THE COMMON LOON HAS the sense to summer in Canada and avoid the Texas coast until fall, when the heat, hurricanes, and mosquitoes are less overwhelming. I never fully appreciated the bird’s wisdom until one winter several years ago when a group of friends and I rented a beach house on Bolivar Peninsula, a 27-mile-long sand spit northeast of Galveston. That December, the weather was on its best behavior: clear skies, warm days, and crisp nights. We played dominoes, prowled the beach, ran in and very quickly out of the cold surf, built bonfires, and cooked seafood into near extinction. Think The Big Chill without the suicide or the extramarital hanky-panky. The next winter when we gathered on Bolivar, it was the Big Freeze. An arctic blast had plunged temperatures into the 20’s and the wind chill into obscenities. Nevertheless, it was downright romantic. Like Doctor Zhivago, without the snow, the sleigh, and the Bolsheviks.
And so my friends and I return, winter after winter. I credit this not only to the magic of loon season but also to the peninsula’s throwback character. Birding, shelling, and lollygagging, rather than parasailing and bikini mud wrestling, still top Bolivar’s to-do list. You’ll find no gourmet bistros or festive faux-tropical restaurants here but plenty of comfy old joints, like Stingaree’s, serving fried oysters and shrimp. Wal-Mart? Ha! Instead, stock up on necessities and fripperies at the Gulf Coast Market, a paragon of preparedness, where you can score cheese, hose clamps, eggplant, bed linens, Cajun-style chicken stew in a jar, bread machines, lures, and kitchen faucets. (For seafood, however, you’d best go somewhere else—either catch it yourself or