Standing Up to a Big Blow–Lesson in Life from My SUP Board

Standing Up to a Big Blow–Lesson in Life from My SUP Board

Yesterday morning started with a visit to Gulf State Park before the sun peeked above the horizon. I arrived early for my first sea turtle volunteer patrol walk because I wanted to take a few photographs before meeting my walking partners. It was serene and lovely and the Gulf of Mexico was gently rolling like it sometimes does. No shore birds were out yet so the only sound I heard was the shuuusshing of sand and water and shells tumbling together.

I met my walking partners and we headed out for our walk to the Gulf Shores Public Beach. We immediately met a group of giggly young folks drinking beer and smoking….yes….before sunrise. We had been warned that we might see left-over partiers from the pre-Hangout Music Festival day. And it only got worse as we neared the music festival staging area. Never mind sea turtle crawls…we were busy dodging condoms floating in the tidal pools, beer cans, liquor bottles, articles of clothing, half-burned cigarettes…not the usual sight on these white sand beaches.

The once ‘public beach’ was fenced off so as to not allow the public inside. Or sea turtles that might not have received the press package about the festival and thus altered their egg-laying plans. We carefully watched for sea turtle tracks as we tiptoed through all manner of human nastiness. Almost two years ago I was tiptoeing through volatile crude oil on the beach but today I felt volatile. A few days earlier the City of Gulf Shores bulldozed sand dunes with sea oats growing on them to make way for this parade of the worst of humanity. If you or I had picked a sea oat on our own property we’d be ticketed. If we had bulldozed a dune full of sea oats we might be in jail. I guess it just depends on who you are and who you know and how much you pay the right people. I don’t know what to think after witnessing this and hearing loud diesel generators and buses running non-stop. Talk about your green festivals!

After completing the turtle nest patrol I walked in the opposite direction, into Gulf State Park. Shores mostly untouched by development called to me as I walked in the soft, cool sand. I reflected back to when I worked in the park as naturalist–over 30 years ago–and the frustration I felt by the encroaching development and the political demands placed on the resources within the park. I remembered something I wrote in my first book, Sharks On My Fin Tips: “I left the Gulf Coast many years ago feeling hopeless in my efforts to help the land amid hungry developers yet on that day (a visit after Hurricane Ivan) I felt a renewed sense of commitment. I could use a tool that might truly make a difference–my words.” (p. 11).

Another quote from the book also haunted me as I walked back to my car, “Did I abandon this land when I left it many years ago? Had I left home, in the truest sense of the word?”

This morning I needed to be on salt water, away from the crowds and connected with the elements to ponder the questions that were raised within me yesterday. I am not a grouchy, un-musical person. I love music and play piano, guitar, flute, drums….it’s part of me. But profit at any cost? Had I left 21 years ago and returned to find that profit and money–greed–were still the determining factors along the coast? The dune is in the way….just bulldoze it. Never mind that it’s against the law! And fence off the public beach and don’t allow people to visit it unless they pay the $150+ to attend the festival. Does anyone else feel frustrated at this kind of behavior? These double-standards? This profit-at-any-cost mentality?

So…..I drove to Johnson Beach, part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. After showing my annual pass and I.D. I drove to a boardwalk and couldn’t help noticing that both the Gulf and Sound were very much affected by the strong and steady ESE winds. Oops…so much for a calm, contemplative morning.

After unloading my board and gear, I walked to the Sound and was nearly knocked off my SUP board as soon as I stood up. The wind was really kicking. Rather than paddle against it with no warm-up, I decided to just do a downwind paddle and then deal with the paddle back after my body was ready for the assault of wind against woman.

The downwind run was screaming. I was flying and my thoughts were far from the anger and frustration of the previous day. Concentrating on staying balanced with a wicked back and cross-wind was my only focus. In 15 minutes I covered an amazing distance. How awesome that I’d get to paddle against that crazy blow to get back to my take-out point. Honestly, that’s not what I was thinking.

As soon as I came out of the calm canal I had drifted into and faced the wind, it caught my body and tried to push me back into the serene water. Who wouldn’t like that? But I really wanted to get back to my car. The breeze (ha…breeze) was so strong that I dropped to my knees. That helped but I was still making little progress. Finally, I sat back on my heels and finally my blade starting generating forward motion.

Being in this prayer position, I decided to say a prayer to gain understanding about the struggles I was having emotionally from yesterday’s experiences. I started thinking about the land and water and wildlife still being exploited for human greed. I felt weary of the entire human-dumb-ass behaviors which was exacerbated by the weariness I began to feel as I paddled into the wind. As I struggled to paddle, I thought how 30 years ago I struggled to make a difference along the coast. How I’d given up and let the ‘human wind of development’ push me away and relinquish my dream to help people appreciate and care for this beautiful place. It was relatively easy to just let go and forget the developers and others who always put wildlife and the Earth last–dead last. I let myself go into ecological numbness. I didn’t know how to deal with the grief about the planet so I just shut down.

But that oil spill…remember THAT oil spill? It’s what called me home.

It’s not easy standing up against strong forces that want to push over everything in their path to make a buck. It’s sometimes almost impossible to stand and fight greedy humans. So maybe I can alter my approach and drop lower and catch less ‘wind’ but still keep going, keep going forward. Or maybe I might have to crawl a while and make seemingly little progress like I did at Johnson Beach when I sat on the back of my board in shallow water and used my toes to crawl along the bottom as I rested my arms and shoulders. The key is to keep moving and keep working to spread the beauty of this place and speak up against those who truly do not care for anything but money and power. They will fall…eventually. Nature is more powerful. Ask Hurricane Ivan. Or Katrina. Humans have no power compared to the power of nature. Okay….I understand, I thought.

I got back to my take-out point and sat on my board for a long time contemplating life….watching the endangered Least Tern feeding just a few feet from my board, wondering if they knew they were endangered (no…of course not) and thinking how they go on regardless and continue to live and enjoy life. I watched families playing along the water’s edge and Great Blue Herons waiting for fishermen and women to reel in their breakfast. I realized, in those long, blissful moments spent bobbing up and down on my board, that I don’t have to stand up to power and money-hungry humans alone. Many of us feel the same way. We can proceed little by little to speak out, write, work…whatever we have to do…to save this amazing place from annihilation at the hands of those who fail to understand and appreciate the treasure it is…just for the beauty and life it contains. Not because it can generate a profit.

Stand Up 4 The Gulf…something you might find interesting and might like to help build!

One Reply to “Standing Up to a Big Blow–Lesson in Life from My SUP Board”

  1. Simone, It didn’t take you long to see the demons in the sand. My heart and soul is drained from everything you wrote about. My min is so tired of thinking tactics to open peoples eyes. Yes, there are many of us and yes nature will take back what humans have destroyed and when that happens we all will suffer from the greed of profit before people and nature. We will continue to link together. I will share this post. Thank you. God bless us and our beautiful coast.

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