Oil and the Human Soul



A Million Fragile Bones, by Connie May Fowler

More and more, it seems, there are two paths humanity can take as we wend our way through our evolutionary steps and missteps. One is to retire into enclaves, in which we’ll have our technology to filter our water, to purify our air, to grow our food, and treat our waste while the world about us succumbs to some unrecognizable dystopian state. The other is to exercise our technological wizardry to restore our natural environment’s processes so we can take our place once more in that natural state of things. Ms. Fowler gives us in A Million Fragile Bones her personal experience of that nexus.

The author lived in a shack (her word) on a sandbar at the Gulf of Mexico’s edge, was tacitly welcomed into the many animal clans there, drew much of her subsistence from the Gulf, and eventually married, the couple living on the edge of civilization. I suspect Ms. Fowler will roll her eyes at that phrase, because in her telling she and husband Bill hewed out a most civilized life there, constructing a new nature religion as their idyllic days and months passed.

Then it happened. On 20 April 2010 an offshore drilling rig owned by Transocean produced a geyser of seawater, followed by more of mud and methane gas. The methane quickly produced multiple explosions killing eleven personnel. To go into great detail about BP’s and Halliburton’s role here is somewhat irrelevant, for this is Ms. Fowler’s story of the effects of what eventually proved to be some million gallons of crude a day spewing into the Gulf water, the damage to sea life, to plant and animal life on the Gulf shores, and quickly to the Gulf economy and its residents. The author, rightly horrified by this and by BP’s and the state and federal governments’ stonewalling of information and resolution to the “spill,” wrote letters, badgered executives, and organized residents – all to no avail.

Finally the spill was capped on 15 July, then sealed via relief wells and declared “effectively dead’ on 19 September of that year. BP lost an uncapped damage suit that landed in the U.S. Supreme Court. But in human and environmental terms, the damage to the Gulf and life there was immeasurable. In the author’s frankly open telling, the psychological effect on her and her husband devastated. Eventually they returned to a previous home base in St. Augustine.

There the tale ends for the most part, but the couple, determined to return to a similarly natural life elsewhere settled in coastal Mexico. Their story is one of human resilience in the face of one of the worst technological disasters in human history. Meanwhile oil exploration in the world’s coastal waters continues, and the Keystone XL Pipeline continues its way southward through sacred Native American lands, potentially endangering the Ogallala aquifer, which services much of the central U.S.



So was it worthwhile for Ms. Fowler to write this particular memoir?


Art rarely serves the moment. It’s often said that artistic effort, stimulated by similar human controversy, is meant to serve only the depths of the human soul. If this is true, then, its tandem value is in changing that human soul in ways more sensitive to the world it chooses to express itself within.

My rating: 19 of 20 stars


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