Threshold

Nature is resilient–and fragile. The dandelion pushes up through a crack in the concrete but the passenger pigeon is gone forever. There is a threshold of no return. Increasingly, we cross that threshold and can’t reclaim what we have lost. This is heavy stuff for a friendly neighborhood blog site. Why? I am so troubled, as I know many are, about the recent oil spill in the Gulf. I keep wondering how thoroughly BP was required to vet its safety and emergency plans. Apparently, not thoroughly enough.

A few years ago, in fact, the year before Katrina, I traveled by VW Vanagon with my friend Laurie and our two dogs to the Gulf coast town of Holly Beach, Louisiana. We knew nothing about this little community before pulling onto the only street in town, a street that ran parallel to the beach and was lined with modest cabins and shacks. We learned that it was known as the “Cajun Riviera,” historically the vacation spot for the Cajun families of Lafayette and other small towns in central Louisiana. We rented a little place for two weeks, became friends with the large extended family that owned the cabin next to ours, and found ourselves invited each night to join them for spicy stews, beer, laughter and, most importantly, music and dancing. Laurie and I fell in love with Holly Beach.

As I followed the news about Katrina and talked to my friend in Lafayette who manages the public radio station there, I was horrified to learn, as he put it, “Holly Beach is gone. Gone. Not a stick left. The ten miles of beach underwater.”

More recently, I’ve visited websites to find out if Holly Beach is being rebuilt. It seems so, albeit slowly and on a much narrower strip of beach. From that beach, you could see oil rig platforms far out at sea. When I was there, it occurred to me that those rigs would make the Holly Beach seascape unacceptable to the more upscale beach seekers, that those rigs made Holly Beach available to the Cajun community at affordable prices. About 10 miles east of Holly Beach, fishermen and shrimpers in Cameron were able to operate efficiently because their town had never been gentrified or “discovered.”

Now, just a few years after Katrina, I worry again about the people of Holly Beach, Lafayette, Cameron–how will this oil spill change their lives and the landscape they inhabit? Have we crossed the forever threshold?

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One Response to “Threshold”

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  1. Mark Wilson says:

    Ellen,
    Your touching tribute to W. Louisiana brought up a distant memory. Decades ago I spent a year working in the ship yards and on various oil rigs off Louisiana: traveling by bus from New Orleans to Grand Isle and the Exxon terminal there. The small towns and scenery that passed by remain indellible: Raceland (the Sauce Piquant Capital of the World!), Houma, Bayou Lafourche. Some incredibly beautiful land and waterscapes, but too much of it irredeemably compromised by the oil and associated industries. (the bays and bayous around Morgan City come vividly to mind).

    At a time when politicians are inclined to set up a bogus dichotomy between the environment and the economy, the ecological devastation now spreading around the gulf coast is a sobering reminder that there are areas in this country where the environment is the economy.