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Ocean Currents

Talk to the Water

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© Elsa Hahne

by Sarah Quintana, sarahquintana.com

Sarah Quintana is a New Orleans musician who lent her voice and music to our newest video. Inspired by the forces that shape the Gulf Coast, Sarah explores the themes of rivers and water in her latest album, “Miss River.” Using an underwater microphone typically used to record dolphin and whale sounds, she incorporates the sound of the Mississippi River and other water bodies into her music.

On any pretty day in spring, Gulf Coast folks are quick to say, “Let’s head for the shore and enjoy the big, beautiful Gulf of Mexico! Canoe along the shore, catch some fish and soak up the culture that is our Southern home.”

But now it’s October. We’re smack in the middle of hurricane season and two months ago Louisiana flooded so bad it was deemed the worst national disaster since Hurricane Sandy.

It’s difficult. The Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi River are both my best friends, but also bullies.

Growing up in New Orleans, I’ve been flooded more than once. Climate change is driving our rivers and lakes to flood larger and larger areas. The map of Louisiana looks very different now than when I was in high school. It’s gone from something like a chunky space boot to a worn and torn sneaker.

Add to this the effects of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, which we’re still living with, and you can see people are struggling here.

To be honest, I’ve become afraid of water. I have panic attacks when it rains; and I’m not alone in this. Living on the Gulf, we’ve seen water do terrible things: destroy homes, drown people and pets and separate loved ones.

In the wake of the latest hurricanes, I started searching for meaning. I decided to go to the source and ask the water itself for answers. I went to the banks of the Mississippi River and cast a microphone into the water and put on headphones to take a closer listen. I asked: how can the same water that has such adverse effects on me—terror—also be a messenger of joy?

As I listened to the deep tones of the river, I heard the truth. The Mississippi River boomed and droned. It spoke of its muscle in moving water, glaciers, sediment, people, history, flowing, always flowing from the headwaters in Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. The river spoke of the twin forces in our lives: life and death. I realized that nature gives us all, yet also takes away. When I heard a chorus of fish at sunset on Lake Martin I finally got the answers I was looking for. Life is change, but love holds us together so we can endure.

I pulled the microphone out and wrote down these answers the way I do, as music. My band and I recorded an album, “Miss River,” to share our stories about love and loss in Louisiana, cycles of life and death and the importance of protecting our land and each other. These answers I carry close to my heart, but one response rings most clear.

Hope . . .

For me, this hope is replacing fear. I see now the mighty Mississippi and the surrounding waters flooded my heart and my home to become the medium of my music. Thus, although we live in a place that is literally sinking, I have great hope for our future together. I stand with my community and sing for the precious Gulf Coast, re-imagining a happy ending of our own in 2045, hoping we will see the coast revived.

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