Lake Fausse Point, Louisiana

October 3rd, 2005

Dixie

It was still daylight when the power went off. I remember it was 5:40 p.m. or so. We were not sure if it would be back on soon. It remained off for some 28 hours.

We had a portable, battery-operated radio and knew that Hurricane Rita would make landfall somewhere between Galveston, Texas and Cameron, Louisiana. Far too big a window to be comfortable with. Only three weeks after Hurricane Katrina had massacred New Orleans, the relentless approach of Rita was something dreadful and menacing.

What rough beast, its hour come 'round at last
Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?

Before the power went out, we watched multi-colored, cheerful radar images of Rita the same way we watched Katrina approach earlier. My companion had endured that tragedy, as did I, remotely. Now here was Rita, growing in intensity over those hot Gulf of Mexico waters, and she came, slouching, a juggernaut bent on razing. Slayer. The power went out, and if not for a battery operated radio we might very well have been alone in the entire world.

Night came too soon. The sound of generators rattled when the wind calmed briefly. I cursed myself for not having one installed. We did not run because we knew the hurricane was far enough away. There wasn't anywhere to go anyway, within ten or more hours driving distance. I know what this old house can stand, and believe me, my margin of error is very broad. I don't take foolish chances. A storm of 150 miles per hour, more than 100 miles away, yes, I felt we could deal with it, and we did.

Hurricanes seem to hit at night, a mysterious behavior of an obviously non-sentient natural phenomenon. We tend to think of them as alive and reasoning, or at least instinctive, creatures the way they crawl nefariously, jog here and there, turn suddenly and leap like jaguars at small prey. At us. We are the small prey. Indi-vidually, our homes, our skyscrapers, levees and bridges, are all small, and suddenly at night with the sound of howling winds and generators rattling, the Destroyer at our doors, we know it so surely.

Howls, all night. Banshee wails, bending trees, flashing spirits. We were never concerned for our own safety, but it was hot and uncomfortable. Rita raged all night, throwing gusts at us, drenching us with rain, screaming fury and mindless rage. Blind despite. Now and then, sleepless, edgy, I would go look through the big windows in the old breezeway. A faint glow lit the sky, though I could never quite discern where it came from. Ghastly shapes, skeletal and defrocked, my trees whipped and bent, wild dancers to Rita's snarling melody. Debris flashed through the sky, large dark shadows but some seemed to be winged, and I wondered if thunderbirds rode with her.

He flies the sky like an eagle in the eye
Of a hurricane that's abandoned-

Sleep was fitful, but when it came, images flashed through my mind of people in New Orleans being airlifted off roofs after days of waiting, of submerged nursing homes, or misery and neglect. Rita gave us her worst and dawn came at last, but the storm didn't stop. Outer bands passed over us, violent and sometimes more ferocious than the interior of the storm itself. Finally, though, the storm subsided enough to venture out, though winds were still battering and unexpected.

The yard was a mess, carpeted with downed tree limbs, but nothing on the house was damaged. We stayed muggy and hot until nearly 10 p.m. when the power was restored and slept under air conditioning again, exhausted, thankful, knowing that many were not nearly so fortunate.

There was saltwater intrusion into Bayou Teche behind my house. Someone saw dolphins, or perhaps porpoises, in the bayou. In Bayou Teche. It's unthinkable.

I spent Sunday cleaning up the yard, nearly passed out from the exertion but got most of it done. After that, a short nap, shower and we were off to the waterin' hole for a much deserved beer and supper of fried shrimp and oysters. We had survived the beast.

But we are left to wonder, what legacy the foul creature left us? New Orleans and Cameron, and all points in between. The pictures coming to us across the televisions from Abbeville, Erath. Rita left a wake of chaos. Not just in terms of physical damage, or flood waters, or even dismay. She left a trail of mystery, of consternation and confusion, of quandary and paradox.

August 29 and September 24, 2005. The nights they truly drove old Dixie down. The coast is strewn like wreckage, pulled thin and in danger of snapping. We are beaten down, but of course we'll get up again. We always do, no matter how badly we've been hit. No matter how we've been neglected, cheated, stolen from and tormented.

Because we have been, you know. Cheated. Stolen from. Tormented and neglected. Dolphins in Bayou Teche? Saltwater in Bayou Teche? Storm surges up the Franklin Canal submerging most of that area? Water to the Intracoastal in Bayou Sale?

We have been cheated since the first oil rig was built offshore. Those we elected in this state for decades cheated us, stole from us and neglected us while passing us out crumb cake and coffee and letting us know how good we had it. They lied. They let the oil industry rape our coast and never lift a hand to fix, preserve or repair it. They let the massive dredging buckets take all the shell reefs away, and still not satisfied, they let the marshes die from pollution and neglect.

You take what you need and you keep the rest
But they should never have taken the very best
Who drove old Dixie down? Politicians, criminals and con men. We experienced what we did in New Orleans and Cameron and all points in between because the United States government and the State of Louisiana's officialdom made themselves wealthy off the fossil fuels entering the nation through our state, through the imports and exports, through the cancer alleys and the bloody coffins, and ignored our deaths. They drove old Dixie down, and we are paying the toll.

The recovery of these two storms will cost tens of billions. There will be no greater opportunity to rebuild the coast, and probably no greater period of opposition to add to the price tag of driving old Dixie down.


I woke in the dead of night this morning in a cold sweat, thinking suddenly of kich.

My father's people knew that kich, a mottled-brown bird, probably a species of wren, would come to speak to them. It could, by making certain specific sounds, warn of danger, of friends visiting, of enemies, even of death. My ancestors could speak to it, my grandmother spoke to it and, though I do not know the words, for every spring that I have lived in the old family house, kich has come to me and I have listened to it. It perched in the fig tree and spoke to me, and though I didn't understand the words, I listened, just to let it know that I was here, that I still believed.

Last spring I wrote that I had not heard kich in the fig tree this year, and I was growing con-cerned. I had come to rely on its presence each spring, looking forward to it. In my perceptions of our visits, though I could not understand, I liked to think that in addition to whatever news it brought me, we shared memories of the old woman who for seventy years was its sole companion, its only confidant and solitary believer.

The entire spring passed, and kich never came to me. I never heard its distinctive cry. I feared I had lost it, failed it somehow, and that ancient messenger, that fragile link to my people's faded greatness was gone forever.

But I woke last night, sweat beading on my forehead, and heard her voice, drifting along the back ends of dark canals, whispering to me across a span of decades:

"If there will be a flood," my grandmother said to me as a boy, "the little bird will circle in the sky, afraid to come down, and make no noise." ~ Roger

(A debt to Yeats, America and The Band is gratefully acknowledged.)

It's out! And available now! You can be one of the first to own a copy of Roger's book. Native Waters: A Few Moments in a Small Wooden Boat

Order it now from www.iuniverse.com, Amazon.com, or Barnes & Noble.com. Roger will also be giving away three autographed copies to readers. Stay tuned, for an announcement on the Bulletin Board on that soon.


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