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  • A sign on the outskirts of the town of Quintana, Texas, (population 38) claims it was founded in 1528. How in the hell they justify that claim, I can't imagine. No manmade thing could survive so long under the constant attack of hurricanes and storms and wind and tide and heat and humidity. Even the landscape holds no claim to immutability.

    One assumes that the 1528 date refers to Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, the Spanish explorer who was shipwrecked in the region that year. He referred to the area as Malhado (misfortune). He shipwrecked because he had no maps of the place. He called it Malhado because he ended up being taken as a slave by Karankawa indians. It is unlikely that at any point during that time, he drove a flag into the ground and said: "I hereby charter a town in this spot, thus forth to be known as: 'Quintana.'"

    After several years, he managed to escape and walked, naked, all the way to Culiacán, roughly 900 miles away, as the crow flies. He eventually died penniless in Spain, disgraced because of his reputation as being too kind toward Native American peoples. No doubt Cabeza de Vaca understood better than most that God hates plans.

    By nature, human beings desire structure. We seek to identify patterns, to understand them and to establish them. It is how we grasp the universe around us. We put our hopes into the promise of cause and effect, and we find solace in the concept of permanence. So, we build castles and erect monuments and make ridiculously unverifiable claims as to when our towns were founded. We set out shockingly detailed plans for our lives and think everything's going to run smoothly.

    But God surprises us with babies and cancer, true love and earthquakes. He likes to mess with our plans, he likes to tear down our permanent structures. Quintana always reminds me of that.

    The houses don't last long in the Gulf Coast -- storms tear them down and drag them out to sea.

    There used to be a wooden railing along the jetty that stretches out from Quintana Beach. It was put in during my teenage years. My uncles and cousins carved my paternal grandmother's name into it after she died, and a short while afterward my maternal grandmother took me out to see: "RIP Joie Cope." But within a decade, every last bit of the railing was gone. All that's left now are the twisted, rusting anchoring pieces the wood had been bolted to.

    When I was visiting two summers ago, my grandmother and I walked to the end of the jetty, roughly 1.5 miles out into the sea. As you walk back toward shore, the ominous glistening of chemical plants dominate your view. After Cabeza de Vaca left, no one really took interest in the area until Dow Chemical Co. decided to build one of the largest chemical manufacturing sites in the world, back in 1940. Or so I had always thought.

    "There used to be hotels all up and down here in the early 1900s," my grandmother said, sweeping a hand across the horizon. "Wealthy English people would come and stay here. Then a hurricane came along and took it all out."

    There is nothing to suggest they were ever there. Nothing. God hates plans. Change will always come. The structures and patterns we lock ourselves into will eventually be wiped away and no one will know they were ever there. I find that strangely comforting: everything goes away. This, too, shall pass.

    Sometimes the panics of living come to me at night and whisper in my ear: "The end is closing in on you."

    And on my good nights I whisper back: "It's closing in on you, too."
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