[permaculture] The Gulf Between Us/6 Months Since BP Oil Spill BY TERRY TEMPEST WILLIAMS

Wesley Roe and Santa Barbara Permaculture Network lakinroe at silcom.com
Thu Oct 28 08:47:11 EDT 2010

Interview with terry Tempest  Democracynow Amy Goodman Oct 21/10

6 Months Since BP Oil Spill, Writer and 
Environmentalist Terry Tempest Williams Asks 
"Where Is Our Outrage?" Democracynow Amy Goodman


The Gulf Between Us
Stories of terror and beauty from the world's 
largest accidental offshore oil disaster
Published in the November/December 2010 issue of Orion magazine

	*	April 20, 2010: the Macondo well 
blowout occurred approximately five thousand feet 
below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, causing 
the BP-Transocean drilling platform Deepwater 
Horizon to explode, killing eleven workers and 
injuring seventeen others.
	*	5 million barrels of crude oil 
were released into the sea from the BP blowout. 
On average, sixty thousand barrels a day were 
escaping from the well before the gusher was 
capped on July 15, 2010.
	*	632 miles of Gulf Coast shoreline 
have been oiled: 365 miles in Louisiana; 110 
miles in Mississippi; 69 miles in Alabama; and 88 
miles in Florida.
	*	There have been 411 controlled 
burns on the surface of the sea, killing hundreds 
of sea turtles and untold numbers of dolphins. 
The number of deaths has been greatly 
	*	Four hundred species of wildlife 
are threatened by the spill, including marine 
life from plankton to whales, dolphins, sea 
turtles, tuna, and shrimp; dozens of species of 
birds, including brown pelicans and piping 
plovers; land animals such as the gray fox and 
white-tailed deer; and amphibians, the alligator, 
and the snapping turtle.
	*	8 million feet of absorbent boom 
have been used to contain the oil spill in the 
Gulf of Mexico; 3 million feet of containment 
boom have also been set around islands and 
shorelines for protection.
	*	2 million gallons of a dispersant 
called Corexit have been applied on and beneath 
the surface of the sea to break up the oil. It is 
produced by Nalco Holding Company, which has 
corporate ties to BP and ExxonMobil. The EPA, on 
May 20, 2010, gave BP twenty-four hours to find a 
less toxic alternative. Corexit's known toxicity, 
acknowledged following its use in the Exxon 
Valdez oil spill, was denied by BP. The EPA's 
request was ignored.
	*	On May 25, the EPA gave BP a 
directive to scale back their spraying of the sea 
with dispersants. The Coast Guard overlooked the 
EPA's edict and granted BP seventy-four 
exemptions in forty-eight days, essentially 
rubber-stamping their continued routine use of 
	*	Defense Secretary Robert Gates 
authorized 17,500 National Guard troops "to fight 
the massive oil spill," alongside an army of 
42,500 individuals paid by BP to protect and 
clean up vital shorelines in the Gulf of Mexico. 
Over 5,300 "vessels of opportunity" have 
registered with BP, captains with their own boats 
being paid to look for oil.
	*	August 5, 2010: BP officials 
reported a permanent stop to the spill. Crews 
used a "static well kill" to plug the gusher with 
drilling mud and then concrete. Two relief wells 
at depths of 17,864 feet and 15,963 feet are 
being drilled to ensure a secure and final 
closure of the well.
	*	Amid reports of the oil in the 
Gulf being nearly gone, an article in the August 
19 issue of Science describes the presence of a 
plume of hydrocarbons at least twenty-two miles 
long and more than three thousand feet below the 
surface of the Gulf of Mexico, residue from the 
Macondo well blowout. The plume was said to be 
moving in a southwesterly direction at a rate of 
about 6.5 kilometers a day.

I AM ANGRY. I AM OUTRAGED. And I am in love with 
this beautiful, blue planet we call home.

This story in the Gulf of Mexico is not a new 
story. Living in the American West, I understand 
the oil and gas industry, both its political 
power in a state like Wyoming and its lack of 
regard for the safety of workers. Broken necks 
and backs are commonplace injuries. So are lost 
fingers. Occasional blowouts occur on land as 
well, resulting in fatalities. Production is 
paramount at the expense of almost everything 

And I have seen the environmental degradation 
that is left in the wake of collusion between 
government agencies and oil companies. Federal 
regulations are relaxed or ignored, putting the 
integrity of our public lands at risk. Ecological 
health is sacrificed for financial gain. This 
sense of entitlement among oil companies is 
supported by the U.S. Congress. It has direct 
results on the ground: burning slag pools; ozone 
warnings; contaminated water wells flushed with 
benzene; and loss of habitat for sage grouse, 
prairie dogs, and pronghorn antelope. The scars 
on the fragile desert of southeastern Utah, from 
endless road cuts to the sheared oil patches 
themselves, will take decades to heal. These are 
self-inflicted wounds made by a lethal economic 
system running in overdrive.

After months of watching the news coverage on the 
blowout and subsequent oil spill, I had to see 
for myself what I felt from afar: this 
catastrophic moment belongs to all of us.

On July 28, 2010, I traveled to the Gulf Coast 
with two friends: Avery Resor, a recent 
environmental science graduate from Duke 
University, and Bill Weaver, a seasoned filmmaker 
from Montgomery, Alabama, who now lives in 
British Columbia. Avery grew up on her family's 
cattle ranch in Wilson, Wyoming, where she 
continues to live in a log cabin without running 
water or electricity. She is twenty-four years 
old and bikes wherever and whenever she can. Her 
name ties her to a deep family history rooted in 
Louisiana: Avery Island, famous for Tabasco Sauce 
made from hot peppers, vinegar, and salt. Bill 
has dedicated his life to making films that 
illuminate issues of environmental and social 
justice. He facilitates Media that Matters, a 
yearly conference committed to more transparent 
journalism. He is more cat than human, quiet and 
nimble. When he rolls his camera, you don't know 
it. He has learned how to disappear so the 
authentic story can be told.

We arrived on the hundredth day of the oil spill 
and stayed until the "static kill" was complete. 
We sniffed out stories and followed them. We 
listened and we engaged. I took notes. Avery took 
pictures. Bill filmed.

The oil is not gone. This story is not over. We 
smelled it in the air. We felt it in the water. 
People along the Gulf Coast are getting sick and 
sicker. Marshes are burned. Oysters are scarce 
and shrimp are tainted. Jobs are gone and stress 
is high. What is now hidden will surface over 

Meanwhile, 1 billion birds are migrating through 
the Gulf of Mexico this fall, resting, feeding, 
and finding sanctuary as they have always done, 
generation after generation. The endangered 
piping plover will be among them. Seventy percent 
of all waterfowl in North America fly through the 
Mississippi Delta. Their energy will be 
compromised, with food not as plentiful. Their 
health will be vulnerable to the toxic traces of 
oil and dispersants lingering in the marshes.

The blowout from the Macondo well has created a 
terminal condition: denial. We don't want to own, 
much less accept, the cost of our actions. We 
don't want to see, much less feel, the results of 
our inactions. And so, as Americans, we continue 
to live as though these 5 million barrels of oil 
spilled in the Gulf have nothing to do with us. 
The only skill I know how to employ in the 
magnitude of this political, ecological, and 
spiritual crisis is to share the stories that 
were shared with me by the people who live here. 
I simply wish to bear witness to the places we 
traveled and the people we met, and give voice to 
the beauty and devastation of both.
To bear witness is not a passive act.

"All worlds meet at Galatoire's," David Barr 
Gooch tells us as we are escorted to our table. 
He is the great-grandnephew of the original 
proprietor, Jean Galatoire, who first opened 
these doors on Bourbon Street in 1905. Mr. Gooch 
assures us that they do have oysters and that all 
the shrimp, crab, and local fish is safe to eat. 
"Our local suppliers take care of us first, so 
please enjoy yourself."
Our waiter's name is Shawn Perry, a native of New 
Orleans. He dotes on us as if we are the only 
diners in the restaurant. When he finds out that 
we are from Utah and Wyoming, he says, "Will you 
allow me to order for you?" What comes to our 
table is Galatoire's Grand Gouté, which includes 
shrimp rémoulade, crabmeat maison, and shrimp 
maison with their signature French bread. 

For an entrée, he orders redfish prepared both 
ways for us to try: broiled and fried, with 
vegetables on a bed of couscous and a side dish 
of creamed spinach. "You have to have creamed 
spinach in the South," Shawn says. The food is 
delicious, especially the redfish, heightened by 
our waiter's joie de vivre.
"How is the Gulf spill affecting business?" I ask. He pauses.
"The people aren't coming." He looks around the 
dining room. "Usually on a summer night, this 
place is packed. The wait can be long, an hour or 
more, outside on the street. You walked right in. 
As you can see, the dining room is only a third 
full. As far as the food goes, we've got what we 
need. But the oysters are the thing-everybody's 

For a split second, Shawn sheds his elegance as a 
waiter, and his eyes deepen. "It's another blow 
to the region, and I don't know how many more we 
can take. We're resilient, we make do, but this 
spill is scaring everybody because we just don't 
"Don't know?" Avery asks.
"We just don't know what the long-term effects 
are going to be to the fisheries, to the people, 
to the Gulf." He pauses again. "There's not a lot 
of trust in this city about what we're being 
told." He looks over at another one of his 
tables. "Would you like some more bread?"

Avery and I finish our redfish. The gold fans 
with exposed light bulbs help distribute the air 
and conversation around the room. Green wallpaper 
decorated with gold fleur-de-lis rises above the 
mirrored panels, which create the illusion that 
the dining room is larger than it is. This is not 
a pretentious place.

Suddenly, a waiter in the far corner of 
Galatoire's announces with great gusto that it is 
"Charles's birthday." The room breaks into song. 
Charles stands and takes a bow. I note that all 
the patrons are white and the waitstaff is black.
Shawn surprises us with bread pudding. "One 
should do," he says smiling. One between us could 
actually be shared with another party of four. It 
is decadent and rich and we take our time with 
slow, small bites. Shawn is pleased by our 
unabashed joy.

We hug and kiss both cheeks after dinner, not 
common behavior for me with a waiter, complete 
with the exchange of addresses. Galatoire's lives 
up to its reputation. We indulge in the 
tradition, saying goodnight to Mr. Gooch, who 
sees us out the door and watches until we 
disappear into the glare of Bourbon Street on a 
hot, steamy night in New Orleans.


