monthly report 2010

Zach chillin' - thinking about his monthly reports

December 1, 2010

Holy Martin  (for Martin Billeaud)

You are bending willow, Martin,
You are porous in flow.

You know you are crazy,
The stain of stigmata
On your glove.

You say : « Go to the mountains,
            The spirits will provide,"
And you move like lizard,
            Resemblance of reptile,
            Breathing water and air.

You are shark in the ether, Martin,
            Sky mantra ocean hawk,
Your vision is clear at great distance.

You are chasm sailor, Martin,
            Rope walker between spectrums,
You cannot tell me about the edge
            Of the world,
You cannot touch the prophet's glory
Because it is false.

And so, you will be found
Asleep in some farmer's empty field,
Prone near some drainage
By children past return.

They will approach you cautiously,
Whispering and awed.
They will poke your shoulder with twigs,
Then their toes.
You will roll over
And they will run home.

Holy Martin
Holy Swallow
Holy Sparrow
Holy Hawk

November 4, 2010

On October 17, I suffered right ischemic stroke and spent five days in the
hospital. I am re-evaluating my life, in light of which, I am returning to
poetry for this report, in an attempt to spread some beauty in the world.

My recovery will be good and my purpose strong and I will re-emerge like the
phoenix from the ashes with new and brilliant feathers for my wings.

Blue Naked

Awoken in the middle
            Of the seventh night,
                        Needle piercing
My left eye,
            Rimmed in red cage,
                        The dreams of
Marie Laveau,
            woman in naked blue.

Rising at 5 AM,
            Grey dawn, calling
                        The secret words
Falling into coma
            Near hold to woman tied

October 15, 2010

Last Saturday, my little hometown held an election.  Up for grabs was the mayor’s office and several municipal counselors.  Of the three candidates, two were black.  The best known of the three is a black man who has been involved in local politics, representing his neighborhood, for decades.  The other candidates were his cousin, likewise black and the owner of a local night club, a white man.

According to rumor, the cousin in question presented himself for the office just to spite his better known and more successful relative.  The bar owner ran because he believed that he had an overwhelming advantage simply because he was white.  Logical.  In my little town the vestiges of our racist past are present and prevalent.  We can no longer celebrate our racism like we did in the good old days, but you would have to have your head way up your ass to believe that racism no longer exists in Scott, Louisiana.  Therefore, it seemed to me and to most of my constituents, that the campaign strategy of the white man bar owner who has absolutely no political experience, was based on a good understanding of the social situation.

I believed that the race would be close and I admitted the possibility of the defeat of the black candidate who appeared to me also to be the best qualified.  We have never had a black mayor in my little town and it didn’t seem to me that this was going to change easily.  Imagine my surprise to see the black candidate win by an overwhelming majority, more than 60%.  His rival cousin did not receive but a few votes and the white man bar owner wound up with less that 30% of the vote, which corresponded to the members of his family, give or take a few.

I was more satisfied with this election that with the election of Obama, because this time it happened in my front yard.  A few days after the election, I ran into one of my cousins at the bank.  This cousin of mine is a simple fellow, working class, with all of its qualities and faults.  He has never refrained from telling my racist jokes and I think his attitude is very typical of a certain part of the local population, maybe even the majority of folks.  On top of that, he is a close friend of the white candidate.  I mentioned that I was very surprised by the margin of victory that the black candidate was able to obtain.  I don’t know for sure, but I would guess that the African-american population of my town is about 10% or less. 

“It’s over,” said my cousin, “It’s completely over this business of “race card”.  We have a black president.   The governor of Louisiana is a Hinud.  No, it’s completely over.”

I left him and walked out into the bright sun, squinting my eyes and shaking my head, asking myself if indeed this could be true.

