Thursday, September 29, 2005

Interview Time

I need to steer away from storm reportage for a while and get back to knitting.

I have received by personal e-mail the following unsolicited questions from one Kelly Rice of New York who informs me that cross-interviewing is popular amongst those who blog.

Having never been interviewed about my blog before, I'll give it a whirl.

[tapping microhone]

"mic check .. test one, test one..."


Hi Kelly, thanks for interviewing me.

Why do you blog?

Because I have knitworthy things to say and I don't have time to chase publishers.

Also, so I don't have to stay on topic, an activity contrary to my nature, and because I can say anything I damn well please without someone else editing it.

If I did manage to find a publisher who was willing to print my ramblings, the book would either be entirely unclassifiable in the Library of Congress, or else it would have to be cross-referenced under: knitting, animal sheltering, yarn, herpetology, politics, spinning, animal behaviorism, fiber, meteorology, Star trek, drop spindles, animal husbandry, rock and blues music, nautical knots, fleece preparation, ghost legends, weaving, herbal remedies, natural dyes, sheep, alpaca, things you can do with a Swiss Army knife and duct tape, how to use objects for purposes other than their intended use, and 10,849 Reasons to Spay or Neuter Your Pet. .

That not being possible, I blog.

How big is your yarn stash?

Bigger than a breadbox.

Actually, much bigger than a breadbox.

But not all that big compared to some legendary stashes of which I am aware, and if I blew a whistle and ordered it all to assemble in one place it would probably fill an average closet.

Well, maybe a very large closet.... if I subdued it by compressing it into those clear-plastic vaccuum-bag things, a process which reminds me of 1960s moms squishing themselves into girdles. What seems beyond comprehension can be done with force of will.

Seriously, though, my stash remains considerably smaller than stashes of legend, even smaller than the stashes of a few friends.

However, the relatively small size of my yarn stash is more due to the small-ish size of our house than it is due to lack of covetousness for more yarn, and also due to the fact that every other cubic inch of available storage space in our house is occupied by my husband's impressive collection of Vintage Computer and Stereo Components.

Some even work.

What is the strangest object you have ever knitted?

Hmmmm. I have knitted a lot of strange objects, including a tea cozy that looked like a Tribble, a hat-scarf (a harf?) resembling a boa constrictor -- the hat-end was the mouth, which engulfed the wearer's head, and the scarf-part wrapped around the neck in a very fetching manner.

There was also a curled-up-snake pillow I knitted for my former veterinarian as a retirement gift, a toilet tissue cozy resembling R2D2 for a friend enamored with Star Wars, and a one-armed sweater for a three-legged dog. Those are just a few oddities off the top of my head, but I am afraid they were all gifts and I no longer have visual documentation.

But, I shall not disappoint you.

Currently in my possession is a hat I made that looks like an armadillo. I will update this post with a photo of said hat over the weekend.

Oh! And I also have knitted a case for my blowgun -- probably not too many hand-knit blowgun cases going around -- but I don't have a picture handy. Coming soon.

Why do you knit?

Because there is yarn.

What are your non-knitting interests?

There are non-knitting interests?

No, seriously.

See my answer to Question Number One.

I always ask knitters if they knit in public, and if they do, when they started. How about you?

I knit everywhere. I keep a sock project in my purse/tote at all times, a mindless car project (usually pet cozies), and a five-gallon plastic kitty litter bucket under my desk at the animal shelter containing a mini-stash of needles and scrap yarn for pet cozies and cat toys. This way I can knit on my lunch breaks, that is, when I actually get a lunch break, and I can be certain that if I am trapped somewhere away from home, I will not be devoid of knitting.

When I was a teenager, I thought of knitting and crochet mostly as sedentary activities, so I mostly knitted at home, although I sometimes popped a project into my backpack when I bicycled to the park on fine days.

In college, I often carried a small project in my backpack to knit between classes. I often ventured into the common room of our dorm with my knitting to watch TV or study, where I met a dorm-floor-mate who knitted, and we began to take our knitting with us to a college pub to watch Star Trek re-runs (the Captain Kirk Generation) after the evening news and drink 50-cent mugs of draft beer.

