Victory

On the Friday before the equinox, I caught a ride with Daniel Samuels up to the Old Governor’s Mansion in Baton Rouge. It was built by Huey P. Long in 1930. There was a really cool version of the state seal carved into the fireplace in the library.

Pelican

But I wasn’t there for the architectural details. I was there for an award luncheon. It was a special honor to meet for the first time the other two finalists in the Louisiana Cox Conserves Heroes contest, Landry Camardelle and Wilma Subra.

Finalists

There were a lot of people there. Turned out it was also the culmination of the Keep Louisiana Beautiful conference. So we had a great lunch in a big fancy room and a bunch of people got a bunch of awards for a bunch of good work. Meanwhile, as they led up to the Cox Conserves Heroes Award, I was on pins and needles. Who would win?

Wilma and Landry certainly had inspiring stories of their own, but since the winner was chosen by an online vote, I knew that it would come down to who had waged the most effective internet campaign. I thought I had a good shot because understanding social media is part of my job. I’d been posting on on various networks daily, begging for votes and asking people to share the link in hopes of expanding my reach.

And, in the end, it worked. I won.

Victory

But really I should say: We won.

Sure, I got my little moment of glory, and that was sweet and euphoric and extremely gratifying to my always-hungry ego. But the big $10,000 check isn’t for me. It’s for Friends of Lafitte Corridor. Exactly how they’ll use the money, I don’t know. Perhaps it will go toward hiring an Executive Director. That would be a major boost toward FOLC’s mission of building, programming and promoting the Lafitte Greenway. The other finalists got some money for their causes as well, but they both agreed it will make an even bigger difference for FOLC.

So that’s a victory for all of us, especially for folks who live in the New Orleans area, but also for anyone who gives a damn about health, sustainability, and a greener future.

Thanks to Cox Communications and the Trust for Public Land for organizing and funding the contest.

Thank you for voting for me. And thank you for allowing me this opportunity to represent such important values as community, ecology, and good old-fashioned grassroots organizing.

For this, I am grateful.

Make Me a Hero

Me

Friends,

A nonprofit I helped found, the Friends of Lafitte Corridor, has a shot at $10,000. Here’s how: You have to vote for me.

FOLC nominated me for the Louisiana Cox Conserves Heroes program. Now I’m a finalist.

While I’m deeply honored to have gotten this far, I really want to see us win this thing. And that’s a tough challenge. Because I’m competing against some pretty awesome people.

So vote. Sure. That’s the first step.

Then share this link with everyone you can. Use your fancy social media networks or send a good old-fashioned email.

http://coxconservesheroes.com/louisiana/vote.aspx

If you know anyone who supports the recovery of New Orleans — anyone who like the idea of a multiuse urban greenway — anyone who likes bicycles and walking — anyone who wants a greener future for our children — please share this with them.

Thanks for your support. And check back here next week for a real update on me and my life.

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.

PJ

And the show was really good.

Brendan

Lisa

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.

Christies

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.

Tree

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

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.

Isaac Art

Mom Raking After Isaac

Persephone and I took a photo of Xy raking up the “street salad” left behind by Hurricane Isaac. Then we drew our own interpretation based on the photo. Persephone drew the gusts and leaves; I drew the branches and the figure with rake, but Persephone drew the face.

Mom Raking After Isaac

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.

The Evacuation That Wasn’t

So remember how I said we were heading out — buggin’ — evacuating?

That didn’t happen.

We were planning to go, but the hurricane parties here were just too good to resist.

Ride the Storm Out

Actually the real reason is that our anticipated path was looking worse and worse for a return drive. Of course we could have gone west, or east, but straight north was where we wanted to go, and that wasn’t looking very smart. Personally I was inclined to stay here anyhow. Xy was vacillating, changing her mind every twenty minutes or so. Realizing we’d need to drive back through the storm to return home sealed the decision.

Continue reading “The Evacuation That Wasn’t”

Happy (Belated) Lammas

We had a wonderful Lammas. It has emerged as probably my favorite holiday, which is kind of funny considering I never heard of it until two years ago.

