Tags » Fall 2010

 
 
 

Can the Louisiana Coast Be Saved?

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

When her ancestral homeland becomes endangered, an alumna grapples with the meaning of it all.

On a humid evening last June, a crowd of nearly 100 gathered inside a chapel of the Holy Angels Convent in the Upper Ninth Ward of New Orleans, equidistant from the bustling restaurant and music scene of the French Quarter and the Industrial Canal levee breach that devastated the Lower Ninth during Hurricane Katrina. People took their seats quietly, and the bereft tone of the congregation made one wonder if a coffin rather than a digital projector should have been placed at the foot of the altar.

Kerry St. Pé, a local marine biologist who has headed Louisiana’s oil spill response team for 23 years, stooped over a laptop and attempted to break down how the largest offshore oil disaster might alter the place he has devoted his whole life to trying to protect.

Gray haired and slender, St. Pé is accustomed to dealing with disaster. In 2005, his hometown of Port Sulphur in Plaquemines Parish was nearly wiped off the map by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. After surveying Katrina’s damage, he called his brother. “The good news first: remember how we used to have a house on our lot? Now we have three. The bad news is none of them are ours.” Floodwaters had carried his home a quarter mile down the road. As director of the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program, St. Pé now spearheads efforts to restore the imperiled wetlands system directly south of New Orleans, which is experiencing one of the fastest rates of land loss in the world. His genteel Southern demeanor downplays the gravity of his work, but his slow, measured voice hints at his underlying weariness.

As soon as St. Pé finished showing his last slide, the audience at Holy Angels started peppering him with questions about the massive quantities of chemical dispersants that BP was heaping into the Gulf of Mexico. “Why should we entrust our waters to them?” a mother with two kids sitting in the pew beside her asked rhetorically. “Sure the EPA says it’s safe, but what if BP’s dispersants are still wrecking our fisheries 10, 20 years from now?”

Heads nodded in agreement. From activists in paint-stained clothes spending their post-college years rebuilding the city’s housing stock to professionals in their 50s and 60s dressed in crisp work attire, the group challenged and prodded St. Pé in a genial but earnest manner. The urban dwellers, who had come to the grassroots-organized session to learn about the spill without corporate spin, found cathartic solidarity. Despite daily full-page ads in every major newspaper asserting the company’s promise to “make it right” and TV spots featuring former BP CEO Tony Hayward pledging to “stay until the job is done,” community members could not vanquish their dread.

From where we sat, reaching the Deepwater Horizon rig blowout would have involved a two-hour drive by car and 50-mile boat ride across the choppy Gulf. Yet for local residents, it was as if the heavy ribbons of sweet crude were snaking down the city’s tree-lined avenues and blackened pelicans were washing up in neighborhood alleyways. It was not just the fact that staples of the local diet—oysters, shrimp, crabs, trout, and redfish—were in short supply or unavailable that unnerved so many. It was the fresh reminder that the people who call this terraqueous landscape home live on a narrow edge between beauty and tragedy, recovery and ruin. A toxic cocktail of corporate greed, lax government oversight, and fossil-fuel addiction had sent this delicate balance careening to a new disequilibrium.

Framed by a state of permanent catastrophe—between ongoing systemic land loss, destruction from storms such as Katrina, and the recent Deepwater Horizon oil spill—some suggest that Louisiana is the place where the hardest lessons are being manifested on the stewardship of natural resources and the resilience of local communities to fight for their survival. For the past five years, I watched my hometown of New Orleans stitch itself back together after Hurricane Katrina, in the darkest times of which it was not entirely clear whether the city could mend the wounds on its physical landscape and human geography. The deeper I dug into the city’s recovery efforts—from gutting flooded homes with fellow Middlebury students and attending vigorous community rebuilding meetings in Katrina’s wake to spending a year after graduation to help restore homes in the most storm-ravaged neighborhoods—the more it became apparent that the city’s fate would be determined not just by local residents and volunteers from across the country, but by a delta rapidly succumbing to the sea.