September 8, 2010

At the Festival en Chanson in Petite Vallée, Québec in July of 2010, I composed a song inspired by the Brown Pelcian.  Unbeknownst to me, another Louisiana songwriter, Rocky Mckeon, composed another one inspired likewise by the Deepwater Horizon tragedy.  I am pleased to announce that both songs are now available on-line.  100% of the profits are devoted to Gulf Aid Acadiana in our effort to help the communities impacted by the oil spill and to restore the coast.

The pelican is a powerful symbol for the people of Louisiana and its story resonnates deeply in the Bayou State. On his voyage of exploration in 1699, Iberville noted the numerous colonies of these coastal birds. In 1812, Louisiana became the 18th state of the United States and the state flag bears the image of a pelican feeding its young.  In 1966, the brown pelican was declared the official state bird, but in that year, the pelican had disappeared from the coast. Estimated at over 50,000 birds at the beginning of the 20th century, the pesticide DDT decimated the pelican colonies in the 1950s and by 1963, not a single bird could be found along the Louisiana coast.

In 1968, the brown pelican was re-introduced.  Fledglings from Florida were installed at three locations :  Queen Bess, Île du Nord (North Island) and Île aux Pitres.  The program was a success.  By 2008, the population was evaluated at over 14,000 breeding pairs and in 2009, the brown pelican was removed from the list of endangered species.

The catastrophy of the Deepwater Horizon has been a terrible ordeal for the communities of Southeastern Louisiana.  The oil spill has inflicted a horrific toll on the sea birds, aquatic mammals and fish as well as fishermen and their families.  Gulf Aid Acadiana is working to restore the coast and help all of its residents recover from this environmental tragedy.   Please support us.  To purchase on line.

August 4, 2010

On July 26, Valerie Gonsoulin and I headed down to Chauvin to visit with Bayou Grace and to bring another contribution from Gulf Aid Acadiana.  We were accompanied by Danielle Giroux, president of Attention Fragiles of the Magdalen Islands in Québec and by marine biologist Thierry Gosselin.  The trip was troubling.

We ran into a big storm in Morgan City, a meteorological metaphor for what we were to find down on Bayou Petit Caillou.  We met with Rebecca Templeton in the little offices of Bayou Grace, just north of the Catholic church.  According to Rebecca, and no surprise to us, the community is in disarray.  Many of the fishermen are without work. 

It is impossible to find any hard data regarding the number of fishermen employed by BP in the spill.  According to Valerie, only about 20% of the fishermen were hired in Venice.  If the same holds true in lower Terrebonne Parish, that would mean that fully 80% of the community is out of work.   Only captains with boats large enough to accommodate the oil skimming apparatus are being hired.  We saw several of them headed down the bayou.  They waved at us and were joking in the typical Cajun fashion.   Although they seemed carefree, I could barely imagine how they were feeling.  I hope that they will protect themselves in the toxic environment of the spill.

Rebecca expressed serious concerns regarding the quality of the air and also of the effect of the spill on the quality of the local water supply.  There was no base line study before the spill and there is currently no monitoring being done of either water or air quality.   It is no surprise that BP does not want any information to be collected, but it seems that even the EPA is not concerned.  During the first days of the spill, benzine levels at Venice (Plauqemine parish) were 30 times above acceptable levels.  Nobody knows what the air quality is like in lower Terrebonne 100 days after the accident,  and nobody seems to want to know. 

We had lunch at the Sportsman’s Paradise.  I had the softshell crab instead of the shrimps or the fish.  Softshell crabs are farmed.  The owner of the restaurant had a conversation with Valerie in which she expressed her despair.  She and her husband have been in business for 39 years. They have the restaurant and a few cabins for rent, but the heart of their activity is their guide business.  They have not had a client since May.  BP is renting their cabins which is keeping them going.  But they worry about what’s going to happen once BP is gone. 

