I spent the last four days -- a long Memorial Day weekend, if you will -- in the vicinity of the shore of the Gulf of Mexico. My in-laws live in Gautier, MS, between Ocean Springs and Pascagoula. It was a good trip; I ate a tremendous amount of food, drank (for me) a tremendous amount of beer, swam in the pool, and lazed quite a bit. I am not used to relaxing trips from home, but this was one, mostly.
The drive down Highways 49 and 90, and Interstate 10, was easy. Traffic was relatively light for a holiday weekend on the Gulf Coast. There were also few people on the beaches. Both those signs should've been fair warning that all was not as it should be.
We generally listened to classic rock on the radio, our only options being what passes for country music these days, R & B, and Shock Gospel. Interspersed between the obligatory CCR and Lynyrd Skynyrd and the usual commercial babble about the latest "deal" to be found at the "Coast's Premier Auto" deal-ers, was something new: info-ads proclaiming the beauty and excitement and extreme visit-ability of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Later the wife reminded me that the local Chambers of Commerce had provided those ads, courtesy of an injection of cash from British Petroleum.
We visited the creaking, fading Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans on the third day. Afterward, leaving the Hilton-Riverwalk parking garage, we got stuck behind a real live Protest -- albeit one on wheels. A veritable throng of bicyclists were wheeling through the French Quarter and the Business District, protesting offshore oil drilling with slogans like "NO DRILL, NO SPILL, NO KILL." I wanted to lean out the window and cheer, but decided it would be unwise, what with my father-in-law driving the vehicle and all.
On the morning of the fourth day -- Saturday, 29 May -- the wife and kid and I decided to go to the beach with her brother and his wife and their two little ones, ages 2 1/2 and 9 months. So we headed to Biloxi Beach, and found what we believed to be a nice swathe of sand, with real beachgoers and gulls and everything. There was no oil to be seen. Gulls were plucking fish from the brown water. There was even a fisherman who'd waded out into the water about a hundred yards (an easy meal for a Great White, I couldn't help thinking). There was also the usual litter, including a sock and a child's discarded green plastic shovel; a Wal-Mart bag floated like a ghostly fish in the surf.
While my brother-in-law and I struggled to assemble the canopy he'd brought, my daughter wandered into ankle-deep surf. Presently she called out, "Daddy, I found a jellyfish!" I promptly went to investigate, remembering the multiple run-ins I'd had with a single jellyfish in Pensacola when I was a kid. (That motherfucker lingered in the same spot, waiting for me, the whole time we stayed. I know, because I monitored him from the balcony of our upstairs suite at the Howard Johnson's, after the stingings.) I sure as hell didn't want my five-year old girl getting stung by some bastard jellyfish, much less my little neice and nephew. So I walked down to where she stood bent over, pigtails pointing downward at the clear, still mass of stinging cells lying in the sand.
"It's okay, it's dead," I called over my shoulder; then told my daughter to leave it be.
Then I looked in the water itself. More of the same kind of jellyfish floated there. I walked down the surf, looking. There were jellyfish everywhere, all dead or dying. I imagine there were probably hundreds, maybe a few thousand, of them just in the few hundred yards of beach in my line of vision. I scooped up one the size of a small lemon and studied it. After a minute, I felt the stinging in my palm.
Naturally we packed up and got the fuck outta there.
The sheer horror of what's happening in the Gulf of Mexico right now has been heavy on my psyche since it began. Now the cold reality of it has really set in on me, adding to -- not taking the place of -- the horror and the overwhelming sadness. I don't know what killed those jellies -- the oil, the dispersant, or the lack of oxygen caused by algal bloom, caused in turn by fertilizer runoff, that had already established a dead zone in the Gulf before the Deepwater Horizon disaster -- but I know one thing: I will not go back.
"...But there was in Thranduil's heart a still deeper shadow. He had seen the horror of Mordor and could not forget it. If ever he looked south its memory dimmed the light of the Sun..."
-- J.R.R. Tolkien, Unfinished Tales, Chapter IV: "The History of Galadriel and Celeborn and of Amroth King of Lorien."