Mark’s parents Don and Julie live in San Antonio, Texas, and we visit them at least once a year. This also means that at least once a year I buy a new pair of cowboy boots, in case any of you wondered about my rather large collection of my favorite fall-winter footwear. Though probably not this time, since it’s 100 F (38 C) degrees out.
But back to today! For this visit we asked Don and Julie if we could meet at their beach condo on Padre Island in Corpus Christi, a town on the Gulf of Mexico. Mark’s eldest brother Kevin, his bride Lisa, and their girls Anya and Lia drove down from their home in Houston to join us.
For our first full day in Corpus Don booked a charter with the Texas Floating Classroom. Captains Whitney and Bryan Curry welcomed all ten of us aboard Research Vessel (RV) Archimedes, and we got underway for a few hours of watery, educational fun in Corpus Christi Bay.
Captain Whitney started out her introduction with an enthusiastic endorsement of the kids’ TV show SpongeBob SquarePants. I had no idea that the show’s creator, Stephen Hillenburg, was both a marine biologist and an animator. Whitney explained that a lot of the characters and aspects of the show are based on fact–at least in the first three seasons, while Hillenburg still wrote the show. For instance, the character Plankton really looks like plankton. She also added that plankton are species that cannot swim against the current (“That means that I’m plankton,” added our comedian Cy, without missing a beat). She conceded that squirrels don’t really live at the ocean floor–but if they did, they would need scuba gear like the character Sandy Cheeks (from Texas!) wears.
The Floating Classroom is a non-profit organization; this designation also applies to churches, schools, and similar organizations that exist to educate and enrich their patrons. Whitney clearly loves her work and cares about teaching others, and I really liked how she explained the topics at hand for a varied audience. She used correct scientific terms without dumbing anything down. Our group included kids, science-y adults, and not-so-science-y adults, and she managed to answer all of our questions and teach all of us something new.
First we set trawling nets; Whitney dumped our catch into the touch tank, where we checked out fish, shrimp, sea stars, squid, and jellyfish. Kids and adults alike poked at fish, raced sea stars to see which would flip over first (answer: none of them), and delighted in the squid that inked when held.
Then we set a finer net to catch plankton. Quick quiz: do you know what makes sea water look green? It’s not the sandy bottom or reflection of the sky, as I first guessed. It’s plankton! We checked out our wiggly plankton catch with handheld magnifying glasses, then returned our catch to the bay as we headed for shore.
After bidding Whitney and Bryan farewell we popped in for a quick visit to the Texas State Aquarium next door (where I got side-eye from an elevator shark, just like my kids do to me).
We returned home to unwind for a bit, then enjoyed dinner together at Doc’s Seafood and Steaks, a Padre Island institution like countless other waterfront restaurants in beach towns across the U.S. (excellent view, O.K. food). Grandma Julie trumped all when she started twirling and singing along to Sweet Caroline as performed by the one-man band. I wish I had a photo to share, but I was too shocked to reach for my phone.