Fading to Fall in Surfside Beach

Fall has officially begun according to the calendar. To most observers in Southeast Texas, that only means it is late September.

Our little piece of the planet is drying out from Tropical Storm Imelda. She popped up suddenly off our coast and made landfall about four miles away from our home. For my husband and me, she was mostly an inconvenience: flickering power, rain-filled streets, an unsettled dog who couldn’t or wouldn’t do his important dog things. For many in the Upper Texas coastal area, she was as horrendous a beast as Hurricane Harvey: displacing families, disrupting lives yet again with excessive rain totals.

Now, she remains as a lingering toad pond in the road and clean-up in ground-level structures on the island—and the reminder that these storms are often the harbinger of Fall.

It is warm, because Fall in Southeast Texas is warm. Still, it isn’t blistering hot as it was just two weeks ago. The onshore southeast wind is thick and ripe with salt, but the camphor weed scent has faded. Amberique and Partridge pea flowers are withering and heavy with beans. Sunflowers are nodding with seed. Powderpuff is shifting from bubblegum to pale blush.

Amberique Strophostyles helvola

In the air and on the ground, the bird population is subtly changing. Black Skimmers have made their debut for the season and the winter to come, flying the shoreline with lower mandibles slicing through the surface for small sea morsels. Killdeer are seeing off their late broods of precocial young in noisy fashion in the neighbor’s driveway. Least Sandpipers have made a reappearance, delicate and toy-like, skittering on the beach. The Brown Pelicans are spending most of their time flying low over the waves, possibly conserving energy for southward travel. In winter, this will be the daily MO of those that stay behind. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have come to the island, their last stop before they wing their way to Central America.

One might not sense a change of season at first glance, in the sweat on your face and the humidity in the air, as you wade out for more swimming and surf fishing, or in the still-warm seas and the last looming weeks of hurricane threats. It’s easy to shrug off talk of Fall.

Still, the flora and fauna signal that soon the winds will shift. Drier days will find the island and more winter fowl will join them. The sea will cool. Fishing methods and catches will change. The relief of November and the end of hurricane season will be in sight. The pain Imelda inflicted will be slow to heal for many, but I hope it will fade like the dune flowers.

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