Tag Archives: hurricane

When my husband and I bought our first home, it was with the conviction that it was our last home. “This is where I will grow old with him and die,” I told myself.

When the economic growth of the area accelerated and he decided he wanted to sell and move, I was devastated. After a childhood of upheaval, I sought stability and needed to believe my home could remain an island of such in the madness growing around me. In time, I realized it could not and accepted the move.

Our new home, twenty miles south and three hundred square feet smaller, was just as house:  nice enough, comfortable, but not that space that said, “Forever.” It was, however, an island. It sat on one of the highest lots in the neighborhood and when Hurricane Harvey struck last fall, the water crept up to the curb but never truly threatened us.

It was quiet, as well. Despite being in a small city that is embedded in the Greater Houston area, in fall and spring, when the air conditioning doesn’t run, it’s almost too quiet to sleep. I often found myself listening anxiously to my heartbeat in the early morning hours.

It was a social island as well. If one has children in such a neighborhood, one socializes. If one is “older” and beyond child-bearing years (like we are), one just smiles and says hello or maybe occasionally shares a dog anecdote or two.

If one were to ask me to describe my dream home, it would not have been this little house near the bayou.

Ah—but the bayou.

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I do love it. It is called a creek, but it is a bayou. You can call it a creek and you can even call it by its official name, Clear Creek, to make you feel better about the breen, silty flow that eases and oozes its way ever so lazily around Brazoria and Galveston county—but it’s a bayou.

I love it, in all its bayouness, along with the rest of this sometimes perilous swampland that is Southeast Texas. I love the birds, bats, bugs, and plants that take refuge in it. I love the year-round greenery, the mild winters, the Gulf breezes that smell of salt cedar and seafoam on stormy days. I love the signs warning of alligators and other dangers in the parks.

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And yet we have left the bayou behind in recent weeks. We’ve said goodbye to that reliable little house where Harvey tried but failed to harm us.

We have moved to where the bayous knit together and trail into the sea. We have landed on another island, one of salt marsh and seagulls and “Oh my God! But what about Global Warming?!” Now, I sleep soundly in a house that I truly love, listening to wave susurrations. I truly hope this will be my last home, but I can accept that it may not because my life has simply never been about permanence.

The bayou remains within reach. In truth, there is a shadowy bayou is just up the road—just not “my” bayou. I am not far from Texas live oak, hackberry, chip-chipping cardinals, and complaining crows. There are new plants and birds to meet there as well. Perhaps I will leave this space here for a little “new bayou” chatter.

Nonetheless, watch this space for a new page link; this new island is just as chatty.

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Thirty-nine-year-old leaf

Thirty-nine-year-old leaf.

Hurricane Harvey has come and gone leaving the Flood from Hell in his wake. I feel not one bit qualified to write about, “the Experience of Harvey.” I will say, in a nutshell, we were fortunate and had almost no damage from the storm. Certainly, nothing worth mentioning. There was anxiety and sleeplessness, but honestly, I have that every night. It’s built into my genetic code. I was more worried about my daughter worrying too much about us than I was worried about us. Sort out that mental spaghetti, if you can.

We were on the periphery of this storm and in almost all respects, despite the fact that almost fifty inches of rain fell on our home. I feel lucky, relieved, and guilty as hell.

In the middle of the storm, there was little to do but listen to wind and rain and hope for the best. We had no boat and no special capabilities, so, we just stayed put. I tried to write, but my mind wandered constantly, taking me to my phone to check radar or to the window to check the water level in the street. If I wasn’t checking the road or the phone, I was watching the news for the latest predictions and hoping for a change for the better. Any kind of focus on creative thinking became impossible.

Finally, after the rain abated and the temperature dropped, I went to our garage where I sorted through boxes my husband had pulled down from the attic months before in an effort to prepare for a retirement move. As the wind buffeted the garage door (and made me fear for our trees now sitting in soaked earth), I looked through memories that went back over forty years.

Most were newer: junior high school pictures of my daughter, a copy of a short story my brother wrote about fifteen years ago, and anniversary cards from my husband. Many were much older: My Girl Guides journal and lapel pin from England (ca. 1973), a tiny, white New Testament from about 1970, and a large maple leaf I’d picked up somewhere around 1978.

I kept a leaf. Actually, two. Not beautiful flowers or stunning butterflies. Leaves.

Now, I love trees. If trees were animated creatures, I’d say they were my spirit animals. But, to keep a leaf in a book for forty years?

It struck me, looking at that leaf as the storm raged around us and knowing, all around me in the huge Houston metropolitan area, thousands of people were losing their homes, cars, livelihoods, perhaps family members: what a lot of crap we keep for no damn good reason.

Leaves.

You hear it a lot at these times, as people wait to find out if their house is safe from rising waters or as they swim away from their inundated home: “They’re just things.”

They are and they aren’t. They’re things we spent years clinging to for some reason. They’re things we’ve invested with emotion, meaning, connection to the past. They should be “just things,” but we will still feel an ache when we think about them floating down a street into a bayou and into the Gulf of Mexico.

