Beginning our trip in Grand Isle to relax, I was in awe of how much the community and state is influenced by the rivers and ocean. Growing up in Southern California, I appreciated the ocean and enjoyed surfing the west coast. Yet, our coast is vastly different than down here in Grand Isle, Louisiana. We read The Awakening by Kate Chopin, witnessing Edna’s transformation to being more aware of her own reality. The environment transformed her into becoming more introspective and she eventually committed suicide by swimming until she could not muster a return. Water defines life down here in more ways than I could have known in California.
We all know water is life sustaining. All life on Earth originated in the oceans and water continues to provide for all species. It drives the markets of the world with shipping containers and moderates the global biosystem. Water seems more essential to any other place I have been to yet threatens the state more than anything else.
The ocean and rivers drive the economy here. Picturesque, rusty trawlers slowly glide along pulling up whatever they are hunting for with massive nets. Restaurants and properties drive up in price with a water front view. Our little joy of a town spikes every summer by tens of thousands because people want to be on the coast. At night, the ocean twinkles with the lights of boats.
The ocean is open air. The ocean is freedom from our thoughts and hustle of the city. I felt the first few days here spent reading was the perfect escape from the bustling city of Los Angeles.
The sea also gives energy, for Edna “a feeling of exultation overtook her, as if some power of significant import had been given her to control the working of her body and soul. She grew daring and reckless, overestimating her strength” and finding out she can survive in the water. The first part of this line is repeated twice in the novel and it rather speaks to the power of the sea.
Yet, beyond this rejuvenating and economy driving water system is danger. Hurricanes are happening at a greater rate at a higher level of extremity. I met someone on the beach yesterday, from New York, who explained how since Hurricane Katrina’s devastation, the majority of people living in southern Louisiana left and that most of the people I will see in New Orleans are immigrants from other nations and northern states. A hurricane obliterated a nearby island where characters and Chopin attended church, losing our opportunity to bookpack in that very church. A danger settlers had to deal with is the bodies of water acting as breeding grounds for mosquitoes. I have had over a dozen bits in my few days here and I cannot envision being here when Malaria and yellow fever were running rampant.
There is a running battle against the environment as the water creeps its way in. It comes over land, infiltrates the air, and rises underneath our foundations to bring the state downwards. The very air is constantly corroding cars and buildings, giving the city the rustic look people come for while bringing down the walls. As we drove down to Grand Isle, along raised highways, I could see homes several hundred feet away from the road halfway submerged, showing how far the water has encroached on the coast.
Another danger is us as humans. The Deepwater horizon oil spill led to Grand Isle suffering for nearly a decade. Despite the water system supporting Louisiana so much, I saw more trash than most beaches in California coming onto the beach. The Awakening made me consider the life this place gives and the life it takes. We need to take more care of our water as it is the very force driving our weather, economy, and healing.