‘I’m depressed … look at what they’ve done to my ocean.’

by on July 24, 2010 · 4 comments

in Culture, Environment, Ocean Beach

eye cry oilBy Jeeni Criscenzo

I went to see the doctor the other day because I’ve been so tired lately. “Are you depressed?” he asked me.

After weeks of seeing photos of the devastation in the Gulf of Mexico; watching YouTube videos of pelicans suffocating in an oily sarcophagus, marshes saturated in putrid, brown slime and what appears to be oily rain and a surf belching noxious gases; reading reports of outright incompetence in dealing with the situation, the application of millions of gallons of a chemical dispersant that no one seems to understand the environmental ramifications of using, news of a judge with a vested interest in the oil industry rescinding a ban on deepwater drilling” Good God, who wouldn’t be depressed!

On Saturday, June 26th, I took the bus to Ocean Beach with my husband and a friend, to participate in one of the “Hands Across the Sand” events. There was a hundred or so of us lined up on the beach. First we faced the ocean, holding hands, and then half way through the 15-minute lineup we about-faced to look at our audience. Thousands of people were in OB today for the annual OB Fair and Chili Cook-off.

A band was playing on a platform just off the beach where some of their audience seemed to be also watching us. But an amazing number of people were either oblivious to us or ignoring us. Sometimes I feel like I’m in a Stephen King novel and everyone has gone mad. Why am I so worried about this catastrophe, I thought, when so many people can’t think past getting a cold beer?

Back home, I checked the Facebook page for “Hands Across the Sand” to see if people in other parts of the country had bothered to show up and hold hands for 15 minutes in solidarity for clean energy and in opposition to offshore drilling. I was delightfully gratified to learn that there were over 800 events throughout the world, including in all 50 US states. Some were as small as two or three people while some had over a 1,000 participants! As I clicked through the hundreds of photos of people lined up, hand-in-hand on sunny beaches from Florida to California, I realized that I had been on many of those beaches. That’s why this catastrophe feels like my heart is being ripped from me — my life has been so intimately entwined with the ocean that I am feeling her pain.

Since childhood, it has always been the ocean that I’ve turned to for solace. As a teenager, I couldn’t wait to get my driver’s license so I could go to the New Jersey shore any time I wanted to go. As a young mother living on Long Island, I remember escaping to Asharoken Beach every chance I could. I remember the moment when I knew I couldn’t stand being in my miserable marriage for one more day. I slipped away to the beach and sat on a bench for hours watching a young man teach himself to windsurf, feeling the sun tingling the skin on my face, smelling the slightly fishy sea air, gazing over Long Island Sound. I was calmed, emboldened and reassured that I could make it on my own. The ocean is my opium. I cannot imagine living anywhere where I cannot get my fix of it.

I lived in the Tampa Bay area of Florida for ten years. During that time I was very involved in an advertising trade association and as a director and president of the local organization, I attended trade conferences throughout Florida, mostly at beachfront hotels. From Daytona to Miami on the Atlantic and Palm Island to Pensacola on the Gulf, I had the opportunity to sample and savor the best of Florida’s coastline.

I remember walking along Pensacola Beach, awestruck by the endless whiteness of the sand and the emerald green of the Gulf waters that gave the area its name of the Emerald Coast. But I didn’t have to travel far to enjoy the beach — I lived only a ten minute drive from Honeymoon Island, just north of the more commercialized Clearwater Beach. When the ups and downs of my life took a sharp dive downward (my partner was dying and my business was failing), I often strolled that beach, breathing in the restorative energy I could always find in the stretch where sea meets sand. And if time permitted, I would take the ferry to Caladesi Island, one of the most highly rated beaches in the world!

While living in Florida, my novel about the Maya was published and it lent me the credentials to be a guest lecturer about the Maya on cruises to the Yucatan. Nothing about those gaudy and ostentatious cruise ships impressed me as much as being on the back deck, watching the hypnotic churning of aqua and white sea foam in our wake. I could stare at it endlessly. When we docked in Caribbean ports that had all been fashioned into identical tourist traps of shops hawking jewels and trinkets, I would hail a cab and seek out the furthest beach I could get to in the time allotted. There, on pristine beaches with teal water, I would let the sweet sting of sun into my veins, the sound of waves gently lapping on the shore into my ears, the sweet air of a million years of tropical plants exhaling fill my lungs.

In late 2004, after a year of wandering in my RV, I landed in San Diego’s East County. The desert smells of sun-baked eucalyptus and sage were foreign to me and the vista of rocky hills didn’t rock me with the constant caresses of waves. It wasn’t until I spent an afternoon on the beach in Oceanside, helping to set up memorial crosses in the sand, and watching a Pacific Ocean sunset, that I decided I could put down roots in California.

