Padre Island along the Texas Gulf Coast doesn’t have the glittery, white sand beaches of travel magazines. The sand is more the color of agua de tamarindo, and it’s often covered by a thick layer of decaying Sargassum seaweed. In certain areas, beach trash gets mixed up in this seaweed, creating odd, massive sculptures of rope, plastic and dying barnacles. Stepping into the water isn’t likely to bring a lot of relief — the water is too warm in the summer, and jellyfish and stingrays take up most of the space that isn’t occupied by floating seaweed and debris.
So, no, I won’t lie to you: It’s no paradise of vacation dreams. It sits on the receiving end of the Mississippi water shed, a victim of the massive river’s trash and silt.
It also is where I grew up; it’s marred beauty is one of the few places in the world where I feel a power beyond my own, a presence I wouldn’t call God but Mother Nature. I don’t believe there is some ethereal male being watching over us from unknown heavens, but I do believe that our planet is very much alive, in her own way. And that we are doing our best to snuff her out.
But Padre Island hangs on, in spite of us. Look beyond the less-than-perfect scene, and you’ll start to realize what an ecological haven it is: Rattlesnakes shift in the dunes and sharks lurk a few sandbars out. Endangered Kemp Ridley sea turtles lay their eggs here every year, and dolphins fly-swim through the distant waters. It is paradise, just not in the human way.
About a decade ago, Texas decided to allow oil drilling not only in the nearby waters — the horizon has become a windshield covered with smashed bugs of oil rigs marring the view — but also in the sand dunes themselves. It’s one of the reasons I moved away, and became a person who doesn’t own a car. I didn’t want to contribute to this nightmare, I want my hands clean when my time comes. Of course, that’s an impossible feat, but I do my best to keep my hands as clean as possible.
Earlier this year, when President Obama said he supported continued oil exploration, I was exasperated. I had previously supported him, assuming he’d never take such action. He broke my heart with that announcement, and my already increasingly demotivated attitude toward politics took a sharp nosedive into complete apathy. His hands are very dirty.
When the recent news of the oil spill off the coast of Louisiana made headlines, I turned off the news, I simply couldn’t process it. And now, as the oil churns out of the ocean floor at a frightening rate, my denial has turned into despair. All our hands are dirty.
When ecological disasters keep me up at night — and this one most definitely has — the things I take comfort in are the weeds that pop up through the concrete on the sidewalk, the rats that rip through the garbage bags at night, the pigeons that take over the city parks, those cockroaches that scurry across your kitchen floor. In the oceans, the legs of those giant drilling platforms that are creating such murder right now are also artificial reefs, and even our embarrassing ocean trash becomes covered with life.
Try as we might to dirty our hands, and dirty our only home, we’ll destroy ourselves long before we fully succeed. And if we do turn things around before our final moments, there’s a planet full of life waiting to cheer us on. I am taking comfort in that right now.