This article appeared in the Standard-Times of New Bedford, Massachusetts, on 5/1/03
Page A16, Opinion; Copyright 2003 by Beth David

Tears flow as oil stains West Island

No. 6 oil. I never knew a thing about it, and I wish I still did not.

All along the shoreline on this sunny day, you could hear people saying, "It breaks your heart," or "I just want to cry."

All I can think is: My poor West Island. My little patch of paradise.

Forever smeared.

Investigations will proceed. Fines will probably be paid. I will undoubtedly take my turn at blaming this country's dependence on the gooey, sticky, noxious stuff, and the people who let it spill.

But not yet. Right now I simply want to cry.

"I beat you to it," one man told me. "I've been crying all morning."

"I've been crying since yesterday morning," a woman told me. Then she let her anger spew forth without hesitation or censorship.

On the beach along Balsam Street in Fairhaven, I watched yellow-clad strangers scoop up oily seaweed, put it in plastic bags and haul it away to poison some other place.

Many people walked the beach today, some angry, some sad. All of us knowing that the fines paid or the charges brought will not remove the gobs of goo from our little patch of paradise.

No fine can bring back the fatally poisoned birds. Money cannot return these beaches to their oil-free states. Blame cannot turn back time.

Each high tide will dump more oil, even as the helicopters, TV trucks and reporters swarm to document the damage.

A little spot of black adorns my living room carpet now, testimony to my joining the swarm.

Years from now, long after the cleanup crews have gone home, someone's future grandchild will step in black goo and track it into the house. And the tears and anger will painfully reawaken.

From the Town Beach, I could see the evil barge responsible for spewing 14,700 gallons of No. 6 oil into Buzzards Bay. The southwest wind helped move the goo to a defenseless West Island.

And on this little patch of paradise, the experts use the dismally low-tech method of scooping up the goo with shovels or gloved hands. But don't bother to volunteer just yet. My well-placed sources say that people must go through proper channels to be allowed to scoop up goo, put it in a plastic bag and throw it in a truck that will haul it away to poison some other place.

The blame will soon focus. Fines will probably be paid.

But the largest fine has already been paid by the birds and shellfish from all the little patches of paradise that make up this place we call SouthCoast Massachusetts. Not just on my precious West Island. And not just for today.

"It breaks your heart," a voice keeps repeating. The voice belongs to me.


Beth David is a freelance writer living in Fairhaven.