Kevin is working on his daughter's motor scooter, 
taking it apart in the middle of the sidewalk. I 
can't help but stare at the extravagantly colored 
tattoo on his back, a narrative needled and inked 
on flesh that depicts Godzilla standing on a 
shrimping boat battling other boats, with oil 
rigs looming in the background. He gets up, 
catches my eyes on his back, and shakes my hand. 
"It's a helluva good story if ya wanna hear about 

Margaret and Kevin Curole are Cajun shrimpers. 
They have lived along the bayous in Galliano all 
their lives. Today, they are staying at their 
daughter's place in New Orleans, adjacent to a 
large cemetery. It's beyond humid and the searing 
heat leaves me drenched. Margaret has agreed to 
talk to us about the Gulf crisis as both a 
resident of the region and an activist who serves 
on the executive board of the Commercial 
Fishermen of America. She also serves as the 
North American coordinator of the World Forum of 
Fish Harvesters and Fish Workers, an NGO that 
works with the UN's Food and Agriculture 
Organization to protect the rights of fishing 
communities around the world.

"It is a good story," she says, smiling at Kevin. 
She has a flower tattoo on her right breast 
showcased by her low-cut black t-shirt. "Let's 
get a couple of chairs and sit out back." Her 
dark, layered hair, shoulder length, accentuates 
her yellow-brown eyes. "Are you cool enough 
today?" she asks, smiling.
On May 16, 2010, Margaret Curole joined aerial 
artist John Quigley and sent three text messages, 
spelled out with human bodies on the beach in 
Grand Isle, Louisiana, to BP, the federal 
government, Congress, and other officials, 
calling for immediate action to address the 
economic and environmental devastation from the 
spill. Their message was simple and direct: Never 
Again; Paradise Lost; WTF?!

This last sentiment is where Margaret picks up 
with our conversation. "Did you see that there's 
another spill today, a barge hit ground off of 
Port Fourchon, not far from Grand Isle? That's in 
the Lafourche Parish where we're from." Margaret 
is referring to headlines in the Daily Comet: 
"New Oil Spill Sullies Locust Bayou Near Border 
of Terrebonne, St. Mary."

"About five hundred gallons of light crude. It's 
the second spill this week in southeast 
Louisiana," she says. "It's endless and ongoing 
all over the world. I'm on my way tomorrow to a 
conference in Norway to talk about the state of 
fisheries and oil spills. Part of my job with the 

Margaret tells me that her father was an oilman. 
In the 1950s, before she was born, her parents 
lived inside the British Petroleum compound in 
Saudi Arabia. "I was adopted. My birth mother was 
Cajun. I'm Cajun. The transaction was completed 
for the price of five hundred dollars and two new 
dresses for my mother. My parents are dead now, 
but I've lived in the same house in Galliano for 
fifty years."
"And your husband?" I ask.

"My husband has shrimped all his life, until the 
local fishing industry collapsed in 2000. Ask him 
about separating shrimp from a bucket for his 
grandmother when he was three years old. It's in 
his blood. He was fishing those waters as a kid. 
Loved it. Lived for it. We all did. It's how we 
raised our daughter. You know why he quit in 
2000? 'Cuz he was feelin' violent-violent toward 
the government, violent for them not valuing an 
honest day's work. He just left what he loved and 
went and worked for oil. At least we were one of 
the ones who had options."
Margaret explains to us how the local shrimping 
industry has crashed in the bayous since 2000, 
due to America "dumping" Asian shrimp into the 
market. "Our shrimp aren't worth anything, 
certainly not worth all the effort that goes into 
harvesting them. My husband used to sell a pound 
of shrimp all cleaned up and put on a bucket of 
ice for seven dollars. Then, after the Asian 
shrimp came in all covered with white blight and 
crowded out our own southern Louisiana shrimp, 
he'd get paid under a dollar. They treat our 
shrimp like trash. It's not just the money, it's 
our dignity. The ability to work hard is at the 
heart of Cajun culture.
"We are one generation removed from those 
speaking French, although Kevin still speaks the 
dialect. What you need to understand is that for 
us Cajun folk, fishing isn't a business, it's a 
way of life. It's something beautiful. We may be 
poor, but we never went hungry. We had shrimp, 
crabs, and coon oysters. We had a free and 
abundant food supply. In these parts, you either 
fish or you work in the oil fields. So if you 
take away the oil job, with the moratorium on 
deep-well drilling, and the fishing is gone, 
we're down to nothin'."

Margaret's fast speaking clip slows down. "And 
then you've probably already heard about the dead 
zone in the Gulf of Mexico created by all the 
dumping of pesticides from farming-the nitrates 
from farms upriver?" She pauses. "My sense of 
hope is fading fast."

She looks away and then her gaze becomes direct. 
"Don't believe 75 percent of what you hear about 
this blowout down here. Ask the people on the 
ground. People are not being allowed to talk. My 
husband has been working on the water for the 
past three months. Most of what is being done to 
clean up the oil is to make the American people 
think something is being done."
"So what's the story that isn't being told?" I ask.
"Two things: how much oil actually has gone into 
the sea and the amount of dispersants used to 
make it disappear," she says.

"The workers are getting sick with contact 
dermatitis, respiratory infections, nausea, and 
god knows what else. The BP representatives say 
all it is is food poisoning or dehydration. If it 
was just food poisoning or not enough water, why 
were the workers' clothes confiscated? As we say 
in these parts, Answer me dat!
"I never really got nervous until I got a call at 
nine-thirty on a Sunday night from the BP claims 
office telling me to back off. But I'm speaking 
out. I kid my friends and family and say I'll 
leave bread crumbs. The other day, two guys from 
Homeland Security called to take me to lunch. I'm 
a chef. They tried to talk food with me, to cozy 
up and all, and one of them told me he was a 
pastry chef." Margaret shakes her head. "But I 
knew what they was up to, I'm not stupid. They 
just wanted to let me know I was bein' watched."

"Here's the truth," Margaret says, now emotional. 
"Where are the animals? There's no too-da-loos, 
the little one-armed fiddler crabs. Ya don't hear 
birds. From Amelia to Alabama, Kevin never saw a 
fish jump, never heard a bird sing. This is their 
nestin' season. Those babies, they're not goin' 
nowhere. We had a very small pod of sperm whales 
in the Gulf, nobody's seen 'em. Guys on the water 
say they died in the spill and their bodies were 
hacked up and taken away. BP and our government 
don't want nobody to see the bodies of dead sea 
mammals. Dolphins are choking on the surface. 
Fish are swimming in circles, gasping. It's ugly, 
I'm tellin' you. And nobody's talkin' about it. 
You're not hearing nothin' about it. As far as 
the media is reportin', everythin's being cleaned 
up and it's not a problem. But you know what, 
unless I know where my fish is coming from, I'm 
eatin' nothin' from here."

Margaret and I sit in silence. I am suddenly 
aware of the shabbiness of the neighborhood, the 
cracking paint on the wooden slats, the weariness 
of the ivy in this dripping heat.
"I'm sorry," she says. "I haven't cried in a long 
time. I've been tough, I've been holding it all 
together, but it breaks me up." She looks at me 
with unwavering eyes, "Have you read 'Evangeline' 
by Longfellow?"
I can't speak.

"Read it. Read it again," Margaret says to me. 
"It's our story as exiles. If I wasn't speakin' 
out about this, I'd be havin' a nervous 
breakdown. I'll tell you another thing that 
nobody is talkin' about. At night, people sittin' 
outside on their porches see planes comin' into 
the marshes where they live, and these planes are 
sprayin' them with the dispersant. That's the 
truth. But hey, we're Cajuns, who cares about us?"
"I don't feel like an American anymore," Margaret 
says. "I don't trust our government. I don't 
trust anybody in power."
She leans forward in the heat as the pitch and 
fervor of frogs intensifies. "We might not be the 
most educated people schoolwise, but we know more 
about nature than any PhD. We know. We know 
what's goin' on."

27900 HIGHWAY 1
The sun, a bright orange orb, slowly sinks into 
the horizon of golden grasses. Flocks of great 
white egrets are flying to roosting trees, mostly 
dead cypress that have drowned from rising 
waters. We are stopped by the side of the road, 
struck by beauty in Lafourche Parish, "Gateway to 
the Gulf."

There is a sense that you are standing flush with 
the sea. Wooden houses are on blocks above lawns, 
some on stilts. Every half mile or so, there seem 
to be signs advertising BAYOU LOANS or APARTMENTS 
FOR RENT. One billboard with a large image of the 
Virgin Mary reads, THIS IS MY TIME. But the 
blessed trinity of shrimp, crab, and oysters is 
no longer a vision to be taken for granted. 
Between fields of sugar cane, seafood café after 
seafood café is closed, in spite of banners 
advertising, TAILS AND SCALES FOR SALE. Shrimp 
boats named Bywater Liberty and Daddy's Angels 
remain idle on the sides of the canals.

In small coastal communities like Golden Meadow 
and Larose, local artists have turned the sides 
of abandoned buildings into murals: BP TOOK OUR 
WE STAND? And then an image of the iconic Barack 
Obama poster by Shepard Fairey, revised with 
floating question marks and the words WHAT NOW? 
Another mural has BP portrayed as the grim 
reaper, rising toward the statement YOU KILLED 
OUR GULF, OUR WAY OF LIFE. In front stands a 
mannequin wearing a gas mask holding a placard: 

In twilight, we soar over the marshes on a 
graceful freeway bridge that brings Port Fourchon 
into full view. It is a horizon of lights rising 
out of the wetlands, what Avery calls "a city 
that is not a city." It reminds us both of the 
oil fields in Wyoming where one can read a 
newspaper at night in what was once a wilderness 
of stars at the base of the Wind River Range.

We stop at Fin's Bar for a drink. Once inside, we 
could be in Pinedale, Wyoming, or Rifle, 
Colorado, or Vernal, Utah. All oil towns breed 
the same kind of culture, hard-drinking drifters 
following the money. Avery and Bill sit down at 
the bar and talk to the bartender whose name is 
Angel. A circle of men are sitting on stools with 
pints of beer in hand.

Having grown up in the oil and gas industry, I 
recognize the men as kin. I walk over and ask if 
I might join them. Turns out they are captains 
working with the NRC, the National Response 
Center, hired by BP as skimmers. They follow the 
oil spills wherever they occur worldwide. Some 
had been in Kuwait, others had worked the Exxon 
Valdez spill in Prince William Sound, and others 
had been in South America last year. They came 
from Seattle, New Jersey, Texas, from all over 
the United States.
"Do you think BP is doing a good job?"

They look at each other. One captain named Phil 
says, "They're sure throwing a lot of money at 
it." The men begin talking among themselves about 
all the bogus boats in the Gulf registered as 
"vessels of opportunity" that are supposed to be 
collecting oil.
"What they're collecting is a hefty paycheck for 
driving around in circles," a captain named Bruce 
says, laughing. "They've got nothing to do."
"Where is the oil?" I ask.
"We sank it," one of them says matter-of-factly.
"Dispersants, above and below."
"Carpet-bombed the whole fuckin' ocean," says 
another captain, who by now is drunk.
"Yeah, above and below and deep, man, I mean way 
deep," the man sitting next to him says. It was 
as though the captains were competing with one 
another for who could tell the most unbelievable 
"It's called Corexit-corrects-it-get it?"
"Wonder how many millions some asshole in 
corporate America got for coming up with that 
"Is it safe?" I ask.
"Who in the hell knows, but it got rid of the 
oil-at least on the surface. We just got told by 
BP that they'll be sending us home in another 
week or so."
"But don't count on it," says another. "We'll 
probably get called right back for duty after the 
first hurricane dredges up all the oil sitting at 
the bottom of the ocean and throws it inland."

