Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A “PASS THROUGH” ABITA SPRINGS

At lunchtime yesterday, on the return trip from Florida, I tired of reading aloud from PEOPLE OF THE LIE (an arresting study about what human evil really is) by Scott Peck, and we veered off course to the little town of Abita Springs, Louisiana, population 2000. It’s known as part of the “North Shore,” an area near Lake Pontchartrain that includes Slidell, Covington, Abita Springs, Madisonville, and Mandeville, Louisiana. We had sampled the cuisine of the Abita Brewing Company Restaurant several times during the past ten years and had enjoyed the fare, as well as a tour of restored buildings that had been constructed during the early 20th century. Abita Springs’ claim to fame is a microbrewery where beer is brewed with the pure water from artesian springs in the town, then bottled and distributed throughout the U.S. It’s also the site of the Abita Springs Opry , an organization that presents and preserves music with Louisiana roots in six concerts yearly, performed by musicians from every corner of our country.

We ate at the Abita Springs Café across the street from the restored Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, a white clapboard building constructed in 1905. The day was filled with sunshine and white clouds, and the temperature hovered around 70 degrees so we ate outdoors where salespeople with real estate brochures and notebooks sat at small, cafe tables, chatting with clients. The town is undergoing a resurgence of interest in Victorian cottages and turn-of-the-century houses, and unlike other areas of the country, it seems to be enjoying a real estate boom.

We sampled the roasted pumpkin/eggplant soup but were told emphatically that no oysters or shrimp were available. Since I developed an allergy to shellfish back in the 80’s, I had no interest in any of the dishes made with this delectable seafood, but I was dismayed about the non-availability of shellfish. The absence of seafood could only mean that nearby waters of the Gulf of Mexico had been contaminated, and the BP spill had affected oyster communities in Lake Borgne, a shallow bay of oyster reefs bordering the Gulf of Mexico. I surmise this because abundant seafood, including oysters and shrimp, was once served daily in restaurants at Abita Springs because of the town’s close proximity to Lake Borgne and Lake Ponchartrain.

Lake Ponchartrain consists of 5,000 square miles and is located on the northern edge of New Orleans; thus the origin of the name “The North Shore,” which designates communities in this vicinity. I recalled family outings when my father and mother fished and lowered crab nets from the Lake Ponchartrain bridge which stretches across this large lake. The lakes that border the Gulf of Mexico have always provided catches from the sea, both for commercial and recreational purposes, and we couldn’t bring ourselves to travel further down to view the altered shores and waters in this area.

My dismay at the absence of shellfish from the Abita Springs menu reminded me of my sadness earlier this year when the oil spill occurred and I was moved to write the following poem about the environmental disaster:

OIL SPILL, LOUISIANA, 2010

The green blood of live oak trees
courses through,
and insects hiding in the branches
sing of dark intent.
Summer breezes move the brown sand,
its grains wishing for a clear sea
lately become oil slick,
the shore itself changed
and men speaking about the way it was
before the oil rig blew,
before the cracked coast
became its own natural enemy.

The men in hard hats have vanished,
alien now in their own territory,
pelican bodies have become angel wings
in a soft ooze of sorrow.
The chef of a former rig boat tells all,
how the safety inspectors turned their backs,
bribed by the godfathers of oil,
talks of how he once lived on Grand Isle
in an ancient trailer he could climb atop
and pass into the lower limbs of oaks
where he lay on his back,
looking up at the blue stars,
feeling the coastal wind on his face.

The trees, green blood coursing through
without a clear path,
warned him of the way
the coast would become its own enemy,
the cost more deadly than big winds
of a hurricane blowing wild,
the marsh becoming a skeleton of itself,
shaped like the ribs of a fallen oil rig.
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