To be a member of the Star Fleet Beer Academy, you had to stand up facing the pub TV when the show began, raise your mug high in the air, intone the introduction ("Space, the final frontier...") and sing (or, more correctly, "ooooh") the entire wordless Star-Trek tune, you know:


Then you would sit down, drink your beer and watch Star Trek. This was not an initiation ritual. All members were required to do this each and every time an episode began.

At the top of their lungs.

After that, I figured I could knit in public just about anywhere.

What inspires your creative process?

I like structure and texture. I see the structure of things in nature, architecture, sculpture, ceramic tile, bones, leaves, spiderwebs, animals, plants, bricks, stained glass windows, and especially American Indian and African art ... also ancient graphic patterns, like the borders on Greek urns ... and I want to copy or mimic these things.

One of the reasons that winter is my favorite time of year is that I can see the architecture of the trees and the true depth of the woods, not just the exterior wall of biomass we see in the summer. Trees and leaves are endlessly inspiring for lace.

I feel the texture of bark, soft moss, a birds nest, twisting vines, and I want to duplicate them.

I like both subtle and brilliant variations of color and I like to mimic the color patterns of snakes, birds, sunsets and geological color patterns. I especially like to play with colors to get camouflage-like variations in hue and tone -- think Koigu yarn or Noro here. I am a huge fan of space-dyed yarn.

I also like to use contrasting or complimentary space-dyed yarns to do Fair Isle or other colorwork. It always looks so much more complex than it really is.

Math and geometry are inspiring. I like to play with Fibonacci numbers and proportions, and number sequences for striping.

Also inspiring, mathematically, is the actual three-dimensionality of knitting. Working out a complicated shape is very inspiring to me.

And sometimes, I have a couple of glasses of wine and suddenly, urgently decide that I really, really need a purple mohair-and-eyelash scarf, or a hat that looks like an armadillo.

Do you have any knitting fantasies?

Many. I dream of taking a knitting cruise to Alaska or Patagonia. I dream of winning the Koigu Lottery. I dream of taking a knitting, camping and walking tour of Ireland, England and Scotland and all the wee British Isles which have inspired so much knitting. One day, I would like to make an Orenberg lace shawl.

Making an Orenberg shawl would require a considerable amount of Uninterrupted Sitting-Down Time, another fantasy of mine.

And ... I have a much more humble dream of simply having two weeks off work to visit Luisa Gelenter at her shop, LaLana Wools, in Taos and do absolutely nothing but knit and soak up the scenery. I would also like to visit my Knit Bud Lisa Louie in Hawaii, sit on the beach, knit, and drink large, pink rum drinks with purple paper umbrellas sticking out of them, and enough fruit in them to make Carmen Miranda a hat. There are many other people on KnitU I would like to visit and LYS owners I would like to meet as well.

I admit that I have also visited the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina and seriously wondered how much yarn I could fit in there if somebody would let me live there for awhile.

Have you ever considered opening your own LYS?

I have fantasized about it .. and consider it best left as a fantasy.

My mother spent her working life in retail and is very, very good at managing all that orderly stuff like inventory and payroll and taxes and quarterly statements. She was able to say "no" to salespeople trying to fob off inventory of questionable marketability, and she also has had the steel spine and cast-iron strength of will not to bring every single thing in her shop home with her.

I am not in my mother's league and will not pretend to be. It's bad enough that I go into a shop looking for a 60-inch, size 5, Addi Turbo needle for a poncho, and come out with the needle, six skeins of Koigu for a shawl and enough Inca Alpaca for a sweater.

I justify this by deciding that the shawl is for my mother and my total purchase costs less than one hour with a decent psychiatrist.

I work at an animal shelter and we have 15 pets, okay? So I can only imagine how soundproofed and well-insulated our house would be if I owned a yarn store. Hmm, think of what I could save on utilities....


Sunday, September 18, 2005

We Is Po'

If I had a spacecraft with a transport beam, and I zipped around the United States and the rest of the world, abducting random individuals for a few minutes out of their daily lives to survey them on their ideas of what life is like in the city of New Orleans, and I took all of those images and created a composite city, it would be assembled from banana trees, riverboats, live oaks, horse-drawn carriages, trolleys and ancient brick buildings festooned with flowering tropical vines.

