New Orleans, LA – December 17, 2012
I first talked to Dan outside the library in Grand Forks, North Dakota. I’d walked into town that morning from the train station and needed to catch up on a few things before sticking my thumb out along Highway 220 and hoping for a ride toward the Northwest Angle. I wasn’t sure about anything then. I didn’t even know if the Looksha would still be at the Angle when I got back, but I wanted to do more than just paddle the route. I wanted to understand what was going on around the water and use my eyes and words to describe it to anyone who would listen. That’s why I talked to Dan.
We talked for six months after that. Emails, phone calls, and text messages raced through the airwaves as I crossed the Boundary Waters, paddled in Lake Superior, portaged to the Mississippi, and dropped south. Four days ago he was there–an electronic voice turned human–standing next to the water with the French Quarter rising behind him.
We both looked at each other for a moment, unsure.
“You’re real!” I wanted to say. “I can’t believe you’re real!”
We lifted the Looksha up the levee and rolled her down the street to his house about a mile away.
“So come on by the office sometime today and I’ll introduce you to some people,” he told me this morning.
That’s how I ended up wandering through the halls of the Gulf Restoration Network’s offices in New Orleans. They’d just moved and every room felt unfinished. Boxes lay half-unpacked, computers and power cords ran across the floor, people moved in and out stacking books on shelves and papers into drawers. We walked around room by room, saying hello and hearing stories about the Gulf of Mexico and the efforts to protect it.
I just wanted to thank them, to shake their hands, to let them know that this trip would be impossible without them, without someone watching over one of the most complex ecosystems in the world and the social, political, and environmental web that surrounds it.
The Gulf is drilling on oil and gas rigs, wetland loss, and the dead zone that floods out of the Mississippi River. It’s five states and three countries, commercial fishing fleets, and sun-soaked tourists on white beaches. It’s deforestation and land development, a hundred-thousand pages of government regulations, and lawsuits that reach all the way to the Supreme Court. It’s wild National Parks and Seashores, dozens of state parks, and military bases. It’s dolphin ecology, manatees, and hurricanes with names like Katrina, Andrew, and Kate.
“It’s hard to leave this city,” I told Dan later that night as we ate dinner at a Cajun place in the French Quarter. “But I can’t wait to see the Gulf of Mexico.”
I encourage everyone to take some time exploring Gulf Restoration Network’s website to learn more about the issues facing the Gulf of Mexico and how you can help by donating or getting involved. Gulf Restoration Network’s mission is to unite and empower people to protect and restore the resources of the Gulf Region for future generations so that the Gulf of Mexico will continue to be a natural, economic, and recreational resource that is central to the culture and heritage of five states and three nations. GRN works to provide technical support and mentoring to grassroots groups, to connect members to developments on national and regional issues of importance to their work, and to coordinate member activities across the region.
GRN pursues campaigns on priority issues affecting the entire Gulf region, including water quality, wetlands, sustainable fisheries, smart energy, hurricane rebuilding, and species-at-risk. GRN also engages individuals through information sharing, publications and an e-mail action alert network. In this way, GRN plays a pivotal role in providing their members and others with the technical information, Gulf-wide networking opportunities, and communication that will empower them to successfully address the environmental threats that the Gulf faces.