Step into the Dark

Equinox Sculpture

A year ago I set myself a project, an experiment, a journey, a spiritual quest. I wanted to discover, uncover, delineate and define my religion. I wanted to deepen, strengthen, and integrate everything in my life. I wanted to live with greater intention.

And I wanted it all to happen on a one-year schedule. It sounds pretty silly when I put it like that. But sometimes we need silly conceits to prop up our most serious ambitions.

So anyhow, the year has gone round again. Here we are back at the equinox. The planet keeps revolving around the sun. Our journey is not finished. Not yet.

For me, it’s been a year of baking bread and meditating and writing.

With my family, I celebrated all the seasonal holidays or sabbats known as the Wheel of the Year.

I’ve just read back through what I posted here since the last autumnal equinox. I aimed to post with less frequency but greater depth. And I did that, at least for a while. For the first six months, anyhow. I probably would have done better to break some of those massive posts down into sections and post them in serial fashion. But whatever.

It might seem I lost focus over the summer months. I did indeed get distracted by our travels, and the ROX party, and Persephone’s new school, and Isaac. I wrote about those things, but didn’t explicitly integrate them into the narrative of my quest. It would have required a little more effort to make those connections, and I didn’t make that effort. I got lazy.

But there’s more to it. A key piece of the puzzle, for me, was the question of theology. I published an essay on how my thoughts were evolving, but that was extremely tentative and exploratory. I continued to think and work on that over the summer, but I didn’t write about it. The time did not seem ripe, and my thoughts were far from clear.

Finally, a couple weeks ago, things crystallized somewhat. It was not a soul-shattering epiphany. It was more like a few ideas quietly clicking into place. Yet the ramifications are profound, at least on a personal level. I’m now prepared to make a basic statement of belief and identity.

While I’d like to articulate those thoughts, I’m not sure this site is the best venue. I’ve poured my heart out here for the last eight and half years. I think it’s time for a break. I suspect that if I stop writing here, I will be able to funnel that energy into writing something else, somewhere else, and I have some vague ideas about that. I think I’d like to write fiction for a while.

Every year is divided into a light half and a dark half. From now until the vernal equinox, the nights will be longer than the days. Right now we are losing one minute and 47 seconds of light each day. Over the last twelve months, I found I enjoyed the light half of the year more, but that the dark half was more productive. That dark half begins again now, with the autumnal equinox. Glenys Livingstone writes about the autumnal equinox as a time for “stepping into the creative power of the abyss.” So it felt last year. So again this year. New beginnings require old endings. I feel the need to step into the dark awhile, and harvest dreams.

Fifty-Five Months

My Family

Dear Persephone,

You are fifty-five months old today.

In the past month you rode out your first hurricane. When we decided to stay in place for Isaac, my main worry was that you might have some sort of traumatic experience. We had an interesting talk about about the many faces of Gaia. But the only real tragedy in your mind was that you missed cartoons Saturday morning because we still didn’t have power.

You had a much worse experience one week later. It was just a typical Friday morning, but for some reason you were out of sorts. You didn’t want to get out of bed. You didn’t want to eat breakfast. You didn’t want to go to school. Your mother and I could not discern any cause for your foul mood. You were grumpy and uncooperative. It got ugly. It was truly a morning from hell.

Such moments highlight your usually sunny disposition.

By contrast, allow me to mention one of your finest moments. Our neighbor Olivia Rose turned two recently. You attended her party and gave her a small gift. A short while later you got a thank-you card from Olivia Rose. This inspired you to make her a thank-you card in turn — a thank-you for the thank-you. “And then she’ll send me a thank-you card for that, and then I will send her a thank-you card, and she will send me one and I will send her one and back and forth and back and forth until it runs out.” Meaning the ink in your respective markers.

Oh, and I just wanted to note you are still in the “why” phase. I thought you’d have outgrown it by now, but no. Sometimes I think “why” is your favorite word. It’s not even a question anymore; it’s just something you state in reply to virtually anything. “It’s Tuesday.” Why. “Look, it’s raining.” Why. “Good morning.” Why. And so on.

And now some assorted tidbits.

  • “I can tell what people are feeling. Just by touching them. I have more power than grownups.”
  • “That lightning made my heart jump!”
  • We were listening to a scratchy old Thelemic chant one morning, a recording from 1914: “The Call of the Second Æthyr.” You thought the voice sounded familiar. “That’s you, right Daddy?” No, babe, that’s Aleister Crowley.
  • We caught our first flat ont he way to school one morning. We still made it to on time, though, as we got a lift from a neighbor who’s daughter happens to be in the classroom next door to you. Funny thing is we’d never met these folks before, but they live just a couple blocks up the street from us.
  • The Saints lost their first game of the season. I said, “Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints.” You said, “The Redskins bwhahaha!”
  • A morning question: “What do clouds taste like?”
  • You invented a new word, “indecorgeous,” but you aren’t sure what it means.