The captain seated across from me seemed 
troubled. He didn't say much. He told me later 
when we were at the bar alone that he had worked 
on the Exxon Valdez spill. He said he had watched 
fish eat the dispersant as it gathered along the 
tide line in Alaska. He said he had seen the 
mullet doing exactly the same thing out in the 

"They're probably just eatin' the microbes that 
are eatin' up the oil after the dispersants have 
broken it up," he said. "But it can't be good for 
"I don't know, I think that stuff really fucks up 
the food chain," he said. "The herring never did 
bounce back in Prince William Sound. I've been up 
there fishing since the spill. Almost killed 
every last one of them."


When we asked Margaret Curole where we could get 
some good Cajun food, she told us to go to 
Galliano, her hometown, and look for a little 
café with a large red awning across from the 
church. By the time we get there, it is after ten 
o'clock, but the lights are still on.
"Welcome," Becky Duet says warmly, a woman in her 
early fifties who is cleaning up. "It's late and 
the grill is down." We strike up a conversation, 
and before we know it we are sitting down at a 
table with Becky, her husband, Earl, and their 
son, Jordan. The convenience store and deli were 
named after him.
"He was conceived three days after my granddaddy 
died and I knew he'd be a boy. He's our miracle 
baby," Becky says. Jordan, now twenty, smiles, 
his multiple piercings shining under the direct 
lights. Just then, a person dressed in a white 
t-shirt, black pants, and silver chains, with a 
geometric haircut, walks in.
"This is my brother, Donna," Jordan says with a mischievous smile.
"Yeah, I raised her, too," Becky says. "That's the way it is in these parts."
Becky offers us a ham and cheese po' boy on 
French bread. It is the best sandwich I have ever 

"Eatin's important to us, makin' the gumbo and 
jambalaya. We feast in the bayou. We say, All you 
need to survive is some rice, some potatoes, and 
bread. Nature provides the rest." She looks at 
her boy. "But not now."
"I knew the oil spill wasn't any good the minute 
it happened," Becky says, stroking her ponytail 
tied loosely at the nape of her neck. "So I 
stocked up on local shrimp and put 'em in 
freezers all over. Good thing I did, too, 'cuz 
you can't find any shrimp now, and if you could, 
you wouldn't wanna eat it."
"Be afraid to now," says Earl. "Them sprayin' us and the bayous at night."
"Who?" Bill asks, since we'd been hearing about 
Coast Guard planes doing the spraying.
"BP. We've all seen 'em, heard 'em. They're 
sprayin' the marshes-everything. People are gonna 
get sick."
"They already are," Becky says.

Becky and Earl were both raised in the bayous. 
They speak Cajun French (derived from Acadian 
French, as it was spoken in what are now the 
Maritime Provinces of Canada-New Brunswick, Nova 
Scotia, and Prince Edward Island-where Cajun 
ancestors lived before they were dispersed in 
1755 by the French and found a home in the bayou 
country of southern Louisiana). They can hardly 
understand their son's French, and so they settle 
on a hybrid Cajun-English between the three of 

Becky served on the school board, working to 
create a bilingual English-Cajun program for 
children growing up in the bayou, where the 
average annual household income is $31,419.

She echoed Margaret's sentiments about the bayous 
offering them a bounty of food in all seasons of 
the year. "We're wealthy if you look at the food 
we can eat right here in our own homes. I mean, 
you just put a chicken neck on a hook and throw 
your line in the canal and you've got everything 
you need."
"What's a redfish?" I ask Becky, curious about 
the origins of our main course from the night 
"We've got 'em here. They're a fish that likes to 
give you a fight. They're real pretty with gold 
scales and a dot on their tail, a big burgundy 
spot." She pauses. "We might see some in the 
canal below the bridge?"

It's been raining. The wet parking lot reflects 
the lights of Galliano, a town of barely eight 
thousand people. Jordan and Donna run ahead of us 
and disappear. I now see Becky's uncommon beauty, 
the lines in her face.

She and I walk toward the bridge talking about 
sons. I tell her I became a mother at fifty, that 
our son is from Rwanda. "You'll love your son 
like no other," she says. "It's a different kind 
of love than you have for your husband." Becky 
then shares a Cajun tradition. "When you have a 
baby, you invite the women of the community over 
and each one writes some words of wisdom in red 
magic marker on a set of diapers, so that every 
time you change one, you are reminded of a 
thought or a wish that gives you confidence as a 
new mother. What I just told you about the love 
you have for your son, well, that was written on 
one of Jordan's diapers. I still remember that 
because it's still true."

Jordan and Donna are already in their rowboat, 
fishing. We step onto the green-painted bridge 
that spans the bayou and stare into the 
tea-colored water. The canal is crowded with gar, 
recognizable by their long, peculiar snouts 
visible in the waning full moon of July, now 
emerging from the clouds. Leaning on the railing 
of the bridge, Becky points out that each gar has 
its own distinctive markings, some spotted like 
leopards, others marked like a maze on their 
backs. They slowly tread water, lazily, 
seductively, some three feet long, all facing the 
same direction.
Jordan screams, "I caught a redfish!"
Donna leans over to see. "Wow, on your second cast!"

Becky calmly says to reel it in so we can see the 
fish for ourselves. Jordan and Donna carefully 
bring the twelve-inch fish into the boat, but not 
without a fight. "Those redfish really give you a 
hard time," Becky says. "It's why the fishermen 
like them so much. They can live to be forty 
years old, weigh thirty-five pounds, and can grow 
to be three feet long. But we like the little 
Jordan and Donna row the boat to bayou's edge, 
tie it to some grasses, and bring the fish to 
Becky. Becky holds the redfish in her hands with 
its gold, glistening scales.
"See the burgundy spot?" Becky asks. It appears as a single unblinking eye.
At Galatoire's, I didn't know what a redfish was 
or where it lived. Twenty-four hours later, I am 
stroking the side of a redfish that will 
eventually find its way from these moonlit 
marshes to the sea. Magic lives in the world when 
we surrender ourselves to a place. Jordan doesn't 
just know a redfish, he can think like one. The 
line he dangles into his home waters is his 
Becky gently returns the gift back to the bayou, 
and we watch as the redfish's side fins propel it 
forward into the murky depths.


The marsh grasses are burnt. The mud flats hold 
an iridescent sheen, and it looks like a painter 
came to shore with buckets of oil and dipped his 
brush in it, then spattered the island with 
drops, not black or brown, but red drops, like 
blood. Comfort Island looks like the scene of a 

Jumping off the boat, I sink into the muck. It is 
my first look at an oiled beach. Shells are 
strewn across the shore, angel wings, whelks, and 
tiny, hinged sunrise shells. Brown pelicans and 
royal terns are standing three, four deep on the 
edge of the island. One pelican is standing on 
the yellow boom, now a broken circle.
"Amateur hour," grumbles the boat captain, Danny 
Diecidue, who has fished these waters for over 
thirty years. "The boom is fucked. It absolutely 
does no good. The island's too big and the 
workers have gotten it all wrong. At least the 
pelicans get a perch to fish from out of this 

I bend down and touch the oil, spread it over the 
pages of my journal so I won't forget. It burns 
my finger. White curled feathers cartwheel across 
the beach until they become heavy with oil. I 
find a small bed of oysters saturated in crude.
"The oil comes in with the high tide," says 
Danny, a native of Hopedale, in the St. Bernard 
Parish, an hour from New Orleans. "That would 
have been around two o'clock this morning."

Farther down the beach, a television reporter 
from the CBS Evening News stands with perfectly 
coiffed hair, sporting a flak jacket. He wants a 
shot with the yellow boom in the background. He 
is about to interview Dr. Paul Kemp, 
vice-president of the National Audubon Society's 
Louisiana Coastal Initiative. He asks his 
cameraman if he is ready. The cameraman gives him 
the go sign: "It's Day 100 and I am on Comfort 
Island in the Breton Sound with Dr. Paul Kemp of 
the National Audubon Society. Dr. Kemp, would you 
agree this is not the environmental disaster we 
were all expecting?"
"It's too early to tell," says Dr. Kemp. "We just 
don't know what the effects of the dispersants 
are going to be on the overall ecosystem."
"But wouldn't you agree that the oil spill isn't 
as bad as was initially predicted?"
"No, I don't agree. It's just too early to tell."
"What do you know?"
"What we do know is that the Mississippi Delta is 
the only world-class river delta we have in North 
America. It really requires our attention. People 
think this will be here forever, but that is not 
the case. The system is in collapse. It will not 
survive another generation unless we change our 
point of view and move it to one of restoration. 
We need to restore the Mississippi River and 
engage in something as large in scale and vision 
as the Marshall Plan, so it can deposit the 
sediments it once did into the delta and is meant 
to do. These extraordinary marshlands cannot 
afford to be cut up by canals to serve the oil 
industry or covered in oil when a spill occurs."

The CBS anchorman is getting frustrated. This is 
not the story he wanted. He tries again. "So, 
what is the impact of oil on this system?"
Dr. Kemp: "No one can say. We can see that this 
system will come through it, but if we don't 
change the way we manage these wetlands, this is 
the beginning of the end."
"You are saying this is the beginning of the end?"
"Yes. Not because of the oil disaster, but 
because of the navigational canals. They are 
fragmenting marsh grasses creating more erosion. 
And coastal erosion is the issue. Since 1930, we 
have lost more than 2,300 square miles of land. 
In 2010, we are losing one football field of land 
every thirty minutes. If we do not change the way 
we think about the Mississippi Delta, it will all 
be underwater very soon." He pauses. "America's 
Gulf Coast is in cardiac arrest."
"That's a wrap," the newsman says to his cameraman.

If only it were that simple. Take a few pictures. 
Speak a few words. End of story. Meanwhile, oil 
reaches the beach, the mud, the grasses, sullying 
the feet of birds now preening their feathers 
with oiled beaks, cleaning their feathers and 
ingesting the oil that will sicken them.

The system is breaking down not from one thing but everything.
Dr. Kemp and I walk along the edge of the 
wetlands. He is a thoughtful marine scientist who 
worked at Louisiana State University before 
joining the environmental group. We are the same 
age, both of us now white haired, and share 
similar concerns. Where we step down, oil oozes 

"This oiling extends across six hundred square 
miles," he says. "Nobody knows. Nobody knows what 
these oil particles will do that are hanging just 
below the surface. Nobody knows how this will 
affect the animals living in the mud or the 
spawning of species in the sea or the planktonic 
absorption of oil or how the toxicity levels held 
in coral reefs will impact their health. Nobody 
knows what this means to the whole ecology of the 
Gulf Coast and the Delta.

