A Graveyard of Fish and Flowers

The terrible snowstorms we experienced recently in Texas led to a number of people dying, extended power losses, broken pipes/contaminated water (still a problem for some), and unsafe roads. Michael and I experienced a burst pipe (little damage thankfully but we had no running water for several days) and desperate for a hot shower and to wash our clothes, we drove to our house in Corpus Christi as soon as we were able, filled with trepidation at what the situation there might be. We were in luck! Following a small outside pipe repair on a hydrant by Michael, the house was fine. Unfortunately the flowers and many shrubs hadn’t taken so well to the prolonged freeze: all around the town the ubiquitous oleanders with their dark green leathery leaves that normally bloom brightly all year round, were blossomless, and the leaves olive-green (at best) to brown in colour. The native bamboo on the coast was brownish, too. Non-native palms didn’t do too well either. Most plants, however, should spring back.

But the sad thing, when I took Leia for a walk that afternoon, was seeing all the frozen fish on Corpus Christi bay. I know little about Texas fish (except that we have a lot of grouper, flounder and drum, and speckled trout is the fish to catch), so I just made a note of the fishes’ patterns and unusual shapes: some were eel-like with pointed ‘snouts’, some sported pretty star and honeycomb patterns, some had what looked like small horns, some had whisker-like fins and there were several different-shaped flatfish. Sprawled around were also many silver fish that can often be seen diving in out of the water. But most of the fish were colourless, with only in some cases a few streaks of their original colour – purple, lime, shimmering blue, red. I was particularly fascinated by those with black wiggly stripes all over their bodies, like a maze.

As we were leaving the park, I spotted, on the patio of a deserted house, two large frozen turtles that lay next to a huge dark fish with its mouth open and sharp teeth bared. And up at Oso Bay that evening for our evening walk, I almost tripped over a dead raccoon. So sad.

The following morning, we went to Portland bay, about 25 minutes’ drive further along the coast. On getting out of the car I’d never heard such a cacophony of shorebirds, all there to enjoy the feast of not only the standard shell fish which are stuck in the sand when the tide goes out (mainly clams in their large, tough shells), but dead fish of course, too. Out on the sea a group of white pelicans merrily floated along, constantly poking their beaks in and out. Even a turkey vulture came down to the beach for breakfast, the first time I’d seen one on the sand.

In San Antonio, we had at least been able to help the bird life by keeping the feeder filled through the low temperatures (twice it went to 7 degrees F at night). We not only had the usual scarlet cardinals and black tufted titmice twittering around it, but also house finches (their winter breasts looking less raspberry and more scarlet in winter); goldfinches; carolina wrens; mourning doves; American sparrows and, of course, our local grey ‘squirrel bird’ who has been getting fatter by the day. Michael and I were well fed, too, with my homemade bread and cookies to eat. Luckily, we happened to have plenty of stuff in, never dreaming the stores would be shut for days.

Mattie and I both agreed that it was like being back in England in the snow. And surprisingly, Leia the dog loved romping around in it, even more so, perhaps, than romping in the soft sand dunes at the coast. It has in fact snowed here every few years for some decades now and really, the state should have prepared itself by this time. But there is always something, or someone, to blame, and I will be surprised if the powers that be get their act together soon.

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