Sunday, June 20, 2010

Finding Hope and Beauty in the Ruins: A Pilgrim's Journey to the Gulf Coast

And So It Was I Entered the Broken World – Hart Crane

A glossy sheen shifts over the swells and currents of the water. A shell-covered back road that winds through thick vegetation leads to a smaller cove whose entry is blocked by several lines of booms. In the center, a mother porpoise, two babies and the nurse playfully dive and surface. Cicadas rattle the air. A young girl’s bathing suit and a pair of tennis shoes lay abandoned on a small rise.

The Gulf Coast news reports waters turning from blue to black. The dead rise from the sea and wash ashore; dolphins, a sperm whale, countless birds and fish. Others sink silently to the bottom. All mute witnesses to a massacre they’re mostly some distance to the West of where I stand. It’s rumored that soon the beaches of Florida will be submitted to the same indignities.

Perdido, which means lost in Spanish acquired its name due to an entrance which can be easy to miss. According to local lore it was a hiding place for pirates. Spending two very short days here feels like a rare gift. Wild and thick, nature in this place packs a visceral punch. As in tropical zones, the beauty is transient, sometimes dangerous and always seductive. It’s easy to imagine a saber tooth tiger suddenly appearing to sip from the small freshwater brook meanders through the woods.

The diversity of creatures on land, in the air and the water is immense and as the land has been developed over the years you find their names appearing on lists with headings like: extinct, endangered, rare, and exotic.

We stop for seasonal sweet corn, cantaloupe and plump blueberries from a stand at the side of the road. Two dogs snarl, circling each other as they battle over territorial rights. The small mutt wins and the Lab retreats, shaking his coat, as if to say he doesn’t care. Getting into the car, I’m reminded it’s not always size. Belief and the willingness to risk all means I’ve just witnessed another David and Goliath story unfold.

At midnight, it’s still so humid and hot, that the air snatches my breath from my lungs. In bed, stretched out in the darkness, I quietly review the day. The patches on the water with an opalescent sheen, small black tar balls on white sugar sand. I am a pilgrim to a broken land that’s part of a larger broken world. I know there’s nothing here, or anywhere for that matter, that hasn’t changed, that won’t change. All the same, I believe one can find beauty and hope in the ruins. If I listen carefully, I’ll hear the prayers of what’s dying, what’s struggling to survive, and what wants to be born.

Day II
Two Red Flags:

Passing small restaurants and shops with hastily written red letters that advertise URGENT SALES, we arrive at the public beach. The red flags hang limply from the top of a pole on an empty lifeguard station. The sand is blindingly white; it makes my eyes sting. Under a loose gauzy top, my skin feels as if it’s been seared.

A few yards a vision that combines past, present and a possible future stops me in my tracks. Not a soul is in the water. A line of people stretches as far as the eye can see in both directions. No one moves. Those who speak do so quietly. They stare at the horizon, until inevitably their gaze drops to where curved lines of muddy looking foam lick at their toes.

This is where they come to swim and play, to relax. It’s home. One feels their anger. They’re mourning. My heart hurts as I step into line beside them.

For the outlander, Southerners and southern culture is deceptive. One is led to believe being slow in speech and movement local brains are pan-fried like the fish and chicken they enjoy eating. But if the traveler stays awhile, they soon learn that these are stubborn, hardy folk. They have a sly sense of humor that creeps up and slaps you on the side of the head. It takes a lot to survive the elements down here. Yes, they’re sometimes slow to accept new ideas, but they’re generous and the love they have for their home runs fierce and deep.

Late Afternoon. The Seafood Shack:

We pull into the parking lot in front of a white ramshackle building located on a quiet inlet about 8 miles inland from the Gulf shores. Outback a line of empty midsized shrimp boats bump against the docks. The small seafood distributor is where many of the locals go to buy crab, oysters, redfish, halibut, snapper and shrimp among others. Fishing was a $2.5B industry in the Gulf.

The man behind the counter wears a cap pulled low above pale blue eyes. His skin is weathered and lined. The name on his spotted and frayed short sleeve shirt is Bubba. The dictionary defines Bubba as a name commonly given ‘to white uneducated men who are gregarious with their peers.’ It rolls off the tongue like a word a small child might substitute for something that doesn’t fit or is difficult to say. It has an affectionate sound to it. Like most every Southerner, for Bubba a simple sentence isn’t sufficient about going to the corner to buy a pound of flour. Where’s the fun in that? My Bubba (I’m already thinking of him that way) launches into the story about the shrimpers, the boats, long nights and lost jobs. Jim Bob who’s had a few is currently sleeping on the dock out back. Twenty-five years as a shrimper and now nothing.

