My family didn’t plan on guests during Hurricane Isaac, but as weather experts like to tell us, one should expect the unexpected when a big storm rolls through.
Our visitor arrived a few hours into a five-day power outage, after we’d opened the back door to ventilate the airless house, then started a game of Monopoly in the dining room. I had just bought Reading Railroad and was headed to Park Place when my wife noticed a reptile crossing our threshold. Fleeing the flooded patio, the ribbon snake slithered into the higher ground of our household study, heading toward a bottom bookshelf where, presumably, he would make a nest behind our wedding albums. I collected the intruder with some salad tongs before he could take up residence, transplanting him to the top of a raised flower bed so that he could face Isaac without drowning.
The resilience of small things in big storms is a wonder to me. Isaac loosened part of my garage roof, slowly prying at a panel of tin like a cat clawing a mouse, but our sunflowers survived the winds unbroken, lying flat during the biggest gusts to avoid destruction. After Isaac left, the tall and brilliant flowers lay in a jumble, the scene like a Van Gogh painting reworked by Picasso. I fetched some leftover molding from the shed — slender strips conveniently shaded leafy green — and fashioned stakes to hold the sunflowers upright again. Tied in place as if facing a firing line, the sunflowers remind me that this tiny paradise of color, like Edens large and small, is held together with a bit of twine, a little cleverness, a lot of hope.
I also couldn’t help noticing that although Isaac dropped loads of limbs, twigs and leaves on our lawn, the storm failed to dislodge a single piece of fruit from our front-yard persimmon tree. The persimmons still hung in place the morning after, slowly ripening to a lovely shade of pumpkin while waiting for the sun.
I usually must race with the birds to harvest our persimmons before they peck them into pulp, but the fruit lay untouched in the days after the storm. I noticed few birds in and around the yard, perhaps because the roar of portable generators had scared them away.
Instead of sampling birdsong, I learned to distinguish the peculiar pitch and groan of every generator on the block. By the third day of the outage, I could easily identify the earnest rumble of one engine across the fence, the low wail of a unit on the opposite property line, the militant howl of our own generator behind the den.
Amid the noise, I collected storm litter from the yard, a job that required buying a new wheelbarrow. The store, which only days before had swelled with customers buying storm supplies, was pleasantly quiet, as if a fever had suddenly broken across the registers. Tucking a shiny green wheelbarrow into my hatchback, I looked forward to clearing the yard and starting fresh.
This is how we seem to keep time in south Louisiana, marking the years of our lives not only by weddings and funerals and graduations, but the hurricanes that march through our neighborhoods and linger in memory.
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