The community is still very preoccupied with coastal erosion which remains the most serious long term problem along the coast.  Rebecca explained their support of a pipe line sediment project which could actually reverse the effects of erosion and return the coast to its pre-oil exploration state in 25 to 40 years.  The project consists of piping sediment dredged in the Mississippi.  The dredging is constantly done to keep the river navigable.   Instead of dumping it in the middle of the Gulf, this project proposes piping it into the marshes.  The problem is political in nature since only the federal government has the resources to accomplish the project, and only when and if the federal government supports pipe line sediment will there be any real chance of saving the coastal communities from falling into the sea.   It remains to be seen if the nation cares about coastal Louisiana. 

In the meantime, Bayou Grace is organizing community soirées, a chance for the residents to gather together to share their experiences and support.  It was inspired to see that the people of Petit Caillou are taking their destiny in their own hands.  On the other hand, it is troubling to see the indifference of the government.   There is only one medical doctor for a population of about 15,000.  There is no health clinic.  There is no psychological counseling.  There is no social aid.

In such as situation there are two choices: either to give up and move away, as some in the community have done, or to face the future with courage and do the best you can.  The organizers of Bayou Grace have decided to do everything possible to keep their communities together in the face of a huge challenge.  Gulf Aid Acadiana is determined to help them and all of the residents of the coast as much as we can.

If there was any doubt that the United States is controlled by multi-national companies, the experience of the oil spill has erased it for me.  I am not a fan of conspiracy theories and think that the question deals with the nature of western society as much as anything else, but it is hard to resist the conclusion that the priority of the government is to keep the petro-dollars flowing rather than to protect the interests of the citizens who have been impacted by the spill.  How else to explain president Obama’s lack of intervention during the whole crisis. 


In spite of his rhetoric of solidarity, never once did he act dynamically to resolve the crisis.  His priority was to insure that BP accepted the financial responsibility.  Period.  BP has insisted that every drop of oil will be cleaned and that the Gulf coast will be “made whole”.  I wonder if anybody believes that.  The claims process will be a tremendous hardship for fishermen accustomed to dealing with tides and weather and not bureaucrats and paperwork.  

Neither BP nor the US government is monitoring the air quality in lower Terrebonne.  Nobody wants to know what the long term effects of the spill will be on the health of the local population.  As far as the actual amount of oil that was spilled, we will never know that either.  Estimates continue to rise and now we are told that over 5 million barrels of oil, over 250 million gallons, spewed into the Gulf.  It is in the interests of BP to minimize the quantity in order to diminish the potential fine.  But the government also has an interest in minimizing the amount of oil and therefore the gravity of the oil spill which it seemed powerless to control. 

Although I have not seen any confirmation, I have been told by several reliable sources that commercial fishing will be opened soon in more and more of the Gulf, if not the entire Gulf itself.  It seems that the governments (Louisiana and US) are in a hurry to declare that everything is back to normal, that the seafood coming from the Gulf presents no danger and that the fishermen can get back to work.  As though the millions of gallons of oil have disappeared and the millions of gallons of dispersants have evaporated.

Just like during Katrina, it is the poor who will suffer most.   I support Bayou Grace and all of the people of the coast who are struggling to rebuild their lives in the face of the greatest environmental disaster in the history of the US.  When I asked Rebecca why she was fighting so hard, she said that she loved her community.  She fell silent for a moment and stare out across Bayou Petit Caillou and then said softly, “It’s a question of justice.  Of social justice and environmental justice.”

Time line of the disaster from
Environmental Protection Agency spill site

July 7, 2010

Where to begin?  With the spill itself which remains unplugged after two and a half months, spewing thousands upon thousands of gallons of oil into the Gulf every day.   It is very difficult to understand that the technology does not exist to stop the flow of oil.  Recently on NPR, a retired US submarine commander stated that military means exist and that the spill could be stopped with conventional weapons.  Who knows?  Perhaps the president of the United States.  It seems however, that Obama has embarked on a course of action that places the priority upon the question of civil responsibility.  He seems more intent upon making sure that that British Petroleum foots the bill for the clean up rather than stopping the flow of oil. 