It would be populated with jazz saxophonists, voodoo queens, gourmet chefs, Southern belles, artists and sultry Creole mamas, all sprawled out on a giant, fern-encrusted wrought-iron balcony, drinking exotic beverages, and tossing leftover jambalaya to the pet alligators on the patio. Those not feeding the alligators would be dancing, carousing, and throwing Mardi Gras beads to inebriated people in the street below.

But the truth is, the daily life of the average New Orleanian is not resplendent with gourmet food, zydeco music, and spontaneous street festivals. It is filled with the daily grind, and we ain't talking Starbucks.

If I abducted those aforementioned people, and also surveyed them regarding what images come to their mind when they think of poverty in America, no doubt they would name rural Mississippi, Appalachia, the Cabrini Green projects in Chicago, or the Pine Ridge Sioux reservation.

But, with the American psyche so flash-blinded by New Orleans' reputation for food and fun, I suspect that none of those people surveyed would mention New Orleans when I asked them, "What place in America comes to mind first, when you think of poverty?"

But I have news for them.

New Orleans, my friends, is po'.

Exactly what, you may ask -- and rightly so, if you are not from the South -- is "po'?"

Well...okay...I'll take a stab at that.

"Po'" is like "poor," only with less money.

New Orleans struggles with a highly skewed economy based on trade and tourism -- a fair representation of wealthy and upper-middle-class citizens, a surprisingly small middle class, countless minimum-wage workers, a vast number of senior citizens surviving off their pensions, and, overall, considering that we are in the United States of America, a teeming sea of incredibly impoverished humanity.

New Orleans is a city of commerce, shipping and international trade, of dazzling hotels, stunning mansions, spectacular restaurants, and tourist attractions ranging from fun and funky to downright scandalous. Each of these industries employs a variety of human beings, ranging from CEOs and stockbrokers to cabdrivers, bartenders, cooks, hotel maids, musicians, clerks, waiters, barristas, dishwashers, and more waiters.

There are a whole lot more waiters, hotel maids, cabbies and clerks than there are millionaire restaurateurs and shipping magnates.

And there are just as many unemployed and unemployable as there are minimum-wage workers.

In New Orleans, a great many people wait for busses to go to work. Unlike the residents of some other large cities, where taking the bus is sometimes an option for the environmentally conscious and for those who do not wish to pay exorbitant parking fees, most New Orleanians who wait for the bus find themselves wanting for wheels, not by choice, but by lack of sufficient employment even to have the option of independent transportation.

These people do not live in the mansions strung out along St. Charles Avenue for the tourists to admire from their seats on the gently swaying trolleys. They live outside the peripheral vision of the tourist, in shabby shotgun houses, bleak Section 8 apartments, and dilapidated public housing dating to the Great Depression.

Unlike the images portrayed on the news about Hurricane Katrina in the first few days of horror, New Orleans is not overrun with criminals. Like any other large city, New Orleans has its share of crime and gangs, a small but lawless percentage of the city's population. Just as in the Los Angeles riots, when disaster happens, it is the gangs and criminals, not the humble citizens, who take over the streets, shoot at the cops and set cars on fire.

It's true that while the police department tries to maintain a thin blue line around the perimeter of the French Quarter, senior citizens and single moms cringe behind their doors at night a few blocks away, in fear of the gangs who rule the neighborhoods within walking distance of Bourbon Street.

But there are far more senior citizens and single moms than there are gangbangers.

In a clever marketing burlesque, the Grayline tour busses and the deliriously cheerful walking-tour guides carefully display those parts of New Orleans they wish the tourists to see, while discreetly drawing a veil of silence over the undesirable bits, much in the same manner that a girl with spectacular breasts and a formidable fanny might show off her cleavage while wearing a slimming black skirt.

Point a neon sign at the good stuff, and hope nobody looks at the rest.

Hurricane Katrina has ripped that veil of illusion right off the city of New Orleans, showing all the world the sad, stark truth which truly makes New Orleans the City that Care Forgot.

