My hammock begins to attract a steady stream of visitors.
A woman shows up one morning wearing a large-brimmed straw hat. She keeps one hand on the crown to prevent the wind from whisking it away. I have a cup of tea to drink, and I am busy resting while watching repetitious waves approach.
“Oh, this is so nice.”
Her name is Sharon, and she hails from Vermont. Her brother, and she indicates with her head toward a large tent set back by the dunes, is still asleep, the silly boy. The two are here to camp for the week, and she begins to ask a million questions as well as tell me all about her life back in Rutland. I offer her some tea.
Sharon is not at all unattractive, but she talks constantly, so I must devise a defense -- I take her out in the waves to do some body surfing. The strategy works well until she sees the shark.
After a vigorous swim we are both trying to stand on the second sand bar as waves batter our bodies, and Sharon faces me several feet away while I attempt to dig my toes in the sand, searching around for sand dollars. It’s much too noisy to talk with the constant crashing of waves, which makes me smile happily.
Then suddenly, Sharon looks out to sea past me, and her eyes grow immense with fear. I don’t even bother to ask -- I can read exactly what she is thinking, so I instantly bolt for the shore.
For some reason, she cools to me afterwards, which is fine -- I still have plenty of my tea left.
But the incident does give me an idea.
I spend the next day scooping out a large hole at the top edge of the wet beach, and I pile up a long length of damp sand along its rim. By mid-morning I have a replica of what I imagine Sharon saw the day before, and when she sees it later, she gives a shudder.
Horse drops by that afternoon too.
“Wow, man! That looks great. You going to be entering the big contest?”
And he tells me of an up-and-coming sand castle event that is scheduled to take place here next month.
"They got cash prizes and everything, dude."
Park rangers drive by my site occasionally. A uniformed man stops to join my small crowd of admirers, and we all soon learn a few facts about the beach. One is a friendly reminder that there is a two-week limit on tent camping, but I get the impression it’s seldom enforced. I can always move my tent thirty feet down the beach, if I must.
Someone then pipes up.
“Are there really sharks out there?”
The officer replies by pointing to a small plane that flies over our heads.
“We patrol the beaches here regularly, and if you could see the things we can see from up there…”
That draws a nervous laugh from the crowd.
The sea is a great housekeeper, and overnight it takes away my creation as well as filling in the hole, so today I start another. Therapeutic as well as fun, I begin fashioning a new creature; this one, a fanciful sea turtle, and by day’s end he lays perched next to the large hole I scooped out by hand. And again the sculpture draws a few people who stop by to comment.
A young thing in a bikini comes along, and while she attempts to draw my favor by sitting close to me up under my shade tent, I notice her companion who is standing near by. He is a much older man, and he stays off to the side but doesn’t say much, so I think little of it. That night, they both join the gang around a huge bonfire for awhile before mysteriously disappearing again.
The next day I arrive back at the day tent, and get busy building another creature out of sand. I am starting to like this idea of entering the contest.
Later that night, as I return to my dome tent, I find it gone. All my clothes, the guitar, my large backpack and a carton of cigarettes have vanished. I can see the drag marks that lead off into the dunes, and I follow it some distance before giving up and returning to the empty site.
The only thing left behind is my bike parked beside a large board where I display the collection of things I find on the beach, plus a small knapsack I keep with me during the day. At least I still have my wallet and a full pack of smokes, I think, as I sit on the board to consider my next move.
What kind of people do such things? I wonder about this as I lay on the bare sand and sleep fitfully, knowing that come morning, Jennifer will have her three avocadoes hand-delivered, and I will get myself another tent.
It takes the better part of the next day to make the trip and collect what I need, so I crash on her couch one more time. Naturally, she is tickled to get my gift, and she eats one of the pears right away. Jim is amazed that I am still alive, as is the crew at the diner across the highway.
I get back to Malaquite in due time and set up a pup tent in the same exact location. This time I secure the thing better, and lay out a new bedroll inside. My funds are getting low by now, but if I can hold out until the contest…
I tackle the sand the next day with vigor. I claw out a monster hole, and begin to build a huge mound made of this marvelous Padre Island sand. I am finding that it holds extraordinary details well, and by mid-afternoon, I have finished a fine dragon, complete with sharp claws, leathery wings furled along its fat, scaled sides, and one who sports a proper snarl upon its hideous face.
The crowds that day grow larger than normal, and I am enjoying all of the attention until a jeep pulls up behind the throng of onlookers and stops. A lone ranger then gets out and approaches us slowly.
He stands back for a few moments before he speaks up, and when he does, the crowd goes silent.
“Who dug this hole?”
Well. What can I say?
And so he orders me to fill it in, citing some potential danger to either joggers or motorists. That brings a few dismayed moans from the crowd, as well as an argument from me.
But he leaves with a stern warning: Either cover this up tonight, or I will revoke your camping privileges.
That night, back at Jennifer and Jim’s apartment, I complain for the next three days until I am ready to go back and see how well Mother Nature did the job for me.
Of course I continue with my artful quest, but I do stop making such large projects. They are becoming tiresome to build, after all.
Next: AN INTELLIGENT QUESTION