BP has repeatedly stated, as has the president, that the Gulf communities impacted by the oil spill will be “made whole”.  Neither is credible.  The disbursement of the billions of dollars which BP has promised will be a slow and frustrating process.  The fishermen who are now out of work and out of resources are confronted by a bureaucratic labyrinth for which few if any are prepared.  We saw a similar situation after Katrina.  It will take a lot of patience and tenacity to navigate through the claims process and it is unlikely that the fishermen will ever receive fair compensation for their loss.  What is more certain is that BP, in spite of its public promises, will create hurdles at every step along the way.  BP has already spent billions on the clean up and in compensation, but very little has reached the people who need it most.  Included in this calculation are the continued use of the dispersant Corexit,  the oil dispersant which scientists maintain is more harmful to the environment than the oil itself, and the costs of the relief wells which, hopefully, will be able to finally control the spill.  The average check for the fishermen who have received any compensation so far is just a little over $2000.

The clean up itself is badly coordinated and, in certain instances, will do more harm than good.  The priority seems not to be actually protecting the environment, but in projecting a positive image.  On the BP side, the continued use of Corexit, of which a major component is the chemical used in anti-freeze, poses a significant long term threat to the ecosystem. The primary reason for its continued use is to break up the oil slick and send it to the bottom thus preventing unsightly and damaging images of oil pouring onto the coast.  That the EPA continues to allow its use is confirmation of a conflicted government policy.  On the Federal level, we need only to recall that the US Fish and Wildlife Service as late as September 2007, agreed with the discredited Mineral Management Service in stating that “the risk that deepwater drilling could result in a spill capable of polluting critical habitat is low”.   The assessment was based on a calculation of 1000 to 15,000.  In reality, hundreds of thousands of barrels are spewing in the Gulf.   So much for the ability of the Federal government to predict and prevent environmental catastrophe associated with deepwater drilling. 

The effort of the State of Louisiana has not been any more effective.  In spite of the concerted warnings of the scientific community, governor Bobby Jindal has pushed forward a project to shore up the barrier islands with a sea wall designed to prevent oil from reaching the marshes.   Apparently basing his strategy on the premise that what you don’t know can’t hurt you, dredging has begun offshore.  Politically this action is very popular.  The governor stated that if the Federal government did not provide the equipment and approve of the plan, he would get on a bulldozer himself and start moving sand.  In spite of the governor’s grandstanding and the political hay that he has been able to harvest, it is not clear what will be the long term effect of this construction on the marsh itself.  Most scientists worry that the ultimate result will be harmful and will result, through rupture of the natural currents and the reduction of the tides, in further marsh loss, in effect killing the ecosystem the sand berms were designed to protect.  It’s not even sure that the sand barriers themselves will actually be able to resist rapid erosion. 


This absurdity of this knee jerk policy is particularly evident in Southwestern Louisiana.  Rutherford beach is in Cameron Parish.  The threat of oil that far west is relatively low for the moment. However, the governor’s sand bernpolicy is being implemented there as well.   An eight mile sand berm was constructed just offshore at a cost of who knows how much.  Locals refer to the project as the “eight mile campaign poster”.   The sand wall was completely washed away by the high tides during hurricane Alex.  Hopefully the dredging won’t be resumed. 

In this cesspool of incompetence, self-interest and political manipulation, is there any bright spot?  As the clean up crews roll over stern colonies on Grand Isle and the pelicans on Queen Bess are smothered by the oil,  is there any light at the end of the tunnel?  The president has paid lip service to reforming US energy policy, but will he be able to overcome the entrenched interests of the oil companies?  The Deepwater Horizon was flying the flag of the Marshall Islands when it blew up and sank into the Gulf.  The flag status allowed the rig’s owner, Transocean, to reduce its US taxes.  Transocean moved from Houston to the Caymen Islands in 1999 and to Switzerland in 2008.  Under the US tax code, oil production is among the most heavily subsidized businesses, with tax breaks available at virtually every stage of the exploration and extraction process.

