Causeway Chronicles: Tales From A Storied Parkway

Finnell Forrest has been fishing off the Causeway in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta for nearly a decade. His dad, who gave up fishing years ago, started taking him here when he was a kid.

At this little spot on the Blakeley River, not much more than spitting distance from the Causeway, Forrest and his buddy David Stallworth angle for largemouth bass, brim, crappie, redfish, and speckled trout. But no black drum — they let that go. “Too many worms in them,” he says.

Finnell likes fishing in the spring and fall best. He watches the tidal calendar and prefers fishing this locale to a falling tide. “The Blakeley is a pretty spot,” he says. “I get in my boat sometime and go up the river a bit. It’s a 17-foot-center console called a Bayhawk. It’s my first boat.”

On most days, Finnell uses a spinning rod with a J-hook and cork, with about three to four feet between bobber and hook. “[These freshwater fish] don’t eat down, they eat up,” he says. “They’re an ambush fish so they have to look up at their prey and eat them.” Today he and David are fishing with shiners and live shrimp they picked up at the bait shop just down the road, “Hooked By The Bay,” the last of its kind on the Causeway.

After a day on the water, Finnell cleans his haul at home and fries them up, using a mixture of cornmeal and wheat flour, and that seems to work pretty well, he says. Pan-fried mostly. Sometimes a deep fry. Baked occasionally. 

Asked what he likes most about fishing the Delta, he says it’s “the relaxation, the wildlife. It’s peace of mind.” 

Read more at Mobile Baykeeper.

Breaking The Habit: Mobile’s Kiss-Off To Single-Use Plastic

Old habits die hard in America. And one habit that has been especially difficult for Americans to kick is our wide-ranging and unrelenting addiction to single-use consumer plastic.

What makes plastic so insidious, and quite frankly so disturbing as a pollutant, is its omnipresence and longevity in our environment. It’s in the land, it’s in the air, it’s in the water, and now, it’s in our bloodstream, in the form of micro-plastics (which are generally considered to be any form of plastic less than five millimeters in length). And it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. (It is said that a plastic grocery bag will remain in the environment for up to 500 years.)

While plastic’s long-term effects on human health are still the subject of inquiry and debate, according to the Plastic Health Coalition, a research and advocacy alliance, we do know that micro-plastics disrupt endocrine function in humans, not unlike PFAs and other toxic chemicals. And it’s not just humans that fall prey to its poison. It’s been forecasted that by midcentury there will be more plastic by weight in our oceans than fish, a fact that augurs grave consequences for our fisheries and marine life. If that’s not enough, recent reports reveal the skies are now raining micro-plastics at a level much greater than previously thought. That fact alone should be enough to make the multitudes weep. Read more.

Warmest Climes

Here at Mobile Baykeeper, we talk about our responsibility to future generations. How it is our duty to protect the bounty of the Mobile Bay Watershed for our children and grandchildren, so that it may sustain them in the same way it has sustained us in our lifetimes. This is what drives much of our work.

What we don’t talk about as much is our responsibility to the past — to the history, ideal, and natural perfection of what came before. When the first Spaniards showed up on the Gulf Coast in the early 16th century, this stretch of land must have been something to behold. It was an exotic clime (the French eventually called it a “trembling land”) that no doubt elicited a WTF moment, and settling here, in the case of the French a century later, was no picnic. Just ask the Cassette Girls of Fort Louis, who arrived in 1704 fresh off the boat from Paris. They arrived at Twenty-Seven Mile Bluff, the French equivalent of Jamestown, and found themselves living in a Hank Williams Jr. song (“Country Boy Can Survive”), likely skinning bucks and running trot-lines.

As local naturalist and author Ben Raines points out, Alabama remained untouched by the glaciers of the last Ice Age, a fact that accounts for our wealth of biodiversity and the darkly romantic aesthetic of our delta, one of the country’s last great wildernesses. Our patron saint of the sciences, E.O. Wilson, famously dubbed it “America’s Amazon.”

“Warmest climes but nurse the cruelest fangs,” Herman Melville once wrote. Today’s cruel fangs are not the smallpox and yellow fever that ravaged the colonists and natives of old, but — aside from hurricanes and floods — come in the form of pollution, notably the Plant Barry coal-ash pond that corrupts our groundwater and puts our region at such great risk.