"We need actions going forward, not incremental 
steps, that will change our whole outlook of how 
we see the Mississippi River. We have to start 
implementing this plan to restore the river now 
and get the Army Corps of Engineers on 
I look at him and smile. "You know what you are advocating . . . ?"
"What?" he asks quietly.
"You are basically calling for a complete 
restructuring of Western civilization."
He doesn't flinch.

Jerry Cope is pale, very ill, and barely able to 
speak. "I'm not the only one sick down here," he 
says. We first met on March 2, 2009, at the 
Capitol Climate Action demonstration in 
Washington DC, where more than twenty-five 
hundred activists successfully blockaded all five 
entrances to the Capitol Power Plant that fuels 
the United States Capitol building.

Cope works on climate issues, from stopping 
mountaintop removal in Appalachia to halting a 
uranium mine in Colorado, where he lives. He came 
to the Gulf with Charles Hambleton, a producer 
and member of the team featured in the Academy 
Award-winning documentary The Cove. Having 
secured evidence that BP had been both burying 
dead dolphins in landfills and shipping corpses 
to Mexico in refrigerated trucks to be sold as 
food, they were investigating what was happening 
to the bodies of other dead sea mammals, 
including a pod of sperm whales. Jerry had spent 
three weeks following this story up and down the 
Gulf Coast with little sleep. He was now 
suffering from chemically induced pneumonia and 
staying with friends in Orange Beach, Alabama.

"I've got some amazing activists I think you 
should meet," he had said to me over the phone. 
"They've been tracking the spill in Alabama very 
closely. It's become a serious health issue."
We enter Robin Young's condominium to find a 
house filled with people. With oil still on my 
feet and blood on my shin from Comfort Island, I 
discretely ask if I might use the bathroom to 
quickly rinse off.
I have not been in the living room three minutes 
before meeting a man with strong shoulders and 
bare arms tattooed with Maori tribal designs that 
resemble waves.

"My name is Gregg Hall and I'm an activist from 
Pensacola Beach, Florida." He shows us a 
six-minute video titled "The Truth: My Hometown," 
with Michael Jackson's "Earth Song" as a 
soundtrack. It isn't just the huge tar balls on 
the beautiful Pensacola beach that are 
disturbing, or the ghastly brown sheets of oil 
smeared on the white sands, but the boiling 
water, thick with chemicals from the dispersants, 
that gives me goose flesh.

"It's a color I've never seen before in the 
water," Gregg says. "You could believe you were 
in the Caribbean. Call it Corexit green."
Gregg describes himself as part Native American 
and Cajun. He is a diver and has been documenting 
the disaster every day since the first oil 
appeared on Pensacola Beach. Many of his images 
were taken underwater: streaks of black crude 
that look like dead seals congregating on white 
rippled sand; dead fish and dead crabs rolling 
back and forth on the bottom of the sea.

We move to the screened porch. The sizzling sound 
of insects outside reminds me I am a long way 
from home in the arid Southwest.
"My name is Ashley Hughes and I'm an activist 
from Magnolia Springs, Alabama. I'm interested in 
public health. If you go out to Gulf Shores, 
twenty minutes from here, you'll still see people 
swimming in the water, even as the oil sheen 
circles them," she says. "Mothers are just 
sitting on the beach watching their kids splash 
around in the surf. It's crazy."

"I'm not a conspiracy theorist," says Ashley, an 
attractive woman in her forties, part Blackfoot 
Indian. "But you have to wonder what's going on 
when no red zones have been established on our 
beaches. No warnings posted but pitiful little 
signs that look more like LIFEGUARD OFF DUTY than 
TOXIC BEACH AND WATER. Instead, Governor Riley 
says, 'Swimming is a personal decision.'"

"My name is Robin Young and I work in guest 
services for a property management company called 
Relax on the Beach. This is my house. I started 
Guardians of the Gulf with the single goal of 
educating the community as to the possible 
effects of the oil spill on their lives and 
businesses. As people have become increasingly 
ill, however, we've been forced to find the 
proper medical people to help us conduct blood 
tests and treatment. We are now organizing a 
class action suit against BP in Baldwin County 
for all those individuals who have become sick," 
Robin says, her blue eyes intensifying. "We were 
down on those beaches Ashley is talking about on 
Father's Day. All that red oil swirling around. 
Kids playing in the surf. Crazy."

"Night after night, we watched this tourism 
booster named Rebecca Wilson tell us how clean 
the beaches were and how safe. Finally, a bunch 
of us got sick of listening to her propaganda and 
so we made a video spoof of her asinine 
statements," Ashley says. "We filmed it on 
Perdido Beach in Gulf Shores. Our friend, David 
Crosby, dressed in drag and called himself 
Rebecca Spillson. He spouted all the lovely 
wonders of an oil-drenched beach. We got in our 
bikinis, covered ourselves in chocolate syrup to 
look like we were dripping in oil, and played 
volleyball in the background-all this with the 
Beach Boys singing 'Let's Go Surfing.'"

Robin turns on her computer and we watch the video on YouTube.
"We didn't make any friends in the Office of 
Tourism," Ashley says. "But we did get their 
attention. It ran on all the networks." She looks 
at the other women in the room. "We just don't 
want people to get hurt."

Robin interjects, "We've demanded that the air 
quality be tested. We've all had our blood 
tested. I've got elevated readings of benzene and 
cadmium. The toxins are inside us. People are 
sick and the doctors tell them it's a summer cold 
or flu."
Robin explains how Guardians of the Gulf demanded 
that water samples be taken along Alabama's Gulf 
Coast, to see just how much oil was in the water 
and sand. Studies were done at Orange Beach, Gulf 
Shores, Katrina Key, and Dauphin Island. Samples 
were then taken to an independent chemist named 
Bob Newman, who doubted there would be anything 
more than five parts per million in each study.
To his surprise, the lowest quantity of oil and 
petroleum in the samples was sixteen parts per 
million from the water at Katrina Key; Orange 
Beach yielded the highest, 221 parts per million, 
where children were playing in the sand; and the 
water sample from Dauphin Island exploded in the 

"Nobody was more surprised than the chemist," 
Robin says. "He thinks that the reason it 
exploded was because of the presence of methane 
gas or a chemical dispersant in the water. 
Because the sample blew up, that particular test 
was deemed inconclusive."
"You couldn't make this stuff up," I say.
"You wouldn't want to make this stuff up, it's 
such a friggin' nightmare," Robin says. "All our 
lives have been turned upside down."
"My name is Lori DeAngelis and I am the captain 
of the Dolphin Queen. I run educational dolphin 
tours in Alabama's back bays. This is my ninth 
year in business. I've lived here for sixteen."
"My name is Mike DeAngelis. I am Lori's husband."

Both Lori and Mike look shellshocked and 
exhausted. Lori, like Robin, has long, blond hair 
and is tanned and weathered. She wears a tight 
turquoise t-shirt that reads, SALT LIFE. Lori's 
blood test also came back with high levels of 
benzene and cadmium. Like Jerry, she too has 
"We were a bad idea on the planet," Lori says 
bluntly. "Humans." She stares past us. "This oil 
spill-it goes beyond breaking your heart. It 
breaks your soul. To have no remorse. To say it's 
under control. You can't put your arms around it."
"Where are the animals?" she asks. "Dead. Burned. 
Buried in landfills at night. It's common 
knowledge. I've been out in the water with my 
boat saying, 'Damn, where are my dolphins?' The 
dolphins I've known for years are either gone, 
dead, or disappeared. The ones I have seen are 
acting lethargic or like they're drunk. I know 
it's the Corexit. The ocean's a toxic soup. It 
doesn't look right. The color's all wrong." She 
starts to cry.

Robin takes over. "How many times have we been 
told to stand down, that we are overreacting and 
asking too many questions?"
"It started with money and it's ending with money," Gregg says.
Robin looks at Avery and Bill. "It feels like 
we're in a John Grisham movie and we can't wake 

Lori tells me she's bleeding from her vagina and 
it makes no sense. "I had a hysterectomy years 
ago." She then leans forward and whispers in my 
ear, "I'm bleeding from my anus, too, but I don't 
dare tell Mike. This thing is killing me."
"So what's the story that's not being told?" I ask the room of activists.
"Which one do you want?" Robin asks. "The 
misappropriation of funds? The dead animal 
coverup with local dumps smelling like rotting 
flesh? The dispersants and public health issues? 
Or how about the decapitated birds?"

"You can't run toxicology tests on birds without 
their heads," Lori says. "I worked for six years 
with the Alabama Sea Rescue Unit collecting dead 
dolphins and seabirds. If you don't have the 
bird's head, you can't run the test. The reason 
BP and the government have disposed of all the 
dead sea mammals is because they are federally 
protected by law. Each dolphin costs you a 
shitload of money if you kill it. Again, it's 
about money. The BP website says there are three 
hundred-plus dolphins that have died so far. 
That's bullshit, trust me, it's in the thousands. 
And the number of sea turtles-"
"Ask me what I'm doing with our boat?" interrupts 
Mike DeAngelis, raising his glass as Robin fills 
it. "Go ahead, ask me what I'm doing with our 
"What are you doing with your boat?"
"I'm a voo-dude."
"A what?"

"A voo-dude. Our boat is registered with BP as a 
'vessel of opportunity.' We were called into 
action on Sunday. BP called me at eight-thirty 
p.m. They said, Are you so and so? I said, Yeah. 
So is this your boat? I said, Yeah. Can you be 
activated in the morning? I had applied for the 
program and said, Sure. The mayor of Orange Beach 
has encouraged locals with a boat to apply for 
the program so BP money can go to locals instead 
of scammers who are coming from out of state with 
recently purchased boats just to cash in on the 
"It's complicated for us," Lori says, "because 
Mike owns the boat in name, but I use the boat 
for my business. Dolphin Queen is my love. I take 
her out for my dolphin cruises. People love how 
she's decorated with mermaids and all."
"But we need the money," Mike says. He turns to 
his wife, "Baby, I'm not out there 'cuz I wanna 
do this-I gotta do this."
"I know. But it hurts me that I can't-" Lori 
breaks down. "That I can't be out checking on my 

Mike explains that BP is paying $1,200 a day for 
a twenty-four-foot boot like the DeAngelises' 
craft, plus an extra $200 a day for every crew 
member. They pay $2,000 a day for thirty- to 
forty-foot boats and $3,000 a day for fifty-foot 
"It's a scam," Mike says. "People have come out 
of the woodwork, bringing ten boats down to 
Mobile Bay and registering them in the program, 
guys who don't even live here. I met one guy from 
New Jersey who's making $12,000 a day with ten 
little Jon boats, twelve-foot aluminum boats, 
while local fishermen struggling just to make 
ends meet were trying to keep their suppliers 
loaded with shrimp before it all got shut down. 
By the time the fishermen realized what was going 
on, the program was saturated."
"Tell 'em what happened to you, honey," Lori urges.

