Big Storm, Little Kitten

The convergence of several things recently led me to this post: (1) the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Gustav is today, (2) Hurricane Isaac, the “worst storm since Gustav” hit our old neighborhood a couple of days ago, (3) Facebook made me switch to the “timeline” view, prompting me to go through old posts and photos there, and (4) I wanted to jump back into blogging and was looking for an easy way to do it.

So I’m re-posting this Facebook album of Gustav photos and comments here for posterity. I’ve mentioned this before, but Gustav hit a week after we took in Percy, and our memories of the storm are mixed up with our interest in seeing his reaction to it and our relief that he was no longer on the streets in the weather himself.

kitten looking out window at storm

September 1, 2008: At about 3:40, the worst was over.

kitten looking out window at aftermath

kitten, window, wet driveway

kitten looking at man outside window

What is he doing out there?

backyard with branches all over

September 2: Our backyard.

branch and shingles in backyard

shingles on ground, bent clothesline

The neighbor’s roof seems to be all over our yard.

another view of beatup backyard

Our clothesline didn’t fare too well.

branches on ground

kitten climbing on bars of window

No electricity means the windows are open. Percy likes this.

kitten climbing on window bars

kitten investigating open window

woman, cat carrier, coffee on patio furniture

September 3: We move outside to the carport. Inside is too hot.

kitten in cat carrier on table

man looks out at cloudy sky

kitten biting at cat carrier

Tired of this.

view of kitten through window

The screen blew off, so he is trapped behind glass.

kitten looking up through window at photographer

man on roof of house

Our roof is fine! Not a single shingle missing.

beat-up trees in backyard

September 4: There’s a branch that just won’t fall on its own.

branch half-fallen from tree

Finally gravity, rope, and the husband win the battle.

kitten looks out window

September 5: Still no electricity, which is not a problem for Percy.

close-up of kitten looking out window

kitten face in case of bottled water

September 12: The power’s been on for three days, but now our emergency water seems to be contaminated.

Summer’s End at the Park-n-Ride

I have a long commute. Every weekday I walk out the door at a time I’d rather be sleeping and walk in the door at a time I’d rather be wiping down the counters and putting the leftovers in the fridge. A usual day involves four buses and a park and ride. Some mornings, though, if I’m running late or want to pick up milk or bread between work and home, I will skip the first bus and drive to the parking lot. It feels a little decadent to waste that gas, a little indulgent to live ever-so-slightly more on my own schedule rather than a bus driver’s. On those days, after work, I get off the bus and walk out to the middle of the dusty parking lot which is not much more than a large, flat rectangle of dirt with streetlamps. Something about that, this summer, has seemed familiar and comforting. I would pause next to row E or F, take my earbuds out, and listen to the muffled traffic on the distant highway and think, what is it? What does this feel like?

My park and ride is part of a development that used to be an airport. The city is expanding and growing around it, and the airport grounds themselves are being filled in with new construction—houses and apartments, shops and parks, sidewalks next to young fast-growing trees. My parking lot is not far from the air traffic control tower that still stands. On one side a prairie dog town and a one-story heap of dirt serve as a buffer between me and the back of a Wal-Mart. On another, thigh-high grasses and yellow wildflowers hide rabbits who sometimes come out and explore under cars.

One day it finally struck me, as I watched a train in the distance and was hit with the hot wind that comes across wide open spaces in the summertime: this feels like Oklahoma. Specifically, it feels like the field behind my grandparents’ trailer home on the edge of their small town. My brothers and I would cross that stretch of land and climb the wooden fence, where we’d sit, watching the cars a few miles away on the highway out of town. We were within sight of the porch, but not within its hearing. If one was on the fence with her back to the trailer park, her brothers behind her riding bikes on the wheelchair ramp, one might as well have been alone. If one sat just right, not angled towards the traffic, but looking over the prairie instead, one might as well have been Laura Ingalls taking a break from her chores.

three kids on a wooden fence

There’s a bit of that pleasant aloneness at the park and ride sometimes. In the mornings it is busy, but in the evenings my first bus is late more than it’s on time. If the timing is just right wrong right, I miss the second bus by thirty seconds and have to wait fourteen minutes and thirty seconds for the next. Everyone else gets on a bus or in a car and leaves at once, and then there’s just me on a bench with an iphone.

sky, buses, building

The weather shifted a couple of weeks ago, suddenly dropping twenty or thirty degrees, right about the time school started. My first morning bus is now full of sleepy high schoolers, and my second morning bus is full of sleepy college students. Sometimes I have to share my seat.

