Fierce Green Fire: Meet the Beatles at the aquarium to see the oil spill

By Jonathan Hicks
Staff Writer

Much has been made of the response plan for the oil spill in the Gulf. Debated in coffee shops and in newspaper editorials, we have listened, argued, assigned blame and sought understanding. However, while we focus on the novelty of this situation, ultimately, life is just business as usual.

At the end of the day, we all focus on the situation in our own ways. The oil company tries to keep drilling. The president tries to make everyone happy. Political pundits argue. Scientists analyze data. The often-eulogized fishing industry keeps fishing, even if not as much. Singers sing songs. Celebrities try to cash in. Writers like me keep writing.

All of us do what we do because, well, it is just what we do. We are all affected in our own ways, but ultimately life keeps moving. (The naïve part of me wishes we would all stop what we are doing, and realize that large-scale societal change will be the only real remedy to situations like this. Perhaps that is a tangent for next week, however.)

In some ways, knowing that life goes on—what I like to call the “Ob-la-di, ob-la-da lifestyle”—is calming. So while the Beatles’ 1968 hit may be onto something with its happy-go-lucky attitude, it is worth remembering that the same album also featured downer tracks including “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Happiness Is a Warm Gun.”

What this is all meant to say is that, while the world keeps moving, it does so in an altered fashion—one impacted by this oil spill. While the up-tempo optimistic attitude gets us through some hard moments, it is not the full picture. So while we are all busy doing what we do, humming “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” we do so with a dark, oil-tinted stain in our minds. How to acknowledge both mindsets without coming across as overly gloomy, cheerful or ambivalent is incredibly difficult. But in “doing what they do,” the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium (NMRMA) may have found the perfect balance.

Last weekend, the Dubuque, Iowa, facility opened a new display—one completely devoid of life. Originally intended as a display showcasing the diverse Gulf of Mexico ecosystem, the aquarium instead decided to use the oil spill as a tool for education and awareness. Instead of the expected lively creatures, the fishless display tank—nearly as large as a bus—will instead showcase an oil slick steadily descending on artificial coral. The display is meant to enlighten visitors in a way that television screens simply cannot.

The aquarium and museum is approximately 95 miles west of Rockford, just across the Mississippi River on the Iowa border. Well worth the trip any time of year, this new display simply adds another reason to visit. At 350 E. Third St., in Dubuque, NMRMA is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Admission is $15 for adults, $13 for seniors, and $10 for kids ages 3-17. A riverside patio makes the site a great place for a scenic lunch. For more information, visit or call (800) 226-3369.

From the June 30-July 6, 2010 issue

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