Energy policy in the US is oil-centric and his will be politically very difficult to change.  The only real incentive that will alter this behavior is a change in relative pricing.  Until alternative energy sources are competitively priced, it is impossible to imagine that we will end our dependence on fossil fuel.  For all of his alternative energy rhetoric, Obama has proposed nothing that will change this fact.  On the other hand, the oil industry continues to enjoy tax breaks and is able to relocate offshore in order to avoid US taxes. 

If there is anything like a silver lining in the cloud, it might be that this catastrophe will ultimately result in a more enlightened energy policy.  The National Resources Defense Council is working on legislation that would address the BP oil disaster, reduce US oil consumption, cap carbon emissions and promote clean energy.   The process will be long and laborious and resisted at every step by the entrenched interests of the oil industry.

US ocean governance needs desperately to be reformed.  The current structure includes more than 140 different laws and 20 different agencies, each with different goals and competing mandates.  The Minerals Management Service needs to be completely reformed and to actually serve the interests of the American people and not that of the oil companies.   In spite of its extreme unpopularity in the oil patch of southern Louisiana, I support the presidential moratorium on new offshore activities, and propose that any work laid off as a result of the moratorium be compesated by BP.   Until we can absolutely prepare for any possible repeat of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, it is foolhardy to allow off shore drilling.   BP has another deep water operation called Atlantis, which a former BP engineer has declared an “accident waiting to happen”.  We cannot permit the possibility of another deep water platform blow out.

Existing laws need to be enforced. Neither the MMS nor industry has ever obtained federal permits required under the Marine Mammal Protection Act for thousands of drilling wells or tens of thousands of track-lines of airgun surveys.  These permits are important because they require companies to take every practicable measure to reduce harm to the Gulf’s marine mammals.   Oil companies have had their way with policy creation and enforcement with the complicity of the government agencies that were created to regulate industry practices.  This must stop.  

My hope is that this environmental, social and economic catastrophe for the people of the Gulf coast will be the beginning of a more enlightened energy policy and a more responsible policing of the oil industry.  At least then, the suffering of the Gulf community, its people, birds, fish and marine animals will not have been in vain. 

June 2, 2010

In the first few days after the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon, I was, as many were, flailing around, trying to figure out how to help.  I decided to go down to Venice, Louisiana, ground zero, and try to clean oiled birds, assuming that there would be many. 

My plans were immediately altered by the reality of the situation.  First of all there were no birds to clean at that time and secondly, BP was and is in total control of the recovery.  In order to have anything to do with actual the actual oil spill, I would have to obtain a HAZMAT certificate and be hired by BP.  In order to clean birds, I would have to take specialized training, the nearest source of which was in Houston, and be hired by a company that was hired by BP.  Dealing with an oil spill presents serious risks to health and safety.  Everybody that I talked to and that understood the situation advised me to leave the clean up to the professionals.  I ultimately agreed.

I found out from my old friend,  Martin Billeaud, that his sister Valerie had gone down to Venice and received a HAZMAT certificate.  Martin is the oldest of a family of 17 children.  Valerie is a few kids down the line.  Maybe it has to do with having 16 siblings, but the children of Manning Billeaud and Millie Martin  are known to be a feisty bunch.   I was able to get in touch with her and we spoke about our mutual desire to do something.  She was the only person I knew that had actually done anything about it. 

She was one of the very few volunteers to receive HAZMAT training.  This consists of learning how to handle toxic substances and watching troubling videos of wildlife in distress.   The program takes about 6 hours.  When she returned to get her certificate, she was roughed up by the security guards and refused entry into the high school gym.  Maybe because she had a camera. She definitely did not fit the profile.  The great majority of who took the training program were shrimp fishermen whose lives have been thrown upside down by the spill.  There are very few, if any, women.  Valerie is a genteel 40 something, who looks more like a suburbanite than a shrimper.  She is, none the less, an accomplished and tournament winning kayak fisherman, and an habitué of the marsh.  Not afraid to stand her ground, or speak her mind, she finally got the certificate.  Throughout this ordeal, she earned the respect and trust of the fishermen of Plaquemine Parish, and I do believe that she knows as much or more about the situation at the ground level than just about anybody.  She knows who needs help now and who will need help later on.