Mike takes another sip from his drink. "It was 
Monday morning, six a.m., I'm headed out to Fort 
Morgan in my car, thirty miles from here, which 
is where they told me to go to launch my boat. 
Just as I get there, my phone rings and it's 
another call from the BP representative, who 
says, 'I'm anchored east side of Pensacola Naval 
Station. Can you run on over here, we'll do a 
face to face?' I tell him I'm three to four hours 
away. He says, 'Okay, just forget about it. We'll 
see you tomorrow.' I was paid and never entered 
the water.

"On day two, the BP guy is still in Pensacola. He 
tells me to call him at eleven for instructions. 
I call him and he says, 'Just get in your boat 
and go look for oil.' No instructions. No 
equipment. Nothing. Just go look for oil. When I 
asked him what I should do if I see any, he says, 
'Just call me.'

"Day three, we just get up early and go. I turn 
on my radio to channel eleven and let the captain 
know I'm there. We do circles in the Gulf. The 
water was as pretty as I've ever seen it, scary 
pretty, that emerald color you see in the 
Bahamas, not typical to the Gulf. But you're not 
goin' to see me swimmin' in it. The waves are all 
wrong. I can't describe it. Spooky as hell. And 
then coming back, we went, 'Whoa, fliers!' 
Bunches of flying fish appeared way too close to 
shore. Usually, you don't see them until you're 
two miles out. Here they were, three hundred 
yards in. Betcha it's lack of oxygen in the 
water. They're coming in for air. God, it's 
strange out there, bubbles coming up from who 
knows where." He pauses. "I've never seen this 
kinda shit out in the bay.
"And then today, we're told to go to a safety 
meeting, the first one. The BP guy stands up and 
chuckles. 'You just need to know three things. 
Don't eat the oil. Keep your PPs on. And go have 
fun, kids.'"
"What are PPs?" I ask.
"Personal protection," Mike says. "They want you 
to keep your pants on, your shirt on, and your 
shoes. Oh yeah-and your hat."
"So is anyone wearing hazmat suits?" Bill asks, 
having seen BP workers on the beach wearing white 
Tyvek coveralls.

"Only the hazwhoppers-that's what they call them, 
the guys who've been through the forty hours of 
hazmat training. They're the ones certified to 
collect oil on the beaches, right next to the 
people in bathing suits."

Jerry is lying down on the couch, listening. He 
looks worse than he did earlier.
Mike looks at his wife. "We've got a pirated boat 
held hostage in BP's name, Lori can't run her 
business, and the checks we're receiving feel 
"We're at each other's throats," she says. 
"Fightin' all the time." She stops. "We need the 
money, but I want my boat back. I wanna see if my 
dolphins are still out there. I know they're 
"It ain't right," Mike says. "None of it. The 
irony is we still haven't spent the money yet. It 
feels like hush money and we ain't hushin' up."
"I've thought about writin' my own story," Lori 
says. "But tell me, how in God's name do you end 

Voluminous thunderheads are building themselves 
into a vertical column against a deep indigo sky 
with god-streaks breaking through the clouds. 
Lightning bolts cut into the sublimity of the 
moment and it is hard to know whether to stay or 
We stay. Avery and I sit and face the ocean on 
the white sand beach at Perdido Key, while Bill 
photographs clouds. A plane flies over the 
abandoned coast carrying a red streamer that 
The sea is translucent, the color of emeralds, 
just as Mike DeAngelis said. There is orange boom 
farther out. Sanderlings forage along the beach, 
scurrying in and out of the wrack line.

Earlier, we were at Gulf Shores, now a ghost 
resort with high-rise hotels, one after another, 
empty. There were a half dozen rainbow-colored 
umbrellas staked in the sand with mothers reading 
novels while their children played in the surf. A 
few couples were walking hand in hand, ignoring 
the posted warning signs. A large cross of 
weathered wood had been erected in front of the 
red flag, stilted in the heat, raised as a danger 
alert. Our eyes were burning. We moved on to 
Perdido Key, part of the Gulf Island National 
Seashore, naïvely believing it might be safer.
"We are sweating our prayers," says Bill as he 
continues to photograph the unfolding storm. It 
is 104 degrees without the heat index. We wear 
the humidity as wet clothing.

Clouds erupt into white-masted schooners-light in 
the presence of shadow, shadow in the presence of 
light. Nothing is as it appears. What is true and 
what is not? The white of these sands is true. A 
flock of pelicans gliding over an oiled sea is 
true. Oil dispersed and out of sight is also true.

Lightning strikes very close. I half expect to see the ocean burst into flames.
Just as we get up to leave, a BP bus pulls up. It 
is five o'clock. Forty workers in yellow and 
green vests rush onto the beach. They are met by 
a convoy of dune buggies and backhoes, poised to 
dig in the sand. We learn from two of the workers 
that the night before, from sundown to sunrise, 
two thousand pounds of oil were recovered from 
the beach in a hundred-yard swatch. The oil is 
buried in the sand-a build-up from Bonnie, the 
tropical storm that came through a couple of 
weeks earlier. On a hot day, the tar balls, some 
of them too big for a man to carry, will soften 
and melt, turning into something like gooey 
peanut butter that percolates through the sand. 
The workers dig it up.

When we ask two of the workers, both African 
American, what happens with the ton of oil they 
collect in a night's work, they say, "We truck it 
"BP says they're going to cook it, turn it into 
asphalt to pave roads, but if you ask me, I think 
it's just sitting there in some landfill, hot as 
hell," one of the workers says. "I've got kids. 
They build sand castles. What's going to happen 
when they run into buckets of oil on the beach 
down there?" He points toward Gulf Shores. "Are 
they safe? I think about that."
We watch the two men walk down the wooden plank 
to the white beach, where they will be digging 
through the night with thunder and lightning 
flashing all around them.

Tom Hutchings is flying barefoot over the open 
sea. We are on our way to "The Source," the 
Macondo well, ninety miles south of the mouth of 
Mobile Bay, Alabama. Coordinates: latitude 
28º45'12'' N; longitude 88º15'53" W. Destination 
time: forty-five minutes.

Avery and Bill are positioned in the rear of the 
small, agile Cessna 182, ready to take 
photographs from the open baggage door. I'm 
seated in front with Tom, able to talk with him 
through a headset.
"I don't use the word evil often, but what's 
going on here in the Gulf is evil," Tom says.

This is flight number twenty-eight since April 
20. Hutchings has clocked in more than ninety 
hours in the air as a volunteer SouthWings pilot, 
taking public officials, photographers, and 
journalists to the site of the blowout to witness 
for themselves the magnitude of the calamity. 
Hutchings's previous trip was twelve days 
earlier. He is interested in seeing how things 
have changed.
"Given all the reports, I won't be surprised if 
we just see a lot of beautiful ocean today, which 
would be fine by me," he says, looking out the 
window. "But if the oil is to be seen, we'll see 

Tom Hutchings is a Gulf Coast native who grew up 
spending summers in Josephine, Alabama, next to 
the water. His father and brother were both lost 
at sea when Tom was nine years old. "We suspect 
pirates, although nothing was ever certain." His 
fierce sense of responsibility toward his 
remaining family has never left him. Married, 
divorced, and married again, his devotion to his 
daughter, Brinkley, as a single parent has been a 
constant. She is now a student at the University 
of North Carolina at Wilmington.

"When I flew Brinkley to The Source in the early 
days of the blowout, she didn't say a word, not a 
word. A couple days later, she looked at me and 
simply said, 'Dad, get out of the way. Your 
generation screwed it up and we are going to have 
to fix it.' She's now working for Greenpeace. I 
told her, 'Look, you're twenty years old, you've 
got a long life ahead of you. Be careful.' But 
she's angry and I don't blame her. I'm angry, 
Tom is filling out his flight log. I look down 
and see the wrinkled skin of the sea, blue-gray. 
Early morning haze creates a mesmerizing effect 
of no horizon. Orange boom on the water appears 
as script, a free-form writing exercise in 
futility. We pass Fort Morgan and Dauphin Island, 
where the exploding water sample was taken.

"There's the vessels of opportunity bunched 
together doing nothing," Tom says. "Have you 
heard the phrase, 'We're on BP time?'"
Tom points out the huge rafts of sargassum floating on the surface of the sea.

"This is an incredibly important seaweed, similar 
to the kelp forests in the Pacific, a critical 
habitat for aquatic larvae of all kinds, myriads 
of fish, and juvenile turtles, and a resting 
platform for marine birds. They're like floating 
islands of life.
The oil is killing it, breaking it up. You can 
see both a change in color and a change in 
structure from the air. We'll see more, the 
closer we get to Deepwater. Strangely, we've not 
been seeing it wash up on shore this summer like 
it usually does. Don't know why."

We fly over shallow-water rig platforms, one 
after another. We are now twelve miles offshore, 
seventy-eight miles from The Source.
"It's disconcerting to hear one thing on shore 
and then fly out here and see something 
completely different," Tom says. "It's important 
to trust what you see, not what you hear. The 
plane for me is my own personal ground-truthing."
Tom runs a consulting firm called Eco-Solutions, 
helping various organizations and agencies come 
to better decision making through collaboration. 
But he is a known and respected agitator, one who 
isn't afraid to speak his mind. I recognize him 
as Coyote, a trickster. I am glad he is on my 

"What seems unnatural to me is the wave action. 
Can you see what I'm talking about?" Tom asks. 
"There are usually peaks to the waves. But see 
those rolling waves? Normally, you'd say they 
belong to the wake of a boat, but they don't. 
They're just long rolling folds in the sea. I've 
never seen them before. There's got to be oil on 
the surface here-" He pauses.
And there it is. Oil. Lots of it. Sickening 
sheets of iridescent sheen with sargassum 
floating inside.
"It's such a perverse reflection," Tom says.

His comment strikes me as both a physical 
observation and a psychological one. BP is only 
partially to blame. Our hunger is also 
responsible. This is the horror of what we are 
witnessing-the magnitude of our addiction and its 
lethal consequences for those who have no part or 
say in the decision.
"Dolphins," Tom says. Avery points her camera 
through the opening. Bill is rolling film. It is 
a terrible beauty.
We are thirty-two miles from The Source.

The oil now appears like miles of stretchmarks on 
the pregnant belly of the sea. What lies below, 
we cannot tell, but surface stress is apparent. 
We see dead fish and birds on the sargassum mats. 
Trash, as well.