Evacuation was ordered, but no coherent plan was in place for the enormous chunk of New Orleanians who exist without their own means of transportation: the underclass, the elderly, the disabled, the sick, and the animals all suffered together in one vast, steaming toilet, waiting and hoping for the busses to come.

Saddest of all, the law-abiding po' folks of New Orleans suffered from the actions of the same criminals they have always feared. And it is the majority of New Orleans' poor -- not the gangs -- which give New Orleans its color, its flavor, and its indominateable spirit.

Out of poverty came the jazz, blues and mambo music for which the city is famous. Out of poverty came Mardi Gras, an opportunity for everyone, regardless of class and wealth, to be king or queen for a day. And out of poverty came New Orleans' famous food. Gumbo is not a rich man's meal. It is humble food prepared with the spice of life.

Baton Rouge, where I have spent most of my adult life, is where many native New Orleanians choose to land in their flight from the warped economy of New Orleans and the glue trap of Southern decadence. Long-time New Orleans expatriates who live in Baton Rouge are often either the black sheep of the upper class or the more ambitious offspring of the non-wealthy, who can find an affordable college education at LSU or Southern University and who can seek refuge in Baton Rouge's somewhat lower cost of living and its broader economy. Baton Rouge is only 90 miles from home, so family is accessible, but it's far enough away to have a life of your own.

And now my adopted home is rapidly filling with the expatriated residents of my home town: black and white, rich and poor, and the animals that were lucky enough to get out. Most came in on busses. Many will go out on busses.

But for now, we all live together. Most Baton Rougeans have opened their hearts, homes and wallets to those displaced by Katrina.

A few harbor the groundless fear of an insurgence of crime and lawlessness. In fact, since the storm, crime has not increased in Baton Rouge, but traffic accidents have skyrocketed, so almost everyone gripes about the population doubling overnight and causing hellacious traffic problems.

But for the most part, the citizens of my adopted home have been gracious hosts to the citizens of my hometown. And the citizens of my hometown, I hope, will infect Baton Rouge with the unsinkable, defiant and jubilant spirit that defines New Orleans -- the spirit that makes music to defy poverty, the spirit that motivates people to rebuild homes and businesses in spite of meteorological temper tantrums.

New Orleanians have always believed in miracles, in luck, and in the impossible.

New Orleanians believe that, one day, the Saints will win the Superbowl.

Perhaps that is why so many fled to the Superdome when they had no way out of the city.

The Superdome is much more than a mere football stadium. To New Orleanians, it is the cathedral of optimism. The poor of New Orleans fled to the Dome to escape the wrath of Katrina just as the poor of medieval times fled to the cathedrals of Europe when Nature or invading barbarians threatened life and limb. When death is at the door, you don't just run to safety. You want a miracle.

At the emergency anmal shelter the other day, I ran into a young African-American woman who had escaped from New Orleans with her dog, her purse and some water and personal belongings in a backpack. She tried to get on one bus, then another, but she couldn't bring the dog. So she started walking.

She walked through New Orleans, meandered through the suburban cities of Metairie and Kenner, and picked her way along the elevated highway to LaPlace.

Somewhere along the way, she found a family on their way to Baton Rouge. They gladly took her, and her dog, the rest of the way.

Tired, filthy, and hungry, she checked her dog into the emergency animal shelter before she checked herself into a Red Cross shelter.

I asked her what kept her going. She said, "You just have to believe you're gonna survive."

She told me she lived in downtown New Orleans, was a prep worker in a kitchen at a major downtown New Orleans hotel, and doesn't have a car because she had been saving her money to go to cooking school so she could have a shot at being a chef.

She earned a little over eight dollars an hour and lived in a tough neighborhood, where she feared the gangs and tried to look out for the old folks in nearby apartments.

She loves her dog. She is now looking for a hotel job in Baton Rouge, an apartment where she can have her dog, and is hoping that she can put her life back together here.

Tears rolled down her face when she told me she feared she would never return to her home in New Orleans. But she said, "You just gotta believe."

People in other parts of America, in other places in the world, ask, "why? Why would she want to go back?"

Perhaps, simply, because it is home.

And that's all that really matters.


