From the top of the Intracoastal Bridge I spotted a group of men loading up a skiff in the canal. Curious, I crossed over the bridge and followed a dirt road. What I found at the end of it was Louisiana. Louisiana deja vu plus a Paul Prudhomme look-alike. I was delighted.
Dalen Cheramie, from Houma, La., was the group’s captain. “We transport oil products by barge,” he explained. When he told me his age, 37, I was surprised. “Age is just a number,” he said. He’d been running boats for 10 years. “It’s in our blood,” he smiled. I understood.
I took a picture of the group and then headed on to High Island, where I was meeting with Winnie Burkett, a birder big time.
For the birds
At the bird sanctuary, we sat at a picnic table surrounded by lush green vegetation. Every once and awhile, Winnie would interrupt herself. “Oh look, there’s a Summer Tanager
.” A little later she said, “Turn around so you can see a Indigo Bunting
“I’ve always been interested in the natural world,” she said. Maybe it was the way Winnie said these words, but natural world sounded so melodious to me. Like the two words went together.
Considering the years of abuse, she was amazed that Galveston Bay was as resilient as it was. From the Galveston Bay Oil Spill she’d learned a few things.
At age four, Winnie was watching birds in her grandmother’s backyard on Long Island. “I like birds, but I like the interconnection,” she explained. “How they fit into habitat.” She mentioned a little known dragonfly called the Wandering Glider
. When they migrate from Asia, the Amur Falcons
follow them. Interconnected.
“The Bar-tailed Godwit
flies from Alaska to New Zealand and never stops,” she explained. How do they do that, she wondered. I was enthralled.
I showed Winnie an article from the Beaumont Enterprise on April 7, 2014, Ugly truth: Oil spilled almost daily. It reported that Galveston Bay has averaged 285 spills a year since ’98. That after the Galveston Bay Oil Spill, there had been another one in the northern most lobe of Galveston Bay. At least 160 gallons of light crude oil poured into the water and spread to nearby marshes.
I wondered if Winnie was surprised as I was, but she answered, not in the least. Considering the years of abuse, she was amazed that Galveston Bay was as resilient as it was. From the Galveston Bay Oil Spill she’d learned a few things. “The badly-oiled birds just disappear because the predators (coyotes and other birds) out there pick them up immediately.” I wondered which predators she was talking about.
What did she want to say the most, I asked. She paused for a second, looking sad. “People don’t make any room in their life for wildlife.”
At first, I thought she meant all the building. “Not just that,” she explained, “we worship lawns but we don’t care about native plants. We’re all interconnected and we’re breaking the strings. . .so many things are on the edge of extinction.”
Thirty minutes was all that we had together, but when I left there, I realized that birders are like poets. They inspire.
At Bolivar Flats, I saw freighters on the horizon. Like the barges along the Intracoastal Canal that day, one moved right after another in and out of Galveston Bay.
Leaving there, a carload of birders stopped me. The driver wanted to report that about 50 yards east of the bird sanctuary sign there was a white Kite. “Magnificent!” said the man in the back seat, raising both his arms. I gave him two thumbs up, feeling connected to perfect strangers. He was right about the Kite. It looked like an albino hawk and a snowy owl combined.
Riding the ferry over to Galveston Island, I saw that the booms around SeaWolf Park
had been removed. But the park was still closed. “Until further notice,” said the ferry attendant.
“What’s contaminated?” I asked. “Oh, it’s just the workers are cleaning up.”
In Galveston, I turned left on Seawall Boulevard. The road blockade at Apffel Park Road had been removed so I kept driving east and came to another blockade where a policeman and other officials looked hunkered in like ticks. “You can’t go beyond this point because of contamination,” said the policeman. “What’s contaminated?” I asked. “Oh, it’s just the workers are cleaning up.”
I turned around and parked my car at the top of the levee. Just behind it, I saw a group of men on a platform looking directly down. Others were working with a long hose attached to a fire hydrant. “Clean that shit off,” yelled the guy on the platform to the guy at the head of the hose. I wondered if that shit was PES-51.
As I continued taking photographs, the policeman got out of his car. He explained that this area (on my side of the blockade) was really meant for only officials to park. Frustrated and angry, I returned to my car and headed home.
I believe in boots on the ground, but when it comes to oil spills, you gotta do more than show up. You gotta show up fast! Before the predators come - in full force. Meanwhile, as a poet friend once said, “Mother Nature’s just trying to hold on.”