I’m in love. In love with the Ocean. With the sugar white beaches. With the Laughing Gulls, the Great Herons, and the seriously laid-back Brown Pelicans. But I have found a new love. The Gulf Islands National Seashore, specifically, the Perdido Key Area at Johnson’sBeach. Oh yup. The National Seashore has been there for many, many years. I was born in Pensacola and grew up on the beach so this is nothing new to me. But there has been this slow build-up of experience – of walking the beach for miles to sort out the junk in my head. Of splashing with the fish and singing with the gulls. I’ve had time to wear this beach like a favorite pair of jeans or cotton shirt and they’re now worn and comfortable. It’s been said that anything really worth having and worth falling in love with, takes time. So true. My love runs deep like the Ocean.
Many folks understand this love of the water. But what may surprise some is that, for me, this love extends to the people who sweat and toll to keep this park in working order. My Father used to ask me why I would pay to go to the Gulf Islands National Seashore when there was free public beach access all around. I answered simply, because I felt safe. And I do feel safe, but the real answer is more complicated than that. The work that the Rangers, volunteers, and behind-the-scenes workers do is just amazing and inspiring. Cleaning beaches and bathrooms; repairing equipment, signs, buildings, and fences; answering questions from the curious and sometimes ignorant public; building sites and protecting baby turtles and seabirds; keeping law and order; re-introducing native flora; re-building the dunes; keeping the public safe and aware of hazards; and even helping a woman jump a dead battery on her jeep (that would be me) – that is the duty these people face every day they work here. And it’s a hot, sweaty, and often thankless job. One that must sometimes be extremely trying as one storm after another rolls across the island, washing away their hard work, knowing tomorrow they will have to start all over again. How heart-breaking that must be. As a volunteer myself at the Maidu Museum andHistoric Site in Roseville, CA, I understand from first-hand experience how many hours, dedication, and passion goes into protecting and maintaining a site.
Just recently, as the park hunkered down for the onslaught of Hurricane Isaac, I spoke with one of the Rangers there. He, like everyone I’ve spoken with there, was about as nice a person as you could ever hope to meet. He was an easy-going, happy, and passionate person who believed in what he was doing. We spoke for a few minutes. As I started to drive away I told him, “Thank you for everything you do.” His face beamed with a warm smile and replied, “Thank you! You made my day!” Honestly given, honestly received.
So here’s a hearty and very special shout out to all those who work at Gulf Islands National Seashore, both paid and volunteer. You are talented, honest, hard-working people who manage a difficult but worthy endeavor. And no matter how rough the job gets, you do it with a smile. Thank you.