Wednesday, September 07, 2005

A Bit of Cheer Amidst the Drear


I'm up to my eyeballs in hurricane-refugee animals, and one day I get to my office and find a large box awaiting me. Upon opening said box, what do I find but a large selection of soft, warm cage cozies destined for those very same displaced pets.

Even though I had not yet requested cozies, considering the fact that the refugee animals are cooled only by fans and it is still hot enough here in South Louisiana to bake oatmeal cookies in your car, I was still extremely cheered to open this box full of bright, warm, snuggly things.

And, serendipitously, these arrived in time to be put to use right away as some of the hurricane animals go home with their owners as they find new places to live, so they will have their very own warm, snuggly thing to curl up on and a spot to call their own.

Here is "Blue," an elderly Siamese cat, test-snuggling the cage cozies before they are distributed to animals in need. Yes, he is dimensionally challenged, and he does resemble a harbor seal, but I promise you he is really a blue-point Siamese.

Being a homeless cat himself, Blue heartily endorses these cozies to go home with the refugee animals from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

With me being a helpless sucker for old-geezer gatos, Blue had the run of my office until he was adopted the day after this picture was taken.

A million thanks, purrs and tail-wags to Jean Anderson of New Jersey, the maker of all these cozy objects, who had planned to donate them to her local shelter when winter arrived, but decided instead that the hurricane refugee animals needed them more.

Which brings me back to something approaching normal -- the subject of knitting.

It's about time for those cage cozies you kind knitters offered to send, for the animals as their owner reclaim them. People are starting to find jobs and apartments, and many people are reclaiming their sheltered pets. Some lost pets are being reunited wit their families. And there are many who will remain unclaimed when the shelters close, and who will welcome warm, snuggly cozies as they move along to their new, adoptive homes.

If you would like to send cozies you have already made, it's time to pack them up. If you would like to make a cozy, there is still time. Cozies must be machine washable and dryable, so use superwash wool, cotton or acrylic. Knit at a denser, firmer gauge than you would to get nice drape in a sweater. Cozies are supposed to feel like a pad. Plain old garter stitch is fast to knit and makes a nice, thick pad -- or you can practice your double knitting.

This is a great way to use up scrap yarn oddments, or the yarn bestowed on you by friends and relatives who, with your very best interests at heart, thoughtfully pounce upon 55-gallon bags of weird-colored 1970s yarn for 25 cents at garage sales. Animals don't care if the colors are ugly (at least none have ever complained to me personally), provided they are warm and soft.

Sizes: about 18" square (half a meter) for cats and small dogs; about 3 feet square (one meter) for bigger dogs.

Send completed cozies by October 15 to me, and I will distribute them as needed:

Dez Crawford

c/o Animal Control Center

2680 Progress Road

Baton Rouge, LA 70807

Each and every cozy will be paired up with an animal in need. Thanks again to everyone who has offered to send cozies for the animals. They will provide a welcome bit of comfort for confused animals in the midst of chaos.

The relief efforts go on. Tomorrow, some New Orleans residents will be allowed back into specific areas which are safe to re-enter. I'm bracing myself for the day when I can take Mom back to see the house. Supposedly her part of town didn't take much water, and her house is an old house up off the ground, so we are keeping our fingers crossed.

Off to bed. Tomorrow is another day.


Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The Calm Before the Perfect Storm

This picture was taken in New Orleans the Friday night before Katrina hit. The blue lights are strung along the twisting curves of the ancient live oak trees lining the street just outside the Botanical Gardens in New Orleans' City Park. The silver lanterns, each about eight to ten feet tall, are suspended from the branches. Compared to the huge trees, they look like Christmas baubles. For a size reference, you can just barely see the front bumper of a white sedan parked next to the base of a tree at lower left. The tree's trunk is a bit wider than the car; the
root base is much wider.

My niece got married that night and her wedding reception was held inside the Botanical Gardens. As we got out of our car and admired the lighted trees, my husband said:

"I really have the creeps about this Katrina storm. I'm having a premonition. This thing will hit Category Five. It will hit New Orleans. These trees will all be underwater next week."

