danniewriter

Crisis Capitalization

My new home state of Mississippi has really taken it on the chin this year. Parts of the Delta began flooding in February and still are underwater. To attempt to alleviate one catastrophic event, floodwaters from the Mississippi River have been released into the Gulf, creating another catastrophe. Dolphins and turtles have died, and the men and women who harvest oysters, shrimp and other delicacies from the deep have almost nothing to show for their labors because of the freshwater/floodwater contamination.

The continued release from the Bonnet Carré spillway has made the seasonal “dead zone” of oxygen-starved saltwater one for the record books, precipitating an algae bloom that now has closed many, but not all, beaches to swimming and water sports just in time for the Independence Day holidays.

There’s no sugar-coating the facts: the situation for farmers, fishers, plants and virtually all other forms of flora and fauna is decidedly bleak. Nevertheless, Mississippians on the Gulf have not thrown in the towel for the summer tourism season. In the process, they have provided an excellent lesson in “Don’t Panic PR.”

Milton Segarra, CEO of Coastal Mississippi, the regional tourism bureau, set just the right tone of concern and optimism along with a dash of “algae blooms happen all the time. We’ve got this.”

“We are a warm weather destination. We are in the Gulf of Mexico; this happens,” Segarra told WLOX-TV. His response wasn’t flippant, however. He emphasized that the closures were necessary to protect the public. The algae causes some nasty symptoms when people come in contact with it.

Now, no one wishes that the flooding, freshwater release and algae bloom had happened, but in a weird way, the challenge actually reinforced Coast Mississippi’s rebranding effort that began earlier this year.

The bureau’s previous name was Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast. “Coast is the place where the water meets the land, but coastal encompasses the beaches, the water and the land beyond,” Segarra said in the rebranding announcement.

The fact is, there is a great deal of beauty and charm in the region. And even if I can’t wade in the Gulf, the joy and peace I get from a beach sunset such as the one above is gift enough.

I hope tourists will take Segarra’s advice, keep their vacation plans unchanged, and explore beyond the beach. I’m sure they won’t be disappointed.

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Foto Phriday

Christmas Pansies

One of the things I love most about living in the U.S. is the vast diversity of geography and climate in our 50 states. Among other things, it guarantees that weather is always an appropriate, informative, entertaining, and reasonably safe conversation to have with strangers.

“You’re from Minnesota? What’s the most snow you’ve ever seen?”

“You live in Louisiana? Is the humidity down there as bad as they say?”

Sometimes there is this tendency, especially on social media, to try to “outdo” uncomfortable weather conditions with someone living in another part of the country.

“Oh, you think 100 degrees is hot? In Phoenix, we consider that mild in June.”

A hearty Dakotan might say: “Wait until you have to function at 30-below … and that’s air temperature, not wind chill. Wind chills are for wimps who want to think they know what real cold is like.”

And so it goes.

As a recent transplant to Mississippi, I find myself hesitant to comment about balmy weather in December, for fear that my friends and family in colder climes will think me insensitive or obnoxious. Having arrived in Gulfport the end of August, I am all too aware that the proverbial shoe will be on the other foot come the dog days of summer that extend into November.

Truthfully, the only thing I’m really prone to gloat about, and it’s not really gloating more than weeping with gratitude, is the price of gasoline down here right now. ($1.82/gallon for Pete’s sake!)

The fact is: I am fascinated by the change in climate, and consider it an integral part of getting to know my new home. So, when I post photos of Christmas pansies, or comment that “here it is a few days before Christmas and the swimming pools down here are still full,” … it’s not meant to rub anyone’s nose in the snow outside his window. Like every time I drive down Beach Boulevard and see the Gulf of Mexico, it’s just a reminder to pinch myself: “Yep, I’m really here.”

Merry Christmas!

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From Magnolia to Mississippi

The song, “Once in a Lifetime,” by Talking Heads has been going through my mind quite often of late, especially the lyric, “You may ask yourself, ‘Well, how did I get here?'”

Never thought I’d find a kindred spirit in an eccentric Scottish rocker, yet here I am.

For reasons frequently murky to even myself, I recently moved from Kentucky to Mississippi. At a very tired 53, I thought that, maybe, I had one more transition in me. Living a landlocked life for virtually all of my existence, I’ve always loved the beach. Not the crowds or the mid-summer heat, but the awareness of the vastness of the world that I seem to experience nowhere else except standing at a point where land disappears underwater.

I get the slightest twinge of fear in those quiet moments, realizing how possible it would be to get lost out there on the water. I don’t feel the same about getting lost in Kentucky’s mountains, forests and hollers–although Lord knows, under the right circumstances, I could pull that off quite nicely with just one or two stupid moves.

In my few short months here, I’ve discovered a few things about Mississippi:

  • Whatever number of Waffle House franchises per capita you think could be considered excessive, double it, and you are getting close to reality.
  • Ditto Sonic.
  • They grow roaches big down here. The palmetto beetles I experienced in Georgia would be flayed into submission immediately by the monsters here.
  • When driving to Mississippi from Kentucky, Alabama becomes the largest state in the lower 48, extending all the way to the Florida Keys.
  • A fried oyster Po’ Boy is food of the gods.

I like the small-town feel of Gulfport. It has fewer than 70,000 residents. Most recently, I lived in Louisville, which is Kentucky’s largest metro, and home to more than 600,000.

I lived in Louisville for several years, and love many, many aspects of that great city. Still, I often felt like a fish out of water, having spent the first years of my life in small-town Appalachia before the family moved to an even-smaller town pretty much smack dab in the middle of the state.

You’ll notice that Magnolia (population 524) is in capital letters, however. (Note: this is a vintage map that incorrectly identifies the LaRue County seat as “Hodgensville.” The correct spelling is “Hodgenville” … It matters.)

The excitement and fun of the transition from Magnolia to Mississippi (the latter being the Magnolia State, by the way) is struggling to outweigh some fairly epic disasters regarding my new home. A dear friend tells me the house was suffering and I’m here to rescue it. An appealing thought, but Bruce Wayne, I ain’t.

My takeaway on the entire experience is that spontaneity often comes at a very high price, literally. Were I looking for a smooth transition to assure me of the wisdom of my decision, I’d be as lost as I sometimes feel when I look at the Gulf.

It is what it is.

I’m here. Loving my gorgeous 300-year-old live oak in the back yard, meeting new people, and after living in gas-gouging Louisville for more than a decade, reveling in $1.95/gallon unleaded.

How did I get here?

I’m trying to tell myself that answering that question isn’t really all that important. The bigger question is, “What now?”

Hell if I know. Stay tuned.

The cardinal is the state bird of Kentucky.

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