Carla Brennan's Blog

Reflections and Photos from The Big Trip and Beyond . .

DAYS 118-122 Mustang Island, TX

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January 24-28, 2013

We finally made it to The Third Coast! Although we left California with only general ideas of where we might go, one likely destination was the Gulf Coast, especially in Texas. This was because neither of us had spent time there and because we hoped to find winter beach camping.

Mustang Island State Park is on the narrow barrier island across from Corpus Christi. In Texas the beaches are roadways and often campgrounds. We pulled onto the expansive nearly empty beach and knew we had found a temporary home. The state park offered almost two miles of beach camping; only two or three other travelers were taking advantage of the opportunity. Low dunes with squat shrubs and long vines were behind us. We sat on thirty yards of flat beach. In front of us was the endless succession of small sparkling waves from the Gulf of Mexico. The weather was pleasant and we had found our little bit of heaven. We renamed the camper, “the cabana”.

Beach, sky, gulf, nothing more. Day and night were accompanied by the constant roar of surf. Here water and wind take precedence, having the upper hand over the land, reshaping it, flooding it, changing everything in their path. Waves offered up gifts: shells, seaweed, animal parts and an endless supply of human litter.

I went barefoot and waded in the lapping low waves. The water was cold, about 60 degrees, not yet the 80+ temperature of summer. Chris bravely claimed he was going to swim but after wading to his knees he thought better of it. Although the air temperature was mild, the constant breeze made it feel much colder on wet skin. He opted to fly a kite instead.

The quartz sand was fine and hard-packed. A delight to walk on, it was soft to the touch and molded gently to each step like clay. But its fineness and the constant breeze, meant it got into everything, sneaking into every crevice and coating all surfaces. Food had an extra crunch to it. Our camper (I mean cabana!) will no doubt carry tiny hidden particles from the Gulf Coast for the rest of its lifetime.

Another full moon marked the passage of time. The January full moon is traditionally named after the wolf; I renamed it the Coyote Moon because it was coyotes that we heard. There was haze at the eastern horizon, hiding it from view when it first rose. Slowly it became visible, huge, pale and translucent. Then, looking like an imitation sun, it became solid, glowing a deep yellow-orange. Later in the night it shone white, contained in an enormous halo overhead. Chris rode his bike up and down the beach by moonlight and was euphoric.

As I sat quietly writing one morning, a great blue heron landed at waters edge just in front of me. Very quickly the bird seized a large catfish, larger than I would have thought it could handle. (Until that moment, I didn’t know there were salt-water catfish. Neither did Chris.) The heron spent the next twenty minutes struggling to find a way to swallow its silvery catch. Herons eat fish whole, head first. The heron tossed it, flipped it, picked it up and put it down. It played with the fish on the sand and then in the water, walking in and out of the surf at regular intervals. But the wide fat fish didn’t seem to fit in the narrow long beak of the hungry bird. Two opportunistic gulls waited nearby to see if it would succeed or eventually abandoned its delectable scaly meal.

With much effort and dedicated manipulation of the whiskered fish, the heron finally, some how, got its head into its maw. The seemingly simple task of swallowing was also a drawn-out process. Jerking its head back and forth, the fish gradually sunk into its gullet. You could almost hear the sound of gulping. The bird’s throat and long neck expanded and distorted to accommodate the size of its meal.  Finally, only the end of the fish’s tail was visible. The bird stood still, apparently waiting for more room to open up. Then down the fish went.

After the strenuous task was completed, the tall heron remained stationary in the shallow water – perhaps wondering if it should have eaten something so large. Or perhaps it was waiting for the fish to finish sliding down and settle in its stomach. I later read that great blue herons sometimes choke to death from attempting to eat a too large prey.

A sudden decision was made and the heron turned around and strode across the beach, deliberate and elegant. It marched up the dune, standing statuesque at the top, its head plumes blowing in the breeze, gazing calmly out to sea. A little time to rest and digest.

Witnessing these little episodes in the life of other creatures is sometimes delightful, sometimes sobering. Always a precious moment in time. Some events are life and death struggles as it was for this catfish. What I observed is something I will never see again. Not with this heron, this fish, at this spot.
(A series of photos of this event are below.)

Earthly heaven is always temporary and the weather system changed. The wind picked up and clouds crowded the sky. Everything was sand blasted, chairs blew over and small things blew away; the camper shook. My prayer flags began to bleed and shred. We decided to find refuge inland and headed to Goose Island State Park before returning to the area to visit Padre Island National Seashore.

NOTE ONE: If you click on the ”WHERE WE ARE” link at the top right of this page, you will see where we are now (or within a few days of now.) I have also added some tantalizing photos of what is coming. If you have suggestions or recommendations of things to see or places to stay near where we are, please let me know! Leave a comment here or email me at

NOTE TWO: I do like getting your comments. And you can also “Like” or comment on photographs. So if you feel inspired to say something, please do. It helps encourage me and makes me feel more connected to friends, family and even strangers.

One thought on “DAYS 118-122 Mustang Island, TX

  1. Hi Carla, sorry to neglect your blog for a while. Lovely to rejoin your adventure. Love those heron feeding photos. I once watched a great blue heron manipulate an improbably large fish in a little pond by the driveway into Mt. Monadnock. Much as you document. At the end, the heron took a little sip of water.
    Also, I guess we missed you while you were in Mass this past week. Hope your visit went well. I can’t remember — are you coming to the May FAC teachers retreat?

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