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July 7, 2010 / V A Nichols

“The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient.”

“The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient.”


Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote those prescient words more than half a century ago while sojourning on Captiva Island, near Fort Myers, Fla., in the Gulf of Mexico. Her book, “Gift from the Sea,” became a best-selling reflection on how the sea restores us. Yet on a recent trip, it offered me insight into how we can restore our relationship with the sea.

A few weeks ago, I walked along Mexico Beach, Fla., one morning, trying to shake my preoccupation, pausing to observe the shore birds, sand angels and turtles’ nests. I had been rereading “Gift” after 30 years, and Morrow Lindbergh’s words washed up on the waves of my memory, like time in a bottle.

“The sea does not reward …”

Not long ago, my husband and I had planned to escape to a favorite retreat, a town of about 1,000 people south of Panama City, along the “Forgotten Coast” of Florida’s Panhandle. We had discovered Mexico Beach after a planned trip to Mexico fell through. It was, admittedly, a romantic notion, but almost any trip to the beach is.

We had been reading the dire news reports of the BP oil well explosion and spill in the Gulf — first, the tragic loss of 11 workers, then the uncontrollable leaking of oil, more oil and more oil, despoiling the water, coasts and marshes of Louisiana, then Mississippi, Alabama and northwest Florida.

An environmental nightmare of unprecedented proportions was unfolding before our eyes.

One night, after seeing the wrenching photos of oil-slicked birds in the newspaper, I almost wavered. I asked my husband: “Should we cancel our trip to the Gulf?” Heck, no, he said, and I paraphrase. “We’ll either enjoy the beach, or help them clean it up. When the going gets tough, the tough go to the beach.”

That’s the first lesson, I thought: The sea does not reward those who are too anxious.

We drove south on U.S. 231, through the heart of Alabama, down into the thick longleaf forests of the panhandle, arriving at this small town named after the gentle Gulf waters that lap its shores. “Viva Mexico Beach,” I declared upon arrival, once again captivated by this off-the-beaten path place where loggerhead turtles come to lay eggs in the sand and young couples get married barefoot on the beach.

We checked into the Buena Vista Motel, an older, but comfortable, two-story lodging on U.S. 98 across from Killer Seafood (whose motto is, appropriately, “chum and get it”). After a few fish tacos, we explored the uncrowded beaches, where the pelicans were dive bombing the piers, which they shared with seasoned fishermen.

While there was no oil here at the time, we heard the sport fishing business was seriously off due to cancellations. “There’s plenty of game fish out there,” said our waitress at Sharon’s Cafe. “The ones that do come are catching their limit of King Mackerel, 10, in one hour.”

In response to the threat, the oyster beds had opened early in Apalachicola, and my husband ate poboys like they were going out of style (we sincerely hope they don’t.) When it came to fresh Gulf shrimp, my favorite, we stopped to buy our fill at the catchy road side signs: “CEO shrimp at Social Security prices.”

I thought about the CEO at BP, and I found myself secretly wishing he would soon be in the income bracket for some Social Security-priced shrimp. It would help him better understand what is happening to the people here. I also thought about the other CEOs who had been in the news — from coal companies to auto- makers, from Wall Street banks to financial institutions.

“You know what?” I said to my husband. “Free enterprise isn’t free.” He nodded. We looked out at the indigo blue water, capped with white waves, where we had seen several dolphins swim by earlier in the day.

We talked about the growing cost of the BP oil spill — the cost to families who lost loved ones, the cost to small businesses who lost livelihoods, the cost to birds, marine animals and plant life. Then there was the incalculable cost to the environment as the Loop Current threatens to take the oil spill into the Caribbean, around the Florida Keys, to merge with the Gulf Stream and move up the southern Atlantic coast.

That’s lesson No. 2: The sea does not reward those who are too greedy.

On the last morning, we rented a canoe, ironically, from the Scallop Cove BP, expert outfitters and a local landmark on Cape San Blas near the St. Joe Peninsula State Park, one of the nation’s top-ranked beaches.

Hoping to see some wildlife, we paddled stealthily into St. Joseph’s Bay, a rich salt-water system that covers 73,000 acres. From a distance, the bay appeared a deep, mysterious green, but up close, the water was clear as glass.

We were not disappointed. We saw not one, but two, large sea turtles swimming in the sandy areas around the grass beds. Upon entering a small slough to return our canoe, a huge heron flew over our heads, landed in a marsh and stalked a meal. Then, unexpectedly, we met a 3- or 4-foot shark coming out of the slough, its triangular silver fin gliding effortlessly past our bow, unaware of its simple elegance.

Sharks, the scientists say, are true survivors, older than dinosaurs. But we wondered — would this one make it through an oil spill? What about the turtles, the herons, the dolphins and the pelicans that we had seen? And the families who live along the coast and the businesses they support? The tourists, the travelers, the snow birds — would they come back? Unfortunately, we do not imagine that our questions have many quick and easy answers.

For example, much has been made of the fact that the broken BP well, Deepwater Horizon, is more than 5,000 feet deep, making it difficult to plug the leak. Yet a similar oil spill in 1979 by Pemex, the national oil company of Mexico, in the Bay of Campeche, lasted nine months. It was in 150 feet of water. There are many, many oil rigs off the Gulf Coast in shallow water.

That’s lesson No. 3: The sea does not reward those who are too impatient.

We have booked the Buena Vista Motel for another weekend — in August, during the scallop season in St. Joseph’s Bay. As the oil leak continues to threaten the Gulf Coast on into summer, a friend of mine thinks we are crazy to plan on returning.

We are not naive. We know that restoring the Gulf will require much more than a weekend visit from a pair of middle-aged beach lovers and wildlife watchers. But we don’t ever want to take the Gulf of Mexico — and the people who live there — for granted. Besides, there’s a small shark that we need to check on.

Jennifer L. Greer teaches academic writing at UAB. E-mail:


One Comment

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  1. Anita Grove / Jul 8 2010 10:34 AM

    I love your article! Thank you being so eloquent and open minded. Anita

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