BP is hiring people with boats to patrol the Gulf. They call in when they spot a slick and wait for the skimmers. Sadly, not all of the fisher captains are hired because some slick operators who own boats they use on weekends have taken temporary leaves from work, or closed their shops and hired on. “Hell,” Bubba says, “there’s even some minister who drives a hundred miles, his boat in tow. He figures on clearing around $50K the next weeks.”
Further West, he informs me, some shrimper captains are leading ‘tours of destruction.’

When we ask how the shrimp are, he assures us they’re fine. We order three pounds. The shrimpers are sailing several hundred miles further. Ordinarily, they would unload at the docks in the back. Now, they loading up their pickup trucks and drive non-stop through the night to bring Bubba their shrimp.

As we leave, a group of young men are gathering, part of the clean up crew that will heading to the beach. Their faces are lined with exhaustion. Their eyes are dim.

Outside, a group of tired looking young men are gathering, part of the clean up crew that will be heading to the beaches.

How Do We Pick Up The Pieces?

The cosmos works by a harmony of tensions like the lyre and the bow - Heraclitus

We’re tearing nature apart limb-by-limb, creature by creature, sea to sea, mountains and deserts, rivers and lakes. We act as if the land is our slave. And each person that does nothing to conserve nature is accountable for her dying.

Once diversity goes, so do we. Science hasn’t come close to calculating the importance of the links between creatures and humans. There isn’t time when you line up the number of deaths and extinctions occurring at a breathtaking pace. Some links, however, are obvious. For instance, over thirty percent of the bee population has disappeared in the last few years. Without them we will be living mainly on grains, no fruits and fewer vegetables. As a nation we use more oil per capita than any other country in the world.
As nature writer Terry Tempest Williams wrote 'Each morning, we must ask ourselves how do we wish to live and with whom.'

The root of the noble is in the common, the high stands on what’s below.
Tao te Ching

We need to connect because it is in community with like-minded individuals we will find ways to conserve, and survive. In community there’s less chance of severe burnout. In community we are inspired. We learn to build on the work of others. Communities don’t wait on D.C. or dwell on who’s to blame.

All across America, regional groups and communities are busy creating solutions and preparing for what might come. Detroit is turning abandoned blocks and empty streets into parks and farmland, saving on utilities and bringing people together. Cleveland has taken an abandoned mall and turned it into an atrium where they’re growing vegetables and fruits. In town halls people are charting their destiny as they make group decisions as to the next step that’s needed whether it has to do with education, jobs, or basic resources.

In the Gulf, groups gather to form a center of concern. Blogs are created with videos that show what’s happening, along with to do lists. Amidst stories of childhood games of pirates, swimming with dolphins, and Independence Day picnics, neighbors pinpoint resources. Plans are drafted to protect this small corner, their corner.

The Morning of Day III:

Rising early, as I step outside to savor the view of the Bay one last time, a poem by Mary Oliver comes to mind.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
If I have made of my life something particular and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened
Or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

(* This blog will begin to provide easy hook ups for anyone who wants to join a community that’s enabling life-supporting change.)

A list from ‘The Soul of a Citizen” for your bathroom mirror.

• Be Radical
• Be Radically Patient
• Keep your eyes open
• Find your community
• Seek Solutions
• Connect and be compassionate with others & yourself.
• Be playful
• Sleep
• Eat local and well
• Take time to reflect
• Give yourself credit
• Look for the light in the shadows of defeat, and beauty in the ruins.
• Celebrate the small victories.

The future will be created by not only by what we learn, it will be created by the values of hearts and souls.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

I'm Proud to be a MUTT

I’m a MUTT, and what could be better than that?

Purebred dogs are beautiful, but why settle for one dog, when you can have a combination of both or several?

Athough the rules changed in 2009, up until then you didn’t see mutts at the AKC Show, that country clubbish gathering with purebreds groomed to the tips of their toes and lashes. Where somewhere a sign was posted Real Dogs Are Forbidden to Enter.

Purebreds may be more beautiful on the outside, but mutts know inner beauty is what counts. Your purebred is more likely to be stolen, a mutt won’t. In Brazil and the Dominican Republic MUTTS are called vira lata (trash can tippers) which means not only are they survivors, they’re problem solvers. Known as quick thinkers, their boundless curiosity makes them well informed. MUTTS don’t get lost, but if you do they’re experts at finding people who will help.

Mutts enjoy going to places where you never know who you’ll meet. Back roads and barrios and parks where there are a lot of people to play with, especially kids with frisbees.

MUTTS get a kick out of making other people laugh because when there’s laughter, anger and sorrow are somewhere else. And sometimes they might even get a treat.

MUTTS make great pals. Bring them home and they’ll love you forever, because you knew a good thing when you saw it.