Tom continues to read the ocean. Oil. Oil. Oil. 
The headphones I am wearing become heavy hands 
pressing against my ears reminding me of The 
Scream. If Robin Young feels she is living inside 
a Grisham novel, I have just stepped into Edvard 
Munch's painting. The swirls of red toxins below 
sicken me inside the confinement of this moth of 
a plane juxtaposed against the vastness of the 
soiled sea. Outrage. Agony. Helplessness. I 
cannot track the disturbance in me. This is new 

The plane continues south by southwest. We are eighteen miles from The Source.
I turn to Tom, my rage erupting. "Why is this not 
being reported? Why aren't there more planes out 
here filming these huge sheets of oil? How can 
anyone say this is over?"

"Shore-based reporting, I assure you," he says, 
looking out. "See what I'm talking about, the 
laziness of the waves? It's like the ocean is 
"Is it lies?" I ask desperately, my heart racing. 
"Or do Americans just not want to know the truth?"

Avery, sitting cross-legged on the floor of the 
plane, points below. "What is that?"
Tom banks the plane and circles the gray-white 
body. "Looks like a dolphin. Dead." I strain to 
see the animal over Tom's shoulders. Next, we see 
three large pods of dolphins.

Tom tells us of flying with photographers John 
Wathen and J Henry Fair filming the oil burning. 
"It was apocalyptic," he says. "But the image 
that continues to haunt me was the group of 
dolphins facing the fires, perfectly lined up on 
the edge of the flames, together, watching."

Silence envelops us again. Enormous mats of 
oil-soaked sargassum hold our gaze in the midst 
of the oil shoals and swirls.
Finally, The Source comes into view. The familiar 
television images do not match the reality. The 
remaining BP-Transocean rigs look like LEGO 
constructions surrounded by a child's Matchbox 
collection of orange-bottomed barges and ships. 
After the shock and weight of seeing oil 
stretching as far as one can see, as wide as one 
can look, for as long as one dares, these 
man-made platforms are anticlimactic. The irony 
that something seemingly this small and tenuous 
has created such lethal death blows, and not just 
to those who died, but putting an entire 
ecosystem at risk, is difficult to fathom. We 
have entered a corporate play zone that kills.

As Tom circles the two remaining rigs, I have 
this eerie sense that we are seeing something we 
are not supposed to see, that somehow, by viewing 
the blue steel structures that have wreaked such 
havoc on the Gulf, I am being robbed of an 
innocence I would have wished to preserve in 
order to go about my life as usual, unaware of 
the consequences of my privilege. This is the 
place where eleven men loved by their families 
were catapulted into a fiery hell witnessed by 
their co-workers. Only some of their bodies were 
found. Five thousand feet below is the site of 
the violent blowout that created a geyser of oil 
for more than one hundred days, fouling the seas, 
floating onto shore, into the wetlands, into the 
food chain, into our bodies. Here is the source 
of our unconscious lives, where we remain blind 
to the harm we are causing to all that is alive 
and breathing and beautiful.

"All oil," Tom says as we circle the petroleum 
complex for the sixth time. Our eyes are red and 
burning. The stench of gasoline is strong. I have 
a headache and hold some pressure points on my 
right hand for relief.
Some scientists believe there is leaking beyond 
the Macondo well. That there just couldn't be 
this much oil coming from one opening. That 
pressure from the rogue well could have caused a 
fracturing of the seafloor, creating more 
fissures exacting more oil.

"That would make sense," Tom says. "Nobody knows. 
That's the bottom line. Nobody fucking knows 
anything. We're in the middle of a goddamn 
science experiment."

We circle The Source one last time. My eyes are 
saturated in oil: horizons of oil. The brown-red 
crude is a deadly seam along the tide lines, 
where it congregates as poison. Smaller pools of 
crude have attached themselves to the sargassum, 
now dark as honeycomb. A film of oil floats along 
the surface of the sea. We are seeing rivers of 
oil, rivers of oil as wide as the Mississippi 
braiding themselves into the currents creating 
their own morbid shorelines. A striated sea 
drenched in a psychedelic sheen reflects a 
blinding light back to us.
As I look down, I keep hearing the captain's 
declaration at Port Fourchon: "We sank it."

"There is still oil on the surface, Omaha 99," 
Tom reports over his radio to the air traffic 
control aircraft circling overhead.
"I just want to make sure the government aircraft 
working this event knows that someone else is 
seeing what is actually going on," he says to me.
Tom picks up speed and gains elevation. "Let's go 
see some beauty!" We leave The Source and fly off 
toward the Mississippi Delta.
"Frigate birds," Tom says. "And two pelicans to 
our right. We are entering the great marshes of 
the Mississippi."

I watch the magnificent frigate birds soar below like black crossbows.
The scenery changes dramatically. Now we are 
flying over vast wetlands, a tapestry of greens 
and yellows woven into the sea. The Mississippi 
Delta comes into full view like a great nurturing 
hand smoothing the edge of the continent.
"The untold story," Tom says, "is that this 
beauty is still here, in spite of hurricanes, oil 
spills, and a sinking landscape. We're looking at 
the most productive system of wetlands in North 
White lilies are blooming in ponds. Miles and 
miles of spartina, marsh grass, is shimmering in 
shallow water, creating a different kind of 
reflective mirror. Enormous flocks of gulls are 
flying over the buoyant landscape. This is a 
perspective of grace, and I feel my soul lighten.
"Verdant," Tom says. "I have probably used that 
word once in my life, but since I've been flying 
these past three months, I bet I've used it a 
hundred times. The contrast is stunning."

We cross over the tip of Louisiana's boot. If Tom 
is thinking about the word verdant, I am holding 
the word resilient. The resiliency of these 
wetlands is a testament to the enduring strength 
of wildness.
But we can't continue to count on it.
"The vastness of this place . . . " Tom says.
Outside my window, there is a windswept island beaded with birds.
"That's Breton Island," Tom says.
"Can we circle it?" I ask.

Teddy Roosevelt visited Breton Island in June 
1915. It was the only refuge he ever visited, and 
the second one he committed to the National 
Wildlife Refuge system. Piping plovers nest here, 
as do least terns, both threatened species. This 
critical nesting site is also home to thousands 
of brown pelicans and royal terns. There is still 
boom draped around one of the promontories for 
Tom circumnavigates the island, giving us a 
closer look at the pelican population. The 
numbers are large, which is reassuring.

We fly toward the Chandeleur Islands, also part 
of the Breton Island National Wildlife Refuge, 
which stretch across the Gulf of Mexico for fifty 
miles, forming the eastern point of the state of 
Louisiana. This vast matrix of freshwater marshes 
adjacent to the sea appears enduring and fragile 
at once.

From above, we can see through the water. 
Constellations of cownose rays speckle the sea 
with brown-red diamonds. Pods of dolphins race 
ahead of us. Tom sees a large shark that we miss. 
And schools of shimmering fish congregate in the 
shallow turquoise waters closer to shore.

"This is good," Tom says. "If the bait fish are 
doing well, the whole system will do well." His 
mood is shifting. "This is good, this is really, 
really good. I've not seen this much wildlife in 
the water since this whole mess started." Tom's 
eyes flash a joy recovered from the past weeks of 
gloom. "What a day."
Tom tips the wings of the plane abruptly and 
makes a sharp turn. My stomach drops. "I think I 
just saw a manta ray." He circles back around. 
"Yes, right there." I lean over his shoulders. 
Avery and Bill can see it through the opening. 
Then I see it too. Even from the air, it is 
enormous. A manta ray can be as large as 
twenty-five feet across and weigh up to three 
thousand pounds.
"That is grace," Tom says as we watch its black wings undulate in blue waters.

Tom circles one more time so we can all get a 
good view. This time, I see its white horns. As 
the plane moves ahead, leaving the ray behind, he 
points. "There's two dolphins." He smiles. 
"They're mating."
He turns the plane around again and sure enough, 
as he banks the wings, we see two dolphins as 
one, a yin-yang of gray-white, an equipoise upon 
the waters.

WELCOME TO GRAND OIL! announces a freshly painted 
sign in the coastal community of Grand Isle, 
Louisiana. The artist, Darleen Taylor, has a 
Burma-Shave run of billboards written from the 
sea creatures' points of view: SAVE OUR HOMES: 
the starfish.

Grand Isle was among the first shorelines to take 
the hit from the blowout. Brown pelicans were 
drowning in oil, oysters were saturated. 
Louisiana native James Carville and his wife, 
Mary Matalin, filled their empty water bottles 
with thick, brown crude from the oil-soaked 
marshes and shamed the president of the United 
States for doing nothing.

Real estate signs now read, OIL SPILL SPECIAL, 
with $150,000 slashed to $115,000. Most of the 
vacation homes on stilts are shuttered up.
We park our car on the edge of the public beach. 
It too is empty, cordoned off by an orange 
Since Doug Suttles, the chief operating officer 
of BP, had just gone on national television to 
say he would feed Gulf shrimp to his children and 
to declare all Louisiana beaches open, we ignore 
the airy fence.

The beach feels desolate, tamped down by enormous 
vehicle tracks. I bend down and fit my hand into 
the individual tread marks. Gulls and terns are 
standing on black sand, and it's hard to tell 
whether the dark color has been caused by oil or 
not. Avery goes in one direction and I go in the 
other, each of us appreciating a rare moment of 
solace. Bill is filming terns hovering above the 

Along the edge of the sea, there is no wrack 
line, no seaweed. Dead blue crabs are rolling in 
the small waves as if communicating a secret. I 
touch the water. It is oily. A silky sheen 
emanates off the surface, made more extreme by 
the severity of the heat. The stench of oil hangs 
in the humid air. Even so, the lure of the long 
empty expanse propels me forward.

I stop to pick up a few broken shells and 
continue walking, still weak from having gotten 
violently ill following our flight the day 
before. I retched my guts out while Avery drove 
us from Alabama to Mississippi to Louisiana. And 
each time I was on my knees by the side of the 
road, I thought, Is this dehydration, or a toxic 
hell from too much intake of oil fumes during our 
four-and-a-half-hour flight over the sea?

A vehicle with a red flashing light interrupts 
the stillness and I hear someone yelling. A man 
dressed in black, head to foot, gets out of the 
truck and motions me toward him.
"Is there a problem?" I ask.
"Yes, ma'am. You are contaminated." I begin to 
walk past the fence. "Step back, ma'am. You are 
now contaminated, I cannot allow you to step out 
from the fence."
"Who do you work for?" I ask, seeing the Talon 
Private Security Guard insignia on his black 
"No comment."
"Where are you from?"
"The United States of America, ma'am." He pauses 
and looks past me. "Louisiana."
Avery starts to cross the imaginary line as well. 
"Step back. Stay on the beach. You're 
contaminated and we are going to have to take you 
to the BP Decon Unit."
"The Decon Unit?" I ask.
"To be decontaminated, ma'am."
"And what are we contaminated with?"
"I am not at liberty to say, ma'am."
"No comment, ma'am."
"Why isn't there a warning posted?"
By now, another man has joined the Talon guard. "Didn't you see the sign?"
"I didn't see any sign," Avery says.

