As I answer a few early morning emails and text messages, the smell of coffee wafts through the condo, . The first cup is the best. On the back deck overlooking the boat slips and canal that runs like a street between the houses, I watch the early morning sun and the stirring of life in the marina.
Half way through my first cup, someone’s phone rings – it is a captain agreeing to take us out. He assures us that the water, and consequently the ride will be rough…but that if we want to go, he is available. We all agree we should take advantage of the opportunity. A quick shower, a few granola bars, and off we go to Myrtle Grove Marina; which, in addition to being a marina, seems to be a staging place for trips to where the heavy oil is located.
As we arrive there are several aspects of this place that strike me. The security guard, and gate posted up front bar entrance to any who are not badged and official. Around the side of the gate, to the right, non-official vehicles are able to park and carry on the business of the day. In the common area, available to both badged and non-badged personnel, there is a convenience store selling water, snacks and bait. There is a little porch in front of the store there serves as a sitting area – there, I find several men, sitting, smoking, talking on the phone and to each other. At first, I stay with my companions, but soon , as is my custom, I venture out to meet a few of the fellows sitting, waiting. I am drawn to two men, and introduce myself, and they do the same. Firm handshakes and amiable smiles were offered and accepted. One of the men is from Las Vegas – he is in town specifically to work with BP and the oil spill…he was not terribly talkative, neither was he unfriendly – just leery. As the conversation slowly unfolds, Nevada get's up and leaves.
The other man introduces himself as Skipper – That's me and Skipper in the photo on the right. Skipper is from the Chitimacha Indian reservation in St. Mary Parish of Louisiana. There are 720 registered Chitimacha. The 2000 census reported a resident population of 409 persons living on the Chitimacha Indian Reservation. Of these, 285 were of solely Native American ancestry. Since coming to work on the oil disaster, Skipper has not been home in 36 days…BP is paying for a room where he lives while he works with them. Before coming to Myrtle Grove, Skipper worked as a fishing boat captain of a small vessel – work had been slow, so money from this job is appreciated. Skipper and I shot the breeze while I waited for the boat that was to take me out on the water….he was waiting to learn if he would have to work that day or not. The menacing clouds over head suggested that he, and others waiting around the sitting area would likely not have to work because of the rough seas…but no one seemed to be interested making a determination one way or the other, and the frustration was building among the men who were not working. Skipper tells that it is not uncommon to have to come out and wait, and wait with nothing to do. When I asked Skipper about this, he said he didn’t mind because he and the others were getting paid by the day…whether they worked or not. As we sat that there, already 3 hours into the work day, others were getting up and drifting toward their cars and heading away from the marina…”sneaking off” as Skipper described it --- which is what he intended to do himself after a few more minutes.
Eventually, our captain arrived, and we were able to get on the water – it looked like we would be soaked with rain, but the weather held, and we got to see some of the impacted areas. Here I need to clarify something I shared with you earlier. Yesterday, I reported that the oil in Louisiana was a mile or so off the coast of Venice and southern Louisiana. The reality is that some of the oil has made it into the marshes and is effecting the habitats and wildlife that is there. Oil making it inshore is well dispersed, it is not the long undulating ribbons as it is off-shore, rather, it seems to appear episodically, makeing it so difficult to attack -- look at the pictures of the marsh. As impacted and oiled as this salt grass is, we saw not one sign of oil in the water. What is interesting is that the optics of the spill on the grass pictured here are probably better than the actual situation -- because of the relatively high water level (because of the storm and rain from the previous day) -- the bulk of the oil is below the water-line, out of our field of vision.