Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Synthetic Arcadia And The Hole

On November 20, 1980, when the disaster took place, the Diamond Crystal Salt Company operated the Jefferson Island salt mine under the lake, while a Texaco oil rig drilled down from the surface of the lake searching for petroleum. Due to a miscalculation, the 14-inch (36 cm) drill bit entered the mine, starting a chain of events which turned what was at the time an almost 10-foot (3.0 m) deep freshwater lake into a salt water lake with a deep hole.

It is difficult to determine exactly what occurred, as all of the evidence was destroyed or washed away in the ensuing maelstrom. One explanation is that a miscalculation by Texaco regarding their location resulted in the drill puncturing the roof of the third level of the mine. This created an opening in the bottom of the lake. The lake then drained into the hole, expanding the size of that hole as the soil and salt were washed into the mine by the rushing water, filling the enormous caverns left by the removal of salt over the years. The resultant whirlpool sucked in the drilling platform, eleven barges, many trees and 65 acres (260,000 m2) of the surrounding terrain. So much water drained into those caverns that the flow of the Delcambre Canal that usually empties the lake into Vermilion Bay was reversed, making the canal a temporary inlet. This backflow created, for a few days, the tallest waterfall ever in the state of Louisiana, at 164 feet (50 m), as the lake refilled with salt water from the Delcambre Canal and Vermilion Bay. The water downflowing into the mine caverns displaced air which erupted as compressed air and then later as 400-foot (120 m) geysers up through the mineshafts.

“Lake Peigneur”
at Wikipedia

The origin of the designation Acadia is credited to the explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano, who on his 16th century map applied the ancient Greek name "Arcadia" to the entire Atlantic coast north of Virginia (note the inclusion of the 'r' of the original Greek name). "Arcadia" derives from the Arcadia district in Greece which since Classical antiquity had the extended meanings of "refuge" or "idyllic place". The Dictionary of Canadian Biography says: "Arcadia, the name Verrazzano gave to Maryland or Virginia 'on account of the beauty of the trees,' made its first cartographical appearance in the 1548 Gastaldo map and is the only name on that map to survive in Canadian usage. . . . In the 17th century Champlain fixed its present orthography, with the 'r' omitted, and Ganong has shown its gradual progress northeastwards, in a succession of maps, to its resting place in the Atlantic Provinces."

at Wikipedia

Still stands the forest primeval; but
under the shade of its branches

Dwells another race, with other
customs and language.

from Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

A Project Gutenberg edition
of “Evangeline” is available.
The HTML version is here.

So now we know. Arcadia is not
in Arcadia. And it’s not in France.
It’s not in Nova Scotia. And it’s not
in Louisiana. And soon enough
even Louisiana might not be
in Louisiana any longer.

The forest primeval lost its bottom.

Or rather the bottom was tricked away
by technology, cut away below
the ground below the roots below the trees.

Synthetic Arcadia is the place
that hasn’t fallen into the hole yet.

Synthetic Arcadia and the hole
both are getting larger: Other places,
other customs and other languages.

If I were writing about a woman—
the name Evangeline is a nice one
but it is a name I could never use—
she would be unhappy with the music
she hears, love songs about endless kisses,
and she would go searching for other songs
about kisses that are impossible
where everyone, everything, is falling
away from Synthetic Arcadia.

So now we know. That’s better than nothing.

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