- Posted October 20, 2010 by
Gulfport and Biloxi, Mississippi
Day One: Gulfport and Biloxi
- zdan, CNN iReport producer
Day One: Gulfport and Biloxi
Photographs by Bobby Moon.
Reflections by Frank Brightwell.
Camera and lens rental from BorrowLenses.com.
Our first stop was in Gulfport where, around the corner from the BP Community Outreach and Claims office, was a festively decorated barbershop. The proprietor and self proclaimed “artist” was Linda, a New Jersey transplant by way of South Florida. Upon entering we were offered freshly baked raisin buns by Ms. Shirley. She was selling them for a local charity. In the shop, Linda was engaged in conversation with Mr. Anderson, Mr. Watson and Mr. Goodson. Numerous dead birds had been found on the sidewalks of downtown. All speculated that they were “fallin’ out the damn sky” because “God only knows what they been eatin’ poisoned out the water.” Ms. Felicia came into the shop and offered us freshly made stuffed boiled eggs… her recipe, “and I don’t use no yellas, only the whites. You know, them yella parts, well, they just ain’t good for ya.”
I asked Linda and her friends how the oil spill had impacted Gulfport. She struggled, she told us. Summer should be her busy season, and she has had little traffic. And this even with her charging $10 a cut, as Mr. Anderson was quick to point out. See, Tommy, the town barber for 45 years who died in the spring and from whom Linda bought the shop, well, he never charged more than $5. And sometimes he would charge only $3. And if he charged $3, you knew he was saving $2. Linda cursed the oil, not so much for its tainting the Gulfport shoreline, but because the fear that it had done so kept people away. “The restaurants, the hotels, the stores, and especially the poor fishermen, they’ll be hurtin’ for a long time,” she said.
Driving along the water’s edge between Gulfport and Biloxi, one is struck by what must be the last stretch of undeveloped waterfront property in the country. We found it curious that lot after lot of seemingly prime locations for beautiful homes, hotels and businesses lay barren. We learned that this was not an effective attempt at green space preservation, but rather the aftermath of Katrina. In this area water reached the second floor of buildings. Some floated away, their occupants never to seen again. Some simply—apparently—disintegrated by the force of the wind and water. The empty lots, their power lines and driveways waiting as if for a prom date, reminded us that this gentile stretch of openness was once home to hundreds of people.
We gazed at the Gulf of Mexico. Where was this oil rig that exploded? We could only see the simple and intoxicating beauty of the water and the waves and the sun. A solitary bloom ignited the starkness of the surrounding sands… the purity of nature reassured us that perhaps our worst fears were exaggerated. And then, as if to echo the words of Linda, the bright red “Danger” tape shouted that all was not as it seemed. Tracks in the sand took us to equipment and a sole recovery “worker” casting nets to capture the stray tar balls. A boom in the distance collected still more oil. The tall grasses behind the boom did not realize six months had passed.
A small shell resting on a mound of sand demonstrated nature’s perfection. But upon closer inspection, we became painfully aware that the perfection had been violated. The dark spirals on the shell were not its natural coloration. Glistening in the distance, as if a flint arrowhead ready to spark, lay a tar ball. And adjacent to it were numerous others, like gumballs waiting for quarters…the tar spoiled the perfection and the harmony and the lives of people like Linda and her friends.
In the distance of just a few dozen yards we encountered half a dozen decomposing catfish. A local fisherman passing by speculated that because the catfish are “bottom feeders,” they are likely ingesting toxic sediment along with their food. Even the numerous birds showed no interest in the fish, some of which were obviously only recently killed.
The reeds and grasses of the shore’s dunes danced in the twilight’s gentle breeze. Some of the plants painted intricate designs in the sand while nearby, birds’ claw prints spoke to us in hieroglyphics. And when the Gulf exhaled its tarnished breath, infected by black lung disease, the canvas was wiped clean once again. As its delicate beams illuminated the water, the moon reminded us that another day would cleanse.