Our conversations over the first few days of the catastrophe made us both realize that our efforts could be most effective by doing something other than getting hired by BP and putting our health at risk.  (Last week 7 workers on converted shrimp boats were taken to the hospital suffering from a serious reaction to either the benzine which floats over the spill, or the dispersant being used, corexit, which is highly toxic).  Our efforts will have most effect in raising consciousness and in helping the fishermen whose lives have been disrupted and whose families are suffering.  Not all of the fishermen have been hired by BP in the clean-up. There are many who are left with nothing.  It is these people whom we hope to help.

In order for us to be effective, we needed someone who was able to organize a foundation quickly and make it work.  I made the call to Valerie’s cousin, Todd Mouton.  I have know Todd for many years.  He is a kind and competent man whose career path is community and cultural organization.  And so GULF AID ACADIANA was founded.  Just three people who are shocked and saddened by the tragic oil spill which began on April 22 and which has yet to be contained.  This catastrophic event will have a terrible impact on the Louisiana coast, on its ecology, on its economy, on its fish and wildlife populations as well as the human community. 

We hope to contribute to the restoration of the coast by raising funds and raising consciousness.  I am not sure how we will achieve our goals.   No one has any experience with anything of this nature.  We are obliged to create this project out of nothing except our sincere desire to help the people of Louisiana overcome the tremendous hardship which they face and to restore the wetlands and the communities which depend upon them.

A word about how Gulf Aid Acadiana is set up and will disburse its contributions: In order to respond as quickly and effeciently as possible, Gulf Aid of Acadiana will be administered by the Community Foundation of Acadiana, a non-profit organization administering a host of charitable foundations in Louisiana,  which will retain 1% for the service.  All of the remaining 99% of funds collected will be disbursed according to the resolutions of the board of advisors of Gulf Aid of Acadiana.   We will collaborate closely with all agencies and organizations devoted to Gulf Relief in our common effort to restore the coastal communities and envrionment.  Our priority will remain the Acadiana region,  from Barataria Bay west, although we will evalutate needs as they arrise and hope to contribute to community and coastal restoration all along the Gulf coast.

Please help us if you can.

May 5, 2010

I had promised that I would not start bitching this year.  No ranting, no raving, just poetry to sooth the spirit and calm the soul.   That was before the catastrophe of the Deepwater Horizon.  With oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico unabated and no end in sight, everyone along the Gulf coast is bracing for disaster.   There is no doubt that the impact of the spill will be dramatic and far-reaching.  The ultimate question is whether the natural environment and the human communities that depend on it will be able to survive.

Many variables will dictate just how devastating the spill will be for the ecosystem, the most important being how long it takes to stop the flow.  The ultimate question of the survival of the marsh and of everything that lives in it will be decided by the impact that the spill has on the marsh grasses.  It is the grass that holds the entire ecosystem together. 

According to Denise Reed, director of the Pontchartrain Institute for Environmental Sciences at the University of New Orleans, “healthy wetlands would have some natural ability to cope with an oil slick.  The trouble with our marshes is that they’re already stressed, they’re already hanging by a fingernail.  It is possible that the wetlands’ tolerance for oil has been compromised.” 

The Louisiana coast is eroding to the tune of 25 square miles per year, down from nearly double that number in the 1980s.  Since the 1930s an area the size of the state of Delaware has fallen into the sea. This rapid erosion is caused by 2 factors.  After the Great Flood of 1927, the US Corps of Engineers built a huge levee along the Mississippi River.  Levees have existed from the beginning of the French colony, but nothing on the scale of the present levee system.  No longer does the annual spring flood bring nutrient rich sediment into the marsh.  The other culprit in coastal erosion is the navigation channels and oil exploration canals which have introduced salt water into the freshwater marshes with devastating effects. 

