Monday, July 23, 2012

There comes a time

Politics are not the purview of this blog. There are so many voices, far more educated, erudite and articulate, better informed, better suited and in short, better qualified to discuss politics and political issues. But as a very clear-minded person said today, and will say again publicly this evening, There comes a time when doing the right thing is more important than convenience. Eat Here Eatery generally concerns itself with people and food, recipes and gardens, flowers and birds. But, you know, there comes a time.

There comes a time when we realize that some things we've done aren't right. They may have been fun; they may have been thoughtless; they may have been done in youthful exuberance and innocent ignorance. In the days of Mad Men, our pregnant mothers and grandmothers sat chattering together around bridge or cocktail or picnic tables, martini in one hand, cigarette in the other. Many of our parents and their generation had loud and brightly lit parties on beaches til all hours; some even harvested sea turtle eggs for the richest, most delicious cakes any of them remember tasting. My girlhood was punctuated with family outings during which we rode dune buggies or other four-wheel drive vehicles through the high dunes of the beaches in northeastern Florida, heedless of nesting birds or native plantlife, which were raising chicks or holding the dune lines together. We don't do any of those things anymore, because we KNOW BETTER NOW. We don't go whaling. We don't hunt to extinction species of birds because we value certain feathers for our hats. We don't shoot buffalo in their thousands, simply because we see them standing placidly alongside our railroads. (Well, maybe there are variations on this theme - rhino horn, anyone? - but we'll leave those for another day.) We don't do these things anymore, because we've matured as a species, ourselves, and because we've begun to see ourselves in the holistic context of our small blue planet, and we simply KNOW BETTER.

And so it is with driving on the beaches on land adjacent to the Fort Matanzas National Monument and the southern portion of the GTM Research Reserve. Tonight and tomorrow night, there will be public meetings in discussion of the National Monument's draft management plan. The most divisive issue under discussion is likely to be that of Driving on the Beach. There's a very vocal group who advocate for this, despite the dangers it poses to one of the most pristine, delicate ecosystems in our area, which will absolutely suffer negative impacts should the practice be continued. Both meetings begin at 6 pm and take place at Lohman Auditorium at the Whitney Labs in Marineland. Many false claims have been made in the past, and those same claims are likely to be made tonight and tomorrow night. Here are the facts:

There are already miles of beach with safe driving access and even ADA-compliant ramps in our county.

There are ADA-compliant ramps to access the beaches adjacent to the parking lots at the National Park.

There is no need to drive on all beaches to continue access for fishing, boating, walking the dog, playing with the kids, or simply sitting quietly in profound admiration for the rich marine and estuarine heritage with which we're blessed.

There comes a time when we put away childish things. And here we are again, outside the purview of this blog, quoting Biblical references. But this is exactly the heart of my view. I believe that we are learning to be good stewards of what we have. Someone said to me, of the riches of northeastern Florida, "We live in paradise", and it may very well be true. But I recall being young and reckless and thoughtless about what my children might see of this paradise; I didn't HAVE children; it didn't matter so much to me when I was twenty. When you put away childish things, you're not putting away fun. You're not putting the values of your family or your heritage. You're not putting away The Way We Used to Do Things. You're simply stepping into mature and responsible stewardship of your riches, whatever form they may take.

As a species, as a collective of sentient beings living on the Earth, we have - mostly - put away hunting white birds for their feathers. We have put away - or have tried to put away - hatred of people simply because they're different. We have put away senseless slaughter of buffalo, senseless disregard for the habits of nesting sea turtles, senseless destruction of delicate habitats. We should simply put away the notion of driving our cars on our most precious beaches. We should recognize that it was fun when we didn't know any better, that many of us will always treasure memories of whistling down the beach in an old Scout or pickup truck, that there are shoeboxes in all our closets filled with snapshots marked "Aug 58" or "June 61".

But as Chris Rich put it so beautifully today, There comes a time. We don't need to drive on these precious beaches anymore. Today is that time.

Editorial note: Chris Rich is the President of the Friends of the GTM Reserve. In the interest of full disclosure, I'm honored to serve on that board with her, and to serve with all the Friends and volunteers whose mission it is to educate, support research and perhaps most critically of all, ensure stewardship of this breathtaking resource.