The light is changing too—quickly, it seems, after a summer of long, hot weeks. The sun is closing in on me from both ends of the day. The construction is closing in on the parking lot, as well. In the few days it took me to put this post together, one of the bordering fields went from sea of native vegetation to bulldozed and leveled, packed dirt. I’ve been worrying about the prairie critters and wondering what the place will be like next summer.

sunrise over parking lot

Hundred-Year Flood

When I am old and forgetful, as I will be one day, and someone says, “Didn’t you live in Louisiana for a while? What was it like?” I don’t know what will have stuck in my mind about those three years. But if I had to guess, I’d guess I will say something like, “It was wet.”

Water was a constant presence there. We took the first pictures of the house we were renting in the rain, and we packed our moving truck during a sweaty 90 degree, 99% humidity September.

house in rain

In southern Louisiana, it is hard to believe that water is a commodity that we should conserve, that there is a shortage somewhere. It feels like water is everywhere. It feels hard to control; it is something that must be worked around and lived with.

Maybe it feels different for those who grow up there and know no other place. But we noticed that our towels never quite dried on the rack between showers. Our dish drainer was always in a shallow pool of water. The condensation on the inside of a summer window was a bit disconcerting. A layer of some kind of mildew coated the inside of our teakettle. When we walked outside and our glasses steamed up like we were leaning over a freshly-opened dishwasher, we wished we lived somewhere else.

Of course, all this water led to some of what I liked best about Baton Rouge. The sprawling, majestic live oaks. Spanish moss.

live oak

tree with moss

spanish moss

Tiny frogs and nearly neon lizards right outside my door.

penny-sized frog

lizard and ivy on post

In the late afternoon sometimes, after a rain, steam would rise from the streets. It felt a little like magic.

We went to a barbeque at the tail end of a tropical storm. “If Fay is too wild, we’ll eat indoors,” our host said. A native, she spoke of storms like members of her family. A neighbor brought over a little striped kitten who had arrived, wet and hungry, on her doorstep the night before. We took him home and he changed our lives.

A week later, Hurricane Gustav hit. We were fine, our house was fine, and our yard was fine aside from many downed tree limbs and the neighbor’s roof losing shingles all over our lawn. However, the electricity went out and stayed out for nine days. It quickly became stifling in the house with the windows closed, so after we were sure the storm had passed, we opened them.

cat looking out window at storm

backyard with debris

I quickly learned that air-conditioning really did more than just cool the air. The humidity came inside immediately and condensation covered everything we owned. The floor had a layer of moisture on it, so when we walked we left reverse footprints. Everything felt wet and gross. It took a long, dank three days before the air indoors and out had equalized somewhat.

campus buildings and trees

We’d moved to south Louisiana two years after Hurricane Katrina, but she was a force everyone was still dealing with. Some of my classmates had just returned to school after taking a couple of years off to pick up the pieces after the storm displaced family or otherwise distracted them. Baton Rouge had gained a huge influx of people who moved up from the New Orleans area, and the infrastructure could barely handle it. Traffic was horrible.

After I graduated, I worked for a program at the school to recruit and train librarians to work in areas affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Many of the destroyed libraries and their collections had been rebuilt, but they were understaffed. Our grant paid for the classes of locals who wanted to move into these spots but lacked the education, and we recruited a handful of students from other parts of the country eager to work in the area for two years in exchange for a free degree.

These students were excited and passionate. They loved the state and wanted to help it. They saw the challenge, but it energized them and strengthened their resolve. More than once I sat in a room of two or three dozen people and thought, I’m the only one here who does not want a job being a librarian in Louisiana.

I don’t understand it. And yet I kind of do. My people come from a place of dust storms and depression, but we still say the land we belong to is grand. Of course, I don’t live there any more. So.

bridge over Mississippi River

It’s been raining here this week. It’s been more rain than we’ve seen in a week the eight months we’ve been here. I heard today that there has been more rain this May than there was in January, February, March, and April combined and doubled. It’s been wet, and I’ve had to shake the water off the plastic-bagged newspaper every morning, take a towel and wipe the drizzle off my leather tote when I get to work, and dig the microfiber cloth out to clean my glasses more than I care to. As I walked to the bus stop this evening, I had to watch my step to avoid the earthworms that had come up on the sidewalks.

However, and I know it sounds contradictory, it’s still arid here. My lips are chapped and my pale skin is actually ashy in spots. As usual, when I walk across the carpet and then put my hand on a cat’s back, we both feel the static. Where I work, everyone carries a water bottle or mug of tea to every meeting and every presentation, no matter how short, because everyone is thirsty all the time.

