Assignment: Current event opinion post June 3, 2010
Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico~2010
I was raised three blocks from the shore of the Gulf of Mexico, in Gulf County, Florida. St. Joe Beach, it was called, near the town of Port St. Joe, in the Florida panhandle. I know the word “pristine” is rather overused when people describe beaches, but St. Joe Beach truly was pristine when my family moved there in 1976; having its original purity, uncorrupted, unsullied…
It is an apt description.
When my sister and I were very young, we would get up in the morning and walk with our mom over to our grandparents’ home on Ponce de Leon Street. We’d gather up our beach supplies in various bags, and then we’d all walk down their street, cross highway 98, and find the little trail that led us right onto the wide open beach. There was the Gulf. Ebbing and flowing, waves crashing, birds flying over it, scouting for their breakfast, pools of fish occasionally breaking the surface. Even at my young age I knew it was something unusually big. Not only big in size, but big within creation itself.
My little sister and I would swim and climb on floats and build castles of sand, with moats all around. We’d follow along behind Grammy and mom as we searched for shells along the shoreline to incorporate into arts and crafts projects. I can still remember digging my chubby little hand down into the wet sand as a wave receded, and pulling up a handful of coquinas, trying desperately to burrow themselves down into the sand. The empty coquina shells looked like little, shiny butterflies. We loved finding those!
When I was nine years old, I was baptized in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Our little Baptist church didn’t have its own baptismal pool, so we all trekked down the two blocks from the church on Columbus Street to the water’s edge, and I and an adult couple were baptized by Preacher Smith while the congregation sang hymns and prayed for us. Everyone said it was beautiful. I was mainly hoping not to drown right there in front of God and everybody.
In our adolescent years, my sister and I would go to the beach together or with our respective friends. We’d spend long, hot afternoons lying on blankets on the sand, sipping Diet Coke and eating Doritos, while Steve Perry and Journey belted out amazing tunes, like “Don’t Stop Believin’,” on our boom boxes. Our skin was slathered with Hawaiian Tropic suntan oil, spf 8, if we had it, because it smelled so amazing. (I still stop at suntan lotion displays in grocery stores and open the bottles, my nose searching for the perfect scent of summer. ) If we didn’t have it, we’d use good old-fashioned baby oil, and when the sun finally cooked us just a little bit too much, we’d run down the sand and jump into the waves to cool off, laughing and talking about boys, parents, and what we thought we’d be when we were older.
As a young college student, I worked at a seafood restaurant on Mexico Beach called The Fish House. It was hard work, but I liked the other waitstaff and learned how to serve pretty well. After bustling days of serving crab fingers and fried shrimp to tourists, I’d often head down to “my beach,” which is what I called the beach at the end of Columbus Street on St. Joe Beach, to take a nice long walk. I had big hopes and dreams about my future, and spent a lot of time praying and wondering what was going to happen when I moved away from Gulf County. It seemed to me then, and still does today, that I can hear God better when there by the Gulf, waves churning out their beautiful music while the sun sets on the western horizon. I can still close my eyes and smell the salty breeze and feel the spray on my face. Heavenly.
I moved to Pensacola to attend the University of West Florida in 1988. Wonderful things happened in my life in Pensacola: I got my bachelor’s degree, made lifelong friends, met my future husband, got my first teaching job, and had three sons. Pensacola is a wonderful city, and nearby Pensacola Beach is lovely, as well, though it is more “tourist-y” than my beach at home in St. Joe. I love to walk on the beach in Pensacola with my little sister now; she still lives there, while my family and I are now in East Texas. When I visit her we walk and talk and speculate and reflect and laugh and cry. It’s wonderful. However, I don’t really feel God, almost like I’m standing face-to-face with Him, on that stretch of sand; not the way I do on my beach in St. Joe. There is something special about that place.
Now there has been an oil spill. You know the details, so I won’t recite them to you here. I won’t even get political and accusatory. I’m just very sad that my beach is going to soon have black, greasy globs of tar washing up onto that pristine, powdery sand. I’m sad that the sea gulls and pelicans are going to have to go far away from St. Joe Beach to find live fish to eat, if they can survive long enough to fly away. I’m sad that the fishermen and shrimpers whose families have lived there for generations will soon be told they can’t drop their nets anymore to find the treasure that feeds the tourists and feeds their own families. I’m sad that the coquinas will likely suffocate under the slicks of oil on the beach. I’m just sad.
However, I do know that, though it may take many years, St. Joe Beach will eventually be clean and come alive again. I know that people will eventually bring their children back to the shores of the Gulf to play. Someday the fishermen will slide their boats along the waters, under the Highland View bridge and out into the Gulf to find healthy fish once more. Perhaps I’ll even be there with my grandchildren one day, and I’ll teach them about the coquinas and why they burrow in the sand, and I’ll tell them about walking this very beach with Grammy and mama long ago, searching for shells, before there were so many people and houses along the highway. They’ll laugh and run and build castles of sand with moats all around.
I’m going to look up on that day, and smile at God. He’ll still be there, too.