Harvey H. Jackson: Cold on the coast
Jan 15, 2014 | 2435 views |  0 comments | 25 25 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Well, I am still down here on the Gulf Coast.

And last week, while y’all up there were freezing, so was I.

I hope that makes you feel better.

Winter along the coast is a strange and beautiful thing.

Although many stores and restaurants cut back their hours, few close entirely like they used to do.

I recall being in Gulf Shores on Labor Day weekend in the early 1960s. I had just seen On the Beach, a movie about nuclear war wiping out most of the world’s population. Streets were empty, nothing was moving, not a soul in sight. When I walked into a café for lunch that Labor Day Monday, Gulf Shores was buzzing with activity. When I came out an hour later, it was like the movie — quiet, eerie. Everyone had gone home.

Well, it is not that way anymore.

Through the fall and into the New Year, folks just kept coming — not as many, less traffic, but the weather was nice and tourism promoters went out of their way to entertain the visitors.

Then, after the last fireworks were shot and the lights went out, it got quiet. As Jimmy Buffett sang it, “the coast is clear.”

Now, I am not trying to entice you down here, though if solitude is what you seek, the cold coast is the place to find it.

The sea fog announces its coming. Warm, moist air collides with cooler air, creating clouds that hug the shore. Walking the beach on foggy mornings, the moisture condenses on your glasses (if you wear them) and you can’t find the horizon.

It is chilly.

Then it turns cold.

A front from the north pushes the fog out and flattens the Gulf like a lake. The wind will cut right through you, but the water is crystal clear.

Sea creatures feel it. Moon jelly fish begin to wash up, and the other day I saw my first dead starfish. There might be more. One bitter January there was a starfish and sea urchin die-off. They littered the beach. Folks collected them to display back home. Collectors learned that they don’t keep very well.

Weeks pass. Fewer and fewer people come out.

I am a morning walker, which may account for the empty beach, but even the seagulls seem to be waiting back in the dunes for the weather to break. I have not seen my peg-legged friend in a week or so. Hope he is OK.

The other day, I saw encountered a man wearing a Minnesota Gophers sweatshirt. I spoke. He spoke. We struck up a conversation. The weather (always a good topic) was damp, but the mercury was pushing past 40. He was happy. The high was 6 degrees where he was from, so cold that one of his walking buddies was staying in. Ten degrees was his threshold.

I thought to myself, why did my great-great grandfather and his fellow Confederates pick a fight with people who could live in that climate? Outta their Southern minds.

But sunset makes it all worthwhile.

Summer sunset along the Gulf Coast is seldom something special. The sun drops behind trees and dunes and houses. Any reflection on the water is afterglow.

But beginning in October, the sun creeps south across the Gulf, giving anyone down there a spectacle they will remember long after they leave. Before the cold and damp drove us in, a group of us had a “sunset club.” We would come down, have a glass of wine, watch the show and applaud the Author.

Though the weather discourages it, unless it is raining I still go across the road, out on the walk-over, and watch the orange orb disappear into the water. You can almost hear the hiss.

And if none of the “sunset club” join me, “Mr. Heron” usually does.

My buddy Art named him, and I am convinced he comes for the sunset.

The other day, a school of minnows was working its way along the beach, just off shore. I told you the water was clear. I could see them like a black stain flowing east to west. Shore birds also saw them, and pretty soon the water was full of thrashing and eating and escaping.

Mr. Heron flew in.

But he paid the fish and the other fowl no mind.

He walked along the beach until he was in the middle of the sun’s reflection. Then he stopped and watched.

And when the sun had set, he flew away.

Like most folks who love animals, I tend to ascribe human emotions and attitudes to our feathered and furry and finny friends. So I like to think Mr. Heron has some sort of aesthetic sense that causes him to appreciate the beauty of the sun going down over the water.

If you disagree, fine.

You won’t change my mind.

Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University and an editorial writer and columnist for The Star. Email: hjackson@jsu.edu.
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