Friday, September 23, 2005

The Gulf Scream

Jeanelle walked out to the edge of the water and put her toes into the lapping, rushing, wavelets.

"It is so warm", she says in that almost complaining voice that can almost be confused with the "you don't have it in my size" voice.

The water was its customary warm. These days, even in winter, the water rarely cools to where it is actually refreshing. It still makes you wet though.

That wonderful yellow tangled up cord was all over the beach. I used to think that some huge army of drunk fishermen were somehow losing their fishnets every night. I would see this orange string stuff laying all around on the beach and would actually get a little unhappy with the colossal amount of beach litter. Then, one day I realized it was seaweed, Sargasso Sea Seaweed to be exact. A scientist at the University marine lab told me all about it when we bumped into each other many years ago as we were aimlessly walking. I guess now, it is decades.

"Just be glad we are here."

"I am, I am," said Jeanine.

Actually, she hates the beach. I'm the one who loves it. I can sit out on the edge of the water for days and days with my cooler, my bright umbrella, my kite, my super comfortable red chairs with the leg rests built in, my binoculars, several books, and an ocean of sun block.

I can just sit and walk and run and watch the babies, the birds, and the other featherless bipeds for days, if not weeks. I lose myself in the sounds of the blustery wind, in the constantcy of the waves lapping as they come and go, at the radio blaring from the occassional black low rider pickup, and at the seagulls laughing and carrying on with each other, looking for the next sucker to throw them some crackers. I don't care if they are flying rats.

"Just be glad we made it".

"I know, I know. Next you are going to tell me how much you love that haunted hotel that we stay in right"?

"FDR used to stay there."


"And what?"

"And he was old a really long time ago."

She was right, the hotel was old, and a little run down, but that made it even more perfect. It was a bit of a ghost town too, but real fisherman were beginning to come back.

None of us really expected it to happen like this. We all thought that the big event that would bring climate change onto the radar screen of all the politicians would probably be the abrupt slow down of the gulf stream. Then, no matter how right wing, no matter how suspicious they were of anything with the word environment in it, no matter how much they just hated the idea that burning incredibly huge amounts of oil and coal could ever actually do something really bad, such as make a formerly somewhat dependable stable climate, very unstable and very undependable, they would go "Oh my Lord, I have been wrong, oh so very stupidly wrong; we do have a very big problem here indeed."

But who would have thought that the Gulf of Mexico, that pitifully wonderful, generally very tranquil body of water would have turned so ugly... that it would start to scream.

First, there was the year when Florida got hit three times. Some people in the Florida panhandle built there houses back, just to have them destroyed just as they were moving in. Then of course, we had the destruction of New Orleans.

We all were horrified, but many of us took some dark pleasure in saying "I told your so".

But then there was another one. And this time there was no pleasure in any of it. It was horrible. And then another, and another.

The president kept saying we are going to build it back. First it was 200 billion, then another 200 billion, and the storms kept coming. One by one, every major city on the Gulf was hit. We kept talking about rebuilding and so on, but after a few years, it began to feel a little hollow.

And then one day the insurance companies said it. They said "no more".

The government stepped in of course. We love to socialize losses in this country. It's the profits that we must privatize. But even that was impossible with the mounting debt and the foreign loss of confidence in our bungling leaders.

And then it hit us like a ton of bricks falling down from so many wind blown walls.

The Gulf is no longer a place for large concentrations of human settlement. The first casualty of Global Climate Change was not England, not Sweden, and not France. It was Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida.

Oh, you can live here alright, but it is more like the north shore of Oahu on the opposite side of the island from Honolulu. Everything is wind blown and beat down. There is just too much weather there for anything except temporary things. Because, most likely, they will be made temporary, whether you like it or not.

The good news is that except for some of their ugly ruins, all of the refineries that cluttered the coast are gone. The majors tried to bebuild them, but it seems that Mother Nature had other plans. Besides, we all knew that we had to stop burning that crap anyway. With time, our poetic sides could see that Mother Nature had come in and wiped out these earth offending industrial petrocarbon complexes with a precision that would have made a former, now infamous Secretary of Defense jealous. The pinpoint nature of these strikes by Mother Nature was the real shock and awe.

Appropriately, now the people who do live here really love the sea, and they respect it. Now that the pollution has stopped, the fishing has returned, and the beaches are actually more lovely than ever. There are people here, but not like before the change.

But the big cities and the luxury homes are pretty much gone. They have moved inland or to other more friendly shores.

The casinos are still here, but they operate out of recycled cruise ships. That way, they can run from the giant storms before they get there.

But mostly, the birds live here now, and they fish these waters just like they did a thousand years ago.

And we come to visit more than ever.

It may be hot.

But it's still very cool.

Still, the gulf has become a very strange and different place.


