Biloxi, MS – On Sunday afternoon, Charlie Cobb trudged into the marsh again, rainbow splotched water filling his footprints. He unspooled his sixteenth roll of Brawny paper towels and wiped down another oil-coated fern. But this time the dark red fronds didn’t smudge back to green. Mr. Cobb, an out of work crabber and father of two, could not believe what he had found: the fabled location from Wilson Rawls’ classic children’s book Where the Red Fern Grows.
“My sixth grader is reading it right now,” Mr. Cobb said.
Long rumored to lie somewhere in the Mississippi wetlands, the site Where the Red Fern Grows has eluded searchers for decades. Mr. Rawls, who based the book on his childhood adventures, went to his grave with the location secret.
Where the Red Fern Grows tells the story of a boy named Billy who buys and trains two redbone coonhound hunting dogs, Old Dan and Little Ann. One day, Billy comes across a mountain lion, who attacks the dogs. Old Dan is badly wounded and dies. Little Ann soon follows, unable to live without him. Billy buries the dogs side by side. When he returns to the graves for a final goodbye, he finds a red fern has grown between them. According to Indian legend, only an angel can plant a red fern and wherever it grows is sacred.
More than three months since BP stopped the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, workers continue to clean hundreds of miles of soiled shoreline from Louisiana to the Florida panhandle. The marsh Where the Red Fern Grows, the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge, received “moderate to heavy oiling,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
For two weeks, Mr. Cobb and a crew of BP contractors have scoured and scrubbed the marsh, plant by plant. However, scientists caution the clean-up cannot undo all the damage. “Once the oil reaches the roots, it’s game over,” Tulane biologist Bobby Boucher said.
Today BP lowered a containment dome over the red fern site, to seal the plant off from further contamination. But it may already be too late. The live video feed appeared to show the red fern turning decisively toward brown.
Mr. Cobb was distraught at the sight. “What can I tell my son? It’s gone? Forever?”
BP spokesman Marcus Halberstam urged everyone to “wait and see” and promised “no matter what happens, we’re going to make this right.”