering what was HE wearing. lol He sounds large, harry, overtanned with stained teeth in a bright green thong. Am I right?

    Yes on the sand and the skitters and the jelly fish OUCHY!

    Mountains are awesome! Have you heard of Big Bend where one can experience the mountains and sand. However it is an area best visited in early spring or fall. And we so loved it there!

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  8. Thanks everyone for your comments. It's good to see so many points of view. As far as those who posted links along with their comments, I apologize but I deleted them. Posting links in your comments are a security risk, which I'm not willing to take. Once again, the comment moderator has been turned on. Unfortunately. :(

  9. Mosquitoes? Dirty old men? Gritty licorice? Sounds like a dream vacation, Stephen :)

    Glad you found some good story ideas, though. And that picture? It's classic. You couldn't look more touristy if you tried :)

  10. Thank you, Greta. It feels good to be seen as touristy. :)

    Like Laura pointed out, while the mountains (or the beach) is good for some, it's not the choice for everyone. For me, I'd rather go upstream than down.