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Outdoors Outpost
Coming Home
Wednesday, May 4, 2011 • Posted May 4, 2011

"He was born in the summer of his twenty-seventh year, coming home to a place he’d never been before." ~ John Denver, ‘Rocky Mountain High’ 1972

The first time I heard ‘Rocky Mountain High’ by John Denver, I thought it sounded nice, but didn’t make much sense. How can you come home to a place you’ve never been? I thought it ranked up there with Neil Diamond’s ‘I am I said to no one there. And no one heard at all, not even the chair.’

And then, in 1998, my wife and I went to Rockport for the first time, and for the first time I realized what Denver meant. It really is possible to come home to a place you’ve never been.

If you look up Rockport-Fulton on the internet, you’ll find plenty of facts about the area, its history, its population and rainfall and location. You’ll learn about the many activities available there, such as fishing and birdwatching and duck hunting and antique shopping. You’ll find facts about Goose Island State Park, and the many kinds of fish you can catch along the coast. You might even find references to people like Franklin Roosevelt, who liked to go tarpon fishing down there during the 1930s.

What you won’t find is how it feels to go to Rockport, and stand on the end of a pier at night with the breeze blowing, and the lights reflecting off the black water, listening to the small waves relentlessly slapping against the shoreline rocks.

You won’t find, in some advertisement, what it’s like to wake up at the Crane House, and walk into the living room and find the horse standing with his head against the screen door, waiting for a handout. Or how it feels to watch the whooping cranes wading in the shallow marsh water, looking for breakfast.

There’s no way to learn, from a blurb, how homey the Hoops House feels, or how fluffy the pillows are at the Lighthouse, or how comfortable the beds are at the Hampton. You won’t absorb, from words on a page, what it’s like to sit down at a table covered with butcher paper at the Boiling Pot, surrounded by friends, and dig into some of the best seafood you can find anywhere.

An article on a computer screen won’t tell you what it feels like to climb the stairs at Charlotte Plummer’s restaurant before daylight, and eat breakfast while the sun begins to peek over the Gulf, streaming in through the picture windows and turning the dining room into a glowing, golden haven.

No internet site can let you feel the beauty of the islands as you glide around them in a kayak, or float a channel while the reds speed along underneath you just below the surface, chasing the mullet in the shallows where the reeds grow thick along the banks. A computer can’t bring the thrill of seeing an alligator sliding through the water near her nest, letting you know you’re not welcome, because she’s got babies to protect.

A story on a website can’t convey the excitement of stepping onto a flatboat, stowing your gear, and looking forward to a day on the water in one of the finest fisheries on the Gulf Coast. Or how the wind feels as it presses you against the seat, or the calmness of the bay when the captain cuts the engine and lets the boat drift, or the anticipation of watching your rod tip nodding with the swell while waiting for a big redfish to take your bait and run with it.

And when he does, and you set the hook, and start trying to bring him to the boat, and try to avoid the other lines and keep him from getting tangled up in the motor and reel when you’re supposed to and keep the slack out and don’t fight him too hard and you’re thinking this must be the biggest fish I ever caught and man he can run, and then you finally get him to the boat and the guide nets him and has trouble lifting him over the gunwale and he’s huge and beautiful, well, try putting that feeling on a page. You might as well ask the sun to set in the east.

But mostly a website can’t let you feel the friendliness of the people, the sense of welcome you get when you walk into a store or restaurant in Rockport. There’s an aura of belonging there, of being an old friend rather than a tourist, that you don’t find many places anymore. That’s something you won’t see among the facts and figures when you search for information about the area. But, for me, it’s the most important part of the entire Rockport experience. It’s a feeling of being among not just friends, but family.

When we drive into Rockport, I always get the feeling I used to get after I went to college, and didn’t come home until Thanksgiving. It’s a feeling of being back where you belong, where you’re wanted and where the troubles of the world go away and leave you alone for a while. It’s a feeling of contentment.

I guess John Denver knew what he was talking about. But if you want to find out how he felt when he was writing that song, you’ll have to visit Rockport yourself. Because welcome and contentment and tranquility can’t be put in a bottle, or on a website, or in a newspaper column. The only way to find those things is to go home . . .

Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who caught a 26 ½" redfish from Capt. Mike Caserta’s boat last weekend. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or

To contact Capt. Mike Caserta, visit or call 361.790.6374

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