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Love song to an island

<i>Strelitzia reginae</i> at Galveston's Moody Gardens
Strelitzia reginae at Galveston's Moody Gardens (Photo By Kate X Messer)

There's a point on Galveston Island where you can take a car almost out to the southeasternmost tip. Sand solid enough to hold back an entire sea disappears into it. In the rare moments when lines of freighters, tankers, and cruise ships do not stripe the channel, it's just you and the sea. And when the fog rolls in, you can almost imagine what it was like to believe the Earth was flat and that the mysteries lying on the other side might swallow you whole.

Metaphorically, the island and her unique culture and ecology are standing on that very same brink. In the recent few years, Galveston has been enjoying what might prove to be the preface to yet another Renaissance. Of course, that depends on your opinion about development and progress.

Her turbulent eras and glory days are colored with garden districts, mansion rows, and financial boulevards, rewards from the first half of last century, as well as postwar casinos and brightly lit marquees. She has stood the test of killer hurricanes – the Great Storm of 1900 is her most imposing watermark – tourist booms, and economic busts.

The island is a study in contrasts. The almost caste-like reverence distinguishing certain citizens as "B.O.I.," or "Born on Island," flies in the face of the community's almost defiantly egalitarian ethos, where everybody pulls weight before rank. Galveston boasts ghosts, pirates, and a silk stocking district, as well as one of the finest and oldest historical preservation societies in the state. Prim and proper local heritage tours reside alongside bacchanalian festivals like Mardi Gras and the annual Beach Party. Oil rigs somehow coexist with nature preserves. This cordial schizophrenia has split her interests since the early days; the site of some of the heaviest slave trading this side of New Orleans is also the site where Texas slaves were first informed of the Emancipation, thereby making the city the de facto birthplace of Juneteenth.

Currently, Galveston is at a cultural crossroads, and her conundrum is older than dirt. On the day this issue hits the stands here in Austin, the island will be prepping to elect new officials to lead her to the next brink. Will she lean toward less development, which may threaten paths to economic progress, or more development, which may devastate her culture, her natural resources, and her way of life? Or will some idea take root that can allow both visions to coexist? Only time will tell.

This is our love song to Galveston Island. In it, we hope you'll find the stuff necessary to inspire your own trip to the Gulf.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Galveston, island, Juneteenth

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