Monday, September 22, 2008

As I Am So Often

It was so silent here an hour ago. I was exhausted as I am so often now with eyes that longed to shut. I collapsed into a heap in the bedroom with the dog curled up against my legs while my mother in law, who rose hours before me this morning, attended to paperwork in a chair in the living room. It was just the two of us and the silence.

I lay there in that heap but did not fall asleep. The dog moved from one position to another. I pulled the blanket up and then threw it off, covered in sweat as I am so often now. I stared at the dark walls with desperate eyes that would not shut.

Here I am in this place 24 hours a day, living the best of all possible worlds, they say. But I never get away. Rarely talk to another soul. Not even the sandwich man down the street anymore. Just stuck here at this keyboard with the fans running and my fingers clicking on this keyboard.

Then the house came alive. The front door opened and the dog ran to greet Trudy coming home from class. And moments later, there was a slam of a car door outside, and then there was Ben saying "Hellooo" and the dog barking and Trudy asking how his birthday day was. As I pulled myself out of that pathetic heap, got clothes on and came back out into the house that I never leave. To smile and make noise with my family.

But they were all tired. Trudy put a few things away. Ben brushed his teeth. My mother in law put down her paperwork for the night. And they went to bed, leaving me in the silence. In this house that I never leave. Still exhausted but with not a hint of sleep in these eyes. Alone at midnight as I am so often now.

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 Friday, September 19, 2008

Cherry Pickers

When the cherry pickers arrived, it was a cause for some excitement -- as excitement goes. Three utility trucks came down the street, the first one snagging on a low hanging cable and yanking the poles something awful with a craaack that made you think Oak Street was doomed to darkness for a month.

They started at the far end of the block, working back our way one pole at a time, one transformer at a time. When they stopped in front of the house, I got four cans of soda from the ice chest and walked out to them, handing a cold can (Dr. Pepper or Pepsi) to each of the four orange-clad men.

One asked how we were coming along. Ok, I said, no power and fallen trees and a lot of debris to clean up, but no water in the house, and the trees had mostly fallen away from Bert's roof, which was saying something.

I asked him where they came from. "Washington," he said. And then he looked at me and said, "You know, Texas is supposed to be desert!" I chuckled. The street was lined on both sides with six foot piles of cut tree trunks and raked and piled limbs that had fallen from what used to be a dense canopy over the neighborhood.

When I left Houston a day later with dusk settling on the city, more utility trucks were arriving. They were coming from all over the country, driving toward Galveston. In the evening light, you could see their twinkling yellow lights from a distance -- a group of three or four, followed a mile or so later by several more, and a mile or so later by yet more, a steady stream of flashing help-on-the-way.

There was plenty of work for them to do.

after Ike
Dickinson, TX

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Leaving for Houston

On the outskirts of Austin, the traffic stopped. Barely outside the city. With hours of driving ahead. For no obvious reason. All three lanes of the highway came to a dead stop.

I prepared to turn back. If all these people were returning to Houston after the storm, then this was not a good idea. Leave aside the time, the gas stations would be mobbed in every town between here and there, and I'd be lucky to get there.

I decided to wait until the tollway, hoping that some of these folks might be going north or south. (Right.) Bert's power in Dickinson was out, and he thought he could use a generator. And he had a lot of trees down and only one barely functional chainsaw, so he needed chainsaws. And he needed batteries. And stuff to drink. And a broom. And rakes. And bleach. And soap. And paper towels. And toilet paper.

I had all these things packed in the car around me. I could barely see out the rear view mirror, and I had to lean forward to see the right side view mirror. The traffic inched along. Cars around me were packed with supplies. Trucks pulling trailers with heavy equipment.

As we got to the tollway, I could see that it was the stoplight at the underpass that caused all this fuss. So I didn't turn around. Instead, I set the cruise control on 60 (to conserve gas) and headed out of town to Houston.

taking supplies to Dickinson
after Hurricane Ike

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 Thursday, September 18, 2008

Hummingbird Feeders After the Storm

It could have been so much worse if the cold front had not come. But come it did after the hurricane had passed, which made the cutting and the raking and the pitching and the piling far less miserable than it would have otherwise been. With each cool breeze, we counted our lucky stars.

