Summer of Our Discontent



Oh dear, you’re probably thinking. Not another post of angst-filled pathos on what is, I believe, day forty-seven since the onset of a horror with no real discernible name. In the muddle that passes for my current state of mind these days, I can do no more than ask your continued indulgence in permitting me a kind of moratorium of my own. Tragedies take time, after all.

Throughout the land, the official designation has come to be known as the BP Deepwater Horizon crisis, which strikes me as comical, particularly when that exaggerated narcissistic label seems more suited to one of those cavalierly comped corporate fishing outings, where the ‘good ol’ boys’ gather round with their world-class cigars and high-octane intoxicants for an all expense paid getaway to the high seas to soak up a little sun, rest and marlin wrangling.



The more aptly titled, but limply named, “Disaster in the Gulf” hardly registers notice, so quaint and parochial is its epithet. In a culture consumed with random disasters appearing nightly at the local Cineplex, it is difficult, if not impossible, to raise one’s pulse level to the apocalyptic orange alert. But leave it to those ubiquitous media hounds to come up with the winning attention grabber for the ages: Katrina meets Chernobyl. Can the movie rights be far behind?

While I skim through the news cycles, each training me in its own peculiar locker room lexicon of “top kill,” “junk shot,” or the latest soon-to-be-tried complimentary chaser, “top hat,” I feel as though I am suffering from a ‘top kill’ of my own brought on by a binge of excess as in “too much.”

In my former care-free carousing days, my poisons of choice centered on “too much” sugar, “too much” tequila, and the always wildly popular “too much” drama, but in these prudent, anxious and tumultuous times, I feel glutted with “too much” oil, sickened with the “too much” greed that produced it, and gorged with the “too much” addiction that created it. When does it stop? I think. Where does it end? I wail with weariness at each incomprehensible image, ache with sorrow at every tortured tale and shudder in despair at the magnitude of what we’ve done.



In mute disbelief, I learned last weekend, along with everyone else, the harshest and cruelest of truths. The nearly inconceivable blow came out of nowhere, defying all reason and logic as it was solemnly announced that the eruption one mile beneath the surface of the sea, the hole from hell so to speak, was out of control with no end in sight. How fitting that the proclamation should reach us on a holiday weekend associated around memorials for the lost and fallen. How far and how fast had it taken us to get here?

The indomitable American can-do spirit that has seen us through war, havoc and devastation, through hurricanes, earthquakes and 9/11, was finally brought down, humbled in shame, dropped to its quivering knees in one prophetic moment with the sudden and sickening realization that we didn’t have a clue as to what to do. Threatened by a colossal crisis, we were dumbfounded by our own incompetence. “Too much” had finally become just that.



Historically, the Memorial Day weekend has always acted as the harbinger of the much-awaited sun-filled days and long, languorous nights to come. Visions of sipping sangria off the garden patio, firing up the barbecue, emptying the garage of rods, surf boards and beach chairs, and trekking off to wave-drenched vistas of sand castles, seaweed, and encrusted shells, all the while burrowing deep in the folds of Para sheet blankets and rainbow umbrellas — these are what we’ve come to expect of summer.

But in this season of 2010, the idyllic innocence is forever changed with the knowledge that no matter where we alight this summer, knee deep in sand, or beneath the fore-and-aft sails of a gaff-rigged schooner, the presence of millions of gallons of poison, slipping silently and lethally off our shores into the pristine waters of the gulf stream, are never far from memory.



Again, I plead my own special form of hysteria in dwelling on what most would prefer to avert or ignore. I’ve read everything from rants on tar balls to how up close, the petroleum — refracting the punishing Gulf sunlight — looks like a malignant lesion on the skin of the water. I feel sickened, sad and witheringly helpless over this hole on the ocean floor that is dumping, relentlessly dumping at record speeds, unfathomable amounts of brackish toxins into the estuaries, wetlands and shores of our homeland. And of late, I am truly frightened to learn that it’s not “what we see” on the surface of the water, but “what we don’t see” beneath its depths that most alarms scientists and those who study the life-enabling fragile eco-systems of the planet.

Does it calm to know that the “responsible party,” one not unfamiliar with controversy, misconduct or negligence, has lost well over two-thirds of its value since the onset, or that countless civil and criminal charges are being initiated, or that every individual, or potential “expert,” from all walks of life — engineering, biochemistry, science, the citadels of learning, even the movie industry has weighed in — corralled together on capitol hill in a kind of doomsday scenario (sorrowfully late, one would think) to suggest, recommend, and/or volunteer even the slightest semblance of a solution? Not especially.



One well-intentioned reader advised that I cease publishing these unbearably heartbreaking images, an understandable and sage piece of generosity, but my own internal protester cannot abide. Nor can I stay silent on what I’ve learned with each passing day — that for years, at least since the Exxon Valdez incident in 1989, the top five revenue-producing companies of all time, in the whole of the world, were petroleum companies. Exxon, despite its blunder, ranks, unbelievably in first place and the currently reviled BP (British Petroleum) falls in handily at fifth.