Of course, there are other pollution culprits: excess nitrogen from runoff, PFAs, PCBs, etc. And they’ve all left their mark. 

“All these people that are moving here, they ain’t got any idea what a paradise we used to have,” Jimbo Meador, our local version of Huckleberry Finn, told Mobile Baykeeper last year. “They have no conception of what Mobile Bay used to be like. And you know, it is a dying breed that remembers what it used to be like. And so, it’s hard to fathom for some people, but I used to spearfish in Mobile Bay. I mean it was that clear. I used to put on a mask and snorkel and fins and I used to chop barnacles off of the pilings and spear sheepshead and even flounder and stuff.”

You can never return to the past; it’s a fool’s errand to try. But it takes a herculean effort not to squander all the good stuff, and to keep the rock we’re pushing up the hill from rolling back down on us. And while much has been lost, a lot of good remains. We still have quite a treasure among us. Perhaps if we can stop the pollution our waters can begin to heal.

— Caine O’Rear, Communications Director, on behalf of the Baykeeper Team

Playoff Time For Hurricane Season

As I write this late Wednesday afternoon, a disturbance is percolating along the coast of Guatemala, over the northwestern Caribbean Sea. While it doesn’t appear to be a threat to Coastal Alabama, the storm does serve as a reminder that we are entering the playoff portion of hurricane season, that time when things start to get interesting. Days to come will likely see school closings, frantic, last-minute runs to Publix, and endless hours gazing at the Weather Channel, watching Jim Cantore stand sideways in the wind on some southerly beach, bellowing into his mic and looking as giddy as a child on Christmas morning.  

Those who dwell in the hurricane-prone states often say they would take hurricanes over tornadoes if given the option. A hurricane you can see coming, they say. Well, nobody saw Sally coming. It appeared out of nowhere, seemingly on little cat feet, and left a lion’s wrath in its wake, causing more than $300 million worth of damage in Alabama alone.  

Sally, which introduced itself in September of 2020, arrived after months of lockdown. As it approached land, it veered eastward and made landfall in Gulf Shores as a strong Category 2, thankfully missing the coal-ash pond at Plant Barry, which houses more than 21 million tons of ash within an earthen dam along the banks of the Mobile River. At the Barry site, the Mobile River has a flood stage of 12 feet and will spill over the dam if it reaches beyond 20 to 25 feet. A direct hit by a hurricane, one imagines, would not be good.  

Mobile Baykeeper’s recent Notice Of Intent To Sue filed against Alabama Powerconcerns the ongoing pollution of groundwater caused by the ash pond — a violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act’s Coal-Combustion Residuals rule. The pollution of the groundwater, whose testing shows levels of arsenic more than 800 percent above the legal threshold — is cause enough to move the ash into an upland, lined landfill, or have it recycled into concrete. But a major spill — whether caused by a hurricane, flood, or a collapse of the earthen dam (not unlike the historic Kingston, Tennessee ash spill in 2008) — could be an apocalyptic blow exceeding the BP oil disaster in its scope. 

Of course, the late-summer season comes with other agonies. The constant days of rain create challenges for our waterways, as we see heightened levels of bacteria in our Bay due to increased runoff and sewage overflows. Our SWIM program, which reports bacteria levels at 14 sites in Mobile Bay on a weekly basis, will keep you informed on where it’s safe to swim and and play. 

Below you can find out what else we’ve got going on this month, including our annual food truck festival Bay Bites, which is happening August 27 in Cooper Riverside Park. You can buy tickets here.  

And please consider supporting Baykeeper’s efforts to protect our watershed from coal ash and excess bacteria with a financial donation. Each donation is an investment in our watershed’s future. 

As always, thanks for your support.  

— Caine O’Rear, Communications Director, on behalf of the Baykeeper Team

From the Mobile Baykeeper August Newsletter.