"I did see the sign," I say. "But since Doug 
Suttles announced this morning that all Louisiana 
beaches were open, we took him at his word."
We are marched in military fashion half a mile 
down the "contaminated beach," the Talon guard 
and the BP worker leading us onward from the 
other side of the fence as a stifling afternoon 
breeze blows hot sand across their footprints, 
erasing them.

Up ahead, we see two men dressed in full-body, 
white Tyvek coveralls with gloves and boots 
secured with duct tape. They are stoically 
standing near two kiddie pools filled with a 
clear, bubbling liquid. I want to say the pools 
had multicolored balloons on them, but I can't be 

"Welcome to the BP Decontamination Unit," one of 
the hazwhoppers says as the other unwinds a roll 
of white paper towels. He tears off six sheets 
and places them carefully on the blue tarp, 
evidently one for each of our feet. He puts the 
towels down and grabs a metal brush, asking for 
our flip-flops, which we dutifully take off. 
Seemingly, our hands ought to be contaminated as 
well now, but that does not seem to disturb them. 
He dips our sandals in the fluid and scrubs them 
"Please step in the pool," the other hazwhopper instructs.
"What's in the water?" Avery asks politely.
"Don't worry, it's all natural," he says.
"Looks like it, especially the bubbles," Avery says laughing.
I am next, and as I step into the water, my feet 
begin to burn, especially the cut on my ankle 
from Comfort Island.
"Is this about dispersants?"
"Yes, ma'am."

Bill is standing on the edge of the tarp, quietly 
filming the whole thing. When it's his turn, they 
ask him to also put the legs of his tripod in the 
liquid. He remains quiet and continues the 
washing and rinsing with his camera running.

As we wipe our feet on the paper towels and step 
off the tarp, a BP worker asks for our names and 
phone numbers.

I write down my name and number, figuring they 
have both, since I had already received two 
unsolicited phone calls from BP representatives 
on my cell phone while traveling in the Gulf. 
Each left a message and a name, requesting I get 
in touch with their public relations department. 
When I returned their calls, one of the men said 
curtly, "I'm busy right now. I don't have time to 
talk to you." It was clear their calls were for 
intimidation, not information, my number most 
likely acquired from tapped phone lines of Jerry 
Cole and Robin Young.
Bill gives his name and a bogus number.
Avery surprises both of us with her acerbic 
rebuttal, delivered in utter cheerfulness. "I'll 
give you my name and number, but I'm not giving 
either to BP."
The worker, charmed, whispers, "Just give me 
another name and some numbers for me to write 
down." And so she does.

Across from the Decon Unit is a white tent where 
a dozen or more cleanup workers are taking a 
break from the heat. Amused by what we were just 
put through, they ask if we want some water or 
Gatorade. We take them up on their offer, sit 
down and join them, at the extreme displeasure of 
the Talon security guard. He disappears.

What we hear for the next fifteen minutes are 
tales of oil on the beach and of more oil to 
come. Dispersants dominate the discussion, how 
they were used repeatedly. Again, the phrase 
carpet-bombed is used. Fear for their own safety 
emerges. They share BP's instructions, given to 
them a few weeks earlier, that should tropical 
storm Bonnie materialize, the whole island would 
be evacuated because it would turn into "a hot 
zone." The workers were told there was a high 
probability of huge amounts of oil being dredged 
up from the deep and deposited on shore.
"We were on high alert," one worker says.
The Talon guard returns with his radio in hand 
and says sternly, "You need to go. Now."

I want to ask, "By whose authority?" But I don't.
We are returned to our car in an official dune 
buggy driven by a former soldier who had served 
two tours in Iraq, a half-tour in Afghanistan, 
and one in Somalia. When we ask him his opinion 
about President Obama's speech, delivered that 
morning, announcing the withdrawal of all troops 
from Iraq by August 31, 2011, he says, "It's a 
mistake to take the troops out."
"What do you think we should do?" Bill asks.
"We should have done what George Bush wanted us 
to do, but couldn't. Bomb the hell out of both 
Iraq and Afghanistan."

in the Gulf of Mexico are the same story, 
predicated on our collective thirst for oil. Our 
inability to connect the dots, the same oily dots 
that cover Comfort Island and the bodies of the 
dead in Iraq, is our unwillingness to see the 
world we are both creating and destroying 
In 2010 alone, there have been major oil 
disasters off the coasts of China, Australia, and 
India. The people of the Niger Delta are drenched 
in oil, at risk physically and politically, every 
day. Ken Saro-Wiwa was hanged for his protesting 
voice. And in 2009, forty-seven indigenous 
communities were decimated by an oil spill on the 
Santa Rosa River in Ecuador's Amazon rainforest. 
Our consumption of oil is murdering life.

We know what is required. Change. Change that is 
both personal and political, creating an uprising 
among us that will hold our government and 
corporations accountable for the warming of the 
seas and the disordering of Earth's natural 
processes. We must also hold ourselves 
accountable for the choices we continue to make.

What are the 5 million barrels of oil that have 
spilled into the Gulf of Mexico worth to America? 
The oil now sullying shorelines and sea would 
have powered the U.S. economy for a total of four 
I am sick. I am tired. And I am shattered by what 
I saw: an ocean of oil that we had been told was 
nearly gone. But the people who live and work in 
the Gulf of Mexico give me great heart because 
they are speaking forcefully and 
truthfully-asking us to listen.

While preparing this article for publication, I 
received a letter from Becky Duet, who is now a 
friend. She writes:
I have a deeper and different feeling now. It's 
hard to explain-the bayous, the boats, the 
people, and all our lives. I always said if you 
starved down here it was because you were lazy. 
Well, since April 20, 2010, we have been 
starving!!!! An act caused by humans changed our 
lives. We can't fish, ride our boats, entertain 
our friends with Cajun foods. Someone else is in 
charge of us.
She goes on to say: "I have not felt like a Cajun 
lately. When you see boats with oil booms instead 
of shrimp nets, crab cages on the banks, oyster 
boats with port-a-lets on them, and bait shops 
empty, we have lost our freedom."
This is not just Becky's story. It is our story.

The redfish on my plate is the redfish in the bayou is the redfish in the sea.
We are losing our minds if we believe that the 
source of our power lies in a circle of rigs 
named Deepwater Horizon. The source of authentic 
power is housed in the sacred nature of life, 
interdependent and whole, where a reverence for 
what is both human and wild is not only 
cultivated but honored. We must see our denial of 
this truth for what it is: madness.

On our way back to New Orleans, Avery, Bill, and 
I stop at the edge of the marsh to get our 
bearings before returning to the city. Tree 
swallows are in a feeding frenzy, and white 
egrets are returning to their nightly roosts 
along the bayou. It is twilight. The sky is 
crimson. My eyes focus on a large oyster bed, 
where each shell is poised upright in the 
black-tainted mud. I see them as hands, our own 
splayed hands, reaching beyond the oil. 

Interview with terry Tempest  Democracynow Amy Goodman Oct 21/10

6 Months Since BP Oil Spill, Writer and 
Environmentalist Terry Tempest Williams Asks 
"Where Is Our Outrage?"
Six months ago, BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig 
blew up in the Gulf of Mexico, killing eleven 
workers and triggering the worst oil spill 
disaster in US history. More than 200 million 
gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf, polluting 
coastlines in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and 
Florida. To mark the six-month anniversary, we 
speak to acclaimed writer and environmentalist 
Terry Tempest Williams, who spent two weeks 
traveling the Gulf Coast this summer. [includes 
rush transcript]

Filed under BP Oil Spill

UAN GONZALEZ: Six months ago, BP's Deepwater 
Horizon oil rig blew up in the Gulf of Mexico, 
killing eleven workers and triggering the worst 
oil spill disaster in US history. The explosion 
leaked over 200 million gallons of oil, which is 
nearly five million barrels of oil, into the Gulf 
of Mexico and fouled coastlines in Louisiana, 
Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

With the Macondo oil well now sealed, the spill 
is no longer in the headlines, and last week 
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced that the 
Gulf was once again, quote, "open for business." 
But much of the oil that gushed out of the 
blown-out well remains dispersed deep under the 
sea, and scientists are still unclear about the 
long-term effects of both the oil and the 
chemical dispersant on marine ecosystems.

AMY GOODMAN: Six months since the spill, 
lawmakers have been slow to take action and the 
House's spill response bill remains stalled in 
the Senate. On Wednesday, three environmental 
groups sued BP, accusing the British oil giant of 
violating the Endangered Species Act. The suit, 
brought by Defenders of Wildlife, Gulf 
Restoration Network and the Save the Manatee 
Club, notes that at least twenty-seven endangered 
or threatened animal species live in the Gulf 
region, including five species of endangered sea 
turtles and four species of endangered whales.

In a moment, we'll be speaking with the acclaimed 
writer and environmentalist Terry Tempest 
Wiliams, who spent two weeks traveling the Gulf 
Coast this summer. She has written an extended 
piece about the stories she heard on her visit to 
what she calls the world's largest offshore oil 
disaster. Her piece is called "The Gulf Between 
Us," and it was published in the 
November/December issue of Orion magazine. She is 
the author of several books, including most 
recently Finding Beauty in a Broken World and The 
Open Space of Democracy. She'll be joining us 
from Salt Lake City, Utah, after this break.


AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Terry Tempest 
Williams, writer, environmentalist. Her books 
include Finding Beauty in a Broken World and The 
Open Space of Democracy. Her latest piece in 
Orion magazine, an extended reflection on the BP 
oil spill, called "The Gulf Between Us."

Terry Tempest Williams, welcome to Democracy Now! 
from Salt Lake City. You went to the Gulf on this 
six-month anniversary. What are your reflections 
about what happened April 20th? I'll never forget 
it because it was Earth Day.

TERRY TEMPEST WILLIAMS: That's right. I think it 
changed all of us, who were paying attention. 
And, Amy, I just want to thank you for your 
program, first of all, that we can even have this 

AMY GOODMAN: Well, thank you.

TERRY TEMPEST WILLIAMS: Reflections. It's-yeah, 
you know, we hear that five million barrels of 
oil were released from the Macondo well. We know 
that [ 362] miles were oiled in four states, 400 
species of animals threatened from this, 400 
controlled burns that killed hundreds of sea 
turtles and untold numbers of dolphins and sea 
mammals. We're told that it's over, that the 
story is gone, as is the oil. And what I can tell 
you in reflecting over six months is that the oil 
is not gone. The people are still there, and 
they're getting sicker and sicker.

