Two days later, around 2:25 p.m. on July 15, the last of the valves is closed on the cap on Deepwater Horizon’s well, plugging the leak for the first time in 86 days. Now, weeks after my journey, I keep coming back to the same moment in our kayak trip. It is Day 1. Floating not far from me as I paddle are a few birds, pitch black except for a patch of white feathers on their wings. Having turned my reporter’s notebook into a rudimentary field guide, with pasted pictures of seabirds I might see, I recognize my company as pigeon guillemots, the species that along with Pacific herring has shown little improvement since the spill. The encounter gives me hope.