At the end of the day, we sat and caught our breath amid the debris next to the fatally wounded Pine and the fallen shade Oak.

The roaring generator on the patio didn't seem to bother the Hummingbirds. They swooped down from the remaining canopy in the golden light, coming and going, fighting over positions at the feeders. Not just one or two, but a dozen or more swarming more like bees than birds in apparent desperation to get to the sugar water.

After a storm like that, there aren't many Trumpet Vine blossoms left.

after hurricane Ike
Dickenson, TX

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 Monday, September 15, 2008

Writing About Butterflies

You told me to write about butterflies, something evidently to kick me out of this slump. But I cannot write about butterflies, as not so many come by here.

That's not entirely true, of course. Occasionally there's a yellow or a white one, some cause for celebration. And we saw a Monarch today. One Monarch several blocks from here who managed to find some shade in the evening beside a pond.

But what will happen when the butterflies don't come? When the flowers wilt in the blazing sun and the silent spring that we thought we had avoided shows up in spite of our late twentieth century satisfaction that we had turned that corner. When the ice melts. When the bee hives don't hum. When the mountaintops are gone. And waves lap on deserted shores.

When the last tree falls, no one will be here to hear it.

Dang. Why did I have to write about butterflies, anyway!?

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 Sunday, September 14, 2008


When I walked in, the sky was blue, and the sun was shining. When I walked out, bands of dark clouds filled the sky and were rolling in from the northeast. Ike was on the way to Houston, and its arms reached all the way to the edge of the Hill Country.

In Houston, before the rains even began to fall, the high tide and the superimposed storm surge pushed water out of the bayous and into the streets and into people's homes. Before the rains, the floods began.

And when the swirling storm pounded the western shore of Galveston Bay, the force of the surging water pushed great concrete slabs and breakwaters into the streets. Boats and yachts and floating debris bashed into homes and smashed into bridges. And houses burned to the ground.

Ike hit Galveston dead-on and went right up the bay. But the surge was not as bad as it might have been, and people took the warnings of "certain death" mostly to heart. There were three extra bodies sleeping here last night and one extra little black dog.

Austin needs rain badly. Our barrels are empty. The grass is pale and dry. I confess, we looked up at those sweeping black bands with some hope and listened to the 100% chance of rain predictions with some anticipation. But the rains never reached us -- a blessing not so much in disguise.

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 Friday, September 5, 2008

Trees I Have Known

A tree fell yesterday. I heard it the night before, cracking as I walked around the yard.

I looked up, hoping to jump out of the way of whatever was about to come down, then I realized that the sound had come from across the street. Yet there was no evidence of anything. Until the next day. Yesterday half an elm lay on the ground, a great gash left in the canopy where it had split off.

I don't know why I tell you this. There are plenty of trees where you are, I am sure, and that tree holds no real significance for you. But...

But there is another tree I want to talk about -- a little Chinquapin we planted across the street a year and a half ago when Bobby moved out of the rental house.

Bobby and Bill and I cut a hole in the dying canopy of the two Ash trees in the yard of that house and let a splash of sunshine fall on the ground. And I dug a hole there and planted a little Chinquapin -- for when the Ash trees are gone.

That was a more than a year ago. And I've been walking across the street with a pail of water every couple days ever since. And sometimes some fish emulsion. Which made the tree very happy. Big glossy green Chinquapin leaves.

Bobby moved away. The next family came and went. The rental house sat empty again. A man came and repaired the tattered garage door. Another man came and pressure washed the mildewed stone walls. Another came and mowed the lawn.

"I have some bad news," Trudy told me as I sat in my hotel room looking at her grim face on my computer screen. I steeled myself but couldn't imagine what it might be. "The Chinquapin is gone," she said.

I woke up that night alone in a musty hotel room, sobbing.

The Chinquapin is gone. Only a ragged hole remains where is was yanked out by the roots from that little sunny spot. A ragged screaming hole in a sunny spot under a blue summer sky. The Chinquapin is gone.

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