Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Gulf Coast: A Love Story

It's been another sobering month with oil washing ashore on Alabama beaches ten miles south of my home. As far north as thirty miles, people have reported the cloying scent of wet asphalt that is the crude oil destroying our Gulf waters, coastal areas and their economies.

Residents are cleaving to memories of what the coast was like before this manmade crisis. Instead of taking out the anger and frustration that is palpable everywhere you go, here at Cozy I wanted to recall special days I now treasure like Saturday; June 12, 2004. This was the day I met the man who would become my husband. We were both young and shy, but my parents and his brother and sister-in-law were determined to throw us together on a boat ride on the Gulf Shores Intercoastal Canal. The day was gloriously sunny. The water was a dark, healthy blue.

The canal had direct access to the Gulf itself and it was commonplace to see all matter of marine life while cruising the waterway by boat. We slowed at one point to watch a sea turtle the size of five large dinner plates mosey on by just below the surface of the water. Later, we ate al fresco at the canal-side restaurant, Lulu’s. The sea breeze and rich seafood made for heaven…and the hot dude sitting next to me at the table didn’t hurt either ;)

Later, on July 18, 2004—exactly one month after our first date—he and I sat alone on the sugar white sands of Orange Beach listening to the night waves kiss the shore and soaking up the warm, salty breeze as we first told each other we loved each other.
Hardly two months further into our relationship, we enjoyed the sun on the same beach with my family. Out in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico hundreds of miles away from impact, Hurricane Ivan gathered strength and speed. The high-cresting waves were the only indication that a natural disaster would occur in a few days time. While wading, I watched a small shark’s tail pop out of the surf as it fought the rough tide. Days later, the eye of Ivan made landfall less than a mile from that patch of beach. While touring the wreckage in the hub’s Jeep, I was heartbroken. Our beaches were ripped to shreds. Water had crashed inland, flooding nearly the entire island of Gulf Shores. Sand had been pushed into the lower levels of high-rise condos, which along with miles of beach-houses were reduced to rubble on their Gulf-facing sides. Costs for damage grew far into the millions and it took years to fully recover. Several acquaintances lost their homes. National Guard patrols took over the streets to catch looters and enforce a strict curfew. For two weeks, the region felt like a war zone. I thought it was the worst beating our beach would take in my lifetime.

The beaches eventually opened to the public again and tourists flocked from March to September, just as they always had. At this point, the hub and I were living together. We took our two water-loving labs to beautiful, deserted Fort Morgan Beach where the walls of old Civil War fortress rose over an undulating carpet of sea oats and sand dunes and we chased them through the surf, played with sand crabs, explored tidal pools and tried to keep Rocky, the birddog, from chasing chattering seagulls. I still laugh at the memory of the hub losing hold of his collar, resulting in a half-mile-long chase after a haughty blue heron—the picture of the hub chasing frantically after Rocky’s quick-footed form is still something I recall often to friends and family. (The heron was never caught, I assure you, but Rocky came back fresh from his mischievous adventure smiling anyway.)

While kayaking on the canal the summer of 2005, the hub lured large flounder with a fishing rod while I read a romance and paddled us through marshy waters. A mama dolphin surprised us by swimming with her baby up to the side of the boat. The hub still loves to recount a fishing trip offshore with his father and brothers during which dolphins crested along at the bow of their vessel, turning sideways as if to get as much a gander at him as he was getting of their pod. As someone who once dove offshore ship wreckage and got up close and personal with the marine life, he mourns the loss of their underwater habitat as much as they do.

*This video was taken at the end of April 2010 at West Pass, Gulf Shores, Alabama (a week after the Deepwater Horizon explosion)

When we first heard that oil would spread to our beaches, we took time off to go to the beach. On the shore of West Pass, Gulf Shores, I found it hard to believe that it would all soon be destroyed—this slice of heaven. I grew up on the Gulf. I fell in love there. It’s as much a part of my life as the house I call home. While BP CEOs grumble that they hope the end of this debacle is near so they can go back to their lives far away from Deepwater Horizon, the Gulf Coast, and the "small people" who live here, we’ll be picking up the pieces environmentally and economically for the next decade and mourning the loss of what has been the culturally-rich life we've enjoyed here on our quiet stretch of coastline.
*This video was taken June 2010 at Orange Beach, Alabama

It’s hard to end this post on a positive note, especially with hurricane season now in session and a recent trip to Orange Beach, Alabama to see crude oil washing ashore and the absence of seagulls. I’m pleased to say, however, that my husband and several of his family members are now working on oil clean-up crews in Mobile. Please continue to keep volunteers, the effected marine life, and people who have lost their livelihood because of this disaster in your thoughts. And Cozies, if you have any fond memories of the Gulf Coast, I’d love to hear them!

*And just for fun - April 2010 - West Pass, Gulf Shores, Alabama (No hermit crabs were harmed during the making of this video)


Caroline Clemmons said...

Amber Leigh, Coincidentally, my husband and I were discussing the horrible effects of the oil spill last night. We had shrimp and cod fillets for supper and my husband commented on the future lack of such sea food. The oil spill has such far-reaching effects it will be decades before there's recovery IF ever! I just feel that BP oil should make some effort to repay the world for their stupidity and greed. Oh, no, if I go on, I'll get on my soap box and then this will get longer and I'll get madder. LOL

Amber Leigh Williams said...

Caroline, thank you for stopping by and I'm sorry - it wasn't my intention to make anyone angry. It is, however, hard to digest that no one can simply take a boat off the shore and fish anymore and our seafood restaurants aren't having an easy time of it, for sure.

Sherry said...

I like the new blog backgound. very soothing. I can't even talk about the oil spill. It breaks my heart - I've lived on the Gulf Coast since I was 11 and it means so much to me.

Amber Leigh Williams said...

Thank you, Sherry - and it is heartbreaking and difficult to focus on the positive, especially when those who have the power to make it somewhat right aren't stepping up and doing it. Hugs and thanks for stopping by :)