'My home is being destroyed, and I don't mean my house'

While here in Louisiana reporting on the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, my wife and I made a side trip to Vermilion Bay near Franklin, La. The state highway wound its way through the marshes bordered by beautiful moss-draped live oak trees. With the car windows down, we heard red-winged blackbirds and many other bird sounds we couldn’t identify. At the water’s edge we walked along the narrow beach picking up shells and examining beautifully water carved pieces of driftwood.

The day before we interviewed Providence Sr. Helen Vinton, co-director of the Southern Mutual Help Association in New Iberia. Sr. Helen had just returned from a visit to the Venice area near the Gulf where the oil now directly threatens the fragile marshes.

She spoke there with both fishermen and with members of a community of the First Louisianans, the native Atakapa people. She said the fishermen -- tough guys used to daily struggles with both the sea, a tough economy and five years of devastating hurricanes, would tear up, walk away from her in the middle of a conversation then come back, composed and ready for more talk.

A 16-year-old Atakapa girl handed her a braided together sampling of native marsh grasses and blooms neatly tied at the bottom with a large strand of native reed and with tears in her eyes said simply, “My home is being destroyed and I don’t mean my house.”

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As I sat near the beach with a stiff offshore wind at my back, listening to killdeer and watching towering thunderheads out over the Gulf moving like stately galleons across the sky, and looking out to the not-too-far waters where the sticky red-brown globs of oil approach, I thought of desert rat and environmentalist Edward Abbey’s quote that begins his famous novel “The Monkey Wrench Gang.”

It’s a lament that cries out in the deepest, most inconsolable anguish: “Oh my desert, yours is the only death I cannot bear!”

I think that to see your place -- the woven quilted mosaic of weather, trees, vegetation, landforms, rainfall, trees, birds, animals and wildflowers particular to that one place that nourishes you and gave birth to your culture – to see all that go down has to be a death that is truly well-nigh unbearable.

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