Monday, May 03, 2010

The Price of Mobility

The book on the left changed my life.
Actually, that isn't true.
The book on the left illuminated my life.
Well, that isn't exactly true, either.
The book on the left took the summers of my childhood, spent on the gulf coast, and put them in the context of a larger world of aquatic (and terrestrial) life.
I spent a good portion of every summer on the coast of Louisiana. Since then, I have been to prettier beaches. I have seen clearer water. I have enjoyed more pleasant weather.
But I haven't experienced an ecosystem anywhere like that of the north gulf coast.
Sure, the sand is brown and the water matches. The surf shops are all adorned in faded neon and they do more business in cast nets than board wax.
But I've watched crabs swarm into traps. I've dragged a net through algae coating a tire and caught a hundred red-and-white striped shrimp at a pass.
I've seen porpoises chase schools of fish and been on the docks to see huge shrimp boats dump tons of fresh seafood into ice-filled metal tubs.
And I've walked the beach at night and seen the lights of the oil rigs far closer than the horizon.
My grandfather used to take me out to them on his boat. We'd leave before sunrise and ride forty miles out to tie ourselves to one or another of them to fish. He would check the current and the wind to make sure we were on the side not about to get smashed into a pylon and we would drop our lines a mile down and wait, sometimes sitting in water as smooth as glass and other times in eight-foot swells. The fish seemed especially prone to going after our squid bait just before a storm.
We would very often pass oil tankers making their ponderous ways between the rigs.
I remember a couple of visits to the beach where I didn't find tar stuck to the bottom of my feet afterwards.
On the gulf coast, this is just the way it is.
No system is perfect. The oil companies have done a pretty good job overall at containing most of what they pull up from under the floor of the gulf.
I do notice that with BP's latest explosion they seem more concerned with reclaiming as much of the lost crude oil as possible and that seems to be delaying the clean up an awful lot longer than they should be allowed to delay.
I've seen the culture that has been built up around the seafood industry on the gulf coast. There is a respect for nature there which isn't based in what they heard on NPR or saw on Animal Planet, but on how they live. I also know that the catches have been declining for decades and that a single bad season can send a lot of boats into foreclosure and end a lot of multi-generation businesses. They have closed parts of the gulf for fishing in reaction to the oil spill already. If this oil makes its way to the wetlands the fish and crustacean population will be impacted for decades. There isn't a fine BP can pay that will fix it.
I've read all of Jack Rudloe's books. He lives on the gulf coast, an environmentalist among people who would never call themselves that but who share the same core reverence for nature.
It would be good if we all shared it.

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