Being Karl Lindholm

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

A son reflects on his father’s legacy.

When I was about 10 years old, my dad, my sister, and I were walking our dog Bodie through the woods behind the golf course. Bodie picked up a scent and started to search, snout to the ground, stopping only when he spotted a rabbit about 10 yards away.

As the two animals tore off through the woods, I marveled at Bodie’s ability to track down the rabbit using only his nose.

I turned to my dad and said, “Sometimes I wish I could smell like a dog.”

My dad’s eyes lit up. I stormed off, furious, before he could even deliver a punch line.

*

Recently, I wrote to my dad asking for some guidance. I’d been thinking a lot about my career, wondering if it was time for me to make a change and follow in the footsteps of my dad and grandfather.

“I don’t really have any advice for you,” my dad responded, at the start of a long e-mail.

Karl Lindholm ’67 started working at Middlebury in 1976, the same year that his father, my grandfather Milt, retired as the dean of admissions at Bates. (Milt started working at Bates, his alma mater, at the age of 33 and stayed for 32 years; my dad’s tenure at Middlebury began at the age of 31 and has lasted 34 years.) Hired in the student affairs office, Dad ended up working just about everywhere—teaching in the American literature and American civilization departments; serving at various times as dean of students, advising, off-campus study, and just about every Commons; and even helping out with the baseball team. Earlier this year, he decided to retire from Middlebury at the end of 2010.

Over the years, thousands of Middlebury students have come to my dad for advice of one sort or another. I know this from experience. As a kid, walking around with my dad was a painfully slow experience; we couldn’t get from Old Chapel to McCullough without 10 students stopping him with a question about study abroad or the drop/add deadline.

When we left campus, getting from Ben Franklin to Forth ’N Goal could take 20 minutes; alums, parents, and friends would stop him for a friendly chat. Even in California, at the kid’s paradise that is Disneyland (I was seven), I heard the familiar call of “Dean Lindholm!” from yet another former student, wanting to catch up with Dad, to thank him for something from years before.

The e-mail that my dad wrote to me actually did, of course, contain plenty of advice. Some of his recommendations were what I expected: “Don’t be narrow, enjoy many facets of life, develop your whole self,” and yet at the same time, “Don’t sell yourself short. Go for the gold, if that’s what you want. Don’t be afraid to.”

But he also surprised me when he talked about his own career.

“I have had a hard time specializing, devoting myself to one thing,” he wrote. “There’s a side of me I don’t frequently expose that wonders if I might have accomplished more with my life.”

With experience in so many roles, Dad has made a career out of being a “Master Jack-of-all-Trades,” as he describes it. This made him indispensable at Middlebury; when a dean for a new department was needed, Karl was always there, and he could bring his perspective and experience to get the job done. But it also made him wonder if he lacked ambition, which kept him from rising to the very top of his field.

I was shocked. I couldn’t believe that it wasn’t as easy for my dad to see what he had achieved as it was for me. For all of my 28 years, he’s been helping me with every crisis I’ve had, from small and practical (“this English paper sucks and I need help with it”) to the large and existential (“what the hell am I doing with my life?”). Not only that, but I’ve seen him do the same for countless Middlebury students.

He signed off the e-mail with his best advice.

“Take care,” he wrote. “Be good. Have fun. Work hard.”

*

My dad has a story for every occasion, and there’s often a lesson behind it. I don’t think he always knows exactly what he’s teaching, but there’s always something to learn.

Since that day almost 20 years ago, the story of how I wished that I could smell like a dog has become a Lindholm family favorite. Somewhere along the line, after hearing my dad tell the tale a few thousand times, I learned to ease up and laugh along.

I’ve grown up a lot since that day in the woods. I no longer spend much time wishing that I could smell like a dog.

Now all I want to be able to do is teach like my dad.

David Lindholm writes from Los Angeles, California.