Monday, June 14, 2010
Day 1: On Stepping into dire Circumstances
I arrived in Pensacola, Florida on Saturday, at 2:00 PM. Nothing seems out of place, nobody seems panicked, or awestruck, or even agitated. Life is going on as usual. But then the deepest wounds are seldom advertised so readily. I've been driving down the east coast for the last 6 days, camping and researching oil, and wondering what I was actually going to see here...
I quickly found the end of a long crushed-shell gravel avenue and was greeted by a sign which read 'Thank you for visiting the real Florida!' This is the Big Lagoon State Park.
I wondered what that was going to mean in the next few months, years, or…decades? Whatever the real Florida is in the future, I'm about to find out what it is right here and now.
Big Lagoon, I soon found out, is a protected shoreline which is buffeted by Perdido Key, an island almost 10 miles long, but only 100 or so feet wide at many points. The last mile or so is into Alabama, which, appropriately enough, is called Alabama Point of Perdido Key.
I began asking about the spill in the ranger station as I was paying for the $23 campsite and filling out a form or two. His demeanor faded from congenial park ranger to a composed, defensive, honest, concern. He looked me square in the eyes and said rather declaratively,
"How deep into this do you want to go?"
"Very deep," I replied, as confidently as I could (but lacking the credibility I desired). He eyed me cautiously, and a bit more openly, I added my true opinion,
" I want as many people as possible to know what I really see and experience, so that this kind of thing has as little chance of happening again as possible, and I don't really think that finding out about it on the news is honest enough for me."
After a moment he nodded and lent himself to explaining what I may see: folks crushed by the spill, whose livelihoods are gone, in all likelihood for good. I would be meeting denial, anger, perhaps violence; sensitivity, and a rash of other coping emotions. I gulped hard and nodded, completely unable to respond meaningfully. As is always the case in a localized crisis, I, as an outsider, cannot possibly equal or understand the emotions felt here, but I can empathize, and then write from that empathy. I can tell the truth and be honest to the people who live here in what I show to others.
That night I got settled in my tent, sweating in Florida's wicked humidity, listening to all manner of lizard and insect saying goodnight. Through the mesh on the ceiling, the stars were shining dull through a humid haze, except where the palm trees blocked out the night, and two campsites over a man was playing Jimmy Buffet on a Ukulele, and I thought out loud,
This IS the real Florida…But for how long?