New Orleans to Pascagoula MS
Bay St. Louis and Pascagoula Audubon Center
This is where we encountered the moving sand dunes. The beach was to our right, but it was also spreading out into the right lane of the two lane road we were driving on. Intersections between the eastbound and westbound lanes also had large deposits of sand. We’d never seen anything like it on this shore – both of us have been here a couple times in the past. We wondered what was causing it and at one point I said, “Looks like they need a snowplow”. Just a few minutes later we saw dump trucks lined up one behind the other, with a plow and another vehicle that seemed to suck up the piles made by the plow, over a conveyor belt and into the bed of one of the dump trucks. Later, we learned from Mark LaSalle, director of the Audubon Center that this situation occurred because of the storms they had a couple weeks ago. The winds just blew the sand onto the road. This happens regularly during spring storms. In fact, the white sand that runs parallel with the road for miles is not natural. It has been dredged up from the Gulf and placed there to make the beach. My guess is that this shoreline was once all mangrove swamp – the best form of protection from hurricanes and also the best nursery for fish.
Looking to our right and scanning for shorebirds, we saw instead, brown pelicans; the first of our trip. Some flew low over the water, just barely skimming it, while others swooped upward and then plunged bill first into the water, in search of a fish or two. Finally, we decided to park the car and walk for a bit on the white sand. Down at the surf line, the water swished in and out, a muddy, silty soup, with a lot of organic matter and odd bits of plastic floating in it. There is no way I would choose to go into it to swim. I wondered if it always looks like this, but learning later about the storm and the siltation that has been coming down the rivers since the recent rainstorms, I guessed that it had created this unpleasant condition. All I could see was the stark contrast between the crystal clear waters of Lake Superior and this Gulf. One can’t help but wonder about the health of all the creatures whose only home is in these waters.
Related to that I read an article since we’ve been Louisiana talking about the crabbers – those who catch blue crabs and how the harvest is one of the worst ever this year, after a couple years of declining catch. For many of these multi-generational fishermen, this could be the year that seals their fate and ends their livelihoods. Not that they will get much attention in other parts of the country, but it signals a loss not only to a deep part of the culture of the coast, but an indication that something is terribly wrong in the ecosystem. Blue crabs not only feed us, but a host of other animals in the food chain.
Time was getting away from us and we needed to get to the Pascagoula River Audubon Center where we met Mark LaSalle. He had arranged for us to speak that evening at the local community college about our walk around Lake Superior as part of their annual speakers series leading up to the Pascagoula River Festival. Mark is an ebullient man with a quick, broad smile. He immediately reminded me of Stephen Colbert in appearance, but with a much thicker southern accent. I loved listening to his twangy, twisty useage of the English language. He is also a passionate lover of nature.
The Center consists of a small, older house and the surrounding and forest? A cluster of bird feeders stood outside the windows of the house, with lots of cardinals flying in and out. Near the feeders stood a tall, wooden structure, with smaller square top, like a chimney. In fact, that is exactly what it is designed to replicate. This is a demonstration project to attract chimney swifts, small swallow like birds that historically roosted and nested in tall hollow trees, but with their disappearance due to development, switched to the chimneys of houses. Over time, people have become annoyed or concerned about fire hazards and have blocked the bird’s access to their chimneys leaving the birds with fewer and fewer options, ultimately leading to fewer and fewer chimney swifts. Like the very successful efforts to bring back the eastern bluebird with special houses for them, Mark hopes the same might happen for the swifts.
We visited with Mark and his associate Mozart, talking about our bike trip, logistics and contacts. Mark was full of ideas of people we might meet and places we might go.
Our talk at the Gulf Coast Community College was held in a lecture hall and attended by a mix of students and adults from the area. We knew it was a stretch for these folks who have never even seen Lake Superior to comprehend what we did, but they seemed to enjoy it anyway. It made me wonder what sort of turnout you’d get in Duluth if someone came up from the Gulf and talked about their experiences on and around it. We humans tend to focus just on what’s happening in our ‘backyards’ and what seems to impact us directly.