“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” ~ Henry Miller
The thing about living on the gulf coast is the hurricanes. And rising seas, if you believe the science about climate change. I believe the science. But even if I didn’t, there are the hurricanes and the fact that most of the gulf coast is lowlands. As I mentioned in previous posts, the Cameron Parrish and the communities of Grand Chenier and Pecan Island have lost the majority of their population, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to get much better.
What has replaced the permanent population are the hunting camps. A camp may be nothing more than some mobile trailers permanently hooked up to electricity, with a patio attached, or it can be a beautiful home built on stilts, often much nicer than most of the permanent residences. And everything in between.
The camps are occupied during duck season – sometimes only on weekends. The small local store benefits by selling pizza and beer. Some residents benefit by cleaning camps. But the complaint is that these “rich” guys come onto their island, a beautiful and peaceful place, and wreck it by driving their trucks up and down the highway with the music blasting, and by being loud and drunk. Why come to a peaceful place for a getaway only to wreck the peace?
The greater damage though is to the levies. On Front Ridge Road there are camps that used to be adjacent to fields and pasture. But the campers have broken the levies in places so that the water comes up to their property. It’s nice to have water front property, yeah? You can launch your boat from right there. You get a beautiful view. But the pasture that is now water belongs to someone who can no longer graze their cattle there. Maybe they left after the hurricanes and were hoping to sell the land or lease it to other cattle ranchers. Maybe they still live there, but cannot now afford to rebuild the levy and drain the pasture. Not that draining it will do much good. That was brackish water at best, salt water at worst.
On top of ruining someone else’s land, what happens when the next hurricane or sea surge hits? The levies that protected the homes on Front Ridge road will no longer protect them. The water will come through those pastures, past the houses and into the fields beyond – hopefully it will stop before it hits Highway 82, because if it doesn’t, then all the homes on the north side of that road will be flooded too.
If you drive along Front Ridge Road you can see the breaks in the levies. You can see the oak trees at the edge of the water that are dying. The pastures north of the road flood too, every time it rains, but it’s fresh water and it drains eventually.
I wonder what will become of that paradise I discovered while biking innocently along. When I hear of people who live in disaster zones I always wonder: Why don’t they move? Why do they rebuild? I think this when I see towns repeatedly destroyed by tornadoes, places wiped out by hurricanes, houses destroyed by brush fire on the tinder dry hills of Southern California – burned down and rebuilt, only to slide down the hill during the next big rain, pulled along by the mud because there is no vegetation left to hold up the hill. Why don’t they move?
I thought about this when I was in the marshlands of South West Louisiana. But I met people there that were born and raised on the island. People whose families go back generations. This is their home.
Me? I’ve moved so many times I stopped counting. I call Los Angeles home, but I’ve lived in Seattle for twenty three years. While I’m on the road, I’m on the lookout for other places I might want to live. I am not tied down to any one sense of place. I am nomadic right now. But even traditional nomads have the same territories they move to through the seasons and over the years. Or, like snowbirds from Canada and the plains states.
I don’t know what the answer is. I know only that I worry for them. I know only that I want this beautiful land to survive so I can come back and visit.