Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The World From a Kayak

I so much hate the cold that at the first hint that Florida isn’t facing an unexpected ice age, I have these wild fantasies. They involve seeing the sun for more than an hour at a time, wearing shorts and bathing suits instead of jeans and sweatshirts, and splashing around in the water.
Given that, you’ll understand that after a few weeks of shivering and using more than my allotted share of lip balm and moisturizer, I had no defenses when I walked into the kayak outfitter Monday. Oh, sure, I told myself I was only there to help my better half look at new kayaks, but from the moment I saw her, I had to have her. Sleek, with a chiseled keel, and more room for Calypso The Wonder Hound to ride in the cockpit, she has a bevy of extras that my functional but basic kayak (now approaching the ripe old age of seven) doesn’t.
Faster than you can say “impulse purchase” I had a new lime green kayak. Only after I got her home and saw my old kayak looking at me with reproach in her paddles did I feel a twinge of shame, because she has served me well.
I remember the day I got her, rushing down to the Narrows and paddling around, trying out her skeg, adjusting the seat, and reveling in the sound my paddle made in the water. We’ve traveled the state together, and while we’ve had some rough times (like the time I managed to unintentionally roll the boat while putting in from a rather steep bank at Lithia Springs) we’ve had some great ones, too (like the time a dolphin surfaced inches from my paddle at Fort DeSoto.) She’s taken me past green heron chicks on Clam Bayou and made me mourn the loss of Florida countryside as we glided down the straight, lifeless banks of the straightened Kissimmee River.
Kayaks and canoes serve many Floridians well; they bring us down to eye level with the nature we want so keenly to protect. Anytime I want to see what progress (or lack thereof) the city, state, or various watchdog groups are making (or blocking) in Clam Bayou, I can put in at the city park and paddle the mangroves myself. If I want to see how bad this year’s drought is, I can drive to the Econlockhatchee, Wekiwa or Hillsborough rivers and look at the water lines on as I paddle past the trees. From my cockpit I see the story of the river, creek, or bay, as told by the ibis and orchids and manatee.
You could call me an instant gratification environmentalist, which I freely admit isn’t the most selfless sort. If it’s something close to my heart (like the Everglades) or my home (like Clam Bayou), I care. While I’d love to hike the Appalachian Trail someday, the issues surrounding it are mere environmental abstractions in my mind. I know they’re out there, like communism or bioweapons, but it’s harder for me to get worked up about them.
During Gulfport council meetings, councilman Sam Henderson recently started mentioning mountaintop removal mining, a practice associated with coal mining. Last week, Henderson asked the city to sign their support for ending this practice. His request met with some derisive snickers from some of the citizens attending the meeting. While I don’t think the public displays of derision were anything approaching mature or appropriate, I didn’t get why Henderson cared, either. I mean, Clam Bayou is right here, and there are groups trying to destroy the last remaining estuary on Boca Ciega Bay. Why on earth waste even a moment on somebody else’s problem?
I’m guessing Henderson’s one of those fools who sees “The Big Picture.” Perhaps he mistakenly believes the nature you touch isn’t the only nature worth protecting. I suppose he naively thinks that every city and state has its own water quality, wildlife and air and water contamination issues, and really, what does it cost one city to pledge its support for another? Or worse: he might want council to do this because he cares about the environment and it’s the right thing to do.
Well, I can tell him right now that we just don’t need that kind of crazy talk on council. We do enough, what with our biofuels, sporadic bayou clean ups and lip service to “saving the planet.” We have curbside recycling, for heaven’s sake. What’s next, Mr. Henderson? Clean drinking water for everyone? Asking the state to find alternative, cleaner sources of energy? Finding a way to make our recycling program more efficient and viable?
Get with the program, Mr. Henderson. Don’t you know that the whole world can go to hell as long as we protect our little square of paradise? We exist in a vacuum, so changes to the rest of the world won’t ever impact us. As long as I can take my shiny new kayak down to the Bayou and paddle, what do I care?
Crazy talk, this notion of protecting someone else’s nature. What are you thinking? I’m certain those folks in Appalachia, should they ever hear about Clam Bayou, won’t say, “Hey, that’s like what’s happening here. We can’t do much, but maybe we should do something. We understand; we’ve been there. We know what it’s like to worry about losing something precious.”
Because, you know, most people are like me. Now, if you want to go ahead and be the better man, if you want to push the city to be a little bit more socially responsible than it was when you took office, or give us the reputation of being environmentally aware, you just go right ahead.
I’ll be over here in the corner, secure in the knowledge that because I pluck the occasional soda can out of the water while paddling Clam Bayou, I’ve done enough.
Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@TheGabber.com.

2 comments:

  1. I feel like you're being sarcastic.

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  2. Me? No, never. I'm quite sincere; who needs all this "good deeds" stuff? There's no room for that in politics. We've got to spend three months hammering out a chicken ordinance.

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