The impact of oil and gas extraction on the natural systems of the Louisiana coast is hard to exaggerate.  The initial width of the access canals is not that great. What happens subsequently will multiply the negative impact. The canals erode, exacerbated by wave wash from passing boats. In 10 years the widths have doubled; and then they double again. The  spoil banks cut off the natural drainage for hundreds of yards around, impounding half of the marsh and drowning the other half. Saltwater from the Gulf is introduced into the marsh via the canal. The grasses are killed by the salt intrusion, the root masses die, the soils are released, and the marsh becomes open water. Recent studies by the United States Geological Survey discover a related phenomenon. The oil industry has excavated billions of gallons of brines, salts and minerals from under the wetlands, much of it close to the surface, causing the marshes to literally cave in.  Salt water intrusion or subsurface extraction: pick your poison, they both kill the marsh.

The numbers are astronomical.   Apart from the major navigation systems across the coastal zone, there are over 8000 miles of canals and pipelines and they are all pushing salt water into freshwater systems. Every scientific study available places the cumulative impacts of oil and gas activities ahead of even the Mississippi levees as a leading cause of land loss in Louisiana, with responsibility attributed to the oil and gas activities to above 50% overall,  and as much as 90% in heavily exploited fields.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Louisiana made a deal with the oil and gas industry. The industry would get what it wanted; the state would get a piece of the take.  For over half a century, the oil and gas industry has had carte blanche to do with the natural environment of coastal Louisiana as it pleases.  Oil is big business and Louisiana’s cash cow.  But now the days of wine and roses are over.  We and our children will pay a high price for laissez-faire of the last decades.  Nero fiddled while Rome burned. 

Louisiana could have required that the canals be backfilled once they were no longer in use, but the industry resisted.  Too costly.  The state could have required them to spray dredged material over the marsh, rather than piling it on spoil banks, but industry refused.  Louisiana could have required that the industry access its sites by over-marsh vehicles, which have been available for decades.  No such requirement was ever proposed.

Louisiana  could have had a thriving oil business AND preserved its marshes.  That would have required holding the oil companies responsible for the damage they caused to the wetlands and requiring them to repair it.  The oil companies have consistently resisted any actions that would have threatened their already huge profits.  Big oil wielded and continues to wield so much political power that no Louisiana politician has ever dared propose that they fix the mess they have created.  Now it remains to be seen whether the marshes will survive this new and potentially fatal onslaught at the hands of big oil

Hurricane Katrina was a nasty wake up call.  Since that time, considerable efforts have been made at wetlands restoration and even reversed some of the decline in certain areas.  However, this oil spill may be too much for the marsh grass.

According to Garret Graves, chairman of the Louisiana coastal protection and restoration authority, “The vegetation is what holds these islands together. When you kill that, you just have mud, and that just gets washed away.”

Sunset on Louisianne, the sun going down on the promised land,

I've given you everything I have, I've got nothing left to lose.

For the time being there is little that private citizens can do.  BP is controlling absolutely the protection and clean-up effort.  To be hired, you need to be HAZMAT certified.  There is a training program in Venice, Louisiana, but the schedule is haphazard.  In addition, BP requires that one sign a contract exempting the company in case of accident or illness.  There is a nap of benzine which floats above the spill which is toxic and hard to avoid in rough seas.  The most serious organization involved in coastal restortation is the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana.  To inlist as a volunteer or to make a contribution:

April 6, 2010

Chers amis, last month I started this report referring to the earthquake in Chili.  This month I begin by referring to the earthquake in California.  It seems that Mother Earth is trying to shake us off, just like an old dog with too many fleas.  I am in Montréal where the spring has just arrived in the form of tiny tendrils on the ends of the naked branches of the trees.  There are no spring birds to speak of, although I did run into a gang of Cedar Waxwings in the Pointe aux Priaries park.  A part from these psychedelic masked dandys of the bird world and the noisy red winged black birds, it was just a regular winter crowd of Juncos and Chicadees.  In honor of the spring, I have dusted off my running shoes and oiled up the hinges.  This month's poem is called:

                          Cold running

Hail stones beating on the window,
Early morning call.
The empty street
Beating my belly with cold,
Windy fingers around my throat.