Uncharacteristic Behavior

I rented a car and drove west. All by myself. I drove and drove and drove until I got to Austin, Texas. And I thought to myself, how uncharacteristic. I felt like I hadn’t done anything like this before, at least not for a very long time.

There was a reason for this pilgrimage, of course. Over thirty years ago, a woman named Lisa and a man named Brendan began a musical collaboration in Melbourne, Australia. Later they moved to London. For the better part of two decades they made amazing music together under the name Dead Can Dance. Then they broke up in 1998. During all that time, I never heard them, never even knew of them. They got back together for a world tour in 2005, but I was still entirely ignorant. I only discovered them around the time my daughter was born. To say I found their music transformative would be an understatement. They’re the only act in recent memory that I would actually want to see live — and they aren’t even together anymore.

Except now they are. When they announced a new album and a new tour, I bought tickets at the first opportunity. The closest they got to New Orleans was Atlanta. I opted for Austin, which is almost as close, but home to many more friends, even some relatives.

That was some six months ago. Xy thought I was crazy and vehemently disapproved. If Hurricane Isaac had come a week later, we might have evacuated to Austin and everything would have worked out nicely. As it was, we were just getting back to normal and it didn’t feel quite right to run off. I mailed my tickets to PJ in Austin. Then I talked to Xy; she’d had a change of heart and wanted me to go, with her blessing.

So I went. PJ came to see the show with me.


And the show was really good.



After the show we stopped to see some of PJ’s friends and jammed until the wee hours of the morning.

Club Pesky

I spent the night at PJ’s house. It was great to see Andrea and the kids.


The next day I drove back home. In total I was only gone 32 hours, I think. I felt bad about burning all that gas just to move my body a thousand miles. If I’d had my act together I might have car-pooled with some other fans. But I’m glad I made the trip.

How Long the Storm?

Street Salad

Isaac is gone, but his odor lingers on.

Seriously. There’s a smell in the air, a certain peculiar smell I can’t describe. I’m not sensitive to smells. I often think if I was more tuned in to my sense of smell, I’d have a radically different way of being in the world, more animalistic perhaps and less hyper-rational. I don’t notice many smells. But this smell I do notice. It reminds me of the smell after Katrina, which at the time I thought was all mold and rot. Now I’m not so sure. There was plenty of mold and rot, to be sure, but this is maybe something else that was also in the mix. It sprang up almost immediately after Isaac’s winds died down. There were massive amounts of live oak leaves scattered all over, damp with rain. Could that be the source of the smell? Those leaves don’t decay quickly. But perhaps they have some kind of mold growing on them, there already before they fell. Who knows.

It’s not an unpleasant smell. Not entirely pleasant either. I might say it smells like mold without any mustiness if that makes sense. Fresh mold. I’m trying to invent terms to describe a sensation for which my vocabulary is inadequate. But every time I catch a whiff, it brings back memories from 2005.

How long does a storm last? My boss speculated that people who haven’t lived through such storms don’t understand. The storm itself was only on us for a day and a half, right? But we were watching Isaac since August 21st. Most people around New Orleans lost at least a week of work to Isaac, factoring in the preparation and the subsequent power outages. When I got back in my office, it took a full week of rescheduling and catching up before things got back to what is laughably referred to as “normal” around here. For some, though, “normal” is still a long way off; some offices were compromised by the wind and rain and mold has set in. Remediation is under way.

As of today, two full weeks after Isaac’s landfall, our city streets are still lined with piles of debris, mostly branches and sometimes whole trees that have been cut down to size, stacked and bundled. They sit waiting to be carted off somewhere. (Probably a landfill, more’s the pity.) It’s a massive task and the city just doesn’t have enough crews to get it done quickly. I fully expect there will still be plenty of work remaining to be done in a week’s time. At that point, Isaac will have dominated our attention, or at least impinged upon our collective consciousness, for a full month.

I’m talking about those who weathered the hurricane with minimal impact. For some individuals, some families, some communities, the road to recovery is much longer. For those folks, the consequences of Isaac will linger long after his smell has faded from the street of New Orleans.


It wasn’t until after Labor Day that I passed by the bayou and saw what Isaac had done to my favorite tree.


This is the tree where my daughter got her name back in 2008. Throughout the 2010-2011 school year I stopped at this tree almost daily for a moment of contemplation. This tree survived a lightning strike last year. But I’m afraid Isaac may have dealt the death blow.

When I saw the damage, I was devastated. I embraced the tree and my tears flowed freely.

In the forest such a tree might continue to live for many years, but this tree is in an urban area, on public land, and highly visible. Some time in the last week, the tree was trimmed back and all the dead matter removed. Half the tree is gone now. The trunk remains and one major branch, giving it a lopsided, severely asymmetrical profile.

Will the humans allow it to live? I guess that’s the question. So I called Troy at the Orleans Levee District. He said their policy is not to cut down such a large oak, as long as there is life in it, without special authorization. I contacted his boss to say I want to help in whatever way I can, either to save the tree or to plant a new tree it if this one must be removed.

Second Guessing

I’ve also been reflecting on our decision to stay in place for Isaac. Was it the right choice? There’s room for disagreement even in our house. Over the past week Xy has repeated “Never again!” whereas I’ve found myself saying I’m glad we stayed.

So what were the pros and cons of that decision? It’s tempting, though foolish, to look at what actually happened.

Sleeping Arrangement

For example: On the negative, the winds were kind of unsettling. None of us slept well that first night, when Isaac made his stumbling landfall not once but twice. Our whole house shook. Our house shakes whenever a truck rolls by, but sustained shaking for many hours is worrisome. Also, we were without power for four days. That was the worst of it.

Problem is, any analysis of our decision should be based on risk assessment, on what could have happened. To judge our judgment based on what actually happened is foolish — and irresistible, inevitable. Human nature, I suppose.

A tree could have fallen on our house. But it didn’t.

What’s the worst that might have happened? Here’s one nasty scenario: Hurricanes can spin off tornadoes faster than a late-70s sitcom. In fact Isaac was responsible for some tornadoes in Illinois. Tornadoes, to me, seem like tiny superfast hurricanes, much more unpredictable, highly destructive though much more limited in scope. So, a tornado could have hit our house in just such a way as to make it collapse and kill us all. I have no idea of the statistical likelihood of such an event. It would be interesting to compare that to the risk involved in, say, driving an automobile on the interstate.

In the end, though, it doesn’t come down to a rational analysis of statistical data. As I talked to people about their various plans to evacuate or not, I found a lot of it had to do with their previous experience. The authorities warn us that every storm is different, yet we can’t help comparing to the last one. Some people had a bad time in the evacuation for Ivan, which experience led them to stay for Katrina. Our Gustav evacuation informed our decision for Isaac.

I’m worried that going forward I’ll have an overly rosy memory of Isaac which will tempt me to stay at some point in the future when I really should go.

And so forth. There’s no escape from second-guessing.

Further Divergence

I’m still thinking about Isaac. My writing hasn’t been able to keep pace.

They say every storm is unique, and certainly Isaac was very different from Katrina. Yet comparisons are inevitable, despite being problematic. One headline put it this way:

Drenched New Orleans passes big post-Katrina test

The US Army Corp of Engineers has done a lot of work since the floods of 2005. In monetary terms, it’s something in the neighborhood of $14 billion. I have no idea how many hours of human labor that represents. I still believe we should aim for a higher level of protection. We should build not for a so-called hundred year storm, but for 10,000 year storm, as the Dutch do. But that’s a separate gripe. One story coming out of Isaac is that the work the Corps has actually been tasked with appears to be effective. New Orleans was not flooded by Isaac’s surge.

But immediately outside of these federal flood protection structures, communities did flood. Braithwaite. LaPlace. Slidell. Lots of homes under water. (If you want to help the people who were flooded, please consider making a donation to Beacon of Hope.) A key question is, did our flood protection cause or exacerbate flooding elsewhere? It will take a while for that analysis. But if the answer comes back yes — if the system that keeps my home dry floods someone else’s home — what then, I wonder?

Experiential Divergence

Banks Street Bar

If my recent posts have made it seem like Isaac was all fun and games, well, that only reflects my own personal experience. Other people experienced it differently. If your house flooded or a tree fell on you, for example, your experience was probably pretty negative. Even in our house, we had different experiences. Xy was pretty aggravated by the whole thing.

To honor these divergent experiences, I offer a text message I got from our friend James, after three days without electricity.

Sent: Aug 31, 2012 7:33 PM
I had some punks try 2 break in2 my car last night, then the bar across from me was robbed-where’s the damn power-this city blows-ineptness everywhere! Screw it!

The next evening, a few minutes after we got our power back, we exchanged texts again, and I asked him if he had electricity yet. His reply:

Sent: Sep 1, 2012 9:13 PM
Of course not-maybe by Christmas & I’m sure those cretins @ Entershitgy will charge me an extra fee somehow-they probably will call it a not having power service fee-they suck!

I think his sense of exasperation comes through quite clearly.

Even more succinctly, Karen Gadbois summed up the experience for many:

Lots of people had a perfectly miserable time. Some of them still are. And I haven’t even mentioned the flooding.

Revelations in Blackout

Revelations in Blackout

We lost electrical service to our house for 98 hours. That’s just over four days. And during these four days I discovered something odd.

I sort of liked it.

It feels wrong, saying that when over a hundred thousand of my fellow citizens are still without power. The constant question around the city these days is, “Your lights on yet?” I was at a meeting Sunday, a small group of parents; of the eight of us, five had power; to those other three, I hardly felt like reflecting on how much fun a power outage can be.

And yet.

Life without electricity is not exactly the Stone Age. We still had running, potable water. We still had gas. Of course, the electrical starter mechanism for our range was out of commission, but most people still know how to light those things manually. Ironically, no electricity means no hot water for us because our tankless water heater depends on it. But cold showers felt better in the heat anyhow.

Ah yes, the heat. That is the biggest complaint for most people. Yet my barber said it best, when he came to remove the plywood from his windows this morning. “Us Americans, we’re used to the AC. But people used to live without it. We’ve just gotten soft.”

I read today about a 90 year old man who died of heat stroke over the holiday weekend. He was in a house in the suburbs without power. I don’t wish to imply that he’d “just gotten soft.” The heat can be dangerous, and any time the power goes out it’s the sick and the elderly who are most at risk.

Still I wonder. Would that man in Marrero still be alive if he’d been living a hundred years ago, before air conditioning?

Much of our old building stock reflects a different way of living, designed for comfort in this warm climate. We now say these buildings are energy inefficient, but actually people consumed far less energy a century ago. Contemporary architecture strives for efficiency of a different sort. The modern ideal is to consume massive amounts, then reduce by 10% and call that efficiency.

In a blackout we recover some of the efficiency built into our older homes. I experienced this during our days without power. It was markedly more comfortable in our living-dining rooms, where the ceilings are super high by modern standards.

I often hear people say they don’t like to eat as much in the summer when it’s blazing hot. I’ve said it myself. Yet I’ve noticed my actions rarely match this assertion. With constant climate control, we hardly feel the heat. Our so-called epidemic of obesity — could that be another electrically powered way we’re getting soft?

No electricity means taking the night more seriously. It gets dark, probably a good time to go to bed. Modern urbanites are chronically sleep-deprived. Getting into the natural rhythm of the sun is not such a bad idea. Besides, reading by oil lamp is kind of romantic. Over our four days of blackout I read The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin. Reading about an icy cold planet helped take my mind off the heat. But I digress.

An interesting thing about this outage was that we still enjoyed some benefits of electricity. We lived in walking distance of several electrical “islands.” We visited Brocato’s for a treat one night, and I spent an afternoon drinking beer at the Mid-City Yacht Club while Michael Homan watched the Nebraska game. Also the cell towers were still up, so I was able to use my phone to access the web. Twitter is a great source of info in disasters. When the battery ran out, I recharged it in the car. I’m sure that charging batteries off a combustion vehicle is not the most efficient means, but it worked.

Operation: Cliff Clavin - Who Needs Electricity?

One of my favorite albums is “Who Needs Electricity?” by Operation: Cliff Clavin. It’s essentially an acoustic album for a band with an amped-up electric sound, made as the principle players transitioned into more of a folk-punk thing. Rather than call it “unplugged” or some derivative of MTV’s famous series, they frame the album as campfire songs for after the collapse of civilization. It’s a brilliant conceit, and the songs ain’t bad either.

I’ve always regarded anarcho-primitivism with a jaundiced eye, while at the same time feeling they’re right about some things. The revelations of the week just past seem to bear that out.

I’m not against electricity. I like it. But the truth is we could get by using a lot less of it, and still maintain a high quality of life. In many ways we’d be better off.

We Are OK

Hurricane Aftermath Party

So the storm came and lingered. Like us, Isaac dithered. Someone described him as the drunk Louisiana uncle who crashes on your couch when you were really thinking the party was over. Eventually he left.

We weathered the storm with no damage. Bit of a leak in the ceiling of our kitchen addition, but nothing to speak of. We lost power, and I’ll write more about that later.

Right now I wanted to take a moment to say thanks to all who held us in their thoughts over the past week, and to the friends who offered up their homes to harbor us. I want to let you know we’re alright.

Addendum: I don’t mean to speak for anyone else. It bears remembering that over a hundred thousand people are still without power. Also, a bunch of towns were flooded by Isaac. When you’re home is underwater, things are generally not “OK.”