Thirty-three years ago, I took a photograph for the Harvard University Gazette’s June 16 Commencement Day issue. The caption later entered into the Historical Calendar by Marvin Hightower reads: “Photograph of Henri Boulet rowing toward le bon changement [the good change] in Boston Harbor on June 15 with home-caught shrimp and homemade crawfish bisque [presumably shipped separately] to celebrate sister Ruth’s graduation. On deck are parents Jon and Jimmy Boulet, who sailed their boat from Larose, Louisiana, with a crew of eight.”
Larose is beyond the end of Highway 55, straight south of Jackson, Mississippi, southwest of New Orleans and southeast of Lafayette, out into the Gulf of Mexico. Part of Lafourche Parish, in the 2000 census, pre-Hurricane Katrina, Larose had, a population of 7,306, and an elevation of seven feet. Cutting through Larose, Bayou Lafourche intersects the Gulf Intracostal Waterway.
By Ruth’s 30th Reunion in 2007, their world had changed drastically, and not in the bon direction encouraged by the family vessel’s optimistic name. Hurricane Katrina devastated the area in 2005, and today, the region faces a parlous future because of the as-yet-unchecked British Petroleum oil spill.
I recently spent several days on Mackinac Island, in the clear, cold waters of Lake Huron, where I watched on TV CNN’s Anderson Cooper interviewing residents along the polluted gulf shores. However huge the Deepwater Horizon disaster is, it can seem distant and unrelated in an environment so dramatically different, viewed, say, from the porch of the magnificent Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.
One’s involvement, however, was recalled sharply a ferry ride away on St. Ignace at the Museum of Ojibwa Culture. Listening to native speaker Tony Grondin in the museum’s Long House reminded me of the Native American view: As the sun, moon, and earth are circles, so we, too, are a circle, and everything that is, is alive, and everything has a place on the circle.
The juxtaposition of the Gulf, the clear North waters, and the Ojibwa suddenly brought to mind that long-ago moment in Boston Harbor: the joyous gathering aboard le bon changement, together with the understanding that folks down on the Gulf are families, friends—people—celebrating birthdays and graduations, connected to the rest of us. Their unique occupation and the fragile environment they harvest are not replaceable. Those human lives are not interchangeable.
As members of the circle, we all will share the future in ways we do not yet begin to comprehend.