We know so little about ourselves. We as in United States of Americans. We loosely collect ourselves under a sheet of cloth emblazoned red, white and blue, and every few years when the Olympic anthem is crescendoed and we have sent our brashest and most athletic to strut superiority (usually in the summer) or on the rare occasion our sovereignty is jeopardized in some fanatical act, we band together, coalesce committed to tribe and tie ribbons around trees and slap them on vehicles. In those rare occasions WE are passionately patriotic peoples. The other 99% of the time – ya, not so much a clue who we are really. Pathologically parochial.
Navigating a thin line along the Gulf coast of the Gulf of Mexico (why we haven’t renamed it the ‘Gulf of America’ is still a mystery to me) I am becoming acquainted with another America. An America I claim I know when pressed by foreign friends, but in reality, as I have discovered, I had no clue. Ya, the drawl is there, and there are plenty of words that eluded my elementary vocabulary education in English. For example today, I just learned the bird I have been “call’n ibis, there ain’t nosuch thing, its uh growback”. No one on the boat could explain the word “growback” for ibis, as they said, “it’s just what creole call it”. And then there’s the food. You either shoot it, fish it, or catch it at Walmart – afterwards you boil it, fry it, or consume it in a gumbo, washed down by some beer with “Lite” in the title. Finally, all these things arrive, deliver or ride in your pick up, unless you’ve migrated to close to the city, then a humongous SUV substitutes.
So trying to get a fix on the floating shifting slick that is oil, not just in the water, but maybe more relevantly in the minds, especially in Louisiana, I have come to realize it isn’t the enemy. BP is oil therefore it isn’t the enemy. In the words of one wildlife person I have considerable respect for after just a few hours of motoring coastal waterways, “No one wants BP to go away, we just want them to clean up this mess.” I don’t think my restrained non-reaction gave me a way, but my brain was reeling – “What the hell did you just say?” – was shouting through the folds of my cerebrum. Personally I do consider BP the enemy – like all the other petrochemical companies that have stifled the opportunity to veer from the this hydrocarbon existence and foster a hope at true, equitable sustainable energy use. But that’s not how it’s seen between the Calcasieu River and Mobile Bay. Along that network of coastal waterways and back water bayous only two things mean anything – fish’n and oil. As I said to a parish sheriff who questioned me over lunch a few days ago, “I’m here for fish’n and oil, isn’t everyone?”
Frustration – I’m not entirely alone down here – there are dissident voices and art work (above). Art has that advantage, dissidence, but no one hangs art in a pick up – or a single-wide. But criticizing big oil, real criticism, even little oil, is something done in hushed voices, off the record, and out on the water. (More in another blog on two BP folks I met that had sharp words, spoken with double-bladed tongues, about their employer.)
Every day I’m processing the new world I have chosen to immerse myself into. I keep telling myself it’s good to be so foreign in a foreign land. Lost inside my country. And I find more and more I keep turning to my old skills, those learned in faraway lands initially as alien. I listen a lot. A lot. I think constantly about what is said and by whom. And I try to understand.
One revelation has appeared in the early morning marshland mist – “Selfish Sustainability”. I think it’s how we will survive. I’m trying to figure out survival on this planet. Is it even possible? This year bouncing between Asian elephants, apes in Africa and Indo-Malaysia and scattered trips to Europe, and this Gulf sojourn the secret must come – if not, it doesn’t exist. More on that later over on my Small Planet Perambulation blog.