I started to say, "Dave, it's only a Category Two today. It shouldn't be disastrous." But the hair prickled on the back of my neck. Dave doesn't announce his premonitions lightly.

Hurricanes always make New Orleanians nervous. This edginess is usually kept at bay with lame jokes. But this time, we didn't jest about it.

Katrina was rapidly strengthening, with a one-way ticket to wherever the hell she wanted to go.

"We're not staying for all the after-wedding stuff tomorrow morning," I announced. "We're going to get Mom early, and have her pack her important stuff, and we're taking her up to Baton Rouge."

Dave nodded, and we entered the reception.

People drank, people ate, people danced. My niece, Laura, was lovely in her mother's wedding gown and veil. Her mother, Susan, died from breast cancer several years ago, but I know she was in attendance anyway, and so proud.

People spoke in low, nervous, tones about the hurricane. There were no half-hearted jokes about stocking up on beer and barbeque supplies. Instead, people were making plans to evacuate their families and pets, move their boats or find a hotel in Baton Rouge or Houston. This time, when the smokers stepped outside, they sipped their wine and glanced around anxiously, as though a mugger might be lurking in the meticulously groomed bushes nearby.

People debated whether or not this storm would wrap up to a full Category Five. They wondered if it was worth the effort to board up their hunting camps in Mississippi and decided that would be a waste of time in the face of a Category Four or Five storm. In the face of a monster, the camps surely would be destroyed, boarded-up windows and all.

Some folks wanted to move their valuables upstairs before they evacuated their homes. Others left the reception long before the refreshments were gone, so they could start packing. A few decided that loading up the RV was a good idea, so they could salvage a larger supply of belongings, have comfortable traveling accommodations for family and pets, and have a place to stay in the event of hotel shortages.

These were sensible people. But they were also the lucky people -- people fortunate enough to have jobs and cars, credit cards and cell phones, and the materials and resources they needed to get out of town.

These people were not among the 100,000 New Orleanians with no job, no car, and no way out.

The next morning, we got up early, helped Mom pack, and headed out of town . As we drove toward Baton Rouge along the suspended highway over the swamps surrounding New Orleans, my mother worried aloud about the car-less citizens of the city she has always called home.

My mother is a snap at in-your-head arithmetic. She said, "20% of the people in New Orleans don't have a car. That's about 100,000 people. You can only fit 40 or 50 people on a bus, so you'd need...let's see...2000? Maybe 2500 busses? And that's just to get people out of town. You also need more busses, to get them to the busses that would take them out of town. So you'd need twice as many busses --busses going back and forth from the neighborhoods to evacuation centers, and busses leaving town. People would be getting off one bus and getting on another. I don't think we have that many busses in the public transportation system, do you? Maybe if we used the school busses, too? But then who would drive all the busses? You'd have to get the National Guard to do that, because the bus drivers would have to take care of their own families, and you'd also need to have the handicapped busses going around door to door for the elderly, and the handicapped, and sick people who can't walk to the bus stops ..."

As my little silver VW Golf plugged along through the westbound traffic, Mom ticked off logistical considerations on her fingertips and mapped out a sensible evacuation plan for the car-less citizens of New Orleans, all 100,000 of them.

"...and we have all these military bases that are closed. They have houses, gymnasiums, barracks, things like that. Why can't we use those? President Bush could snap his fingers and open up those old Army bases. If they started bussing people out right now, they wouldn't have to worry about people being trapped in the city if the levee breaks like it did in Hurricane Betsy..."

Being a car-less senior citizen herself, my Mom has had a great deal more experience with these issues than FEMA or the Bush administration, and, in fact, was working out a sensible and do-able plan for the evacuation of car-less New Orleanians 48 hours before Katrina hit and three days before the Bush administration even realized that there were, indeed, 100,000 people in one place in the United States of America, the most prosperous nation on Earth, with no car to get out of town, no money or credit to rent a car, no money for a hotel and no way to get themselves and their families to safety.

Mom, of course, was right -- as Moms almost always are. She could have run an efficient evacuation right there in the backseat of my car if FEMA had given her a cell phone and a notepad and the authority to give people the go-ahead. I would nominate Mom for the new head of FEMA, but I know she wouldn't get the job, no matter how much common sense she has. She would be ruled out for being a Democrat.

