by Elsa Jeanne McVea
Events and Membership Manager
When asked to write a blog post introducing myself as a new member of the Mobile Baykeeper team, I was stumped. But as I began to think about water and my relationship with it, I quickly realized that my favorite memories revolve around water, from the Land of 10,000 Lakes all the way to the barrier islands off the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and many places in between.
From the time I was in elementary school, my sister and I had the fortune of trading the sweltering heat and endless bustle of Dallas, Texas for cool, dreamy summers on Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota with our beloved grandparents. It was my grandfather who planted in us a love of the outdoors.
I remember waking at sunrise to the sound of Revelry as my grandfather stood stoically in the doorway playing his old harmonica. The best time to catch fish was at sunrise! After grudgingly dragging ourselves out of bed and into life jackets (most certainly the same life jackets my mother and her brothers had worn 30 years prior), we’d carefully climb into the canoe. Grandad would begin methodically rowing toward Big Island, where we would spend the next few hours quietly floating over the thick, ominous weeds and catching sunfish with ancient bamboo fishing poles and earthworms we had dug up from behind the garage. When we felt like we’d caught all we could eat, we’d head home to clean the fish and fry them for breakfast.
My sister and I spent afternoons swimming in front of my grandparents’ house for hours on end, only stopping for an ice-cold Coke and a handful of Hershey kisses, or “quick energy” as my grandmother referred to them. When the day was done and we were tucked into bed, we drifted off to sleep listening through the open windows to the soothing sound of the water gently lapping against the shoreline.
Occasionally, we would head North to Lake Superior for a few days. We’d hike through the Northern Minnesota woods and along the rocky coastline, admiring the crystal-clear water and marveling at stories of my grandfather drinking from the lake with his bare hands before our time. While no longer safe to drink, it was still so pure compared to other bodies of water – like the mighty Mississippi River from whose banks we would hunt for fossils and skip rocks, keeping a safe distance from the heavily polluted water.
Year after year, I found myself sitting alone at the end of my grandparents’ wooden dock on my last evening in Minnesota, silently taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the lake one last time before heading home to Dallas to start another school year. I truly loved the water and longed to be close to it.
Years later I would marry a Gulf Coast boy, and we would make our home on this beautiful Coast where we get to enjoy being near the water all year long. My daughters have been playing on the banks of Petit Bois Island since before they could walk. They have encountered dolphins, sting rays, crabs, pelicans and numerous other marine wildlife up close and in their natural habitats. They’ve learned to paddle a kayak and stand on a paddle board. They’ve enjoyed peaceful boat rides up the Pascagoula River, learning to recognize the various bird species native to the area and spotting an occasional alligator.
The truth is, I hadn’t thought much about clean water until recently. I took it for granted. I wasn’t fully aware of the many threats and challenges faced by our waterways. As I learned about Mobile Baykeeper, I became more and more intrigued. It wasn’t long before I knew that I wanted to be a part of this team of smart, dedicated individuals working toward the common goal of clean water, clean air and healthy communities. I am incredibly thankful to be doing a job I love, planning events and connecting with people, that supports such a meaningful purpose… one that ensures my family will be able to safely enjoy this incredible natural resource and all that it has to offer for years and generations to come.
Whether you consider yourself an environmentalist or not, Mobile Baykeeper’s mission is one we can, and should, all get behind. Clean water is critical to our way of life, and it affects every last one of us. I encourage you to educate yourself, find ways to engage in our work, and consider becoming a member of Mobile Baykeeper.