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*Magritte, the Human Condition, Collective Invention


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hurricane History Fun Facts

What was the deadliest hurricane on record?

A 1900 hurricane slammed into Galveston, Texas killing 8,000 people. A category 4 hurricane, it struck the island with sustained winds of 140 miles per hour. With no radar, tracking, or predictions, there were no preparations made for the storm. The highest elevation in Galveston in 1900 was 8.7 feet; the 15.7 foot storm surge covered the homes and businesses like an ocean.

It cost $20 million at the time; in today’s money, the damage would have cost $700 million. After the hurricane, Galveston raised a sea wall and increased the grade of the island to prevent a recurrence of the tragedy.

As most of Florida will remember, the costliest hurricane of all time was Hurricane Andrew. Andrew struck in 1992 and devastated the Homestead and southern Miami-Dade areas with sustained winds of over 156 miles per hour. The estimated cost damage was $26.5 billion. After predicting for days that the storm was taking a northerly course, most people in Miami and Homestead were unprepared for the change in path that took in through the Homestead Air Force Base and the Country Walk area. Post-Andrew construction had extremely different standards, including storm shutters being required when selling a new home.

The most intense hurricane to strike the US?
Over the Labor Day weekend in 1935, a hurricane struck the Florida Keys. With record-setting low barometric pressure of 892 mb, the tiny island of Islamorada had little chance of avoiding annihilation. 390 died in the event, as the Keys were not yet very populated. Roads, buildings, viaducts, bridges and the railroad were completely wiped out. The Labor Day Hurricane sustained winds are estimated to have reached almost 200 miles per hour.

On average, two major hurricane (cat 3-5) strike every three years; in all categories, about five hurricanes make landfall every three years. On average, a hurricane cat 4 or higher only strikes once every six years. 2004 has been an anomaly.

What was the busiest hurricane season on record in the Atlantic?
In 1995, 11 hurricanes were recorded in the Atlantic. Named storms got all the way up to Hurricane Tanya. Allison, Dean, Erin, Gabrielle, Jerry, Opal, and Roxanne all made landfall in the US.

In the 20th century, how many hurricanes hit the US?
158 hurricanes hit the US from all categories; 64 of these were major hurricanes, categories 3-5. Florida had the most landfalls at 57, with the majority of these being in the northwest and southeast. Texas came in second with 36, and Louisiana and North Carolina tie for third at 25 a piece.

What is the busiest month in the US for major hurricane hits? September has it; 36 of the 64 major hurricanes hit in September. The next busiest month the August, with only 15.

5:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow!!! This prose is hauntingly beautiful - images of what I love best about the coast.

The details take me right there to where I have spent hours sitting under an umbrella, taking in the sea air with my cooler, chair and book. I loved the line, "with a precision that would have made the now infamous former Secretary of State Jealous"

A "great read" except that it appears to be happening right before our eyes on our own beloved coast.

7:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

BATON ROUGE, LA. - The White House announced today that President Bush has successfully sold the state of Louisiana back to the French at more than double its original selling price of $11,250,000.

"This is a bold step forward for America," said Bush.
"And America will be stronger and better as a result.

I stand here today in unity with French Prime Minister Jack Sharaq, who was so kind to accept my offer of Louisiana in exchange for 25 million dollars cash."

7:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Indianola, remember it? It's where my ancestors first set foot on the Texas coast back in the 1840s. It's gone.

9:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this piece is as scary as the code blue piece...just as sur-realistic and right on the edge of reality. very effective. MS

11:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

GWB just announced in a radio transmission that his going on site to "see for himself that fed and locals work together" will not in any way be disruptive to disaster responders, sure.
Bill Maher will use this as an ingredient to make GWmincemeat Pie on Real Time tonight.


11:44 AM  
Blogger John Hamre said...

An associate of mine, a hard-core right-winger, recently told me that this is all just a part of a normal climate cycle. He reiterated something that he has told me before, that the best scientific minds can not come up with a consensus that global warming has anything to do with any of the climate anomalies happening today, the glacier melting, or the raise in ocean temperature. It’s scary, but I think his way of thinking is still the norm for the people in power today.

12:00 PM  
Blogger oZ said...

JD, your friend is like so many others on the far right. They think that climate change is a religion or some kind of belief. They reject the data, the science, the consensus of all the academies of science of all the developed nations and then say that there is no consensus.

Tell him that OZ told him to quit listening to that fat drug crazed Rush L. and to get off his lazy butt and research the issue with what is left of his fascist leaning lazy ass mind.

The people in power today who think in this way will be out of power someday, and they will be excoriated and hopefully prosecuted for the willful neglect they have exercised while in these positions of trust.

On second thought, just don't associate with him anymore.

12:20 PM  

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