No matter how wet it is here, in other words, it’s wetter in south Louisiana.

houses viewed from levee

When we went to Baton Rouge to find a house to rent, everyone warned us to find something that wouldn’t flood. The one we picked out was, according to our research, in a 100-300 year flood zone. We decided that those were odds we could live with, as 40% of the city had the same rating. We’re not going to live there that long, we said. We’ll take our chances.

top of the levee

Yeah, it’s a block from the river, we said, but it’s right next to the university, and they won’t let the university go underwater. The levee is high and wide there, at least to my inexperienced eye. It has a paved bicycle trail. Even when the water is very high, it would have a long way to come before it got to us.

Mississippi River

This is not a story about me being wrong. I am sure our former house is fine. The river is cresting. The ground must be saturated, and the toads have come up on the concrete under the carport to avoid drowning. The backyard will have standing water for days, and the toilet might not flush because there’s nowhere for that sewage to go. But that’s a minor inconvenience. The house is okay, and the city is okay, for now.

wet backyard grass

cat in wet window

My Quiet Little Mountain Town

The last two Saturday mornings I have gone for a walk in my neighborhood. Actually, it’s not really my neighborhood. It’s the neighborhood next door to my neighborhood. (Tip for those whose middle-classedness is more historical and/or aspirational than income-based: rent a house just outside of the nice neighborhood you want to take your walks in!)

fake cobwebs on fence

Last Saturday my goal was to walk to the library, to get a card and to see what it looked like, and to get a little exercise in the process. It was such a nice walk and such beautiful weather, I came home totally charmed by the whole place. Yesterday, I repeated the walk with my camera to try to capture what had appealed to me. It seemed a little less magical the second time. The air was a little less crisp and the light seemed flatter, the leaves slightly less vibrant. Maybe the storm that blew through mid-week changed the atmosphere a bit, or maybe it’s just that the serendipity and novelty was not as strong. I still love it, though. I am in no way complaining or expressing disappointment. I just felt like I should mention that there were two separate trips, because maybe I will talk about some things I saw on the first walk and I won’t have a picture of them, and I don’t want you to think I am lying. So, some of the charming things were only seen the first Saturday, okay?

gate with cat peeking through

(Do you see the gray cat peeking through that gate?)

Anyway. There were cats lounging in yards and couples walking their dogs. Canvassers were going door to door with clipboards. People were out raking leaves. Whole families were riding bikes together.

porch with pumpkins and fake grave

I love the tile on the steps.

Halloween decorations added a lot of festivity.

tricycle on sidewalk

chalk drawing on sidewalk

There were hints of children everywhere. Jogging strollers on porches, toys in yards, swings hanging from trees. In one yard, taped behind a cartoonish ghost, a sign in third-grade lettering said, “BEWARE of the PAIN.”

A couple of blocks from the library, honest-to-goodness, a young couple was pulling a little red wagon with two toddlers and a stack of picture books in it. I thought I was in a Beverly Cleary book for a moment. I about cried.

red and orange leaves

It has been a while since I lived somewhere with autumn leaves of any note. I have missed them.

ghost decoration hangs from tree

Between my house and the library, there is a block with an Italian restaurant, little market, dog groomer, dry cleaner, dentist, dance studio, used bookstore, and bakery (and probably other things I’m forgetting). The bakery sells coffee, so there were people mingling at the tables outside its door. Across the street from the businesses is a park with a jungle gym and a sheltered picnic table.

people drinking coffee outside bakery

The dance studio has big glass windows so I could see the young ballerinas inside at the barre. Yesterday’s class included one in a blue fairy costume, but I couldn’t figure out how to get a photo of her without looking creepy.

The parking lot behind the businesses was decorated. I’m a sucker for this kind of random artsy crap dangling from trees thing. I realized there were shoes hanging behind the dance studio, pot lids and whisks behind the bakery, and bones and mirrors behind the dentist.

decorative glass hanging above small chairs and table

pot lids dangling from tree

small mirrors mounted on display board

Those are my stripey feet. Or, I think, it’s one of my feet, three times. At the very least, one of my feet is reflected twice, because I only have two total.

cars and trees from above

This is the view from the front of the library. I did not get a good photo of the library itself. Near the library are two churches, one with a preschool.

shabby white picket fence

I just like it. I like the architecture, the weather, the signs of life, the hatchbacks with ski racks, the coolers for milk delivery, the wind chimes, the trees, the planters of ivy and pansies, the brick houses, and the old uneven sidewalks. Even the zombies and giant spiders don’t deter me. I am glad we moved here.

wooden fence and carved bear

Happy Halloween!

huge fake spider perched on fence