A few days ago I woke with a vivid dream: I am watching someone skim the surface of the pool I swim in, running the big blue net back and forth across the calm water. Suddenly the net picks up something other than leaves and bugs: a big black tar ball appears in the net and is scooped out of the water. But how did it get there in the first place?
In the Gulf, tar balls appear on the beach sand in advance of the spreading crude. It is a gruesome, sickening sight from a disaster that continues to grow and spread and affect millions of lives both in the water and out. Not even a lap swimming pool on the opposite side of the continent is out of harm’s way.
Three weeks ago I was out enjoying our localÂ Friday happy hour in Bodega Bay, and struck up a conversation with some weekend tourists from inland. One couple was nice and chatty, but another woman kept her sunglasses on and an aloof expression on her face, barely managing an occasional smile as she sipped her wine and looked out over the bay.
After a while the other couple left and she and I sat next to each other in silence. I was racking my brain for something to say to this obviously reserved, conservative person, when all of a sudden she spoke up.Â “I keep imagining what this would look like if the oil spill was here,” she said.
What could I say to that? It sank into the heart of what every person there was thinking, what I myself had been thinking all day and was at the moment trying to forget. She didn’t want to talk about the politics ofÂ offshore drilling bans, she was in shock, and was sitting there trying to grasp the magnitude of what has happened to the ocean.
People come out here from all over the country to recharge. The ocean has a powerful psychic pull, along with the lure of physical beauty, recreation, great food, and fresh air. It exists in the collective imagination as our ancestral home, source of dreams, origin of all life.
This was not the first conversation I’ve had with a total stranger who is soul-stricken about what is happening to the Gulf of Mexico. It is not a laughing matter to anyone. People know how bad this is, and they are taking it very personally.Â This alone gives me hope.
Oil has already reached Barataria Bay, and is just a hurricane’s breath away from destroying New Orleans for good. The mighty Gulf fisheries are gone, as are the beaches, the nesting grounds, and all deep sea life, for the foreseeable future.
The news sinks like a stone to the depths of our psyches. What will we do when the tar balls stir the waters of our dreams as well?