If they’re just things, at what point do we stop collecting them? At what point do we admit that it was absurd to lose, let’s say, three thousand dollars worth of cat toys to a hurricane, so we should probably not replace them in full. (Thank you, Steve Martin)

I’m not saying cat toys (or shoes, or purses, or fountain pens, or electronics, or even forty-year-old leaves) are bad. I just wonder if, in saving all these things, this stuff, we need to spend more time on ourselves, our souls, if you will. Some people can balance the two, stuff and soul, beautifully. Speaking for myself, I have spent far too much time in life not taking care of my soul, but taking care of what I thought others expected of me. When I couldn’t do that very well at all, I sank into despair and simply did nothing. Often times, I bought stuff to fill the void. That stuff eventually found its way to boxes that ended up in the attic. Often, I picked up things, or kept bits of my past, as if they were somehow parts of my empty soul, and they too found their way into the boxes in the attic.

I kept leaves.

I haven’t answered my own questions. When do we stop collecting? When do we stop clinging? Does it take a flood to remind us every time we start getting too attached?

If life is cyclic, and it seems to be so for me, then maybe this is one of those cycles. When we next move, if we do as planned, it will be roughly the same number of years in this home as in our last home. We will be downsizing again and much will be thrown out, donated, or sold. Time, not Harvey, will have cleansed our home. I hope, however, that I will have learned by then not to restock the new home with stuff. There will be a time when I am too old to sort through boxes. When I’m gone, I don’t want my daughter sorting through leaves.

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Hurricane Harvey is on his way. Oh, he was supposed to be just a little tropical storm. A “rain event.” Then he dawdled a bit last night and this morning. Now he’s a full-on hurricane and he’ll be a bigger hurricane when he comes onto the Texas coast. The only questions are how big and where?

So, I’m in pain. In itself, no surprise. It goes with the territory. Anxiety. Shifting isobars. Tensing muscles. Will we get five inches of rain or forty? Will the dog go outside and do his business over the coming five days (predicted minimum time that Harvey will be disrupting life) or will I have an overgrown Chihuahua that requires some sort of makeshift “potty”? Will the power hold up in both houses? Does it matter? Should I be complaining when I am so privileged that I can use the phrase “both houses”? (Oh, I can answer that one. Hell, no.)

When Hurricane Ike barreled through in 2008, I wasn’t really frightened. It was unsettling to hear the house pop and bend and to hear the occasional branch or roof tile hit the metal covers on the windows. But it wasn’t frightening. However, when the storm cleared and the radio began giving us reports of what was left in Ike’s wake (we had no power so there was no television to look at), sadness hit. We were safe. My family and close friends were safe. The word of the destruction in Galveston, High Island, Crystal Beach, Surfside, and other nearby areas was agonizing. As painful as it was to hear, I could only I imagine how horrible it was to experience. I listened to the stories and thought, “God, those poor people.”

And then, eight years later, my husband and I bought a beach house.

Eh?

Are we insane?

Is memory that short?

We can see, every time we walk the beach at Surfside, the remnants of Ike: Two homes still in the water, half gone, pilings slowly being chewed away by the surf, gaping holes in the flooring overhead. You can see drapery still fluttering in the windows. Nine years later. Further down the beach, homes that were inland with private docks or dune crossovers are now on the beach. Yet, further still, the beach grew, sand deposited by the storm, turning first row homes into third row. Because that’s what Nature does. She takes here, gives there and then, quite possibly switches it all back around again. On our many visits to this lovely little village over several years of vacations, we looked at these things and thought how hard it must be to live through such events. We asked ourselves if we could stand the trauma. We asked ourselves if we would rebuild if we were crazy enough to have a beach house. We told ourselves over and over that we would not own a beach house. One, it was not within our reach and two, it was too much risk.

But the thing about places like this village. Places like lakes in the woods and towns on mountainsides. They hook you. They’re like drugs. You keep going back and back and they soak into your soul. Pretty soon you find yourself recalling the scent of the town when you are a hundred miles away. A seashell in a magazine advertisement takes you drifting back. A woman in the grocery store makes you think of the proprietress of the burger joint in the village. The voice of a gull on the wing, blown inland on a storm, puts an ache in your heart. You must have your beach fix, so you return.

You return until returning isn’t enough and all those concerns: Can we afford it? What about the drive? What about the upkeep? What about the septic system? You said you hate septic. What about this and that? What about—Hurricanes? All that just falls away and you succumb.

So, I’m sitting here, in pain, crying, not really ready for what Harvey might bring, but cautiously optimistic that he will not do too much damage since he won’t be a direct hit at hurricane strength (they say). I’m also realistic, he won’t be a non-event. He won’t be nothing. He may do more damage at my inland home than at the beach because he promises days of rain. He will likely do more damage down the coast and I am fearful for people in his path there.

But after sixteen months of weekends and vacations with the waves playing their songs through our bedroom window, I know can’t escape—maybe not ever.

We shall see. Get back with me in about a week or so.IMG_0890 (Edited)