Burst of motion like a sprinter's start
To flow, to move
And become easy.
To not feel the cold and
Not feel the bursting heart.

Under the grey sky,
Running through the silent streets,
Beating the silence with my feet,
Calling: "harmony, harmony, harmony."
Reply of brick and stone.

March 2, 2010

Chers amis,  we hear again of another earth quaking and the suffering of multitudes (Chili).  But as Théodore Monod stated so eloquently, once man has disappeared, nauture will continue on.  I am looking forward to the return of the migrating species this spring, although my swallows have not returned once again.  It has been four years now since I have hosted a colony of purple martins.  They had returned previously for twenty springs.  Loss of habitat. Loss of habit.  Who knows?  Grizzlies are invading the territory of the polar bear and Québec has suffered through a year pitifully warm and without snow.  Now that the snow-plow concession is in danger, maybe finally we will be able to address the question of global warming.  But I digress....  This month's poem is entitled:

                            Flying in the flock

push of wing breath
              and all about black fluttering,
              the sound of many wings
              from the field alight
              in great spiral whooshing
              tornado inverse with energy holes
              and push of black.

the remains of possum
              in the mad road
              possum spirit
              swirled away by
              black wing.

while sparrows claim
              the visitors hollow,
              and swallows return
              from the South,
              searching a vacant      
              space to fill.

flying in the flock    
   big birds
       little birds,
              every kind
                  of which
                       a bird
                                     kind of
                                                   a way. 

February 2, 2010

Chers amis, here is the second in my series in honor of the year of poetry.  I am pleased to offer you photos as well.  Each month, the new photo on the home page will be one of mine.  This month: an Eastern Phoebe.  The photo was taken chez moi in Louisiana.  Each december, an Eastern Phoebe arrives to pass the winter.  He will depart in March.  This bird makes a wonderful subject, posing on a branch for long periods, waiting for a bug.  The poem this month is called:

                               12 December

By candle light in the evening
          I read you poems from the Japanese while

Calm and still you laying beside me
          gently breathing I wonder at your beauty.

I am like the trees on this winter edge
          fearful, perhaps waiting to die.

The candle flame is strong and
          there are no breezes save these whispered

Words to make it dance.  You are silent
          with worry showing in the

Corner of your eyes like the branches
          of the trees in the snow.

January 6, 2010

Chers amis,  For eight years now, I have published this report.  I began writing it to share my vision of the world.  I have written about all that touches me: the natural environment, the question of Acadian identity, the struggle to preserve linguistic culture in Louisiana, resistance to injustice, defense of those without defense, the politics of Louisiana, France, Québec and the good ole USA.  At this, the beginning of a new decade, I asked myself what can I propose to you that will be fresh.  My point of view on most things (bordering on the pinko) is easy enough to determine thanks to this report, and I have said just about all that I can say about the things that touch me the most.   I have therefore decided to attempt to improve things in a different way.  Enough of ranting and raving against GMOs, Monsanto, mosquitoes, ring-worms and Republicans.  This year, I have decided to publish a new poem each month, in fact two poems since I will publish in English and French, each poem unique and not simply a translation of the other.  I hope by this to spread a little beauty in this world.  I will attempt to respect the seasons in the spirit of Japanese haiku, but I will attempt most of all to follow my heart.  I hope you will enjoy.  The first poem of the English series is called:

                               Gorgeous Wings

Child’s conversation:
              what if you had wings
              that were too big for you to fly,
              if you were a tiny tiny man.
Like colt fever,
Breathing melodies
              to become your black jaguar sigh
              and nets of trembling
              (gorgeous wings to fan your bed.)

In the rivers.
In the sun.