And I just think it's really important that, at 
this anniversary of six months, that we begin to 
really hear from the people on the ground. And 
that's what my purpose was. You know, I have a 
pen. I'm a writer. I was home in Utah thinking, 
you know, what can I do? And I had to go. I had 
to see it for myself. So it was about ground 
truthing. It was about bearing witness. And I 
don't think bearing witness is a passive act.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Terry Tempest Williams, this 
is an extraordinary piece, as you talk about and 
you relate basically the words of a variety of 
people on the ground. And I was struck by one 
particular passage, when you were interviewing a 
Margaret Curole, and she says to you, "Here's the 
truth. Where are the animals? There's no 
too-da-loos, the little one-armed fiddler crabs. 
Ya don't hear birds. From Amelia to Alabama, 
Kevin never saw a fish jump, never heard a bird 
sing. This is their nestin' season. Those babies, 
they're not goin' nowhere. We had a very small 
pod of sperm whales in the Gulf, nobody's seen 
'em. Guys on the water say they died in the spill 
and their bodies were hacked up and taken away." 
And she goes on to say, "Fish are swimming in 
circles. Dolphins are choking on the surface. 
It's ugly, I'm tellin' you. And nobody's talkin' 
about it. You're not hearing nothin' about it. As 
far as the media is reportin', everythin's being 
cleaned up and it's not a problem." Tell us about 
some of these-

TERRY TEMPEST WILLIAMS: That's the power of Margaret Curole.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes. What about some of the other stories?

TERRY TEMPEST WILLIAMS: You know, what I love 
about the voices in this piece, the voices in the 
Gulf that I heard, the people in place, standing 
up, standing for their home ground, was exactly 
that kind of passion, that kind of truth telling.

Margaret Curole and her husband Kevin are Cajun. 
They're shrimpers. And they talked about how 
there's two alternatives in the Gulf: you either 
shrimp or you work in the oil fields. And, you 
know, I learned something from them. I have been 
against, you know, deepwater drilling, and they 
were talking about the moratorium, how it needs 
to be lifted so that people can eat. So, it was 
through Margaret that I really began to see the 
complexity of this situation.

I love her feistiness. She, with an artist 
friend, created on the beach at Grand Isle human 
bodies that spelled out messages, which they took 
pictures of and texted to Congress, to the 
governor, to BP executives, to everyone in power 
they could think of. The three messages laid out 
in bodies were "Never again," "Paradise lost" and 
"WTF." What I can tell you about Margaret is that 
she received calls from the BP claims department 
saying to back off. She was taken to lunch by two 
agents from Homeland Security. And this is 
serious. And she said, "They want me to shut up, 
and I will not."

Another story, she told us if we wanted great 
Cajun food-and that we couldn't understand this 
story unless we ate-to go to Becky Duet's deli in 
Galliano, which is where they're from in southern 
Louisiana. We went to Becky Duet's deli, called 
Jordan's, named after her son. It was 10:00 at 
night. The lights were still on. We walked in. 
She said, "The grill is closed." And then she 
proceeded to tell stories, that in Cajun country 
they've always viewed themselves as rich, that 
the bounty is from the waters, that as long as 
you had rice, beans and bread and had a chicken 
neck that you could throw into the bayou, you 
were wealthy. Just a few weeks ago, I received a 
note from Becky, who's become a good friend. She 
said, "We're starving, Terry. There are no fish 
in the waters. And any fish we would see, we 
would not eat."

These are the stories that are coming out of the 
Gulf. These are the stories that we're not 
hearing from the media. I think about a group of 
women in gated communities in Alabama, just off 
of Mobile Bay, Orange Beach. These women took the 
situation into their own hands, because no one 
was responding. They had water samples taken, 
four, from very wealthy areas. The fourth one on 
Dauphin Island blew up and was deemed 
inconclusive. These women-Robin Young, a captain, 
Lori DeAngelis and her husband Mike-their blood 
tests came back high in cadmium and benzene. 
They've had chemically induced pneumonia. These 
are the stories, again, that we're not hearing.

AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Terry Tempest 
Williams, writer and environmentalist. Her latest 
piece is in Orion magazine, called "The Gulf 
Between Us: Stories of Terror and Beauty from the 
World's Largest Accidental Offshore Oil 
Disaster." Terry, tell us about Jerry Cope and 
Fish Camp Landing, the gated community in Orange 
Beach, Alabama.

TERRY TEMPEST WILLIAMS: Yeah, those were the 
women I was referring to. I met Jerry in March of 
2009 at the climate action in Washington, DC. I 
call him a guerrilla journalist. While I was down 
there, he was there also with Charles Hambleton, 
one of the producers and members of the crew that 
you see in the film The Cove. They had heard 
about the bodies of dolphins being taken to 
dumps, refrigerated to Mexico. They wanted to do 
an investigative witnessing, if these stories 
were true. Jerry, in the three weeks that he was 
out on the Gulf, he also came down with 
chemical-induced pneumonia, ended up meeting 
these activists, these women in the gated 
community, and Robin Young among them, who 
started this organization called Guardians of the 
Gulf. It was there that he really saw on the 
ground, as did I, you know, what the situation 
is. These women were calling, as I said, for 
water samples, air samples, blood tests, to 
really show the seriousness of the public health 
issues. And again, these are the stories that 
we're not hearing-upper respiratory disease, lots 
of skin infection, rashes.

When I was there, they were having to drain the 
swimming pools, because children were being sick. 
And, Amy, it just-it made you sick. You'd go down 
to Gulf Shores, and here were these seemingly 
pristine beaches, this Corexit green, this 
ungodly color, women, mothers, you know, 
overburdened, 110-degree heat. Their children 
were playing in the waves. It was like there was 
no connection between what was in the water and 
what was seeping into their children's skin. I 
mean, the stories are heartbreaking.

We walked down the beach several miles to the 
Gulf Island National Seashore, again what seemed 
to be white pristine beaches. There had just been 
a thunderstorm. It was this eerie color of the 
water again. You half-expected the water to burst 
into flames with lightning strikes. Just then, a 
BP bus pulled up. Thirty workers, some of them in 
hazmat suits. We started talking to them, saying, 
"Well, it doesn't look like there's oil here." 
Two of the workers, African American men in their 
twenties, smiled and said, "Can we tell you that 
we just took out 2,000 pounds last night? We work 
from dusk to dawn under the cover of darkness."

JUAN GONZALEZ: You also talk about what's-

TERRY TEMPEST WILLIAMS: That's a ton of oil-I was 
just going to say that was a ton of oil taken out 
in a 100-yard swatch. Again, these are the 
stories we're not hearing. I just talked to Robin 
yesterday, and she was saying that five minutes 
she had tar balls the size of baseballs. And, you 
know, you go down a foot, and that's where the 
oil still remains.

JUAN GONZALEZ: You also talk about those workers 
and the boat captains that are still working for 
BP and some of the illnesses that they're being 
exposed to, and also that their clothes are being 
confiscated while at same time BP is telling them 
that they probably just have dermatitis?

TERRY TEMPEST WILLIAMS: That's right. The doctors 
don't even know how to treat these diseases that 
are coming forward. Mike DeAngelis, married to 
Lori, both of them are captains. Lori runs a 
dolphin education cruise. She hasn't been able to 
go out, because their boats have been registered 
for Vessels of Opportunity, because they needed 
the money, quite frankly. You know, these are 
people that are working-class people. Mike, as a 
captain, when they registered their boat, was 
getting paid $1,200 a day, $200 for extra crew 
members. And what were they doing? Nothing. There 
was a joke around the Gulf that you're on BP 
time: being paid for doing nothing.

One of the most moving stories was really flying 
with a barefoot pilot named Tom Hutchings. In the 
American Southwest, we would call him a coyote. 
Again, an activist, he was taking people, as a 
volunteer for SouthWings, anyone who would go 
with him, to fly over the Macondo well site. We 
went with him on Day 100. Upper right-hand corner 
of the New York Times, you know, remember the 
article that said most of the oil is gone, 80 
percent. You remember a week later, Carole 
Browner of the Obama administration said 75 
percent gone, poof, Mother Nature is doing her 
job. What I can tell you is that as we flew out 
to the Gulf to what they call "the source" to see 
the Deepwater Horizon rigs, for as far as we 
could see, for as wide as we could see, for as 
long as we could bear it, oil. All we could see 
was oil. I mean, it's just-I wonder, where is our 
outrage? And I was saying to Tom, this brilliant 
pilot, you know, that must have made twenty, 
thirty, forty flights at his own expense, "Why 
isn't this story being told?" And he was saying 
that most of what we've heard has been 
shore-based knowledge. I mean, there were rivers 
of oil as wide as the Mississippi itself. 
Stunning. When I asked him what has stayed in his 
mind most in terms of his witnessing, he said 
that when they were burning the oil off the 
surface of the sea, he remembers on the edge of 
the flames seeing a pod of dolphins, side by side 
by side by side, watching, simply watching the 
ocean burn.

I think the other untold story are the 
dispersants. We know, thanks to Congressman 
Markey from Massachusetts, that after the EPA 
said, "Please, please," to BP, "find another 
dispersant that is less toxic," what we know now 
is that our Coast Guard, the United States Coast 
Guard, gave BP seventy-four exceptions in 
forty-eight days. And that's the untold story. 
And I think that's where so much of this illness 
is rising from. And we hear from the scientists, 
two inches of oil on the bottom of the sea. The 
scientist Samantha Joye said it's a "graveyard 
for the macrofauna" and that the Gulf is dying 
from the bottom up. And again, that's what I 
wanted to see, is what are the stories from the 
ground up, from the people who live there? Again, 
witness is not a passive act.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And as you mention, this is not 
just a regional catastrophe, but this fall a 
billion birds will migrate from, of course, North 
America through the Gulf of Mexico and the area, 
and the impact could then obviously spread for 
the bird population throughout the hemisphere.

TERRY TEMPEST WILLIAMS: That's correct. And as we 
speak, as you say, a billion birds migrating 
through the Gulf of Mexico. The Mississippi Delta 
sees 70 percent of our waterfowl. You know, I 
think that's the other untold story that touched 
me so deeply, was the beauty. It's still there, 
against all odds. The Gulf is still there. And 
you fly over and see these beautiful islands, 
these islands beaded with birds, pelicans, 
skimmers-the feathered skimmers, not the 
boats-piping plovers, who are endangered. You 
know, we'd fly over and see, you know, these 
extraordinary manta rays, twenty-five-foot wing 
span, 3,000 pounds, looking like black angels on 
the turquoise water. It's such an extraordinary 
landscape. I had no idea. And I think what's 
interesting-and I do have faith in Obama's 
commission, that's saying, let's look not at the 
protection of putting more levees, more canals, 
that cut up the system, the ecosystem, but let's 
think about, really, restoration, even a full 
restoration project of the Mississippi Delta, the 
Mississippi River itself. And that's where I see 
the hope.

AMY GOODMAN: Terry Tempest Williams, we want to 
thank you very much for being with us, writer, 
environmentalist. Her books include Finding 
Beauty in a Broken World and The Open Space of 
Democracy. Her latest piece was just published in 
Orion magazine on the six-month anniversary of 
the Gulf oil spill. It's called "The Gulf Between 
Us." She was speaking to us from Salt Lake City, 

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