I am so easily satiated by the sea. On the beach in Oceanside, I often delighted in the golden glisten of the setting sun on the sand, setting smooth wet stones afire in orange hues. Later, when I was undergoing cancer treatments, my husband accompanied me on those strolls, on the beach, taking one weary step at a time. We were even blessed with seeing dolphins on a few occasions, as if they were assigned the mission of reminding me there was so much joy in being alive. I don’t think I would have recovered without those ocean treatments.

Circumstances changed, and it was time to move from Oceanside. For a few precious months Juan and I lived only a block from the cliffs in Ocean Beach. I could come home from work and climb the steps down to a precarious ledge between the clifftop and the rocky edge of the Pacific. I’d lean back against the cliff wall and let the salty spray tingle my face and soak my clothes, and listen to the hypnotic click-clicking as the waves receded from the loose stony bed, jiggling each stone against its neighbor. If the clouds were just right, the setting sun would stroke them with shades of bright yellow and fiery red and then, as it disappeared on the watery horizon it would leave in its wake puffs of soft dusty rose and violet that would fade to charcoal gray speckled with stars and a phase of moon that would reflect as ripples on the dark water.

When our finances necessitated a move away from the beach, I only agreed to move to Linda Vista with a promise from my husband that we would make frequent visits to the ocean. I need it like a child needs to feel her mother’s smile.

I worry that this catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico is destroying so many people’s lives and livelihoods, and probably their health too. We need to start thinking about how we are going to deal with what I predict will be an exodus of biblical proportions from the Gulf states and perhaps even the entire Eastern Seaboard. But that is not what is making me depressed. Like many who are in some way entwined with the sea, I am grieving the death of this magnificent body of life. Many people have referred to the oil gushing from the seabed of the Gulf as Mother Nature bleeding. It’s a tempting analogy, but not correct. Our Earth Mother’s blood is not something as toxic as oil. Her lifeblood is the sea and we have poisoned not only her blood, but our own as well. Compared to where this nightmare is going, everything else we can possibly concern ourselves with, pales. So to answer your question, Doc, Yeah, I’m depressed.

Jeeni Criscenzo is an entrepreneur, peace activist and author. She was 2006 Democratic candidate for Congress – 49th District. In 2003 she traveled around the country in an RV, writing her daily blog: CPR4Democracy. She is also a founder of NetRootz.com, a free, online resource for Progressive grassroots organizations. She was California State Coordinator for the 2008 Kucinich for President campaign. Her latest focus is on building a sustainable community for the homeless. www.criscenzo.com

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Sunshine July 24, 2010 at 12:48 pm

dearest Jenni,
your melodic words and uplifting description of the ocean’s healing forces brings me renewed peace on such a soulful level. While I read your words, I, too, was there in my mind breathing in the salty tasteful air, feeling the warmth of the sun relax every aching tired muscle, and feeling the cool grains of sand under my feet pumising away miles of forward strides on the cold concrete pavements around town.

Thank you for reminding me why I live in OB where the ocean sings me to sleep at night and the parrots sing their delightful melodies by day. I, too, cry for Mother Earth’s pain ~ yet believe my tears falling into her receiving ocean waves are in my own way helping to heal her. She sees and feels the cries of those that compassionatly love her. My only hope is that she can survive this latest assult by man.


Sarah July 24, 2010 at 12:33 pm


I, too, wondered about “our” priorities while holding hands on the beach that day.
I, too, have found my muse and my sanity in the wake of a ship.
I, too, feel a nearly physical pain at the thought of what has happened in the Gulf of Mexico.

The sea has been the source of my sanity (what I have of it…) for my entire life and my income most of my adult life. I’ve walked the beaches from Alaska to Mexico and I’ve cleaned spilled oil up off much of that coastline.

My home has been the beach for many, many years and I look to the sea for guidance on a daily basis.

I’m befuddled at our shortsightedness but the good news, if there is any good news, is that perhaps now we won’t think the “Whacko Environmentalists” are quite so whacko. Maybe we should have listened to them a little be more closely.

If only we could undrill a hole.


nunya July 24, 2010 at 7:47 pm

Thank you for posting this. I thoroughly enjoyed it :)


annagrace July 25, 2010 at 12:22 am

Jeeni- thank you for such a beautifully written piece. The pull of the ocean that you conveyed so well was deeply resonant with me. I never saw the ocean until I was 16 years old, when I went camping with friends in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. When I saw that ocean before me for the first time, I felt as though I had returned home- to my true home. Once I was old enough to live on my own, I set off with my beloved to Nags Head, then to Key West, and finally to San Diego. We came here to be near the ocean. Even though I cannot hear the roar of surf at night, as I did in Nags Head, nor walk a block and a half to the ocean as I did to the southernmost point in the continental US, in Key West, I am still a child of the sea. I am not so far inland that I cannot feel the sea breezes moving up through the canyons, nor visit as frequently as I need to.

All about us is the talk of the cost of this and the cost of that. What you spoke of, what the other voices in the comments speak of is what we value. There is a profound difference. Too many know the cost of something and the value of nothing. To see our oceans degraded and to watch what has happened in the gulf really is too much to bear.


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