Grand Isle, La.—From a sand levee on this barrier island, about two dozen people lined up facing the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday morning. They held hands, and bowed their heads to pray…
"…for the lives that were lost, the wildlife that is suffering and a way of life in danger."
The ceremony was an effort to look ahead, beyond the current state of crisis and uncertainty.
"We need something positive. There's just too much negativity around this oil spill," said Bobbi Harrison, who organized the prayer session through friends and family here, and through a Facebook page, Cajuns for our Coast. Harrison, who grew up on this seven-mile long strip of sand and graduated from Grand Isle High School, says she is also raising money to buy school supplies for kids in the community whose families are struggling because of the fishing closures, and tough economy.
After a local lay pastor gave a prayer, a PA system brought to the levee on the back of a pick-up truck broadcast a bell chiming 11 times—once each for the men who died in the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion in April.
Then the group looked out to the ocean, seemingly past the stretch of beach that is off limits except to clean-up workers, and past booms on the water's edge.
Not only are the beaches off limits, but this normally sedate beach town is crawling with temporary clean-up workers from "outside." About 200 yards up the beach from where they stand is an encampment of workers and the tell-tale white tents of the response operation.
The large influx has put a strain on Grand Isle, according to locals. Every motel room is occupied, and a steady stream of trucks navigate the narrow two lane road through town. And locals say there is now theft in a small town where it was unheard of before.
"It's a catastrophe for our community," said Helen Rockenschuh, who retired here with her husband five years ago. "We are bombarded with extra people right now…The community is not the same."
Photo by Kari Huus/msnbc.com
To end the ceremony, participants stepped forward to cast shells and rocks toward the sea — each with a different wish painted on it.
Some spoke to the bigger issues: "We want our lives back," says a pink shell. "We want fishing back," says a rock. Others, to the little things they longed for: "Walking on the beach," "crabs," and "dogs chasing birds on the shore."
The wishes were launched toward the sea. But with a broad cordoned-off strip of beach between the levee and water, the shells and stones landed silently in the sand.