These same petroleum companies who wantonly spared no expense in researching and funding the ‘best and brightest’ technology money could buy in drilling deeper and further into the outreaches of the unknown, yet made no investment in protecting humanity or the delicate ecological systems that sustain us, never for a moment thought to consider what might happen if something went very wrong.


Nor did they consider the possibility of risk, worst-case hypotheticals, or assume even the simplest and most basic of precautions in the event of a tragedy. Where, I continually ask, were the all-important fire drills? The dive under the desk code-red-rapid-fire emergency response system that shuts down, turns off, grinds to a merciful halt. Where, pray tell, were the rules and regulations, practiced and perfected, repeatedly, should the unthinkable occur? Very simply, none existed.

What we’re witnessing day after day is dubious speculation, rampant misinformation and little more than ineffectual stupidity. Which explains why those frequently discussed booms you see floating across the Gulf coast on your television screen, precariously propped into position with simple light-weight bamboo sticks that shift and sway with each passing wave, appear so pathetically primitive and childishly naive, like some historically hoarded relic used by our ancestors, the Neanderthals.

Hence, after twenty some years since one of the most devastating human-caused environmental disasters ever to occur in history, we are left with a situation out of our control.



How is it that such a powerfully potent word like “catastrophic” could come to seem so small, benign and inconsequential in this summer of our discontent? Or that a “catastrophic blowout” would be on the lips and minds of the citizenry for months to come? Did we need something colossal to derail us into shamed submission? Did we need a shared tragedy of unimaginable proportion to silence the drill seekers, still the gas-guzzlers, and quiet the government abolitionists? Did we have to cower in disgrace to unite and enrage the environmentalists, the defenders of the endangered, and the clean energy crowd? And what of the seafood craving patrons who frequent oyster bars and seafood shacks? Where will they come out on all of this? Did we require a complete and utter senseless tragedy to awaken us to our own culpability?



I dread the thought of the coming days ahead filled with the exploits of those enterprising underwater robotic heroes working round the clock in synchronized swimming and diving teams, carefully choreographed to foil the rapacious gusher with the same lock-leg precision of those 1950′s MGM “aqua musicals.” I detest and deplore the unlimited ad nauseam debates that have already begun arguing the benefits of green, while mightily challenging the economic realities of black. I ask you, dear reader, how much spin can one be exposed to before contracting a life-threatening disease with a lingeringly slow death, made all the more noxious by the incessant, unrelenting and pointless chatter?



I have no answers. Nor does it appear anyone else does either. While the sickness lingers and the spill spews, one can only hope that somewhere, somehow the spirit will arise and act to reveal the path out of nowhere.

It is often said that out of chaos and misery, comes order and creation and it has begun in the gentlest of ways. On Grand Isle, Louisiana, just down the road a ways from the wharfs, one family, life-long residents of this cherished place, erected a simple little cemetery of one hundred and one small crosses, lining their front yard for all those passing by to see, each one commemorating something they love, like “brown pelicans,” “beach sunsets” and “sand between the toes.” The sign next to the cemetery of dreams reads, “In memory of all that is lost.”







~ by eaesthete on 06/05/10.

33 Responses to “Summer of Our Discontent”

  1. Thank you. I am sending your beautiful sentiments to everyone
    on my address lists.

    I have not had the words until now…

  2. Just wanted to tell you great job on today’s post. Thought provoking and powerful with both the words and pictures. Enjoyed it so much I read it twice, and I rarely do that. Keep up the good work. And remember, hope springs eternal. Take care.

  3. There are a million tragedies taking place on this planet right now – you understand this and have chosen to ground us all in this beautiful visual commentary.

    The human race is paying a very steep price indeed for our irrational desires, we are at the same time elevated to do the right thing.

    Never hold back.

  4. Haunting in its elegance and profound in its message, your words and pictures fill me with sorrow and shame. As the BP president who “wants to get his life back,” so it is the same for species that may be lost to us forever. Greed and arrogance are a cruel combination. We have unleashed the equivalent of a nuclear bomb. There is no going back to the way we were.

  5. I think along similar lines. It is only through the repetition of images sickening to behold that we continue to incense the public and people’s minds with respect to this and many other tragedies.

    Here’s my take from last Wed:

  6. Very clearly we must start taking some responsibility for our long-term behaviors in terms of our consumption and just what we are doing in order to feed our consumption. What we condone today – has the potential to become our undoing tomorrow. Some believe that even war itself is ultimately about resources. Such a waste that we seem to make the same mistakes – again and again and again.

  7. I respect what you are doing. I wish that more of us had the courage to step outside of our web of obligation to whatever profession we work in to defend the things which ultimately should matter the most.

