The Loafers and the Fishes

By the time the calendar turns to August, I am over summer. Over it.

Summer is fun, summer is freedom, but summer is way too long. As an introvert, I go crazy after two months of family togetherness.

Crazy is how I was feeling the week before school started. Since Phil found a great travel deal, we took a quick weekend trip to the gulf coast of Florida, one last hurrah before school. We soon discovered why the hotel and airfare were such a great deal: the red tide, a toxic algae bloom in the ocean.

Arriving in Florida in the afternoon, we put on swimsuits, slathered on SPF, and headed out for the beach, only to find the beach closed. The hotel worker explained that the red tide had left hundreds of dead fish on the beach, and it can cause respiratory problems.

“Maybe tomorrow,” he said, giving us Midwesterners hope for a beach day.

However, the red tide is persistent. Although we didn’t get our day in the ocean, we were happy at the hotel pool. And we took the opportunity to walk on the beach, at least.

The moment I left my sandals behind on a shallow sand dune I felt much closer to sanity. The sun’s rays beat down on our shoulders and on the decaying fish scattered on the beach. Still, the beach is my happy place.

There were very few people on the sand and none in the water. We ignored the smell of decay and searched for cool shells, stepping around bloated fish. I couldn’t help but feel sad for all the dead sea creatures as we quietly loafed among the fishes.

Waiting for the flight home, I wanted to learn about what causes the red tide. Some sources claim it’s a normal, natural occurrence, documented on the gulf coast every year for the past century and a half – but this year just happened to be worse than usual. An opinion piece by Erin Brockovich, the environmental activist, placed the blame on pollution.

I don’t purport to be an expert on the environment; a month ago I thought red tide was something related to Alabama football. Walking along the beach that day, I sensed the mess signified not only destruction of a marine habitat but desecration of God’s green earth. The fault likely lies with some combination of nature and culture.

Whatever the reason for the devastation, seeing it compelled me to do something in our little household to help the environment. We recycle, we try not to waste energy, we walk or bike whenever possible, we use stainless steel straws – efforts that seem tiny in proportion to threats to our environment. Anyway, the step I took was to use cloth napkins instead of paper in our house. Honestly, it seems like such a piddling thing.

As we walked the beach that day, sidestepping dead fish, I remembered the story of the loaves and fishes, when Jesus used just a couple loaves of bread and fish to feed thousands of people. This is the kind of miracle I hope for: that my puny efforts – and the efforts of countless others who care – would be multiplied many times over.

sarasota dead fish

Thanks for reading! If you like, find me on Facebook. -Em