Pass Picada

From the patio of the Bluegill Restaurant, you cannot see the candy-striped smokestacks of Plant Barry rising twenty miles away in north Mobile County, at the site of Alabama Power’s 600-acre coal-ash pond. The back-end of the restaurant, which sits on the eastern portion of The Causeway in Spanish Fort, looks out over Pass Picada channel — a veritable honey-hole for redfish, speckled trout, and largemouth bass— before flowing into Chacaloochee Bay. Families stand along the rickety dock after dining and kids angle for privileged glimpses of alligators loitering idly for scraps. Elvis likely stood here during one of several Bluegill experiences in the ’50s, perhaps after the time he performed at a Vigor High School assembly, only to have the show cut short due to the saltiness of his below-the-belt gyrations.  

Standing along the Pass in the magic hour, among the cattails and cordgrass, hyacinth and lotus blooms, it’s easy to forget the threat that looms northward in the Delta. Before the 2008 coal-ash spill in Kingston, Tenn. — a spill that resulted in nearly $3 billion in damages and cleanup costs — the issue of coal ash was not part of the public imagination. Over the past seven years, due to the work of Mobile Baykeeper and others, coal ash is now very much on the minds of coastal Alabamians.

If you’re not privy to the news, you can learn why Mobile Baykeeper and the Southern Environmental Law Center filed a Notice Of Intent To Sue Alabama Power for its plans to leave more than 21 million tons of coal ash buried along the Mobile River, a historic body of water that was designated by American Rivers as the “third most endangered river” in the U.S. in 2022. Litigation has always been a means of last resort for Mobile Baykeeper, and these recent events are no exception. 

In this time of global upheaval and cataclysm (both actual and imagined), when all seems so transient and short-lived, we have the chance to ensure a vital corner of our world, and one of national significance no less, is preserved and protected just as it should be. As always, we can’t do it without your support.

— Caine O’Rear, Communications Director, on behalf of the Baykeeper Team


As we hurtle into the second week of this savage heatwave, the need to jump in the water and cool off becomes even stronger. Fortunately, our weekly SWIM program lets you know where it’s safe to splash around and get some relief. 

Here in Coastal Alabama, we are lucky to live on the water during the summer sizzle — the psychological benefit of that is huge. Anyone who’s spent some dog days in a landlocked region knows exactly what I’m talking about.

What separates Coastal Alabama from the rest of the Yellowhammer State is the water and the culture that it engenders. Early in its history, Mobile operated as a sort of colony, almost oblivious to the laws and customs of its more northern statesmen. It had its own code. It’s a history peppered with pirates, sailors, and libertines, a culture once closer in kin to Havana than New York. You just have a different mindset when you’re a port town on the water. There’s something about the mystery of the sea and the possibility of escape and change. For that, we are lucky.

Our waters offer myriad summer excursions. Family trips to the beach. Fishing tournaments. Mullet tosses. Kayaking on the Delta. Tubing. I could go on. 

I was lucky enough to spend several childhood summers in Point Clear, where I learned to ski and cast a bait-net. I heard the bells cling in the pre-dawn dark announcing numerous jubilees. I caught speckled trout from a Stauter near Middle Bay Light. And I rode my Power Wheels off the wharf into Mobile Bay kamikaze-style with my fellow hooligans (It was the ’80s, after all).

Water is the source of all things Mobile, and we protect it in various ways at Mobile Baykeeper. We investigate citizen concerns about pollution. We track sewage spills and let you know when and where they occur. We educate our youth about the watershed in our schools and libraries. Protecting our waterways is a constant battle that requires daily vigilance, and it can’t happen without your support

So stay cool and see you on the water. 

— From the Mobile Baykeeper June Newsletter

Review of Shane MacGowan Biography, “A Furious Devotion” (Rolling Stone)

Writing the biography of the man best known for marrying traditional Irish music with British punk — a sound once described by concertina player Noel Hill of the band Planxty as a “terrible abortion” of Irish music — was never going to be easy. To further complicate the matter, Shane MacGowan’s hatred of interviews is almost as notorious as his long and sophisticated affair with drugs and alcohol. Such is punk.