  8. A sad and beautiful post. Succinct, eloquent, elegant expression of the ache in my soul. Thank you.

  9. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Bumble Ward and ageorgialawyer/MarkZ, Suellen Wagner. Suellen Wagner said: RT @bumbleward: The @errantaesthete's eloquent and powerful blog post on the horror of the oil spill: […]

  10. Such well stated comments; I can only add to the utter humilistion of the human race and the soulfull ache for these creatures who are innocent yet primarily the primary sufferers in our huge shortcoming.
    The images though moving and powerful make my stomach turn and the high price that is being paid for their lives is sickening!

  11. Achingly sad, sadly prescient.
    As always, EA, thank you.

    Miss W x

  12. I come to you via Backwards in Highheels…you post is heart-wrenchingly eloquent and thoughtful. Your feelings and mine are the same. I, too, posted my outrage. I think I had 2-3 comments when I usually have 45-50. Someone said the subject was too serious for blogland. I hope this is not true. with much respect & admiration, from Texas…Marsha Harris

    • Marsha,

      While my heart is filled with real gratitude for those who took the time to comment, it is this note telling of your shared experience and its conclusion of this topic as “too serious” that matters most.

  13. Haunting and elegant in your thought provoking words and imagery! Thank you for the way you have put this together…

  14. With regards to the topic being too serious for blog-land, I have always believed that one of the best uses for blogging was to encourage thought, the sharing of ideas, and encouraging change. While beautiful blogs are a wonder and an inspiration, so is the use of blogs to discuss real life and its issues – there are numerous topics which require inspiration and motivation. It is so important to overcome apathy surrounding many important issues.

  15. So very well articulated..thank you, but I wish with all my heart that you hadn’t had cause to write about this tragedy, xv.

  16. I’m all incredulous to find that there are those who think this topic is ‘too serious’ for blogland. I’d like to believe that your word-use of ‘idyllic innocence’ is appropriate, but I’m beginning to feel that ‘willful ignorance’ could be more apt to describe such an opinion. The unfortunate parallel is that on the individual level one could ‘afford’ to be ignorant, but on a corporate level, such intentional neglect and hubris just might have led to the tragedy we have today, and the irreversible consequences that we’ll reap in the future.

  17. At once painful and moving, and while I wanted to turn away the power of your words challenged me to continue reading. I wish the people in power thought as you do.

  18. thanks for this. beautifully beautifully written and elucidated with the picture choices. i’ve linked to it.

  19. thank you for sharing your viewpoint and your gift for language.

  20. EA, amazing that even today, so many more days than you 1st wrote about, we are facing the exact same mind set? Why does the government not step in & accept help from anywhere/anyone who offers competent expertise? Why isn’t every oil sucking machine on earth in place to fight this mess? BP cannot afford, and does not have the manpower, to fix this on it’s own. Taxpayers pay for everything else. Why not put some of our money to work saving our waters, our coast, our way of life?
    I simply do not “get it.” Where is our government when we need them the most? Or, are the lawyers screaming so loudly that we remain paralized by what we could face in courts years from now?

  21. This is a terrific site. Please add me to your e-mail list.
    Many thanks!

  22. Thank you.

  23. Please add me to your email. Thank you.

  24. *SEE: ‘catalclysmic’ [correct spelling; ‘spell-check’ apoplexy notwithstanding] — of the three definitions given: “1). A violent upheaval that causes great destruction or brings about a fundamental change. 2). A violent and sudden change in the earth’s crust. 3). A devasting flood.. .” [Free Online Dictionary, Thesaurus and Encyclopedia].. .BP has nailed all. Looked them up. Little consolation to name the abominable. Your composition IS yet an antidote. Thank you.

    • Absolutely correct. Soley a farce for the true issues that face a nation that should focus moreso on a personal freedom regard rather than pointing fingers prior to solving the in-house issues. The situation takes one back to the old “tend to your little red wagon” conundrum.

  25. p.s. Ed. note — regret misspelling of ‘devastating’ — caught too late.. .Khc.

  26. Breathtakingly sensitive – a quality conspicuously absent from the entire
    industrial fossil fuel revolution that we were born into and obviously unable to escape.
    The pelican smothered in oil is testimony to white mans inhumanity and lack of
    respect for all life.

  27. Keep writing and posting — no words, no pictures are enough.
    Nearby birds and wildlife still look and live as your first pictures illustrate, foraging the coastline, feeding their young,
    alive, noisy and colorful creatures by the beach.
    This won’t happen again in the Gulf for a thousand years…maybe.

  28. Best article to date on the oil spill. Thank You.

  29. if only it changed anything…

  30. the photos are of my neighbors. please keep sharing your thoughts and feelings. gentle readers, when you look at the oil soaked pelicans, baking turtles, at our coast, my yard, please also look at the mirror as well…might you drive less? Each of us could stop used plastic bags today, yes today. We could all cut purchase of plastic water bottles by at least half. As long as there is a high demand for oil, sellers will do whatever to sell it. returning to cocktail party theme, as long as there are users, there will be sellers.

  31. not let this particular story die. Keep at it, and keep up the topnotch work.

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