Driving back to the hotel (again in the rain), we passed a BP station and, even though we all know the individual station is not responsible for what we experienced at the beaches today, Jack was compelled to yell out at it.
“Billionaire Petroleum,” I said, quoting Kate.
“Big Problem,” Henry said from the back seat, and I agreed. How profound. Sometimes the simplest is the most efficient. It is a big, big problem. I feel helpless and completely ineffective.
“BP doesn’t pick up in the rain,” the park ranger said, referring to the picking up of tar balls and the cleaning of the beaches. BP employees and volunteers have been clearing the beaches not only of the tar balls, but also of the shells…to make it easier to clean the beaches when more oil comes ashore.
“They also don’t pick up glass bottles,” Gary added. “I said, ‘As long as you’re out there picking up stuff, why don’t you pick up the litter, too? Give us a hand.'” Gary paused. “The guy said they don’t do that.”
We talked for awhile as I sat there in the van at the ranger station. The kids listened quietly. I didn’t have to worry about holding up any traffic behind me. No one else wanted to get into Santa Rosa Beach (a National Seashore) today.
He told us how they came in (they, again) with binders of procedures and flyers, placards, signs. He said the seafood caught on the sound side (Santa Rosa Sound, I discovered) was so far still safe to eat. No fishing allowed on the Gulf side (though we saw individuals doing it. Fishing boats coming are subject to testing and supposedly, everything being served in restaurants is safe. (You hearing JAWS music again?)
Gary said he moved his family here after a long fishing vacation. “We just didn’t want to leave. The pay’s not as good, but you only got one life, you know?”
The rain poured down, lightning flashed, thunder rumbled. My arm was soaked, as was the inside of the van door, but who cares?
“This place was the most beautiful place I ever saw,” he said. “And now nobody knows what’s going to happen.” I put the rest of the words in his mouth: It will never be the same. And there’s nothing we can do about it.
We entered the protected beach area and drove through the empty roads to the empty parking lots. It’s hard to know…are these spots usually full, full, full of beachcombers, birders, swimmers? Today, ours was the only car. We parked and headed across the sugary sand to the water. It was powerful strong and choppy. The yellow “caution” flag snapped in the wind. The rain let up a bit and fell gently. It was not cold. I covered the camera with a plastic bag and got a few shots of the kids in the surf. I don’t think any of the three of them really appreciate the magnitude of the disaster, and wonder if it was a mistake to come. But everywhere we go, people thank us for being there. I don’t tell them, “hey, I’m writing a blog about your troubles, friend.” I say I’m visiting from Nebraska. I say we’ve never seen the famous white sand beaches before. I say I want the kids to see what’s happening here. I don’t say more than that. And still they thank us.
The beaches are still beautiful, but yes, there is oil here. We’ve noticed a few booms strung around parts of beaches, and we’ve noticed booms that have come loose and are strung out in a straight line from a pier, or bunched around a dock.
You know what slayed me? On our way to Fort Pickering, on the far west side of the barrier island, we drove through nesting grounds. Signs every hundred feet warn drivers to keep speed to 20 mph so as not to disturb the birds. No parking is allowed, no trespassing. This whole huge area they’ve taken such great care to make safe for these birds, and it’s all for shit. It’s not safe for the terns, or the oysters, the ghost crabs, the pelicans, and definitely not the sea turtles.
It’s true they are moving the sea turtle eggs to an inland bay, in hopes that the babies will imprint on that location and return there to nest, not to their current location which will surely be contaminated. It’s also true that they have no idea if it will work.
You know what their current location is, don’t you? Perdido Beach. You know what “perdido” means?