Welcome to the NOLA DIASPORA, Katrina 2016 edition.
Drought or Deluge
It would be hard to believe that eleven years have passed since the flooding of New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina and the levee break were it not for the similar scenes of disaster spilling out of Baton Rouge and the river parishes right now. This August anniversary also recalls the spring flooding in Shreveport, northern Louisiana, and the Northshore and observes—uncomfortably--tropical storms in the both the Atlantic and Pacific.
Water, water: everywhere a problem—either too little or too much. Droughts and deluges.
In 1991, Mimi Rogers and David Duchovny starred in a little-known apocalyptic film notable for its portrayal of the Rapture as an individual rather than a collective experience. Duchovny’s character flees the four horsemen in a nightmarish personal revelatory vision.
I think that the concept of a personal or private apocalypse is fitting for catastrophic flooding. It could certainly feel like the end of time for the victims. It certainly did for me. And it is in all respects the end of a certain time period and the start of something new.
Allow me to follow that personal note for one moment. On Sunday, the twenty-eighth, I invited a friend over for brunch to view my estate sale finds and to rearrange furniture. Somehow we got sidetracked in my yard, and after four hours, this new friend—who has the knowledge of a biologist and land steward, the strength of four men, and the patience and insight of a true listener—helped me transform a struggling landscape into a peaceful and inviting place.
We weeded invasive plants and deleterious natives. We watered. We swept porches and decks. We trimmed and pruned. We removed dog toys and old plant containers and garden accessories that no longer fit or worked, and we cleaned off and spruced up the remaining fixtures, decorations, benches, tables, and seats. She single-handedly moved and stacked six industrial concrete tiles that I had repurposed as stepping stones. There was a lot of stuff to be disposed of or recycled. The red truck—introduced in this very space last year—is full and ready for runs to the nursery and the landfill.
It is hot and dry here in central Virginia, and as we worked all Sunday afternoon—sometimes in silence, sometimes chatting, we would stop for a bite to eat or something to drink—water, iced coffee, apricot and apple juice, elderflower tonic, and spicy vegetable juice were all on the afternoon-long menu. It was fun.
I have had a lot of help from friends old and new since Katrina, and I am grateful for all of it. I don’t think I would be as solid and stolid as I am without the help of those friends and well-wishers.
What I have not had since 2005 is Sunday’s sense of easy camaraderie and relaxation at my house.The sense of being at home at home.
My home-front, wherever and whatever that has been, has been a place of dis-ease and dis-placement since Katrina. Buying, decorating, and working on this particular dwelling has always seemed like a responsibility at best. Mostly it has been challenge and a chore. There have been erosion and serious drainage issues. Appliance issues. Air conditioning issues. Heating issues. Structural issues. Problems I thought I was escaping when I left New Orleans. Problems I thought I would avoid by purchasing a newly renovated structure. Problems a new renovation shouldn’t have.
I do find it slightly discouraging that the yard on which I have devoted so much money and time is challenged both by drought and by noxious natives like ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia) and wood nettle (Lignum urtica) and invasive species like stilt grass (Microstegium vimineum). I console myself that mountain mint (Pycananthemum virginianum) has spread along the river in profusion and has attracted a superfluity of bees, wasps, and other pollinators.
I also find it somewhat disconcerting that I am in the middle of house repairs and restoration again, but I find comfort in the support of new and old friends who are making this makeover—which is as much a choice as a necessity--easy and interesting. Sheetrock and silica dust are bothersome but vacuumable.
So yard and house renovations continue apace. And happily. With more acceptance than anxiety.
That realization brings me back to our theme for this issue. Of course, there would have to be a Mardi Gras after any apocalypse. New Orleanians would see to that. Thanks to Big Class and to members and friends of the Antenna Collective for envisioning it.
Big Class is a nonprofit organization that creates opportunities for New Orleans youth ages 6-18 to write and be supported in their writing. With roots in a series of classroom projects in 2010, completed by first graders and led by Co-Founder and Executive Director Doug Keller at Lincoln Elementary in Marrero, LA. As word of the project spread throughout the city, teachers began to reach out to Doug about the need for similar projects in their classrooms. In 2013, Big Class opened the Big Class Studio and began operating as a year-round organization. Today, Big Class is in the process of becoming a chapter of 826 National, broadening their sphere of influence and impact to include even more of students, parents, teachers, and volunteers. Since 2011, Big Class has served more than 3,000 students in its programs (eighty percent of whom identified themselves as writers after their participation), and has released over 100 publications. Find out more about the organization and how you can help with gifts of time and money here: www.bigclass.org.
Welcome to the Katrina 2016 issue.
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