This week I served on a review panel in Mobile, Alabama, discussing the plan for a Corps investigation. It has been a fascinating look into the planning process, and I have learned a lot.
The project is to investigate the feasibility of deepening Mobile Harbor. The intent is to import and export goods for the nation more efficiently and safely. How deep does the channel need to be to maximize passage for the new kinds of ships coming in? How wide does it need to be for safety? What environmental impacts will result? And for heaven's sake, where are we going to put the material we dig up?
There are engineering factors to be considered. There are environmental factors being considered. There are economic forecasts at play (complicated games with lots of 'if/then' statements).
And to understand what we were talking about, I pulled up Mobile Bay on Google Earth. A couple of minutes later, I had seen what I wanted, and digitally wandered down to Brazil.
Four or five times in the past, I have used Google Earth to try to find the odd distributary of the Amazon River where I lived for two years of my childhood. And I have failed every time. I have found Breves, the village we flew into from Belem. I have found Macapa, which was upstream of where we were.
But Olaria was never there. Our little semicircle of 'high ground' (5' above sea level) that was carved out of the jungle remained elusive.
Today, I found it. Turns out that Jabiruzinho - the village downriver - is actually spelled Jaburuzinho.
And there it is.
Somehow, unexpectedly, the day’s work becomes real to me in a new way. We chose that location in the middle of Nowhere, Amazonias for the lumber operation partly because of its proximity to the timber resources, but partly because it had access to a channel deep enough to take on the ship that carried our lumber away.
To the channel we are looking at deepening. So that it can accept more cargo.
In my childhood, Mobile was always a mystical place for me. It was the jumping off point for South America. It was the place where our lumber came into the US. It was the place my Brazilian dugout canoe was shipped. And from there, lumber, canoe, luggage - anything and everything we sent - was shipped overland to SC. (Mobile was also the magical place where my Uncle Charlie went every few months, always returning with fresh fruit for everyone.)
So as I rode around the city yesterday, I had an odd personal connection to a place... and it is a connection that I had totally forgotten.