The hundred-mile drive east out of Houston to Sea Rim State Park, south of Port Arthur and close to the Louisiana line, is a study in plane geometry. There’s the land and the sky, and the horizon is a straight rule between them. The sun burns white and the thermometer hits 99 degrees before noon. We drive past rice fields, pockets of oak and loblolly pine, and an unpaved airport where we watch a yellow one-seater turn barrel-rolls. We cross the Turtle Bayou, the Old and Lonely River and a sign for Boondocks Road. Near the Gulf coast we’re flanked by oil refineries – dense forests of steel -- and houses on stilts. People fish in ditches along the sides of the road. Cattle graze in vast, shadeless fields.
Waves at the beach stop at a wall of seaweed, black, rust-colored and swarming with dragonflies feeding on the clouds of bugs attracted by the rotting vegetation. Beachgoers park on the sand, set up tents, awnings, tables, chairs, desk-sized coolers and barbecues. We’re almost the only white people on the beach. One guy puts on skis, buckles himself to a kite that resembles an oversized party mask and skims across the waves, pulled by the wind. I walk the edge of the water, collecting shells and sea glass. I always gather more shells than I keep, made greedy by their stark beauty against the compacted sand and the glaze left by the waves. My prize is the size of a quarter, with alternating bands of white and blue, the colors of the Greek flag. W.S. Di Piero writes in “Saints” (When Can I See You Again?, Pressed Wafer, 2010):
“Many of us beach-comb, I think, in a pretty mindless way, hoping that when we later look at our gatherings, we’ll feel the charge of the beautiful, happened-upon, pocketable things, like the seagull skull I also have on my table, a memento mori of a classic kind.”