John D MacDonald – Barrier Island

Gordon Hammond sighed audibly and stared down into his coffee as he stirred it. “Let me go into a little bit of history, Wade. When we picked up the islands, Horn, East and West Ship and Petit Bois, for the Gulf Islands National Seashore, it was a very good move. Those islands create a low-salinity, high-nutrition habitat for coastal marine life in Mississippi Sound. We should have picked up Bernard Island at the same time. But we didn’t. And now we will.”

“But it is going ”

“To be more expensive? You bet. The government moves like a huge blob of molasses on a two-degree slope. Everything gets done two years from next Tuesday. Everything we in the Park Service want to do is previewed by committees of the House and the Senate. Always, always, always there are leaks. The word gets out. And there is always some smartass little dipstick hustler jumping in and getting title and making big plans, hoping to screw his government out of some money. We are fair game for the Tucker Loomises of this society. So this is just one more example of how things work. It’s the Tucker Loomises who get those committee members elected again and again, so when something comes along worth knowing, who do you think they are going to tell?”

“I didn’t mean to inconvenience you for ”

“There are safeguards, of course. The U.S. Attorney will be able to show the Court that the idea of a residential development on a transient island ten and a half miles off shore is absurd on the face of it. The man would never be able to get the permissions. So suppose the Court gives the developer an award we think too high. There is always the process of appeal. And, at any time, there is always the process of friendly negotiation possible. But I’ll hang onto these, Wade, and make sure the U.S. Attorney’s Office gets them. After they’re presented in evidence, the judge might have some interesting questions for Mr. Loomis.”

“I feel as if I’ve wasted your time, Mr. Hammond.”

“Please call me Gordon. I’m getting too damned close to retirement as it is. Mr. Hammond makes me feel decrepit. And you haven’t wasted my time. This Loomis fellow is a little more brash than most. I’ll add a letter to the file we’ve sent to the U.S. Attorney. The more one project costs us, the less we have for the next. And things are getting tighter and tighter up there. You know the Pascagoula Swamp well?”

“I went up the river into the swamp maybe a dozen times with my dad, back in the sixties.”

“People down here do not know most of them just how lucky they are. That weird combination of Graham Wisner and the Pascagoula Hardwood Company and Dan Morine of The Nature Conservancy, along with Avery Wood of the Mississippi Game and Fish Department, they prodded the state into setting up the Mississippi Wildlife Heritage Committee. So what you have in the Pascagoula is a thirty-two-thousand-acre piece that cleanses the water coming down the river and nourishes it as it goes into the Sound.”

Wade Rowley kept an attentive look on his face as Gordon Hammond gave him an overview of the geological uniqueness of Mississippi Sound. His father had talked about it a hundred times on their boating and camping and hunting trips. His father had had little education, but he’d read everything he could find about the flora and the fauna and the structure of this place where he had grown up. And having read of something, he had to go out and try to find it and look at it. Together they had been on each of the islands. On Ship,

before Camille turned it into East Ship and West Ship. On Dauphin, Deer, Round, Cat, Bernard, Horn, Petit Bois, the Chandeleur Islands. His father had made him realize what a fantastic long-lasting event had begun to take place fifteen thousand years ago when the melt waters of the receding glaciers had come streaming and hissing and roaring down off the low hills to the north, gouging out the river valleys, shoving soil and rock and sand and gravel and mud out into the north Gulf where it settled and where the wave and tide action had formed the barrier islands twelve miles offshore. On maps his father had showed him how the great curve of the Chandeleurs was the result of the deposit of all that alluvium, the scrapings of a continent, and how the great bays, Mobile, Biloxi and St. Louis, had been formed by this unleashed energy.

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