When it comes to the story of MacGowan’s life, it has never been about “just the facts.” However, an attempt has now been made. A Furious Devotion: The Life of Shane MacGowan by British journalist Richard Balls serves up the most thorough account of the man — and myth — to date. In a nearly 400-page biography, out Nov. 18 in the U.S., Balls has attempted through extensive interviews and research to do what has proved so difficult through the years — to parse where the facts end and the myth begins. “Some of these never get resolved and probably never will be, but I am determined not to give up in my quest to sort the myths from the truths and better understand this shy and complex man,” Balls writes.

The son of Irish émigré parents, MacGowan was born and raised in England and spent childhood summers and holidays in rural County Tipperary, Ireland, with his mother’s extended family of staunch Irish republicans. Now residing in Dublin, he still speaks with an English accent, but maintains that he is Irish, for it was those experiences in Ireland that MacGowan says formed his musical and spiritual core. Some of the first traditionalists to hear the Pogues amalgamations might have been shocked, even appalled, but other icons of traditional Irish music such as the Dubliners and Christy Moore understood the power of MacGowan’s writing early on.

Read more at Rolling Stone.

Cold War

We were spies in a foreign land
I was a fugitive, running just as fast as I can
You were a bird on a bludgeoned wing, busted flat in Dallas
Dancing for a diamond ring

You asked me if I’d been here before
As I regaled you with memories of my melancholy whores
You crossed your legs and lit a cigarette
Talked about your mama, and said as your eyes got wet

I’m tired of fighting in this cold war
Nobody wins that’s just daddy’s drunken folklore
I’m leaving this town tomorrow you can come if you want

In the armpit of Arkansas
Where the river split and sang neath the stillborn stars
You started bitching we were out of beer
As we danced real close and came upon a midnight clear

In the morning with the mountain dew
And the sun’s cruel eye, the day after Waterloo
Lou Reed and that summer in Siam, you took a walk on the wild side
Oliver Stone in Vietnam

I’m tired of fighting in this cold war
Don’t want to die for a country I don’t know no more

Based on the poem "Cold War" by Quinten Collier.

20 Years

The U.S. Embassy in Prague after the 9/11 attacks. Photo by Ehud Amir. Creative Commons License via Wikipedia Commons.

It was just after six o’clock in Prague when one of my roommates, Barton, a tall, laconic Texan who had been a basketball star in his youth, entered our flat in Vinohrady and said with characteristic stoicism, “Someone blew up the Twin Towers.” He might as well have been talking about the Laundromat changing its weekend hours, judging by his tone.

It was a Tuesday (as you know), and Barton was returning from his afternoon duties teaching business English to a crew of budding capitalists somewhere downtown. I had been home for a few hours after wrapping up my own classes in Malá Strana, at a private language school next to the American Embassy and just a stone’s throw from Prague Castle. My other roommate, Clay, a Texan and a childhood friend of Barton’s, had spent the day at the flat, smoking European cigarettes, debating man’s place in the universe, and devising plans to publish an expatriate newspaper called The Village Idiot (which, sadly, never came to pass).

Barton, having just learned of the attacks via text, was scant on information. There was no television in the flat and no Internet service. Anxious, we fired off a volley of frantic texts and arranged to meet our friend Tom at a pub in Žižkov, where he said a TV could be found.

The pub (I forget its name) was one of those nondescript watering holes in Žižkov that bore all the hallmarks of midwinter Soviet charm: decades-old red tablecloth, bad lighting, old bartender with a grizzled beard. Žižkov, where I lived months later, has always been a working-class stronghold and even carried the sobriquet “Red Žižkov” prior to the Velvet Revolution.  It was easy to see why.

Tom was sitting alone at a long table not far from the television when we arrived. We all hugged, took a seat, and for the next few hours, over pint after pint of Gambrinus, watched the scenes of carnage unfold on the screen as a Prague newscaster delivered the rundown in Czech, a language that fell on deaf ears and only added to our sense of disorientation.

The next morning, as I made my way to class, I saw a crowd gathered in front of the American Embassy. Flowers and various condolences were strewn over the ancient cobblestones. Many of my Czech friends extended sympathies that week, but it wasn’t long before you caught a whiff of “America had it coming” by the odd expatriate at the bar, a sentiment that was hard to hear at the time.

Published in the Prague Daily Monitor.