Losing Ground & Gaining Perspective

04.23.2019 | In Faith, People
By The Rev. Fred Devall, St. Martin’s Episcopal Church Metairie

Flying over the Mississippi River Delta brought back a flood of family stories. My grandfather spent some of his childhood living on a houseboat near Port Eads. His father was a civil engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Both men helped build the levees that I hope will soon host the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion. Many hunting and fishing stories, theirs and mine, surfaced. 

As we flew down the river on the east bank, we could see the Caernarvon Freshwater Diversion. In a very good way, it stood out. It was green and vibrant in a way most of the surrounding marshes and swamps were not. 

Further down we went, and we could see the chocolate waters of the high river as they came through the Mardi Gras Pass, over the natural levee and through the cuts near Fort St. Philip. On one side of the plane – a dynamic system with greens and browns and a vibrancy sorely lacking on the other side. 

That other side was the west bank of the river that forms the east bank of the Barataria Basin. Not only does it lack intentional or unintentional diversions, its man-made levee goes much further than the east bank, meaning the annual river rises bring no benefit to the starving wetlands. 

Having fished both sides of the river most of my life, I knew the land was drastically changed, especially around Empire. What used to be a beautiful patchwork of wetlands was now open water. Further along on our flight home, we could see Lafitte. There was very little separation between that town and big water, but before I could even process that, we were looking at the Greater New Orleans area. My grandfather’s last project before retiring from the Corps was the French Quarter floodwall. I wondered how much it could withstand should a hurricane come up the mouth of the river – everyone’s worst fear. When they made their calculations, were they banking on wetlands that are now diminished to slow a storm surge?

As a child, the Gulf seemed very far away. That bird’s-eye view really gave me different perspective. Some of the surprise is the natural change of perspective that comes from growing up.Things are closer together than we realized. That’s normal. What’s not normal is the lost land that has brought the Gulf much closer than most of us would like to admit.

To do nothing is to abdicate the future of generations who would succeed us. Flying up in the air reveals that we don’t have as much time as we thought

Thankfully, some folks are calling us out of our denial, calling us to act while we still can. 

 The Coastal Master Plan is the best way forward. It seems to be the best science for the best price. All of us will have to pay; some through taxes and others through changes in the ways we live and work, but it’s worth it. To do nothing is to abdicate the future of generations who would succeed us. Flying up in the air reveals that we don’t have as much time as we thought. All those places and names on the maps, the memories, and the adventures are connected through the lives of real people. I hope my descendants will have the privilege of recalling their own coastal memories when they fly over these marshes in future decades.

If your church, synagogue, mosque or temple would like to schedule a field trip, presentation or volunteer day, please contact Helen Rose Patterson via email at PattersonH@nwf.org.