Sunday, March 29, 2009

Bahia del Espiritu Santo

It must have been a beautiful sight, something that none will ever see, as it was, when the first Spanish explorers entered Mobile Bay. Of all the sights beheld by early explorers, this one must have been a real jewel. They called it the Bay of the Holy Spirit. The name appears on the earliest maps of the New World.

Like all things touched by the hands of civilized man, the bay has gone the way of civilization. Today it is only a pale reflection of what it was before Hernando de Soto sailed into the bay in 1540 dealing destruction and death to the native populations that resided here.

I view the bay through different eyes than those who only visit here, or who have moved here to retire, or those who really don’t care one way or another. I must admit that I’ve not always seen this way. My vision is changing. The more I read. The more I know. The more I look and observe. Conversatio Morum.

I’ve been around it long enough to have fifty-year memories. A half century, in the greater scheme of time, really isn’t much more than a breath. Some places, like mountains, change little in that breath of time. Other places, like the bay, change a lot. A lot for the worse in the case of this bay.

When I was a kid, Bahia del Espiritu Santo was a prime and productive fishery. On this side of the bay, places like Fly Creek, Weeks Bay, and Bon Secour were home to hundreds of small fishing boats. Small shrimp boats. Small oyster boats. Small mullet boats. Crabbers. A lot, if not most, of them hand built from cypress planks by their careful owners. The same is true for the other side of the bay.

The bay waters were beautiful and clear back then. Even as late as when I was a teenager I could wade belly button deep in the bay and still count the toes on my feet. Not so these days. The water is always cloudy. Murky.

Some people blame the demise of the fishery on all those small boats, on the people that eeked out a slight living in the heat and cold of Mobile Bay summers and winters.

Me? I see the demise of the bay coinciding with all the progress upstream and surrounding it. Paper mills and chemical plants. Clear cutting and development. Modern agricultural practices and sewage spills. Everything in Alabama flows to Mobile Bay via creeks that feed the rivers that empty into the bay. Not to mention the multiplied numbers of cargo ships entering and leaving the Port of Mobile daily. Daily churning the muddy channel like huge egg beaters.

It’s hard to see these things. I’m not surprised by them though. Pay day. It’s inevitable. Some day. Sometimes we pay for our sins in an instant. Sometimes it’s a cumulative thing played out over time.