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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Oil Devastation - A Personal Story

I’ve been a beach babe since I was a baby. I grew up forty minutes from Panama City, so it was common for my mom to put my brother and myself in the car and drive to the beach for the day. We would always go to this little spot where high rocks protected an inner bay, and the ocean beat a drum against the cliffs on the outside of the rocks. The warm white sand seeped between your toes, the calm still water sluiced over your skin as you swam in the gentle bay, and the blue sky provided miles and miles of a picture perfect painting over your head.

Somewhere in one of my mom’s photo albums, there is an old picture, which is my favorite picture of myself. I’m not dressed up in lace and silk, or recital clothes, or school clothes. I’m wearing a pink polka dot bikini, and I’m sporting a nice tan and bright blond beach hair. My hands are on my hips and a wide smile is stretched across my lips. I was three, and my love for the beach was already a big part of my life.

Through the years I’ve spent many lazy Saturdays, Spring Breaks and summer vacations at the beach. When I graduated from college, I moved to Mobile, Alabama, which is about an hours drive from the beach. I was in heaven. I was home. If you have never lived near the water, you may not understand, but the living is different. It’s slow, lazy and peaceful.

When I started writing, I noticed all of my stories included some element of water and sand in them. My heroines were drawn to the water, and the lapping sound of waves calmed several of my heroines in their most trying times.

I never dreamed there would come a time in my stories that my heroines might be walking near the water and notice tar balls washing ashore. Nor did I ever contemplate a story where my heroine found a bird, or turtle, or fish so covered with oil that it made said heroine’s stomach turn with sadness.

Today on Dauphin Island, mere miles from where I once lived, the first appearance of red brown oil washed up on the shore. This follows three weeks of tar balls being found in the water and on the sand.

Today 31 percent of federal waters are closed to fishing because of the oil spill. This includes all of the waters off the Alabama coast

Today swimmers are being advised to avoid swimming in the waters off the western side of Mobile Bay.

Today the people in these communities, who rely on the water for a living, are hurting, suffering and wondering how they will earn a living to feed their families.

Yesterday saw another 12,000 – 19,000 barrels of oil leak into the Gulf of Mexico from the runaway oil spill.

That was yesterday. What else will today bring? Will the heroines of my future stories no longer be calmed by a beautiful ocean but sickened by the devastation this oil spill has poured down on us?

BP CEO, Tony Hayward, said yesterday that no one wants the spill to go away more than he does. He said, “I just want my life back.” Well, Mr. Hayward, we just want our ocean and beaches back.

Here’s hoping that BP’s latest attempt, cut and cap, to contain the oil works.

Here’s hoping for white beaches and clear water.

Here’s hoping that my children will enjoy the same simple pleasure on the beach that I always have.

Here’s hoping my heroines will not have to look out onto the beach and see dead animals covered in oil.

Here’s hoping that oil drilling off the Gulf of Mexico is regulated better or even stopped. After all, what are we without our dreams and hopes?

Julie Johnstone, The Marchioness of Mayhem


  1. Well-written... I certainly can't express my emotions better. You've made tears come to my eyes.

  2. I still remember the spill of the Exxon Valdez so many years ago, but this one is much closer to home. I hope they can contain it soon.

  3. Second grade was a difficult year for me. My mother had remarried, and we went from a family or two to a family of five. My stepdad worked as an electrician at that time, and we went where there was work. This meant moving three times while in second grade.

    My last school experience was horrible in part due to everyone already having made friends and burned out teachers who didn't care or else lacked the energy to help me find a spot to belong. Fortunately, we planned to move back to my hometown to stay once the school year ended.

    The last day of school my parents and brothers picked me up in the green station wagon, and we headed south. My parents had planned a surprise vacation to Panama. I remember the white sands and breeze off the Gulf soothing my hurts and having this overwhelming sense of releif and freedom.

    Florida has always been special to me because of this experience. It saddens me to think it may not possess the same magic in the future for someone else who needs comfort.

  4. I've been a lover of water all my life. I've grown up near a lake and we traveled to the beach every summer to stay. There's nothing as soothing as the sound of the ocean. This is heart rending but I'm trying to have faith that they will get this cleaned up before it does any more damage.
    The NC coast calls to me and one day I plan to live there, I only hope it'll be the same beach I remember from my youth. I feel for you Julie and I hope, truly hope, things will out.

  5. Thanks, Melissa. I hope you get to NC someday!


  6. Wonderful post, Julie. Heartbreaking, for sure. But I can feel your love for the ocean and the life that revolves around it, and I hope they'll find a solution soon to clean up our ocean and beaches.

  7. I couldn't agree more, that this is a real travesty. Stop all drilling? Hm..... Unless you want to pay $10 to 20/gallon for the gasoline to drive to the beach, that isn't a good option. Not to mention the people you would put out of work, and the state economies(Louisianna being the hardest hit) that receive a large portion of their operating revenue from the off shore drilling. I think we need to look at our regulators, and see why they failed to do their job. The rules are in place. The oversight was missing. It seems the current government regulators were much too cozy with the operations end of the rig. Many perks were extended to the regulators, while they relaxed the oversight on the rig. Of course, if we relaxed our off shore drilling restrictions, we wouldn't have to drill in such deep water. That also would make it a safer operation.

  8. Julie you write such beautiful words that I'm feeling a bit teary. Catastrophies like these happen the world over and it always breaks my heart. Great blog.