Hold on, Nellie. Here we go. I’ve been delaying this topic, because once I get started, it’s hard for me to stop.
Last week, a lady stopped by my workplace with some pamphlets about environmental issues. That’s cool. I was born a tree hugger and a mud lover. But when I started reading the part about how small commercial fishermen are overfishing the oceans, my head almost blew off.
Bless her heart. She was a sweet, well intentioned lady from the middle of Ohio. So I was nice to her. She just needed a little education from the other side.
Yes, overfishing happens. But not in all places and not by the people I know. The commercial fishermen I know love the land and the water better than anyone else you’ll ever meet. They are part of the landscape. They have a vested interest in it. It’s their culture and their family heritage to pass down to their children.
And they’re not stupid enough to defecate in their own livelihood.
The problem, my friends, is greed. And whenever there’s greed, I smell a politician right around the corner. Often, it’s on a local level. Both parties are guilty as charged. And the gavel comes down.
The story I’m posting today is happening right now. It’s certainly not a new story. This story is regional to my beloved Southern Outer Banks. But it is happening all over the world, wherever air conditioners are sold.
I have nothing against someone who wants to sell their land to someone else who wants to buy it. Freedom rocks. And it’s not about class warfare or hating rich folks. Wouldn’t it be sweet to never have to worry about money ever again?
I do, however, take big issue with low down, dirty, stinking, rotten bastards who roll over other human beings to get more green in their own pockets.
Thankfully, there’s a lot of beauty left. For now. And a lot of fishermen and women back home are quietly rolling up their sleeves and doing great things to help preserve the beauty of the marsh, the miles of deserted beaches, the wild horses, the ancient maritime forests…and the people.
This story was originally in Clapboard House a few months ago.
by Julie Buffaloe-Yoder
Old man Willis sits in a wooden chair on the front porch of his shack next to the salt sweet shore. His brown-red hands are on his knees. The tongues of his work boots stick out. He does not move a muscle. He used to see bobcats and shy black bears rustle through the tangle of live oaks next to the shore. There was a time when he enjoyed watching the wood ducks fly past his front porch. Now he listens for the sound of the silver helicopters that circle overhead. He does not look up but can hear them come closer. A mosquito lands on his eyebrow and bites hell out of him. He will not move to swat it away.
A new group of real estate developers smell gold in the North Carolina marsh mud. Every day, they circle overhead. Today, they have a tax appraiser and a politician with them. Hot damn! This could mean a sweet retirement. If only it didn’t have to be so hard. If only these frigging marsh billies weren’t so stubborn. They raise hell about their maritime culture and heritage, yet they scrape and sweat with no retirement, no pensions, nothing but a bunch of woods and little boats on the shore to leave the next generation.
The men in the helicopter make jokes about their wives. But they love their families, too. They’re southern men, damnit. Providing for their families and doing the best they can to pay all the electronic bills the twenty-first century brings their way. They smile as they see the aerial view, hues of purple and blue, the stretchmarks of canals on the fertile, black earth. They appreciate the beauty as much as the next man, as long as it’s air conditioned.
The helicopter circles tighter. They see the emerald sparkle of parcels A through M. They’re men of vision, and they can envision a freaking goldmine. An upscale community with its own mall, a restaurant with a view of the bay, wild horses grazing in the distance. Horses crap a lot, don’t they? Build a fence. Tourists love to see wild horses, but they don’t want to step in piles or hit one if it dashes across the parking lot.
They circle even tighter, and they see Lots 3 through 23. Get rid of those oaks and cypress. All that old swamp shit is too spooky nowadays. Fill it all in. If they fill it in, it’s not a wetland, is it? They can get the permit. They’ll grow sweet spring crops of men in pink shirts playing golf, a marina for yachts. How about a gentlemen’s club? A spa for the ladies. Maybe they can plant a few banana trees. Find out if they grow here-why the hell not?
They circle closer and there’s the old man’s life: his paint-peeling shack, Sunday clothes on a line, a yard full of nets hanging, stiff and sun dry, the lap of the tide on the side of a shrimp boat, stacks of carving wood next to a shed, at least two hundred rusty crab pots, some old hip boots, three long-eared hounds, canvas gloves, buckets, knives, and vines wrapping around an anchor by the old front porch. In the backyard, there’s a creaky wooden building with a blue crab painted on the side. The crab’s faded gray and hanging on for dear life. There’s a hand lettered sign: Willis and Son Crab House, 1863.
No need to worry. Their crew can remove all that crap in a day.
They land in a whir of wind, and there sits old man Willis on his porch, looking like Abraham Lincoln in a camouflage cap. He does not move a muscle. The chopper spins a wind that sends loose shingles, boots and boards flying across the yard. Bottles roll across the porch, windows rattle, the porch swing rocks.
Even when a shingle hits old man Willis on the cheek, he does not flinch. He’s lived through seventy-eight years of hurricanes much stronger than this piss-ant little breeze. Old man Willis will never sell. For love nor money, he will not budge. He will not blink. He will not speak to these bastards.
That’s okay. They can wait a while. They slap the old codger on his shoulder and take their bird back up to circle some more. Because they know. The real estate bubble hasn’t burst in this part of the country yet. These waters will be closed to clamming next season due to storm drain runoff. Just wait ‘til the old man gets the next waterfront tax assessment on his little crap shack.
And there’s a moratorium on commercial fishing licenses.
Old man Willis has a son who’s pushing forty, who works double shifts in maintenance at a condominium complex a one-hour commute one way. Old man Willis’ son comes home in debt on payday, feeling like a red-eyed duck swimming upcurrent in a gale.
Every night, when he opens his door, there are four little ones peeping up at him, their mouths wide open.