While Mom planned the human evacuation, I worried about the animal evacuation. I knew that many people were evacuating with their pets. I could see pet carriers in the cars and SUVs headed west, and the occasional horse trailer bouncing along behind a heavily-loaded pickup. But I also knew that a large number of evacuees were treating this like another "hurricane drill," and had left their pets locked in their homes with three or four days' worth of food and water, fully expecting to return home to their homes and their pets, fully expecting that New Orleans would, once again, be spared by a last-minute tease of meteorological capricousness. Many people left their pets in a place they thought would be safe, expecting to return home after a few days, certain they would pat their dog on the head while they barbecued, drank beer and watched the first game of the LSU football season.

I knew there were countless animals with no owners at all, pathetic street dogs and feral cats surviving out of Dumpsters like they do on an ordinary day, with no idea they might soon be struggling for their lives if the storm surge crested the levees -- or broke them.

We drove to Baton Rouge, a four-hour drive which normally takes 90 minutes. Those who evacuated later in the day on Saturday, and those who delayed until Sunday, faced much longer drives to get to safety.

We got Mom settled onto the sofa-bed and got her things unpacked. I scurried around outside, securing things that might blow away in the 70-mph winds we expected as far west as Baton Rouge. I rounded up candles and flashlights and filled the ice chest, and we went about the business of Hunkering Down, parked in front of the Weather Channel and CNN. Mom kept her fingers busy with her rosary, I kept my fingers busy knitting my latest shawl, and Dave kept his fingers busy stroking the cats as we watched Katrina roll in from the Gulf, watched the Mississippi Gulf Coast get wiped off the map and watched the levees break in New Orleans.

It wasn't long before I set the shawl aside. I simply could not knit.

We listened to Katrina roar for the rest of the day, slamming us with winds near hurricane force over 100 miles from the eye of the storm, toppling trees and ripping down power lines. A neighbor's 90-foot water oak fell in the backyard, just missing their house.

New Orleans filled with water.

The ones who could not get out, people and animals, fled to the rooftops and to the Superdome. We watched the horrors, and watched some people get rescued. Then the power went out.

The wind died down to turbulent gusts. We had something to eat, and then ventured over to a friend's house where the power was still on.

Along with Mitch and Jane and their own evacuated relatives, we Hunkered Down in front of the TV and watched New Orleans drown.


Saturday, September 03, 2005

The Horror.

I know this is utterly insane but I am starting to feel very weird about my earlier posts this summer. Although every hurricane season invariably provokes rounds of nervous joking amongst Southerners, I feel strangely guilty now.

I remember making a joke about humidity based on Colonel Kurtz's speech in Apocalypse Now, and, of course, now it is haunting me. This time it isn't funny. The real words are:

"Horror. The horror. It is impossible for words to describe what is necessary, to those who do not know what horror means."

Perphaps the horror explains, but does not excuse, the behavior of a small segment of people as they waited, trapped in the wretched, reeking Superdome and stranded on the ghastly and fetid streets.

Some people deal with horror stoically. Others deal with it by creating even more horror. We wll never know what caused that small percentage of people to behave as they did. All we will ever remember is the horror.

I am also angry. Very angry. I am angry that our nation's reaction to 9-11 turned FEMA priorities completely away from natural disaster response, causing FEMA to concentrate exclusively on terrorism. It is my understanding that the only two hurricane scenarios in the current FEMA plan include "what would happen if terrorists took advantage of a major hurricane and attacked while we were distracted by the storm?"

There is not one single FEMA excercise in their current plans dealing with a major hurricane on its own. I am angry about that.

I am also angry that a friend's son and about a dozen plane-loads of young, fresh faces in camouflage can be activated, transported and on the ground in Iraq in 24 hours, but our nation couldn't seem to find the resources to get the National Guard into New Orleans 24 hours after Katrina.

Don't get me wrong. The actual people in the military, the ones doing the real work, are doing a great job now that they are in place. They are rescuing people and animals, knocking themselves out and being real heroes. But the bureaucrats who give these soldiers the orders to go, can't seem to find their own eyeglasses so they can read these hard-working people their marching orders.

