Friday, July 9, 2010

The New Normal

Who knew the toughest part of keeping a blog would be coordinating available wireless Internet and available time? (Actually, any parent trying to do anything....)

Pensacola Beach, Tuesday AM
Though the forecast said rain for the next several days, we woke Tuesday morning to a beautiful sun shining through the curtains. Henry begged off, but the littles and I threw on swimsuits and gathered up the buckets and shovels. Walking through the lobby to the porch door, we might as well have been wearing snow suits for all the stares.

The only others on the beach as we walked to the water were members of the clean-up crew. Dozens, maybe a hundred people in neon yellow vests, long pants, and gloves using shovels to scoop oiled sand and tar balls into garbage bags. Bobcats and golf cars collected to bags and took them to big trucks. Bulldozers shoved sand around and I recalled our friend Gary, who told us that some of the oil is just getting covered up.

Noah, who got a dunking in the Gulf on Monday, didn't want to go into the water. He wanted instead to stop as soon as we hit sand and start playing. The sand is totally different from Texas Gulf sand in color and texture. It really is a sugary-type texture. At first I didn't really get the significance of the oil. Unfortunately, it looked, at least initially, a lot like some areas of Crystal Beach where you do have to watch out for tar, and where you often wind up with some on your sandals or feet, no matter how careful you are.

The oil on the beach was like the residue left behind after lightly rinsing a very dirty shirt. No piles of tar balls, no slicks, no dead animals. No protesters, no media, no pelican-cleaning stations. (The hotel had a human-cleaning station. All guests were asked to shower and use the provided detergent and scrub brushes before re-entering the deck / pool area.)

We'd been sitting there in the mild sun for awhile as it dawned on me that this beach has never experienced this before. And it was everywhere, the oil stain. Everywhere you looked, up and down the beach. The workers did not smile at us. I felt guilty. Should we be helping instead of playing?

I asked, actually, though not at that time. You can't help at all unless you go through the BP training, and some people have trouble qualifying even for that. The kids certainly are not allowed to help.

I let the kids play. I tried to justify our leisure in my mind. Our being there is our support. We are here to spend tourism dollars, at least we can do that. We are here to tell people we meet that we love the Gulf. We're here so the kids can see it. We are here to tell you about it.

I sat with them on the sand as they dug troughs and built forts. We were in what I thought was a clean area, but I was wrong. I noticed something brownish black on my hand and thought at first it was dog doo. Dog doo would have been a lot easier to clean off. It was tar. I couldn't see on the sand where I'd picked it up, and I couldn't get it off. I rubbed my hands with sand and washed in the salty Gulf, but that just resulted in two hands covered in a light brown sticky mess. I scrubbed some more, but could not get them completely clean.

By this time, a few more families were on the beach and in the water. I noticed another person opening and closing her hand stickily, as I had been. I saw her do what I had done, rub sand and wash. I noticed the kids had some tar on the sand bucket, and Jack had some on his leg.

We got in the water though it was very rough. Jack had a great time scooping up tiny mussels in his palm and watching them burrow quickly into the sand. He had a bucket of them for awhile, and (you know what's coming) asked if we could take them home. No, Jack, we couldn't keep them alive. I felt mean telling him, but pointed out anyway that if the oil gets worse here, they'll all be dead anyway.

You could add a hundred more workers, a thousand more, but the oil is still coming. In fact, it has probably only just begun. People will get tired of helping or someone will stop paying them. And now, it probably always will be here on the beautiful Pensacola beach. Like on the Texas side, this will be the new normal. There will be an "acceptable" level of oil on the beach. And that is the saddest thing of all.

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