Lammas Embers

It’s taken a few weeks but I finally got some photos up. And as an unexpected bonus, we even have a short movie, which contains the very first video ever shot by Persephone.

It’s just a series of raw clips but it captures the spirit of our holiday. On Lammas Eve, we had a small bonfire to which we committed the Brigid’s Crosses we made at Candlemas. Normally I wouldn’t approve of burning crosses in the front lawn, but I don’t think the neighbors were too alarmed.

I took the day itself off work. We baked bread figures, as shown in the video. It was last Lammas that I started baking bread, which has become a weekly habit and devotional ritual for over a year now. (I’ve told my boss she can’t say I’m “on a kick” anymore.) The bread figures themselves were far from beautiful, and they were hard and tough, kind of like a bagel. But they tasted pretty good, chock full of jumbo raisins and dates.

We also made dollies.

Tropical Dollies

Like with the Brigid’s Crosses, we used the tropical ferns growing in our back yard for the raw material. It’s always more interesting to use locally grown stuff. The dollies are now hanging around the kitchen. In half a year’s time they will be dry and ready for burning next Candlemas. So the wheel turns.

Speaking of fire, we also learned a valuable lesson: Do not put fire pit on lawn, even for a little fire that doesn’t burn very long. We now have a nice dead patch right in the middle.

Aftermath

Four and a Half

Donation

Dear Persephone,

You are four and half years old today. We have continued our tradition, now well-established, of giving away stuff for your half-birthday. This year you didn’t need any explanation; you’ve absorbed the concept from years past. Over the last few weeks you’ve been selecting from amongst your possessions. You filled up a bag, and this morning we dropped it off at Goodwill on the way to school.

Ah yes, school. That’s probably the biggest news in your life over the past month. You’ve started at a new school, a public school much closer to home than your old school. It’s my hope that this school works for you and us. If so you will be there for the next ten years. Wow an entire decade, that just dawned on me. I hope they are happy years.

Also of note, you were fascinated with the Olympics, and watched gymnastics, swimming, volleyball and sprints. I gather there were more women in these games than ever before. You certainly got into the spirit of competition. After watching the American gymnasts, you exclaimed, “When I grow up I want to do that, but I will be from New Lorlens.” (You still say it that way. You also say “lellow” instead on “yellow.”) After the first week of Olympics all week, you started saying things like:

  • “I may look small, but I’m very strong! My hands are very powerful!”
  • “Dada if you tickle me I will kick you in the face. Because I don’t like tickling.”
  • “I can see through walls. I can see through walls a hundred miles away. And you can’t.”
  • “I’m almost so powerful I can pull my hand off. I’m almost that strong.”

You’ve also asserted, more than once, that you grow more powerful each time you win a race. Far be it from me to point out that you’ve never really won a race. You talked about how you wanted to race your two best friends, Lala and Lily. You were certain of victory. “I’ll just get ahead of them.” They are both quite a bit bigger than you; getting ahead would be a challenge. I didn’t point this out either. Your confidence in your own abilities is inspiring.

One night before bed, you told me your stuffed tiger was going to race some Russian tigers after breakfast the next morning. “They’re very fast and mean,” but you were sure you’d win the gold. “I’ve got hundreds of gold medals, and twenty more. If the Russians don’t win I’m going to give them mine.”

At least once a day you amaze me with a bizarre or unusual idea. For example, one evening around dinnertime you asked me: “Dada, what if someone put on a mask that looked like their own face?”

Also, you’ve started to get into zombies lately. I’m not sure where you even learned about zombies. Anyhow, it’s quite amusing to see you lurching around the house, arms outstretched, moaning “Braaaaains…” One night all your stuffed animals became zombie animals. “They can help us look for brains.”

Backstory

I was headed to Bloomington anyhow. I’d been planning an extended Indiana vacation to visit family this summer. I like having an 800-mile buffer zone, but even I have guilt feelings which must be assuaged at least once a year. Aside from family, the first person I planned to look up in Bloomington was my friend and collaborator Lee. He’d been working for years on a multi-volume DVD set of the first season of ROX. He was very close to getting this monstrous effort wrapped up, and I wanted to give him every bit of encouragement and support I could muster. And maybe, just maybe, I wanted to give him that little nudge that’s so often needed to wrap up a long-term endeavor. I know the value of deadlines. Not that Lee needs nudged.

And so then on March 8, I sent Lee an innocuous little e-mail message.
Continue reading “Backstory”

Sporting Chance

Probably the biggest surprise for me on this vacation was just how prosperous Bloomington seemed. (More on that later.) If I had any doubts on this front, they were laid to rest by my visit to The Rail.

Contemporary craft cocktails and tapas — in Bloomington? I was impressed. And I was even more impressed when it came out that our bartender, Colin Boilini, had won a contest with Tales of the Cocktail. They’ll be bringing him down here to New Orleans next week.

Naturally we commanded Mr. Boilini to prepare for us his award-winning cocktail — which he did.
Continue reading “Sporting Chance”

Fifty-Three Months

Dramatic Exit

Dear Persephone,

You are fifty-three months old today. Yesterday, technically, but cut me some slack.

After our long summer vacation, I finally understand what people mean when they talk about children being “spoiled rotten” by their grandparents.

Actually that’s not fair to your grandparents. They are indulgent (I’m looking at you, Susie) but I can’t really blame them for that. I’d indulge you too if I only saw you briefly from time to time. Besides which, you’ve been developing a few unpleasant habits which were already in evidence before our visit to the Midwest.

Unpleasant habits? Well, yes. Lately your stubborn streak has taken an extreme turn. You decide that you don’t want to do something, or that you want to do something you shouldn’t, and when we clash, it gets ugly.

Everyone says parenting has many challenges, and I guess this phase is one of them. I call it a phase, and I hope it is, but it’s probably also an extension of a basic personality trait which began a couple years ago and has continued on and off since then. So this is just the latest manifestation.

The challenge is finding a balance. On the one hand, having a strong will is a virtue we’d like to promulgate. On the other hand, when you make up your mind to do something in defiance of good common sense, or personal hygiene, or safety — well, then, we have a problem.

I’ve read some of parenting advice that stresses the need to be understanding and compassionate, which I agree is important, but so far I’ve seen very little that explains how to deal effectively with such problems. I suspect that’s because there are no easy answers.

Your current mean streak could be a factor of being off your routine over the summer break, and the further unsettling stresses of travel, to say nothing of indulgent grandparents. During the school year I tried to keep you on a pretty regular schedule, so you’re probably not getting as much sleep as you need, and you may be under the weather a bit too. We’ve both suffered from a lingering cough this summer.

Still most of the time you are delightful. Just this morning, you said to me, “You’re the bestest dad I ever had.” I pointed out I’m the only dad you ever had, but I still took it as a compliment.

B-Line

The first thing I did when I got to Bloomington was to ride the B-Line. Lucky me, I have generous friends who let me borrow a bicycle.

Trailhead

The B-Line is the local greenway, a recently constructed urban rail-trail, 3.1 miles in length, running alongside an active rail line for its final stretch. Does this sound familiar to New Orleanians? It should.

Of course I took some photos.

B-Line Bridge

I was frankly astonished at how nice the B-Line was. Lights, public art, landscaping, interpretive signage, bridges, the works. I saw lots of people enjoying it too.

People on the B-Line

My most astonishing moment on the B-Line came when I saw a groundskeeper zoom up in a little motorized vehicle, hop off, pick up two microscopic pieces of trash with a damn forceps, and then ride off.

Groundskeeper

Did I make a wrong turn and end up in Disneyland?

I found this salient quote on the website of the City of Bloomington:

“This is the most significant economic development project on the City’s agenda. It’s monumental in its scope and importance.”
– Mayor Mark Kruzan

Anyhow, I hope the citizens of Bloomington appreciate the B-Line. I know I did.