FACT: The SPCA was organized enough to be mobilized and waiting to get into New Orleans to rescue animals, before most human rescue efforts were underway.

FACT: When politicians were still holding press conferences on Wednesday morning, an emergency animal shelter was up and running in Baton Rouge to house the pets of evacuees staying in Red Cross shelters. Why are the Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Control, LA-SPCA, the Louisiana Veterinary Medical Association and a bunch of volunteers better prepared for an emergency than other agencies? Is it because we are not running for re-election, and are just doing our jobs?

I am extremely angry that George Bush vetoed $71 million dollars in flood control for New Orleans and diverted those funds to the war in Iraq. It probably costs that much just to arm and fly a stealth bomber for couple of bombing missions. We couldn't spare two or three bombing runs to save the City of New Orleans?

Yes, I am angry.

We in the South are entering a new way of keeping track of time: not A.D. or B.C., but B.K. and A.K.

Before Katrina and After Katrina.

Thousands of years from now, archaeologists will find a layer of filth when they excavate New Orleans. The line of demarcation between B.K. and A.K.

July seems like a million years ago, on another planet, in a galaxy far, far away..

Oh, and one more thing no one has dared to say yet:

Hurricane season isn't over yet.

Baton Rouge is overcrowded with evacuees, the shelves are stripped daily at grocery stores and Wal-Mart, helicopters are flying around almost incessantly, there is little gas to be found, phone lines are jammed in Louisiana and Mississippi, and the sound of sirens never stops.

And that's just in Baton Rouge.

As a kid, I was warned that if we didn't fight Communism, we'd be standing in line for hours waiting for bread and milk, just like in Russia.

I did that today on my dinner break. There wasn't a Communist in sight. Only the bone-weary citizens of New Orleans.

Shall we warn the next generation that if we don't fight Stupidity, we'll end up waiting in line for bread and milk?

Baton Rouge has opened its arms to provide food, water, shelter and housing to the evacuees. The amazing wamth and generosity of my fellow citizens gives a glimmer of hope.

Break over... Animals to care for... Back to work.


Thursday, September 01, 2005

My hometown. Gone.

I have stared at the television in horror. New Orleans has drowned. I have wept. I am numb.

And there is no time for emotional "coping" because the real job has started, the job of physically dealing with the aftermath of Katrina.
This is my first break in days. Here in Baton Rouge, in the midst of our own little mess of downed trees and power outages -- a mere trifle compared to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, but a mess nonetheless -- we are setting up and operating long-term emergency animal shelters and veterinary M*A*S*H units for the pets of refugees from the New Orleans area.

I have spoken in the past few days to people who escaped the rising waters after Katrina with only the clothes on their backs and their dog or cat in their arms.

One woman snatched up her chihuahua in one hand and an axe in the other, climbed into her attic and chopped a hole in the roof to escape the rising water. Another couple turned in a pair of Lab puppies they found alongside the Interstate as they fled the storm. One girl stuffed her ferret into her purse and ran as the waters rose behind her. There was a young couple in tears who had managed to save a few of their cats, swimming in and out of their house as the waters rose, but they could not save them all. People sat on rooftops, clinging to their dog or cat while human bodies floated past.

The stories are horrific, unimaginable. And they are real.

There simply are no words to describe how I feel.

I will have very little time to blog. The past five days have all blurred together into one long day with a couple of insufficient naps. But I will not complain. I am fortunate beyond measure to have our dry safe home inland, and to have my mother alive and with us. We got her out of New Orleans on Saturday.

At the shelter, we are putting our best efforts into helping the animals and comforting their owners. We have set up facilities for livestock and horses. We are waiting for the caravan of carriage-mules from the French Quarter to arrive; we are waiting for a busload of animal patients from a large vet clinic to arrive; we are waiting for 30 cats from a pet adoption center to arrive. Dogs, horses, cats, ferrets, parrots, pythons, rabbits, chinchillas, you name it. Even a kid with a hamster.

We are waiting and working.

Best to you all.


Inmates in the Asylum since July 27, 2006: